Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Spy on History Blog Tour + Giveaway!

πŸ”ŽTHE SPY ON HISTORY BLOG TOURπŸ”



That's right, Kidliterati, the second book in the SPY ON HISTORY series hits the shelves TODAY!



Kidliterati is so excited to be a part of the Spy on History blog tour! If you didn't catch the first book in this series, you can get a refresher here: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring. My daughters and I loved learning Mary's story and being an active participant in her top secret sleuths. This second book in the series definitely doesn't disappoint!

Super fun πŸ”ŽspyπŸ” fact: the Spy on History books all contain top secret information, sealed envelopes, clues to seek out, cool spy gadgets, and codes to crack. You know it's going to be good when you open the book and sort of wish you didn't have to share with your kids!



It's literally an interactive experience that even my middle school kids thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, they've both voiced their anticipation for the next installment. 



Super fun πŸ”ŽspyπŸ” fact: There's a giveaway at the bottom of this post!

More about Spy on History: Victor Down and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti & Scott Wegener:



Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.


Second in the Spy on History series, it’s a compelling story of a little-known chapter from the war—and a mystery to solve. Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope, readers will discover and unravel the clues embedded in the book’s text and illustrations, and uncover the mystery of Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook.

Author: Enigma Alberti is the nom de plume of a secret cadre of authors who are each writing a book in the Spy on History series.

Illustrator: Scott Wegener is a self-taught artist who has been drawing since childhood.  He is perhaps best known for being the co-creator and artist of Atomic Robo.  He has also done work for Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, and Marvel Comics.

πŸ”ŽBlog tour spy questionπŸ”: If you were a member of the Ghost Army, which of your creative skills would you utilize to deceive the German troops? 

Ainsley, 13-years-old: "I'd use my drawing skills to come up with top secret battle plans."
Sierra, 11-years-old: "I'm pretty flexible, so I would use those skills to hide in small spaces and spy."

 πŸ”ŽGIVEAWAY!πŸ”


Enter below to win 1 copy each of (US only):
Spy on History by Enigma Alberti and Scott Wegener
Pocket Flyers Paper Airplane Book by Ken Blackburn and Jeff Lammers
Random Illustrated Facts by Mike Lowery


*Images excerpted from Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2017. Illustrated by Scott Wegener.*


Monday, January 22, 2018

Review: The Handbook by Jim Benton

The HandbookThe Handbook by Jim Benton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When Jack's neighbors decide to retire and move to Florida, they leave a tempting pile of trash by the curb. Jack doesn't know what he expects to find, but it certainly isn't The Secret Parent's Handbook. Jack and his friends Mike and Maggie use their newly found knowledge to flip the script on their parents. Summer is certainly looking up...until agents show up looking for the book.

The kids' summer takes a turn for the worst when they get caught between two groups -- The Parents Agency and The Resistance -- who are looking to secure The Handbook.

The Handbook is an entertaining read with a great premise. The dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny and the middle grade relationships between Jack and his friends are wonderful. At its heart, The Handbook attempts to build some bridges between parents and their kids...despite the terrible rules parents sometimes impose.


View all my reviews



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Secrets of Kidlit: A Little Help, Please?

We are two and a half weeks into 2018 and maybe you are already finding that your new year's resolutions are quite going as well as you hoped. Or maybe, you are totally rocking this January with no hiccups. Either way, it's a good time to take a look at your goals for this year and talk about one important element that may keep you from reaching your potential - the fear of asking for help.

The truth is, no matter how strong our resolve is, no matter how much we fight to stick to our plans, there will be days (weeks, months...) where we stumble. It can happen because life throws several curve balls your way. Or maybe it's because self-doubt or depression has clawed its way in. Or you may just have ten-too-many items on your daily to-do list. Whatever the cause, asking for help can make a huge difference in your writing life.

For many of us, asking for help is hard. We fear that people would think of us as being weak if we can't get do everything ourselves. But we are not super heroes. And unless time-turners become an actual thing, there will never be enough time to get to everything we want and/or need to accomplish.

This post is a perfect example of that. I wanted to get this post done, but there was no way I could do it without help from my fellow writers at Kidliterati. I am currently writing this in a coffee shop near my child's doctor's office while she is undergoing medical testing. The spring semester of school starts in two-and-half hours, and sometime later today, I'm going to research the university hospitals my child's doctor recommended since months of testing and waiting have given us no answers. Oh, and my other kid? Mono. I mean ! ! ! I have writing I'd like to do, too, you know? Anyway, I shined the bat signal into the sky and said, "I need help! And hey, let's write this post on asking for help!"


So, here is what some of writers at Kidliterati said about asking for help to meet their writing goals:

"As a mom of two school age children, I've had to learn to ask for help in order to protect my writing time. Sometimes that means asking someone else to pick my kid up or keep them for the afternoon. I have never been good about asking for that kind of help, even though I often do the same thing for other people. What I found out was that people are happy to help. They're even excited to help, if they know they're helping me meet a deadline! Writing is a team sport.

"I've also learned that I need to communicate my needs to my spouse so that he has a chance to support me. It's so easy to internalize all the pressure and leave him in the dark. Again, I'm horrible at asking for help! I feel like such a failure when I do. But the truth is that none of us exist in a vacuum. We are all part of the same existence, and learning to lean on each other just makes our lives that much richer."

- Melanie Conklin


"One of the biggest challenges I've faced with writing is time. I learned really quickly that it's completely okay to ask for more time from your professional partners, specifically your agent and your editor. Needing an extension on a deadline doesn't make you a professional failure. It only means you're a human being with a family, a day job, health to maintain, a manuscript to perfect, etc. Nine times out of ten, your agent and editor will completely understand."

- Gail Nall


"My mental health has been something I've really struggled with this year. Anxiety and depression have certainly tried their hardest to kick my brain's butt and for a while there, I thought maybe they'd succeeded. The only time I wasn't feeling the effects of them were when I was writing. But when I stepped away, those unwelcome thoughts and worries picked right back up where they left off. What helped me more than anything was finally opening up to my wife and talking about it. It wasn't easy, but I'm so glad I did. Knowing we have someone out there who will listen to us and walk with us as we take steps to get the help we need? That makes all the difference in the world."

- Brooks Benjamin


"This makes me think of a line from Bruce Springsteen's For You: "I could give it all to you now if only you could ask." (You can take the girl out of Jersey, but well, you know the rest.) The truth is, I have an incredibly supportive family and eager-to-help friends, and the only thing that would stop them from helping me is... me! Asking for help is extremely hard because I think I should be able to do it all on my own. Of course, I would never feel that way about a friend who asked me for help, but often we're much harder on ourselves than we are on our loved ones. I need to remember that there are only so many hours in a day, and that there needs to be a balance of work, family, and writing time. So if it takes me a month longer to finish a manuscript, so be it. The older I get the more I realize that I deserve to give the same amount of nurturing to myself as I give to others."

- Ronni Arno


"Finding the time to write and edit and meet deadlines is definitely the hardest part for me. That and then balancing everything out between being a mom, a partner, and having a bit of time for myself. To further complicate things, I homeschool our kids. This means, 1. I get to spend time with them (yay!), but 2. I don't get any time during the day to write (boo!). So I'm an evenings and weekends writer. Thank goodness for the support and flexibility of my husband (and our daughters) - we've made it work (because we always do). It was definitely more difficult to ask for the help/time and, more, to justify it (hello, mom guilt!) when I was still working to get published and essentially chasing a dream. I'll admit, I still have a hard time with it but now I have an actual deadline and people depending on me, I don't feel as guilty. Though, had I not asked for the time to write all those years when I was working my way to getting published, I'd have never gotten here."

- Jessika Fleck


Those are amazing answers! Thank you, Kidliterati!



So, when reviewing your New Year's Resolutions, add the words, "Ask for help!" If you stick to that resolution, you might just find that asking for help made 2018 your best year yet!



Monday, January 15, 2018

Review - Superfail by Max Brunner

SuperfailSuperfail by Max Brunner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks @Running_Press for the free book for review on Kidliterati.com.

In a world where obtaining a superpower is pretty common, Marshall is part of the minority whose superpowers are unfortunately limited by a form of disability.

The story is quite fast paced and the color scheme adds to the feeling of excitement and action. I liked how Marshall eventually decided to turn having crossed eyes into an asset instead of a hindrance.

Although I understood the purpose behind the premise I couldn’t help but wonder why Marshall’s form of disability wasn’t in fact the source of his superpower. Of course it sounds like something a very famous author had already done.

Despite that little difference of opinion, I believe this is a fun graphic novel that will appeal to audiences who are very much into super heroes, adventures and mayhem.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reaching Readers: Engaging Kids at Book Events

Let's say you've got a book out. Yay! Now let's say you book a school visit or you're accepted to a book festival or you're participating in an author fest at your local library. You're sitting at your table or you're slurping down water after a 45 minute presentation to half the school and . . . a kid comes up to you. And -- yikes -- they want to talk to you. Now what?
Photo by superkimbo. Used under a
creative commons license.

This isn't a big deal to a lot of authors out there, but to some of us, it's downright terrifying. We don't have kids ourselves or we're just not all that great in off-the-cuff social situations, and the idea of having to talk one-on-one with a kid is kind of scary. Some of us aren't fazed by chatting with kids, but aren't entirely sure what to talk about. Some kids are naturally chatty, and you'll find yourself barely getting a word in, but others? They might be shy or in awe or not all that comfortable talking to adults. So what do you do?

Photo by pinprick.
Used under a creative
commons license. 
1) Ask them the basics. This sounds obvious, but it's super easy to forget when you're in the moment. First name, grade, school, and pets. Kids love to talk about their pets. And you can always branch off from there -- ie. "Oh! Your name is Kelsey. There's a character in one of my books named Kelsey. I love that name." or "What kind of dog do you have?" (Sidenote: this gets really fun when the child has the same name as your antagonist! I've apologized to so many girls named Addison that I've lost count. Although it does make for a good inscription if the kid buys your book.)

2) Ask them about their favorite book or a recent book they read. If the kid is coming up to you, chances are he's a reader. It's so wonderful to see a quiet kid light up when you ask him about his favorite book. If you've read it, you can chime in. And if you haven't, you can talk about similar books.

Photo by Jack Lyons.
Used under a creative commons license.
3) Engage the kid in something creative or a small game. This isn't for everyone, but if you have any talent in drawing or origami or something small and creative or game-like that you can bring with you to a book festival, kids absolutely love it. I've seen authors draw quick sketches for kids. Author Mike Grosso brought a Rubik's Cube to a recent book festival -- it was a hit with the kids. Other authors bring short, fun quizzes.

4) Ask the child if she writes. A lot of kids are budding authors, and they love nothing more than to tell you about their stories.

5) Pull in something from your presentation. This works especially well at school visits. You can ask the child about specific things you mentioned in your presentation. Things like, "What was your favorite part?" or "What would you do if ...?" work really well.

6) When all else fails, talk about your books. Seriously. But keep the pitches short and sweet (like, a sentence or two). Then you can ask the kid a question related to the book. For Out of Tune, I'll say something like, "This book is about a girl who wants to be a singer, but her family sells everything to live in this ugly trailer and travel the country. She has to find a way home to try out for a singing show. Do you like to sing?"

Do you have any tips for talking to kids at events? If so, leave them in the comments. And happy chatting!


Monday, January 8, 2018

Review: ASHLEY BRYAN’S AFRICAN TALES, UH-HUH by Ashley Bryan

Ashley Bryan's African Tales, Uh-HuhAshley Bryan's African Tales, Uh-Huh by Ashley Bryan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After the recent publication of the Newbery Honor Book Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams by Ashley Bryan, I had to read up on the author’s middle grade works. I was delighted to find a timeless gem in his Laura Ingalls Wilder Award winning collection of folktales. Lyrically retold and beautifully illustrated, the fourteen stories from Africa’s many folk traditions are a must-read for middle graders. The humor and wisdom resonating from the deeds of these heroes, animals, tricksters, and chieftains will amuse, inspire, and inform all readers.

A compilation of three previously published collections of African stories, this volume offers a wide selection from the continent’s great storehouse of invention. Readers will explore tales from cultures as diverse as the western (Ashanti), northern (Hausa), eastern (Masai), and southern (San/Bushman) regions of Africa. Every story is filled with universal human experiences and usually finds ways to connect people to their natural environment and animal neighbors.

Byran’s narrative voice captures the oral tradition of storytelling and brings each adventure very much alive. From this tradition, readers will recognize echoes of stories found in African American spirituals, folk songs, and folklore. The predecessors of John the Conqueror, Big Mama, Black Jack, Whistlin’ Woman, Br'er Rabbit, Aunt Nancy Spider, and Old Man Tarrypin inhabit these enchanting and empowering stories. This book is perfect for kids who like reading folktale-inspired fantasy or adventure novels based on mythologies.

All the best, Chris Brandon Whitaker!

Friday, January 5, 2018

El Jefe's Top Tier Books of 2017

So much fun to share my favorite reads of the year!

I got through a ton of fantastic novels in 2017, but only a select few made it into that category of MUST KEEP READING INTO THE WEE HOURS EVEN THOUGH I'LL PAY A HUGE PRICE TOMORROW.

Books I've read this year: 100 (just barely made it!)
Books that made my Top Tier: 5

It's my privilege to share these five standouts with you.



Middle Grade

BLACKBIRD FLY

Unexpectedly powerful, this tale of a girl stuck between two cultures, struggling to fit into middle school. It sounds like it could be trite or messagey, but Apple's search for her place kept me turning pages.

It's rare to find a "diverse" book that reads primarily as just a plain old great book, and this does just that. Might be my personal connection with Apple -- although she's Filipino and I'm Taiwanese, so many of her experiences resonated so strongly with my own.

Bonus: pretty short book, easy to get through in a single session!



Young Adult

MOST DANGEROUS

Rarely does a non-fiction book stand out for me, but I'm a huge fan of Sheinkin's work. I don't know much about the Vietnam War, and even less about the Pentagon Papers ... I couldn't stop listening to the audio book, though!

Start with the tale of a break-in, add in elements of cover-ups, Presidential hubris throughout generations, and one man's struggle to figure out the morally right thing to do -- at the cost of facing prison -- and you have a MUST READ.

Might have been the most gripping book I've read all year!





CROOKED KINGDOM

It's so rare that I read sequels. SIX OF CROWS was on my best books 2016 list, and I couldn't wait to dive into CROOKED KINGDOM. Much to my delight, it delivered almost the same entertainment value as the first book!

Kaz Brekker's crew is back, looking to get things back on track for their big score. Seeing all my favorite characters back in action delighted me, and watching as they planned the heist to end all heists, all the while facing horrible hurdles thrown into their way ... just amazing!

I wish I could read this series over for the first time again. If you haven't read these books, they're my favorite escapist novels in a long, long time.




ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

Groan, a book about a dying girl! Stick with it though, and you'll get just about the perfect example of that elusive element agents and editors are searching for: "voice." Both Greg Gaines and Earl have such distinctive mannerisms and quirks that make them stand out.

Not much actually happens in the book by means of plot. That's usually a problem for me, but I could have listened to Greg and Earl go on for a couple hundred more pages. The unlikely friendship proved alternately hilarious and touching.






Adult

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT

You know how the story ends, but it still doesn't stop you from being wowed by each and every obstacle that these guys overcome. Such an amazing story about perseverance, hard work, and a little bit of luck. I'm a Seattleite, so to get all the references to things right here in my back yard was even neater.

I was sure some of it had to be fictionalized. Nothing as dramatic could possibly happen to characters faced with such absurd barriers. I mean, a guy whose family just up and leaves him when he's about 10, the dad saying that he's a man, that he can take care of himself ... and that's just the beginning!

Someone has to make a movie out of this. It's just that good.




Here's to a great 2018 -- can't wait to uncover my first new Top Tier book!

P.S. In case you want more book recs, here are my Top Tier lists from 201620152014, and 2013. Enjoy!



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