Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Secrets of KidLit: Anxiety

I've been feeling a little anxious lately.  A bit of the nerves. I think it's mostly because there's an awful lot on my plate these days.  I'm not really getting in a lot of writing and that makes me anxious.  I feel like I owe it to my agent to get the next book cranked out and instead I have about one hundred great starts that lose steam at about the half-way mark. I have to get cracking on lesson and unit planning for my classroom next year and that's certainly a great way to unwind.  Nothing says a relaxing day at the beach like rubrics!!  I've also had to get another degree to keep that same classroom so I'm up to my armpits in research methods and statistical analysis of peer-reviewed scholarly articles on special education which is about as calming as a gentle sway on a hammock with a glass of lemonade...from hell!  But that's just life.  Right?  The writer's life.



So, it got me to thinking.  What are the things that you, as writers, get anxious about?  What are the things that make you grind your teeth or wake up in the middle of the night with a head full of questions?  I'm asking because a lot of us Kidliterati folks have been there (or are there) and we might be able to help out.  I'll give you just a taste of some of the anxiety inducing things we've collectively dealt with during our writing journey:




  1. Not being able to get the words out
  2. Having the words come out but thinking they are terrible
  3. Having words that you love but being worried that you'll never find an agent
  4. Vomiting while trying to write a synopsis
  5. Vomiting while trying to write a query
  6. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to a critique partner
  7. Being rejected by agents and then being rejected again and then being rejected again
  8. Wishing that you were the one who got picked to be in a Twitter "Get an Agent" contest
  9. Being the one picked in a Twitter "Get an Agent" contest and then having to click "send" on your book
  10. Thinking that it might be time to hang up your hat
  11. Getting an agent and then losing your mind
  12. When it dawns on you that getting an agent is only half of the game
  13. Revising and then revising and then revising and then revising and then revising
  14. Going out on submission (barf!)
  15. Being told by a publisher that they love your book but there isn't room for it on their list
  16. Coming to terms that maybe your agent isn't the agent for you
  17. Realizing that getting a publishing deal is the beginning of the really hard work
  18. Not getting any love from your editor
  19. Wasting time writing clever quips about Donald Trump's hair on Facebook when you should be writing clever quips for your character to say about Donald Trump's hair
  20. Wondering if maybe...just maybe...your dream is very, very far away
So, let's open up the flood gates.  In the comments below, hit us with what makes you anxious as a writer.  What ties your belly up into a knot?  We've been there.  See if we can help.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Puzzling Post

I love a good puzzle. Crosswords, logic puzzles, geocaching, room escapes -- you name it, I'm there. Puzzles are not only a ton of fun, but they're so helpful in developing problem solving skills and logical thinking. Did I mention, they're a ton of fun?

So today, I present to you three middle-grade novels, all imbued with a great element of puzzliness.



THE WESTING GAME

An oldie but a goodie, THE WESTING GAME won the 1978 Newbery Medal. A puzzle book that's well-written enough to win the most prestigious honor in children's lit? Awesome!

I read this for the first time as an adult, and I was wowed. There are a huge number of characters to keep track of, but if you treat it as a giant murder-mystery -- oops, I gave something away ... OR DID I? -- and enjoy the twists and turns of the codes within the last will and testament, you're in for a wild and awesome ride.



THE PUZZLING WORLD OF WINSTON BREEN

Eric Berlin is a true puzzle fiend, working for a major publisher of crossword magazines. I've read dozens of puzzle-oriented novels now, and too often it's clear that the author doesn't love puzzles -- I mean, LOVE puzzles -- or doesn't quite understand what makes a puzzle fun for solvers.

Not so with Eric! There are mini puzzles strewn through the book, which you can do on your own time, but you can also simply blast through the narrative. And there's a much bigger puzzle built into the story ... in the form of a secret treasure! An experienced puzzle-writer, Eric constructs the experience with elegance.

I won't say more for fear of spoiling the experience, but when I got to the end of the book, I flipped through the entire thing several times, marveling at it all.





BOOK SCAVENGER

A very recent addition to the puzzle-book oeuvre! BOOK SCAVENGER takes geocaching (concealing / locating small goodies via GPS tracking) to the next level, doing it with hidden books and mini-puzzles.

Our young hero, Emily, is obsessed with a game sweeping the nation called Book Scavenger. When dastardly deeds befall the creator of Book Scavenger just before he's about to release an audacious new puzzle hunt, Emily takes it into her own hand to figure out the secret to his new master puzzle.

But can her clever code-breaking skills and powers of deduction beat the nefarious people also looking for the treasure? 

BOOK SCAVENGER doesn't have the same depth or breadth of puzzles as the other two books, but it's more than enough to keep a young puzzler occupied.



Let the games begin!


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Reaching Readers: Through Summer Camp ~ Chess Camp


I write by day in my family owned Jazz club in NYC. For the last couple years, we’ve housed the NYC Chess program and during the summer months we have kids swarming the place. They are awesome. Super intelligent, precocious, and their extra special talents tend to peek through. How? When I get the opportunity to chat with any one of them.

Last week, ten-year-old, Caroline introduced herself, after continuing to pop over and see what I was writing on the computer. She’d ask if I was still writing, of which I’d say, yes, with a smile.

Her grin was much larger than mine when she said, “I’m a writer too.” I told her that was awesome and asked, “What do you write?”

“Oh, ” she said, and proceeded to tell me the most extravagant tale, about a tiger and how animals would take over the world in great detail. Her story was off the charts remarkable. She also told me she and her friends acted her story and filmed it in class. Too cool for school I’d say. We talked about wanting to be authors and made a secret handshake then made plans to see each other in Authorland one day.

Two days ago I met four and a half-year-old, Oliver. Oliver sang You Are My Sunshine to a group of ten children and a few adult strangers. The happiest, shining boy I think I’ve ever met. Infectious joy is what he gave us. And I gave him a bookmark for a MG book. Maybe not the fairest trade but he didn’t complain.

Each child I’ve met here has a story to tell. They love chess. Several of the children are master chess players. And on occasion, can be found reading a book on the couch when there’s time. I’ll ask questions about the book they’re reading. I ask questions about what they like to read. We talk. The kids are often curious about what I’m doing on the computer way over in the corner. When I tell them I want to write children’s books (Because kids are the coolest!) they become more and more curious and soon want to read or know more about what I’m writing.

They become extremely interested in the process of writing. How is she doing it? What is she writing? Curiosity is the way of the child. Getting them to ask questions, and being interested in their interests pulls them in. Good old conversation, and I do love chit chatting.

I love that Caroline has an opportunity to write and act out her stories in school. This is a very powerful tool for children. We used to do this as kids in the playground – back when there wasn’t much on the “screen”.

If kids can see their words and ideas in moving reality they’ll be hooked. I think this is especially true for the reluctant reader. I have a son who has dyslexia and loves acting in the theater. Reading scripts pulled him back to the written word. Now he wants to write stories. A win for both of us!

Name,   Age     Favorite Book     Author


Ethan, 8 ½, Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling


Kaitlin, 7, Matilda, Ronald Dahl


Ilsa, 4 ¾, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Beverly Clearly


Hubert, 10, Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling


Sasha, 8, Harry Potter Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling


Have summer camps helped you reach readers? What type of camp?










Monday, July 20, 2015

Review: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp



This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
My rating: 5 of 5 stars










10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won't open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.



Harrowing is right.

There's not a better word to describe this book. There are others, sure, but I'll get to those in a second. The description above is right on the back cover. You know exactly what's going to happen. You know exactly when it's going to happen. Each chapter begins and ends with this small time stamp that carves away the story's exposition, leaning you further and further into the madness that you know is imminent.

And when 10:05 arrives, it arrives with fury.

This book was one of the hardest YA books I've ever read. Even before 10:05, I wanted the story to continue progressing. But at the same time I didn't, because I knew what was waiting around the corner. I felt torn, like I was listening to a friend reminisce over a tragedy. The obligation to hear and comfort is there, as is the urge to shrink back a little from what's being said.

Still...I couldn't put it down.

I kept turning the pages, drinking in every line and word, but cringing at the scene as it unraveled. I developed this sense of extreme kinship with Claire, Tomás, Autumn, and Sylvia and hated myself for allowing that to happen since I had no idea what any of their fates might even be. I despised the shooter with every fiber of my being, then found that animosity slowly mix with pity as the story progressed.

This story tore my head and my heart in half.

Just like it was supposed to do.

So, yeah. It was harrowing. But it was also incredible and courageous and honest and important. Marieke doesn't sugar-coat anything in This Is Where It Ends. And why would she? A topic like this is laced with severity and tragedy. But it's one that needs to be told. It's one that needs to be read.

And I am so very glad I did.


This Is Where It Ends will be available for purchase from Sourcebooks Fire on January 5, 2016.




Wednesday, July 15, 2015

K10: Amelia Bedelia Road Trip by Herman Parish

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 Claire. I’m 9 years old, and my favorite ice cream is chocolate.

What book did you read and why did you choose it?
I read AMELIA BEDELIA ROAD TRIP by Herman Parish. I chose it because I saw it at the book fair and read the back and thought it was fun.


Can you describe this book in one word?
Adventurous. If I could have another word, stupendous. If I had a third, silly.

What was your favorite part of this story?
When she caught the biggest fish in a contest.

If you had a problem similar to the main character's problem, what would you do?
If my boat ran out of gas, I would just swim back.

What would you say to your best friend to convince them to read this book?
This is one of the silliest books I've ever read. It's a fun book to read and I think you'd like it.

What do you think about the book's cover?
It's fun and tells you about the type of girl she is.

Would you want to read another book about these characters? Why or why not?
Yes, because it's fun to read. I would read this one again!

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one?
No.

If you could ask the author one question about this book, what would it be?
Why did you write this book.

On the Amelia Bedelia website, Herman Parish answered this, in his own words:
"In true Amelia Bedelia fashion, I backed into writing about the literal-minded housekeeper.
Amelia Bedelia was created by my aunt, Peggy Parish. In 1988, as Amelia Bedelia celebrated her 25th anniversary, Peggy passed away. Years later, Peggy was still receiving fan mail from children who wondered when the next Amelia Bedelia book would be out. Other children’s book authors volunteered to continue the series, but I felt uneasy about Amelia Bedelia leaving our family. Since I had been in the fourth grade when she first appeared, I had literally grown up with her. So in 1993, I decided to try to write a new Amelia Bedelia adventure. My four sisters and my family were very supportive and encouraged me."
* * * Thank you, Claire, for sharing with us! * * *

With Amelia Bedelia, anything can happen!
Amelia Bedelia is hitting the road. Where is she going? It's a surprise! Amelia Bedelia and her mom and dad will try new things (like fishing), they'll eat a lot of pizza (yum), and Amelia Bedelia will meet a new friend—a friend she'll never, ever forget.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Happy Book Birthday to Jen Malone and MAP TO THE STARS! (with recommendations!)

Kidliterati wishes a happy, happy book birthday to our very own Jen Malone and her YA novel MAP TO THE STARS! 

MAP is such a gloriously fun, romantic, beach-y read, so we thought we'd celebrate by sharing our favorite show biz books with you. Whether it's movies, like in MAP, reality tv, dance, or music, we've got a list that'll have you singing your heart out.

So, without further ado, Kidliterati presents . . .



Young Adult . . .

MAP TO THE STARS by Jen Malone
(Epic Reads Impulse/Harper)
When seventeen-year-old Annie follows her makeup-artist mom to Hollywood, the last thing she expects is to go on a whirlwind European tour and fall for huge star Graham Cabot. But . . . that's kind of exactly what happens. Brimming with romance, armchair travel, and Hollywood craziness, this is the perfect book to read poolside this summer!



TINY PRETTY THINGS by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton
(HarperTeen)
Set in the cutthroat world of elite ballet, three dancers would do anything to get to the top. This book is a diverse, page-turner of a read that will keep you guessing--and wondering if anyone is who they appear to be.





FOR REAL by Alison Cherry
(Delacorte/PRH)
Claire uses her obsession with reality television to land her and her sister a spot on Around the World (a reality show reminiscent of The Amazing Race). She’s intent on helping her sister get revenge on her boyfriend (a fellow contestant) by sabotaging him every step of the way, but soon the line between what’s real and what isn’t begins to blur.  This book has smart and sassy wit from start to finish and a dynamic sibling relationship to boot!

OPEN ROAD SUMMER by Emery Lord
(Bloomsbury)
Reagen O’Neill escapes a bad breakup by tagging along with her best friend, country music superstar Lilah Mongomery, on her summer concert tour, but is unprepared for Matt Finch, Lilah's intriguing opening act. While this sounds like a simple, sweet romance, there is a lot of depth to this one and even a twinge of darkness. In a good way. Also, country music!






Middle Grade . . .


A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT by Linda Urban
(HMH)
If you think playing the piano is tough, try playing the organ! Ten-year-old Zoe dreams of becoming a pianist, but her dad brings home an old organ instead. Learning the organ versions of old TV theme songs just isn't the same as mastering Beethoven on the piano. 

I HEART BAND by Michelle Schusterman
(Grosset & Dunlap/PRH)
Perfectionist Holly Mead is ready for the first day of seventh grade... Or so she thought. First, her new outfit (and matching backpack) is ruined, she's almost late for school, and her new band director has some very strict rules. Worst of all, Holly finds out she has stiff competition for French horn's first chair, and her spot as Julia's best friend. I Heart Band is absolutely adorable! The ups and downs of middle-school friendships are perfectly portrayed, and Holly's problems are relatable to anyone who ever was, or will be, a tween girl. The band aspect is super fun, but even the less musically-inclined will appreciate the story.



THE UPSIDE OF ORDINARY by Susan Lubner
(Holiday House)
Jermaine Davisdon wants to be mega-famous, but opportunities in her small Maine town are rare and rarer, forcing her to become producer of her own reality show about her family. Problem is, her family is b-o-r-i-n-g until Jermaine begins staging events designed to shake things up, with unintended consequences. Despite the high-concept premise, this had surprisingly poignant moments and a lovely final awareness on Jermaine’s part.



I REPRESENT SEAN ROSEN by Jeff Baron
(Greenwillow/Harper)
Sean Rosen has an idea for the Greatest Movie Ever, but no one will take him seriously. So he takes matters into his own hands, pretending to be his own super-agent via emails to top-level film execs that yield surprising (and super funny) results! The voice in this one is spot-on tween boy!!





And keep these upcoming show biz Kidliterati books in your sheet music binder: EXIT STAGE LEFT by Gail Nall (Epic Reads Impulse/Harper, 9/8/15) and MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS by Brooks Benjamin (Delacorte/PRH, 4/12/16).

More about MAP TO THE STARS:

Author Jen Malone draws on her real-life experiences as a movie studio publicist to bring you an insider peek at love, Hollywood-style.

The California dream was supposed to give seventeen-year-old Annie Shelton a fresh start far removed from her dad’s unusual betrayal. But when things don’t go according to plan in La La Land, Annie’s mom snags a last-minute gig as makeup artist to a teen movie idol and finagles a spot for her daughter on his European promotional tour.

Down-to-earth Annie would rather fangirl architectural sights than an arrogant A-lister. That is, until behind-the-scenes Graham Cabot turns out to be more sweetly vulnerable than she could have imagined.

Too bad falling for a poster boy isn’t all red carpets and star treatment, especially when you factor in obnoxious fans, an overprotective assistant, a stage mom/manager, and a beefy bodyguard.

But it isn’t until the paparazzi make an appearance that things get really sticky…


Click here for buy links!


Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bridge should have died years ago and spends her 7th grade year figuring out the reason why she lived. Sherm Russo writes letters he doesn't intend to send as he finally allows himself to get to know Bridge. And an unnamed teenager spends Valentine's Day hiding from a mistake.

GOODBYE STRANGER is a middle grade story that could only be told by Rebecca Stead. Written from three points of view, it straddles the no man's land between upper middle school and high school. As some characters hurdle headlong into their teen years, others are pulled back to simpler times and Twinkie promises. This would be treacherous territory for other writers, but Stead deftly weaves a story of like, love, and best friends.

This novel beautifully captures the push-pull dynamic of upper middle school. From an arms race of risque selfies and an awakening feminism to the childish comfort of a silly headband, Bridge's circle of BFFs experiences the bewildering process of growing up. Stead approaches these topics with honesty, pitch-perfect dialogue, and a cast of characters who create a loving safety net.

Middle school is a confusing transition. Anyone can become a stranger to you -- a family member who has always been there for you, your best friend, and especially yourself.

I hope that teachers and librarians place GOODBYE STRANGER at the top of their recommended reading lists this fall. My advanced copy was provided by Random House through NetGalley. Look for GOODBYE STRANGER on bookshelves August 4th.

View all my reviews


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