Monday, April 23, 2018

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet XThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Xiomara Batista wants to hide. From her mother. From the church. From the attention of the boys in her Harlem neighborhood.

Xiomara also wants to be seen. As an individual. As a thinker. As a poet.

When Xiomara is invited to be in her school's poetry club, it becomes impossible to stay silent. At great risk to her fragile family life, words demand to be spoken.

"If I were on fire
who could I count on
to water me down?"

THE POET X is a remarkable story. Told in verse, the novel feels as tense as the tightrope life Xiomara walks. I wanted to mark passages on every page. Reading this book was a very emotional experience for me. As a teen I felt exactly as Xiomara does - pulled between hiding from the world and wanting to be acknowledged by it tears the soul apart. Xiomara's story will show teens that words can heal.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Review: Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton

Heart of ThornsHeart of Thorns by Bree Barton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an ARC for an honest review.

In a Kingdom where “Gods forbid a woman ever express a sound belief” two sisters, 17-year-old Mia Rose and 15-year-old Angelyne, challenge this belief. Mia wants to be a Huntress, not married off to the prince and continue her mission fighting Gwyrach and their menacing magic.

The girls of the Kaer Killian wear gloves, for the fear anyone one of them could be a murderous Gwyrach, and a threat. “Women who, through their touch could manipulate the flesh, bone, breath, and blood of their victims.

Mia Rose prepares for her escape; her father, who loved her mother, now dead, has forced her into a loveless marriage. Only “She has work to do and a sister to save.”
Her sister’s fighting a mysterious illness, since staying in the ancient citadel carved from a mountain of ice, her lady in waiting during the month-long engagement.

A demon, half-god, half-human, killed her mother and destroyed their lives. It’s Mia’s mission to find that Gwyrach once they escape. But her sister, Angelyne won’t go, and Mia can’t leave her behind. She insists the life Mia hates and wants to escape isn’t so bad.

Mia’s marriage to the prince continues as planned. Even after overhearing him call her dangerous. During the wedding dinner, Mia vows to strike fear in every living Gwyrach once she’s princess.

Her father secretly hands Mia her mother’s journal. Her mother wanted her to have it when she was ready. She discovers her mother’s secrets as the blank pages reveal what she needs to know in due time. Changing all her preconceived beliefs.

Five hundred pairs of eyes await the union, marking the alliance of two great houses. The prince falls into Mia’s arms, wounded by an arrow, and they make their escape. When Mia tries to save his life, her entire world is thrown into chaos, and the adventure is just getting started.

A gorgeously written fantasy with nail-biting suspense, and twists that’ll leave your mouth gaping. A familiar world, a little too familiar, where powerful women and girls are seen as dangerous, feared, and kept bottled up, or on display. Many of the truths are painfully similar to the struggles of our time. Written with a poignant message about feminism and love.

Sometimes love is the stronger choice.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Secrets of Kidlit: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

Just like different kids see situations through their own, distinct lenses, each of your characters see stakes and conflict differently in your story. Your characters need to have conflict, but what is the right conflict? It depends on the character.

I decided to try a little writing exercise. I asked each of my kids the big question of, “What’s the worst thing that could happen today?” I wanted to try this to see how I could use the ideas in writing, how I could take kids’ seemingly small problems and show that they seem big to them. 

That phrase is often thrown out in a conversational way, as to say things aren’t so bad, that the “worst” is not really the end of the world. “I'm nervous because I have to give a speech tomorrow.” “Don’t worry about it–what’s the worst that can happen?”

I asked my 12 year old middle-schooler:
“What’s the worst thing that could happen today?”
“I get bad grades.”

This is the kind of answers I thought I would get! “Why is that bad?”
“My parents would get mad at me.”
“Anything else?”
“Getting a bad grade in math would mean not getting into the smart math class next year in 7th grade.”
“Why is that bad?”
“I’d have to be in just the regular 7th grade math class where they go slower.”

Digging deeper, I asked, “Why is not being in the smart class bad?”
“I want to be a smart kid. Not getting in the smart class would make me feel dumb.”

So bad grades is less about her parents being mad and more about her self-image.

I continued my exercise with my 17 year old:
“What’s the worst thing that could happen today?”
“I could fail.”
“Fail what? A class?”
“A test, a class, out of school, at getting a good job, AT MY WHOLE LIFE.”

No one ever said that high schoolers can’t be melodramatic. “That’s a lot of pressure for one class.”
“We are taught they are all ‘one in the same.’”

You can see how a seemingly small thing suddenly has larger meaning. The impact quickly moves from one incident, maybe a bad test that effects her grade, to her feeling her entire life was in the balance.

To my 10 year old son, wondering what funny answers I might get:
“What’s the worst thing that could happen today?”
“I die.”

Well, that escalated quicker than I thought.

So I asked my 8 year old son:
“What’s the worst thing that could happen today?”
“I could die.”

What is the deal with kids these days? “Yes, but is that really the worst thing?”
“Someone could break into school.”
“Didn’t you *just* say that not having pizza for dinner was the worst thing in the world? And you didn’t die.”

I get the angry eye-roll with, “Mom, stop.” Elementary boys have a flair for the dramatic, too, I guess. 
Point is, anything a kid really wants is considered high stakes to them, if that's what they have their heart set on.

Try this yourself! Find a kid–a neighbor, a niece or nephew, a friend’s kid, or your own kids if you are very brave. Start asking what bad things they think could happen to them. You may want to start with a little structure by using leading questions to keep the answers from going off the rails. Try, “You walk into school and there’s a substitute teacher, how will this be a bad day at school?”

Hopefully this little exercise will give you some fun writing ideas!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Review - CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone is a fantastic work of art brought into existence by debut author, Tomi Adeyemi.

The story follows Zelie, who watched her mother (and many others) attacked and killed by their nation's monarchy because of the magic that the maji were able to wield. The day that Zelie's mother died was also the day that the powers of the maji themselves all but vanished.

Years later, Zelie happens across a runaway princess who literally holds one of the keys to restoring magic to the world. Zelie, her brother, and the princess form an unlikely trio as they quest not only to save their land, but also flee Prince Inan who is determined to kill Zelie, and as a result kill magic once and for all.

From the first page, the words "cinematic" and "evocative" popped into my head as I read this book. Ms. Adeyemi writes viscerally, and thus transports the reader almost immediately to Orisha, the land that our heroes are desperate to save.

The story shifts between three perspectives. We follow the plot alongside Zelie, Amari, and the villain, Inan. Ms. Adeyemi deftly weaves an intricate, adventurous plot seamlessly together through the eyes and experiences of these unique and well developed characters.

To be clear, this isn't your ordinary fantasy. Rooted in African mythology, using African language and folklore Ms. Adeyemi has crafted a world wholly foreign to western readers, but the power and purpose of her prose makes our journey through Orisha and these character's hearts nearly effortless and entirely thrilling.

It isn't all fun and games either. Sure, there are the traditional stakes often found in young adult fantasy - "save the world". There is even a romance or two. However, Children of Blood and Bone, is an impressively nuanced fantasy story - on par with the great works of its kind. The themes revolve around oppression, specifically the oppression of minority groups - those who perpetuate it, and those who fight to abolish it.

Each point-of-view character represents a different, and enlightening perspective:
Zelie - born in poverty and whose most powerful and influential experiences are painful ones.
Amari - a princess, brimming with privilege who chooses to abandon it as best she can in order to foster a better world.
Inan - embraces his privilege as a prince, self-loathing, and longs to rid himself of anything that reminds him of who he truly is - violently if necessary.
For some this will be just a fun romp filled with magic (we could go on all day about the complex, fascinating magic system), action, and adventure. But the careful, thoughtful, or insightful reader will be rewarded with a truly extraordinary tale that will tug at your heartstrings, open your eyes, and (hopefully) give you the strength to Rise.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Cover Reveal for EARTH TO DAD by Krista Van Dolzer

Kidliterati is excited to host the cover reveal for Krista Van Dolzer's newest upcoming middle grade novel, EARTH TO DAD! Check out the blurb:

The distance between Earth and Mars is more than just physical. 

No one knows that better than eleven-year-old Jameson O’Malley. When Dad left for Mars, Jameson thought technology would help shorten the millions of miles between them, but he’s starting to realize no transmission can replace his father.

When a new family moves onto Base Ripley, Jameson makes an unlikely friend in Astra Primm, who’s missing a parent of her own. But as their friendship grows stronger, Jameson starts seeing the flaws in his own family. Mom is growing distant, and something is wrong with Dad. He’s not sending transmissions as frequently, and when he does there are bags under his eyes.

Soon Jameson realizes there’s more to the story than he knows--and plenty people aren’t telling him. Determined to learn the truth, Jameson and Astra embark on a journey exploring life, loss, and friendship that will take them to the edge of their universe.

This sounds fantastic -- a perfect mix of heart and adventure. But just wait until you see the cover!

Those colors, right?! Here's what Krista had to say about the cover of EARTH TO DAD:

As soon as I saw this cover, I fell instantly in love. I loved the deep blue star-washed sky and the orange glow on the horizon, and I loved how designer Tracy McCabe and illustrator Jen Bricking gave both of my main characters equal coverage on the cover. We went back and forth a little on the title treatment--if you look the book up on Amazon or Goodreads right now, you'll notice that the font has undergone several revisions--but I couldn't be happier with what we landed on.

My one contribution is the small red star in the cover's top right corner. I thought it would be cool if Jameson and Astra were looking at something specific, and a far-off Mars seemed like the perfect focal point. Luckily for me, Tracy and Jen agreed.

EARTH TO DAD will shoot through our atmosphere on August 1st, but it's available to preorder on Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, and Indigo now. You can also add the book to your Goodreads list.

More about Krista . . .

Krista Van Dolzer is a stay-at-home mom by day and a children's author by bedtime. She lives with her husband and soon-to-be four kids in Layton, Utah, and hopes she doesn't have to move--to Mars or anywhere else--for at least several decades. Krista is also the author of The Sound of Life and Everything and Don't Vote for Me.

You can find her online at her website.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Review - Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz

Betty Before XBetty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a historical fiction inspired from the life of Dr. Betty Shabazz right before she sets out on her path of activism for human rights in the Civil Rights Movement.

As a child growing up in my tiny country in West Africa, as far as I can recall, not once was Dr. Betty’s role in the Civil Rights Movement mentioned or discussed in detail. Everytime I had to learn about the Civil Rights Movements it was always in a context of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. versus Malcom X. The “peaceful” activist against the “violent” activist.

Even though I am fully aware that this book is barely the tip of the Iceberg, it bothers me greatly that Dr. Betty’s story went missing from my narrative.

Betty’s struggle with getting a rounded understanding of perseverance in making good trouble without retaliating when a brother or sister gets murdered by police, or a store owner verbally or physically abuses someone without consequences (the list goes on) resonated with me on several levels. How can one hope the system will make things better, bring justice when that system was never put in place to serve everyone?

I also enjoyed learning about Betty’s family life although it’s hard to tell if the things she endured during those four years played a role in the decisions she made for herself later after she joined the Housewives League.

The voice in the book is engaging and will pull at your heartstrings. I appreciate that a book like this now exists and will not only show children a different angle to the Civil Rights Movement but will also open the door to those who don’t know better to further their knowledge by reading about Dr. Betty beyond this book.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

K10: There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar

1. Tell us a little about yourself: what is your first name, how old are you, and what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Pablo Vargas, 11 years old, mint chip.

2. What book did you read and why did you choose it

There’s a Boy in the Girls’ bathroom.

3. Can you describe this book in one word? 


4. What was your favorite part of this story? 

When the guy gets a black eye.

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

Not go to school.

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

It’s good.

7. What do you think about the book's cover? 


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

Probably because it’s pretty funny.

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

Maybe, like a Roald Dahl book.

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

How do you come up with the ideas?

"I sit at my desk and I just try to think. It may be because the life of a writer is somewhat boring, sitting alone in a room, in front of a computer screen. It forces my mind to come up with crazy ideas." ~ from his website. 

Bradley Chalkers is the oldest kid in the fifth grade. He tells enormous lies. He picks fights with girls. No one likes him-except Carla, the new school counselor. She thinks Bradley is sensitive and generous and knows that Bradley could change, if only he weren't afraid to try. But when you feel like the most-hated kid in the whole school, believing in yourself can be the hardest thing in the world


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