Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This was possibly one of the most moving and gripping books I have read this year. It ripped my heart out. Stomped on it. And then set all of the little pieces on fire. Jennifer Niven's prose reminded me a lot of Jandy Nelson. So moving. So touching. So heart wrenching. So poetic. There have been a lot of YA books about bipolar and suicide this year. It's an important topic that deserves attention. And this one does it so well. I've read some really great books so far this year, but this one just may sit at the top.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

K10: Ruby Reinvented

The Kidliterati Ten is an interview series with young readers. We ask them about a favorite book and hope that you enjoy their answers.

Tell us a little about yourself: what is your first name, how old are you, and what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
My name is Caroline, I am 9 years old, and I like mint chocolate chip that’s melted and swirled around until it’s like soft ice cream. 

What book did you read and why did you choose it?
I read Ruby Reinvented and I chose it because I think the girl on the cover looks really friendly. 

Can you describe this book in one word?

What was your favorite part of this story?
The suspense is my favorite since Ruby lies about her parents being dead because she doesn’t want her new friends to know they’re really huge celebrities, but then she almost gets caught so many times and I kept thinking, “This is it- she’s busted!”

If you had a problem similar to the main character's problem, what would you do?
I would probably do the same thing Ruby does, but I wouldn’t have $300 to buy all the magazines with my parents’ pictures in them from the store so none of my friends could see them. 

What would you say to your best friend to convince them to read this book?
I already told them they should read it because it’s really good and exciting! 

What do you think about the book's cover?
I think the cover is so pretty and I like all the different suitcases Ruby has. If I was as rich as her, I’d have that many too.

Would you want to read another book about these characters? Why or why not?
Yes, because I really liked Ruby and I would want to know more about her. I would want a book about her bringing her friends from school to live in her celebrity world and do a fashion show with her.   

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one?
Maybe Breaking the Ice because Kaitlin has to be in a big competition and it was kind of like when Ruby had to do her fashion show. 

If you could ask the author one question about this book, what would it be?
How did you get the idea to write this book?

Luckily, we know the author around these parts, so we reached out and here is her answer:

I wondered how a 12-year-old would handle being the daughter of celebrities. Would she be proud? Would she feel inadequate? I liked the idea of these very opposite feelings, and I thought it would be interesting to explore them. Then I thought it would be fun to combine two very different locations and lifestyles; Hollywood and small-town Maine, because they, too, are such opposites. Since opposing views makes for lots of tension and excitement, I figured I'd have lots of material, and RUBY was born!

Thanks for sharing with us, Caroline! 

Ruby Reinvented

When Ruby flees Hollywood to escape the fame of her parents, she tells a lie that could ruin the life she loves at her new boarding school in this M!X novel about courage, families, and finding your own spotlight.

Ruby Miller has it made. As the only child of model-turned-TV-host Celestine Cruz and pro-baseball star Zack Miller, she has everything a twelve-year-old girl could want. Well, except for real friends.

After a disastrous birthday party where she discovers her supposed BFFs are only friends with her because her parents are uber-famous, she finds a place as far from fake and phony Hollywood as she can get: a boarding school in Camden, Maine. In her desperation to distance herself from her star-studded parents and the paparazzi who trail them, Ruby tells her new friends that she’s an orphan. She feels awful about lying, but once she starts, it’s hard to come clean. Plus, now that nobody’s comparing her to her perfect parents, Ruby can finally let her own talents as a dress designer take center stage.

When Ruby finds herself connecting with a cute boy who really did lose his parents, she’s torn between who she is and who she’s pretending to be. And with Parents’ Weekend approaching, she must find a way to keep her secret—without losing her new best friend, the trust of her first crush, and the chance to shine as the designer of her very own fashion show.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: El Perro con Sombrero - A Bilingual Doggy Tale by Derek Taylor Kent

El Perro con Sombrero: A Bilingual Doggy TaleEl Perro con Sombrero: A Bilingual Doggy Tale by Derek Taylor Kent
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a cute rags to riches story featuring Pepe, a dog who wanted the love of a family more than anything.
I loved the illustrations and how well the story moved without missing a beat. Since I don't speak Spanish I can't comment on that aspect except for the fact that my kid enjoyed pronouncing some of the words. I can also say with certainty that the "bilingual" part took absolutely nothing away from the story.
We're happy to have this book on our bookshelf.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Secrets of Kidlit: 5 Ways to Stretch Your Creativity and Beat Writer's Block

In some ways, writer’s block is just like a tight muscle. You sit down at your laptop but the story resists as you try to move forward. Your imagination feels as tired and irritated as your body does after you've run too many miles. Creativity can cramp up. Or it can resist showing up. Thankfully, you can loosen those writing muscles by using your creativity in different ways. Here are five of my favorite ways to stretch out my creative muscles.

My critique partner, the fabulous Jean Giardina, recommended this exercise and I admit, at first I was skeptical. Now it's my number one favorite!

Why I like it:
I love this exercise for three reasons:
1) It helps unblock your brain because you are learning how other people write what they see in their imagination, making it less scary for you to do the same.
2) It's easy to put a published book up on a pedestal and lament that your work doesn't compare. But writing down the words of published authors smashes that pedestal. You quickly realize that they too, construct sentences one word at a time. You also learn that most of the time, there's a wide rage of perfect words to chose from - which alleviates the pressure of finding that one perfect word.
3) This exercise gives you the opportunity to explore many voices and writing styles in a mindful way. It increases your writer's vocabulary, teaches you proper scene pacing, and strengthens your sense of rhythm.

How to do it:
Grab a notebook, pen, and a favorite book. Open your book to a random page and skim the scene through. Then start copying the text word for word. As you write, envision the scene in your mind as if it's a movie. Do not type, write it longhand. Typing is too fast-paced and lessens your connection with the text. It's easy to let your mind wander, but do the best you can to stay focused.

If you compare the weight of words, novels are written on earth, but poems are written on the sun. Get ready to lift some weighty words!

Why I like it:
Magnetic Poetry forces our creative muscles into action. If you see a jumble of words, it's natural to try to fit them together to create meaning. And that's just what magnetic poetry is - arranging words into a poem. Best of all, this is just an exercise. It doesn't have to make sense to anyone but you.

How to do it:
If you don't have a magnetic poetry set, you can play online for free! Check it out HERE! Magnetic Poetry provides you with the words and you arrange them however you want.
Bonus challenge: After you've created your poem, change the verbs for a whole new meaning.

Write fast. Let monstrous writing rule the page!

Why I like it:
A lot of people get blocked because they hate gory first drafts. They shield themselves by editing each sentence or paragraph as soon as they write it. This makes writing a grueling and torturous horror of its own. The exercise forces your perfectionism back into the swamp and helps you learn to accept horrifying first drafts.
Bonus: it's also a great way to generate new story ideas!

How to do it:
Quickly write a scene in 150 words or less, and allow it to be the worst scene you've ever written. Repeat.
Hint: If you're having trouble coming up with an idea, look up from the page or screen and write about the first thing you see. What was its experience before it came to you?

Twisting a character's emotions is almost as fun as dancing!

Why I like it:
Who doesn't like humor? This almost always ends up being funny. However, you do learn a little too - such as how to get the right emotional balance in your scenes. 

How to do it:
Grab your notebook, pen (or laptop), and a favorite novel. Open it to a scene that's full of tension. Then select up to twelve lines that you'd like to work with and read them through. Identify all the ways in which the author conveys emotion such as body language and dialogue. Now re-write the scene, changing the emotions. Don't be afraid to be silly or devious!

Put away your current WIP, your editing pen, and even your notebook and prepare to be inspired.

Why I like it:
Sometimes when we are fighting hard to make our writing sound just right, we forget what we are capable of. It's helpful to re-visit past successes even if they are small.

How to do it:
Go back to previous manuscripts and start reading. Find a chapter, a scene, or even a small exchange of dialogue that gives you that, "Oh, wow! I wish I'd written that," feeling. Then bask in the glory because YOU DID write it! Treat yourself by finding those sentences, passages or stories where you succeeded and remind yourself that you will keep on succeeding!

Happy writing! 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: THE NEST by Kenneth Oppel

The NestThe Nest by Kenneth Oppel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I finished this book, I threw it across the room. Not in a bad way, mind you, but I needed to react in some way and it was 2 AM and that meant hollering wasn't an option so I threw the book.

THE NEST is a simple horror story. If you wanted, you could boil it down to a campfire tale. Oppel gives so few specific details (I had to look up the main character's name because I wasn't sure it had ever been given--It's Steve, by the way), the story could happen anywhere, and to anyone.

Steve is anxious boy plagued by nightmares. His new brother is a baby with profound medical problems that are never explained to us. It is enough to know that the baby is simply called "baby" because no one expects it to survive.

When Steve is stung by a wasp, a new character is added to the book's very light cast. From that point on, who exactly this mysterious figure is, what it promises, and how it plans to deliver on that promise are rolled out so slowly, with such unwavering intensity, that you'll not want to put THE NEST down until you know the answers.

And then you'll probably throw the book across the room. But not in a bad way.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reaching Readers: What's Hot in School Book Fairs?

It’s that time of year again, when I’m running around like a lunatic trying to get ready for our school book fair. 
Last year's book fair setup. Isn't it beautiful?

I’ve been in charge of our school book fair for a few years and I love it! It’s a ton of work, but I love to be the one sorting through the boxes of fresh, untouched books, organizing them on tables, picking my favorites to highlight. But mostly I love watching the children make their choices. I find the book fair shopping experience to be really interesting because the kids themselves are picking books without their parents or teachers directing them. It’s really interesting to see what grabs their attention, whether it’s a shiny cover, a series they’ve loved, or a cool topic. 

Since the kids themselves buy books with little to no outside influence from adults, it’s really interesting to note which titles are book fair best sellers. Last week, I met with my representative from Scholastic who helps coordinate book fair logistics. She was kind enough to share with me some trends Scholastic is seeing from this season's sales.

General trends:
* Anything Star Wars is selling like crazy. This should come as no surprise given all the hype with the new Star Wars Force Awakens movie.
* Similarly, Goosebumps and Minions books seem to be trending. Again, this is likely hype from the movies.
* Taylot Swift books are hot. You guys, this girl is seriously popular. 
* Graphic novels continue to be strong,. Dork Diaries continues to be a top seller. The Sisters book is still doing well. Scholastic expects huge sales once the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid is released.
* In picture books the top sellers are The Day the Crayons Came Home, Beekle, Elephant and Piggie: Can I Play Too, and The Book With No Pictures.

* Minecraft books continue to sell well.
* Scholastic's surprise hit this season has been Disney Descendants: Secrets of Auradon Prep, based on the hugely successful Disney Channel Descendants movie. I really need to watch this movie.

So there you have it. Kids seem to be drawn to pop culture books. 

I'm really excited to see what will be the top sellers at our school book fair. Historically, my book fair does tend to buck national trends. We are a small independent school and, to some extent, the pop culture books aren't as popular among our readers (don't get me wrong, we WILL sell Taylor Swift and Star Wars books, just not as many). I hope to report back on our sales and top sellers later in November, but here are my predictions for other top sellers:
1. The Sword of Summer: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, by Rick Riordan. Our middle school loves anything Rick Riordan
2. New Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. This is a no brainer.
3. Graphic novels in general will sell well.
4. Nonfiction browsable books like Ripley's Believe it or Not and the Guinness Book of World Records.

Let's see if I'm right!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Kidliterati Fashion Show!

My middle-grade debut, RUBY REINVENTED, is out in the world today!

We’re holding the book launch party at the spectacular Camden Public Library in Camden, Maine on Friday, November 6. The evening will include a fashion show with readers ages 9-13. Since Ruby designs clothes to fit the personality of the individual wearing them, the kids in the fashion show will choose an outfit that they feel fits their personality.

Here at Kidliterati, we’re doing the same thing! At our virtual fashion show, your favorite Kidliterati bloggers share their favorite outfits, and tell us why those outfits suit them (pun intended).


This is my favorite houndstooth tweed jacket.  There are ripping seams, but I just mend them and patch when needed. I love wearing a structured jacket. Helps pull me together, especially for those days when I'm not feeling so "together.”


For me, the clothes don't matter. Any old shirt is fine, and a pair of jeans preferably not on their first day from the dryer. The thing I wear to make me feel like me are my hiking boots. I bought them nearly 20 years ago and they've taken me to the tops of mountains and the bottoms of canyons. They feel more like my feet than my real feet do.


My favorite outfit is a hoodie and comfy jeans. I also wear a bit of red everyday. Today, I'm wearing my favorite red Chucks. This picture was taken on my patio where I write whenever the weather allows. And yes, that's a dog butt over my left shoulder. My dog Maddie follows me every I go and insisted on being in the picture.


I like to make art, so I like to wear art, too. This hoodie has been with me since I lived in Chicago ten years ago, and I wear it on days when I need to get pumped up to get something done. I try to wear something with a little art on it every day!


Two of my biggest loves (other than my family) - running and Disney. This is from the Tinkerbell Half Marathon last Mother's Day.


Shorts and a t-shirt are perfect examples of my personality because even on my most proper days, I'm super casual. And although this picture doesn't show off my socks, I'm wearing them. And they're weird and wacky...very much like me.


A t-shirt (this one is from one of my favorite local shops), cropped pants, and hiking boots. And my favorite floppy hat. Comfortable, relaxed, and good for hiking in the mountains. :) The cool-weather equivalent would be jeans and a hoodie.


Here's a goofy Halloween snap of me as Gerrard the Headbanger. For someone who thinks too much and works too hard, it's fun being Gerrard, because even though he's not too smart, he knows how to have a good time! :-)


No, I don't wear my R2D2 dress to the supermarket or to drop off my kids at school, but it does have a place and time. I most recently wore it at Disney World. As the mother of 3 boys my house is Star Wars all day every day, and wearing this dress makes them happy which makes me happy. As silly as this dress is, the kids actually think Mom is cool wearing it. I'll take that as a win.


These clothes fit my personality because they let me be tough and playful at the same time. Also, because I practice yoga in them, which is where I connect with my inner self.


Basically, I'm a huge (literally) doofus, pop-culture super geek who loves to say arghhhhhh and will wear stupid hats to make people laugh.

I love bright colors and fun prints, so you can usually find me wearing a scarf like this one. And what outfit would be complete without a super cute card catalog bag? I usually end up at the library at some point during the day, and I like to be prepared. 

How about a huge round of applause for my fellow Kidliterati bloggers. Aren’t they fabulous?

Feel free to let us know what outfit fits your personality!

And if you'd like to learn more about RUBY REINVENTED, please read this wonderful review (which made me cry happy tears) from my friend and fashionista Brooks Benjamin.


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