Tag Archives: middle grade fiction

First Quarter Reading List 2017

Standard

I thought I’d keep a running list of the books I read quarterly, as well as posting a full list at the end of the year. Here are the books I’ve read and loved so far this first quarter of 2017. While I’ve read 30 books so far, I’m way behind on my reading. More great books keep popping up. If only I could read and do nothing else! 🙂 Would love to hear what books you’re reading and loving!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Keily

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective by Jason Gallaher (illus by Jess Pauwels) ARC

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Mama Loves You So by Terry Pierce (illus by Simone Shin) ARC

In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella (adult fic)

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins ARC

Egg by Kevin Henkes

The Takedown by Corrie Wang ARC

My Busy Green Garden by Terry Pierce (illus by Carol Schwartz) ARC

Flying Lessons and Other Short Stories edited by Ellen Oh

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

March Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

Hug It Out by Louise Thomas

Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu

The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Silvensky ARC

Are You an Echo? translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, Michiko Tsubori (illus by Toshikado Hajiri)

The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LeReau (illus by Matt Myers)

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howard (illus by Rafael López)

The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina by Kara LaReau (illus by Jen Hill)

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham (adult humor)

Dark Horses by Cecily Von Ziegesar

A Million Worlds With You by Claudia Gray

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Welcome to the Spotlight Elly Swartz and Finding Perfect!

Standard

I am over-the-moon thrilled to shine the spotlight on talented friend and debut author, Elly Swartz! I first read a draft of FINDING PERFECT before she sold the middle grade novel to FSG, and I fell head-over-heels in love with Molly. Stay tuned for a chance to win a signed copy below!

finding-perfect-cover-swartz

Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz (FSG/2016)

Twelve-year-old Molly misses her mom when she moves out of the country to Canada for a job. Molly knows if she can win a poetry slam contest at school, her mom would come home and reunite with Dad and family. But, as the days go by with her older sister distant, her younger brother needy, and her father busy with work, Molly starts to notice certain habits are taking over – washing her hands over and over, lining up her glass animals perfectly with a ruler, making sure her homework is mistake- and smudge-free, and counting counting counting, until it’s all she can do to hide it from her best friends and family. In this touching story about trying to “find perfect,” Molly learns to let go of fear and finally get the help she needs.

Spotlight on Elly:

How did the idea for this story come to you, and what was your journey like from idea to sale?

One day, I woke with Molly in my head, and she wouldn’t leave until I told her story. At the time, I knew a number of adults and kids whom I was very close with who had OCD. I was awed by the disconnect between how they saw themselves and the world saw them. I then spent the next 7 years researching OCD, writing Molly’s story, and working with OCD pediatric specialists to authenticate the manifestation, discovery and treatment of Molly’s symptoms.

The journey was long, windy, and wonderful. Finding Perfect was originally written in alternating 1st person POVs between Molly and Hannah. It was a way for me to understand the vast discrepancy between how Molly saw herself and how Hannah saw her. Ultimately, I got to know Molly better, and rewrote the story from just her perspective. In doing so, I learned more about the dynamic between Molly, Kate and Ian, and Molly and her mom.

In the time between idea and sale, both the story and my love for Molly grew. She has stayed with me long after wrapping up my final draft. Truly, I think a piece of Molly will stay with me always.

Molly is struggling with a heavy burden, dealing with missing her mom, her parents’ separation, and feeling neglected/abandoned. What was it like researching for this book and getting to know Molly? What were the particular challenges and joys to writing this book?

Getting to know Molly was both inspiring and challenging. She was hiding in a dark place, and that is always hard to write. As the author, I had to get into her head, really embody her, and what she was experiencing to fully understand her feelings and write her story from a place of true authenticity. But, that’s what ultimately led to the greatest joy and inspiration. Molly’s acceptance of herself and recognition of her own strength.

The two most difficult scenes to write were Molly’s unraveling on stage during the slam poetry finals and her reunion with her mom. As a loving and affectionate mom of two sons, I wanted to protect Molly from hurt, sorrow, and fear. I wanted to wrap her in my arms and tell her it was all going to be okay. But, as the author, I knew that moment had to come later and it had to come from within Molly. She had to realize that she was going to be okay. That she was not OCD. That she was not one thing.

In the end, I was inspired by Molly’s courage, strength, and acceptance of imperfection.

Molly has a glass animal collection she cherishes. Do you collect anything? If so, what?

Unless you count all the books in my TBR piles, I don’t collect anything as an adult. As a child, I had two collections. A postcard collection – I think I just didn’t want to collect stamps or Wacky Packs like my older brothers. And, like Molly, I had a glass animal figurine collection. It started when my Great Aunt Ty took me to a museum and bought me a present on the way home. However, unlike Molly, I was way too sloppy to keep them neatly aligned anywhere!

Huge thanks for taking the time to get to know my journey, me, and Molly a bit better!

About Elly:

Elly Swartz is a middle-grade author. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG October, 2016) is a story about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition determines everything. It took thirteen years, numerous drafts, many Twizzlers, loads of hugs, and much unconditional love, to find her way to YES. Through the years, Elly’s been a Sesame Place ride operator, messenger, lawyer, legal author, and college essay adviser. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two sons and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly or learn more about what she’s working on, you can find her at www.ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz or Facebook.

Curriculum Guide:

http://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9780374303129TG.pdf

Website:

http://ellyswartz.com/

To win a signed copy of Finding Perfect for yourself, a young reader, or a school or library, follow these directions to enter in the drawing:

1. Comment on this post by Monday October 31st, by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Thursday, November 3rd (be sure to include your email address).

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

EDITED TO ADD: Using a random number generator, the lucky winner is commenter number 2! Congratulations Melodye Shore! Please contact me with your mailing address and I will send out your signed copy of FINDING PERFECT asap!

Thanks to everyone for stopping by. Happy reading!

And The Winner Is…

Standard

Thank you to everyone who stopped by to help shine the spotlight on Tamara Ellis Smith and her fabulous MG debut

9780553511932_p0_v1_s192x300

Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith

(Random House/2015)

If you missed it, you can read the interview: here.

And now, for the winner of a copy of this awesome novel…drumroll please….

using a random number generator, the winning commenter is number 5! Suzanne Morrone, come on down! Please email me with your mailing address so I may pass it along to the publisher for your very own copy of Another Kind of Hurricane! YAY!

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and stay tuned more more book buzz, interviews, and give-aways!

Happy reading!

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

Standard

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.

9780553511932_p0_v1_s192x300

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

 

 

Coffee Break Tuesday with Barbara O’Connor

Standard

Welcome to Coffee Break Tuesday, where I sit down with fabulous authors and discuss their writing. Please grab a mug of coffee (or tea) and join us!

Today I’m having coffee with Barbara O’Connor! I’ve long been a fan of her books – and thoroughly enjoyed reading her newest MG book, On The Road to Mr. Mineo’s.

photo-12 copy 2

When a one-legged pigeon named Sherman neglects to return to his roost with the other homing pigeons, Mr. Mineo frets and worries. In the meantime, other members of the town of Meadville, SC spot the pigeon – from Stella who wishes she could have a dog, to mean ol’ Levi and his scabby-kneed germ-infested friends, to Mutt who is known to be the town liar – and thus starts the “great pigeon hunt.” Who will find Sherman first?

Welcome, Barbara! When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved to write. As a child, I wrote poems and stories. I wrote my first book when I was 12. It was 76 handwritten pages long. The only problem with it is that I never finished it. In fact, here is the last sentence: “Well, be careful and….” Yep. Stopped writing smack dab in the middle of the sentence. Go figure.

What was the first book you wrote what was it about? (Not necessarily the first book you got published.)

I wrote a very blah and trite book called Surf’s Up, Nicki Weaver that amassed thousands of rejections. (Well, maybe not thousands, but a lot.)

For the record, my first published book was a biography called Mammolina: A Story About Maria Montessori. I started my writing career writing biographies.

What was your journey to publication like?

I lived in Los Angeles many years ago and decided to take a class in writing for children at UCLA. I got totally hooked. I floundered around with some ho-hum manuscripts for a while, collecting my share of rejections. After moving back East, I started toying around writing biographies for children. After a few false starts, I managed to sell my first biography to Carolrhoda. I went on to publish five more biographies with them.

But my heart was still with fiction. I had written a middle grade book called Beethoven in Paradise. A friend of mine published with Scholastic and offered to send it to her editor. That editor liked it but eventually passed on it. She did, however, offer to connect me with an agent, Barbara Markowitz. She sold that manuscript to Frances Foster at FSG. I’ve been with Barbara and Frances for over 18 years now. I just wrapped up my 10th novel with my amazing team.

What is your most recently published book or upcoming book?

My middle grade novel, On the Road to Mr. Mineo’s, came out in October.

There are EIGHT points of view in that book. It damn near killed me.

How have you changed from when you first started out as a (pre-published) writer to now?

I know that I’m more critical of my writing now. I also tend to self-censor more than I used to because I’m more aware of reviews and adult reaction to my work than I used to be. I don’t write with the same “freedom” that I did before I was published. There’s a country-western song that goes “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” Ha! I sometimes feel that way.

But the flip side is that I’ve set high expectations for myself. I’m more confident with my writing voice and I have pretty good instincts about when I’ve strayed from it. I’ve also developed a writing style that works for me and that comes a little easier as the years (and books) go by.

Favorite book from childhood?

Trixie Belden all the way.

A favorite book you recently read?

I recently reread Saraswati’s Way by Monika Schroeder. Having spent many years in India (the story’s setting), Schroeder nails the setting and seamlessly weaves the culture into a fast-paced story. I also just finished an arc of Linda Urban’s new book (The Center of Everything). I adore her writing voice and style.

A bit of wisdom to share:

Your writing process should be one that works for you. Just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Some people have to write every day, some don’t. Some people plow ahead without polishing along the way, some don’t. Some people outline, some don’t.

Secondly, listen to your instincts. If something in your work is niggling at you, pay attention to it. Maybe you’ve forced something. Maybe you’ve forgotten your voice. Maybe you’re trying to ignore a problem thinking no one else will notice. Pay attention to those things.

For fun – something not a lot of people know about you:

I have no sense of smell. This can be very inconvenient when your stove is on fire, but there are other times when it comes in quite handy.

Barbara O’Connor is the author of award-winning novels for children, including How to Steal a Dog, The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. Drawing on her South Carolina roots, Barbara’s books are known for their strong Southern settings and quirky characters. In addition to six Parents Choice Awards and five state children’s book awards, Barbara’s distinctions include School Library Journal Best Books, Kirkus Best Books, Bank Street College Best Books, and ALA Notables. She has had books nominated for awards in thirty-eight states. Barbara is a popular visiting author at schools and a frequent speaker at conferences around the country.

To learn more about Barbara and her books, check out her web site, or follow her on Twitter!

Good Read! Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Standard

I’m on a roll here, reading really good books! I just finished Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.Random House/2012

When 7th grader Georges has to move from a house to an apartment because his dad got laid off, he tries hard to adjust. He hardly ever sees his mother because she has to work double shifts as a nurse at the hospital – they end up communicating by Scrabble tiles. He joins The Spy Club at the building – it’s just him and a boy named Safer who doesn’t go to school and has bohemian parents. Safer tutors him on spying as they try to unravel a mystery of Mr. X in the building.

This story is SO much more than that – but I would give away too much. The story feels genuine – and has great moments of middle grade humor. I’m don’t typically pick up middle grade books, particularly with boy main characters, but too many friends have raved about this one – and I loved Rebecca’s other two books (First Light and When You Reach Me) that I had to read this one. I’m so glad I did!

Now, what do I read next….? 🙂

Happy reading!

From My Bookshelves: A Favorite

Standard

I started a semi-regular series here featuring favorite authors.  I decided to expand that category and include favorite books, not necessarily new ones I recently read, but old favorites. The kind that I reread or would never ever remove permanently from my bookcase.

The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy (Viking/2007)

Joan is unhappy when she must move with her family from Connecticut to California.  She’s angry with her mother, and her father is perpetually angry at everyone and everything, so Joan is both surprised and happy to meet The Queen of the Foxes (aka Fox, aka Sarah) who lives not too far away from Joan’s new home in the middle of the woods.  The two girls share adventures and make up stories all summer, until school starts and Joan discovers that Sarah is not only not one of the cool girls, but ostracized.  Still, they remain friends.  They win a writing contest and take a special summer program at UC Berkeley on creative writing. Joan takes great joy in learning how to write stories – even as her world/family seems to be crumbling apart – along with Fox’s.  As she asks more questions and observes more, she sees things she hadn’t noticed before – her mother’s strength and her father’s unhappiness.  And sometimes, even though you want to fly away, it’s better to stay.  The story itself centers around families and change, and how Joan and Fox interpret these things and survive. The story and the characters tugged on my emotions, and I fell in love with Joan and Fox. Such a great story, so well-written!

I read and loved this book when I first read it  years ago, and I recommended to friends near and far who also loved it. I re-read it last year and still love it. I hope the author writes something new soon!