Wednesday, May 24, 2017

K10: Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever

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 Leo, and I’m 7. My favorite ice cream is Mint Chip.

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

I just finished reading Cabin Fever (Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, by Jeff Kinney). It's my favorite chapter book! Since it's been hot and I've been sweating, reading about the cold makes me feel cool.

Can you describe this book in one word?

What was your favorite part of this story?
When there was a huge snow storm coming, Greg didn't do his homework. But then the snow storm wasn't that bad and he had to go to school without his homework done. It was funny!

If you had a problem similar to the main character's problem, what would you do?
Greg made up a story. I would be honest to my teacher.

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

All my friends have read this book, but I would say there are lots of jokes and it's really funny.

What do you think about the book's cover? 
[Touches the cover.] It has good texture.

Would you want to read another book about these characters? Why or why not?
Yes, because it's so amazing.

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one?
Dog Days in the series was really similar.

If you could ask the author one question about this book what would it be?
How long does it take to produce each book?

In answer to Leo's question, Jeff Kinney has this FAQ on his author website:
"How long does it take you to write a book?
It takes about nine months to create a new Wimpy Kid book; six months to come up with all the ideas/jokes (I need 350 per book), one month to write it, and two months to illustrate."

Thank you, Leo, for sharing with us!

Greg Heffley is in big trouble. School property has been damaged, and Greg is the prime suspect. But the crazy thing is, he's innocent. Or at least sort of.

The authorities are closing in, but when a surprise blizzard hits, the Heffley family is trapped indoors. Greg knows that when the snow melts he's going to have to face the music, but could any punishment be worse than being stuck inside with your family for the holidays?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Secrets of Kidlit: World-Building in Contemporary Stories

We often hear a lot of craft tips about world-building for fantasy and science fiction, but what about contemporary worlds? You might think that in real-world stories, world building is somewhat less critical than in stories that must establish fantastical settings, but I'd argue that world-building is critical in any story. The goal of every story is to communicate a character's particular experience, and to do that, we must understand how the character fits into their world...or in most cases, how they do not.

The Why

For writers of contemporary fiction, world-building may seem like more of a boring, necessary task than a thrilling insight into a character, and that's because we're already familiar with the real world. We live in it. We drive cars, we eat tuna fish sandwiches, we blow dry our hair and brush our teeth...and isn't that all so ordinary and boring?

In short, yes.

If all you do is show your character going through the motions of life without any opinions about that life, the story will read flat. No one finds a minute-by-minute accounting of another human being's rote actions particularly thrilling. What we're interested in is the character's point of view. We want to hear their opinions. We don't read to understand what happens, but why it happens. All stories are based on answering this one basic question: why?

Why do some humans make the choices they make?
Why didn't they make a different choice?
Why would they treat someone that way?
Why would they care?

As soon as we begin to ask why, we begin to relate to a character. We may all live in the same world, but each of our experiences are unique. That is why the first rule of world-building in contemporary fiction is asking why. Why does this setting matter to my character? Why does this world pose a challenge to them? Why are they at odds with their environment (including the other characters in it)? Why does history or geography pose a challenge to their goals?

The answers to these questions should guide your choice of setting and cast. In some ways, the world grows as the character grows, for every part of the world should support your character's story. That is how we build a contemporary world with agency and specificity that is as interesting to readers as worlds with wands and flying books.

The What

World-building by definition is the process of constructing an imaginary world with coherent qualities like history, geography, and ecology--which sounds pretty straight-forward, but if you were to include every detail of your character's world in your story, your book would never end. There are too many potential details. That's why the next step in building a successful contemporary world is choosing what serves your story best.

Some details are more valuable than others. In this excerpt from Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, the main character Ally introduces us to the restaurant where her mother works. While we learn about the restaurant, we also learn that Ally is creative, sometimes to the point of distraction, and that she might have a conflict with her mother over that. A restaurant offers a stronger setting to show those characteristics than say, a quiet library.

Choose details that not only build the setting, but also introduce conflict. Conflict is the heart of every story, and there must be some part of your world that your character is in conflict with. Every person and place in your novel is a potential antagonist--in fact, I'd go so far as to say that we are always in conflict with every element of the world around us to a degree. Think of it as priming a charge. When you load the world with backstory that's ready to blow, it's easy for your character to encounter difficult plot choices that add pace and interest to your story.

For example, a character who hates the beach they're visiting for the summer raises a question in our minds: Why do they hate this beach so much? What happened here? The answer to those questions can be as simple as an interesting piece of backstory which builds the history of the world, or it could also be used to introduce an active conflict. Perhaps this beach was the setting for a terrible loss, and by returning to the beach the character risks suffering another loss.

This doesn't mean that your character always has to hate the world they inhabit. They can have deep love for their hometown and still resent the limitations it places on them, just as they can have deep love for a parent whose actions thwart their goals, but even well-loved details should serve more than one purpose. The bonus insight that a bit of world-building offers us might be a clue to a mystery, a key point of character development, a mood indicator, or a point of conflict. A good detail tells us something about the world and something about the character, too.

The setting details Kat Yeh chose to focus on in The Truth About Twinkie Pie hint at a mystery ahead.

The Where

When you're writing a real world story, it's easy to think you should change your plot to suit your world, but it is far easier to construct a world that suits your story. Sometimes in contemporary stories, that means altering a real-world setting to better suit your story, which is allowed! We see this in author's notes all the time.

For example, sometimes you need two locations to be within walking distance. Instead of coming up with elaborate excuses as to why your middle grade character could walk that far on their own, change the setting. It is okay to take a real life setting and create your own world within it.

The NYC street view I used to create the setting in Counting Thyme.

We're lucky that these days, we have a lot of great tools to assist world-building. Google Earth can show you topical and perspective views of many places round the world. And thanks to the internet, you can also find tons of casual pictures of just about every setting to build your world upon. Emphasize the details that create the experience. If there are details that don't line up with the point you're trying to make, change them or leave them out.

The Who

Secondary characters are an important part of your world. They should not exist just for the sake of existing. Secondary characters should offer either a mirror or contrast to your character's journey. When well designed, secondary characters can provide plenty of plot ideas. In fact, if you choose their traits carefully, the plot will appear to drive itself. All it takes is placing characters with opposing goals in the same room, and their innate differences will drive the conflict.

In Two Naomis (by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick), both Mrs. Hill-Davis and Naomi's father are secondary characters whose details reveal insights about Naomi herself. While the neighbor's actions build our mental image of the neighborhood and give us a sense of security and warmth, they also reveal Naomi's burgeoning desire for independence. Additionally, we get the sense from the details the author chose that perhaps Naomi is in conflict with her father, which invites us to keep reading.

Similarly, a secondary character with an emotional arc that parallels your main character will offer moments of connection and reflection that help your character on their journey. This can also reinforce your themes. But even if a secondary character is not in conflict with your main character, they must be interesting and unique. Each secondary character should have their own identity and emotional arc so that your world is as authentic and dynamic as the real world.

The When

Don't waste any time getting into the meat of your world. Remember, your character has already inhabited this world for some time, and will continue to after your story has concluded. This sense of continuity should come across to the reader from the very first line.

Some manuscripts make the mistake of offering extensive world-building details in the opening pages with little insight as to why those details matter to the character. That's a quick way to encourage an agent or editor to stop reading. One trick I like to use to make sure I'm only including details that are relevant to the character is stopping to ask myself if the character would really have time to think all of that, and if they would care in the first place. If not, then those details belong elsewhere. We leave things out of stories for a reason. Select only the information that is necessary for the story, and your focus will only enhance your point.

For opening pages that grab your reader, remember to focus on the why and to do it right away. Don't hide the ball too much. Let us dive right in. A confident, vibrant world encourages the reader to get lost in your story and trust that you are taking them someplace they've never been before. The best contemporary stories create worlds that the reader inhabits long after the final page has been read.

Monday, May 15, 2017

MG Review: City of Grit and Gold by Maud Macrory Powell

City of Grit and GoldCity of Grit and Gold by Maud Macrory Powell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The streets of Chicago in 1886 are full of turmoil. Striking workers clash with police…illness and injury lurk around every corner…and twelve-year-old Addie must find her way through it all. Torn between her gruff Papa—who owns a hat shop and thinks the workers should be content with their American lives—and her beloved Uncle Chaim—who is active in the protests for the eight-hour day—Addie struggles to understand her topsy-turvy world, while keeping her family intact. Set in a Jewish neighborhood of Chicago during the days surrounding the Haymarket Affair, this novel vividly portrays one immigrant family’s experience, while also eloquently depicting the timeless conflict between the haves and the have-nots.

I thought this was a fascinating look at a moment in history through the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl. I couldn't help loving Addie, a girl who feels more at home moving through the streets of her neighborhood than she does cooped up in her apartment or tending to customers at her father's shop. But as protests and strikes envelope her neighborhood, Addie must navigate her way through a changed world. This book is full of memorable secondary characters -- Addie's kind Uncle Chaim who sides with the workers, her mother who barely leaves her apartment and is torn between loyalty to her husband and worry for her brother, and her sister Miriam who has a secret of her own. The story is as much about a changing family as it is about a changing city, and this only serves to make the book even more enjoyable.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Reaching Readers Through Blogging

A blog done properly is one of the most powerful tools in our social media arsenal.    ~ Kristen Lamb.

In the beginning, I struggled with what to write on my blog, knowing I needed one if I wanted to be published. This was back in 2011.
There were pitch parties and blog hops that jump-started my efforts. We shared posts within the writing community: reading, sharing, and commenting on each other’s work. I discovered the Kidlit community, one of the most generous groups of people around.
As the books I wrote increased along with the rejections, I used my blog to talk about more than books. Hurricane Sandy, and New York City, and my Writing Therapy and I wrote about overthinking! (The writer’s dilemma.)
And it always circled back to books. 
The Kidliterati, we were a band of MG-beta-readers until a member suggested we start a blog in 2012. I hadn’t done much blogging and certain few people actually read my blog.  I was hesitant to join a group of writers, counting on my scheduled posts and book reviews! 
Now I was “representing”.  The pressure! 
I dove in.  My nerve became firmer as I blogged on … and on.
I had a book deal and blogged once a week on my personal blog, or as close as possible. I wrote  what my characters were interested in, anything related to the story of two brother’s surviving, lost in the woods.  
Turned out, I enjoyed writing book reviews. Is there a better way to learn the writing craft than by reading lots of good books and critiquing them? Didn’t think so.
When my blog hits drop, I write another post. This is good for SEO (something I know little about, so here’s a link) It does seem to work. Frequency and decent content will drive readers to your post. Where I'd have buy links to my book in all its forms.  J

“When Google catalogs these posts, it helps your blog rise up in the search-engine-results pages for those search terms. Anyone searching for something related to those keywords is more likely to find you and your book. …”

Do you want to reach readers? It’s up to you.  Write topics that have an element of your book. The brothers in THE UNMOVING SKY are lost in the woods. I’ve written posts about foraging for plants, forest edibles, and some of the medicinal plants that could help in a pinch. 

Write fiction? Here are a few ideas:
  1. How you decided on your characters.
  2. How you decided on your setting.
  3. If you book contains any personal elements, you can write about these.
  4. Your writing practice–how you write.
  5. Recipes related to the place where your book takes place (ex. Italian foods).
  6. Information on the location where you book takes place (ex. France in the 18th century).
  7. Issues related to those in your book or with which your characters are concerned (ex. divorce, suicide, sex, suicide).  
  8. The benefits your book offers readers (ex. If your book illustrates that parents don’t have to be perfect, discuss what it means to be a perfect parent or offer tips and tools).
  9. Certain passages in the book.
  10. The publishing process.
It doesn’t have to take much time. You can pre-schedule posts. If you travel and your blog server has a phone app, use it.
Social media moves too fast, it’s nice having a home, a place where all your book links and inspired ideas can be found, a place where readers can connect and sign-up for your newsletter. 

Good luck!  And have fun. 
What topics do you feel drive the most traffic to your blog?  Leave any tips you have in the comments.

Monday, May 8, 2017

YA Review: Cold Summer by Gwen Cole


First of all, how amazingly gorgeous is that cover?! I read on my Kindle Paperwhite and while I love-love-love my Kindle, it does leave me wanting in the cover art department.

So, today I have the pleasure of sharing my YA book review for Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Here's a summary:

Today, he’s a high school dropout with no future. 
Tomorrow, he’s a soldier in World War II.

Kale Jackson has spent years trying to control his time-traveling ability but hasn’t had much luck. One day he lives in 1945, fighting in the war as a sharpshooter and helplessly watching soldiers—friends—die. Then the next day, he’s back in the present, where WWII has bled into his modern life in the form of PTSD, straining his relationship with his father and the few friends he has left. Every day it becomes harder to hide his battle wounds, both physical and mental, from the past.

When the ex-girl-next-door, Harper, moves back to town, thoughts of what could be if only he had a normal life begin to haunt him. Harper reminds him of the person he was before the PTSD, which helps anchor him to the present. With practice, maybe Kale could remain in the present permanently and never step foot on a battlefield again. Maybe he can have the normal life he craves.

But then Harper finds Kale’s name in a historical article—and he’s listed as a casualty of the war. Kale knows now that he must learn to control his time-traveling ability to save himself and his chance at a life with Harper. Otherwise, he’ll be killed in a time where he doesn’t belong by a bullet that was never meant for him. 

Dreamy, right? And that's how I'd describe this book. It was most certainly like a dream... One of those stories you sort of have to wake up from once you put it down, but then need to continue because you MUST know what. happens. next.

I thoroughly enjoyed following along Kale and Harper (both individually and together as this story is written in dual point of view) as they navigated their often normal, but even more often, extraordinary teen lives. 

Their romance was very sweet and the issues Cole touched on were timely and relatable to teen and adult readers alike. BUT my favorite part of the story was the dreamlike quality of Kale's time travel interlaced within a seemingly contemporary tale. It was reminiscent, for me, of A.S. King's Everyone Sees the Ants. A thoughtful, exciting, and lovely must read.

About the author:

Gwen Cole

Gwen Cole grew up in upstate New York and then moved to Virginia where she did not graduate college. Instead she played bass guitar in a hardcore band and later married the lead guitarist. She enjoys large jigsaw puzzles, playing Xbox and softball, and watching movies. Gwen now lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, daughter, and very large dog, where she longs to live in the country again.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

K10: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

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 Raegan, and I’m 13. My favorite ice cream is Oreo Overload.

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

I chose Catching Fire because I loved the first book in the series. This one is my favorite because you get to see who Katniss really is, why she started the rebellion, and her relationship with Peeta.

Can you describe this book in one word? 


What was your favorite part of this story? 

The end. It’s when Katniss finds out they left Peeta in the arena and you finally know how she really feels about him.

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

I’d do exactly what Katniss does – I’d put family before myself.

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

I’d tell her it’s empowering for young girls—don’t always be the person getting saved, instead do the saving—girls have the power to save the world.

What do you think about the book's cover? 

I like the colors and it makes me want to read it.

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

Yes, because I’d like to know where they went and how they turned out.

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

Divergent, but I like The Hunger Games better.

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

What was your inspiration for writing this story and the Katniss character?

Thanks, Raegan! I found this interview with the author where she talks about her inspiration for writing the series. It's really interesting. Interview with Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank the MoonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every year, the people of the City of Sorrows leave a baby in the forest. The infant is a sacrifice to the witch, in hopes that it will keep them safe for another year. The Elders perpetuate the cruel tradition in order to maintain their control of the frightened townspeople.

This tradition is a lie. The forest witch, Xan, is loving and kind. She is a guardian of the forest and lives a simple life with a poetic swamp monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Every year Xan nourishes the child with starlight and delivers them across the forest to a loving family.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby girl moonlight. The ordinary girl becomes filled with extraordinary magic and Xan decides to raise the child as her own. But as Luna grows, so does her magic, threatening the delicate order in the forest.

Barnhill has created a magic new fairy tale in The Girl Who Drank the Moon. This story asks sweeping questions about society, memories, and sadness with the simple sweetness of a peaceful bog. Told from several viewpoints, Barnhill explores the Elders' deception and the power we all have to right terrible wrongs. Luna's strength doesn't come from the powerful magic she possesses, but from the strength she has been given by those who have raised her with love.

View all my reviews


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