Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Secrets of Kidlit: Spotlight on Dan Poblocki

Dan Poblocki
The spotlight series brings to light authors’ approaches to writing for young readers and the secrets to their success. For this edition, Dan Poblocki will tell us his secrets to writing horror and mystery stories for young readers. Poblocki is the author of many books for children, including The Ghost of Graylock, The Stone Child, The Mysterious Four series, and currently the Shadow House series, which is interactive and allows kids to download an app to step inside the Shadow House and make choices that will determine how the story unfolds.

Welcome, Dan! It’s a treat to speak with such a prolific author about the craft of writing for young readers. Do you have any secrets to share on how you become interested in ghost stories?

DP: My family believed that we lived in a haunted house when I was growing up. I'm constantly inspired by spooky memories of my childhood, like lights which turned on and off by themselves, doors that would open and close in the middle of the night, and growling noises coming from the bottom of the stairs when I was home alone. I like playing with these tropes and seeing if I can find new ways to breathe life into ghost stories for kids.

Your latest book No Way Out - Shadow House Book 3 is delightful creepy and suspenseful. What's your secret ingredient to writing horror stories for young readers?

DP: The secret ingredient is not worrying if something is too scary, creepy, or suspenseful for kids when I'm working on the first draft. I will write out my creepiest ideas and scenes, and then if anything stands out as too much, only then will I pull back and edit. I trust my editor to keep me in check. But often, for the scariest kinds of kids books, I find that young readers like the extreme thrills and chills the most. Whatever is goopy, gory, shocking, and sometimes silly get the best reactions.

You’ve had great success with the Shadow House series. What are the challenges to writing a series versus a stand-alone novel?

DP: The biggest challenge at first was figuring out how to divide one big story into three parts. I wanted each ending to feel satisfying, yet intriguing enough to pull the reader into the next book. This is something I never have to worry about with a stand-alone. The characters' arcs were also challenging. Not only do they each have to discover themselves in each book, but I also needed to figure out how they change from the first book to the last. It can get pretty complicated, especially when writing from five different perspectives.

You’ve written both mystery and horror novels. What’s different about writing in the mystery and horror genres?

DP: I find that my horror novels also often cross over into the mystery genre. However, the straight mystery stories are not that scary. The biggest difference is that the mystery books contain no supernatural elements, just good old-fashioned detective work.

Is there some secret about you that our readers may be surprised to know?

DP: A secret, eh? I'm pretty much an open book! But some readers might be surprised to know that often I will work late into the night to finish a project on time, sometimes staying up way after 3 am!

As a sneak preview for our readers, can you share with us any secrets about upcoming projects?

DP: Here's a big secret: Shadow House might not be done with me just yet!

Thanks for such an interesting (if a little eerie) interview, Dan. We’ll keep an eye out for your upcoming Shadow House book and hope it doesn’t keep you up to 3:00 in the morning too often! In the meantime, we’ll check your website and blog for updates at

All the best, Chris Brandon Whitaker.

Monday, December 4, 2017


The Vlogger Diaries: Confessions of an Internet SensationThe Vlogger Diaries: Confessions of an Internet Sensation by T. Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you can’t make friends, make followers! Olivia Warren is living the vlogging dream. With thousands of subscribers, a gorgeous boyfriend, and freebies coming through the door, it couldn’t be going better. But Olivia has a secret. The girl on the vlog isn’t her. How long can it last? Will Olivia be exposed as a fraud? And will Olivia’s cat ever stop sleeping and do something cute enough to go viral? Discover the hilarious story of one teenage girl’s journey from geeky nobody to online superstar . . . sort of.

This was a fun, fast read, perfect for tweens who are addicted to YouTube videos. Olivia's age is never mentioned in the book, but she feels about thirteen. She's recently changed schools and wants more than anything to find a new group of friends. With the end-of-year class trip to New York (the book is set in England) looming and her parents unable to afford to send her, Olivia's sure she can raise enough money through creating a vibrant and viral vlogger personality. The only problem is that when she tries to record her own video, she's a little less than impressed with the result. So she enlists the popular wannabe actress in her class to play Destiny, the perfect "vlogger" Olivia's created. With Olivia writing the scripts and Emma bringing the onscreen talent, Destiny rises to vlogging stardom faster than Olivia expected. But when a boy in their class figures out what they're up to and fans start recognizing Emma as Destiny, Olivia worries they won't be able to keep up the charade long enough to raise enough money for Olivia to go to New York.

The Vlogger Diaries was a lighthearted look at what it takes to be true to yourself. I especially loved the diary format and the humor. Recommended for kids who love YouTube, might be dealing with some friendship drama, or who just want a fun and entertaining read.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Reaching Readers: The Potential of Non-Fiction

When my son had to sit down for his required 20 minutes of homework reading time, it was like pulling teeth. He couldn’t find a book he wanted to read, he didn’t know where to sit, he hadn’t eaten a snack yet, the room was too loud or too quiet or too whatever. And every few minutes, he’d ask, “Is it time yet? Am I done?”

Getting kids to do something they don’t want to do is always hard. And if they think you’re trying to trick them into doing something that is “good for them,” it’s even harder.

Reading can sometimes fall into that category.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
When a child tells you they don’t like to read, often the reason they give is that it’s “boring.” Which is their way of saying that it feels too forced, too much like school work.

And then they get labeled as a Reluctant Reader.

Now let me stop to say that I think using the term Reluctant Reader is a huge disservice to the child and maybe a bit of a lazy cop-out for the adult using it. When you label a child as a Reluctant Reader, (which means unwilling) you’re putting blame on them for not finding books they love. But that’s not really fair since they don’t even know the possibility of all the great reading material out there. It should be the responsibility of the adult to guide the Potential Reader (see what I did there? That denotes the likelihood of becoming a reader in the future) to interesting books and material.

To make reading fun, you need to meet the Potential Reader where they are, not where you think they should be.

Novels can seem daunting to a Potential Reader. A thick spine with hundreds of pages can look more like a brick wall than a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

What does that mean? Well, if you have this great story about a boy who is wizard, but your Potential Reader says wizards are “stupid,” you’re not going to have an easy time getting them to read that book. It doesn’t matter how many other kids loved it. And the hurdle to turning a Potential Reader into just a regular old Reader is finding books that interests them, not necessarily what’s on the awards list or what everyone else is reading.

Photo by Jamie Taylor on Unsplash
One way to help a Potential Reader discover how fun reading can be is to investigate what they find interesting, whether it’s within fiction or non-fiction.

Adults may pass off a Potential Reader’s interest in non-fiction as not really reading if that non-fiction is different than what the adult knew from their childhood. When we were kids, non-fiction was serious, like boring biographies about dead presidents or animal migration habits.

Non-fiction felt like just more schoolwork because it read like a social studies or science text book. But non-fiction is no longer limited to the dull writing we read as kids.

Quality, well-written non-fiction comes in many forms, including books, but also magazines, newspapers, blogs, how-to and DIY guides, cookbooks and, yes, instructions manuals. They can be regular books, electronic books, graphic novels or even comics. All while also being funny or suspenseful.

Non-fiction books are a great way to help a Potential Reader expand their knowledge for their other passions. A biography about a beloved sports hero could improve a Potential Reader’s game. Studying about artists’ techniques will help a Potential Reader become better at art. A Potential Reader who loves to write made-up stories about real things, like shipwrecks or space, will improve their own stories using a little research.

Non-fiction can be used as a tie-in with fiction books, too. For example, if a Potential Reader enjoys a fiction book set in Egypt, they might love to learn more about the country.

My son loves gross, random facts, but text-heavy books overwhelmed him. So when he discovered the Weird But True! series and yearly Kids Almanacs by National Geographic Kids, full of short non-fiction chunks of text and loads of interesting photos, he was hooked. When I’d say his reading time was up, he’d say, “Can I finish this page first?”

He decided this whole reading thing isn’t so bad. He fell in love with reading because we let his interests lead the way.

Non-fiction books to try with your Potential Reader:

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy
Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks? And Other Questions About Animals by Buffy Silverman
Weird but True! series by National Geographic Kids
Guinness World Records 2017 by Guinness World Records
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernik
Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox
On Board the Titanic: What It Was Like When the Great Liner Sank, by Shelley Tanaka

Feel free to share your tips and tricks for Potential Readers in the comments!

Monday, November 27, 2017


Today we are thrilled to host Susan Tan, author of CILLA-LEE JENKINS: FUTURE AUTHOR EXTRAORDINAIRE, published March 28th, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press. Priscilla "Cilla" Lee-Jenkins's story is a novel bursting with love and humor, as told through a bright, irresistible biracial protagonist who will win your heart and make you laugh. Stay tuned for a giveaway below!

Learning to Write While Writing

How do you write a book? It’s one of the most frequent questions I get, and while I always try to answer it honestly, I wonder if I should tell the full truth: that “how do you write your books?” is also my go-to question, whenever I meet other writers.

Of course, I’ve written a book before, now two in fact (my second book, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book is A Classic comes out in March 2018). But as I begin the third book in the Cilla series, and as I consider the terrifying-yet-exciting prospect of a totally new project after that, I realize that with each new project, I feel like I’m back at square one, asking the authors around me, “so, how exactly do you write your books?”

Writing is funny work. It’s abstract, it involves hours (or even days) at a time sitting by yourself immersed in your own imaginary world. Because it’s so personal, it’s the biggest privilege (Your own imaginary world! For days! Usually in pajamas!). But I find that writing, for me at least, can be quickly derailed by obstacles, doubts, and procrastination.

When I started writing (with no idea that the story I worked on every night would actually someday be a real book), I imagined that once you were published, there would be some core wisdom about writing that you’d know once finished: a wisdom that provided a stable, concrete answer to how, exactly, you go about turning ideas into published products.

But as my debut year winds to a close, I’ve discovered this isn’t how it works. The more I write, (and the more I ask my fellow authors for their advice) the more I’m learning that the key to writing might simply lie in the sheer number of strategies you learn and create. It’s all about finding new ways to approach/trick/cajole/bribe yourself into the actual physical process of writing.

So, as I immerse myself in revisions for my most recent book and face that exhilarating and terrifying prospect of a new manuscript, I thought it would be fun to create a list of concrete writing approaches that have worked for me in the past. Some sillier (and more fun) than others. But all have worked for me in the past, and many are things I do everyday.


Tips about Writing I’m Learning as I Write:

  1. You can write anywhere. I wrote my first book on my iPad, lying in bed, typing with my thumbs. No joke. I write on my phone on the subway, on manilla folders in the hallways between the classes I teach, and a few times (in very desperate situations) on the backs of receipts. (I’d recommend against this one, though, as later, when you’re throwing the contents of your handbag all over the kitchen table muttering “where’s the CVS receipt?! I NEED it!!” you get weird looks from your housemates).

  2. In writing, any trick you need to play on yourself to get yourself to stay in the chair and write is fair game. Mine include:
    • Painting my nails very slowly over the course of a morning, because as long as they’re drying, typing is the only thing I can do that won’t make a mess; 
    • Putting a dog in my lap as I write (she falls asleep and is adorable, and only a monster would disturb her, especially if just to make more coffee and procrastinate); 
    • Buying an elementary school writing keyboard (these are available on Amazon, and have a tiny screen not unlike a TI-85 calculator. Also, they have no wifi capabilities, which makes an embarrassingly large difference); 
    • Cutting myself a deal that says as long as I’m productive, I can stay in my pajamas all day long. Though again, I get some weird looks with this one, and always have to resist explaining to the UPS man, when I answer the door at 4pm, “no seriously, I’m having a really productive day!”).
  3. Life is great material. I’m always stealing ideas from the things around me — the pink sunglasses someone’s wearing on the subway, the curtains in my friend’s living room, the funny dynamic between a neighbor and her dog as they pass me on the street. Life can also be a great curative for writer’s block. I work a great deal at a writer’s space in downtown Boston, right by the Boston aquarium and an old carousel. When I’m stuck, on nice days, I often go down to sit by them, with a notebook. I give myself different challenges — can I write a scene with my characters in these spaces? How would they react? Are there any kids or families nearby who they’d talk to, or want to play with? Nine times out of ten, this kind of guided change of scene helps me jumpstart my writing again, pushing me to break out of whatever boxes I’ve been stuck in or circles I've been running around in. Which brings me to:

  4. Give yourself permission to see things in new ways. My best writing happens when I’m taken by surprise — when a character hops into a new scene or place, or does something unexpected or funny, or and I want to know what happens next. Sometimes I force this process — I change tenses, just for a page, to get a new perspective. Or, my favorite, I turn an exchange into a play, or a scene into lists. (As you can possibly tell, I love lists). This always helps me see the story I’m working on in fresh ways.

  5. And finally, the biggest insight I’ve gained on writing, by writing, is this: some people think to write, but most people write to think. I heard this piece of wisdom a long time ago, but didn't understand it until I really began my own writing. There are some (lucky, amazing, magical) people in this world who need to wait until they really KNOW what they want to write before writing it. But once they do, they go, and they write with purpose, direction, clarity, and a concrete end-goal in sight. But most of us can’t do this: we write to think. For me, this means that I often don’t know exactly what I think about something, or all the various and complex ways I feel about something, until I write it. Most of the time, this means that when I write, I sit down with a hazy end-goal in mind, and bang out words. It means that my ideas and plot lines snarl and tangle, meandering with my developing thoughts. It means characters change their names, or disappear and reappear midway through stories. And it means that when I finish a first draft, most of my writing is simply, well — thinking. It’s snippets of ideas, throat clearing, hashing out. In other words, it’s a total mess. But, BUT. Sometimes, every once in a while, writing to think means something else. It means that every once in a while, my writing takes me to unexpected new places, where deeply-rooted memories, feelings, and truths bubble up, as if my typing hands were in on a secret kept from my conscious mind. Sometimes, when I write, the real reason I’m writing a story — the raw emotion I never knew was there — suddenly appears. And there are few feelings as magical and satisfying as that.

I hope to write more, and as I do, I hope this list will expand (I’m realizing a lot of authors I know include chocolate in their writing strategies, and that feels like an excellent idea that I’m missing out on). But I hope too, as I learn more about writing simply through the act of bribing myself into the chair, that the process of generating this list, and finding new ways to approach stories, myself, and the people around me, never ends.

Susan Tan has worked with children's books since the age of 14, when she was a Page in the children's room of the Concord Public Library. She went on to study English at Williams College and earned her PhD at the University of Cambridge in Critical Approaches to Children's Literature. While in graduate school, she began to write a children’s book of her own which became her debut novel, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire.

Cilla is based on Susan’s own experiences growing up in a mixed-race family, and deals with the questions, challenges, and many joys that navigating different racial and cultural identities can bring. A second book in the Cilla series titled Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book is A Classic is scheduled for release in 2018. Susan was the 2015 Gish Jen Emerging Writers Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston and currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. You can follow her on Twitter (@susansmtan), or write her a message on the "Contact" page. 

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

K10: Old Wolf by Avi

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?
Leo, 14, and Mint Chocolate Chip.

What book did you read and why did you choose it?
Old Wolf. I chose to read it because I love books about animals, adventure, and the wilderness. I also love wolves.

Can you describe this book in one word?

What was your favorite part of this story?

My favorite part was when the protagonist who was the wolf character first came in contact with the other lead character, Casey, a young kid, who became his companion for a while. The wolf was wounded and the kid saved his life. They bonded of course. It is not an unusual story but the writing was great and both he-wolf and he boy tell their sides.

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

At some point, a crow tries to give the wolf who is starving in winter some pointers on survival. The wolf doesn't listen. I would have.

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

It's the type of book that keeps you hooked from the start and I hardly ever get hooked.

What do you think about the book's cover?
It was one of the main reasons I picked it up to read. It drew me in.

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

No, I wouldn't because I loved the story so much I want to leave it where it ended.

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

Maybe "Hatchet."

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

What inspired you to write about this subject? Where do you get ideas? What is your stand on video games and hunting?   (That’s 3 questions, but let’s see what we can do.)

From Avi’s author page, about where his ideas come from.

One gets ideas by thinking about books, and how they are constructed. That is, ideas do not come to me whole, they are created slowly by looking at things and people and situations in terms of stories. Everybody has ideas. The vital question is, what do you do with them? My wife, a college teacher, users her ideas to understand literature. My rock musician sons shape their ideas into music. My sister takes her ideas and fashions them into poems. My brother uses his ideas to help him understand science. I take my ideas and turn them into stories. Now, what do you think you'll do with your ideas?


                          Thank you, Leo, for sharing your favorite book with us!


                                                             Old Wolf

In the computer game world of Bow Hunter (Casey's world) there are no deaths, just kills. In the wolf world (Nashoba's world) there have been no kills. For this is March, the Starving Time in the Iron Mountain region of Colorado when wolves and ravens alike are desperate for food.

With the help of a raven, the miraculous Merla, Nashoba must lead his pack of eight to a next meal. The wolf hates being dependent on a mere bird, but Merla is a bird wise beyond her years.

And when thirteen-year-old Casey crosses their path, two very different approaches to hunting collide. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: The Gallery of Unfinished Girls

The Gallery of Unfinished GirlsThe Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A piano appears on the lawn one week after seventeen-year-old Mercedes Moreno’s mother has left for Puerto Rico to watch over her abuela, lying in a coma. Mercedes and her fourteen-year-old sister, Angela, wait for their mother’s return in Sarasota and try to the best of it. But it’s not easy. Her sister becomes better and better on the piano they keep in the living room, growing as a musician, while Mercedes is unsure of what to paint, or why or how she’ll create anything of artist merit since her award-winning piece last year.

That she’s fallen in love with her best friend Victoria and keeping it a secret might have something to do with her lack of inspiration. A mysterious new tenant moves in with the neighbor they share a porch with. Her name is Lilia Solis. She’s also Latina, and a painter, and seems to live in an entirely different world. Lilia works to move Mercedes out of limbo, toward her next work of art, asking questions and sharing her own work.

Mercedes wishes she could return to the feeling of being on the brink of creation, “a little like falling in love.” When Lilia introduces Mercedes to the Red Mangrove Estate, a beachfront artist’s community where the artists can “be their best selves”, she spends more and more time there, meeting other artists, in a whirlwind of dreamy creation, where Tricia’s deepest secrets spill forth, while her sister spends time upstairs playing piano like a virtuoso. They both want to stay and live in endless creation.

An absorbing, and beautifully written in a way you’re sure you’ve entered another dimension, blurring the lines of reality in this delightful magical realism, that had me racing through, so I could get to painting and playing music too! I’m pretty sure I burst into magical tears in the last chapter. This book was that inspiring. The relationship between Victoria and Mercedes is warm and tender and very loving. (Positive bisexual representation.) Readers 13 and up.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Guest Post: Aram Kim, author of NO KIMCHI FOR ME!

Today we are thrilled to host Aram Kim, author of NO KIMCHI FOR ME!, published September 5, 2017 by Holiday House. From author Aram Kim, NO KIMCHI FOR ME! is the story of Yoomi, who is determined to eat kimchi despite her lack of enthusiasm for it. This Junior Library Guild selection has universal themes while at the same time celebrating Korean culture.

Showmanship for Introverts: Presenting Your Books to Readers  


Showmanship for Introverts is the title of the master class session at the upcoming SCBWI annual winter conference. Julie Gribble, an author, and founder of Kidlit TV, a senior agent Erica Rand Silverman, and I will be leading the session. When Julie suggested a workshop on authors’ presentations, and Erica narrowed it down to read aloud performance, I jumped right on board. I resonated with the idea very much as a newly published author at the beginning of my author career.

Many of us who try to get published spend years perfecting the manuscripts, searching for right agents and editors, and going to conferences and workshops on how to get published. This process alone is daunting, and we barely get to think of what comes next after the book is out in the world. Many newly published authors confess that they did not realize public speaking was to become such a big part of their career. Whether you love it or hate it, speaking to many readers and presenting your book to the audience is a big part of author’s life. For many authors, doing book events could feel uncomfortable. Creating is often a solitary activity, and many of us who write or illustrate books are introverts by nature. Yet, we need to appreciate the opportunities to present, actively seek those chances, and embrace them. Not only because the book events will potentially boost the book sales, but also because the books that authors spend years writing deserve a chance to be introduced to readers and read by many of them.

What I learned after publishing my first book, Cat on the Bus, and after attending various book events for the second book No Kimchi for Me! is that one does not need to change oneself to perform in front of people. I am in no way extrovert. I know I could not perform like some authors who rouse their audience, make them sing, clap, scream, and dance. That is not who I am. However, I love sharing stories. That is why I am making books. I desire my readers to be interested in the stories I am sharing. I want them to have a good time. I want them to enjoy the stories, and I want my stories to enrich their lives. As introverts who are presenting, what we need to do is to prepare. Prepare well. Spend time to think about what your unique quality is. Spend time to think of what your readers would appreciate hearing. Spend time to practice what you are going to say and practice reading aloud. Record yourself with your phone. Many people, including myself, cannot bear hearing oneself recorded, needless to say seeing oneself recorded. Even though it feels so unfamiliar and weird, by doing that, you would certainly improve the performance.

All my books are inspired by my Korean cultural heritage. Because most of my audience are little children, I use a big bright globe to show where Korea is. Starting from U.S.A., specifically from the city where I am presenting, I draw the line to reach Korea and explain a little bit about the country and tell them that’s where I came from. That introduction leads nicely to the story time, and “kimchi,” often very foreign especially for the children audience, does not feel too foreign anymore. There is always something you can tell your audience about yourself connected to the story. Make yourself accessible. Readers feel closer to your books when they feel closer to you. You are there to make a nice introduction of the book you poured your heart out to create. Just remember one thing - audiences are rooting for you. So go out and have fun.

Aram Kim is a New York-based children's book author/illustrator and picture book designer. She was born in Ohio, spent her childhood in South Korea, and now lives in Queens, New York. She likes bringing in distinctive South Korean flair to works she creates. Aram is a huge advocate for diversity in children's literature, and a creator of the Multicultural Children's Book Day 2018 poster. Her debut picture book, Cat on the Bus (2016), was included in Children's Choice Reading List by ILA. Her second picture book, No Kimchi for Me! (2017), is a Junior Library Guild selection. Visit

Yoomi is determined to eat kimchi. She tries to disguise it by eating it on a cookie, on pizza, and in ice cream. But that doesn't work. Then Grandma shows Yoomi how to make kimchi pancakes. This story about family, food, and a six-year-old -coming of age- has universal themes, and at the same time celebrates Korean culture. A kimchi pancake recipe and other back matter are included.


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