Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: Braced by Alyson Gerber

BracedBraced by Alyson Gerber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Sometimes it’s easier to pretend to be someone else, especially when who you really are makes you feel sad.”

Twelve-year-old Rachel Brooks learns she must wear a back brace for scoliosis as her mother did, or risk a complicated surgery, in this intimate and heartfelt story.

At school, Coach Howard has just placed her forward on the team, (she’s that good) and while Rachel loves soccer more than anything, the brace now controls her life. If she misses another practice for a last-minute doctor’s appointment, she won’t make the A team. If she can maneuver like she used to, wearing the brace.

Reluctant to tell BFFs at first, Frannie and Hazel, both on the soccer team, support her. Determined like no one’s business, Rachel works to strengthen her moves on the field, so she’s not cut from the team. But the kids at school are whispering and Rachel feels like a freak wearing the brace. Can she trust her friends?

Rachel finds power through asking for what she wants. She finds her voice to speak out when something bothers her. This empowers Rachel. It empowers the reader. I loved Rachel’s voice her emotions are real and raw. Although I’ve never worn a back brace, this book comforted me. Who hasn’t felt like an outsider? Or felt different than others?

The dynamic between Rachel and her mother, the emotion from their struggle wearing the brace, and their delicate relationship, felt very real and personal. Written from the author’s experience of scoliosis, she takes us on a journey with Rachel, who must face a new normal. A place where not giving up, and speaking out when something bothers you, rule.

Debut Author, March 28th, 2017 by Scholastic Press

“The first contemporary novel about a disorder that bends the lives of ten percent of all teenagers: scoliosis.”

View all my reviews 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

K10: Story Thieves

The Kidliterati Ten is an interview series with young readers. We ask them about a favorite book and hope you enjoy the 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?
Sierra. 10-years-old. Birthday cake flavor.

What book did you read and why did you choose it?
Story Thieves by James Riley. I chose it because I read the back and I was instantly intrigued.

Can you describe this book in one word?
[Sighs] Amazing.

What was your favorite part of this story?
[Major SPOILER ALERT] One of my favorite parts was when Kiel gets eaten by a dragon (he doesn't die though).

If you had a problem similar to the main character's problem, what would you do?
So, one of the main characters, Owen, gets trapped in a book. If this happened to me I would play along with the story until my friends came to rescue me.

What would you say to your best friend to convince them to read this book?
This book is one of my favorite books ever! It's great if you don't like a book that only stays with one character because it switches off.

What do you think about the book's cover?
It's one of the best covers I've ever seen.

Would you want to read a similar book? Why or why not?
Yes, but [laughs] I'm pretty sure nothing is better than Story Thieves.

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one?
Nope. There's nothing similar. It's unique.

If you could ask the author one question about this book, what would it be?
Why aren't there any illustrations inside the book?

Thank you, Sierra!

Keeping this sparkling recommendation in mind, be sure to check out STORY THIEVES by James Riley

Life is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores.

But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen—his classmate Bethany climb out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half-fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character.

Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret, so Owen makes her a deal: All she has to do is take him into a book in Owen’s favorite Kiel Gnomenfoot series, and he’ll never say a word. Besides, visiting the book might help Bethany find her father…

…Or it might just destroy the Kiel Gnomenfoot series, reveal Bethany’s secret to the entire world, and force Owen to live out Kiel Gnomenfoot’s final (very final) adventure.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Review: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Natasha: I'm a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I'm definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won't be my story.

Daniel: I've always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents' high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store - for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

The Sun is Also a Star is not only my favorite book of 2016, but has also earned a place in my list of top 25 favorite books. At first glance, it seems rather ordinary as it's a story about a boy and girl who fall in love in one day. That's been done about a thousand times, right? But I promise this book is far from cliché.

Three reasons why this book is extraordinary:

1) Voice, voice and MORE voice. I'm not just talking about Yoon's writing style here, although that in itself is powerful. No, I'm talking about point-of-view voices. Most of the story is told by the two main characters, Natasha and Daniel. But this story also includes the voice of The Universe, a waitress's voice, as well the voices of a few others. You might think this would be frustrating or make the story spin off into pointless tangents, but Yoon pulls it off beautifully. Not only are the chapters super short (Yoon does not waste your time or patience with extra words), but each voice is engaging. The web of people from all walks of life who interact with the main characters during this pivotal day create a full reality of their experience.

2) The main characters are struggling with their different cultural backgrounds in the 'Melting Pot' of the United States. Daniel finds it hard to live up to his parents' expectations of going to an Ivy League school and being fully Korean even though he grew up in America. Natasha who has struggled with the challenges of being an undocumented immigrant for years but is now facing deportation from the only home she remembers - America.

3) And what exactly is love, anyway??? One character thinks it's nothing but chemical reactions that can be ignored. The other believes it's fate. Yoon explores the question of what love is as well as it's power.

The Sun is Also a Star will mess with your heart. It'll wring it out then make it sing. And then it'll do it again. Maybe several more times. Anyway, grab a couple of tissues and PICK UP THIS BOOK!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Secrets of Kidlit: Stop Dreaming & Get To Work

Do you have a dream, a wish, a hope that someday you’ll do something special?

For as long as I can remember, I talked about wanting to go to Italy. I always said it was my dream trip to go see Rome and Venice, and to drink wine in the Tuscan countryside.

I talked about how great the food would be. I talked about how cool it would be to see the Vatican. I talked about the amazing architecture and how Rome was the beginning of civilization as we know it.

I talked a lot. But I didn’t do anything about actually getting to Italy.

And then one day, it hit me. If I only ever talked about going, but never made plans, I was never going to get there. I would never save the money, or get my passport, let alone book a flight. The time was going to pass whether I took the trip or not, but I going to be left with only a wish if I did nothing.

So I made a decision. I decided I had to schedule a trip to Italy, before it was too late. Not just dreaming of going, but really going.

I set the date. Then, I started telling people I was going, started making plans. I asked friends to join me. I read books about where I wanted to go. I got my passport, booked my flight, researched and booked hotel rooms. 

I made plans. And I went.

Wanting to be a writer can be like every other dream.

You dream of regularly writing on your manuscript. You dream of one day being published. You dream of following up that award-winning book with another one, just as sensational.

Dreams feel good. There’s nothing to be afraid of when you dream, no risk, no rejection. And really, some people like the dream more than the reality and hard work.

Maybe you have writer’s block, so you don’t write, or finish writing. Or maybe you don’t edit, or send out queries because it’s not quite perfect. Because writing is hard, right?


Every book that goes unfinished is simply because the writer couldn’t make themselves do the work.

No one is remembered for what they thought about doing. Your tombstone won’t say “She thought about writing and becoming the next best author.” No one talks about what you dreamed you might someday do- they talk about what you actually did.

Even if it sucks. (Because, yes, sometimes it sucks and that's okay.)

You have to figure out how to get yourself to do the work- how to get yourself to WANT to do the work.

Jim Rohn’s Law Of Diminishing Intent says the longer you wait to take action on a plan you should do now, the less likely you’ll be to follow through and do it.

The longer you wait to do something, the more likely you will lose the motivation and emotional energy to accomplish your goal. 

And never actually do it.

You have to do the work to see the results. You have to push past the fear and temptation to quit and keep doing the work. Any project that stretches you and requires you to grow is always more rewarding than ones that only keep you in your comfort zone. 

Find your “why,” your reason for wanting to be a writer so you can build your writing habits. If you’re not feeling committed to it, no action plan will stick. 

Include the structure to support your goals. What’s stopping you?

If you wanted to start eating better, you wouldn’t keep your house stocked with chips, soda and candy bars. First you would change the way you grocery shop, buying different, healthier foods. Then, when you’re hungry, you’d have fresh fruit and veggies to munch on.

The same goes for writing.

Are you too busy to get any writing done? Get your goals on the calendar. Schedule your writing time like it’s an appointment. Leave the house and go write at the library, if you need to create boundaries with family.

Are you always checking email, Facebook or Twitter during your scheduled writing time? Turn off your internet or install a social media blocker on your computer.

Are large goals too overwhelming? Use small goals. Maybe 750 words a day is good for you. Maybe you can only commit to 250 words a day. That’s fine, don’t judge yourself. Less is more.

The important thing is to decide what you’ll do and then do it.


Because the time is going to pass anyway. And it's better to give everyone something to talk about after you're dead, instead of only keeping that dream in your head.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Reaching Readers: Author Visit Tips

Now that I've spent a few months out in the world as a published author, I have a few tips to share regarding school visits. There are many different ways to approach the content of your school visit, but I'd like to focus on the organizational and planning aspects that can give the students the best chance of connecting with you and your work.

As you know if you've ever done a school visit, volunteered for the PTA, or hosted a child's birthday party, planning special events takes a lot of time! It also takes a LOT of communication. Communication starts before you've even scheduled a school visit, with your website.

Tip #1:

Provide clear, organized information about school visits on your website. Consider including descriptions of the various programs you offer, your rates, and a large selection of photos to help interested schools gain a clear picture of what an author visit offers for students. It's also a good idea to provide recommendations from teachers and librarians once you have those. Make sure you include information on virtual visits if you offer them!

Caroline Starr Rose's website has a great author visit page!


Tip #2:

It's also a good idea to provide a sample contract on your website, and always make sure you have a completed contract several weeks prior to your school visit. Contracts may seem formal and icky, but really they're just a great way to avoid miscommunication about things like the supplies you will need the school to provide versus the materials you will provide. I call my contract an "Author Visit Letter," which makes it a bit friendlier. Here's what you need to include on your contract:
  • School or Event name, address, date, time, contact name and phone number
  • Number of presentations and length of each
  • Whether you will have an author signing session, or lunch with students or faculty
  • Required equipment or assistance from school, such as a projector and screen or PA system
  • Any travel reimbursements and your mileage rate as required
  • Honorarium stipulation with request to provide the check on the day of the visit
  • A cancellation clause with your terms clearly explained
  • Procedures for book sales*
Me, at a school visit to Hasbrouck Heights Middle School in NJ


Tip #3*:

Which leads us to the third tip, regarding book sales. Arranging for book sales can be one of the most challenging parts of a school visit, especially as a debut author with less name recognition, or with a school that is unaccustomed to hosting authors. Some publishers offer school visit sales programs, so check with your publisher first. These programs often require book orders to be placed 6-8 weeks prior to a visit, but the shipping is free and the school is welcome to return the books that do not sell at no charge.

Another option is partnering with a local independent bookstore. Many indies already have procedures in place for selling books to students (often at a discounted rate), so call around.

If those options aren't available, I recommend asking the school's PTA to get involved. Send fliers home with students several weeks ahead of the visit, allowing plenty of time for checks to be collected and books ordered. This can be intimidating for schools that have not organized book orders before, but it is the same procedure as organizing a field trip. If you can find one enthusiastic person to head the task, it makes organizing orders much easier to manage.

Author Jen Malone provides printable brochures with book order info included.

Tip #4:

The best way to prepare students for your visit is by sharing your work. Provide a multi-chapter teaser that can be shared with school staff and ask that the teachers or librarian read these sample pages to their classes ahead of your visit. If your books are widely available, ask the librarian to order several copies for students to read in advance. Ask students to prepare questions in advance, too--knowing they will get to ask a question motivates students to participate!

Tip #5:

Use social media to connect and build excitement prior to a school visit! Many teachers and librarians are on Twitter and Instagram, which gives you a great opportunity to show readers your enthusiasm. I like to schedule Skypes on my website along with goofy gifs for each class. A regularly updated events schedule is a good idea. So are tweeting fun doodles, pictures, or questions for the kids.

Author Jennifer Maschari lists upcoming events with her school visit info.


Make memories that last! If possible, every child would love a token of your time together. I like to hand out bookmarks or stickers for every child at school visits. Author Natalie Lloyd writes classroom names on a chalkboard that hangs behind her during Skypes, which gives kids a great visual to keep after the visit. Kwame Alexander is known for taking selfies with every school group he meets. Kids are eager for ways to connect, so find one that works for you and you will leave them that much more excited for future author visits!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity, #1)This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"I am not a monster, that's what he wanted to say, but he couldn't. He hadn't found a way to make it true."

August Flynn is a monster, and his family uses monstrous powers to protect the innocent in the southern half of a deeply-divided city. Kate Harker is the privileged heir to the city's northern half. She is not a monster, but the only way to win her ruthless father's attention is to act like one. As the Verity's truce fails, August and Kate must reveal themselves to each other in order to survive.

Every once in a great while, a book aligns on a fundamental level with its reader. THIS SAVAGE SONG is the book I needed at just this moment. On the surface, it is monsters and tension and life-or-death stakes. But it also echoed long after I closed the pages. It speaks deeply to what it means to be human and the well within humanity that feeds cruelty and power.

THIS SAVAGE SONG is dark and brilliant. I finished feeling that I've only scratched the surface of the monstrous things this world holds. I'm drawn to what may lie beyond the lights of Verity and can't wait for book two.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Secrets of Kidlit: Worldbuilding

All stories take place somewhere, but to be convincing to readers that somewhere needs to be as vivid and three dimensional as possible. The craft of creating a believable world for your characters to inhabit is called worldbuilding. While it’s an essential element of any story, worldbuilding is vital when depicting unknown worlds, whether fictional or real but unfamiliar to the reader. For fantasy and science fiction writers, constructing a credible imaginary world is at the heart of a successful story.

Here are some elements to consider when building a world, based on the well-established Five Ws and One H of journalism: who, what, when, where, why and how:  

Who - the People:

Who inhabits the world you are building? Your world can be peopled by people or just as easily, by animals, spirits, plants, or some other life form. The characters may be human, someone resembling a human, or decidedly inhuman, whether taken from mythology, science, and the quirk of your imagination. Take time to describe them without presumed knowledge, as key details such as the cyclops’ single eye or an ant’s antenna, are key to their self-expression. 

What - the Culture:

What is their culture like? Since words are the foundation of our craft, the way your characters use language is paramount in worldbuilding. Other key elements would include their family structures, social institutions, education systems, arts, food, customs, and work lives. The culture can be inspired by similar ones on Earth, from past history, from sociological theory, from myth or fiction. In each case, the culture you choose will inform how your characters will act and think.

Where - the Environment:

Where do your characters live? The sense of place is probably one of the most important elements to constructing a believable world. One of the best ways to do this is to describe it from your characters’ perspectives and using their experience of it. Try to describe the place using all of the senses. While the sights are often what come to mind first, don’t forget to describe the smells, textures, and sounds, even the tastes when appropriate.

How - the Technology:

How do your characters live in their world? The practicalities of conducting life and the way scientific knowledge is applied are key to understanding how your world functions. Whether your characters live in a stone age hunter-gather society or an advanced computerized civilization, technology will impact how they see and understand their world. Describe the machinery and equipment they use, including their clothing and tools. In some cases, the technology may be magical, but nevertheless it must be clear to the reader just how it all works.

When - the Time: 

When do the events occur in your characters’ world? A sense of time is equally important to creating a believable world. Determine when in history the action occurs, be it past, present or future (or a combination of time periods, as with Steampunk). Then define the passage of time there, making clear the intervals within the characters’ lives and the overall story. Also, be clear about which time of life is being explored and how much time passes and how quickly. Your characters’ perception of the occurrence, duration, and unfolding of events is key, too. Finally, how time is measured tells us a lot about your world, too: diurnal or yearly, seasonal or cosmic, limited or continual.

Why - the Beliefs:

Why do your characters exist, and what do they believe and why? Even if it is mostly backstory, know the origins and evolution (or creation story) of your characters’ world. Then flesh out their beliefs, including their understanding of what is true and unreal, right and wrong, and valuable and insignificant. This opens up the worlds of philosophy, religion, and government, which are rich, complex, and meaningful. In terms of story logic, lay out your world’s rules and rituals and be explicit and consistent with them to be believable. Whether your characters agree and conform to these laws and doctrines is another matter entirely.

While all of these elements of worldbuilding are important, it is just as important to write them into your novel in a way that supports the story. They shouldn’t upstage the story or characters, or interrupt the narrative flow. Avoid “info dumping” at all costs! Be sure to include only those details that are relevant to the scene, that connect to the themes, and that aid in revealing your characters’ development.

Happy travels in your constructed worlds! All the best, Chris Brandon Whitaker


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