Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Secrets of Kidlit: Querying . . . again

All of us writers know how awful querying is. You pour your heart into a book, tear it apart and put it back together until it shines, and then you jump into the Query Pool. The Query Pool is a terrifying place filled with jellyfish that sting you over and over and over until you start to wonder why exactly you picked the Query Pool over something way less painful, like a Knitting Stream or a Bathtub Full of Puppies. But then magic happens and the jellyfish go away and there – finally! – is your mermaid, the one agent who loves you and your book. You sign with the agent and together you dance off into the sunset forever and ever.

Until you don't anymore.

First, don't worry – you are definitely not alone! This happens so much more often than you'd ever thought. Writers and agents split all the time, for so many different reasons. So whatever your reason is, you've got plenty of company! In fact, I was just in your spot just last month. After I stopped hyperventilating, I dug up my old agent spreadsheet from my Scary Query Pool days, and went to work. And here's what I learned about querying the second (or third or fourth or whatever) time around . . .

  1. Yes, you can query on a proposal, if – and only if – you're already published and your editor is open to considering proposals from you. If that's your situation, be sure to mention it in your query letter to agents. Then attach the number of pages or whatever it is the agent wants to see, per the agent's guidelines. 
  2. Research, research, research. Of course, you know this from before, but I'd go so far as to say that it's more important this time around. You've had an agent. You know what you liked about your agent and what you didn't. You might have certain houses you'd like to target, and you want an agent who'll get you there. And you've been immersed in this business now, so you have writer friends, and we all know writer friends talk. Which brings us to . . . 
  3. Ask about agents before you query them, and not after. Yup, this is probably the opposite of what you did the first time. But here's the thing – you really know what you want now, and you know the people to ask. Asking around (nicely and professionally) about agents helps you narrow your list. After all, isn't it better to find out that Agent Pumpkin E. Pie takes twelve months to read client manuscripts before you actually query that agent? So, don't be shy about asking your agented friends about their agents. Scroll through an agent's list of clients and find that person you met once at a writing retreat last year, or that writer you chat with sometimes on Twitter, or that writer your friend knows, and send them a message. You'll be surprised how willing we all are to help each other out, because we've all been there before. (The key here, of course, is a connection of some sort. I'm definitely not suggesting you randomly email Suzanne Collins and ask her how she likes her agent.) 
  4. Pay that $25 for a month of Publisher's Marketplace and research sales. Even though all sales aren't reported, this will tell you a lot about an agent's connections with specific editors and publishing houses. 
  5. Work backwards. This can work two ways. First, if you're published, ask your editor which agents he or she might recommend. Also, check out the agents of other authors with your imprint, particularly the ones who write books similar to yours. Second, if you aren't published, go back through your sub list and see which editors seemed to respond best to your work. Then check out which other authors are with that imprint, find the ones that write books similar to yours, and then research their agents. 
  6. Finally, your query letter will look much different than before. If you're published, it'll be more business than story – titles, publishers, editor connections, high sales and awards if you have them, whether you had anything on sub, whether you're hoping to remain with your current house or need to look elsewhere, and of course, your work-in-progress. If you're not published, you'll still need to address whether the manuscript you're querying has been on sub (and if so, note whether a sub list is available). 
Then, take a deep breath and jump back into the Query Pool! Yeah, it's just as terrifying as it was the first time, but you've done it before and you can do it again. There are still jellyfish, but there are mermaids too. Happy swimming!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Review: My Weird School Series by Dan Gutman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At Ella Mentry School, all the grownups are quite weird in their own weird way. And things have gotten weirder! From a principal who kisses pigs to a teacher who wears dresses made of pot holders, A.J. and the gang from Ella Mentry School have had some weird and wacky adventures. 

I discovered these books about a year ago when I was looking for a first set of chapter books for my seven-year old. The first one we read was Dr. Nicholas is Ridiculous and he was instantly hooked. We have since read every single book, and thank goodness new ones release every few months, because he misses them like crazy when we don’t have new ones to read. 

There are nearly a hundred books broken down into four series: My Weird School, My Weird School Daze, My Weirder School, and a set of holiday books. The series is about the many adventures of A.J. and Andrea, arch enemies at Ella Mentary school. They have some wacky teachers and an even wackier bald principal. The stories are farfetched, but absolutely hilarious.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Spy On History: The Blog Tour!

You guys... I'm so excited to share this post! It's no surprise (and you can/are encouraged to spy on my previous posts) that I'm a huge Workman Publishing fan. I've found, and they're known for, their inspiring, motivating, sometimes quirky (we love quirky!), educational, and innovative books. All things this author-book loving-homeschooling mom 100% digs! So when I was asked if Kidliterati would participate in the SPY ON HISTORY blog tour, I jumped at the chance.
(::🔍Spy Clue:: Sleuths who read to the end of this post could very well be rewarded!)

This book is amazing. I'll just get that out of the way. I can see my kids reading it multiple times (isn't that the ultimate book test?). Check this out:

Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring introduces an exciting interactive series for middle grade readers—Spy on History, where the reader gets to experience history in a whole new way.

Meet Mary Bowser, an African American spy who was able to infiltrate the Confederate leadership at the highest level. Enigma Alberti dramatizes Mary Bowser’s suspenseful story—how she pretended to be illiterate, how she masterfully evaded detection, how she used her photographic memory to “copy” critical documents.

Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope inside the book, a canny reader will be able to discover and unravel clues embedded in the text and illustrations, and solve the book’s ultimate mystery: Where did Mary hide her secret diary?

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. (::🔍Spy Clue:: Can you use your sleuthing skills to figure out the true identities of these Enigma Alberti authors?)

Illustrator: Tony Cliff is the author and artist behind the New York Times bestselling Delilah Dirk graphic novel series. Find more on Tony at and @TangoCharlie on Twitter.

↞  ↠

My 10-year-old daughter, Sierra, and I have so enjoyed adventuring along with Mary through her story and working to crack her codes with the super cool spy supplies provided in the sealed envelope at the start of the book (we haven't gotten to the top secret envelope at the end of the book yet, but we're working diligently to earn opening it!). In fact, we're so into it, our spy skills have been on extra high alert... Every other page we'll catch something that could be a clue... No spoilers here, but we're having a blast! Also, I'm loving introducing my daughter to Mary's strength, wit, and bravery as an African American woman (and former slave) spying on the Confederacy during the Civil War and getting to highlight this story during Black History Month. 

For the blog tour I was asked to answer this question (::🔍Spy Clue:: Super, sneaky sleuth I am, I talked someone else into answering it!): If you could go back to anytime or place in history, where would you put your spy skills to use? 

Sierra: "I'd go back and spy during the Revolutionary War." When asked why, she answered, "Because, duh, I'm obsessed with Alexander Hamilton."


Enter below for a chance to win 3 super awesome Workman books!
1. SPY ON HISTORY by Enigma Alberti
2. WHO WINS? by Clay Swartz
3. BOSS BABES by Michelle Volansky

Be sure to check out the rest of the SPY ON HISTORY blog tour stops (::🔍Spy Clue:: There are more potential rewards to be found at these locations too!):

Previous blog stops: 
 Middle Grade Mafia
 Mundie Kids
 Miss Print
 Recreational Scholar
 The Roarbots
 Randomly Reading
 A History of Books & -This Kid Reviews Books
 Teen Library Toolbox
 Ex Libris Kate
 Geo Librarian
Today's stop: Kidliterati
Tomorrow's stop: Kristi’s Book Nook

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Reaching Readers Guest Post with Kathleen Burkinshaw

Today we're fortunate to have debut middle grade author Kathleen Burkinshaw with us to discuss how she brings historical fiction to the modern classroom. Enjoy!

The first time my mother agreed that I could discuss her experience in Hiroshima on August 6th was for my daughter’s seventh grade class. She believed that stories from survivors needed to be remembered, not for blame, but so the events were not repeated. My mother also knew that these future voters were around the same age that she had been (12-years-old) when she witnessed the first atomic bombing. She hoped that they could relate to her story when they looked around the classroom and imagined losing almost all their classmates in one day.

During my school visits, I take it a step further by bringing WWII Japan to them. I discuss what was happening in Japan leading up to August 6th and the beliefs of the citizens during that time. Also, I explain what my mother’s family life was like, because throughout her first 12 years, war had been a part of every day. I display pictures of my mother’s family, her home, and a map of where she was that day.

In my second year of class presentations, I was still writing THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM manuscript (first of many, many, many drafts) so instead of just speaking to them about her ordeal, I read the section of my manuscript that described that day when her world became a shadow of what it had once been. I wrote the novel in first person so that the reader (or in this case the listener) can picture the events as they unfold. No matter how many times I may read those paragraphs to the students, I always get emotional at the same section. I can still hear my mother explaining what happened and the tears in her eyes several decades later-as if it was just happening all over again.

My hope is that by giving the students information on a culture during a time where their only knowledge might be from a couple paragraphs in a text book- they may learn that there is more to people than we think. We should try not to make judgements unless we know the whole picture. It can spark empathy for that 12-year-old girl, and others like my mom and her family on August 6th. It might humanize this country for them. Even though her country was an Axis power during WWII, readers realize that this 12-year-old girl, loved her family, enjoyed her time with friends, feared what might happen to all of that in the war and dreamed of peace. And when the dust settled she still could find traces of hope. She isn’t that different from the Allied children after all.

My mom wished that by hearing her story, the students would realize that nuclear weapons should never be used again. Because each person under those famous mushroom clouds that day was someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, or child. Unfortunately, today, we still need to hear this message, maybe more than we ever have.

Kathleen Burkinshaw resides in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college (dreading the reality of being an empty nester-most of the time), and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja. Kathleen enjoyed a 10+ year career in HealthCare Management unfortunately cut short by the onset of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Writing gives her an outlet for her daily struggle with chronic pain. She has carried her mother’s story her whole life and feels privileged to now share it with the world. Writing historical fiction also satisfies her obsessive love of researching anything and everything.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

History Is All You Left MeHistory Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Adam Silvera’s debut, MORE HAPPY THAT NOT, was one of my favorite reads of 2016. Seriously, if you still haven't read MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, stop reading this review and go read that book.

After such an amazing debut, I had high hopes for Silvera’s newest book, HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME. And the book did not disappoint.

Griffin is a high school boy grieving the death of his first love, Theo. Yes, Silvera ripped my heart out and stepped on it. No, that wasn’t a spoiler. We learn in the first chapter that Theo is dead. Silvera brilliantly tells the story by alternating chapters between the past and the present. In the “history” we learn how Griffin and Theo’s relationship evolved, while in the present we have Griffin grieving his loss, coping with his OCD, and trying to make sense of his conflicting emotions. And even though we know the “history” culminates in Theo’s death, there is still a surprise ending that I totally did not see coming.

This isn’t an LGBT book that deals with the social pressures about coming out. In fact, the coming out moment was pretty uneventful. Theo and Griffin come out to their parents at a party, they smile and hug and take a few pictures, and then we move on. This isn’t a story about gay relationships. It’s the story about relationships. Teenagers are having sex (safely!) and experiencing the same teen angst that any gay, straight, or bi teenager would. It was downright refreshing how every single character was cool about Griffin and Theo being gay. Special thanks to the author for making the gay factor be completely unimportant.

I’ll admit that at one point I struggled with Griffin’s character. I went from loving him to absolutely hating him. This is a very dangerous moment for me as a reader. If I hate a character, there is a good chance I’m going to put down the book (who wants to spend time with a character they hate?). There came a point where I wanted to shake Griffin. He was a complete destructive jerk. I understood why he behaved this way—grief is a terrible thing to deal with—but at one point I moved beyond feeling sorry for Griffin to really disliking him. But then just when I thought I could take no more of his attitude….BAM! Magic! The author whips some sense into Griffin and I’m swooning.

Adam Silvera’s HISTORY IS ALL YOU LET ME is a book that you will remember for a long time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

K10: We Are Growing

The Kidliterati Ten is an interview series with young readers. We ask them about a favorite book and hope you enjoy the 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 Alexander. I’m seven. My favorite ice cream is chocolate and mint.

What book did you read and why did you choose it?
I read WE ARE GROWING by Laurie Keller. I chose it because I got it for Christmas and I thought it was a very funny book

Can you describe this book in one word?

What was your favorite part of this story?
My favorite part of the story was when all of the grass were getting cut down by the mower and then the bug said, “Don’t worry, you will grow again!” and then they all went crazy. I also liked the part when they found out that they all were the something-est, except for one piece.

If you had a problem similar to the main character's problem, what would you do?
I would say, “Am I the funniest? Or am I the silliest? Or am I the smartest? Or am I the neatest? And go through all of them until I found out what I was.”

What would you say to your best friend to convince them to read this book?
I would say that I think you might really like it and you should try it if you like Mo Willems stories.

What do you think about the book's cover?
I think the cover makes it look funny.

Would you want to read a similar book? Why or why not?
Yes, because books like that are the ones that are easy for me to read but I like to have a short read sometimes so it’s nice.

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one?
The Elephant and Piggy books remind me of this one.

If you could ask the author one question about this book, what would it be?
I would ask the author if they are going to make a WE ARE GROWING 2?

We got in touch with Laurie Keller, and this is what she had to say:"There isn't any discussion right now of a sequel but if Mo Willems (creator of the series) and editor, Tracey Keevan, wanted to I would be open to it. In the mean time, they're working with other authors and illustrators to create more stories for Elephant and Piggie to read. I'm excited to read them, too! Thanks for your question!"

Thank you, Alexander!

And thank you for your answer, Laurie! We are so excited that WE ARE GROWING just won the Geisel Award!

We Are Growing 
by Laurie Keller, illustrated by Mo Willems:

Walt and his friends are growing up! Everyone is the something-est. But . . . what about Walt? He is not the tallest, or the curliest, or the silliest. He is not the anything-est! As a BIG surprise inches closer, Walt discovers something special of his own!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Review: WHAT ELEPHANTS KNOW by Eric Dinerstein

What Elephants KnowWhat Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Nandu is an assistant elephant driver at the king’s stable in the Borderlands of Nepal. When the government threatens to close the stable, he decides to find a way to save his community’s livelihood and his adopted family from hardship. The solution forces Nandu to leave his jungle haven and enter the urban world, where he and the reader learn about a wider cross-section of Nepalese culture. Although exotic at first glance, Nepal turns out to be a multicultural and hierarchical society that reflects life in the United States on many levels.

“My mother is an elephant and my father is an old man with one arm. Strange, I know, but true.” The novel begins with an intriguing hook that introduces Nandu as a foundling who has been raised by a hodgepodge of caring people and creatures. As an outsider, he has a heightened need to belong and struggles to find his place in the community. Likewise, many middle-graders will relate to this social challenge from their own efforts to fit in at school. And Nandu’s quest to discover his past origins and establish an identity is both universal and captivating.

Beautifully written, Eric Dinerstein’s story is as textured and absorbing as its Nepalese setting. The hero’s relationships are unconventional and touching, giving the reader pause to reconsider and appreciate one’s own. The novel goes on to examine our interconnection with the natural world in a nuanced way that takes into consideration economic demands along with the urgent necessity of biological survival. The ethical questions posed, however, are deftly integrated into the lives of these lovable characters and are explored through an action-packed plot that keeps the pages turning.

View all my reviews

All the best, Chris Brandon Whitaker!



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