Wednesday, March 22, 2017

K10: Circle of Jinn by Lori Goldstein

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 ice cream flavor?

I'm Jack, I'm 14, and my favorite flavor of ice cream is coffee coffee buzz buzz.

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

I read Circle of Jinn and I picked it up because I had read the first book, Becoming Jinn, and I wanted to see how the series ended.

Can you describe this book in one word?

Action-packed. Do hyphenated words count as one?

What was your favorite part of this story?

I liked all the descriptions of the Jinn world. The first book was set in our regular world, so it was cool to see where the Afrit lived.

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

I would probably find a way to remove my powers, so the Afrit couldn't track me and I wouldn't have to grant wishes.

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

I already talked my brother into reading this, and to do that I told him it had a lot of action and fighting and a cool setting (and I left out any mention of the kissing parts)!

What do you think about the book's cover?

I think it's pretty cool--I really like the color.

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

Probably not, because the story wrapped up in this one, so...

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

Maybe Aladdin?

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

How did she come up with the idea for this story?

Lori Goldstein answered this question in an interview with Hypable

"Becoming Jinn is a modern spin on the traditional tale of wish-granting genies. The genies in my book are Jinn, which are magical beings derived from North African and Middle Eastern lore. As soon as I heard the name Azra, which was during a news report following an earthquake in Turkey, a character popped into my head. I didn’t know she was a Jinn right off the bat, but as I explored what kind of story I could build around her, I was drawn to one that would allow me to add touches from these other cultures."

Thank you to Jack for sharing Circle of Jinn with The Kidliterati! 

Being Jinn is Azra’s new reality. As she grants wishes under the watchful eye of the Afrit council, she remains torn between her two worlds—human and Jinn. Soon, secrets spill. Zars are broken. Humans become pawns. And rumors of an uprising become real as the Afrit’s reach extends beyond the underground world of Janna.

Straddling the line becomes impossible. Aware of her unique abilities, Azra must not just face but embrace her destiny. But when the role she must play and those she must protect expand to include a circle of Jinn greater than her own, Azra will be forced to risk everything. A risk that means there’s everything to lose, and at the same time, everything to gain—for herself and her entire Jinn race.

In this dramatic sequel to Becoming Jinn, Azra’s story comes to a heartfelt and thrilling conclusion.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Review : Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black Cloak (Serafina, #1)Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of a young girl who knew she wasn't like other children she sees around the Biltmore estate but had no idea about what exactly made her different. She struggles with her desire to belong, to be seen and accepted while all her Pa wants is to keep her hidden and safe.
When a dark and evil being, wearing a black cloak, starts making children disappear (some of which Serafina witnesses), Serafina decides to listen to her heart and keep the remaining alive children safe, especially her brand new friend Braeden. For that to happen she has to uncover who and what the being wearing the black cloak is before it's too late.

I went into this book with zero expectation and a very little knowledge of the back cover copy. I got drawn into Serafina's world from the first chapter and immediately knew I was in for the full adventure. I loved how the mystery of the disappearances was intricately woven into Serafina's personal quest to find out more about herself.

When the events finally made a full circle, I found it satisfying which is why I was surprised to see there is a sequel to be released this year. Aside from the fact that certain occurrences felt a bit forced, I really enjoyed this book and will be looking forward to getting to know more about Serafina.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Joy, Pain, and Laziness - It's Biology!

Who doesn't love a bit of joy? The answer, of course, is no one. We all want life to be pleasant and happy. We seek joy out probably more often than we realize. Us writers are very good at seeking in out. For many of us, our writing routine begins with a little joy. We get a mocha latte. And maybe a muffin. We turn on music that soothes or excites us before pulling up our our manuscript. Maybe we surf the web for a few minutes before getting started. And now we're ready to... Drat! Can't write without that mocha latte and the first one's gone already! BRB!

It turns out this pursuit for pleasure is part of our biology. According to Douglas J. Lisle and Alan Goldhamer (authors of The Pleasure Trap), our unconscious behavior is driven by the Motivational Triad. This means that all animals are after three things:

1) Pleasure.

2) Avoiding pain.

3) Attaining goals using the least amount of effort possible.

That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it? It's the biological version of Maslow's Hierarchy. Take a look at how it fits into our day-to-day writing lives. Besides the food part of our writing life, consider how much joy we get out of living vicariously through our characters. As for avoiding pain, well. Wouldn't you agree that besides being talented writers we are also talented procrastinators? And guess why so many of us LOVE pansting?* Yep. Getting into that sweet writing zone and allowing the story to flow onto the page with minimal plotting helps us reach a quantifiable goal with less effort.

*Don't get me wrong. ANY writing, whether it was plotted first or pansted is still hard work. For me, this is the easiest way to get a story down because the internal editor has been temporarily silenced. But even so, writing is never easy!

The point is, these motivations drive your character, too. She also seeks joy, tries to avoid pain, and wants to accomplish her goal in the laziest way possible. Obviously, there would be no story if you granted your hero these things. Without pain, there is no chance to overcome. Without facing fear, there is no growth. Without spending large amounts of physical and mental energy on a problem, we never discover how strong we really are.

As your character embarks on her journey, remember two things:

1) She's working towards a new environment where life is comfortable, pain is mostly avoidable, and whatever goals she's after are relatively easy to meet.
For example, in Harry Potter, this environment is the life Harry leads after he defeats Voldemort. We don't know a lot about it except that he married Ginny and they have a happy family. We know his life is pleasurable, there's not much pain anymore, and there's no doubt he's able to achieve whatever goals he has set for himself.

2) These desires play a role in your hero's internal struggle throughout the story. This is because there is always the temptation to give up. She can accept complete defeat (death), or a blighted existence where meeting the needs of the Motivational Triad are stunted. Pleasure is now about the absence of pain. Avoidance of pain just becomes avoiding intolerable levels of pain. As for spending the least amount of energy.... that rule still applies. It's just that the goals are now stunted in size and grandeur.

The thing is though, the hero is a hero because he or she doesn't give up. Heroes push through the pain and the temptation to give up. Even though they are strong enough to carry on, that wish is still there.

As you plot (or pants!) your story, remember the unconscious biological behaviors that apply to nearly all living things and use them to your favor.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Book Review: What I Lost by Alexandra Ballard

What I LostWhat I Lost by Alexandra Ballard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What I Lost is a compelling story about sixteen-year-old, Elizabeth, who has dropped 4 sizes in only a few months, lost a boyfriend, and struggles with an eating disorder against her better judgment. Pained by the sight of greasy, sticky, full-fat food, or the horror more than a morsel might touch her lips. Her struggle is painful, recognizable, and terribly real.

When Elizabeth’s parents bring her to Wallingfield, a treatment center for girls going through a similar struggle, we meet a host of characters, each desperately trying to survive their own eating disorder. It’s excruciating. You feel for each girl, and her story, as you discover the pain that brought them here.

Although Elizabeth doesn’t like being away from home, Wallingfield quickly becomes a refuge, a place of safety, while she wrestles with the idea of staying there for good or getting well enough to leave. The recovery rate is slim. She knows this. Her roommate Lexi leaves, inspiring Elizabeth to eat just enough to (hopefully) return to the comfort of her home. When mysterious packages arrive for Elizabeth, the girls convince her that she has a secret admirer. Surely, it’s her ex-boyfriend with the clues he’d sent. Had he forgiven her?

After treatment, and counseling, and a final heartbreaking confrontation with her mother, who has her own size-0 obsession, could Elizabeth be ready to leave Wallingfield? You walk each step as Elizabeth works to find herself and be more than the disorder.

Authentic, and heartbreaking, a must read for our girls -- and boys! WHAT I LOST is an important book for our times. I hope it empowers our girls to love their bodies in all their glorious shapes and sizes.

Expected publication: June 6th, 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Art of the Heart: A Conversation about “Heart Books” with guest authors Sally J. Pla and Elly Swartz

Today we are pleased to bring you an insightful and compassionate conversation about heart, compassion, and kid lit from middle grade authors Sally J. Pla and Elly Swartz. Enjoy, and don't miss your chance to win copies of their debut books at the Rafflecopter below!

Sally: Elly, what does it mean, to say that a book has HEART?

Elly: To me, a story that has heart is one that touches my soul, floods my veins, and stays with me long past the last page. It is a book where I feel like I am wrapped in the main character. I breathe their breath, fear their fears and am blanketed by their joy. It is a story that moves me. Heart and soul.

Sally: Beautifully put, Elly. I think heart books tend to be quieter, “inner” stories – but no less dramatic and dangerous than their big-action counterparts. You slip inside the skin of a new person and “become” them, see the world through their eyes, and it’s a revelation. You learn things… At the end, there is a feeling as if your very humanity is vibrating with a certain, new, joyous connection. You close the cover, and warmth just radiates from your heart. It’s my favorite feeling, from a book. It’s the main thing I’m after, as a reader.

Elly: And most gratefully, there are many wonderful heart books. These are the gems that have tucked into my heart and influenced me and my writing: Mick Harte was Here by Barbara Park, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla, Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin, Rules by Cynthia Lord.

Sally: Thanks for putting me on that list, Elly. Finding Perfect is among my favorites, too. And I loved Marcelo. Also, Kate di Camillo’s Raymie Nightingale and Because of Winn-Dixie. Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me… There’s Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan, and Richard Peck’s A Year Down Yonder… Also, R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming… Some more debuts in this category – Train I Ride by Paul Mosier, Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin, The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish.

Elly: Sally, where can a heart book take the reader?

Sally: I am a huge introvert. My books call out to kids who are different, who may have trouble fitting in. I think that quieter heart books can provide human connection for kids who can’t find it elsewhere – a sense of delight, of recognition, of realization you’re “not the only one.” A heart book takes the reader to a more humanly connected, less isolated place. I am a strong believer in the value of a book as a best friend.

Elly: Agreed, Sally. A heart book can be that kind, understanding friend. The one who really sees all of you. And loves you still. The one who allows you to see yourself and recognize that you are not one thing. No one is just one thing. The heart book takes the reader to that place where you can truly feel, see, and understand yourself and others. Your mirror, your window, your door.

What would you say are the true gifts of a heart book?

Sally: You know that scene in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas where that old Grinch’s heart grows “three sizes that day?” So big, that it breaks out of the frame, and Grinch’s face changes, and starts to glow? That’s the feeling! When a more deeply felt connection with humanity grows. That’s the gift. (NOT to equate any of us with Grinches!)

Elly: I agree! Empathy and connection are a heart book’s true gifts. These books allow the reader to feel deeply. They allow the reader to experience something that may never touch them off the page. They allow the reader to connect. To the story, to themselves and to others. And in this connection, the reader begins to realize they are not alone. Never alone.

Sally: And reading heart books is an activity that dovetails beautifully into the work of some valiant school organizations that promote empathy, compassion, and kindness. I’d like to mention a few I especially love: Kids for Peace, and The Great Kindness Challenge. They are both based near my hometown here in southern California, and I support their efforts wholeheartedly. There is also the "choose kind" initiative launched from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder... I know you, too, Elly, have been working, lately, with schools on kindness and compassion.

Elly: Thanks, Sally. I love the organizations you referenced. They are truly making this world a better place one kind act at a time. And, yes, I’ve been working on promoting empathy and compassion in and out of the classroom through books and stories and the Unfolding Identity Project.

Recently, I had the honor of meeting and collaborating with Scarlett Lewis, founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Organization and Jimmy Sapia, an incredible educator implementing the Choose Love program in his 6th grade classes. This movement is where courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion come together. It is a movement that is sure to touch both hearts and minds.

Sally: Elly, I am always amazed at the capacity for kindness in kids. It’s so encouraging to realize that these organizations exist and are thriving. For instance, more than ten million students took “The Great Kindness Challenge” last year!

So here’s to the beauty of the inner quest. Here’s to the books that nourish us with positivity and compassion -- with stories for the soul.

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Thank you to Elly and Sally for sharing such an incredible and insightful conversation with us today! Make sure to enter below for your chance to win a signed copy of their books!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway
Sally J. Pla’s debut novel, THE SOMEDAY BIRDS (HarperCollins 1/17), is about many things, including war, chicken nuggets, OCD, rescue dogs, autism, un-extincting, and a cross-country quest for a mysterious bird guru. It’s a Junior Library Guild Selection for 2017 and a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Kirkus called it "hopeful, authentic, and oddly endearing." Booklist called it "a delight from beginning to end." Her second middle-grade novel, JOHN LOCKDOWN IS IN THE BUILDING, is due out from HarperCollins in early 2018. A picture book and a third novel are in the works.
Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Elly Swartz’s debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG 2016) is about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. Her next mg novel, SMART COOKIE (Scholastic, spring 2018) is where you’ll meet the spunky and big-hearted Frankie, who is all about family with a dash of mischief and mystery! Elly lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her family.

Website | TwitterCurriculum Guide | Goodreads

Monday, March 6, 2017

Review: Izzy Kline Has the Butterflies by Beth Ain

Izzy Kline Has ButterfliesIzzy Kline Has Butterflies by Beth Ain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Izzy Kline Has Butterflies is a charming new novel in verse from author Beth Ain that captures how a school year can feel like a series of small but important moments. It's these moments that tell Izzy's story--the good, the bad, and the butterflies that we feel as we grow up.

Izzy Klein is a character who's easy to love, and students will root for her as she navigates the challenges of fourth grade. Izzy's nervous--about friends, her new teacher, and changes at home--but she faces each new challenge with pluck and determination. Over the course of the story, young readers will find that there are many reasons to get the butterflies, and not all of them are bad!

Especially welcoming are the short chapters, which read like brief and vibrant glimpses into Izzy's world. Each chapter is punctuated with poignant connections and playful wording that are sure the be a hit when read aloud. Recommended for middle grade readers who are graduating to chapter books and in search of characters to love.

(I received an arc of this book in exchange for an honest review. )

* * *

Here's a special message from Beth about her Butterfly Moments campaign. Follow the link for more detailed information along with a cute butterfly printable teachers can use in the classroom.

"My goal is to use the book as a way of getting kids involved with small moments writing and for teachers to see the book as a mentor text for both reading and writing. I really want kids to see how their sweet or not so sweet moments can be enough to make something special--because the poetry sometimes just presents itself out of nowhere smack in the middle of math class, you know?"

Beth Ain grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where she and her best friend were free to finger-paint in the basement, and make plays, and get in and out of fights and hysterical fits of laughter, all to the soundtrack of Free to Be. . . You and Me. She is glad to have friends and family who encouraged her to be creative with her memories. Beth is the author of several books for children, including the Starring Jules series. She lives in Port Washington, New York, with her husband and two children.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

K10: The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz

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 ice cream flavor?
My name is Grant, I just turned 13 years old (I'm a teenager!), and I like chocolate ice cream.

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

I read The Inquisitor’s Tale and I picked it because I’ve read Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm series and loved those books.

Can you describe this book in one word?


What was your favorite part of this story?

I love how all of the characters backstories were explained in the beginning and then the story tied them all together.

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

I would probably live in the forest and hide. I’m not as brave as the characters are. I couldn’t do what they had to do.

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

There are so many magical aspects to this story!

What do you think about the book's cover?

The cover is magical too. The gold lettering really stands out. I also love the illustrations inside the book. They really help to tell the story.

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

Yes! So much yes!

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

It is similar to Mr. Gidwitz's Grimm series because it incorporates old stories in a new way. I like how The Inquisitor's Tale includes stories about religious belief.

If you could ask the author one question about this book, what would it be?
Did your inspiration for this book come from history?

Adam Gidwitz answered this question in his author's note and expanded on it in an interview with Publisher's Weekly
"[T]here was this Indiana Jones aspect to medieval history that hooked me, and since we wound up traveling to Europe every year, eventually I began to wonder if I could get a book out of it. I started trying to organize the stories I had collected about six years ago."


Thank you to Grant for sharing The Inquisitor's Tale with The Kidliterati! 


1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.

Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne's loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.


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