Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reaching Readers: Book Festivals

As a writer of children’s literature, I’ve been frequenting book festivals for some time. Locally, we have the Orange County Children’s Book Festival every October. And just a short drive away is the LA Times Festival of Books in April. Both of these book festivals are FREE and jam packed with authors, illustrators, entertainment and tons of books. 

The Orange County Children’s Book Festival has a number of stages for all ages. There’s the Main Stage, which usually features a celebrity author. Past years have featured Jamie Lee Curtis, Holly Robinson Peete, James Doti, Buzz Aldrin and Kareem Abdul-Jabar. In addition to the main stage, there’s a storyteller’s stage, a Middle Grade Stage, a Young Adult stage, an illustrator’s stage, as well various other stages featuring pets, puppet shows, and even cooking demonstrations for kids. The LA Times Festival of Books is an even larger event, featuring hundreds of authors and illustrators. This festival includes a large Children's stage and a huge bookstore sponsored by Target. Both festivals are packed every year with thousands of kids eager to find new books to read. 

These types of events are such awesome opportunities to expose kids to new books and new authors. They are great for families. And the energy is so amazing, kids can’t help but to get excited to read! Plus, there's usually the opportunity to purchase books, both used and new. A few years ago, I won a basket of books. And last year, I won a new Kindle e-reader at one of the booths in a raffle. The opportunities are endless. 

Books festivals like these can be found around in most cities around the country, so do a Google search for one close to you today!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: UNDERNEATH EVERYTHING by Marcy Beller Paul

Underneath EverythingUnderneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mattie shouldn’t be at the bonfire. She should be finding new maps for her collection, hanging out with Kris, and steering clear of almost everyone else, especially Jolene. After all, Mattie and Kris dropped off the social scene the summer after sophomore year for a reason.

But now Mattie is a senior, and she’s sick of missing things. So here she is.

And there’s Jolene: Beautiful. Captivating. Just like the stories she wove. Mattie would know; she used to star in them. She and Jolene were best friends. Mattie has the scar on her palm to prove it, and Jolene has everything else, including Hudson.

But when Mattie runs into Hudson and gets a glimpse of what could have been, she decides to take it all back: the boyfriend, the friends, the life she was supposed to live. Problem is, Mattie can’t figure out where Jolene ends and she begins.

Because there’s something Mattie hasn’t told anyone—she walked away from Jolene over a year ago, but she never really left.

If you asked me to describe this book in one word, I'd say "anxious." There's this sense of unease through the entire book, starting early on with the revelation that something happened between Mattie and Jolene. I read the entire thing with a knot in my stomach. Jolene isn't completely unlikable, even as details of the friendship are slowly revealed. About two-thirds of the way through, I wasn't even sure what I wanted to happen. The last several chapters are a whirlwind (caution: don't do what I did and drink a couple glasses of wine before you read them!) -- I couldn't get through them fast enough, and the ending is powerful. The book is unsettling, gripping, and emotional. An insanely great read about an all-consuming friendship and what it means to lose yourself in someone else.

UNDERNEATH EVERYTHING will be out from Balzer+Bray/Harper on October 27th.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

K10: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkein

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 Sojourner. I’m 17, and my favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla.

What book did you read and why did you choose it?
Lord of the Rings. Because I love how open the world is, it has a lot of characters and I love their personalities, and how cool they are.

Can you describe this book in one word? I think of the series as one long book, it’s vast and magnificent.

What was your favorite part of this story? The cave troll part  in the mines of Moria. I love how the cave troll builds suspense and you don’t know what’s going to happen.

If you had a problem similar to the main character's problem, what would you do? I would throw the ring somewhere secluded, and hidden. I’d probably dig a deep hole and save it for me.

What would you say to your best friend to convince them to read this book? It’s good, so many things happen. There are elves, and orcs and hobbits, and many other races. So many things can happen, and do happen.  

What do you think about the book's cover? I like it. This is the cover of the book I have, only with a black background. The eye represents Sauron, the necromancer. It also has the ring on top with fire, and cool stuff on the sides, and the words that are written on the ring. It pretty much describes everything in the book.

Would you want to read another book about these characters? Why or why not? Yes, because I love the characters. You become attached to them.

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one? It wasn’t a book first, but probably Star Wars. It reminds me of TLOR. It’s the same, characters you bond to, many races, and battles. It’s just the future version.

If you could ask the author one question about this book, what would it be?  If JRR Tolkien were still alive I’d ask: When Frodo had the Mithril vest on, how was Shelob, the spider, able to stab him? (In the third book)

I looked into this, and it turns out that the spider Shelob stabbed Frodo in the neck, according to the book Return of the King.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit. In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Young-hee and the Pullocho

Young-hee and the PullochoYoung-hee and the Pullocho by Mark James Russell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A young Korean girl lost her brother to a goblin in a magical land. In order to save him she took on a quest to find and retrieve a powerful and mythical root called Pullocho.

I found the story enjoyable but had some minor issues with it having to do with plot consistency and filler paragraphs. The story had an epic fantasy feel even though there was a transition from modern world to magical land. In epic fantasy you expect the main character and companions to have moments when they need food and shelter. However in this book it was extended so much it became mundane and a little boring. As for the plot issues, certain things were mentioned but never made sense when I looked at the story as a whole.

Now for the aspects I enjoyed a lot.
There was the fact that this is Fantasy based in Korean folklore and mythology. I really appreciated how each step of Young-Hee's adventures came with a matching Korean folk tale.
As a reader you will be exposed to a few Korean words that absolutely take nothing away from the story. Some I even recognized from watching Korean Dramas.
I loved seeing the main character struggle with her emotions toward her little brother. The brother she loved but also couldn't help dislike because he could be such an annoying four-year old. On top of everything, her life was falling apart with her Dad not being around anymore and her Mom having to do so much to keep things going.

In the end this was a promising story that felt a little under-developed. I enjoyed it but didn't love it. If you like reading fantasy set in cultures other that European, this book is for you. Also the book being a debut Middle Grade novel, I'm definitely interested in reading more work like this one from the author in the future.

In case anyone is interested in the meaning of the Korean words, they are available on the author's website.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Secrets of KidLit: Guilt by Association

You’ve heard the phrase, guilt by association - the perception that someone is guilty of wrongdoing simply because their friends or family actually did do something wrong. This perception, as well as its inverse, are helpful writing tools. It shows how a character fits in to his surroundings, or conversely, shows how they don't fit in. You can use guilt of association to assign false blame to a character or to falsely imply innocence. You can even use it to hide a character’s true nature for awhile. Two classic examples of guilt by association:

In TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer, the perception is that the because everyone in the Cullen family are vampires, they are evil. The reality is that unlike nearly all other vampires on the planet, the Cullen family respects and protects human life.

J.K. Rowling, the perception was that Peter Pettigrew, the friend of James and Lily Potter, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin, was a hero. This perception was strong because he was friends with these outstanding people. The reality was that Peter sold his friends out to Voldemort - which ultimately lead to each of their deaths.

A number of years ago, I realized I could use guilt by association to help establish both character and setting. It was the Fourth of July and I was sitting along Main Street, waiting for the parade to start. A young family setting up in the space beside us caught my attention. The husband was the definition of clean cut - hair perfectly trimmed, face baby smooth. He wore crisp yellow shorts with a pink belt and the pattern on his button down shirt (also crisp) was a yellow and pink plaid. He looked like he’d just walked out of a Easter photo shoot for the catalogue of an upscale clothing store. And he looked just as comfortable. As his wife directed him where to set up their chairs, and the paste behind the man’s smile started to give way, I couldn’t help but imagine the wife laying out her husband’s clothes that morning - just in the same way she must have done for her almost-matching children.

The father finished setting up and patted one of the toddler-sized chairs. “Here, sit down,” he told his daughter. The little girl took her brother’s hand and pointed to the curb where all the other kids were.

“We want to sit over there.” She turned to her mother. “Can we, Mommy?”

Can you guess the mother’s answer? Does your imagination provide ideas about what the kids were wearing? What about the mother? Just by focusing on one member of this family, the reader can make reasonably accurate guesses as to how the rest of the family looked and behaved. The reader may also have ideas about how the family operates, their values, and even the town in which they lived. That’s a lot of information via guilty by association.

And guess what? It’s inverse is even more helpful!

This is probably the most used aspect of guilty by association. It’s when you describe how a character does not fit in to their setting. Characters like Ida B., Anne Shirley, Madeline, William Beech, and Dorothy Gale. By describing how the character is different from the group, you establish some of the character’s personality traits, a part of his or her setting, the group's values, and, as a bonus, you get instant tension!

For example, I once took my kids to the pool at the same time that a girl’s sweet sixteen party going on. Every girl had long hair and wore a bikini. All but one. This girl wore a one-piece and her hair was a short pixie style. She didn't look like it bothered her, but I couldn’t help but wonder about that dynamic. Except for her, why did everyone else look the same? Did she used to look like them? Did they tease her for not wearing a bikini? Did she cut her hair one day to show independence? She was having fun just like everyone else, but I imagined that there was a tiny bit of tension there - even if no one saw it. After all, we all hate showing up to a party dressed differently than everyone else.

When you are struggling to set your character into his or her setting, consider using a guilt by association technique to strengthen your story.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: All the Light We Cannot See by

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is the story of blind girl, Marie-Laure, in occupied France, a gifted boy, Werner, who is forced to enter Hitler’s army, and the hunt for a legendary diamond.

The story is told with beautiful language and settings that burst through the page. Told from the alternating points of view of Marie-Laure, Werner, and supporting characters, the flow of the book takes a bit of getting used to, especially because the book jumps back and forth between different time periods. I’m not sure why zigzagging back and forth over the course of a decade was necessary to tell this story. Yet once I settled in, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE took me through a journey of war and the people it affects, so much so that I lost sight of the major subplot: the search for a legendary diamond.

Throughout the book I was perfectly content experiencing the separate worlds of Marie-Laure and Werner, and yet, the best part of this book was the anticipation of these characters' worlds eventually colliding. The buildup was fantastic and when the two finally intersect…magic.

Technically, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT see is categorized in the genre of historical fiction, and yet given the two teenage main characters, it can certainly be considered literary YA. Marie-Laure and Werner go through the same angst that many teenagers would go through, albeit amongst the backdrop of WWII. I would absolutely recommend this book to YA readers interested in historical fiction.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Reaching Readers: Read To Them Aloud, At Any Age

Getting four kids ready for bed is sometimes like herding cats.

As soon as one has brushed his teeth, another has wandered off for a drink of water, while another decided her favorite stuffed animal must be immediately recovered from some far-off corner of the house.

And getting four siblings to agree to do the same thing at the same time almost never happens. So I cherish the nights when all of them, from the 15-year-old down to the 5-year-old, are climbing into my bed before it’s even bedtime.

Reading a bedtime story has been a tradition since my oldest was a toddler. At first it was board books and picture books. Then, as the kids have gotten older, the books have become longer. Sometimes I read to them alone, but often it’s in a group, now with the younger three kids.

Occasionally, I pick a book that pulls all four of them in.

My 5-year-old needs to sit close to see any illustrations in the book. My 7-year-old listens with his eyes closed because he doesn’t want to look at any pictures- he wants to imagine it in his head. My 9-year-old wants to cuddle as she listens. Those rare and special times my 15-year-old joins us, she sprawls at the end of the bed, usually the first and loudest to laugh at whatever we are reading.

They like listening to me read books aloud to them together because it creates a contagious emotion between them. When one laughs, they all do. When one cries, they all console. It’s like the energy at a movie theater verses watching the movie at home, alone. You can do it, and you see the same movie, but there is less energy in the feelings.

Reading verses Listening

People know the value in kids reading to themselves. They gain wonderful skills and knowledge from reading. Research shows, for example, there is a link between reading and the level of empathy kids display. Reading helps kids interact with those that are different than them by increasing their thinking abilities.

But, according to Scholastic, fewer kids are actually reading for fun.

One of the easiest ways to fix this is to read aloud to your kids.

From the Scholastic “The Kids and Family Reading Report, 5th Edition”:
“Among kids ages 6-17, 83% enjoyed being read aloud to at home because:
78% It’s a special time with a parent;
65% Reading together is fun;
54% It’s relaxing to be read to before I go to sleep
Among kids ages 6-11 who are no longer read aloud to at home, 40% wish it had continued.”
Reading to your kids, even after they can read to themselves, promotes longer attention spans and helps with listening skills. Reading to them helps develop language. And it feeds their imagination and creative thinking.

I don’t think there is an age that you need to stop reading to your kids. My 15-
year-old loves to read and reads quickly. However, when she was a tween, I noticed she would miss details of the story or nuances of language. When I read aloud to her, it slowed her down and engaged her imagination more. Even now, she says she loves to listen to the voices I use for characters and that she can see the images more in her head when I read to her.

We’ve read light and funny stories, like Stink and Katie Kazoo. We’ve read classics, like How To Eat Fried Worms and Matilda. And we’ve tackled some series like Harry Potter, Sisters Grimm and Little House on the Prairie.

Tonight, we are reading a book by a new favorite author: James and the Giant Peach.

And, yes, even the 15-year-old wants to listen to me read this one.


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