Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: The Gallery of Unfinished Girls

The Gallery of Unfinished GirlsThe Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A piano appears on the lawn one week after seventeen-year-old Mercedes Moreno’s mother has left for Puerto Rico to watch over her abuela, lying in a coma. Mercedes and her fourteen-year-old sister, Angela, wait for their mother’s return in Sarasota and try to the best of it. But it’s not easy. Her sister becomes better and better on the piano they keep in the living room, growing as a musician, while Mercedes is unsure of what to paint, or why or how she’ll create anything of artist merit since her award-winning piece last year.

That she’s fallen in love with her best friend Victoria and keeping it a secret might have something to do with her lack of inspiration. A mysterious new tenant moves in with the neighbor they share a porch with. Her name is Lilia Solis. She’s also Latina, and a painter, and seems to live in an entirely different world. Lilia works to move Mercedes out of limbo, toward her next work of art, asking questions and sharing her own work.

Mercedes wishes she could return to the feeling of being on the brink of creation, “a little like falling in love.” When Lilia introduces Mercedes to the Red Mangrove Estate, a beachfront artist’s community where the artists can “be their best selves”, she spends more and more time there, meeting other artists, in a whirlwind of dreamy creation, where Tricia’s deepest secrets spill forth, while her sister spends time upstairs playing piano like a virtuoso. They both want to stay and live in endless creation.

An absorbing, and beautifully written in a way you’re sure you’ve entered another dimension, blurring the lines of reality in this delightful magical realism, that had me racing through, so I could get to painting and playing music too! I’m pretty sure I burst into magical tears in the last chapter. This book was that inspiring. The relationship between Victoria and Mercedes is warm and tender and very loving. (Positive bisexual representation.) Readers 13 and up.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Guest Post: Aram Kim, author of NO KIMCHI FOR ME!

Today we are thrilled to host Aram Kim, author of NO KIMCHI FOR ME!, published September 5, 2017 by Holiday House. From author Aram Kim, NO KIMCHI FOR ME! is the story of Yoomi, who is determined to eat kimchi despite her lack of enthusiasm for it. This Junior Library Guild selection has universal themes while at the same time celebrating Korean culture.

Showmanship for Introverts: Presenting Your Books to Readers  


Showmanship for Introverts is the title of the master class session at the upcoming SCBWI annual winter conference. Julie Gribble, an author, and founder of Kidlit TV, a senior agent Erica Rand Silverman, and I will be leading the session. When Julie suggested a workshop on authors’ presentations, and Erica narrowed it down to read aloud performance, I jumped right on board. I resonated with the idea very much as a newly published author at the beginning of my author career.

Many of us who try to get published spend years perfecting the manuscripts, searching for right agents and editors, and going to conferences and workshops on how to get published. This process alone is daunting, and we barely get to think of what comes next after the book is out in the world. Many newly published authors confess that they did not realize public speaking was to become such a big part of their career. Whether you love it or hate it, speaking to many readers and presenting your book to the audience is a big part of author’s life. For many authors, doing book events could feel uncomfortable. Creating is often a solitary activity, and many of us who write or illustrate books are introverts by nature. Yet, we need to appreciate the opportunities to present, actively seek those chances, and embrace them. Not only because the book events will potentially boost the book sales, but also because the books that authors spend years writing deserve a chance to be introduced to readers and read by many of them.

What I learned after publishing my first book, Cat on the Bus, and after attending various book events for the second book No Kimchi for Me! is that one does not need to change oneself to perform in front of people. I am in no way extrovert. I know I could not perform like some authors who rouse their audience, make them sing, clap, scream, and dance. That is not who I am. However, I love sharing stories. That is why I am making books. I desire my readers to be interested in the stories I am sharing. I want them to have a good time. I want them to enjoy the stories, and I want my stories to enrich their lives. As introverts who are presenting, what we need to do is to prepare. Prepare well. Spend time to think about what your unique quality is. Spend time to think of what your readers would appreciate hearing. Spend time to practice what you are going to say and practice reading aloud. Record yourself with your phone. Many people, including myself, cannot bear hearing oneself recorded, needless to say seeing oneself recorded. Even though it feels so unfamiliar and weird, by doing that, you would certainly improve the performance.

All my books are inspired by my Korean cultural heritage. Because most of my audience are little children, I use a big bright globe to show where Korea is. Starting from U.S.A., specifically from the city where I am presenting, I draw the line to reach Korea and explain a little bit about the country and tell them that’s where I came from. That introduction leads nicely to the story time, and “kimchi,” often very foreign especially for the children audience, does not feel too foreign anymore. There is always something you can tell your audience about yourself connected to the story. Make yourself accessible. Readers feel closer to your books when they feel closer to you. You are there to make a nice introduction of the book you poured your heart out to create. Just remember one thing - audiences are rooting for you. So go out and have fun.

Aram Kim is a New York-based children's book author/illustrator and picture book designer. She was born in Ohio, spent her childhood in South Korea, and now lives in Queens, New York. She likes bringing in distinctive South Korean flair to works she creates. Aram is a huge advocate for diversity in children's literature, and a creator of the Multicultural Children's Book Day 2018 poster. Her debut picture book, Cat on the Bus (2016), was included in Children's Choice Reading List by ILA. Her second picture book, No Kimchi for Me! (2017), is a Junior Library Guild selection. Visit

Yoomi is determined to eat kimchi. She tries to disguise it by eating it on a cookie, on pizza, and in ice cream. But that doesn't work. Then Grandma shows Yoomi how to make kimchi pancakes. This story about family, food, and a six-year-old -coming of age- has universal themes, and at the same time celebrates Korean culture. A kimchi pancake recipe and other back matter are included.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book Review: Rules by Cynthia Lord

Rules by Cynthia Lord 
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She's spent years trying to teach David the rules-from "a peach is not a funny-looking apple" to "keep your pants on in public"-in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she's always wished for, it's her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal? (From Goodreads).

Other rules for David include:
  • If the bathroom door is closed, knock! (especially if Catherine as a friend over).
  • Don't stand in from of the TV when other people are watching it.
  • No toys in the fishtank.
  • A boy takes off his shirt to swim, but not his shorts.
  • Some people think they know who you are, when really they don't.

Rules is full of heart and humor. Ms. Lord does an excellent job of describing a child with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). She shows how uniquely some kids think by using gentle words and appropriate humor. If fact, I have read Rules to my 4th - 6th grade students--some of whom are on the spectrum. It's amazing to see how they relate to David, even mentioning it out loud in class with total acceptance by their peers.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Guest post with Leah Henderson, author of One Shadow on the Wall

Today we are thrilled to host Leah Henderson, author of ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, published June 6, 2017 by Simon & Schuster. From debut author Leah Henderson, ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL is the story of an orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal who must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father. Here Leah shares her thoughts on remembering why we write.

Remember Why You Write


As writers and creatives, I’m sure we’ve all experienced days and sometimes weeks or months of doubt and uncertainty. Where every thought about our work is met with an inner voice that says it’s not good enough. These are the moments that make us want to stop writing, stop caring, and stop trying. The moments when we silently ask ourselves: what’s it all for?

Last week I was reminded what it’s for. Why I do what I do, and why I write what I write.

A few years ago on a trip to Senegal, West Africa one glimpse outside a car window changed more than just my writing life; it clarified what I strive for. I know it sounds weighty, but it’s true. A young boy passing the time on a beach wall captured my attention for the briefest of seconds. And for reasons I still can’t fully understand, he stayed in my mind throughout the day. Then, hours later, when I came back to the same area and found him still there, I asked his permission to take another photograph (I’d already snapped a frantic one out the car window). Little did I know what an immense gift and responsibility he was about to give me. After the shutter closed and reopened, I peered at the captured image immediately struck by the face and stance of the person staring back at me. In the still shot, the boy’s strength screamed a challenge.

I dare you not to see me as I see myself.

Snapshot from the car window

I remember smiling and thinking, this is what he wants me to capture. The way he wants to be seen by the world. The strength and determination I met in his eyes meant everything to me at that moment. It pulled at my heart. I felt like he had so much to say and I wasn’t sure if anyone had ever listened. I wanted him to know I heard and saw him. So the writer in me created a fictional world for this boy. I tried to tell myself a piece of his story.

The moment that captured my heart

The process wasn’t an easy one, and my days and nights were often filled with doubt, uncertainty, and fear that I’d mess things up, or worse, that I’d never capture even a fraction of Senegal’s heartbeat. But my need to show the boy in my photograph (even if our paths never crossed again) that I saw him as a hero, a warrior, a defender, and a friend in his own adventure was far greater than my fear.

Kids like him, who rarely see themselves as the hero or heroine of stories, are my driving force. They deserve stories they can feel proud of and identify with—stories that mirror their own experiences and that are bursting with possibilities, featuring characters they can relate to and hopefully root for.

That is why I write.

And each time I got stuck, didn’t trust my ability to put one word in front of the next, worried no one would pick up my book or connect with the story, I thought of that boy. I pinned his image to the wall by my computer, saved it in my phone, and often stared at it to replenish my writing well.

And long after I’d written the final line, and turned my attention to promotion, I still tried to remember him after almost six years. Yet at a point last week, during a moment when I’d lost sight of “my why,” I received a letter from a young reader. After introducing himself the letter read, “Ms. Henderson I really loved your book!” And if his words had ended there they would have been enough, but he went on to describe what he liked about the story. Then I reached the close of the letter: “You know so much about Senegal it’s amazing. My own dad came from Senegal in a poor village so I really feel a connection to the book and I hope you write more books.” That line was fuel, tears, laughter, stars, sunshine, and glittering gold for me.

The young reader who found his way to my book.

Writing has its ups and downs like anything else, but in that instance every discouraging moment before that letter arrived was magically forgotten, or turned inconsequential in my mind. The memory of why I write flooded back.

I share this with you, because on those days when you are plagued by frustration, or falter because of some level of rejection, please remember why you write. Why you love what you do. Why you need to create. Why all the sleepless nights, doubts, insecurities, and uncertainties are worth it. That is how you will get to the next day and the next.

And sometimes, maybe just sometimes, after all that you’ll be lucky enough to be reminded of what you’ve set out to do in the most wonderful ways.

This is why I write! Why do you?

Happy writing, my friends!

Leah Henderson has always loved getting lost in stories. When she is not scribbling down her characters’ adventures, she is off on her own, exploring new spaces and places around the world. Her middle grade novel One Shadow on the Wall (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster) was sparked by one of those trips. Leah received her MFA at Spalding University and currently calls Washington D.C. home.

You can find her on Twitter @LeahsMark or at her website:

An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father.

Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined.

With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Review: Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Genuine FraudGenuine Fraud by E. Lockhart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who is Jule West Williams? A tourist pursued across the globe? A victim? Has she been framed after her best friend Imogen's death?

I read this book in one sitting with my mouth agape.

It's hard to review Genuine Fraud without spoilers but it is a mind-bending book. Told in reverse-chronological order beginning at Chapter 18 and ending at Chapter 1, it took me a chapter or two to fully appreciate the implications of the timeline. But once the lightbulb went off for me, I was hooked. Lockhart's characteristic tight prose matches her cutting craft. There is not a word wasted or a clue misplaced.

Genuine Fraud is a novel for those who love unreliable narrators, anti-heroes, and love at its most manipulative.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 3, 2017

K10: First Year (Black Mage, book 1) by Rachel Carter

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?

Emma. 12. Cookie dough. Or bacon [laughs].

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

First Year by Rachel Carter. It's the first book of the Black Mage series. I like it because I thought the plot was interesting and had lots of teen drama. It made me cry 3 times and I like books that make me cry.

Can you describe this book in one word?


What was your favorite part of this story?

I liked when the person the main character hated in the beginning of the book ended up being the person she fell in love with.

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

The main character had so many problems I don't even know where to begin.

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

Just read it!

What do you think about the book's cover?

It portrayed a good image of the characters.

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

Yes, because I love these characters!

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


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

Why do you like making people cry so much?

We reached out to the author, Rachel Carter, and here is her answer!

My favorite books are always the ones that evoke strong emotions from me as a reader. Not every book can affect me so deeply, but when one does, I tend to remember that book far longer than others, so when I sat down to write The Black Mage I knew I wanted to take my readers on that same emotional journey. Crying over characters in a book is the ultimate compliment to an author, because it shows you felt deeply and were able to connect with them enough to feel heartbreak and joy the way my characters did in the book.

A big thank you to Emma for sharing First Year with us!

First Year (The Black Mage #1)

Before the age of seventeen, the young men and women of Jerar are given a choice —pursue a trade or enroll in a trial year in one of the realm’s three war schools to study as a soldier, knight, or mage. For fifteen-year-old Ryiah, the choice has always been easy. Become a mage and train in Combat, the most prestigious faction of magic.

Yet when she arrives, Ry finds herself competing against friend and foe for one of the exalted apprenticeships. Everyone is rooting for her to fail—first and foremost among them is Prince Darren, the school prodigy who has done nothing but make life miserable since she arrived.

Will Ry survive, or will her dream go down in flames?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Guest Post with Celia Pérez, THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK

Today we are thrilled to host Celia Pérez, author of THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK, published August 22, 2017 by Penguin Random House. From debut author and longtime zine-maker Celia C. Pérez, THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK is a wry and heartfelt exploration of friendship, finding your place, and learning to rock out like no one’s watching. Be sure to stay tuned for the giveaway at the bottom of the post!

3 Things I Learned About Writing and Publishing

Having just had my first book released in August, I’m still pretty wet behind the ears when it comes to this whole published author business. I don’t have a ton of sage advice to share, but I did learn a few things that I’m trying to remember as I embark on the second book journey (which is a completely different journey and that would probably be item number four if this were a list of four things I learned).

1. The process of making a book takes much longer than you can imagine.

I like to show this photo at my school visits. It’s the “before” picture of THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK. The stack includes the earliest drafts, going back to February 2015, and is topped by the final print out of the book that I took a pen to, the first pass pages from March 2017. It isn’t a complete picture, of course. It doesn’t take into account that the book had been cooking before February 2015. It only shows the writing part, the part I had control over. There’s time spent that you can’t capture as easily--like all the time you spend waiting for someone to respond to an email. Or time spent fuming because the publishing world doesn’t work full days on Fridays in the summer. You know, little things like that. Does knowing that the whole process moves at a snail’s pace make it easier? No.

2. You will cycle through feelings. Get used to the cycle.

Here, I even wrote the whole thing out for you. This cycle will likely become very familiar. I wrote this down before I’d even gone out on submission with THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK and was revising with my agent. Just swap out the word “agent” for “editor” and it’s the only thing that changed in the cycle once the manuscript was acquired. I wrote it down to remind myself that whatever I’m feeling at any given moment will change, that there’s a pattern, and something about that makes me feel, I don’t know, a little more reassured. When you’re in the part of the cycle where you feel like you’ve been kicked in the gut and nothing you write will ever be any good (and you’ll be there, trust me), you’re there with the knowledge that, yes, this too shall pass. Right now, I’m in the “Ignore the whole thing for a few days” part of the cycle and so ready to move on.

3. Your process doesn’t have to be like anyone else’s.

I follow authors on social media who seem to spend about twenty-four hours a day writing in lovely rented writing space or swanky retreats away from home. They use tools like Scrivner to stay organized. Sometimes I look at their videos and images with the same envy with which I look at Instagram photos of Martha Stewart’s even, perfectly frosted cakes. Why is my cake always lopsided?

I have a full-time job (and a kid, so let’s say two full time jobs) in addition to writing. I write where I can and when I can. I don’t have a special space reserved for writing. I don’t even have a desk. Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to write, much less the time to tango with Scrivner. My process consists of cutting and pasting with a scissors and tape on the living room floor.

And sometimes, my process includes having to coax a dog off my manuscript pages.

I realize that knowing these things likely doesn’t make anyone in the thick of this process for the very first time feel a whole lot better, but perhaps less alone? Yes, it takes a long time. No, your emails will not be responded to as quickly as you wish. Yes, you will be drowning in paper. It’s okay that you’re writing at your unglamorous, sticker-covered dining room table. Take deep breaths, embrace the cycle, and know that in the end it will all be worth it.

Inspired by punk and her love of writing, Celia C. Pérez has been making zines for longer than some of you have been alive. Her favorite zine supplies are her long-arm stapler, glue sticks, animal clip art (to which she likes adding speech bubbles), and watercolor pencils. She still listens to punk music, and she’ll never stop picking cilantro out of her food at restaurants. Celia is the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Cuban father. Originally from Miami, Florida, she now lives in Chicago with her family and works as a community college librarian. The First Rule of Punk is her first book for young readers.

There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school--you can't fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malu (Maria Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School's queen bee, violates the school's dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.

The real Malu loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malu finally begins to feel at home. She'll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself!

Black and white illustrations and collage art throughout make The First Rule of Punk a perfect pick for fans of books like Roller Girl and online magazines like Rookie.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway



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