Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Reaching Readers: The Used Bookstore

Both of my kids get an allowance.  They aren't alone. A lot of kids do.

I can't speak to any of those other kids because they aren't lucky enough to get to hang out with me. Trust me, I'm fun. I know a few knock-knock jokes. But, my kids take their money very seriously.  My money? Not so much. Their money. As serious as a stampede of ninja dinosaurs with x-ray vision and telekinesis.  (And if you've never been present for a stampede of ninja dinosaurs with x-ray vision and telekinesis, I can vouch for the complete and utter seriousness of that particular situation.)

Hint: This is very, very serious situation.

So, my kids tend to be a bit thrifty.  Okay, maybe "kids" is the wrong word because my son's wallet cracks open at even the slightest aroma of fine, toy-grade plastics, at the click-clack jangle of a box of Legos, or at the soft luxuriance of a pristine Beanie-Boo pressed against his cheek.  

But my daughter, she's like a kinder, gentler version of Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Well, Scrooge without the massive chains or the visions of the fiery pits of the underworld or the complete disregard for people in need.  She just understands the power of a hefty bank-account and she likes to see her money get, literally, the most bang-for-her-buck.  She has, after all, set a LOT of tables and fed the dog about a bazillion times to earn each of those precious, crisp dollar bills she has tucked away and this girl has needs - books, Legos, more books, and a mint edition of Captain Marvel #1.

                  Fig 1. Scrooge - a wicked miser                    Fig 2. My daughter - not a wicked miser

In comes the used book store. Sure.  The used bookstore isn't going to do much of anything to curb her addiction to Legos. A little withdrawal never hurt anyone, right?  But, books, books, books, and more books.  And on the cheap!  So what if that copy of A Wrinkle in Time is a little dog-eared or if it has written all over the inside-front cover "I love this book" a thousand times (I'm talking you, Conklin).  The words are still the same. The mystery and the adventure are still the same. There's still a big pulsating evil brain in it. None of that changed because we picked up that sucker for $1.50 instead of $12.95.

                   Book A: Contains words and actions                 Book B: Contains words and actions

My daughter can get her fill of books and keep a large portion of her future financial empire intact.

Just think of the wondrous things that might be tucked away in a used bookstore for your kids to discover.  When I was a pre-teen, my local used bookstore had six or seven bins full of old, tattered comic books.  It wasn't like Spiderman stopped being awesome because I nabbed a few of his comics for 25 cents a pop.  And I give a ton of credit to those bins of comic books for turning me into someone who loves stories. 

A lifelong love for books and words and stories?

I'd say that's a quarter well spent. 


Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BEA is long over but I'm still powering through my pile of ARCs. This one right here, The Thing About Jellyfish, was the first one I read. And I read every bit of it while sitting at the airport as I was waiting to go home.

No, hold on. I didn't just read this book. I devoured it.

And it's not one of those Hmm, maybe I'll sit down and casually read while I have SYTYCD going on in the background type of books either. I mean just look at what Ali Benjamin (no relation...I think) has stuffed in between the two covers just waiting for you:

After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory--even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy's achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe...and the potential for love and hope right next door.

Right? This is heavy stuff. Especially for middle grade. This is Dan Gemeinhart's The Honest Truth level of gut-wrenching awesomeness. I'm a slow reader on even the lightest of books and I tore through TTAJ in a couple of hours. And the reason I broke some sort of personal eye-page speed record is because I became so invested in Suzy's desire to prove her friend's death wasn't an accident. I've never had a best friend die, but I felt Suzy's pain so deeply. It was real to me. Benjamin does such an incredible job of putting us in Suzy's head and letting us catch glimpses of how her way-more-than-analytical brain works. And the way Benjamin weaves in the symbolism of jellyfish to so many things in Suzy's life is effortless and beautiful.

So, yeah. Five big stars to this one from me. And it may take me a while to get through the rest of my ARC pile, but I know at some point I'll come back to visit Suzy again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


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 Owen. I’m 11 years old, and my favorite ice cream is mint chocolate chip.

What book did you read and why did you choose it?

I read HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. I chose it because I had already started the series and I want to finish it.

Can you describe this book in one word?


What was your favorite part of this story?

When this guy Mad-Eye Moody used a de-lighter and took all the lights from the neighborhood to light the torches in the hall.

If you had a problem similar to the main character's problem, what would you do?

Plan ahead.

What would you say to your best friend to convince them to read this book?

It is full of action and has an interesting plot.

What do you think about the book's cover?

It makes me want to know what's happening and to read up to that scene.

Would you want to read another book about these characters? Why or why not?

Yes, because they go on dangerous adventures and it makes me want to keep reading to find out what happens.

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one?

Not really.

If you could ask the author one question about this book, what would it be?

How did you make up the characters' names?

In an interview with, author JK Rowling talked about how she comes up with the names of her characters:

“ I invented some of the names in the Harry books, but I also collect strange names. I've gotten them from medieval saints, maps, dictionaries, plants, war memorials, and people I've met!”

* * * Thank you, Owen, for sharing your thoughts with us! * * *

Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His best friends Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer and he is desperate to get back to school and find out what has been going on. However, what Harry discovers is far more devastating than he could ever have expected...

Suspense, secrets and thrilling action from the pen of J.K. Rowling ensure an electrifying adventure that is impossible to put down.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales

Tonight the Streets Are OursTonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley is recklessly loyal. Taking care of her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose in her life and makes her feel like she matters. But she's tired of being loyal to people who don't appreciate her—including her needy best friend and her absent mom.

Arden finds comfort in a blog she stumbles upon called "Tonight the Streets Are Ours," the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter. When Peter is dumped by the girlfriend he blogs about, Arden decides to take a road trip to see him.

During one crazy night out in NYC filled with parties, dancing, and music—the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does—Arden discovers that Peter isn't exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn't exactly who she thought she was, either.

This was a really fast read for me. The main character is instantly relatable in her desire to keep her best friend safe and in the betrayal she's feeling from her mother's actions. The first half of the book is a little slower than the second, mostly because it's building the relationships between the characters and laying out Arden's reasons for making a very un-Ardenlike decision to drive six hours to find a blogger. The second half of the book moves much more quickly, as Arden meets Peter--the blogger she feels drawn toward after searching the internet for the phrase "Why doesn't anyone love me as much as I love them?" The subsequent fight with her best friend, the crazy New York night, Arden's growing attraction to Peter, and how she begins to piece together the "facts" of Peter's life made it impossible for me to put the book down during the second half. I found the tense change partway through the book to be a bit jarring, but otherwise I loved the writing style. The little details and the character development are what really make this book good. I wanted maybe a little more from the disillusionment Arden experiences with Peter, but all-in-all, this was a very satisfying read. This book releases on September 15th, and is definitely worth checking out if you like character-driven contemporary YA.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Reaching Readers: Authors In April with Nora Baskin

 * Nora Baskin is our guest poster today. She's the author of Ruby On The Outside, which publishes this month with Simon & Schuster. 

As often happens in life, the things that make you the most anxious are rarely the things you needed to be concerned about.  It usually turns out to be something else entirely. When I was invited to participate in Authors In April, I worried endlessly that I wouldnt have the stamina to survive five consecutive days of school visits; each day consisting of three presentations, one workshop, and lunch with students, as well as an evening banquet, a library signing party, and the continuous interaction with others- the proverbial being on for six full days. As a writer, I am alone most of the time and I can go all day without speaking to anyone but Eli (my dog) and Kitty (my cat.) I worried that my voice would give out. That my throat would sting. That my brain would hurt. I feared that my ability to cope with crowds of people (which is fairly limited to begin with) would fail me.

None of that happened. What took me completely by surprise was something else entirely. It was the connection.

I probably need to explain. First of all, there is no other event Ive ever attended where the students, teachers, administrators, volunteers, parents, drivers, organizers, the other three authors, and even the inn keepers were so deeply, authentically involved, and enthusiastic. The organizers had a full year to learn who I was (reading all my books, not only the ones chosen by the school for study.)  I had only a few days to return the favor. It was like a first date that goes really, really well. For example, when I was asked what beverage I might like when signing books - and I casually emailed back my answer -I never imagined that the parent volunteers would provide seltzer and cranberry juice (as well as a table set up with fruit and healthy snacks, and the exact type of signing pen I had indicated was my preference) at every school I visited.   Nor did I anticipate the intense and intimate conversations, and the occasional fits of hysterical laughter that would come from hours of sitting together (each of us had over three thousand books to sign,) eating at the same table, and driving in the same car to the various schools and events, but thats exactly what  happened.  I fell in love.

Maybe it was because we all came together out of our adoration for words and literature, for children and for reading. Maybe it was the extraordinary amount of time spent in each others company; the way you really get to know someone when you share a fox-hole. Certainly, it had something to do with how I came to rely on relative strangers for my every need, from the moment I stepped off the plane until I got back on again six days later. But the truth is I never did lose my voice (though it didnt hurt to drink lots of water and load up on lozengers.)  I was never too exhausted. I never even got sick of hearing myself talk, because every presentation was different, unique, and special.

All the students were incredibly prepared, enormously excited. I saw posters, heard speeches, watched videos and better-than-professional book trailers. There were banners lining the streets, homemade dinners, and desserts in symbolic representations of our books. I do not consider myself a superstar, nor did I particularly see the value of my autograph, but suddenly I was part of something larger, a thirty-year history for this town and these students, most of whom will have a library full of personalized books by the time they get to high school, as do their parents, as will their children.

So the only thing that can really explain all this fervor for childrens literature, are these amazing people; Jenny, Terry, Angie, Dee, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa,Claire, Amy, Kata, Daniel, Lynn, Chris, Jennifer, Sharla, Dale, PJ, Jenny, Sami, Marion, Michelle, Kristi, Audrey, Renee, Missy, Kim,Virginia, Jodi, Rachel, Tracy, Andrea, all the students, all the teachers and librarians, and a very special kind of magic that is created in Rochester, Michigan during a remarkable event called Authors in April. For all my worrying, what I never expected, was how close I got to everyone and how I miss them all, so very, very much. 

Ruby’s mom is in prison, and to tell anyone the truth is to risk true friendship in this novel from the author of The Summer Before Boys that accurately and sensitively addresses a subject too often overlooked.

Eleven-year-old Ruby Danes is about to start middle school, and only her aunt knows her deepest, darkest, most secret secret: her mother is in prison.

Then Margalit Tipps moves into Ruby’s condo complex, and the two immediately hit it off. Ruby thinks she’s found her first true-blue friend—but can she tell Margalit the truth about her mom? Maybe not. Because it turns out that Margalit’s family history seems closely connected to the very event that put her mother in prison, and if Ruby comes clean, she could lose everything she cares about most.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Secrets of Kidlit: The Truth About Writing What You Know

You’ve heard it a thousand times: write what you know. At face value, it is probably the number one worst piece of writing advice there is. Obviously, if authors only wrote what they knew, most books would never get written.

J.K. Rowling didn’t know anything about Hogwarts when she was inspired to write HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE. John Green didn’t know a lot about cancer when he decided to write THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Rowling planned and imagined her way to expertise about her magical world, and John Green throughly researched pediatric cancer until he felt ready to write about Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters. 

However, there’s another way to look at the saying, write what you know. At its foundation, a story is about a character’s emotional journey. If your character does not feel, your readers will have no reason to care about your story.

The Harry Potter series is about friendship, family and love - every emotion Harry needed in order to gain the mental strength he’d need to face the ultimate sacrifice in book seven. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is about the belief that it's a good life, despite the betrayal of the body (terminal illness). Both authors had experienced love, loss, fear, and joy in their lives and those emotions were put onto the pages of their books - giving their novels depth and authenticity. 

Consider the following passage:

The pale seeds sifted through his fingers like yellowed rice. He’d already attached the toolbar to the tractor. All he had to do was fill the tender with the seeds and soon, the field would be covered tiny green seedlings.

Super dull, right? There is no reason to care about what the farmer is doing. Now, consider a similar scene that includes emotion.

He stared at the dark, rolling earth as the seeds sifted through his fingers. They gave off a strong chemical odor. "That's the smell of success," he thought. "And safety." He knew his father was probably cursing him from the grave, but even that couldn’t wipe the grin off of his face. This was his land now, and in his bare hand he finally held the engineered seeds everyone was talking about - the seeds of the future. 

I know almost nothing about farming, but I do know what it feels like to break from tradition. That was all I needed to make this passage work. After all, people don’t read fiction to learn facts, they read fiction to feel.

Take some time to journal about the most important and memorable moments of your life. How did you physically respond to the strong emotions you felt? Were you mad enough to actually see red? Or so moved, you felt like you might faint with joy? Do you remember the emotional roller coaster of having to fight for something? Whether it was a better grade, or to get your own place to live, or to learn a complicated dance, it was a long struggle with a lot of ups and downs. These are the experiences you draw from when you write. So write what you know, because you have a lot of life experience to lend to your characters.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

COVER REVEAL: MG novel YOU'RE INVITED TOO by Jen Malone and Gail Nall

No book was more fun to write than You're Invited. Except maybe You're Invited Too. In this sequel (out in February), our party planning tweens are graduating to the big leagues, tasked with planning--gasp!--a wedding (except the Bridezilla has no idea she's hired a group of kids and the girls themselves are eager to prove their worth.) 

We're very excited to share the cover for You're Invited Too today, but we thought we'd start with a few other images first (feel free to just scroll on down if you'd prefer the cover right this very second, thankyouverymuch!).

We may or may not have gotten carried away creating a Pinterest board to plan out a fantasy beachside wedding that would both match the offbeat, yet sophisticated, tastes of our over-the-top bride, but also have tons of fun elements that our crafty girls would be able to pull off. In the end, it's  amazing how many of these we were actually able to fit into the story! 

You can visit the whole Pinterest board here if you're curious, but in the meantime, here are a few of our favorite elements from You're Invited Too's wedding!

The "Bouquet"
Sandpiper Beach gets hit with an almost-hurricane the night before the wedding and most everyone, including the florist, has evacuated the island. No worries. Becca digs into her collection of costume jewelry, Sadie rounds up a Styrofoam ball, and presto bingo... they have a bouquet!

DIY Glow Stick Lanterns
Truthfully, we're dying to make these. Maybe for the launch party. With crushed up glow sticks and clear glue, these lanterns make the beach sparkle. 
(Caution: Vi needed her dad's supervision for this one) 

Lace "lanterns"

At one point our bride decides on a vintage theme (none of her themes last long, of course!) and Sadie and her sister rock these versions of Japenese lanterns (made using balloons and lace doilies applied paper mache style) to hang from tree branches at the reception site. 

And now here's one last image for you- OUR COVER!!!!  

You're Invited is in stores now and You're Invited Too publishes with Aladdin/Simon & Schuster on February 16, 2016. 


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