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.

View all my reviews

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! 



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