Category Archives: Uncategorized

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Book Love (3)

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For the month of May, in honor of Asian Pacific Heritage Month, I’m sharing some of my favorite reads by/about Asians/Asian Americans.

The YA graphic novel, The Prince and the Dressmaker, is a recent read and firmly in my “favorite books” category! This graphic novel by Jen Wang is completely swoon-worthy, taking me back to some of my favorite manga reads when I was a teen.

Prince Sebastian’s parents are pressuring him, at age 16, to find a bride, but he is instead thrilled to have discovered a talented dressmaker. At night he becomes Lady Crystallia, a fashion icon. Frances, who dreams of a career in fashion design is at first happy to design dresses for the prince, and easily keeps his secret. But when it becomes apparent that in order to keep his secret, she must give up her dreams, she has to make a difficult decision, protect her friend or leave him to strike out on her own. A romantic tale of loyalty and being true to oneself.

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Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Book Love (2)

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In honor of Asian Pacific Heritage Month, I’m sharing some of my favorite books by Asian authors. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments. I’m always looking for good books to read!

Today’s featured book is the picture book No Kimchi For Me! by Aram Kim. I had the pleasure of meeting Aram at this year’s Kweli Journal’s Color of Children’s Literature Conference. Aram is every bit as nice as she is talented! In this foodie picture book, Kitty is teased by her brothers that she is a “baby” because she can’t handle spicy kimchi – and it seems she can’t, until her grandma makes kimchi pancakes. There’s a yummy recipe at the end of the book! I personally love kimchi, and this is a great book for introducing this Korean treat to readers. The illustrations are adorable (and yummy).

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Book Love (1)

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I’m starting a day late, but for the month of May I’ll be sharing some of my favorite reads by/about Asians/Asian Americans. Starting next week, I’ll be posting on Tuesdays and Thursday. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments! I’m always behind on my reading and I don’t want to miss any great books!

Debut author Kelly Yang is coming out with a four-star middle grade novel, Front Desk (Scholastic/Arthur A Levine Books). Though this book doesn’t release until May 29, be sure to pre-order now because you don’t want to miss this. I was fortunate enough to get an ARC (Advance Review Copy), and I’m definitely buying the hard cover to add to my home library. So, I’m going to send the ARC to one lucky winner. Just comment on this post by Sunday, May 6 by noon EST and I’ll randomly draw a name. US mailing addresses only.

Mia Tang at 10 years old has a big sense of responsibility, helping her parents run a motel for a crooked and mean property owner. Mia takes over running the front desk while her parents run themselves ragged taking care of the motel. This was not at all the life Mia and her family expected when they came over from China. While Mia makes friends with the weeklies who live at the motel, she runs afoul of Jason Yao, the son of the mean motel owner. Mia sees and experiences first hand discrimination and cruelty and she tries to make things right. Based on the author’s childhood, this story broke my heart and put it back together again. I absolutely loved this book!

Comment below for a chance to win the ARC and to read it before the release date! Be sure to sign in with or share your email address so I can contact you if you win!

EDITED TO ADD: The winner of the ARC giveaway (using a random number generator) is Kristin C! Congratulations! Thank you to everyone for entering! I’ll be running more giveaways in the future!

#KidLitWomen – Book A Day in March (26)

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See KidlitWomen for daily links to posts by the children’s lit community, in celebration of Women’s History Month and focusing on improving the climate for social and gender equality. I plan to share my favorite books focused on girl characters and/or written by women through this month.

Today’s featured book is The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez.

I loved this book! Twelve-year-old Malú (María Luisa) is not happy about moving to Chicago for two years, because of her mom’s (whom she calls Super Mexican) job, leaving behind her dad and everything she loves. As school starts, Malú feels out of place and tries to embrace her inner punk, something she associates with her dad. Her mother makes her feel “not enough,” especially when she keeps trying to push her Mexican culture on her. Malú can’t speak Spanish well, hates cilantro, and doesn’t want to be una señorita – at least not the kind her mom wants her to be. When Malú finds a group of kids and decides to form a punk rock band for the school talent show, she finally feels like she might like her new home, but will it last? And will her mom prevent her from being in this band? I rooted for Malú! Buy the book!

#kidlitwomen

#KidLitWomen – Book A Day in March (17 & 18)

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See KidlitWomen for daily links to posts by the children’s lit community, in celebration of Women’s History Month and focusing on improving the climate for social and gender equality. I plan to share my favorite books focused on girl characters and/or written by women through this month.

This weekend I’m happy to share two books I unexpectedly loved. Unexpectedly only because I thought the subject of the book,  the competitive world of ballet, wasn’t my thing. How wrong I was! I was immediately pulled into this world and devoured both books!

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

At an exclusive competitive ballet school, the top three ballerinas, Bette, June, and Gigi vie for the top spot, as well as the top guy. Bullying and harassing are not beyond what these girls are capable of in getting what they want – at least everyone but Gigi, who is the new girl from the West Coast, talented, naively friendly, and attracted to Bette’s on-and-off again boyfriend who is the top male ballerina. Told in multiple POVs, the girls reveal their vulnerabilities, their deepest desires, and their fears – and in the end, only one girl can hold the top spot. Buy the book!

Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

In this follow up to TINY PRETTY THINGS – Spoiler Alert……., Bette has been suspended and Gigi is back for level 8 and her last year, and June is determined to get one of two coveted spots in the American Ballet Company. Tension mounts as Bette tries to clear her name but finds she has burned all her bridges even with her former best friend. Gigi, goaded on by Cassie, exacts revenge by becoming the bully. And June despite her relationship with Jayhe is torn between her growing feelings for him and her desperation for ballet. Outstanding sequel! Buy the book!

If the name Dhonielle Clayton sounds familiar, yes, she is the author of the blockbuster YA The Belles! You’re going to definitely want to read that one, too!

#kidlitwomen

#KidLitWomen – Book A Day in March (14)

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See KidlitWomen for daily links to posts by the children’s lit community, in celebration of Women’s History Month and focusing on improving the climate for social and gender equality. I plan to share my favorite books focused on girl characters and/or written by women through this month.

Today’s featured book is the middle grade novel Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan.

Amina is happy to start middle school with her best friend Soojin by her side. But when a former nemesis, Emily, starts to hang out with them, Amina worries she’s going to lose Soojin. Add to that that her uncle from Pakistan is visiting and her dad wants everything and everyone to be perfect and Amina is starting to feel a little stressed. When their beloved mosque is vandalized, Amina learns the value of community and friendship, and finally is brave enough to use her voice. I loved this story – I learned so much about Pakistani, Islam, and the languages of Arabic and Urdu. The author expertly weaved all of this in without disrupting the flow of the story. So well done! And I got teary at the end. Buy the book!

Guest recommendation by Amy Losak is The Hunt a wordless picture book by Margeux Othats.

From the publisher:

Part girl-power, part cautionary tale, The Hunt (5 & up) depicts a young girl who builds and rebuilds a rock sculpture despite the efforts of two hunters to shoot her creation to bits. The girl persists, her sculpture taking shape and becoming a testament to the creative spirit and a condemnation of violence. Buy the book!

#kidlitwomen

Welcome to the Spotlight Eric Luper and The Mysterious Moonstone

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Hooray and happy book birthday to author Eric Luper! This fabulous book is the first in the Key Hunters chapter book series. A secret library? Mysterious keys? I’m there! Stay tuned below to win a copy!

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Key Hunters: The Mysterious Moonstone by Eric Luper (Scholastic/April 2016)

When their beloved school librarian disappears, Evan and Cleo are stuck with a new mean librarian, Ms. Crowley. Evan and Cleo discover a secret library hidden under their school library and follow clues left by their previous librarian- and end up inside a book! Evan and Cleo must solve the mystery and find a key in order to return to their world. Will they make it out of the book? And what other mysteries are locked in the secret library? A fun adventure that had me trying to solve the mystery along with Evan and Cleo. I’m excited to read the rest of the series!

Spotlight on Eric Luper:

You’ve written several novels for older readers prior to this. How did this chapter book series come about? It sounds like such fun to write, with each book taking readers into a different genre.

I had been working on a middle-grade adventure that took place in the New York Public Library and had to do with real life puzzles, almost like National Treasure but in a library. I spent a lot of time learning about libraries and traveling to various libraries for ideas (NYPL, Chicago, Morgan Library, Library of Congress). I was having trouble envisioning how the story would come together until my editor from Scholastic, Jenne Abramowitz, mentioned an idea about a library with magical books that could only be opened with special keys. All it took was thinking about my idea for slightly younger readers with a magical twist and KEY HUNTERS was born!

Evan and Cleo are fun to follow – Evan with his jokes and knowledge and Cleo with her bravery and gumption. How did you develop these two characters? What are the challenges and joys to writing a book about their adventures?

I needed Evan and Cleo to sort of be opposites of one another. That way, there would be lots of opportunity for fun conflict between the two. They have very different ways of approaching problems, and neither is afraid of voicing their opinions. As I moved from book to book, I learned more about the characters in the same way I hope my readers do. And sometimes one or the other surprises me with a thought or action that makes me step back and ask why they did that! It’s part of what makes writing this series exciting for me.

As far as what challenges I’ve faced, I worried about writing a series. Most series have very similar plots from book to book and, quite frankly, that would bore me a little. When I get bored, I grow disinterested and interest is what motivates me as a writer. Since each book of KEY HUNTERS takes place in a different genre of fiction, every one becomes new and exciting for me and that has kept the writing coming fast and fresh.

I love the idea of having to find a key in order for Evan and Cleo to make it home. Do keys have any special significance for you?

Keys are fascinating to me. When I was little, I thought the more keys you had on your keyring the more important you were. Keys open up possibilities in the same way books do, so the two go hand in hand in my mind. The idea that a key would open a book that the characters would be drawn into just seemed to gel perfectly. And the idea that the worlds inside these books are as real as their own world felt exciting too.

Eric Luper grew up in New Jersey and attended Rutgers University. He writes fiction for young people and is proud to have moved from starving artist to not-so-starving artist. Eric loves excitement and is always looking for his next adventure. He’s fibbed his way into a tour of the ultra-secret Pez headquarters, rebuilt a castle in France, explored the creepy tunnels under Paris and Istanbul, escaped hungry crocodiles in Costa Rica, and rafted down the Colorado River. When he’s catching his breath, Eric lives in New York where he splits his time between Albany and Lake George.

For more about Eric and his books, check out his web site!

To win a copy of The Mysterious Moonstone for yourself, a child, or a school or library, follow these directions to enter in the drawing:

1. Comment on this post by Saturday, April 30th by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Tuesday, May 3rd (be sure to include your email address).

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Thanks for stopping by, and happy reading!

 

 

Welcome to the Spotlight Jennifer McKissack and Sanctuary

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I’m thrilled to shine the spotlight on talented author Jennifer McKissack and her spine-chilling novel, Sanctuary! Stay tuned below for a chance to win a copy!

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Sanctuary by Jennifer McKissack (Scholastic/2015)

When 17-year-old Cecilia’s aunt dies and her cantankerous uncle stops paying for her tuition at her boarding school, Cecilia returns to Sanctuary, an old estate on an island off the coast of Maine. She has mixed feelings about returning – while she grew up there with happy memories, the past also haunts her. Her father died there, her mother was committed to an asylum, and her grandmother and sister perished in a fire there. A mysterious visitor, a young professor who is interested in Cecilia’s beloved library, draws her attention, but not as much as the strange happenings on the island. Cecilia fears she might be losing her mind as her mother had, and yet, she must solve the mysteries of the island. A haunting tale full of intrigue.

Spotlight on Jennifer McKissack:

How did SANCTUARY come to be? And what was the path to publication?

REBECCA. It’s a gothic novel that enthralled me as a teen and I’ve returned to as an adult. SANCTUARY isn’t a retelling of that classic, but I tried to capture the tone and sensibility of Daphne du Maurier’s haunting novel.

My (incredibly awesome) agent Trish Toney Lawrence is also a fan of REBECCA. Before she offered representation, we talked on the phone and bonded over our love for the book. It was one of the reasons SANCTUARY appealed to her. Trish quickly found two interested editors, and from there, we accepted an offer from the gifted Lisa Sandell at Scholastic. I am very fortunate to be in such good hands.

The house, the island, and the time period are integral parts of this haunting story. Can you tell us how you made these key decisions for the story and how you developed the island as a character?

Places have a very powerful hold on us. Houses, islands, towns, beaches, lakes, rivers, and places that we consider home — have a pull and a push that feels very human, as if you’re in a relationship. I wanted to explore that feeling and create it for the reader.

Cecilia sees ghosts. Do you believe in ghosts? Do you have a ghost story of your own to share?

I think there is a possibility that we have a spiritual connection with the earth that lingers after we die, especially if there was a traumatic event that affected many, many people. One of my characters mentions it in SANCTUARY. That observation emerges from the feeling I had when visiting Gettysburg. Something there. I’m not sure what. But it’s palpable.

Jenny writes, and lives not too far from the sea.

For more about Jennifer and her books, follow her on Twitter or friend her on Facebook.

For a chance to win a copy of this book, for yourself, a friend or child, or a library/school, just follow the directions below.

1. Comment on this post by Saturday October 3rd by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, October 6th.

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading!

 

Welcome to the Spotlight Tamara Ellis Smith and Another Kind of Hurricane!

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I am honored to shine the spotlight on debut MG author Tamara Ellis Smith! Stayed tuned below to find out how you can enter to win a copy of this touching story about renewal and hope in the aftermath of disaster.

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Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith

(Random House/2015)

The lives of two ten-year-old boys, one in Louisiana and one in Vermont, are swept up and thrown together in a tale of dealing with and healing from loss. Zavion and his father lose everything in Hurricane Katrina, including their home and Zavion’s cherished mural of his late mother. Henry loses his best friend after an overnight trek onto their favorite mountain. Both boys don’t know how to cope with their tragic losses, but because of a pair of pants and a “magic” marble, Henry and Zavion’s paths cross and together they learn how to navigate the path from pain to healing. A touching and heart-warming story about loss and friendship, and rebuilding.

Spotlight on Tamara:

Please share with us your journey to publication.

Oh my goodness. Well, Another Kind of Hurricane took me down a long path…many long paths, perhaps.

I got the idea for the story when my son—who was four at the time—asked me who would get his pair of pants. This was August 2005, and we were driving a few bags of clothing and food to the Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort. Of course I didn’t know, but the question stayed with me. I began to imagine who would get his pants—and then I began to actually IMAGINE who would get his pants. And I was off and running…

I had just begun my first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I had arrived at VCFA knowing I was a picture book writer (note the assuredness of that verb: knowing!), and so that semester I wrote a picture book about a boy in Vermont who gave a pair of pants with a lucky marble in the pocket to a boy in New Orleans.

It was terrible. The picture book, not the idea. My advisor thought the idea would make a great novel—but I wasn’t a novelist, so that was the end of that story.

Except it wasn’t the end of that story—because I couldn’t get these two boys out of my head.

It took me a long time, but I wrote a novel. This novel. Ten years, 3 major rewrites, and about 25 drafts later, Another Kind of Hurricane has finally been born.

Ten years. There were days (and sometimes weeks and months) when it felt like I would never finish (a sentence, let alone the whole novel!), but then there were moments when I would have epiphanies or bursts of writing energy. The last 3 months of writing Another Kind of Hurricane had both of these: I had finished what I thought was my last draft and sent it off to my agent. I waited, thrilled that I was finished. But I wasn’t. She came back to me with one last BIG revision request. I crumpled to the ground. I didn’t think I could do it. But after a day or two I stood up again. I got advice (and a good dose of faith) from a friend and fellow writer (thank you Jo Knowles!) and then told the story of Another Kind of Hurricane to another friend of mine. This second friend shined a flashlight on one corner of the story – a place that was already there but that I hadn’t focused on – and in a flash I knew what I had to revise. It was the most incredible feeling. I madly took notes, feverishly wrote, and sent the draft to my agent. Done!

(I crumpled to the ground again, but in a good way. I could finally let go…)

Of course I’m not alone in the length of this trek – the duration of time from a story’s idea to its finished book form is often a marathon of sorts. None of us are alone in this journey. But sometimes it feels like we are, you know? Because the process of writing a book is so very intimate and private. We are not alone though. I think this is probably the single thing that kept me going for all of those years – intertwined with my constant deep desire to tell this particular story. We all need to remember this. We are not alone.

Both Henry and Zavion are struggling with loss. Henry for his best friend, and Zavion, his home. How did these boys and their stories come to you?

Truthfully, Henry and Zavion’s stories came to me, not through their shared loss, but through the possibility of their healing by meeting one another. I am exceedingly curious about the ways we are all connected, even when we don’t think we are (or even when we don’t know one another!) And I deeply believe in the power of connection; in the alchemy that happens when people choose to enter a shared space, or, better yet, create a shared space. This feels, for me, like the height of hope.

So after my son asked who would get his pants, and I began imagining these two vastly different boys meeting and becoming friends, I focused a lot on the magic of their connection. But then, of course, I had to make sure I had the arcs of their own emotional journeys clear and true. Zavion’s was easy in terms of the what – he had survived Katrina and so his loss centers on that. (But there is a secret loss in the story too!) I talked with many people about Katrina, and I also read articles and stories and watched documentaries about the flood. I incorporated many of these amazing people into the novel.

For example, Mark Waller, a writer for the Times-Picyune, wrote an incredible story about Caleb and Thelma Emery, who, with their kids, took as many as 25 people at a time – mostly family but some not – into their three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Baton Rouge just after Katrina hit. These were the people that Skeet and his home are modeled after in Another Kind of Hurricane.

And a few of the folks from Chris Rose’s One Dead in Attic were inspirations for characters in the novel too. A relatively minor character in the book is a tribute to Chris Cressionnie, a painter who, after Katrina struck, would drop his son off at school and drive his 1994 Chevy blazer up and down the streets, looking for magnets on abandoned refrigerators, which he would then put on his car.

Henry’s loss took me a slightly longer time to find. I’ve had a few experiences with losing friends, and so I knew that would be Henry’s loss, too, but I had to pinpoint the specific circumstances around it. Landscape and nature are important characters in the novel – and they are important to me in general – so when I decided to incorporate Mount Mansfield into Henry’s loss (a mountain I know well), it all made sense.

I studied the arc of loss and grief. I studied what people do with it as they are traveling through those stages of emotion. I sat with my own experiences with both too. And then I tried to write my way through it all.

Henry has a treasured object that he shared with his best friend – a marble. He believed that marble held luck. Do you have something you carry/keep with you for good luck? If so, what?

Oh Debbi – you’ll laugh at me. I have so many of these objects. They’re mostly in the form of jewelry, for whatever reason. I’ll tell you about one of them: I was terrified to go off to grad school. I knew it was one of the most important decisions I had ever made, and I was so full of hope about it, but also fear. What if I couldn’t do this thing (write for kids) that I wanted to do so badly? What if I felt out of place? What if, what if, what if…

The day before I set out for my first residency, my friend, Maryanne MacKenzie, took a ring off of her finger and gave it to me. She said I could borrow it for the two weeks I would be at school. She said every time I felt nervous I should look at it and remember that she believed in me. I did exactly what she told me to do – and it was like magic! It worked. It calmed and centered me. After the residency was over, I gave the ring back. Then 6 months later, when it was time to go for my second residency, she gave it to me again. We did this for the 2 years I was in school.

After I graduated, I gave the ring back to her for good. But at my graduation party she handed me a present – a little box. Guess what was in it?

Yes. The ring.

I wear it every day.

Objects hold stories, you know? They are the tangible evidence of the power of those stories and, even more, the power of the connections between the people who share those stories. We all could use a magic marble, I think!

I couldn’t agree with you more! For the record, I would never laugh at you, Tam! 😉 (I’m a collector of special objects, myself!)

For more about Tamara and her books, check out her web site, friend her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Random House has generously offered to send a winner a copy of Another Kind of Hurricane. For a chance to win a copy of this book, for yourself, a friend or child, or a library/school, just follow the directions below!

1. Comment on this post. And for fun, tell me about a cherished object and its significance. I have many, but one I carry with me everywhere is something my then 12-year-old daughter made for me during her sewing phase. She made me a teeny tiny “pillow” with the word MUSE sewed on it. It keeps me writing even on the hardest of days.

2. Comment by Saturday August 22nd by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, August 25th.

3. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Thank you and good luck!

From Tamara Ellis Smith:

HELPING NEW ORLEANS

lowernine.org is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the long-term recovery of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the levee breaches of 2005. lowernine.org is working to bring home more Lower Ninth Ward families than any other single organization.

A portion of the profits from the sale of Another Kind of Hurricane goes directly to lowernine.org.

Big Class is a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating and supporting the voices of New Orleans’ writers ages 6-18 through creative collaborations with schools and communities. Big Class offers a variety of free, innovative programs that provide under-resourced students with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills.

Readers all over the country are donating copies of Another Kind of Hurricane—as well as other vital books—to Big Class, getting meaningful stories directly into the hands of the community they represent.

Information about both of these organizations—and how you can help—can be found at www.tamaraellissmith.com

 

 

And The Winner Is…

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Thanks to everyone for stopping by to welcome debut author Sarah McGuire to the spotlight.

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It’s too late to enter to win a copy of this clever re-telling of The Brave Little Tailor, but you can definitely check out her interview and buy your own copy. It’s worth it!

Using a random number generator, the winner of a copy of Valiant by Sarah McGuire is:

Carl Scott! You’re on a roll! Let me know if your mailing address remains the same and I’ll get your prize to you ASAP!

Stay tuned for another interview and give-away in the very near future!

Happy reading!