Monday, September 17, 2018

Guest Post with Alyssa Hollingsworth, author of THE ELEVENTH TRADE

Today we are thrilled to host Alyssa Holingsworth, author of THE ELEVENTH TRADE, publishing September 18th from Roaring Brook Press. THE ELEVENTH TRADE is the touching story of Sami, who tries to trade his way back to replacing his grandfather's stolen instrument, his family's most prized possession. Here Alyssa shares her thoughts on writing stories with hard themes.

Secrets of Kidlit: Writing Fun Stories with Hard Themes 


As the date of my debut draws closer and I prepare for visits to schools, I’m struck by the topics I’ll be discussing in front of 8-12 year olds in the coming weeks. A snapshot of my slides includes: What does your brain do during trauma? How do you define PTSD? How can you take care of a hurting friend?

The Eleventh Trade has an engaging, middle school main plot: Someone has stolen Sami’s rebab (Afghan instrument), and Sami has to go on a quest to get it back. Beneath that surface level, I wanted to explore deeper themes like: trauma, survival, war, healing, and community. I didn’t want to write an issues book—not that there’s anything wrong with a good strong central issue!—but instead a book that would attract readers of many interests and pull them into a world where these topics are discussed.

So, how do you balance hard themes in stories for young readers? Below are some questions I used to find my way.

1. What is a story you liked as a kid?

When I was first thinking about the synopsis for The Eleventh Trade, I only knew one thing about the plot: An instrument would be stolen and my main character would have to get it back. As I pondered how to orchestrate an interesting way to reach my ending, I flipped through lists of books I really loved as a kid.

That’s how I came across The Seventeenth Swap—a book (now out of print) that was highly influential to me as a young reader. In it, a boy goes on a series of swaps in an effort to get a pair of cowboy boots for his disabled friend. I remembered being a kid reader, and the excitement of watching each piece fall into place in The Seventeenth Swap, the way all the items were laid out for you and then mixed around until it all came together.

I might have stumbled onto that contemporary quest narrative eventually on my own, but with the inspiration from Seventeenth Swap as my guide it was much easier to envision the plot possibilities for The Eleventh Trade.

2. What do I not understand (or wish I understood more)?

Sometimes, when adults write books about heavy topics, it can be tempting to write as if you’ve got all the answers and you are merely handing them down in prose to your reader. Kids can smell this a mile off.

I always try to approach my stories as a seeker or a learner, so I wanted to focus on topics that I truly do not understand. Topics that don’t have easy answers. As I wrote The Eleventh Trade, the story became a sort of answer all on its own. That’s a magical feeling, and one that I think translates well into the finished product.

Figure out what you don’t understand, and make it a challenge to seek understanding as you go.

3. What brings you hope?

One strength of kidlit (that doesn’t exist as often in adult books) is this: Hope. The best kidlit books are bound up with a hope that’s difficult and precious. You can use this theme to balance out your heavier topics with a light touch.

Almost as important as the taste of hope is the time you give it in the text. My favorite examples would be authors like Lois Lowry, Katherine Rundell, or Sara Pennypacker. When I get to the end of their books, I’m almost bursting with joy and sorrow. But they’ll snap to the end like a grandma tapping your wrist with her fan. I imagine them saying something like, “There, there, that’s enough.”

As a reader, I want the story to go on—but I’m also sort of happy to be left with more to imagine. If you linger too long on hope or happy endings, there’s the potential to turn cliché. But that doesn’t mean you should be afraid of putting hope in your story. It’s one of the most difficult themes to write, but when you get it down it can be stunning.

How do you handle tough topics in stories for young readers? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Alyssa was born in small-town Milton, Florida, but life as a roving military kid soon mellowed her (unintelligibly strong) Southern accent. Wanderlust is in her blood, and she’s always waiting for the wind to change. Stories remain her constant.

Alyssa received her BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Berry College and her MA with honors in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. In 2013, she won a prize from the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity for her creative non-fiction essay, Naan in the Afghan Village. She is represented by Amber Caraveo at Skylark Literary. Her debut THE ELEVENTH TRADE will launch September 18, 2018 with Macmillan (U.S.) and Piccadilly Press (U.K.).

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Guest Post with Annie Sullivan, author of A TOUCH OF GOLD

Today we are thrilled to host Annie Sullivan, author of A TOUCH OF GOLD, published in August 2018 by Blink/HarperCollins. A TOUCH OF GOLD is the story of Kora, the princess daughter of King Midas, whose wish to turn all he touched into gold has left Kora bearing the consequences of his greed in the form of golden skin and strange powers that are getting harder to conceal. Here Annie shares her thoughts on writing a retelling of a well known story.

How to Come Up With Your Own Retelling

Books that are retellings of well-known stories have been popular for some time. Everything from modern adaptations, stories told from the villain’s viewpoint, and stories retold as if the pivotal moment of the original didn’t happen have popped up over the past few years.

For writers, retellings create a fun opportunity to play with well-loved characters or to imagine the story in a new setting, but every retelling needs a new twist, a way to hook readers in and keep them interested in a storyline that they may already know by heart.

When I wrote A Touch of Gold, a young adult retelling about the cursed daughter of King Midas, I switched the story so that it’s told from the daughter King Midas turned to gold as a child because it offered a fresh, new take on the myth. And for those looking to write their own retellings, here are a few ways they can go about it:

1.) New main point of view character

By changing the character the story is told from, we can gain new insights into the original characters too. Maybe the princess we’ve always loved was a total diva. Maybe the villain wasn’t really a true villain. There are so many possibilities when changing the main character. Sarah Henning’s Sea Witch does this quite well by telling the origins story of Ursula.

2.) Switch genders of protagonists

Gender bent stories offer a new way to tell the story by switching the genders of the protagonists. See how you can craft new scenarios for the main character now that they have a different personality and outlook on life.

3.) Different motivation

In Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty, it’s a Beauty and the Beast style retelling where the female protagonist sets out to kill the Beast-type character. Changing the character’s motivation can alter the story entirely.

4.) Different time period/setting

Cinderella in space? Look no further than Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Changing the setting and time period of the original myth opens up worlds of possibility (pun intended.) With new settings, you can have new challenges your characters have to face so that it doesn’t feel like the same old story we’ve read before.

5.) Continuation story/Next generation

Add on to the original myth by telling readers what happened afterward. Was everything happily ever after? Or did something else happen? Or, maybe you want to focus on the children of the heroes and heroines from the original myth. What trouble do they get themselves into?

There are so many possibilities when it comes to writing retellings, and these are just a few ways to get started. No matter what, have fun with it, and write a story that you would want to read.

Happy writing!

Annie Sullivan is the author of A Touch of Gold (Blink/HarperCollins, August 2018). She grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, and received her master’s degree in Creative Writing from Butler University. She loves fairytales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling. Her wanderlust has taken her to every continent, where she’s walked on the Great Wall of China, found four-leaf clovers in Ireland, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, and cage dived with great white sharks in South Africa. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram (@annsulliva) or on her blog.


King Midas once had the ability to turn all he touched into gold. But after his gift—or curse—almost killed his daughter, Midas relinquished The Touch forever. Ten years later, Princess Kora still bears the consequences of her father’s wish: her skin shines golden, rumors follow her everywhere she goes, and she harbors secret powers that are getting harder to hide.

Kora spends her days locked in the palace, concealed behind gloves and veils, trying to ignore the stares and gossip of courtiers. It isn’t until a charming young duke arrives that Kora realizes there may be someone out there who doesn’t fear her or her curse. But their courtship is disrupted when a thief steals precious items from the kingdom, leaving the treasury depleted and King Midas vulnerable. Thanks to her unique ability to sense gold, Kora is the only one who can track the thief down. As she sails off on her quest, Kora learns that not everything is what it seems—not thieves, not pirates, and not even curses. She quickly discovers that gold—and the power it brings—is more dangerous than she’d ever believed.

Midas learned his lesson at a price. What will Kora’s journey cost?

Monday, September 10, 2018

Review: A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar

A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar
My rating 5 out of 5 stars

Donut Sedgwick is an 11-year old geography buff who keeps her taxidermied mice and birds hidden in her late mother’s hope chest. Her pops has just died, leaving her an orphan. Aunt Agnes has moved in, bringing along her lumpy oatmeal, the click-clack of her knitting, and a plan to drag Donut off to Boston forever.
Donut stands to lose everything: her friends, her village, her home, and the woods and walks where the memories of her pops are stored up.
While Donut dodges the ache of missing her pops, she and her best friend Tiny plan how to keep her right where she belongs. 
I absolutely loved this book! The setting and time period (1927 in Cobden, Vermont) provide a perfect place for readers to get lost. And found. You'll cheer for Donut, and maybe even Aunt Agnes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

K10: THE DARKEST MINDS by Alexandra Bracken

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 Ethan, I’m 13, and I like chocolate xtreme.

What's chocolate xtreme?

It's a blizzard. From Dairy Queen. It's so good.

I like butterfinger blizzards.

Those are ok, too.

They are better than ok.

I guess.

What book do you want to talk about and why?

I want to talk about the book Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken because the trailer looked good. Darkest Minds is a movie now, and the trailer looked really good so I checked out it from the library.

Can you describe the book in one word?


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

I would run, and hide. I would be terrified of the camps and what lurks in them. Honestly, I would probably be almost too freaked out to even get food.

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

I would tell them that I loved it. That should be all I need to say to get them to read it.

Really? Your best friend trusts your judgment that much?

Not really. My best friend probably wouldn't really read it. He hates reading. He only reads if he has to.

You should maybe get a new best friend.

What? I'm going to tell him you said that.

Go ahead. I'm not afraid of him.


What do you think about the book's cover?

I think the book's cover really shows how dark the book is. The story line is very dark, which the cover shows.

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

I did. I read the whole series.

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

THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas. Because both of the characters are stuck in situations they don't want to be in, and when they get out of it, there are still so many trials they have to overcome not only to protect them, but the ones they care about.

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

I would ask them what they think about the movie.

What did you think of the movie?

I haven't seen it yet.

You should take your new best friend.

I'm not getting a new best friend.

You can learn more about THE DARKEST MINDS and the rest of the books in the series here.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Review: Fault Lines in the Constitution by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson

Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us TodayFault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today by Cynthia Levinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Much like our nation itself, the Constitution is an imperfect object, created by imperfect men. Yet it strives to form a more perfect Union. The issues and disagreements we have today can be found in the Framers' earliest battles with each other. Fault Lines in the Constitution makes this clear with every page-turning chapter.

"It might be appealing to believe that, because the Constitution and our country have survived for this long, they'll always do so. But the Framers were not so confident."

I've never been more enthralled with the structure of a non-fiction book for young readers. The authors set events of our modern American life into the context of the blindspots and gaps in the Constitution itself. The document comes alive. We see the Constitution battle with everyday problems: the 2000 Presidential election vs. the electoral college, voter ID vs. the definition of who is a voter, the Ebola epidemic vs. Habeas Corpus, and many more.

Fault Lines in the Constitution is engaging and informative with a straight-forward writing style that makes complex concepts accessible. Importantly, it presents these issues as things that will need to be solved by our young readers.

The American drive to form a more perfect Union is a task without an end.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: Bob by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass

Bob by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.
It turns out she’s right.
Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.
Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.
Bob includes themes of friendship and family. Ten-year-old Livy is adjusting to life with a new baby sister and conquering her fears of spending the night away from home. This book will tickle your funny bone and warm your heart.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Review: SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik


To prep for this review, I was rereading my previous Kidliterati review of a Naomi Novik book. My daughter was perched at my shoulder because it's summer and god forbid she be outside.

"What’s this?" she asked.

"Book review."

"For what book?"

"UPROOTED. I'm pretty sure you read it." My children read like our dog eats. Constantly, voraciously, and with very little attention to labels.

"Maybe," she said. "What's it about?"

"It’s about an unlikely girl who is taken away from her village and ends up having to save everyone," I said.

"Yeah that sounds like every book I read," my thirteen-year-old said.

"Fair point," I answered. "But UPROOTED is still good, because of how the story is told. I liked it enough to read SPINNING SILVER."

"And what's that about?"

"It’s about three unlikely girls who come together using their brains and their hutzpah to save their people."


"But, what I think you’ll like the most," I interrupt because this book review really needs to kick into gear and my kid has already had enough lines, "is that it weaves in both Grimm fairy tales and Russian folk tales but really subtly, without beating you over your head with it like you’re too stupid to notice it otherwise."

"Hmm," she replied. "Should I read it?"

"I read it twice," I said.

"I do like fairy tales," she said, picking the book up from next to my laptop.

"What do you like about fairy tales?" I asked, trying to add to the word count of this review. But she shrugged her shoulders, smiled at me with an air of mystery and the magic all thirteen-year-olds possess, and wandered off to watch Voltron with her twin sister because it's summer and god forbid either one of them be outside.

5 out of 5 stars.


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