Wednesday, September 20, 2017

K10: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

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 Grant, and I’m 13. My favorite ice cream is chocolate.

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

I just finished reading Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and I love steampunk.

Can you describe this book in one word?

Um, I can't do this in one word...robots vs. man-made animals.

What was your favorite part of this story?

I really liked when Alek meets Deryn during a dramatic scene. Alek tries to help Deryn but then Deryn sends dogs after Alek. It's not a great way to start a relationship.

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

I think I would have had a similar reaction to Alek's but his problem is much bigger than I'd ever want to have.

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

This book bends the rules of nature. I could recognize our world in this story but the differences are creative and fun.

What do you think about the book's cover?

It's cool. It is a good mix of World War I and steampunk.

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

Yes! I already have Book 2, Behemoth, ready to go.

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

No. This book seems very unique to me. It tells an alternate history by mixing the natural world with mechanics and machinery.

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

How much research of history did you have to do to make the book seem realistic?

In answer to Grant's question, Scott Westerfeld talked a bit about his research process in this interview with Tor.


A big thank you to Grant for sharing Leviathan with us!


Leviathan (Leviathan Book 1)

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Superheroes Don't Eat Veggie Burgers by Gretchen Kelley

Superheroes Don't Eat Veggie BurgersSuperheroes Don't Eat Veggie Burgers by Gretchen Kelley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sixth grade would be a lot easier if your fantasies came true . . . or would it?

Middle school may be tough, but Charlie Burger has a plan for how he'll get through it: mind his own business and stay out of the limelight. But the sixth grade has other plans for Charlie. His best friend Franki starts acting weird--since when does she like to dance?--and everyone from his mom to his soccer coach is on his case all the time. Worst of all? The school bully, Boomer Bodbreath, seems to think Charlie has a bull's-eye on his back.

When Charlie's eccentric science teacher hands out writing journals instead of beakers and goggles, Charlie is convinced his year can't be saved. That is, until he starts writing stories about Dude Explodius, an awesome, studly superhero--and those stories start coming true. Can a kid who's used to the sidelines suddenly take a shot at saving the world?

SUPERHEROES is a fun yet poignant story. Charlie's voice is spot-0n middle grade. I especially enjoyed Charlie's central conflict -- how does he use his newfound powers for good instead of evil? The secondary characters are all well-rounded, from Charlie's strange new science teacher to his vivacious grandmother to his best friend Franki, who had more responsibility at home than any kid should. They make the book an even more fun and thoughtful read. The setting -- a made-up coastal town on Cape Ann in Massachusetts -- is itself a character in the story. This book is a great read for the 8-12 crowd, but particularly for kids on the verge of starting middle school or those who might be struggling with fitting in.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Secrets of Kidlit: What's Behind the Curtain

It is widely known that a love of reading is most often developed in early childhood. With many it can wax and wane over the years, and for some of us stories are as required for survival as food and water.

Then there are those of us who write for children. There is a part of our hearts that still dwells in those early years of existence, and we – knowing what we know now – want to help shape and ultimately entertain those who come after us. We remember getting lost in pages becoming temporary best friends with the people we find there. We share their struggles. We go on adventures, make new friends, learn new skills, solve mysteries, and slay dragons from the safety of our reading spaces.

And from the best books, our very favorites with their creased spines and dog-eared pages, we learn something.

We’ve all seen the posts on social media, “I just wish this (insert kids book/movie/television show) wasn’t so political…”

The word “politics” is almost an obscenity nowadays. Like most charged words “politics” or “political” has multiple definitions, and (like most charged words) people often conflate definitions indiscriminate of the situation. When I hear people who are “just gonna stay out of politics” or “not trying to be political” they most likely mean they have no patience for entertaining those who “deal with people in an opportunistic, manipulative, or devious way…” – which is a good thing.

However, politics or “political affairs” are, first and foremost, how people choose to govern themselves.

Every single thing in our lives – from how we make and spend our money to where we live and what we eat – is determined by politics.

Policy is derived from the same root word as politics (surprise!). Policies…rules…laws. Laws (in a democratic society) are determined ultimately by the morals and priorities of its citizens.
In our earliest years, readers, we learned more about the world around us, saw ourselves, and saw what we wanted to be in the pages of our most treasured books. Being introduced to values that challenged or reinforced our own helped to develop our own moral code. The foundations of our belief system can be seen in old fairytales, local legends, and family folklore passed down through generations.

People often refer to books as an “escape”, and while that is no doubt true I think something even more true is that they are an emotional and mental training ground. It’s easy to want to escape the world we live in sometimes. Especially recently. Reality, everything outside of the pages, can be a confusing, nasty, and dangerous place with no final chapter, denouement, or decreasing number of pages to let us know that we’re almost out of the woods – that the worst is over, and it’s all about to be okay again. Reality, above all, is uncertain.

What is certain though, are the truths we learned from books when we were young. That story that opened your eyes to a different worldview, or encouraged you to try That Thing that your favorite character did. Every story redefines and shapes its readers.

Every story you write, every story that is written is a political one. The author’s beliefs inform their character’s choices and world one way or another. All art is political. It is an artist’s mark on humanity that says “I am here! And this is what I believe!”

The most successful stories were intentionally political:

Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy
Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, or The Giver
Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

…the list of intelligently, and intentionally thought provoking works that stand every measurable test of time all have that one thing in common – their unwavering political message. Their message regarding how people should treat one another and question the status quo.

Keep that in your mind as you craft your stories. It’s easy to get caught up in plot-twists and character arcs, but all of those things spring from one place in your heart as an author – and that’s your political stance. How you live your live day-to-day, the things you believe and hold dear, and values you believe our society should protect and preserve are what crafts every word of your story.

I encourage you to be actively political. Seek out new opinions and broader perspectives to not only enrich your own life, but your writing as well. Being intentional and conscious of even the most minute choices your characters make, or the smallest aspect of a fantastic world you’ve built will sharpen your skill as a writer – and hopefully it will challenge you, too.

With those things in mind, it may be you who truly opens a child’s eyes to something new and beautiful. Never be afraid of being “political”. Never be afraid to be intentional in the morals you insert into your story. Art is one of the ways we shape civilization, our nation, our neighbors, and ourselves – don’t waste it.   

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: REFUGEE by Alan Gratz

RefugeeRefugee by Alan Gratz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Refugee tells the story of three young refugees whose struggles to find better lives intertwine and intersect in unexpected and brilliant ways. Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are each on separate journeys in different times and places, but as we follow their individual stories, parallels develop that emphasize the harrowing nature of their quests: they each seek freedom from persecution, and they are each powerless to succeed without the help of others.

The wealth of historical details in each story bring the settings to life. Cuba is vibrant but clouded by oppression. The oceanliner St. Louis is a refuge from Nazis but in many ways, just another kind of prison. Syria is a wasteland, a reality so intensely portrayed that the shattering journey to Germany seems somehow manageable, when in fact it is yet another atrocity heaped upon desperate Syrian shoulders.

Readers will not only learn the truth about these devastating situations, but also the inter-connectedness of humanity. We do not operate separately, but as one. Our individual actions really do matter, and without each other's support, we all suffer.

My heart broke for Isabel, Mahmoud, and Josef. Their stories will stay in my heart.

Informative, heart-breaking, and inspiring. Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

K10: ORPHAN ISLAND by Laurel Snyder

If you've ever read a book that swallowed you whole and then spit you out at the end longing for more, you'll understand how my eleven-year-old, Sierra, felt about Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. I watched my daughter live and love this book for a couple of weeks and then completely mourn the end (which she claimed was perfect). She's an avid reader--one of those who's already planning her next read before she's finished with her current one--and this time she was like, "Nothing will ever compare!" I sympathized because I've been there. The end of book blues... πŸ’˜

More about Orphan Island:

In the tradition of modern-day classics like Sara Pennypacker's Pax and Lois Lowry's The Givercomes a deep, compelling, heartbreaking, and completely one-of-a-kind novel about nine children who live on a mysterious island.
On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.
Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?


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 Sierra. I'm eleven-years-old and my favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate.

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

I read Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. I chose it because when I read the description on the back of the book I was really intrigued.

Can you describe this book in one word?


What was your favorite part of this story?

I'm going to say when Ess, who is the second youngest, was climbing the cliffs and no one knew where she was. I couldn't put the book down until I found out what happened!

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

I don't know! Send me to Orphan Island (please!) and then I'll answer this question. πŸ˜‰

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

I would tell her that it's the best book ever! It's funny and relatable and it makes you wish you could go there.

What do you think about the book's cover?

Very intriguing--the cover is what made me pick up the book.

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

YESSSSSSSS! I'd love to. I love the characters and this one ended with a cliffhanger--I HAVE to know what happens!

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

I can't think of one, but I really enjoyed Perijee & Me by Ross Montgomery.

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

Is there a second book in the works? (::whispers:: please say yes!)

🌟Author, Laurel Snyder answered Sierra's question🌟

Hey Sierra!

I'm so glad you liked the book! I will tell you that I am TRYING to write another island book. Sometimes, the words come slowly. But it's there, and finding its way out. It will be a prequel, not a sequel. Abbie's story. Hope that's okay?


Thank you, Laurel--you made Sierra's day!

**Thanks so much, Sierra, for sharing your love for this book with us!**

Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske

Kat Greene Comes CleanKat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eleven-year-old, Kat Greene is growing more and more frustrated with her mother’s constant need to clean. When she tries to talk to her about school or anything else she becomes distracted by germs. Kat isn’t sure she should tell her father what’s happening, how her mother washes her hands until they’re scaly and red as lobsters. He has another wife now, and three-year-old son to take care of, Harry, whom she babysits on occasion with her best friend, Halle. If he finds out, he’ll make Kat move in with them, and she can’t leave her mother alone.

Kat’s mother feels horrible. It’s something she can’t control. Maybe if she wins a spot on the game show, Clean Sweep, she can come clean about her cleaning obsession, and do something useful with it. Kat sure is rooting for her. It’s what they both hope.

While this is happening, Kat’s learns she’s the Boy with the Purple Socks, in the class’s dramatic presentation of Harriet the Spy, The Harriet Project. Not only does she think her character is boring, she has to pair off with Sam, who won’t leave her alone. He wants her to make the Boy with the Purple Socks do something “memorable”. Kat loves Harriet the Spy and relates to Harriet in many ways, but she can’t bring anyone home while her mother’s behavior “is too weird for random guests”.

It’s hard for her to focus on The Harriet Project, or much else while worrying about her mother if she’ll throw out her favorite things, or ruin them with bleach because they’re considered dirty. Olympia, the school psychologist, offers help, and after an online search, Kat learns about the anxiety disorder, OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It scares Kat that her mother has this condition, or that she could get it too!

Written with a lot of heart and humor, Kat Greene Comes Clean, is a vibrant MG voice for readers 9-12.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Review: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and VirtueThe Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to go courting trouble, is all.”
“We’re not courting trouble,” I say. “Flirting with it, at most.”

Henry "Monty" Montague was born to wealth and privilege in the English countryside. High-born expectations have never stopped Monty from being a rogue. Kicked out of his posh boarding school, his father plans to put Monty's life on the right path with a year-long tour of the continent. But Monty doesn't intend to let his strict bear-leader or his annoying little sister Felicity destroy the fun of his romp through Europe with his best friend--and secret crush--Percy.

The tour goes off the rails after an embarrassing evening at Versailles. Monty's poor decisions turn the trip deadly and Monty, Percy, and Felicity must flee across Europe on their wits alone. Monty must decide what matters most--his family's approval or the boy he loves.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue is Downton Abbey meets National Treasure meets Pirates of the Caribbean...with a swoon-worthy romance to boot. Oh, and did I mention alchemy and a secret sinking tomb?

This book is one I read with a grin plastered across my face. Packed with delightful characters, charming dialogue, and dangerous adventure at every turn, it's one of my favorite reads of 2017.

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