Monday, January 15, 2018

Review - Superfail by Max Brunner

SuperfailSuperfail by Max Brunner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks @Running_Press for the free book for review on

In a world where obtaining a superpower is pretty common, Marshall is part of the minority whose superpowers are unfortunately limited by a form of disability.

The story is quite fast paced and the color scheme adds to the feeling of excitement and action. I liked how Marshall eventually decided to turn having crossed eyes into an asset instead of a hindrance.

Although I understood the purpose behind the premise I couldn’t help but wonder why Marshall’s form of disability wasn’t in fact the source of his superpower. Of course it sounds like something a very famous author had already done.

Despite that little difference of opinion, I believe this is a fun graphic novel that will appeal to audiences who are very much into super heroes, adventures and mayhem.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reaching Readers: Engaging Kids at Book Events

Let's say you've got a book out. Yay! Now let's say you book a school visit or you're accepted to a book festival or you're participating in an author fest at your local library. You're sitting at your table or you're slurping down water after a 45 minute presentation to half the school and . . . a kid comes up to you. And -- yikes -- they want to talk to you. Now what?
Photo by superkimbo. Used under a
creative commons license.

This isn't a big deal to a lot of authors out there, but to some of us, it's downright terrifying. We don't have kids ourselves or we're just not all that great in off-the-cuff social situations, and the idea of having to talk one-on-one with a kid is kind of scary. Some of us aren't fazed by chatting with kids, but aren't entirely sure what to talk about. Some kids are naturally chatty, and you'll find yourself barely getting a word in, but others? They might be shy or in awe or not all that comfortable talking to adults. So what do you do?

Photo by pinprick.
Used under a creative
commons license. 
1) Ask them the basics. This sounds obvious, but it's super easy to forget when you're in the moment. First name, grade, school, and pets. Kids love to talk about their pets. And you can always branch off from there -- ie. "Oh! Your name is Kelsey. There's a character in one of my books named Kelsey. I love that name." or "What kind of dog do you have?" (Sidenote: this gets really fun when the child has the same name as your antagonist! I've apologized to so many girls named Addison that I've lost count. Although it does make for a good inscription if the kid buys your book.)

2) Ask them about their favorite book or a recent book they read. If the kid is coming up to you, chances are he's a reader. It's so wonderful to see a quiet kid light up when you ask him about his favorite book. If you've read it, you can chime in. And if you haven't, you can talk about similar books.

Photo by Jack Lyons.
Used under a creative commons license.
3) Engage the kid in something creative or a small game. This isn't for everyone, but if you have any talent in drawing or origami or something small and creative or game-like that you can bring with you to a book festival, kids absolutely love it. I've seen authors draw quick sketches for kids. Author Mike Grosso brought a Rubik's Cube to a recent book festival -- it was a hit with the kids. Other authors bring short, fun quizzes.

4) Ask the child if she writes. A lot of kids are budding authors, and they love nothing more than to tell you about their stories.

5) Pull in something from your presentation. This works especially well at school visits. You can ask the child about specific things you mentioned in your presentation. Things like, "What was your favorite part?" or "What would you do if ...?" work really well.

6) When all else fails, talk about your books. Seriously. But keep the pitches short and sweet (like, a sentence or two). Then you can ask the kid a question related to the book. For Out of Tune, I'll say something like, "This book is about a girl who wants to be a singer, but her family sells everything to live in this ugly trailer and travel the country. She has to find a way home to try out for a singing show. Do you like to sing?"

Do you have any tips for talking to kids at events? If so, leave them in the comments. And happy chatting!

Monday, January 8, 2018


Ashley Bryan's African Tales, Uh-HuhAshley Bryan's African Tales, Uh-Huh by Ashley Bryan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After the recent publication of the Newbery Honor Book Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams by Ashley Bryan, I had to read up on the author’s middle grade works. I was delighted to find a timeless gem in his Laura Ingalls Wilder Award winning collection of folktales. Lyrically retold and beautifully illustrated, the fourteen stories from Africa’s many folk traditions are a must-read for middle graders. The humor and wisdom resonating from the deeds of these heroes, animals, tricksters, and chieftains will amuse, inspire, and inform all readers.

A compilation of three previously published collections of African stories, this volume offers a wide selection from the continent’s great storehouse of invention. Readers will explore tales from cultures as diverse as the western (Ashanti), northern (Hausa), eastern (Masai), and southern (San/Bushman) regions of Africa. Every story is filled with universal human experiences and usually finds ways to connect people to their natural environment and animal neighbors.

Byran’s narrative voice captures the oral tradition of storytelling and brings each adventure very much alive. From this tradition, readers will recognize echoes of stories found in African American spirituals, folk songs, and folklore. The predecessors of John the Conqueror, Big Mama, Black Jack, Whistlin’ Woman, Br'er Rabbit, Aunt Nancy Spider, and Old Man Tarrypin inhabit these enchanting and empowering stories. This book is perfect for kids who like reading folktale-inspired fantasy or adventure novels based on mythologies.

All the best, Chris Brandon Whitaker!

Friday, January 5, 2018

El Jefe's Top Tier Books of 2017

So much fun to share my favorite reads of the year!

I got through a ton of fantastic novels in 2017, but only a select few made it into that category of MUST KEEP READING INTO THE WEE HOURS EVEN THOUGH I'LL PAY A HUGE PRICE TOMORROW.

Books I've read this year: 100 (just barely made it!)
Books that made my Top Tier: 5

It's my privilege to share these five standouts with you.

Middle Grade


Unexpectedly powerful, this tale of a girl stuck between two cultures, struggling to fit into middle school. It sounds like it could be trite or messagey, but Apple's search for her place kept me turning pages.

It's rare to find a "diverse" book that reads primarily as just a plain old great book, and this does just that. Might be my personal connection with Apple -- although she's Filipino and I'm Taiwanese, so many of her experiences resonated so strongly with my own.

Bonus: pretty short book, easy to get through in a single session!

Young Adult


Rarely does a non-fiction book stand out for me, but I'm a huge fan of Sheinkin's work. I don't know much about the Vietnam War, and even less about the Pentagon Papers ... I couldn't stop listening to the audio book, though!

Start with the tale of a break-in, add in elements of cover-ups, Presidential hubris throughout generations, and one man's struggle to figure out the morally right thing to do -- at the cost of facing prison -- and you have a MUST READ.

Might have been the most gripping book I've read all year!


It's so rare that I read sequels. SIX OF CROWS was on my best books 2016 list, and I couldn't wait to dive into CROOKED KINGDOM. Much to my delight, it delivered almost the same entertainment value as the first book!

Kaz Brekker's crew is back, looking to get things back on track for their big score. Seeing all my favorite characters back in action delighted me, and watching as they planned the heist to end all heists, all the while facing horrible hurdles thrown into their way ... just amazing!

I wish I could read this series over for the first time again. If you haven't read these books, they're my favorite escapist novels in a long, long time.


Groan, a book about a dying girl! Stick with it though, and you'll get just about the perfect example of that elusive element agents and editors are searching for: "voice." Both Greg Gaines and Earl have such distinctive mannerisms and quirks that make them stand out.

Not much actually happens in the book by means of plot. That's usually a problem for me, but I could have listened to Greg and Earl go on for a couple hundred more pages. The unlikely friendship proved alternately hilarious and touching.



You know how the story ends, but it still doesn't stop you from being wowed by each and every obstacle that these guys overcome. Such an amazing story about perseverance, hard work, and a little bit of luck. I'm a Seattleite, so to get all the references to things right here in my back yard was even neater.

I was sure some of it had to be fictionalized. Nothing as dramatic could possibly happen to characters faced with such absurd barriers. I mean, a guy whose family just up and leaves him when he's about 10, the dad saying that he's a man, that he can take care of himself ... and that's just the beginning!

Someone has to make a movie out of this. It's just that good.

Here's to a great 2018 -- can't wait to uncover my first new Top Tier book!

P.S. In case you want more book recs, here are my Top Tier lists from 201620152014, and 2013. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

K10: PERIJEE AND ME by Ross Montgomery

Perijee and Me is a hilarious and touching story about an unusual friendship, a heart-stopping adventure, and the power of kindness when you’re faced with an alien invasion. If E.T. the Extra Terrestrial is still “right here” in your heart, then you’re sure to fall hard for the misunderstood Perijee and the one girl who’s desperate to save him.
 Caitlin is the only young person living on Middle Island. On the first day of vacation, she finds a tiny alien on the beach. Caitlin becomes close to her secret friend, whom she names Perijee, and treats him like a brother. Caitlin has a reading disability, but finds she is a good teacher, telling Perijee everything she knows about the world.  There’s only one problem: Perijee won’t stop growing. And growing . . . Caitlin will have to convince the adults around her—and Perijee himself—that the creature they see as a terrifying monster is anything but. When things get out of hand, brave Caitlin embarks on a journey to save Perijee before it’s too late.


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 Sierra. I'm eleven-years-old and my favorite flavor of ice cream (right now) is pistachio.

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

I read Perijee and Me by Ross Montgomery. I chose it because the cover looked so intriguing--when I saw it on the library shelf it instantly caught my eye.

Can you describe this book in one word?


What was your favorite part of this story?

The part when Caitlin found Perijee and he was trying to figure out what the symbols on his body meant.

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

If I found a strange creature on the beach that I couldn't identify, I would leave it be and go show my parents instead of what Caitlin did.

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

Do you like aliens? If so, you'll love this book Perijee and Me!

What do you think about the book's cover?

It was really intriguing and made me want to start reading it right away.

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

Yes, for sure! This was one of my favorite books EVER. I would really like to see if they find their way back to each other.

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

!SPOILER ALERT! Well, I don't know any other books about aliens that grow into fifty foot monsters, sooooo, no.

If you could ask the author one question about this book what would it be?
Is there going to be a second book? (...I assume not because it ended on a very non-second-y book note.)

**Thanks so much, Sierra, for sharing your love for this book with us!**

Monday, December 25, 2017

Review: The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim

The Crystal RibbonThe Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

During the Northern Song dynasty in Taiyuan province of Medieval China lived a girl named Li Jing.

Spirit guardians protect the villages, such as the Great Golden Huli Jing, the five-tailed fox jing that saved hers years ago, and Jing shares a name with. Teased constantly, she’s reminded to be proud of her name because it’s a part of her. The village shamaness says her name ties her to their village jing, like a crystal ribbon, that it will protect and help Li Jing “find the home of her spirit.”

Since Li Jing’s mother died in childbirth, she watches over her younger brothers. Her aunt Mei and Grandmamma live with them, and her Baba. With hardly enough to feed themselves, they offer the tutelary spirits their best crops. And in order to survive, Jing’s family sells her to a family in Xiawan, where she becomes a tongyang-xi — wife, and nursemaid to a three-year-old. Jing’s life goes from hard to worse and she’s sold once again.

Facing unimaginable adversity, Jing’s only option is to run away, and she wants to go home. A magical spider, a nightingale, and a traveling stranger help her find a way. A richly depicted historical fantasy, emotionally charged, filled with magic and hope, and some of the loveliest metaphors. Readers will be inspired by Li Jing’s resilience and strength.

View all my reviews 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Reaching Readers: A Favorite Bookish Holiday Tradition

Before we dive into today's post... if you and yours celebrate a holiday this season, the Kidliterati crew hopes it’s full of magical moments. And to all of our readers everywhere, wishes for happiness and peace!

My kids are eleven, fifteen, and fifteen. They don’t wear matching footie pajamas anymore. They no longer sit (or, more accurately, cry) on Santa’s lap at the mall. They don’t listen intently for the pitter-patter of reindeer hoofs on the rooftop. But for the entire month of December, three towering creatures who now exceed me in height DO still ask for a bedtime story… and they curl up on the couch next to me, by the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, to listen.

When I was little, every Christmas Eve would find my younger sister and me in Dad’s lap, listening intently to The Night Before Christmas. He’d read the words (always mispronouncing chimney as chim-a-lee. Why, Dad, why?), we’d wonder aloud who the heck would go to bed wearing a kerchief, and then we’d scramble upstairs to our own sugarplum dreams. That book became linked to some of my happiest childhood memories and I knew when I had children of my own, I wanted to give them the same gift. But, ya know—in the spirit of modern parenting—even better. And bigger.

So nine years ago, when my twin boys were six and my daughter was a toddler, I gathered up every book we owned that referenced the season. Some showed Christmas celebrations familiar to us. Others portrayed different cultural interpretations of the holiday, represented different religious--or pagan--seasonal observances, or were simply winter-themed. Some were handed down, some had been bought by us, and a fair few had been gifted by our doting next-door neighbors. I wrapped them all up, and stuck them under the tree on December 1st. We didn’t quite have twenty-four, so I supplemented with a few perennial favorites (after all, what says “peace on earth” better than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Attack?). I brought my wide-eyed children in to peer at the tree and explained that we would open one each night until we reached Christmas Eve. The recordable Hallmark book that captures my dad reading The Night Before Christmas was wrapped in a different colored paper, so we’d know which to save for last.

Needless to say, our inaugural literary advent calendar was a huge success.

This year will mark our ninth go-round and we’ve since amassed enough themed stories to open TWO books a night (so long, mutant turtles)! In the early years, it was all about ripping the paper off those presents, regardless of what lived inside. That was when they were extra little and read-alouds at bedtime happened in every season. These days all three head off to bed with dense books that, if dropped, could take off a toe or two. And yet, each December our literary advent calendar tradition imparts a powerful lesson: None of us are ever too old for picture books (or, for that matter, cuddles).  

Happy holidays!


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