Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Secrets of KidLit - Can I Do That?

It's no secret that a writer's imagination can get carried away.
An idea pieces itself together and rises as a skeleton from the swamp of creation, and it then becomes the author's job to give it muscles to make it powerful, nerves to make the reader feel, a brain to move the plot along, and so on.
When it comes to crafting stories for children and teens there is a common stumbling block. I've seen it look something like:
"Is this too dark?"
"Nope. Too heavy."
"I don't think this is appropriate for that age group."
"Don't you think that's a little complicated for ____ year olds?"

It's an easy mistake to make. Authors have to think about "will this book sell?", "will this book get me an agent?", "does this fall in line with my established brand?", and that critical mindset bleeds over into the art. They end up saying to themselves, and to others: "You can't do that."

Pause for a moment and reflect on the books of your childhood. 

- The boy whose dog was viciously mangled by a wild hog, and had to be stitched up without the aid of a veterinarian or anesthetic. The dog lived through the incident, but contracted a terrible disease and the boy had to shoot his furry best friend. (Old Yeller)

- The series where children involved in a covert war were forced to deal with intense paranoia, PTSD, and graphic violence on an almost daily basis. (Animorphs)

- The one where a child of extraordinary intelligence kidnapped and extorted a stranger so he could plunder the wealth of an entire culture. (Artemis Fowl)

- The story of the girl who discovered that her favorite toy was a communication tool for ghosts who were the victims of a grisly crime. (The Dollhouse Murders)

There are multitudes of these examples, but it all comes down to this - nothing is off limits. The trick is crafting your words in such a way as to not permanently traumatize yet still permanently influence the reader. That is where your artistry, your savvy critique partners, and beta readers all come in to play. 
Never be afraid to write the story in your heart. Never be afraid of a scene, a character, or an ending. Embrace those raw, emotional, sometimes frightening or dangerous things. If you're having powerful feelings then it's likely your reader will, too. 
It is my personal opinion that people who curl their lip at a story that is "too dark" or "too mature" for a certain audience have forgotten the endless curiosity, tenacity, and intellectual bravery of young readers. I think they have lost touch with who they were long ago and far away, and impose their very adult eyes on stories that are not crafted for them. 
I could say more, but I'll quote the one who said it best (and she didn't need a whole blog post to say it):

"You have to write the book that wants to be written. If the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then write it for children." - Madeleine L'Engle

In the end, it's the book that challenge us that change us.

- Colten Hibbs

Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: Annie B., Made for TV by Amy Dixon

Annie B., Made-for-TV by Amy Dixon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eleven-year-old Annie Brown is used to being on the losing end of comparisons to her almost-always best friend Savannah. Savannah is MVP of the track team, has straight As, and, predictably, wins the most coveted school spirit award on the last day of 5th grade. Fortunately, Annie does have one very specialized skill.

Inspired by As Seen on TV commercials, Annie likes to invent products and write clever sales pitches to go along with them. So when an opportunity arises to audition for a local web show called The Cat's Meow, Annie knows her future is set. She's going to wow those producers with her fabulous writing and made-for-TV announcer voice. Of course, things don't happen quite according to plan, and soon Annie is worried about losing both the opportunity she's been training for her whole life, and her best friend.

This is such a fun book! When her always-first-place best friend Savannah suggests Annie audition to be the host of a new kids' web show, Annie's positive this is exactly what she's been waiting for. But things don't exactly go as planned, and Annie ends up accidentally revealing her deepest, darkest feelings of jealousy toward Savannah. With the help of her best guy friend (who I absolutely loved in this story!), Annie seeks to win back Savannah's friendship and create the best infomercial of all time. Annie's wild inventions are sprinkled throughout the book. Full of humor and heart, this is a must-read for any kid who's ever felt second-place next to his or her best friend.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Reaching Readers via Podcasting

Movies usually portray an author reaching out to her readership in a scene where she does a public reading at a library, college or bookstore. And doing an author reading still remains an intimate way to reach a small community. However, a reading has its drawbacks. It’s a single event where attendance is challenged by conflicting schedules, transportation needs, inertia, and myriad other entertainment options. Fortunately, there are alternatives, and one I’ll be exploring in this post is the increasingly popular podcast.

 The main advantages of a podcast are convenience, portability, and reach. It’s so convenient to upload an author reading onto a phone, tablet, or MP3 player in a matter of seconds. There’s no scheduling or transportation hassles three Sundays from now at a far-off library. Podcasts are also delightfully portable and can be listened to on a commute or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Finally, their reach is much greater than the dozen friends that dutifully show up at a dusty bookshop on that Sunday night. In fact hundreds of people can listen to your author reading over the course of a year, and it’s always ready to put on a good show, even when you’re tucked in bed.

The number of book related podcasts has exploded in the past few years. Here are a few on middle grade and young adult books and authors to give you some ideas on what to do and how to reach readers everywhere.

Let's start by checking out what the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators have to say:

All The Wonders is a place for readers to discover new books and experience the stories they love in different ways. It is an entertainment channel, a variety show, and a modern library all wrapped up into one and has four podcast channels to choose from:

For a wealth of content, Player FM has dozens of middle grade and young adult fiction podcasts:

Most of the big league publishers have author podcasts, and HarperCollins Children’s Podcast page has up to 42 exclusive shows featuring their authors:

Book Riot’s All the Books podcast is great way to find out about each week’s new releases. Go beyond the bestseller list and get recommendations for books from all genres, including middle grade and young adult books:

And then The Yarn takes listeners behind the scenes of children's literature and explores everything involved in creating a book:

I’m having so much fun researching this post, I wonder if I should ask the members of Kidliterati about doing our own MG/YA podcast as well. Let us know in the comments section below, if that’s something you’d be interested in listening to. Until next time, have fun checking out these pods!

All the best, Chris Brandon Whitaker

Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141 Street by Karina Yan Glaser

The Vanderbeekers of 141st StreetThe Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When the Vanderbeeker children of 141 Street in Harlem discover their landlord isn’t renewing the lease, they strike out with inventive ways to convince him otherwise. Only he isn’t going to be easy to convince. He never leaves his third-floor apartment and he’s grouchy and scary.

It’s Christmastime in the city. Mr. Vanderbeeker calls a meeting and explains to his five biracial children, along with their dog, a cat, and house rabbit that they have to leave the neighborhood they’ve grown up in. The friendly neighborhood where they know every clerk and shop owner. It’s the worst time to be homeless.

Distraught beyond comprehension, one by one, each of the five Vanderbeeker children, Oliver, the twins Jessie and Isa, and Laney and Hyacinth come up with clever ideas that are sure to melt the landlord, Mr. Beiderman’s heart. Only nothing works, even when the entire neighborhood signs a petition to help save their home.

It’s an all-out love assault. But will anything stop the Beiderman?

Such a delightful and heartwarming story that reminded me of the feeling I had reading books as a child. A classic. Each of the Vanderbeeker’s children will find their way into your heart with their charms and creativity. I’m looking forward to the next book in this series, The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. (Sept. 25, 2018)

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Secrets of Kidlit: Interview with Eric Bell, Author of Alan Cole is Not a Coward

Hey there, Kidliteratians! Today we're welcoming middle grade author Eric Bell to the blog. Eric is the author of Alan Cole is Not a Coward, which hit the shelves in 2017. Read on to find out how Eric changed the characters from the first version of this book, his favorite scene in Alan Cole, negative feedback, and thoughts on everything from cats to Kix cereal.

Hi Eric! I think the most fascinating part of Alan Cole is Not a Coward is the characterization. Every single character in this book is so realistic and complex. What's your secret? How do you create such interesting characters?

Eric: Thank you! I’m not sure I have some secret formula to characters. I usually start with something small, like a trait or a name or even a line of dialogue, and then I build from there. Alan, Zack, and Madison were all originally designed to stand out in a kind of id-ego-superego setup, with Zack (who was originally the protagonist) as the ego, Alan (originally much more sarcastic and slacker-ish) as the id, and Madison (basically the same the whole time) as the superego. As the characters developed I mostly moved away from that, but that was the starting point. The more I wrote the characters – not just the main trio, but the supporting cast as well – the more comfortable I got with letting them show me aspects of themselves I hadn’t figured out yet. I guess that’s when you know your characters are developed – when you can let them run loose in your story and see what happens.

I found myself feeling very uncomfortable reading the scenes with Alan's family because they were so raw and real. I actually had to put the book down once or twice. But those ended up being some of my favorite scenes in the book. What is your favorite scene in
Alan Cole?

I won’t say what happens in it because it’s a spoiler, but my favorite chapter is chapter 19, which is the start of the final day Alan has to complete the CvC tasks. You’ll have to read the actual book to find out what happens! (Not you, Gail. I know you’ve read it. I mean readers of this post!)

I loved that scene too! Was this book the first manuscript you've written, or do you have a graveyard of lonesome manuscripts on your hard drive? (I fully admit to the latter!)
Used under a Creative Commons license.
credit: Vahid

I wrote two manuscripts before this one. The first actually involved the core cast of Alan Cole but centered around Zack. I thought it was amazing, but it was really really bad. Then I wrote a second, which was also MG but centered around a different cast, and I thought it was amazing, but it was also really really bad. In spite of their dubious (at best) quality, these books were necessary stepping stones for me in my career. I never could have written Alan Cole had I not written these manuscripts first.

Even though it's 2018, there still seems to be some pushback on books that deal with real-life issues for kids. Have you gotten any negative feedback on
Alan Cole?

There have been a few reviews that have taken issue with the severity of Alan’s family dynamic and the abuse he takes from his brother and father. I stand by my assertion that children can handle more than adults give them credit for, and that kids are generally good about putting down something they might not be comfortable reading.

Let's talk favorite books! What are your favorites? Are there any authors or books that inspired your writing style?

Speaking of serious family dynamics, one of my all-time favorite books is Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt. That book was a huge influence on Alan Cole in terms of story and voice. And Gary Schmidt wound up blurbing for my book, which was a huge honor.

What's up next for you? What are you working on now?

A sequel, Alan Cole Doesn’t Dance, will be out October 9, 2018. It’s set roughly one mouth after the events of Alan Cole Is Not a Coward. I’m really excited about it!

Used under a Creative Commons license.
Credit: Ole M
Now for the most important, soul-searching, world-changing questions:

Coffee or tea? I drink water and orange juice basically exclusively.
Dogs or cats? Cats without a doubt.
Star Wars or Star Trek? Never watched anything Star Trek but I used to be obsessed with Star Wars.
New York or Los Angeles? I’ve never been to LA but NYC is overwhelming, so can I say neither? 

Also, some questions to answers you didn’t ask: if I could meet one historical figure, probably Da Vinci; if I could travel to any period in time, two hundred years from now; I listen to music when I write, mostly from video games I’ve never played; I am a grown man and I still eat Kix cereal for dinner; my favorite color in general is blue but favorite color to wear is purple; and if I could be any non-writer job it would probably be some type of copy editor or proofreader. Whew! I think that covers it.

It does! Thank you so much for stopping by, Eric. I'm sure I'm not the only one looking forward to Alan Cole's sequel.

Eric Bell graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Psychology and a minor in English. Once the other kids at recess began pretending to go on the adventures he came up with, he never stopped telling stories. His first novel, ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD, is out now; a sequel, ALAN COLE DOESN’T DANCE, will come out October 9, 2018.

Find Eric online on his website, on Twitter, and as Alan Cole's best friend Zack on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

K10: Brightwood by Tania Unsworth

More about Brightwood by Tania Unsworth:

In this spine-tingling tale, a girl fights to save her home and her life from a mysterious stranger.

Daisy Fitzjohn knows there are two worlds: the outside world and the world of her home, a secluded mansion called Brightwood Hall. But only Brightwood is real for Daisy--she’s never once set foot outside its grounds. Daisy and her mother have everything they need within Brightwood’s magnificent, half-ruined walls, including Daisy’s best friends: a talking rat named Tar and the ghost of a long-ago explorer who calls herself Frank.


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, I'm learning to play the ukulele, and my favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate brownie.

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

I read Brightwood by Tania Unsworth. I chose it because when I read the description it sounded really interesting.

Can you describe this book in one word?


What was your favorite part of this story?

When Daisy first meets Frank (a girl who appears out of nowhere!).

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

I would call the police, but since there are no phones or electronics on their house, I would head into town right away for help (Possible spoiler: which Daisy waits to do until the book.).

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

It was amazing! And I never knew what was going to happen next so it kept me reading. Also, it has a kind of cool-creepy vibe.

What do you think about the book's cover?

It was one of the main reasons I picked it up--the shadow of the girl in the lit window was really intriguing.

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

I would love to! I'd be really interested to see Frank with Daisy again.

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

No, not that I can think of, but I really enjoyed reading The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

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

My favorite character was Frank, I'd love to hear which character was the author's favorite?

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

Monday, March 5, 2018

Review: The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black HoleThe Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Black holes are complex, beautiful creatures. They can take you to places inside and outside yourself that you never realized you needed to go.

Stella Rodriguez thought the thing hiding in a box by the curb was a cat. Or maybe a dog. Hopefully not a skunk. But she was startled to find a small black hole. It must have followed her home from her visit to NASA, and it wants to be her pet.

But taking care of a black hole is a frustrating experience. Not to mention all the shoes and hamsters it eats. When the black hole ends up swallowing something precious, it takes Stella's memories too. To get them back, she must go inside herself.

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole is a charming, inventive, and ultimately heart-mending story of loss and grief and the healing that awaits on the other side of the inky darkness.

View all my reviews


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