Tuesday, February 13, 2018

ART OF THE SWAP Releases Today (with a free companion activities guide for budding activists)!

*Shouts from the mountaintops* It's here! It's here! It's release day for my newest MG, The Art of the Swap, co-authored with Kristine Asselin.

This book is really special to us because it tackles some very timely issues that are close to our hearts (especially the role of women in our society), in a way that hopefully remains extra fun and adventure-y for readers of all ages.

The Art of the Swap is "Freaky Friday meets Downton Abbey" and it’s a feminist art heist mystery where a modern-day tween living in the caretaker’s apartments of a Newport mansion-turned-museum swaps places in time with a tween heiress living in the same mansion during its Gilded Age heyday, when it was a private residence. They have to solve a century-old art disappearance in order to switch back, but in the meantime their experiences in each other’s bodies show them a lot about what life is like for girls in their respective time periods, and gives them inspiration for things they could do in their own times to bring about more chances for equality. 

Kristine and I co-wrote this book during the early parts of 2016 and turned in a draft to our editor in September of that year. In it, we had our character from 1905 (Maggie) expressing amazement that the suffrage movement just beginning in her time has led to the election of the nation's first female president a century later.

And then the real election happened.

Back to the drawing board! While we contemplated revisions, we both participated in the Women's March and became embroiled in the movement in a whole new way ourselves, which led to a final version of this story that has our character from today's times (Hannah), who was previously smug about the progress made, recognizing that there is still a long way to go to change hearts and minds. Boy (girl?), were we working on the right book at the right time--all of our newfound awareness poured into this story, even though we tried hard not to make it preachy or message-laden, and kept the central focus on the art heist mystery.

When we were done, we knew we weren't done with the subject matter. Although we'd kept the book's messaging subtle, we wanted a "next step" for girls who also saw the fight for equality as one that marches on. We created a companion booklet we call an Activities Guide for Budding Activists (which you can download free here!), that allows energized tweens and tweens to build awareness around the issues facing the modern Women's Rights Movement and then turn that awareness into concrete steps they can take now to enact change.

Below is a sample activity and we'd love if you'd consider using it with your mother/daughter book clubs, scout troops, library groups, classrooms, or afterschool programs to help us spread the word. (Of course, we'd be extra thrilled if you also shared The Art of the Swap in these places too!)

Thanks for celebrating our release with us!!!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way DownLong Way Down by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1 elevator ride
67 seconds
7 floors
6 visitors
1 decision

Fifteen-year-old Will intends to take revenge for the shooting death of his older brother Shawn. He knows The Rules: No crying, no snitching, revenge. At each floor he is confronted with a ghost from his past and each tells Will part of the story he doesn't know. When the long ride ends, Will must answer one question.

There are many reasons why young readers deserve a book like Long Way Down . Its raw emotion leaps off the page. The free verse is gripping and rich with symbolism. It is alive. But most of all, young readers deserve to discuss this story with each other. They deserve to share it and the community this book will foster. They deserve the conversations and understanding that will follow.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Secrets of Kidlit: Co-Writing

Sometimes, writing can be a real pain. Am I right? The deadlines (self-imposed and otherwise). The isolation. The lack of ideas.

When I’m feeling this way I could really use a muse. Or a drill sergeant. Or…

A co-writer.

Yes, a co-writer! Having someone who is just as invested in the project as you can be a great motivator!

Dan Lollis and I work together professionally. He’s an 8th grade LA teacher and I’m a school counselor. We also make up our school’s advisement team, scripting, performing, etc. in several productions to teach academic and social skills to our students. So teaming up to write a MG novel seemed like a natural next step.

I’ve invited Dan to Kidliterati today to help make the case for co-writing.

Welcome, Dan!

So what was the best part of co-writing SUMMER BY THE SLICE, besides getting to work with me?

Dan: That was challenging—I mean rewarding. But you’re actually right. The best parts of co-writing all stem from the benefits of collaboration. And co-writing is fun! We were able to bounce ideas back and forth, mold our story and characters, and share ideas. I listen to a lot of podcasts focused on televisions shows. Some of the most insightful ones detail the collaboration that happens in the writers’ room, and how these creative people “break” stories and help each other in every step of the writing process. Our collaboration on SUMMER felt this way. It also provided built-in accountability. On the days I wasn’t motivated, I still had to sit down and write, or revise, or read and provide feedback. You were counting on me to do my part. And vice versa.

Dana: I think the best part of co-writing is having someone to blame. Wait, I mean, having someone to share the ups and downs of the path to publication. It can be brutal. The querying, The waiting. The rejections. But as co-writers, we have an encouraging partnership to revise and do it all over again.

 Do you think co-writing improved your writing in any way? 

Dan: Our co-writing experience absolutely made me a better writer. Obviously, we had to outline and plan SUMMER from start to finish. And I had to be more aware of pacing and voice. But the biggest improvement came in the revising. Not only did I grow and learn to provide better feedback, but I was also able to take your feedback and make meaningful changes—often before I moved on to the next chapter. This immediate critique partner setup helped me focus on adding emotional conflict and strengthen our story.  

Dana: I agree. We had a unique partnership where I would lean on you to add more humor in my chapters, and I helped you add more emotional resonance. You gave me the line, “But when it came to Dad’s get-rich experiments, we were lucky he hadn’t burned down the trailer park or turned us into mutants.” It’s still one of my favorites in the manuscript.

Were there challenges with the co-writing process?

Dan: Because we co-wrote from two different POVs, we had to figure out the best way to mesh our styles and make sure that they fit and worked for the story we wanted to tell. That same accountability that provides benefit can also be a challenge by causing some stress to be sure we didn’t let each other down. Then there’s always doubt. Is my writing as good as yours?

Dana: Aw, now I feel bad about saying I liked blaming you.

Would you do it again?

Dan: I loved writing SUMMER with you. I would absolutely co-write another book with you. The positive aspects and benefits far outweigh the difficulties. I might even change my last name, so it can go first on the title page.

Dana: I'd definitely write with you again, but Dana will always come before Dan. I mean, beauty before brains. Wait!

 SUMMER BY THE SLICE was chosen for Brenda Drake’s PitchWars 2017. It received a few requests and we’re now revising in hopes of having it published someday.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Guest Post with Sally J. Pla, author of THE SOMEDAY BIRDS

Today we are thrilled to host Sally J. Pla, middle grade author of THE SOMEDAY BIRDS, published in 2017 by HarperCollins, and STANLEY WILL PROBABLY BE FINE, publishing February 6th, 2018. Today, Sally is here to share her perspective on reaching readers. Stay tuned for a giveaway of both books below!

Because of Mr. Simpson 


As a kid, I wasn’t a talker. Silence was my friend. Except for around a few “safe” people – my family, a friend, a cousin -- I never said a word. I was a kid who always knew answers in class, but never raised my hand; who sat in the back, hid at recess, and fantasized about invisibility cloaks long before Harry Potter.

Outside my quiet suburban home, the world always felt too loud, too bright, too intense. I’d step on the school bus, and the sensory assault would begin. The babel of voices, the stench of diesel, flashing colors, too much movement and light. Every day started with panic pulses in my gut caused by nervous apprehension. (And now, poor Stanley has similar problems in my new book, Stanley Will Probably Be Fine! Sorry, Stanley!)

I loved to read, though. And for some reason, I loved… professional ice hockey. When I was eleven, I could have told you every statistic for every player on the New York Rangers or the Montreal Canadiens, my two favorite teams. In sum, I was an odd kid. Today, I might have been flagged for autism testing, but back in the dark ages of the 1970s, no one knew about such things, so I just straggled along as best I could, holding my nervous stomach and guarding my silence.

Until sixth grade.

Our teacher’s name was Mr. Simpson. He wore jeans and motorcycle boots – radical attire in the era of suits and ties. He had a handlebar mustache and drove a powder-blue Mustang convertible. Even I knew that was cool. And during free periods, he’d play piano, always with his eyes shut, as if he forgot we were listening.

Oh, but we were definitely listening.

He was chill, laid back, real. Mr. Simpson talked to us as if we were grownups, which blew our collective minds. He was a renegade who engaged us every way he could -- through art, music, poetry, fiction, math, science, nature, and sports.

One day, he wrote the lyrics to a Carole King song on the board. My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue. He twirled his chalk and said, “What does she mean?” We dissected lyrics, line by line, until suddenly everyone understood how symbolism worked. It was a giant Eureka moment. I still remember that joyful jolt of comprehension.

He bucked curriculum, fought with the principal, and didn’t shy away from giving us off-the-cuff philosophical advice. “No time in your life is more special than right now,” I remember him saying. “Honor your inner magic. Hold onto who you are.”

The last thing I wanted to do was to hold onto that kid. I wanted to ditch her fast, and become someone popular, whose heart didn’t race, whose tongue didn’t stumble.

But being twelve is a magic time… Add the right ingredients -- a sudden change or challenge, or a special teacher -- and deep, deep drama can happen. Twelve is an age when the scales fall off your eyes and you see glimpses of the world as it really is for the first time. It’s when your heartstrings get tuned up to more exquisite, yet more painful, pitch. Twelve is the epic age when you get unstuck from your family moorings, lose your way, gain new fears, confuse yourself, find yourself, start to change, start to morph… Maybe, if you’re lucky, start to bloom.

When I was twelve, in that class, I blossomed.

I started talking. I made friends. I wrote a 42-page story, and belted out “Proud Mary” in the school musical. I wrote for the yearbook, read a medical encyclopedia (thinking I might be a psychiatrist, in case the hockey statistician thing didn’t work out), and finished most of the seventh grade math curriculum.

My sixth grade year was my own personal Flowers for Algernon.

I don’t know how Mr. S. created the proper conditions. It does seem like magic, looking back. Who was that girl, the one who appeared that year? She went right back into her shell, once she hit junior high. But sixth grade? Wow.

Now that I am writing books for middle-graders, I think about Mr. Simpson a lot.

I think that perhaps he is WHY I am writing books for middle graders.

I remember him telling us something to the effect of: “The world’s rough, but full of enormous, beautiful potential. You are rough, but full of enormous, beautiful potential. You are going out into that world to do great things!”

I’m trying hard to share that message, especially with the kids who are afraid of the bus. The ones who can’t kick the soccer ball worth a darn. They’re my homeys. They are standing right there on the cusp of their own blossoming. (It can happen!) I want to show them a glimmer of their own potential, of the great uniqueness of them, of what they could maybe offer this rough but beautiful world.

Because there’s some kind of crazy magic inside us humans. There is!

And hey, Mr. Simpson. If by some miracle, you’re out there reading this?

Thanks for the best year ever.

Here's the scoop on Sally's new book, Stanley Will Probably Be Fine!

This novel features comic trivia, a safety superhero, and a super-cool scavenger hunt all over downtown San Diego, as our young hero Stanley Fortinbras grapples with his anxiety—and learns what, exactly, it means to be brave.

Nobody knows comics trivia like Stanley knows comics trivia. It’s what he takes comfort in when the world around him gets to be too much. And after he faints during a safety assembly, Stanley takes his love of comics up a level by inventing his own imaginary superhero, named John Lockdown, to help him through.

Help is what he needs, because Stanley’s entered Trivia Quest—a giant comics-trivia treasure hunt—to prove he can tackle his worries, score VIP passes to Comic Fest, and win back his ex-best friend. Partnered with his fearless new neighbor Liberty, Stanley faces his most epic, overwhelming, challenging day ever.

What would John Lockdown do?

Stanley’s about to find out.

Sally J. Pla is the award-winning author of THE SOMEDAY BIRDS. Her second middle-grade novel, STANLEY WILL PROBABLY BE FINE, comes out tomorrow (Feb 6), and her first picture book, BENJI, THE BAD DAY, & ME, will release later this year. She’s worked as a journalist and in public education, and now lives with her family near lots of lemon trees in Southern California, where she’s hard at work on the next book.

 Website | Twitter

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Reaching Readers: Barbershop Books

Kidliterati was thrilled to interview Alvin Irby, author and founder of Barbershop Books. Read on to learn about this amazing program.

Thanks for talking to Kidliterati today. We love the Barbershop Book project. Can you tell our readers a bit about the program?

Barbershop Books is a community based literacy program that creates child friendly reading spaces in barbershops and provides early literacy training to barbers. The mission of the program is to help young Black boys identify as readers by connecting reading to a male centered space and involving men in boys’ early reading experiences.

Why did you choose the barbershop setting to connect readers to books?

It was inspired by an experience I had while teaching first grade in the Bronx. There was a barbershop across the street from my school, and one day I was getting a haircut. One of my first-grade students walked into the barbershop and just sat there for 15-20 minutes doing nothing but stare out the window. I was thinking to myself, he should be practicing his reading right now! I wish I had a children’s book to give him so he could read while he waits. Being an early childhood teacher and a Black male who understood the cultural significance of Black barbershops was the perfect storm to inspire Barbershop Books.

Barbershops are cultural centers in many communities of color. A lot of young Black boys go to the barbershop once or twice a month. Some of the boys see their barbers more than they see their fathers. So, it seemed natural to leverage the cultural significance of the barbershop and the relationship barbers have with young Black boys to help boys identify as readers.

What is the goal of the program?

When you think about Barbershop Books you may think we’re focusing on kids’ reading skills. But that’s not our focus.  Our goal is to cultivate the reading identity of young Black boys. We want to create a positive reading experience that will inspire Black boys to say, I’m a reader! We believe if we can cultivate a positive reading experience boys will want to read for fun.

Can you share with us a Barbershop Book success story?
A retired Washington DC teacher heard about us and asked if we had any Washington D.C. sites. We told her we didn’t have any yet, but certainly wanted to launch the program  in D.C. at some point. She asked us what needed to be done to get the program started in her city and we explained that someone would need to identify barbershops interested in participating and pay for the reading spaces for each location. Over a two-month period this retired school teacher found and funded five barbershops in Washington D.C. She also sent us pictures of little boys reading in the participating barbershops. It was truly amazing. This experience helped me understand the power of Barbershop Books to inspire civic engagement.

What has been the program’s biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge has been capacity building and securing funding. At last count, we are in 112 barbershops, 28 cities, and 17 states. But we would like to grow and expand. To do that we need funding. We also need money to maintain book subscriptions for all the barbershops we are currently in. When someone funds a reading space they get an initial set of books, but after a year we would like to refresh these books and send new titles. Securing capital is important to expand into new barbershops as well as maintain our existing locations.

What’s the most important thing Barbershop Books needs right now? How can our readers help or get involved?

Right now, we are looking to expand into twenty target cities. We need community partners like churches, school districts, and local nonprofits to assist with the identification and outreach to barbers. Lots of people in these challenging times want to make a difference for children who need it most. Barbershop Books definitely provides an important opportunity for civic engagement.

You can also sponsor a space in a local barbershop. If you purchase a reading space, we will ship it to any barbershop in the United States, regardless of the demographics of the customers.

If you’re interested in sponsoring a reading space or donating to Barbershop Books you can find more information by visiting the Baberbershop Books web page.

In your opinion, how successful has the #WeNeedDiverseBooks program been in promoting diverse books to kid readers?

It is an important movement that is doing great work. The publishing industry has a long way to go. Despite the presence of a few amazing books, most of the children’s book titles that feature Black male characters focus on serious topics like slavery, civil rights, or biographies and those aren’t always the books that Black boys want to read for fun. I have found that many young boys want to read funny or silly books like DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, FLY GUY, and CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS. Those are titles that engage our target population.

I was at ALA recently, and I was walking around looking at books with Black protagonists. The books were almost entirely limited to oppression narratives: slavery, civil rights, biography, slavery, slavery, civil rights, slavery. My mantra for February’s Black History Month: I want little Black boys to have the freedom to read books that are not about freedom.

Tell us a little bit about your book GROSS GREG. Does Greg really eat boogers?
Oh, he definitely does! Gross Greg doesn’t call them boogers he calls them delicious little sugars.

GROSS GREG was inspired by my two passions: stand-up comedy and early literacy. As a kindergarten and first grade teacher I was frustrated with the lack of humor books. If you ask any person familiar with early childhood education what books young boys prefer to read, they’ll tell you funny books. But I’ve sat in a room with publishing professionals and challenged them with a simple question: can you name two laugh out loud books that feature a Black protagonist? Crickets in the room.

Black boys deserve the opportunity to laugh and be children just like everyone else. Books I see out there now emphasize overcoming oppression or celebrating difference. These books are important but they shouldn’t be the only books that feature children of color. Sometimes Black boys just want to laugh – like all other children. That’s what inspired me to write GROSS GREG.

To learn more about GROSS GREG visit Alvin Irby's website

Thank you, Alvin, for talking to Kidliterati about this important and wonderful program and inspiring young readers. To learn more about Barbershop Books, sponsor a barbershop, or make a donation visit the Barbershop Books webpage.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Review: The Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner

The HushThe Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“There were creatures in the Hush, creatures of twisted magic, formed from the remnants of real-world sorcery. The Hush was a dumping ground for the leftovers. The residual, dregs of Music and broken tunes …”

A musician traveling with his fiddle, and searching for his father, enters the town of Hamlin. Pegasi patrol the skies. He hopes the locals will like his music enough, he’ll be able to eat that night, and he sets up in the local saloon. Never expecting what would happen when he plays the fiddle, that his music would touch the Song, and he’d be arrested. He didn’t mean to, but he was a natural, raised in the slums by his father. Only Songshapers were supposed to sense the tune of things in a physical way.

Chester is doomed, sentenced to death. The resident Songshaper explains his sentence, while locked behind bars, preparing to be hung. Chester feels music in the stone walls, in the slivers of wood, but there’s no way out. He doesn’t understand how his music connected to Music so quickly. It’s a crime for the untrained in the Song to use it.

Chester stands ready with the executioner, confused about how he got to this point, and the blade comes down, but he’s suddenly someplace else, and not in front of a horde of townspeople ready to watch him die. It’s dark, and he’s with the older teen who requested that difficult song, back at the saloon, the song that got him arrested, and now he’s helping Chester escape. They travel through the Hush, and it’s rife with Echos, and other twisted sorts of magic. Chester meets the others teens in the Nightfall Gang. The legendary gang, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, he hopes they can help find his father, but they need Chester, and the trials begin.

An absorbing and beautifully imaginative world, a musical fantasy like none I’ve read before. The characters deal with tough knocks and adventure at every turn, inventing and utilizing fascinating magic devices and inventions.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

K10: The Problem Child (The Sisters Grimm #3) by Michael Buckley

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 Maddy, I'm 8, and I'm torn between toasted coconut and oatmeal cookie.

[editor's note: Maddy has inspired us at Kidliterati to move beyond conventional ice cream flavors.]

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

Sisters Grimm Book 3: The Problem Child

Can you describe this book in one word?


What was your favorite part of this story?

When we found out who kidnapped the sisters' parents.

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

Well, Sabrina has A LOT of problems, but the one I picked for this question is when she has to escape from an asylum without getting killed by the character who kidnapped her parents. I would try to trick him/her and escape.

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

If you like fairies and dragons, you're gonna like this book!

What do you think about the book's cover?
I think it's a good representation of the book.

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

I have! I read the whole series of 8 books because I felt like once I started I couldn't stop.

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

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

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

Where do you get your ideas?

*That's a great question, Maddy!*

Author, Michael Buckley came up with the idea for the book series after reading an old copy of The Brothers Grimm, where he learned they actually had a sister (who knew?). He soon began imagining the story of Sabrina, Daphne and then came up with the magical setting of Ferryport Landing. But a magical realm needs loads of fairytale characters, so Michael decided to add characters from Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault, and even Shakespeare! 

*Thanks so much, Maddy, for sharing this great book with us!*

About The Problem Child (The Sisters Grimm #3):
For Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, the latest in a long line of fairy-tale detectives, there is one mystery they want to solve more than all the others: Who kidnapped their parents more than a year ago? Sabrina enters the hideout of the Scarlet Hand, the sinister group of Everafters who are keeping her parents prisoner. She has a chance to rescue her mom and dad but is foiled by the most famous fairy-tale character in the world. How can a human child defeat a magic one? With the help of her little sister (who might be tougher than Sabrina realizes) and a long-lost relative, Sabrina finds a powerful weapon for fighting her enemies, and discovers that magic has a high price.


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