Wednesday, September 20, 2017

K10: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

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 Grant, and I’m 13. My favorite ice cream is chocolate.

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

I just finished reading Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and I love steampunk.

Can you describe this book in one word?

Um, I can't do this in one word...robots vs. man-made animals.

What was your favorite part of this story?

I really liked when Alek meets Deryn during a dramatic scene. Alek tries to help Deryn but then Deryn sends dogs after Alek. It's not a great way to start a relationship.

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

I think I would have had a similar reaction to Alek's but his problem is much bigger than I'd ever want to have.

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

This book bends the rules of nature. I could recognize our world in this story but the differences are creative and fun.

What do you think about the book's cover?

It's cool. It is a good mix of World War I and steampunk.

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

Yes! I already have Book 2, Behemoth, ready to go.

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

No. This book seems very unique to me. It tells an alternate history by mixing the natural world with mechanics and machinery.

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

How much research of history did you have to do to make the book seem realistic?

In answer to Grant's question, Scott Westerfeld talked a bit about his research process in this interview with Tor.


A big thank you to Grant for sharing Leviathan with us!


Leviathan (Leviathan Book 1)

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Superheroes Don't Eat Veggie Burgers by Gretchen Kelley

Superheroes Don't Eat Veggie BurgersSuperheroes Don't Eat Veggie Burgers by Gretchen Kelley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sixth grade would be a lot easier if your fantasies came true . . . or would it?

Middle school may be tough, but Charlie Burger has a plan for how he'll get through it: mind his own business and stay out of the limelight. But the sixth grade has other plans for Charlie. His best friend Franki starts acting weird--since when does she like to dance?--and everyone from his mom to his soccer coach is on his case all the time. Worst of all? The school bully, Boomer Bodbreath, seems to think Charlie has a bull's-eye on his back.

When Charlie's eccentric science teacher hands out writing journals instead of beakers and goggles, Charlie is convinced his year can't be saved. That is, until he starts writing stories about Dude Explodius, an awesome, studly superhero--and those stories start coming true. Can a kid who's used to the sidelines suddenly take a shot at saving the world?

SUPERHEROES is a fun yet poignant story. Charlie's voice is spot-0n middle grade. I especially enjoyed Charlie's central conflict -- how does he use his newfound powers for good instead of evil? The secondary characters are all well-rounded, from Charlie's strange new science teacher to his vivacious grandmother to his best friend Franki, who had more responsibility at home than any kid should. They make the book an even more fun and thoughtful read. The setting -- a made-up coastal town on Cape Ann in Massachusetts -- is itself a character in the story. This book is a great read for the 8-12 crowd, but particularly for kids on the verge of starting middle school or those who might be struggling with fitting in.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Secrets of Kidlit: What's Behind the Curtain

It is widely known that a love of reading is most often developed in early childhood. With many it can wax and wane over the years, and for some of us stories are as required for survival as food and water.

Then there are those of us who write for children. There is a part of our hearts that still dwells in those early years of existence, and we – knowing what we know now – want to help shape and ultimately entertain those who come after us. We remember getting lost in pages becoming temporary best friends with the people we find there. We share their struggles. We go on adventures, make new friends, learn new skills, solve mysteries, and slay dragons from the safety of our reading spaces.

And from the best books, our very favorites with their creased spines and dog-eared pages, we learn something.

We’ve all seen the posts on social media, “I just wish this (insert kids book/movie/television show) wasn’t so political…”

The word “politics” is almost an obscenity nowadays. Like most charged words “politics” or “political” has multiple definitions, and (like most charged words) people often conflate definitions indiscriminate of the situation. When I hear people who are “just gonna stay out of politics” or “not trying to be political” they most likely mean they have no patience for entertaining those who “deal with people in an opportunistic, manipulative, or devious way…” – which is a good thing.

However, politics or “political affairs” are, first and foremost, how people choose to govern themselves.

Every single thing in our lives – from how we make and spend our money to where we live and what we eat – is determined by politics.

Policy is derived from the same root word as politics (surprise!). Policies…rules…laws. Laws (in a democratic society) are determined ultimately by the morals and priorities of its citizens.
In our earliest years, readers, we learned more about the world around us, saw ourselves, and saw what we wanted to be in the pages of our most treasured books. Being introduced to values that challenged or reinforced our own helped to develop our own moral code. The foundations of our belief system can be seen in old fairytales, local legends, and family folklore passed down through generations.

People often refer to books as an “escape”, and while that is no doubt true I think something even more true is that they are an emotional and mental training ground. It’s easy to want to escape the world we live in sometimes. Especially recently. Reality, everything outside of the pages, can be a confusing, nasty, and dangerous place with no final chapter, denouement, or decreasing number of pages to let us know that we’re almost out of the woods – that the worst is over, and it’s all about to be okay again. Reality, above all, is uncertain.

What is certain though, are the truths we learned from books when we were young. That story that opened your eyes to a different worldview, or encouraged you to try That Thing that your favorite character did. Every story redefines and shapes its readers.

Every story you write, every story that is written is a political one. The author’s beliefs inform their character’s choices and world one way or another. All art is political. It is an artist’s mark on humanity that says “I am here! And this is what I believe!”

The most successful stories were intentionally political:

Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy
Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, or The Giver
Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

…the list of intelligently, and intentionally thought provoking works that stand every measurable test of time all have that one thing in common – their unwavering political message. Their message regarding how people should treat one another and question the status quo.

Keep that in your mind as you craft your stories. It’s easy to get caught up in plot-twists and character arcs, but all of those things spring from one place in your heart as an author – and that’s your political stance. How you live your live day-to-day, the things you believe and hold dear, and values you believe our society should protect and preserve are what crafts every word of your story.

I encourage you to be actively political. Seek out new opinions and broader perspectives to not only enrich your own life, but your writing as well. Being intentional and conscious of even the most minute choices your characters make, or the smallest aspect of a fantastic world you’ve built will sharpen your skill as a writer – and hopefully it will challenge you, too.

With those things in mind, it may be you who truly opens a child’s eyes to something new and beautiful. Never be afraid of being “political”. Never be afraid to be intentional in the morals you insert into your story. Art is one of the ways we shape civilization, our nation, our neighbors, and ourselves – don’t waste it.   

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: REFUGEE by Alan Gratz

RefugeeRefugee by Alan Gratz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Refugee tells the story of three young refugees whose struggles to find better lives intertwine and intersect in unexpected and brilliant ways. Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are each on separate journeys in different times and places, but as we follow their individual stories, parallels develop that emphasize the harrowing nature of their quests: they each seek freedom from persecution, and they are each powerless to succeed without the help of others.

The wealth of historical details in each story bring the settings to life. Cuba is vibrant but clouded by oppression. The oceanliner St. Louis is a refuge from Nazis but in many ways, just another kind of prison. Syria is a wasteland, a reality so intensely portrayed that the shattering journey to Germany seems somehow manageable, when in fact it is yet another atrocity heaped upon desperate Syrian shoulders.

Readers will not only learn the truth about these devastating situations, but also the inter-connectedness of humanity. We do not operate separately, but as one. Our individual actions really do matter, and without each other's support, we all suffer.

My heart broke for Isabel, Mahmoud, and Josef. Their stories will stay in my heart.

Informative, heart-breaking, and inspiring. Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

K10: ORPHAN ISLAND by Laurel Snyder

If you've ever read a book that swallowed you whole and then spit you out at the end longing for more, you'll understand how my eleven-year-old, Sierra, felt about Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. I watched my daughter live and love this book for a couple of weeks and then completely mourn the end (which she claimed was perfect). She's an avid reader--one of those who's already planning her next read before she's finished with her current one--and this time she was like, "Nothing will ever compare!" I sympathized because I've been there. The end of book blues... πŸ’˜

More about Orphan Island:

In the tradition of modern-day classics like Sara Pennypacker's Pax and Lois Lowry's The Givercomes a deep, compelling, heartbreaking, and completely one-of-a-kind novel about nine children who live on a mysterious island.
On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.
Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?


Tell us a little about yourself: what is your first name, how old are you, and what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

My name is Sierra. I'm eleven-years-old and my favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate.

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

I read Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. I chose it because when I read the description on the back of the book I was really intrigued.

Can you describe this book in one word?


What was your favorite part of this story?

I'm going to say when Ess, who is the second youngest, was climbing the cliffs and no one knew where she was. I couldn't put the book down until I found out what happened!

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

I don't know! Send me to Orphan Island (please!) and then I'll answer this question. πŸ˜‰

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

I would tell her that it's the best book ever! It's funny and relatable and it makes you wish you could go there.

What do you think about the book's cover?

Very intriguing--the cover is what made me pick up the book.

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

YESSSSSSSS! I'd love to. I love the characters and this one ended with a cliffhanger--I HAVE to know what happens!

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

I can't think of one, but I really enjoyed Perijee & Me by Ross Montgomery.

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

Is there a second book in the works? (::whispers:: please say yes!)

🌟Author, Laurel Snyder answered Sierra's question🌟

Hey Sierra!

I'm so glad you liked the book! I will tell you that I am TRYING to write another island book. Sometimes, the words come slowly. But it's there, and finding its way out. It will be a prequel, not a sequel. Abbie's story. Hope that's okay?


Thank you, Laurel--you made Sierra's day!

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

Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske

Kat Greene Comes CleanKat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eleven-year-old, Kat Greene is growing more and more frustrated with her mother’s constant need to clean. When she tries to talk to her about school or anything else she becomes distracted by germs. Kat isn’t sure she should tell her father what’s happening, how her mother washes her hands until they’re scaly and red as lobsters. He has another wife now, and three-year-old son to take care of, Harry, whom she babysits on occasion with her best friend, Halle. If he finds out, he’ll make Kat move in with them, and she can’t leave her mother alone.

Kat’s mother feels horrible. It’s something she can’t control. Maybe if she wins a spot on the game show, Clean Sweep, she can come clean about her cleaning obsession, and do something useful with it. Kat sure is rooting for her. It’s what they both hope.

While this is happening, Kat’s learns she’s the Boy with the Purple Socks, in the class’s dramatic presentation of Harriet the Spy, The Harriet Project. Not only does she think her character is boring, she has to pair off with Sam, who won’t leave her alone. He wants her to make the Boy with the Purple Socks do something “memorable”. Kat loves Harriet the Spy and relates to Harriet in many ways, but she can’t bring anyone home while her mother’s behavior “is too weird for random guests”.

It’s hard for her to focus on The Harriet Project, or much else while worrying about her mother if she’ll throw out her favorite things, or ruin them with bleach because they’re considered dirty. Olympia, the school psychologist, offers help, and after an online search, Kat learns about the anxiety disorder, OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It scares Kat that her mother has this condition, or that she could get it too!

Written with a lot of heart and humor, Kat Greene Comes Clean, is a vibrant MG voice for readers 9-12.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Review: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and VirtueThe Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to go courting trouble, is all.”
“We’re not courting trouble,” I say. “Flirting with it, at most.”

Henry "Monty" Montague was born to wealth and privilege in the English countryside. High-born expectations have never stopped Monty from being a rogue. Kicked out of his posh boarding school, his father plans to put Monty's life on the right path with a year-long tour of the continent. But Monty doesn't intend to let his strict bear-leader or his annoying little sister Felicity destroy the fun of his romp through Europe with his best friend--and secret crush--Percy.

The tour goes off the rails after an embarrassing evening at Versailles. Monty's poor decisions turn the trip deadly and Monty, Percy, and Felicity must flee across Europe on their wits alone. Monty must decide what matters most--his family's approval or the boy he loves.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue is Downton Abbey meets National Treasure meets Pirates of the Caribbean...with a swoon-worthy romance to boot. Oh, and did I mention alchemy and a secret sinking tomb?

This book is one I read with a grin plastered across my face. Packed with delightful characters, charming dialogue, and dangerous adventure at every turn, it's one of my favorite reads of 2017.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Happy book birthday, BEST.NIGHT.EVER!

It's release day for BEST. NIGHT. EVER! There are not one, not even two, but three Kidliterati contributors who authored this fun new middle grade novel -- Ronni Arno, Jen Malone, and Gail Nall, along with authors Dee Romito, Stephanie Faris, Alison Cherry, and Rachele Alpine.

To celebrate, we've created a mini blog hop of sorts! Follow the link at the end of this post to find more fun stuff, and be sure to enter to win one of seven copies of the authors' other books.

BNE authors rockin' middle school.
Can you guess who's who? Hint: we're
taking the spot of the character we wrote.
Since BEST. NIGHT. EVER is all about a middle school dance, we thought it would be fun to collect our favorite middle school dance memories. (And if you have any to share, try to outdo ours in the comments!)

Jen Malone . . .
My first dance was in 8th grade and I don’t remember all that much about it, except that took place at Halloween and I went as Madonna, complete with an off-the-shoulder neon sweatshirt, rubber jelly bracelets all the way up my arm and a belt that read Boy Toy (I was far from a boy toy, trust me! I’m pretty sure I formed the words out of aluminum foil and glued them to one of my dad’s old belts). Between the box worth of aluminum foil and the copious amounts of aerosol hairspray on my head, I was basically walking ingredients of a science experiment waiting to go wrong!

Ronni Arno . . .
My first school dance was in 6th grade. I remember having a huge crush on a boy in my class, and I was both excited and horrified at the prospect of dancing with him. That never happened, though, since all the boys stayed on one side of the gym and the girls stayed on the other. I don’t have any memories of anyone actually dancing! I don’t remember what I wore, but I can guarantee it was floofy and flowy and flowery, and my hair was feathered!

Gail Nall . . .
So I went to a teeeeeny tiny Catholic grade school. It was too small for school dances, although sometimes we went to mixers at other Catholic grade schools. My most vivid dance-related memory, though, is from 8th grade. Our class was on a field trip to Washington, DC, and somehow the school convinced the hotel to let us hold our own mixer in one of the conference rooms. (Don’t ask why a group of 28 kids who’ve known each other for eight years needed a mixer.) Anyway, my mom and my BFF’s mom were chaperones on the trip. They came to the mixer and acted pretty normal and unembarrassing for most of it . . . until Kris Kross’ “Jump” came on. Then they danced. A lot. And very energetically. My BFF and I wanted to crawl under the table and never, ever, ever come out again. I still remind my mom of this Very Embarrassing Moment from time to time.

Alison Cherry . . .
I went to such a small school that there were only twelve kids in my grade, and most of us had known each other since kindergarten. The school organized a dance for the whole middle school, but since we basically all saw each other as annoying brothers and sisters, we had ZERO interest in dancing with one another. The teachers kept encouraging us to dance, and we responded by lining up in a row across the dance floor and bending our knees in unison. They finally got us to dance with each other in pairs a couple of times by bribing us with loose change they found in their pockets and purses. I snagged a quarter for doing half a slow dance with a boy who went by Spud.

About BEST. NIGHT. EVER . . .

Love Actually meets Adventures in Babysitting in this hilarious novel written by seven authors about seven classmates who are preparing for a crazy night at their middle school dance.

Lynnfield Middle School is prepped and ready for a dance to remember, including an awesome performance from Heart Grenade, the all-girl band who recently won a Battle of the Bands contest. Seven classmates—Carmen, Genevieve, Tess, Ryan, Ellie, Ashlyn, and Jade—intend to make the most of the night…or at least the five of them who are able to attend do. The other two would sacrifice almost anything to be there.

One thing’s for sure—this entire crew is in for one epic night! Gail Nall, Dee Romito, Rachele Alpine, Ronni Arno, Alison Cherry, Stephanie Faris, and Jen Malone have created a charming, hilarious, and relatable novel that’s perfect for anyone who can’t wait to dance the night away.

Enter to win one of the Best. Night. Ever authors' other books! We're giving away seven books -- one written by each of us -- to seven lucky people! (Best. Night. Ever. not included)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Next on the blog hop . . . 
More horrifying/funny/sweet middle school dance memories, like Rachele's "perfect" outfit, Dee's dance-time singing, and Stephanie's sock hop adventures, are on Dee Romito's blog.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge by Kristin L. Gray

Vilonia Beebe Takes ChargeVilonia Beebe Takes Charge by Kristin L. Gray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fourth-grader, Vilonia, Vi for short, started out in the world four times smaller than the largemouth bass hanging in her daddy’s shop. That was almost ten years ago.

Now that her mother has taken ill since Nana passed away, Vilonia must forge ahead. With a reputation for taking in destitute creatures, she spots a poster that might help her mother not feel depressed anymore.

"The most powerful antidepressant has 4 paws and a tail. 555-PETS."

And her favorite book, Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo, is her inspiration to begin The Great Pet Campaign.

Meanwhile, Momma hasn’t written a single obituary for the newspaper since Nana died. (Or Nana’s) She’ll be replaced if she doesn’t write something soon, and why Vilonia steps in to help. No one would know it was Vilonia writing the county obits.

But there’s no way her father will agree to a dog. Even with the pet fund, she’s saved. Her mother is in no condition to handle any extra work. Vilonia would just have to prove how responsible she really was and she needed to find the right dog to convince her dad.

When her brother finds out her secret, he and her BFF, Ava Claire, work together to help Vilonia and wind up in a little trouble.

There’s a lot of love in this story. Vilonia holds her family together while working to bring Ray Charles home. The premature shelter dog she fell in love with. She knows it will help her mother with her "Infinite Sadness". And it will help Vilonia. Once she proves how responsible she is.

An endearing story for any child, who has ever dreamt of bringing home a dog, and the adventures that prove what you’re willing to endure for what you love. Vilonia is fearless in her pursuit.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Spotlight on THE RISE OF THE RUSTY ROBO-CAT by Mike Lowery + GIVEAWAY + Meet the Cats of Kidliterati!

Robots... Jerk cats... Robo-Cats... Yep, I knew I'd get your attention.

Introducing DOODLE ADVENTURES #3! Like The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs! and The Pursuit of the Pesky Pizza Pirate!The Rise of the Rusty Robo-Cat! marries the fun of drawing and doodling with a lively fantasy tale that will appeal to boys and girls alike. From Mike Lowery—creator of the popular Kid’s Awesome Activity Calendar—it’s like a visual Mad Libs: part game, part graphic novel, and a thrilling, interactive experience in which the reader draws him- or herself into the story and becomes the star.

Carl the Duck is back and needs help on the very important mission of discovering why the cats around town are acting like jerks. Can you track them down and break the spell they are under? (And maybe draw a space vampire along the way?)

Each page combines hand-lettered text, delightful illustrations, plus prompts and plenty of space for the reader’s own contributions. The book is sturdy paper over board with high-quality cream paper that’s a pleasure to draw on. Kids will love using their imaginations to complete the story, then reading it over and over again.

πŸ€–πŸˆBe sure to enter the GIVEAWAY at the bottom of the page!πŸˆπŸ€–

It's heeeeeeeere! Mike Lowery's 3rd installment of the fantastically wacky-cool Doodle Adventures Series! My daughters and I had so much fun interviewing Mike Lowery last year, after his first Doodle Adventures book was released! Mike's work is so distinct and prolific... I can pretty much guarantee that if you don't own something with his work on/in it, you've definitely seen it. 

My daughters (ages 11 and 13) had such a blast with the first of these books, that they couldn't wait to get to work with Carl the Duck and his cat Herman to find out why the heck all of the cats in their town are being jerks! One of my girls is an avid reader, the other is an avid artist, so this Doodle Adventure idea of marrying a graphic novel with a doodle book is GENIUS. 

Now, this whole 'why are all of the cats being jerks' question, sparked a fun idea. I posed the question to my fellow Kidliterati writers (a surprising number of which are, ahem, allergic to cats). Here are their responses along with some adorably jerky cat photos! Meet the Jerk-Cats of Kidliterati!

Gail Nall: Saffron is not a jerk, but her brother, Pumpkin, is. He bit her on the butt, and now she has to wear the Cone of Shame. (Saffron is fine. She no longer has to wear the cone. However, her brother is still a soft, fluffy jerk.)

Colten Hibbs: This is Reyna! My little old lady. She'll be ten in October. She's only a jerk when it's time to come inside and she refuses.

Paul Adams: This guy just told me he's totally a cat. Meow. (There's one in every group, am I right?)

Karen L. HallamHere's my little demon. His name is Tacho!  If I don't feed our little monster, he chews anything I've touched last. Paperwork -- headphones, important things.  

Brian Sargent: My cat Oblio is the jerkiest jerk of jerkland. He meow's all night for food, and then when I feed him in the morning, he sniffs the food and walks away. Such a jerk!

And theses are my jerks: One is jerkier than the other (hint: it's the orange one). Atticus (orange kitty) is the cat who will literally paw an item off of a table or counter just to do it. He won't play with it. He's not even remotely interested in it! He's also a total food bully. Sheriff (gray kitty) is the type that will give you alllll of the signs he'd like to cuddle...he'll even cuddle you a bit...and then, without warning, will bite your face.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Secrets of Kidlit: Middle Grade Tension

Are you struggling to create enough tension in your middle grade novel? If so, it's important to remember one of the most annoying things preteens have to navigate everyday: boundaries.

For middle school kids, boundaries seem to be everywhere. They are just discovering the joy of freedom and for the first time, start to feel the restrictiveness of the rules and expectations that have been placed on them. On top of that, there is much about their lives that they have absolutely no control over.

What types of boundaries should you consider when plotting your novel? Take a look at these 5 ways kids struggle against their boundaries.

1. Unless your main character is an orphan or is severely neglected, kids of this age often have to ask permission to do just about everything. They have to ask if they can walk to the ice cream shop, go for a bike ride, or ask for a ride to the movies. They may even have to ask permission to walk to the library!

What things does your main character have to ask permission for? What boundaries did your character accept without question until recently, when she realized she might be able to do it on her own? What happens when she's granted this freedom and it goes badly (as it should)?

2. Preteens need approval for some of their relationships. Some preteens complain that their parents won't let them date in middle school. Others are free to do so, or simply don't tell their parents. Friendships can also be controlled during the middle school years. Parents, knowing all too well the power of good and bad friendships, may try to steer their kids in the 'right' direction.

Does your MC have a relationship with someone that his parent would disapprove of? Does he hang out with this person anyway? What happens when this relationship is discovered?

3. Many kids are limited to what possessions they own, especially when it comes to expensive clothes and technology. Kids may get an allowance or monetary gifts from relatives, but most of what they own is purchased for them by their parents. This can create tension when a child wants something that a parent can't or won't buy. As our luck would have it, this is exactly the age in which kids start to pay attention to material things.

Is there something that your character wants more than anything? Is the the goal of the story, or something that will help them with their journey? Maybe it's a guitar or signed pair of Air Jordan's. Or maybe it's to raise a large amount of money for a good cause. Either way, what is the price that must be paid and in what ways is this goal out of reach? What does your character do to earn this item despite the high cost?

4. Children of all ages are reliant on their parents for their most basic needs including housing. If parents decide to move to a new town, children have no choice but to move with them, regardless of how they feel about it. Having little to no control over their living situation can be a huge source of stress, especially for the middle-schooler. Studies have shown that this is the most difficult for children to move somewhere new.

This same kind of tension can also be present when parents force kids to go on a vacation, switch schools, or even switch club teams. The key is that in some situations, parents hold all the cards leaving none for their child who was in the process of learning all about the wonders of freedom.

Has your MC been forced to move or go on a long vacation? If this is happening in your story, how does your character cope? Does she secretly plan to return to her old home? Does she make an effort to do so? How does her journey backfire?

5. Schools also have strong boundaries for their students. These include required attendance, assignments, school rules, and the rules of various clubs and sports. Kids even have to ask to speak in class by raising their hand and ask for a hall pass to go to the bathroom. Peer pressure can create boundaries by influencing what clothes you wear, how you wear your hair, what music you listen to, and what kind of cell phone you have. Technology in the classroom can also give teenagers and preteens boundaries in new and annoying ways - assignments can arrive via email after school hours and be due the next day. Or, an assignment may arrive on Friday night - just in time to ruin the weekend (yes, these things really do happen).

How do the boundaries in school prevent your MC from reaching her goal? How does he push back and what happens when he gets caught?

All of these boundaries provide a very real and strong framework for tension that middle grade readers can identify with. They long for more freedom and will push back against their parents and teachers for it, even if they aren't yet ready for the responsibility. Of course preteen say that having all these boundaries stinks and is totally unfair. However, for you, the writer, they are pure gold when it comes to creating tension in your stories.

Happy writing!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Review: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

The Shadow Cipher (York, #1)The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1789, the Morningstarrs arrived in New York and began to build their steampunk vision of New York. When the architects disappeared over a half-century later, they left behind the Old York Cipher, a puzzle hidden in the wondrous city they created. No one has been able to solve it.

But now, solving the cipher is the only way Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jamie Cruz will be able to save their Morningstarr apartment building. A developer plans to raze the building, possibly destroying clues to the cipher and definitely destroying the only home the three kids have ever known.

Ruby has created a shining world of mysteries and clues in The Shadow Cipher. The New York of this world is both familiar and magical place for discoveries, and Ruby's skill as a storyteller is on display on every page.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Reaching Readers: Through Cultural Diversity

For this post I want to take a look at how the multicultural aspect of middle grade novels reaches readers. As we already know, children’s literature is a great medium for learning about our world and ourselves. After looking into it, I found that several writers of multicultural kid’s literature felt that their work connected with readers in two main ways: by providing an opportunity either to learn about someone else’s culture or to identify with one’s own culture.

The faculty at the Berkeley Carroll Schools in Brooklyn, NY affirms that these two aspects are essential for creating cultural connections with young readers: “Reading a novel with characters from ethnic and cultural backgrounds different from your own is one of the best ways to move beyond the world that you know. You become a bigger, wiser person every time you slip into someone else's shoes and see the world through their eyes. And you can learn a lot about your own family and cultural background when you read a book about your own ethnic roots.” 

On the side of learning about someone else’s culture, award-winning author Joseph Bruchac (Code Talker) shares his thoughts on how stories can help to correct persistent stereotypical depictions of Native American peoples: “I find it important in my writing to try to present images of native children that are both accurate and positive. I don't mean going so far in the other direction that I exaggerate the positive. I intend to be realistic. But on the other hand, I want people to recognize human beings as human beings first, whatever their background may be.”

From the point of view of identifying with one’s own culture, A.A. Philips’ novel If You Believe in Mermaids … Don’t Tell helps middle graders from a non-traditional orientation relate to others who are trying to define their own personal identity: “It digs deep into the painful realities experienced by gender-variant youth. While (it) provides an unflinching look at life through the eyes of a boy who doesn't act the way "normal" boys are supposed to behave, (it also offers) healing and hope in friendships and the future.”

And in terms of bridging the connections between cultures, Uma Krishnaswami explains how one of her novels shows the commonalities between us: “One way to cross cultural borders is by normalizing customs and preferences that might typically be seen as un-American. My middle-grade novel The Grand Plan to Fix Everything employs cultural fusion to define the relationship between best friends of whom one is Indian-American and the other is not.”

Middle grade fantasy writer Akossiwa Ketoglo believes that exposure to other cultures increases compassion for others: "From my experience growing up in Togo, the children’s literature I had access to was vastly from Europe and America. I believe that increasing US children's exposure to multicultural kidlit will benefit them a lot by giving them a varied insight into the lives of other children/people from across the world. The 'other' appears scary only when we know nothing about it, and books are an excellent way to educate and hopefully teach empathy as well."

Akossiwa Ketoglo
Given these factors, middle grade writers should consider cultural diversity for character development. Does any given character absolutely need to be a white middle-class male? Often the dominant culture does not provide the most interesting or representative point of view for a story. Writers need to reflect on the world's myriad voices and provide readers with a range of perspectives within a cast of characters.

In closing, it’s important to acknowledge that every story has a cultural dimension, not only because stories are a byproduct of a given culture, but also because a story’s setting and its characters invariably transmit the culture of that place and people, whether reflecting the dominant or minority culture.

What are some of your favorite middle grade novels that you feel reach readers on a cultural level? What books do you recommend that encourage young readers to make links between their own and others’ cultural experiences?

All the best, Chris Brandon Whitaker

Monday, July 31, 2017

YA Book Review: FLIGHT RISK by Jennifer Fenn

Flight Risk: A Novel by [Fenn, Jennifer]

Jennifer Fenn's debut novel inspired by true events, about a teenage boy who has stolen—and crashed—not one, but three airplanes. And each time he’s walked away unscathed.
Who is Robert Jackson Kelly? Is he a juvenile delinquent? A criminal mastermind? A folk hero? One thing is clear: Robert always defies what people think of him. And now, the kid who failed at school, relationships, and almost everything in life, is determined to successfully steal and land a plane.
Told as an investigation into Robert’s psyche, the narrative includes multiple points of view as well as documentary elements like emails, official records, and interviews with people who knew Robert. Ultimately, Flight Risk is a thrilling story about one teenager who is determined to find a moment of transcendence after everyone else has written him off as lost.


First off, let me just say how excited I was to read this book! I was one of those lucky few to receive an ARC copy of Flight Risk by Jennifer Fenn a few months ago and I flew right through the story. One of my favorite things is picking up a book I wouldn't normally pick up for whatever reason and being floored by how much I end up LOVING it--this was one of those glorious moments.

I'll start with...the cover! Le sigh. It's so eye-catching and I was completely drawn toward the vintage feel of the graphics (this girl's a sucker for vintage!). 
What really intrigued me to no end was that this story was inspired by true events (and ones I wasn't at all aware of, but looked right into because how fascinating?!). Flight Risk is set in the Pacific Northwest (again, le sigh...) and is written in three main points of view: from the main character, local teen, Robert, his mother, and then through the town sheriff's voice. Spliced within these points of view are emails and local radio show transcripts and police interviews, making for an inventively exciting narrative. All three main narrators were equally compelling, but, I really held onto Robert's every word. I mean, I was rooting for the kid (the criminal, mind you) 100%. Fenn put such an amazing spin on a subject you'd think would be black and white. But, as most things go, there's so much gray! And in that gray lies the magic that is Robert Jackson Kelly. 

If you're looking for a great adventure and one that could totally happen (it basically did!), this is the book for you! If you love YA contemporary novels, this is the book for you! If you love reality TV, this is the book for you! If you love out of the box narratives, this is the book for you! If you love great writing and a story that grabs you from the beginning, this is the book for you! 


Wednesday, July 26, 2017


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 Eva. I am 5 and three quarters old. Vanilla is my favorite ice cream!

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

I read Finley Flowers: Original Recipe. I read this one because it's the first one I picked out of my bookshelf. And I like to cook! My mommy read the book to me.

Can you describe this book in one word?

Capers! [Mom adds: You'll have to read the book to find out what this means!]

What was your favorite part of this story?

The chapter about the capers. Finley's little sister, Evie, put capers to Finley's recipe. It's really funny! I liked Evie a lot.

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

If I had to come up with a recipe for a cooking contest like Finley, I'd make a cake.

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

I'd tell her that it's a really good story. And it's funny!

What do you think about the book's cover?

I like it. Finley looks like fun, and there are capers on the cover.

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

Yeah! I thought Evie was really funny. I hope she's in the next book.

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

No. I can't think of any!

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

Why are there capers in this book???

Author Jessica Young responded to Eva's question:

I sure wish I had a better answer for you. I don't remember how old I was when I found out that capers were pickled flower buds, but I remember being surprised. I like them, but they have a salty, distinctive taste that some might not appreciate, and they look kind of mysterious if you don't know what they are. When I was trying to think of ingredients for Finley to find in her fridge and mix together in her experimental recipes, I opened my own fridge, and there they were!

Finley's best friend Henry is about to turn nine, and Finley has a major problem: she has no idea what to give him for his birthday. He already owns all of her best creations! The school cook-off might be the perfect solution. The grand prize is a year's worth of Flying Pie Pizza, Henry's favorite. But coming up with something original and tasty is harder than it looks. As one crazy concoction leads to another, Finley discovers that cooking is just like the rest of life - things don't always turn out as planned and that friendship is the real prize.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


We are excited that Jen Malone has
a perfect summer read out today!

A "road" trip romance that takes place at sea!

All Cassie wants is to get some solid ground under her feet following the shock of her parents' divorce. So when she learns of her mom's plans to take Cassie and her brother, Drew, on a four-month sailing trip from Oregon to Mexico, she's stunned. There is absolutely nothing solid about the Pacific Ocean.

Cassie is furious. And nervous. It's been hard enough keeping Drew sheltered from what Cassie knows about her mother's role in breaking their family apart, but living in such close quarters threatens to push her anger past its tipping point. Enter Jonah, a whip-smart deckhand who's as gorgeous as he is flirtatious. Cassie tries to keep him at a distance, but the more time they spend together--wandering San Francisco, riding beachside roller coasters, and exploring the California coastline--the harder it is to fight the attraction.

​Cassie wants to let herself go, but her parents' split has left her feeling adrift in a sea of questions she can't even begin to answer. Can she forgive her mom? Will home ever feel the same? Should she take a chance on Jonah? With life's unpredictable tides working against her, Cassie must decide whether to swim against them... or dive right in.

Get your copy:

Much love to Jen from your Kidliterati friends.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Book Review & Giveaway for Open If You Dare by Dana MIddleton

Open If You DareOpen If You Dare by Dana Middleton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Open If You Dare begins with a mysterious box found by three best friends who live in Georgia.

From the start, we are thrust into a complicated emotional dilemma between eleven-year-old Birdie Adams and one of her best friends. It’s a one-sided dilemma because Birdie wrestles with a decision that could hurt her best friend, which is the last thing she wants to do.

It’s easy to enter into Bird’s world, a supportive family, and best friend’s who are thick as thieves: the pragmatic Rose, and Ally, the shining star of the pitching mound. Best friends since the first grade, but after summer they’ll each go separate ways, with Rose moving back to England and middle school separating Bird from Ally. Bird won’t know anyone at middle school and she’s not looking forward to it.

It’s their last summer together, and the girls plan on making every day count. Making plans on their special island under the willow tree, they discover a wire and the wire leads to a box underground, with the warning: OPEN IF YOU DARE.

The girls dare to open the box, and inside, they find the written words of a twelve-year-old girl from 1973, a mystery and clues. Bird becomes obsessed even when her best friends grow tired of trying to figure out what happened to a Rosie Delgado, the author of the note or the dead girl she mentions.

One clue leads to another, but life holds up Bird’s sleuthing. Her family counts on her to watch her little sister, Zora. Bird’s a very good big sister – until the one day she isn’t. That one moment in the chain-of-events, Bird wishes she could change because she didn’t do the right thing for her best friend when she should have.

Our choices have consequences, as does our lack of making the right decision. Bird learns this the hard way. One of the worst feelings is when you want to turn back the clock to help a loved one, or two, in this case.

Bird’s heartfelt conversation with her mom near the end choked me up. This book shares the pains of growing up, growing apart, and eventually learning to trust yourself and make connections on your own, and the excitement that comes with that journey. It’s a huge part of growing up. There’s a fantastic twist near the end.

A fun and compelling mysterious adventure for middle-grade readers ages 9-12. Expected publication: October 17th, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends

All you have to do to win this ARC is leave your email in the comments section.

Dana Middleton grew up in Georgia before moving to Los Angeles to work in film, television and theatre. She was a producer of an Academy Award-nominated short film, and is also a recipient of a Los Angeles Theatre Ovation Award. Her debut children’s book, The Infinity Year of Avalon James, was published last year, and her new novel, Open If You Dare, is out this October. She lives in Hollywood with her British husband, author and screenwriter, Peter Atkins. 

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