Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Reaching Readers: A Celebration of Sad Books

Please welcome author Erin Entrada Kelly to Kidliterati! Erin is the author of such wonderful books as THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS and BLACKBIRD FLY, and the upcoming HELLO, UNIVERSE. She's here today to talk about sad books and why kids (and adults!) need these books in their lives. I'm lucky to have gotten to know Erin through the Fearless Fifteeners, and I'm a huge fan of her books!

Be sure to check out Erin's website and follow her on Twitter (yes, she writes sad books, but she's quite funny too!).

A Celebration of Sad Books
by Erin Entrada Kelly

Heartache is nothing new for kidlit, but as the landscape of middle-grade fiction becomes increasingly diverse and sophisticated, we’ve seen a plethora of sad books rise to the surface. Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish, a 2015 National Book Award nominee, explored issues of death, bullying, and the complexities of middle-school friendship. Nest by Esther Ehrlich, published a year earlier, followed a young girl’s coming-of-age in the shadow of her mother’s fatal illness. The War that Saved My Life, a 2016 Newbery Honor book by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, introduced us to 9-year-old Ada, a disfigured girl with an abusive mother.

If you want to read modern middle grade literature, you better bring some tissues.

As an avid reader and writer of sad books, I’m compelled to push them to the forefront, put them under a microscope, and ask: Why do we (“we” being readers young and old) read sad books? Better yet, why should we?

Reader, I have an answer. Actually, I have three of them.

Sad books teach us empathy. A book doesn’t have to be sad for us to empathize. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson won’t make you cry, but it’ll definitely make you feel the pangs of fickle middle-school friendship. But there’s something unique about sharing an experience with characters who are trudging through difficulties beyond our comprehension, whose problems are weightier than our own, who find strength even in the darkest of circumstances. When those shared experiences feel universal, we’re reminded of how much we’re alike -- even though we’re all so different.

Sad books encourage us to reflect. We have to spend time mending our heart strings after they’re tugged. In doing this, we reflect on our own lives, beliefs, and values. Many of us go through life on autopilot. This is true of ten-year-olds as much as fifty-year-olds. Loss, tragedy, challenge -- these are often the mechanisms that remind us of what’s truly important and what we’ve taken for granted.

Sad books remind us that we are not alone.
Sorrow is a lonesome beast. What’s more comforting than knowing you aren’t alone?

Erin Entrada Kelly ( is the author of Blackbird Fly, a 2015 Kirkus and SLJ Best Book of the Year, APALA Honor Award Book, and Golden Kite winner, and The Land of Forgotten Girls, one of Booklist’s Top MG Contemporary Books of the Year. Her third book, Hello, Universe, will be released in March 2017. She lives in the Philadelphia area.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Book Review: The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish.

The Ethan I Was BeforeThe Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this ARC for an honest review.

This was a terrific story. It has a little mystery, a little suspense, and a lot of heart about friendship and learning to forgive.

Twelve-year-old, Ethan, and his family have left Boston for Palm Knot, Georgia, hidden jewel of the south, to live with his grandfather. They hope Ethan will have a shot at a normal life since what happened. His parents think removing him from the scene of the accident will help Ethan recover. Roddie, his older brother, is none too happy. He’s had to sacrifice a Boston baseball scholarship, and his girlfriend, in the move. With his silent treatment, Ethan’s sure Roddie blames him.

Living with Grandpa Ike in Palm Knot turns stressful for the entire family. Grandpa’s quite the handful, and he and Ethan’s mom aren’t getting along at all. Eventually, Grandpa reaches out Ethan, and they begin to share something that’s theirs only when grandpa begins teaching Ethan how to drive his truck. Grandpa shares a secret or two, but never allows anyone inside his bedroom. A grumpy loner since his wife died years ago, grandpa doesn’t speak much, and any time Ethan’s mother disrupts his stuff or way of doing things, grandpa’s disappears. Where to, no one knows?

But Kasey is all Ethan can think about night and day, best friends since early childhood—now gone. It was his fault. He did it. How can he live without his other half? They’d spent nearly every moment of every day together.

One spark of light in Ethan’s new life is Coralee, the whip-smart girl who sparkles with elaborate tales, he meets at school. She’s completely different from Kasey in every way. Coralee has her own troubles at home and a granny with dementia. She’s often called upon to help her and misses school. Now the other kids are warning Ethan to steer clear of Coralee. Can he trust her? Did she tell everyone his secret?

I love how every thread cinched into a satisfying conclusion. One of my favorite lines: “Sometimes a story is all you have. Sometimes that can be enough.”

THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE may help readers see how to let go, when faced with a hopeless situation, and learn to forgive. Fans of Something About Jellyfish will enjoy the exploration of loss. Of course, I think everyone will enjoy this book. I spent many early years growing up in south Florida, and the swampy southern habitat engulfed me and sent me back. The imagery was quite vivid, without being distracting.

This is one of those books that soothes your soul, and you don’t want it to end. Such a great middle-grade story! Expected publication: January 24th, 2017 by HarperCollins

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

K10: Prehistoric Safari Sea Monsters and Flying Monsters

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?
My name is Christian, I'm eleven, and um, my favorite ice cream is Monster Cookie Crunch. My brother and I walked downtown last summer to get ice cream and now I pick that flavor every time because it's so good!

What book did you read and why did you choose it?
I read Sea Monsters and Flying Monsters by Liz Miles. It's a two-in-one book and I looked through it and read a couple of pages and thought I could learn a lot from it. I think it's cool to learn about what once roamed the earth. 

Can you describe this book in one word?

What was your favorite part of this story?
I was reading about the Liopleurodon which is the biggest plesiosaurs and his teeth are the size of a cucumber! That's scary but awesome! He's eighty-two feet long!

What would you say to your best friend to convince them to read this book?
This book gives you a lot of information about cool sea creatures and cool flying prehistoric monsters.

What do you think about the book's cover?
The cover was the main reason I was interested in it, but then when I turned it over and saw the Ornithocheirus (a flying dinosaur) on the back, I knew I had to buy the book.

Would you want to read a similar book? Why or why not?
Yes. I like to read a lot about sharks because I'm so interested in them. I have the biggest fear about sharks so I want to know more.

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one?
The I SURVIVED Series.

Thank you, Christian!

by Liz Miles

While land-dwelling dinosaurs get a lot of attention, prehistoric seas were teeming with weird-looking creatures, too. Some of them were just as ferocious as any T. rex, like the Megalodon with its massive teeth and bottomless appetite. Swamps, lakes, rivers, and estuaries were also dangerous places for land animals, just ask the prey of of the "super croc," the Sarcosuchus!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: Out of Tune by Gail Nall

Out of TuneOut of Tune by Gail Nall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's never good news when your dad brings home a junker RV. But it's especially bad news for 12-year-old Maya. Her parents announce that the rust bucket in the driveway will be their new home and Maya will have to leave everything behind -- her house, her BFF, and her dream of becoming a country music star on Dueling Duets.

As the family hits the open road, Maya plots to make it back to Nashville for the Dueling Duets auditions. But Operation Maya Goes Home, OMGH, turns out to be more complicated than she expected.

There is so much to love in Nall's newest MG novel. It is the perfect road trip adventure, complete with majestic mountains, tranquil forests, a grumpy cat, and the cute son of Park Service rangers. The natural beauty of America -- from Yellowstone to the Grand Teton National Parks -- provides the perfect backdrop to Maya's dilemmas: what and where is home and how do you decide between family and your dreams?

Tween readers are really going to love Maya's story (even though they must always be on the lookout for bears). Maya is sweet, funny, and hopelessly dedicated to her dream. OMGH is adventure-filled and fraught with challenges, just like middle school itself. Life is an adventure, filled with quirky characters and foiled plans, but it is on that winding road that we all find personal growth.

I was grateful to read an ARC of Out of Tune. You've got to wait until November 8, 2016, to get your hands on a copy.

Until then, patient bear and I will wait for you.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Spilling Secrets with the BTS Bookshelf Tour, Part 2

Hello dear readers!

Today, the middle grade authors from the Back To School Bookshelf Tour are back to spill more secrets about their debut novels. Read on to learn more about the four debuts featured today! Part One can be found here. And don't forget to enter the giveaway below!


THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM gives a glimpse into 12-year-old Yuriko's life in Hiroshima during the last year of WWII. A shocking family secret is revealed right before her world ignites and becomes a shadow of what it had been.

Secrets from Kathleen:

1) During the major editing stage, I couldn’t type or hold a pen for very long so my husband typed as I dictated to him.

2) I had randomly chosen the 7th grade teacher’s name from a list of Japanese surnames. When my mother read my first draft, she told me she was surprised I knew the name of her teacher from the 4th grade!

3) After visiting Hiroshima, last summer, I changed some of my descriptions, that I had originally written. I had not realized the beauty of the area with the sea and the mountains, until being there in person. I could look at Hiroshima as my mother did before the war.
Kathleen Burkinshaw lives in Charlotte, NC. She's a wife, mom to a daughter in college(dreading the reality of being an empty nester-most of the time), and has a dog who is a kitchen ninja. Writing gives her an outlet in her daily struggle with chronic pain. She has carried her mother's story for most of her life and feels privileged to now share it with the world.Writing historical fiction also satisfies her obsessive love of researching anything and everything. @klburkinshaw1


A single-minded twelve-year-old drummer, challenged by her school's budget cuts and her family's financial woes, must find a way to keep her dreams of drumming alive.

Secrets from Mike:
1) The first draft of I AM DRUMS was written during my son’s naptimes. He was less than a year old at the time, so whenever he fell asleep I’d dash to the computer and pound away at the keys until he woke up.

2) Pete, the drum teacher, is loosely based on my real drum teacher growing up. He gave me a hard a time about my stick grip the same as Pete, but he was much nicer about it.

3) Sam and her friend, Kristen, cross a bridge over the Eisenhower expressway that was inspired by a real bridge I crossed every day on my way to and from middle school. On a clear day, you get a perfect view of the Chicago skyline.
Mike Grosso is a musician and a fourth-grade teacher who always keeps a guitar in his classroom. He lives in Oak Park, Illinois with his wife, son, and a drum set he plays much too loud.


In a town where magical powers are determined by the week day of one's birth, there lives a girl named Poppy whose Monday telekinesis skills are in need of a bit of work.

Secrets from Jennie:

1. Poppy's tiny dog Pickle is totally inspired by my own cute little yorkie Gia. Just like Gia, Pickle's favorite color is purple. Pickle's collar and leash are modeled after Gia's. And, yes, I also have a tendency to dress my yorkie just like Poppy dresses Pickle.

2. In my book, the characters have magical powers based on the day of the week they were born. At first, Saturdays and Sundays were also going to have magical powers. It wasn't until I was half way through drafting the book that I decided to make the weekends powerless.

3. I am a total pantser when I write. I write by the seat of my pants and rarely plot out or outline my books. Writing the outline for book three was tough for me because I'm used to ideas popping in my head and then just going with it!

Jennie K. Brown is an award-winning high school English teacher, freelance magazine writer, and author of children’s books. Jennie lives in Hershey, PA with her husband, son and two dogs. (And yes, it does smell like chocolate!)


Thirteen-year-old film-obsessed Lissa discovers a shape-shifting monster in her woods and decides to film the greatest horror movie of all time…until her little sister is kidnapped to the monster homeland of Down Below and she needs her star’s help to rescue her. 

Secrets from Sarah:

1) The spooky forest in Monsterville is based on Sarah Reida's real woods growing up. As a kid, she searched for ghosts and monsters, but alas, there were none. (There were, however, a lot of great hiding spots for a kid to read).

2) Adam, a main character, is based on Sarah's idea of what her husband Scott was like as a kid ("a literally giant Boy Scout"), even though Scott has never worn a fanny pack and can't find his way back from the local Target (that sounds mean, but he says it's true).

3) Sarah watched Tim Burton movies over and over while writing Monsterville, particularly Beetlejuice; and in her head, every scene played out in Tim Burton's style.

Sarah Schauerte Reida is an attorney for veterans, champion for unwanted animals, and middle grade writer. She lives in the Atlanta area but hails from the Midwest.

Thanks for sharing so many cool secrets with us today, BTS Bookshelf Tour! We love middle grade debuts! And now, here's your chance to win copies of ALL EIGHT books:

Click here to enter!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Secrets of Kidlit: It's Tradition!

Traditions are a powerful part of who we are, making them an equally powerful writing tool. They help shape our lives by influencing some of our decisions and beliefs. They can run bone deep - they affect how we worship, how we vote, what teams we root for, and maybe even which pickup truck we buy.

Other traditions don't grip our psyche quite as deeply, but still play a powerful role. For example, a group of kids who regularly go out for pizza after school on Friday would think of it as a tradition. Just as watching scary movies on Halloween is traditional. Technically, these are called customs since they aren't passed down from one generation to another, but let's face it - the word 'custom' just isn't a cool as 'tradition.' No one's going to yell, "This is our Friday custom!" and get away with  it.

Traditions can also play a role in the stories we write. They inspire, ensnare, challenge, and define our characters. Consider the start of Luke Skywalker's journey. After his ties to his home planet are severed, Luke abandons his original plan to go to the academy and tells Ben Kenobi, "I want to learn the ways of the force and become a Jedi, like my father." This resolution to follow the traditions of his father, leads Luke on an epic soul-testing and galaxy-saving quest.

But traditions don't always spur a character into action. They can hinder them too - just ask George Bailey. In the movie, It's A Wonderful Life, George is trapped by the traditional constraints of society. The bonds of family and managing his father's business force him into an internal journey in which he discovers his true self-worth.

Traditions also lend a hand when it comes to setting. The Harry Potter series is a prime example. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is bursting with traditions including Houses, Tournaments, a Sorting Hat, and Deathday parties. But there are also traditions that help round out the wizarding society at large. For example, on Harry's seventeenth birthday, The Weasley's gave Harry with a watch. Not only was it a traditional gift for a wizard who has just come of age, but it was also a family heirloom. This signified that the Weasley's considered him fully grown, and most importantly to Harry, a part of the family.

Traditions are also important because they form community. Whether it's the celebration of a holiday, the ritual of a Japanese Tea Ceremony, or singing Take Me Out To the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch, it brings people together in a common activity or belief. There are three ways this can help your story.

1) People love to belong to things. We need a sense of community to thrive so it's natural so seek out like-minded people. Those kids who go out for pizza on Fridays, people who drive Jeeps, and even writers (like me) who participate in NaNoWriMo every year, they all have a sense of belonging to something. It often strengthens their self-identity and helps influence the decisions they will make. Will they go along with what their peers want them to do? Or not?

2) Traditions can break. Or you can get kicked out. Think of the beginning of The Incredibles when all of the Supers have to live in hiding, pretending they are ordinary people. It was depressing and difficult for them to deny their true selves. Characters can also be set adrift from their old traditions when they move away from friends and family. Separating a character from a strong tradition creates instant tension.

3) Rules (traditions) are meant to be broken! Not everyone fits into the roles they are expected to play. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, Bilbo Baggins, Tris Prior, Scarlett O'Hara, and Maximus Decimus Meridius (a.k.a. Gladiator), are all good examples of characters who did the unexpected and challenged the rules of their society. In the Hunger Games, Peeta bucked the tradition of the games by refusing to think of Katniss as an enemy. He lied, manipulated the audience, and fought to ensure her survival - even if it meant the cost of his own.

As you write, consider the traditions your character might have. Do they give your character a sense of family or community? Are there traditions in the character's society that help develop the setting? How do traditions help or hinder your characters as they struggle through their journey? Your story will be richer for the traditions you choose to bring into your character's life.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Spilling Secrets with the BTS Bookshelf Tour, Part 1

Hello dear readers!

Today we have a very special treat. The authors who make up the Back To School Bookshelf Tour are here to spill their secrets about their debut novels. Read on to learn more about the first four debuts featured today! We'll meet the final four debuts on Thursday, September 15th, so make sure to come back for Part Two--and stick around for the giveaway below!


The dashing Prince of the Rats--who's in love with Cinderella--is changed into her coachman on the night of the big ball. And he's about to turn the legend (and the evening) upside down on his way to a most unexpected happy ending!

Secrets from Bridget: 

1) I actually wrote an epilogue to THE RAT PRINCE, telling what happened to every important character after the end of the book! Jessamyn, Swiss, Pye, even Eustacia...I know their futures. Maybe someday I'll leak the information, bit by bit.

2) And guess what...for my own purposes, I wrote a swoony fairytale "Prequel" to THE RAT PRINCE, too, explaining how Good King Tumtry and Queen Monette fell in love and married. This background was essential to me as I developed a deep understanding of their characters, and of how their son Prince Geoffrey's personality developed the way it did.

3) My last secret thing? It was really hard for me to leave the Kingdom of Angland after I finished writing Prince Char and Lady Rose's story. I still revisit it--and them--in my dreams.

Bridget Hodder was an archaeologist, translating ancient documents in order to tell the stories of long-dead civilizations. Then she realized she had her own stories to tell.





Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. When a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner and things quickly get out of hand.

Secrets from Casey:

1) Howard’s former best friend Miles is a nod to Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer in THE MALTESE FALCON.
2) Howard was almost named Harold, but I remembered I’m saving that name for a carrot.
3) HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. is not my first mystery story. (Dun, dun, dunnnnn!) I wrote a short story in fifth grade called JOHN WINK, PRIVATE EYE. I tried to draw John as a magnifying glass, but that looked weird with arms and legs and weirder without so I just stuck with drawing a regular dude, but I gave him a sweet hat.
Casey Lyall (5’4”, brown hair, blue eyes, no known aliases) is a middle grade writer from Southwestern Ontario. She can often be found working on a story, full of cookies, surrounded by cats. 



Eleven-year-old budding scientist Thelma Bee has adventure in her blood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a ghost kidnaps her father. Now her only clues are a strange jewelry box and the word “Return,” whispered to her by the ghost. It’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be more dangerous than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

Secrets from Erin:

1) The fictional town of Riverfish, MA is based on the real town of Maynard, MA - right down to the clock tower!

2) I lovingly based the character of Juddy MacDougal on my sister's friend also named Juddy. Just do you not include a dude named Juddy?

3) Initially I had no idea, or expectation, that the book would be illustrated. You can imagine my shock and absolute delight once I saw all the gorgeous line drawings inside the pages! 

Erin Petti lives under big pine trees in Massachusetts with her husband, excellent daughter, and helpful cat. She loves to read about magic, dinosaurs, folklore, and ghosts. Erin has a Masters in Education and a background in improvisational comedy. 



Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new adventuring partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes–or face the horrible consequences.  

Secrets from Wade:

1) I wrote the very earliest pieces of this story back in late 2002 and early 2003 (elsewhere I think I’ve mistakenly said 2004, but I actually went and checked the files this time). It had different characters and was at that point strictly a fantasy parody, but that’s how far back the original seeds were sown, some thirteen and a half years ago. And believe it or not, a few passages from the first draft actually made it all the way through and into the final version.

2) One of the people the main characters encounter during their quest is an archaeologist. Although I was never one myself, I did study a variety of ancient languages and texts during the course of my formal education, and so in part I made the character an archaeologist because of that, as a bit of a nod to that other aspect of my life.

3) There is a cat in the book whose description is based on our cat here at home.

Wade Albert White believes he is a figment of his own imagination. He has yet to prove himself wrong. Also, he's from Canada, which explains a lot.

Thanks for sharing so many cool things with us today, BTS Bookshelf Tour! Stay tuned for more inside info on Thursday with Part 2 of this series. And now, here's your chance to win:

Click here to enter!


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