Author Archives: DEBtastic Reads!

About DEBtastic Reads!

Writer, reader, traveler, dog-lover, mom and wife. Author of two nonfiction children's books.

The Winner Is…


Thank you to everyone who stopped by to help shine the spotlight on Emily Jiang and her debut picture book!


Summoning The Phoenix  Emily Jiang, illus. by April Chu (Lee & Low Books/2014)

I used a random number generator to choose the lucky winner of a copy of this fabulous book. The winner is…swtomp! Congratulations! Please email me at just kid ink at yahoo dot com (no spaces) with your mailing address and I’ll be sure to get the book in the mail ASAP!

Thanks to everyone for playing! Stay tuned for more book buzz and more opportunities to win!

Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight Emily Jiang and Summoning the Phoenix!


Congratulations to Emily Jiang and her debut children’s book, Summoning the Phoenix, now available for purchase! Stay tuned below for a chance to win a copy!


Summoning the Phoenix by Emily Jiang, illustrated by April Chu (Lee & Low Books/2014)

Emily’s poetry about traditional Chinese instruments paired with April Chu’s lively illustrations will enchant readers young and not so young. For every poem about an instrument is a sidebar describing the instrument and the history, and sometimes a delightful folktale. The poems follow present-day students practicing on their instruments through preparing for and finally performing in a concert. So many fascinating instruments – I think my favorite, though, is the bamboo xiao which is said to be able to summon a phoenix if played beautifully.

Spotlight on Emily:

Tell me about the journey of your book – what was the inspiration, how many drafts did you write, and what was it like to get “The Call” (or email) that led to the publication of your book.

“The Call” for Summoning the Phoenix was unexpected and unusual. Ironically, I came up with the idea for this picture book while researching the music-based magic system for my YA fantasy novel that is All-Asian-All-the-Time.  I wanted to share the love of traditional Chinese music with future generations, so I pitched the idea to my first editor, Renee Ting, who, coincidentally, had always wanted to publish a picture book about Chinese music.  The original concept was a purely nonfiction book featuring photos of Chinese musical instruments.  Then I discovered a book called Chinese Music and Musical Instruments by Xi Qiang, photographed by Niu Jiandang, and translated by Qiu Maoru.  Written in English and published in Shanghai, China, this book was exactly what my editor and I had originally envisioned.  So we had to rethink our concept.  We considered, perhaps, that our book should be illustrated instead, yet we were unsure how to restructure the nonfiction content in a fresh manner.

Then inspiration struck me, as I scanned the picture books on my personal bookshelf.  One of my all-time favorite picture books is Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen.  It is a gorgeously written book with a special format. Each illustrated double-page spread contains a beautiful poem and a lyrical informational sidebar about a creature or an aspect of a woodland night.  I had read this hybrid poetry and nonfiction collection for the Heavy Medal Mock Newbery discussion led by brilliant librarians Nina Lindsay and Jonathan Hunt.  Dark Emperor was voted as the top book for our Mock Newbery before it went on to win an actual Newbery Honor.  I re-read my copy before my next meeting with my editor, and we had a conversation that went something like this:

“What’s your opinion about poetry?” I asked.

“I’m not a fan,” she said, “but I’m not well-read in poetry.”

“Have you read Dark Emperor by Joyce Sidman?”

“No, I’ve never heart of it.”

“It’s one of the few picture books to have won a Newbery Honor,” I said quickly, “and it’s a collection of poetry and nonfiction. I absolutely adore this book and would love to write a similar format for our picture book. Can you do me a favor and read it?”  There was a very long, very painful moment of silence from my editor.  So I said, “If you hate it, we can come up with a new idea, but it was extremely popular at the Heavy Medal Mock Newbery.  I think you might like it.”

“Okay,” she finally agreed.  “I’ll check it out.”

A week or so later, my editor called me to tell me that she did not like Dark Emperor, she loved it!  She gave me the green light to write poems along with prose about Chinese musical instruments.  I wrote about six or seven revisions before she judged my manuscript as ready and gave me a contract.  She was always available and open-minded to my ideas and even seriously considered my artist referrals, with my top pick being the amazingly talented April Chu, who eventually signed on as illustrator.  When I could not decide on a title for my book, my editor was the one who came up with Summoning the Phoenix.

While Summoning the Phoenix has a fantastic new publisher Lee & Low and wonderful new editor Louise May, I will always remember the huge contributions of my first editor Renee Ting.  The words are all my own, yet she greatly influenced the shape the book from the beginning, and for that, I’m forever grateful.

Do you play any instruments? Are you musical? What about music do you love?

Thanks to my parents’ unwavering support of music education when I was a child, I can play the piano (10 years of classical training) and the guitar (6 months of classical training) and I’ve been singing in choirs and a cappella groups for over 20 years.  I’m currently teaching myself how to play the xiao and the dizi, both Chinese bamboo flutes, which is a challenge because I’ve never played a wind instrument before, and the technique is completely different from piano or guitar.

Music has always been easier for me than words.  When learning a song, I always remember the melody before I can recall the lyrics.  If I know the words to a song, that means I’ve listened to it at least ten times, while a melody can stick with me after hearing it only once.  What I love most about music is that it IS a universal language that can transcend age and gender and culture.  Even if you are deaf, you can still feel rhythm, an essential component of music.

What are you working on now?

I’m revising a couple YA novels that are All-Asian-All-the-Time.  But I also recently was ambushed by a picture book idea that won’t let go.  As long as I’m writing, I’m happy.

Win a Copy!

Would you like to win your own copy of this wonderful picture book? Follow the instructions below and enter for a chance to win!

1. Comment on this post and for fun, tell me what musical instrument you play or wish you could play. I took piano lessons (Suzuki method) for 13 years and sadly, have not kept it up. I also took lessons in guitar and accordion, and played the clarinet briefly in junior high. I would not say I’m musically talented!

2. You must have a U.S. mailing address.

3. Comment by midnight EST Friday, April 18th. The winner will be drawn at random and will be announced here on Tuesday, April 22nd.

Good luck and thanks for stopping by! Happy reading!


And The Winner Is…


Thank you to everyone who stopped by to check out the Spotlight on E. Lockhart and her newest YA release:


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart/Random House

due out: May 13, 2014

If you missed it, you can still read the interview here. What you don’t want to miss is this awesome and thrilling novel. One lucky person, drawn at random from the comments wins an advance copy of We Were Liars! Thanks to Random House for providing this luscious prize!

Ready to see who won?  Using a random number generator, the lucky number is: 15! Who is that? Why, it’s Shaun! WooHOO! Congratulations! Please email me at just kid ink at yahoo dot com (no spaces) with your mailing address so I can forward it on to the publisher.

Be sure to come back again for more book buzz and give-aways! Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight E. Lockhart and We Were Liars!


I’m jumping up and down with glee because I’m shining the spotlight on one of my favorite authors. Let’s give a warm welcome to E. Lockhart and her upcoming thrilling YA novel! Stay tuned below to win an advance copy. You’ll be able to read it before everyone else!

9780385741262_p0_v2_s260x420We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Random House)

Pub date: May 13, 2014

This is one of those books you are going to want to read as soon as you can. In fact, I don’t want to risk sharing my personal summary of this book, for fear of giving anything away. So, I’ll share the one from from the publisher’s web site:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

I won’t lie to you about this: We Were Liars was an incredible read! A story filled with suspense and love and friendship. I had to read it in one sitting.

Spotlight on E. Lockhart:

How did this story come about? How did the characters come to you?

It began with the adult characters. Three competetive sisters and a grieving patriarch.  I wanted to write a kind of King Lear Chekovian thing about sisters and property and difficult family dynamics.

I also had the idea for a setting — a private island off the coast of Massachusetts — partly because I love mysteries set in places like that, although I knew I wouldn’t be writing a mystery. You know, books like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, where all the suspects are trapped in one inaccessible place. I also love country house books, like Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim or I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith,Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. So I was thinking about that kind of setting and how it might affect my characters.

It took me much longer to think through what would be happening with the younger generation of people in the family, which of course was really going be my focus, since I write for young audiences. I knew that race would come into it. And a group of friends who had  a very intense connection that turns destructive. I read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and took a lot of notes about how she structured her plot and build character and tension.

The Liars, as the three cousins and “adopted” cousin call themselves, spend every summer on an island where their parents and grandparents own homes. Sounds very posh, very ritzy. How did you spend your summers when you were a teen?

Drama camp. If you’re curious, read my book Dramarama. All the drama camp angst went into that book.  As for We Were Liars, my mother’s family does have a home on Martha’s Vineyard, a sweet little one-story place on two acres. Unbelievably nice but not crazy posh. Still, I have been going to the Vineyard since 1973, and as an adult I still go every summer, though as a teenager I found it boring. From those summers I got a lot of the details about the island setting, the moneyed WASP world there, and how beautiful it is and how also problematic.

The story is built around Cady’s lost memory of the summer she was 15. How much of a challenge was it to write this story? How did you figure out all the details for the plot?

I wrote We Were Liars in Scrivener, and it was the first book I wrote using that tool.

Scrivener allows you to rearrange chunks of your story and label them. So I had all these parts labeled Fifteen and Seventeen and Flashback, to indicate whether the event happened in the summer the characters were fifteen or the summer they were seventeen, or further back. I organized and re-organized the parts many times. I always had the five-act structure, but what was actually in those five acts changed on a scene-by-scene basis. A day by day basis!

I don’t really recommend this process. It was kind of a nightmare.

I also read a lot of amnesia books and tried to learn from the way the authors revealed bits of memory and pieced story pieces together. I read Rosebush by Michelle Jaffe, Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson, Burnout by Adrienne Vrettos, and a number of others.

Anything else you’d like to share about the journey of this novel?

Well, I am supposed to keep the plotline under wraps. Publishers orders! But:

I grew up reading loads of fairy tales — those collected by Andrew Lang (The Red Fairy Book etc) and Howard Pyle (The Wonder Clock etc.)  – but also many in picture book form, particularly those illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, who was my mother’s favorite contemporary illustrator. My mother also collected fairy tale books with illustrations by Arthur Rackham, Harry Clarke, and other late-19th and early 20th-century artists.

We Were Liars makes use of some of that early education. In it, I retell a number of well-known fairy tales and some lesser-known, in such a way that the fairy tales tell the story of the family I am writing about  – if that makes any sense. I had a whole part based on the fairy tale White Cat, and I ended up cutting it — but all the others stayed in, and I was pleased with how that part of the novel ended up working, as I wasn’t sure it would be any good at all when I began it.

E. Lockhart is the author of a number of novels, including The Boyfriend List and its sequels, DramaramaFly on the Wall and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. She teaches at Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children. 

For more about E. Lockhart and her books, check out her web site, her Twitter feed, her Pinterest board, and Tumblr.

To win an Advance copy of this amazing book:

1. Comment on this post. For fun, tell me what comes to mind when you think about your childhood/teen summers. Because I grew up in West Los Angeles, my summers usually involved hanging out at the beach in Santa Monica with my friends. We usually took the bus, but sometimes we (insanely) walked. Getting there was always half the fun.

2. You must have a U.S. mailing address. (Apologies to everyone else – I’m paying for the book and the shipping.)

3. Comment by midnight EST, Friday, March 28th. The winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, April 1st.
Thanks for stopping by! Happy reading!

And The Winner Is…


Thank you to everyone who stopped by to wish Cynthia Lord a happy book birthday for the release of her marvelous new MG novel HALF A CHANCE (Scholastic/2014)!

9780545035330_p0_v2_s260x420While only one lucky winner drawn at random will receive a signed copy of this book, you all can be winners if you rush out to buy and read this heart-warming book. At this writing, I just now finished reading this book and loved it!  It makes me want to take a summer vacation lakeside in New Hampshire. I so want to see and hear the loons. It also makes me want to pick up my camera to take more photos, tell more stories! And I adore 12-year-old Lucy and new friend Nate. It’s truly a touching story about friendship, family, and making and keeping memories.

Okay, okay, I’ll get to what you all are here for. I used to pick a winning name. Trixie has not been much in the mood to draw names lately – it’s age, I think. Or  laziness. She’d rather nap in the sunshine. Starting from the first person who commented (number 1) to the last, the winning number is:

Number FOUR! That’s Nancy Tandon! Congratulations! Be sure to email me with your mailing address and to whom you’d like the book signed.

Thanks for stopping by and come back soon for another give-away, and more book buzz!

Happy Book Birthday Half A Chance by Cynthia Lord!


HOORAY! Today is the release date for Cynthia Lord’s newest middle grade novel, Half a Chance!


Half A Chance by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic/2014)

From the publisher:

A moving new middle-grade novel from the Newbery Honor author of Rules.

When Lucy’s family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera’s lens, as her father has taught her; he’s a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet his high standards? When she discovers that he’s judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special, or only good enough.

As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn’t want to see: his grandmother’s memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives…including her own.

I was lucky enough to read an early draft of this novel, and so many things have stuck with me – Lucy’s passion for photography, the gorgeous New Hampshire lake setting, new friend Nate and his family, and the gorgeous loons who reside on the lake. I can’t wait to read the novel now that it’s out!

I know for sure you will love this book. And guess what? One lucky person will win a signed copy of Half A Chance! Just comment below by Thursday at midnight EST and I will randomly draw a winner. I only ask that you have a US mailing address. I’ll announce the winner on Tuesday next week.

You can purchase Half A Chance at your favorite indie bookstore or your favorite online source, like Indie Bound.

For more about Cynthia Lord and her amazing books: her web site and her blog.

And The Winner Is…


Thank you to everyone who stopped by the awesome cover reveal of Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn9780374300111_p0_v1_s260x420While most of us will have to wait till September to get our hands on this book, one lucky winner will get an ARC and a fabulous key necklace. I used a random number generator to choose the lucky name. I did not include comments by myself or Edith, second comments, or anyone who said they didn’t want to be entered for the drawing. So who is the winner?

Lucky number 26! Better known as Theresa Milstein! Congratulations! Please email me at just kid ink at yahoo dot com (no spaces) with your mailing address. I will send the information to Edith who will send you your gifts!

Thank you to everyone for stopping by! Stayed tuned for more give-aways and book buzz! Happy reading!

Cover Reveal and Giveaway: SPIRIT’S KEY by Edith Cohn


I’ve long admired the posts that revealed stunning covers of books coming out. I’m so excited to finally be able to host one! Congratulations to debut author Edith Cohn on the upcoming release of her MG novel, Spirit’s Key!

About the book: 

By now, twelve-year-old Spirit Holden should have inherited the family gift: the ability to see the future. But when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does, she can’t see anything. Maybe it’s because all she wants to see is her dog Sky, who mysteriously died and washed ashore on a sand dune. Sky was Spirit’s loyal companion, a wild dog, feared by the islanders in her community. Bald Island superstition says the wild dogs are cursed and dangerous. Spirit knows this isn’t true, but then she hasn’t heard the legends. Holding Sky’s dog tag conjures his ghost and more mysteries to unravel. She must unlock the Holden family gift. Only Spirit can save the island’s remaining wild dogs from extinction. To do so, she must learn the true meaning of a dog tag and teach the islanders to coexist with the animals who also call Bald Island home.

A note from the author about the cover: 

The cover was designed by the marvelous Eliza Wheeler who also did the cover for Holly Black’s DOLL BONES. I adore what she’s done for SPIRIT’S KEY. Spirit looks so knowing with her key necklace. I’d hoped Eliza would find a way to make the dog Sky look ghostly, and if you look closely, he’s see-through! And I just love how Spirit and her friend Nector are tip-toeing through the whales’ bones on the back flap. She pulled off what I think is a complex mix of things to convey: mystery, ghosts, slight fantasy, upper middle grade, spooky adventure. I couldn’t be happier with it.

And here is the really awesome cover of SPIRIT’S KEY:


Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn (FSG/Macmillan) September 2014

Isn’t that cover amazing? And isn’t the synopsis intriguing? If only we didn’t have to wait until September to read it! Oh, but wait! One lucky winner won’t have to wait! Not only will a winner drawn here at random receive the ARC of Spirit’s Key, he or she will get a very cool key necklace handmade by the author herself. Your own “Spirit’s Key”!

photo 1 (3)

To be entered for the drawing to win these fabulous prizes, please follow these rules:

1. Comment on this post with your name by Friday, January 31st midnight EST. Make sure to either include your email address or check back here on Tuesday so I can notify you if you win. If the winner doesn’t respond with his/her U.S. mailing address in 48 hours, I will draw another name.

2. Winner must have a U.S. mailing address.

Spread the word!

About the author:

Edith Cohn was born and raised in North Carolina where she grew up visiting the unique beaches of the Outer Banks. She currently lives in the coyote-wild hills of Los Angeles with her husband and fur-daughter Leia. All of these things provided inspiration for her middle grade novel, SPIRIT’S KEY, a mystery about a girl and her ghost dog coming in September from FSG/Macmillan. Edith also holds a Masters in English Education and was formerly a 7th grade teacher.


For more about Edith and her upcoming release check out her website, follow her on Twitter, check out Goodreads, or friend her on FB. For pre-order information, contact your local indie bookstore, or check out these links: Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Congratulations to all the winners!


I rarely if ever pay attention to award ceremonies – IF I catch one on TV it’s usually for the Grammys. (Watched part of it last night.) But the one award ceremony I always pay attention to? The ALA Youth Media Awards of course!

It’s so exciting to hear the names of books and authors I’ve read/admired! Giddiness takes over! And then the need for shopping, because I want to read the books that won that I haven’t yet read! For a complete list of the winners: click here (but right now it’s quite overburdened and hard to get to)! Here’s the FB link.

I’m so thrilled and happy for the winners! HOORAY for authors and books!

A Favorite Author: Cinda Williams Chima


I have many favorite authors, as I’ve said before. And from time to time I will highlight them here. As you know from my last post, I accidentally ruined a book by putting it in the washing machine. Fortunately, because of my wonderful indie book store (Bank Square Books) and the store owner who saw my post, I was able to get a new copy in a day. The book I washed?

9781423144342_p0_v2_s260x420The Enchanter Heir by Cinda Williams Chima (Hyperion/2013)

In a continuation of the Heir Chronicles, this story focuses on Jonah and Emma. Both are survivors of the Thorn Hill massacre/accident (depending on who tells the story) – killing all the adults and turning the surviving children into “savants” or mutants. Not quite wizards or enchanters or warriors or sorcerers – but somehow each having a special ability but also cursed with short lives. Jonah is able to enchant, but also his bare touch will kill. Emma who knew nothing of this world comes to it after her grandfather is murdered and she’s united with her long-absent father.  When Jonah and Emma’s paths intersect, secrets and lies play a part in their growing attraction. The political battle between the wizards and other guilds cause Jonah and Emma to form a partnership to try to find out the true story behind Thorn Hill.

If you are at all growing a bit fatigued by all the similar stories out there, I know that feeling. Sometimes I read books and they just seem to be a play off of other popular books. This is where Cinda Williams Chima stands out, head and shoulders above the crowd. Her books are original. All her books are fantastic – in-depth stories with amazing world-building and magical elements tinged with intrigue and violence and love and lust. Her characters are strong and passionate, and the stories are woven intricately. You don’t need to have read the first three books in the Heir Chronicles to understand The Enchanter Heir, but you will probably want to go back to read them.

My favorite series of hers is the Seven Realms series. The first in the series is The Demon King:


From the publisher:

One day Han Alister catches three young wizard setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet away from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to ensure the boy won’t use it against him. The amulet once belonged to the Demon King, who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece so powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.

Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna has her own battle to fight. She’s just returned to court after three years of riding and hunting with her father’s family. Raia aspires to be like Hanalea, the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But it seems that her mother has other plans for her-plans that include a suitor who goes against everything the Queendom stands for.

The Seven Realms will tremble when the lives of Han and Raisa collide in this stunning page-turner from best-selling author Cinda Williams Chima.

This series contains an epic love story, an amazing battle between good and evil, friendship and family love. This is a series I would read more than once and intend to in the near future. I highly recommend any books by Cinda Williams Chima!

For more about the author and her books: her website.