Monthly Archives: March 2012

And The Winner Is….! (Chronal Engine)


Thank you to everyone who stopped by to read the spotlight on Greg Leitich Smith and his newest novel Chronal Engine! It was fun hearing everyone’s favorite dinosaurs.  I’m currently in North Carolina, visiting my father-in-law (who does not have – gasp – WiFi).  Trixie was not able to travel with us, so she wasn’t able to draw the winning name.

This is Charlie, my father-in-law’s cat. Charlie not only didn’t want anything to do with me, but didn’t have any interest in helping pick the winning name. Hrumph! (I’m just lucky he didn’t swat me.)

This is Suzie, my brother-in-law David’s boxer. She would have loved to help, except she was such a blur, and sooooo excited that there was no way I would have been able to get a picture.

In order to write and post the winning name, I needed an internet connection, so hubby and I drove to Panera in Wilmington, NC where I was able to get WiFi (hooray) and find a willing helper:

Here is a friendly Panrea employee drawing the winning name! (Thank you!)  And the winner of a copy of Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith?

Eric Luper!!! Hooray! Eric, be sure to contact me via email and send me your mailing address! I’ll be sure to mail Chronal Engine to you promptly! Thanks to everyone who entered. Be sure to come back for more drawings in the near future!

Welcome to the Spotlight – Greg Leitich Smith!


I’m thrilled to welcome author Greg Leitich Smith to the spotlight! I became a fan of his when I read his first middle grade novel, Ninjas, Piranhas, & Galileo (Little, Brown/2003). Greg is quite a genius at mixing science and humor! It’s a true pleasure to introduce to you his newest novel for middle graders, Chronal Engine, with illustrations by Blake Henry (Clarion Books/2012). Stayed tuned below for a chance to win a copy!

Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith

Eighth grader, Max, and his twin older brother and sister are sent to spend the summer with their eccentric grandfather on his secluded ranch. Max, who has a passion for dinosaurs, like his mother, is excited to get a glimpse of the famous dinosaur footprints on the ranch.  All three scoff at the idea that there is a time machine on the premises, but when the grandfather makes an amazing and accurate prediction, gives them a set of mysterious instructions, and Emma is kidnapped out of thin air, they end up believing. Max, Kyle, and new friend Petra use the chronal engine to blast to the past to the time of the dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous to try to save Emma. They battle deadly elements including carnivorous dinosaurs and Emma’s mysterious kidnapper. Readers who love adventure, time-travel, and dinosaurs are sure to love this book!

Spotlight on Greg Leitich Smith:

What was the initial spark for Chronal Engine?

Probably the first glimmering was during writing my second novel, Tofu & T.rex, a comedy in which the protagonist Hans-Peter was a dinosaur enthusiast, and had built a papier-mache head in his basement. I remember thinking it would be kind of fun to write a middle grade/tween novel, with “realistic” dinosaurs in them, that is, dinosaurs as presently understood and reflecting up-to-date and mostly accurate science (more than just a “scream and run” sort of thing). In other words, the kind of book I’d’ve eaten up as a young reader myself. I also thought that to do it right would take an enormous amount of research which I did not want to do at the time.

A couple years later, though, I came back to the idea. But I also thought that that sort of thing had to have been done before. After looking into it, I realized that while there are a lot of anthropomorphized dinosaur picture books, a lot of nonfiction, a handful of classics, and a couple of series books, there didn’t seem to be the sort of realistic, literary science fiction I had in mind. So I dived into the research.

How difficult was it to come up with the concept for the Chronal Engine? It boggles my mind to think about how to make up something that needed to at least seem scientifically sound.

Thank you.  As I said, I went into the project wanting to be kind of hard-core about the dinosaurs, so I figured I had to be at least somewhat hard-core about the time travel.  I also wanted it to be on the science fiction side of things (insofar as time travel can be) which meant something more than a magic portal or some such.  It had to matter to the story.  So it had to be a machine.  Other than that, I didn’t have any real idea about the time travel specifically, except of course that the theoretical underpinnings of time travel are (would be) based on Einstein’s relativity.

So, by this point, I had launched into the dinosaur research and a lot of the history of dinosaur discoveries I’d already known somewhat, but got to learn again: Othniel Marsh, Edward Drinker Cope, Barnum Brown, the Sternbergs, Roy Chapman Andrews, etc., some of the big names from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Now in terms of speculative fiction, to me, that era meant Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, which meant that the mechanism to get the teens back to the Cretaceous had to be, well, a mechanism from that era.  I came up with the name “Chronal Engine” because it sounded appropriate and vaguely steampunkish.  Also, at that time, Einstein and relativity were pretty new, so an engineer applying his theories to building a machine seemed to have that Verne/Wells flavor.  Of course, Wells has his own time machine, but that’s something completely different.

Making it “work” was a little more difficult.  The problem with a time machine, of course, is that it’s a machine.  Which means that it has to have some means of operation and there should be some kind of theoretical underpinning.  So I ended up dusting off my math and physics and doing quite a bit of research on the science of time travel – my background is in electrical engineering so I’ve taken more courses than I care to remember on calculus and differential equations and relativity and quantum mechanics, but I’ll admit I’m a little rusty.

Anyway, almost none of that research ended up in the book, other than a few notes by the inventor, Professor Pierson, to put everything in context.  Although what he says does relatively fairly synopsize some of the theories behind time travel.  Using Edwardian technobabble and hand-waving, of course.

As to the way the Chronal Engine and its Recall Devices are actually shown being used, that’s based on a simple client-server model.

(Note: DEBtastic Reads is at this point just smiling and nodding like she understands what Greg is talking about. 😉 )

You obviously have a great love of and interest in dinosaurs. If you were to time travel to the same time period as your characters, what would be the first thing you’d do? And why?

Make sure I had a way back.  And food, water, and shelter.  Beyond that, I would want to explore and try to find answers to some of the questions about the Late Cretaceous that have been vexing paleontologists lately (and some of which I took sides on in the book).  For example, did sauropods like Alamosaurus typically hold their heads horizontally or vertically?  What did theropods like Albertonykus and Tyrannosaurus rex use their goofy little arms for?  Was Nanotyrannus really a separate species or was it merely a juvenile of Tyrannosaurus rex?  Going back further in time, I’d want to see if I could find a bird earlier than Archaeopteryx.

What’s your favorite dinosaur and why?

So hard to pick just one.  I think, though, it would have to a sauropod, like Alamosaurus or Brachiosaurus or Apatosaurus.

I remember reading a book my parents gave me in first grade, talking about “Brontosaurus,” that was so huge it was given the name “thunder lizard.”  (Which, let’s face it, is far more awesome than “Apatosaurus”).  The book had pictures of it living in a swamp because it needed water to support its great bulk and eating swamp plants because its teeth were too weak to eat, say, ferns or pine needles.  Of course, our ideas of its behavior have come a long way since then, but the idea that there was this animal so much bigger than an elephant that was fascinating and got me hooked on dinosaurs.

And growing up in Chicago, we’d go to the Field Museum, which had sauropod skeletons in the same vicinity as its elephants in the main hall, so you got a true sense of their size.

In addition to Chronal Engine, Greg Leitich Smith is the author of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo, a Parents Choice Gold Medal winner, and its companion, Tofu and T.rex.  He is also the co-author, with his wife, New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith, of the picture book Santa Knows, and the short story “The Wrath of Dawn,” which appeared in the anthology Geektastic.

Born and raised in Chicago, he holds degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Texas at Austin, as well as a degree in law from the University of Michigan. He now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife Cynthia and four cats.

For more about Greg, check out his site and read his blog.

Win a copy of Greg’s book! To enter the drawing, follow the rules below. If you’re reading this via a feed, click here to comment.

1. Comment on this post – and for fun, tell me the name of your favorite dinosaur. Mine is triceratops. Please include your email address so I can notify you if you win.

2. Leave your comment by midnight EST, Tuesday, March 27th. Winner will be announced on this blog and will be contacted by email.

3. Winner must have a US or Canada mailing address.

Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

The Winner is….(Tomo Anthology)


Thank you to all the people who took time to read about Tomo and my interview with the editor, Holly Thompson. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. If you want to enjoy some fantastic YA short stories and help teens in the devastated Tohoku region (from last year’s earthquake/tsunami in Japan), do buy a copy (or two) of Tomo.

Tomo edited by Holly Thompson (Stone Bridge Press/2012)

Stone Bridge Press has generously offered to award one winner with a copy of their very own. I collected the entrants’ names and wrote each down on a piece of paper. (Some people were entered twice for reposting, tweeting the link.)  I was thrilled to be able to do the drawing outside in our brand new Japanese garden. Trixie, as usual, was very excited to help out.

She does love crumpled paper (almost as much as she loves a good snuggle). She waited for the signal to pick a winner. (She wouldn’t sit down, though. I guess the rocks were too rough on her bottom.) 😉

Here are the names on crumpled paper.

I gave Trixie the signal to do her job by shouting “Okay!” She leaped into action, dashing to the tray to make a choice. (I love how she daintily chooses just one.)

She surprised me by bringing it over to me and dropping it for me. (Usually she tries to run off with it and slobbers all over it, and I must snatch it out of her mouth before the winning name becomes illegible with drool.)

So, who is the winner of a copy of the terrific Tomo anthology? Drumroll please……! (Or better yet, taiko drum beat, please!)

Carl Scott, come on down! Congratulations! Please email me  (above under Contact Info) with your mailing address and I will send the info to Stone Bridge Press so they can mail you your prize! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

To everyone else, I hope you’ll come back again for a future drawing, and I do hope you’ll make a purchase to support a great cause and read great literature!

Thank you! (Domo arigato!)

Book Buzz! Tomo Anthology edited by Holly Thompson (and a drawing for a free copy!)


Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction – An Anthology of Japanese Teen Stories edited by Holly Thompson

On March 11, 2011, Bob and I were sitting in our London hotel lobby cafe, using their WiFi to check email. I came across author Cindy Lord’s Facebook post where she said her heart went out to Japan. What? Bob and I quickly did a Google search and learned that the Tohoku region of Japan was hard hit by a 9.0 earthquake! Not only that but a tsunami devastated the coastal towns of that area. Lives were lost, homes swept away, – life in that area and surrounding it, changed forever. Add to that the meltdown of the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant, and there is no doubt that many, many Japanese people have been seriously affected. A year later, it’s become a distant memory to people outside of Japan, but not for those who continue to live in the affected areas.

Tomo, edited by Holly Thompson, is an incredible collection of young adult stories that are either located in Japan or related to Japanese culture and/or history. From the website: Proceeds from the sales of this book will go directly toward long-term relief efforts for teens in Tohoku, the area most affected by the disasters, in the northeast region of Japan’s main island, Honshu. Contributors include well-known authors/artists such as Graham Salisbury, Alan Gratz, and Tak Toyoshima (of the cartoon Secret Asian Man), as well a slew of talented up-and-coming writers and illustrators.

I have to admit that I am usually not a huge fan of anthologies. Having said that, I was truly blown away by these stories –  their depth, literary quality, and heart. The opening story, Lost by Andrew Fukuda is a hauntingly beautiful tale about a young girl who has lost two years of her memory after a devastating earthquake in Japan. Half A Heart by Mariko Nagai is a story told in verse about a Japanese girl living in Seattle when Pearl Harbor is bombed – it made my heart ache, but left me with hope, too. There are retellings, fables, love stories, and funny stories, as well as illustrated stories like Kodama by Debbie Ridpath Ohi which is told in a sketchbook format – I won’t tell you what it’s about or I’ll ruin the surprise, but it has to do with a mysterious boy in a forest. Check out the blog for Tomo and read about the contributors. Better yet, make a purchase, not only to help teens in Tohoku, but because the stories are very much worth reading. In fact, I’ll be purchasing at least four copies, one for myself, and also for my family members. I promise, you do not have to be Japanese to appreciate these stories.

Stayed tuned because below is an opportunity for you to win a free copy of Tomo!

I had the fabulous opportunity to talk to Holly about editing Tomo:

DEBtastic Reads:  You were inspired to help the victims, particularly the youth, of the hard-hit Tohoku region in Japan by the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster. This anthology is the brilliant result of your efforts.  What was it like editing such an anthology? What were the challenges?

Holly Thompson: First of all, thank you for reading Tomo! The Tomo anthology is the result of combined efforts by so many people besides myself, including Peter Goodman of Stone Bridge Press, who was solidly behind this project from the moment I mentioned the idea to him; writers who submitted stories and helped spread the word quickly; translators who labored under extremely tight deadlines; John Shelley who donated his figure drawings for the cover art; Rieko Tanaka of the NPO Hope for Tomorrow (; and so many people behind the scenes. The greatest challenge with Tomo was the time constraint—in order to publish in time for the one-year anniversary of the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, the deadlines for submitting, selecting work, editing and proofing were all extremely tight. But thanks to everyone’s help, and most especially the enthusiasm of the people at Stone Bridge Press, this marathon project came together in time.

DEB: The contributions to the anthology amazed and awed me. There are so many types of stories, told in a variety of ways and they are all written superbly. Were there any stories that struck you personally in a way that surprised you? How so?

HT: As an editor I came to know these stories deeply. Some stories went through multiple revisions, and it was such a joy to see them grow and develop; other stories were nearly print-ready as submitted. All of these stories touched me in a personal way. I was so pleased to be able to include the graphic narratives of Debbie Ohi and Tak Toyoshima, and I was moved deeply to learn about the late Yukie Chiri, transcriber of the Ainu tale “Where the Silver Droplets Fall” translated by Deborah Davidson. I love the microscopic moment-by-moment analysis of the narrator of “Fleecy Clouds” by Arie Nashiya, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, as well as the quirky tale of the boy who studies kimono dressing in “House of Trust” by Sachiko Kashiwaba, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa. Suzanne Kamata captures the complex duality of biculturalism in her beautiful story “Peace on Earth,” and Graham Salisbury’s “Bad Day for Baseball” and Alan Gratz’s “The Ghost who Came to Breakfast” are both pitch perfect. I could run through the entire table of contents and tell you what I love about each story!

DEB: You have long lived in Japan. What first took you there? What surprised you about living in Japan? And what did you fall in love with?

HT: I’ve lived in Japan two separate times, for several years in the 1980s and from 1998 until now. My husband had lived in Japan as an exchange student in college and was eager to return, so not long after we married, in the 1980s we both worked as teachers in Japanese high schools. Japan made a huge impression on me right away, and I particularly fell in love with the terrain—coming from the gentle hills of New England, Japan offered some striking new volcanic geography for me. I also came to love what’s referred to as satoyama, the areas of arable land, farm village and woodlands that are all interrelated, and the unique ways in which village resources are managed and used for all sorts of purposes. If carefully managed and not too depopulated, a Japanese agricultural village can be nearly self-sustaining. I hope that more people will discover the charms of Japanese rural areas, including much of rugged Tohoku.

DEB: A year after, sadly, it’s easy to forget that there are many who still suffer from the affects of the disaster. In addition to buying copies of TOMO, what other things can people do to help?

HT: Volunteering is still ever important, and there are so many projects that need support. Tohoku will be struggling for years—the scars are physical and emotional—yet the pain and suffering often go unseen and unheard outside the region. The devastation in Tohoku is on a scale that is unprecedented; the challenges facing the region and the country are enormous.  So, readers, if you have a chance to visit Japan, please do so, and help promote the revival of tourism in the country. For those who can, please consider a visit to Tohoku. And even if you cannot travel to Japan or Tohoku, you can support the hard-working NPOs that are active in the devastated regions—there are so many art initiatives, business revival projects, programs to aid orphans, online tutoring programs, farm support projects… something to match everyone’s interests. We can all help Tohoku’s revival by getting involved and showing our support with our actions. Thank you to everyone who reads Tomo and joins in this effort to support teens in the Tohoku area of Japan and promote friendship through fiction.

Visit the Tomo Blog

Holly Thompson was raised in New England and is a longtime resident of Japan. She is the author of the YA verse novel Orchards (Delacorte/Random House), which received the APALA 2012 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and is a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection; the picture book The Wakame Gatherers (Shen’s Books); and the novel Ash (Stone Bridge Press). She recently edited Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories (Stone Bridge Press). She teaches creative and academic writing at Yokohama City University and serves as Regional Advisor for the Tokyo chapter of the Society of Children’s Book and Writers. Visit her website at and her blog at


Stone Bridge Press, the publisher of Tomo, has generously offered to send a free copy of this wonderful anthology to one lucky winner. Here are the rules –

1. Enter by commenting on this post (if you’re reading this via a feed, click here). Please make sure to leave your email address so I can contact the winner. Also, be sure to check this blog on Tuesday, March 20 when I announce the lucky winner.

2. Comment by midnight PST on Friday, March 16, to be eligible for the drawing.

3. Winner must have a US or Canada mailing address (which you can provide after winning).

4. If you Tweet, share (on FB or your blog) this contest and post, inform me when you comment and your name will be entered a second time.

Good luck!

Tomo is currently available for purchase at your favorite online bookstore and via Stone Bridge Press.