Book Bravo: The Meaning of Maggie

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Have you ever wondered what Clementine, Ramona, or Junie B. would be like in middle school? I hope they would stay spunky and turn out a lot like Maggie Mayfield, the main character in Megan Jean Sovern’s THE MEANING OF MAGGIE (Chronicle Books, 2014). In any case, I know they’d be friends with her!

Maggie is someone I was rooting for from the minute she wished her hospitalized dad would wake up so they could split a Little Debbie. (She’s willing to eat the whole thing herself, but she’d rather share). Then, I just – plop – fell in love with her when she was describing how amazing her first day of sixth grade was, including this:

“And lunch was the best because I got a whole table to myself so I spread out my notebooks and went to town on a stack of syllabi.”

She’s quirky, she doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care! She has much bigger things on her mind, such as her report on Sandra Day O’Connor, and her new friend, Clyde, “the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen.”

Underneath this layered, interesting character is a story of family bonds that are tested by parental illness.  From the jacket flap:

Eleven years old. The beginning of everything!

For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she’s one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo. It’s time for her to pull herself up by her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude Dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing’s impossible when you’re future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola, right?

Maggie’s position as youngest child and her own personality leave her somewhat oblivious to the true reality of her dad’s worsening struggle with multiple sclerosis. She doesn’t have much time for her “hot, but not on a school night” older sisters, Layla and Tiffany, but we as readers can see how they  help shelter her from their dad’s illness and mom’s return to work.

This is a serious book on a difficult topic, but the author makes you laugh out loud along the way. Maggie’s inner dialogue, highlighted by footnotes, made me feel like I was visiting with a real kid every time I picked up the book.  And there is a clever connection at the ending, which made this a “clutch it in your arms and sigh when you finish reading it” kind of book for me.  I recommend this book for kids in grades 5-7 ish, (or anyone who loves realistic middle grade novels.) It will  be especially meaningful to readers who have been touched by MS. Ultimately, the unpredictable and relentless nature of the disease is woven into a story of strength and hope.

Don’t miss MAGGIE!

*Special thanks to  Alyson Beecher and her wonderful book-based blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, for offering a copy of TMOM as a prize via Chronicle Books.*

 

 

THE PRANK LIST; Interview with children’s author Anna Staniszewski

Welcome Anna Stanizewski, whose latest novel, THE PRANK LIST (Sourebooks) will be released July 1, 2014!

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Anna is the author of many books for children and young adults, including:

THE UNFAIRY TALE LIFE SERIES

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THE DIRT DIARY SERIES

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..and two upcoming picture books from Henry Holt: POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT (2015) and DOGOSAURUS REX (2016). 

Needless to say, Anna is one busy writer! However, I’m happy to say she had the time to answer a few of my questions about herself, her writing, and THE PRANK LIST.

To start, here’s a little history (some dirt?) from Anna’s website on book one in The Dirt Diary Series, THE DIRT DIARY (Sourcebooks, 2014):

Eighth grade never smelled so bad.

Rachel Lee didn’t think anything could be worse than her parents splitting up. She was wrong. Working for her mom’s new house-cleaning business puts Rachel in the dirty bathrooms of the most popular kids in the eighth grade. Which does not help her already loser-ish reputation. But her new job has surprising perks: enough dirt on the in-crowd to fill up her (until recently) boring diary. She never intended to reveal her secrets, but when the hottest guy in school pays her to spy on his girlfriend Rachel decides to get her hands dirty.

And now, the wait is nearly over to find out what trouble Rachel gets into next, in THE PRANK LIST. Again, from Anna’s website:

Rachel never thought she’d fight for the right to clean toilets, but she has to save her mom’s business. Nothing can distract her from her mission – except maybe Whit, the cute new guy in cooking class. Then she discovers something about Whit that could change everything. After destroying her Dirt Diary, Rachel thought she was done with secrets, but to save her family’s business, Rachel’s going to have to get her hands dirty. Again.

Nancy: Congratulations on your latest series, The Dirt Diaries! How do you approach writing a series?  That is, how much is done on the sequels before book one is even sent out?

Anna: The timing of a series can make your head spin! With the Dirt Diary series, the second book was done before the first one was published and the third book is in copyedits right now, a couple of weeks before the second book comes out. It can be a little confusing to jump between writing one book, promoting another, and planning out yet another, but it’s also really exciting.

Nancy: Your main character, Rachel, seems like the kind of girl that would be easy to relate to. I think we’ve all had times when our good intentions were misconstrued, or flat-out backfired.  How much of Rachel comes from your own experiences?

Anna: The antics that Rachel gets up to are purely fictional. (I’ve always been far too much of a rule follower to pull pranks on people!) But Rachel’s emotions and quirks are based on real life. I was very shy when I was young, and I always felt like I was doing and saying the wrong thing. I took those feelings from middle school and exaggerated them for Rachel’s story.

Nancy: Again, like many people, Rachel seems to have trouble resisting requests from cute boys. A couch potato at heart, I once went on a weeklong hike (and lost many toenails) because of a crush.  Do you have your own “what was I thinking?” story that stems from wanting to please someone?

Anna: Haha, I cringe even thinking about this, but I once pretended to be into a whole type of music because I thought it would impress a boy. I bought CDs of bands I didn’t like and forced myself to listen to them. Luckily, my ears couldn’t take it after a few days and I gave up. 🙂

Nancy: Rachel works as a house cleaner to help out her mom’s new business.  I’ve done that job, and it was hard, and kind of awful. What was your first job? What has been your hardest/worst job?

Anna: One of my first jobs was at a bagel place where I worked the registers, toasted bagels, and helped make sandwiches. During lunchtime, there was literally a line out the door every single day. I liked the people I worked with, but I would come home exhausted, reeking of coffee, and totally sick of bagels. I also worked for a temp agency during college, and at many of my temp jobs (doing data entry, answering phones, etc) people would talk about me right in front of me as if I wasn’t there. It was mortifying and belittling. I have a feeling both of those jobs have worked their way into my books. 🙂

Nancy:  When you were in eighth grade, what were your favorite kinds of books?

Anna: In eighth grade I went through a huge Stephen King phase. I tore my way through The Dark Half, The Shining, etc. The darker the better! I still enjoy a good dark read these days, but I think my taste in books has lightened up a bit since then.

Nancy: If you could time travel, and you had two minutes with your eighth grade self, what would you tell her? (I know for me, I would take at least a few seconds of that time to say for heaven’s sake, enough with the perms!)

Anna: Haha, yes, I think I would have some words for bad hair and fashion, too! But I think ultimately I’d tell my eighth-grade self that it’s okay to be weird. When I was young, people would tell me I was a weirdo (because of my sense of humor, my non-permed hair, etc) and I would let it cut me down. Now I realize that weirdness is an asset. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to write the books I do!

To find out more about Anna Staniszewski (including how to say her last name!), her books, and her writing process,  visit her gorgeous and fun website, www.annastan.com.

THE PRANK LIST is available for pre-order via AmazonB&NPowell’sBook Depository, and Indiebound

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Bio:

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.

 

The Luck O’ The Irish

Ever realize that the books you are reading simultaneously (or in quick succession) have a common theme? Except for the time that my book club got on an unintended Holocaust kick, I love when that happens!  

Recently, I was listening to one book and reading another when I discovered that through both, I was enjoying fantastical journeys that played on Irish folklore and the best of Irish storytelling. There is something about Ireland and its mystical and (often) troubled tales that makes me want to lean in and be swept away.

Historian Carl Wittke described Irish people as having a “temperament [that] is a mixture of flaming ego, hot temper, stubbornness, great personal charm and warmth, and a wit that shines through adversity. An irrepressible buoyancy, a vivacious spirit, a kindliness and tolerance for the common frailties…”

Here are the two Middle Grade books whose “personal charm” and “warmth and wit” had me dancing a jig:

TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD by Ellen Booraem (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013) underworld-cover From author Ellen Booraem’s website:

Conor O’Neill always thought spiders—and his little sister, Glennie—were the worst kind of monsters life had in store. That was before an inexperienced young banshee named Ashling showed up in his bedroom. The arrival of a banshee, as Conor soon learns, means only one thing: Someone in his family is going to die. Not only will Ashling not tell him who it is, it turns out that she’s so fascinated by the world above that she insists on going to middle school with him. The more Ashling gets involved in his life, the harder it becomes to keep her identity a secret from his friends and teachers—and the more Conor worries about his family. If he wants to keep them safe, he’s going to have to do the scariest thing he’s ever done:  Pay a visit to the underworld. If only there were an app for that.

 

THE GREAT UNEXPECTED by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins, 2012)   great unexpected From author Sharon Creech’s website:

In the little town of Blackbird Tree a series of curious events unfold when Naomi and Lizzie, two spirited orphan girls, meet the strangely charming new boy, Finn. Three locked trunks, the mysterious Dingle Dangle man, a pair of rooks, a crooked bridge, and that boy change their lives forever. As the story alternates between their small town and across-the-ocean Ireland, two worlds are woven together, revealing that hearts can be mended and that there is indeed a gossamer thread that connects us all.

I’m normally a “realistic fiction” kind of a gal, but the fantasy in these stories is expertly interwoven into the present day stories, leaving me feeling grounded even as I flipped back and forth between worlds.

Written for middle grades (5th-7th ish), I recommend these books for all readers who like a good Irish yarn, or anyone who enjoys being swept away, and then delivered safely home. Truly, they are not to be missed.

And may I suggest you whip up a batch of these to have on hand while you’re reading?

Luck O' The Irish Brownies - click here for recipe.

Luck O’ The Irish Brownies

 

Click here for recipe.

Enjoy! And “May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.”

Tough Topics, Great Books

When life’s tough topics come into our homes, we search for answers in many places.  How many worries have been Googled in the lonely hours of a long, dark night?  We also turn to friends, family, acquaintances – anyone who may have had experience with this “thing,” this unwelcome guest that is spread out in the spare bedroom and looks to be staying awhile.

When we’re facing a life challenge, books can often be a particular comfort, especially for children. Books give us a chance to examine our problem through the safety of someone else’s eyes.  How did they feel? How did they react?  There is also such healing power in the message you are not alone.

Cynthia Lord is a Newbery Honor author who embraces big topics, and weaves them into charming stories for middle grade readers.

 

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Her latest book, HALF A CHANCE (Scholastic Press, 2014), uses the idyllic premise of spending a summer on a lake in New Hampshire as a backdrop for exploring how dementia can affect a whole family.

From Goodreads:

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”

HALF A CHANCE is a good resource for kids who are struggling to understand the confusing and sometimes scary topic of dementia.  However, the story also celebrates the simple joys of summer lake living.  I think this book will bring a lot of comfort to many families.

You may recognize Cynthia Lord’s name because of her 2007 Newbery Honor Book, RULES (Scholastic Press, 2006).  If you missed this one, be sure to check it out.

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From Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She’s spent years trying to teach David the rules-from “a peach is not a funny-looking apple” to “keep your pants on in public”-in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she’s always wished for, it’s her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?”

The characters in RULES push through challenges on a daily basis.  My favorite character is Jason, who communicates by pointing at word cards in a book he balances on the tray of his wheelchair.  As Catherine gets to know Jason, she helps him expand what he is able to say by making word cards for him that go beyond stock phrases like “sad” to things like “stinks a big one!!”

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Catherine helps her younger brother navigate the world, and helps Jason express himself.  But of course she learns just as much, if not more, from them.

The real grace of the way Cynthia Lord writes is that she is able to take daunting, life changing challenges and remind readers that in every situation, there are things to celebrate and give thanks for.  Put these two on your “to be read” pile!

I won my copy of HALF A CHANCE thanks to Debbi Michiko Florence at DEBtastic Reads.  Thanks also to Cynthia Lord, who signed it over to the students at Hebron Avenue School, where it will have a permanent home.

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In the Bleak Midwinter

IMG_1473“Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow on snow…”

If you’re like me, this part of winter is not your favorite.  The Christmas lights and decorations are gone, but the bleak gray cold remains.  And though my neck of the woods has been spared the brunt of the Polar Vortex, it’s still bitter enough to make going outside unpleasant.  But instead of becoming bitter, too, I like to use this time of year to layer on blankets and immerse myself in wintery books.

You may think it would be a good idea to read stories set in warmer climes this time of year, but I disagree.  There is an extra degree of coziness when you can sit fireside, roasty-toasty, and read about someone else’s frostbite.

During the New England 2010 Snowmageddon, ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton my book club’s read. What had been a chore as a seventh-grader became a surprise delight to my grown-up self.  The snow banking up against my sliding glass door mimicked the whirling, freezing scenes in the story, and I fell so deep into Ms. Wharton’s brief novel that when it ended, I was compelled to turn right back to page one and start reading again.  

I may not be able to convince you to pick up ETHAN FROME again, but here are two fantastic reads for winter that beg to be read under extra layers:

THE BOOK THIEF By Markus Zusak

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This story was published in 2006 and has been recently made into a movie.  From Goodreads:

“It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.”

Writer Marcus Zusak uses words like an artist uses paint, making you truly feel the cold as the newly formed family and their dangerous guest weather the winter months.  For example, in this passage from page 214:

It was early December and the day had been icy.  The basement became unfriendlier with each concrete step.

“It’s too cold, Papa.”

“That never bothered you before.”

“Yes, but it was never this cold…”

…Slowly then…the emaciated body and face of Max Vandenburg appeared.  In the moist light, he stood with magic discomfort.  He shivered.  

Hans touched his arm, to bring him closer.  

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. You cannot stay down here.  You’ll freeze to death.”

If you missed THE BOOK THIEF when it came out, like I did, I encourage you to put it in your “must read” pile for 2014.

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On a much lighter note is another great read for winter, or any season:

HATTIE BIG SKY By Kirby Larson

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From Goodreads: “Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle’s homesteading claim.  For years, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s been shuttled between relatives. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends–especially Charlie, fighting in France–through letters and articles for her hometown paper.

Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers. But she feels threatened by pressure to be a “Loyal” American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent. Despite everything, Hattie’s determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.”

HATTIE BIG SKY is wonderfully written and will appeal to anyone who grew up loving Little House on the Prairie.  Who can forget the Christmas when the snow was so deep that Pa had to go out the second story window to get across to the barn, where the presents were?

Even with their hardscrabble lives, there has always been something romantic about being a pioneer.  This particular book packs the extra punch of being based on a true story. (The author is Hattie’s great-grandaughter).

Here is one of my favorite snuggle-up scenes, from pages 65-66:

The wind, brisk before, had worked istslef up into a temper.  It whirled around my head, threatening to suck the very life out of my lungs. I couldn’t catch my breath.

…Icy snow slashed at my head and shoulders….My chest tightened in panic, but I forced myself forward.  Icicles formed on my eyelashes.  I could not close my eyes.  They felt frozen open.  And yet I could barely see…I placed one foot in front of the other in the snow.  

…My face was raw.  I tasted the salt of blood trickling down my cheeks.  I worked my shawl over my face.  It was a frail barricade, but it did help…I pried off my mittens and felt as if I’d plunged my hands into a glacier-fed stream.  The ache in my joints rocked me back on my heels.

Yes, we are a country in a deep freeze right now, but we’ve got our Gore-tex jackets, heated car seats, electric blankets, and roaring furnaces to help see us through.  What wimps we would seem to Hattie and Liesel!

And now, I’m off to put on another layer and another log, and crack open another book.  I hope you get some time to do the same this winter!

Meet Author/Illustrator Hazel Mitchell: A KidLit Pearl!

A hearty welcome today to Hazel Mitchell, an award-winning author/illustrator with several new books to celebrate, including:

ONE WORD PEARL (Mackinac Island/Charlesbridge Publishing Fall 2013, Written by Nicole Groeneweg).

Hazel has graciously taken time from her busy schedule to answer some of my questions about the world of KidLit.  But first, some more about PEARL:

One Word Pearl Cover

From the publisher:

*Pearl loves words. All kinds of words. Words make up songs, stories, poems . . . and what does a lover of words do? She collects them, of course!

But one day, most of Pearl’s words are blown away, leaving her only a few which she keeps safely in her treasure chest. After that day, she uses each word carefully—one at a time, until she has no words left. When her teacher asks her questions at school, she doesn’t answer. When her friend wants to know what she has for lunch, she can’t respond. What will Pearl do without her precious words? Will she ever find them?

One Word Pearl explores the power of words to transform, inspire, and cultivate imagination. This whimsical story is the winner of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Children’s Book Competition in the Picture Book category.*

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Click here to watch the darling trailer for ONE WORD PEARL.  See below for details on winning your own copy!

Here’s a little background on Hazel, from her website:

Hazel Mitchell Photo

*Hazel Mitchell is an award winning illustrator. From an early age she drew on every thing she could get her hands on and still can’t be left safely alone with a pencil. Her most recent books include One Word Pearl1,2,3 by the SeaHow to Talk to an Autistic Kid (Foreword Reviews Gold Medal winner and Finalist in ‘Books for a Better Life’), Hidden New Jersey and the All-Star Cheerleaders series by Anastasia Suen. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives and works from her studio in Central Maine, USA. She still misses fish and chips and mushy peas, but is learning to love lobster. She has a dog, a cat, two horses and several snow shovels. You can see more of her work at www.hazelmitchell.com or find her on Facebook and all those online places!*

Here’s what Hazel had to say about her work and her career as an author/illustrator:

Nancy:  A lot of people think that authors need to find their own illustrators in order to publish a picture book, which of course is not the case.  However, I’m curious – have you ever known an author personally before you were asked to illustrate their work?
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Hazel: All the trade books I’ve published have been with authors I didn’t know. The editor/art director chose the illustrator. People entering, or beginning to write, don’t usually get this disconnect, but I think it’s how it should be. The illustrator is hired to do a job and bring their vision to a project. It’s hard if you get too much input from the author, or very specific directions, because your own ideas take a back seat. I can understand how hard it is for an author sometimes, they’ve lived with their characters for so long! I’ve done self publishing projects in the past where I’ve worked closely with an author on their vision. To me that’s a different kind of illustrating, more of an ‘artist for hire project’ in which you expect to follow tighter guidelines. But in general, working with an author on a project isn’t easy. That’s why we have art directors! 
Nancy: Your drawings of children are delightful.  Do you have kids in your own life you model them after? Where is your favorite place for people watching?
One Word Pearl Interior 4
Hazel: Thank you! When I began my career in illustration I always thought I’d be illustrating animals, with minimal children. It’s been quite the reverse! I have learned to embrace drawing children, although it’s been a steep learning curve. The looser the drawing the better, is how it works for me. I do not have children, and my step children are grown. I usually do research on the specific type of child for a project. Youtube is a great source of reference for studying children! And if you pause them, it’s even easier!! Mostly I draw from imagination. My favorite place for people watching .. sitting in a Parisian Cafe with an excellent cup of coffee, a croissant and a sketch pad!!
 
Nancy: You moved from the UK to Maine.  Both are beautiful places, but do you ever long for hot, crispy summer days?
One Word Pearl Interior 3
Hazel: Believe me, Maine has plenty of hot summer days! And humid ones too. I lived in South Carolina when I moved from the UK, it was hellishly hot and I was glad to move North. (I’m a celt at heart.)
 
Nancy:  What kinds of things do you like to write? Are illustrations swirling in your head whenever you write?
One Word Pearl Interior 6
Hazel: Writing and visuals are mixed up together for me. I have several projects on the go from picture books to a middle grade novel. I do find, that even when working on a picture book, the words are very important. I’ll write descriptions of what I see before I draw them, but at the same time the images are jumping in my head. If I’m writing straight prose, there’s a movie playing in my mind.
 
Nancy: About how long is the creative process – from the time you take on a project (like ONE WORD PEARL) until you are holding the finished book in your hands?
Process character Character design
Hazel: One Word Pearl was a fast turnaround, about 3 months from receiving the manuscript. There isn’t much time for pondering. The book was in stores 7 months later. Of course it was in editing before I received it. I would love a nice, leisurely project!!
 
Nancy: If you could go back in time, is there any particular children’s book you would have loved to have illustrated?
One Word Pearl Interior 1
Hazel: That’s hard. When you think of the classics you love, they’re so set in stone, why would you change them? I think I am very attracted to chapter books, and I would have loved to illustrate something like Peter Pan.  (Nancy’s note: I can see Peter Pan wanting to peek in the window in the above picture).
Nancy: Here’s one that my writer friends and I wonder about: Which came first, the blog or the author page? Do you think  it’s smart to get a blog rolling when you are pre-published, and then just link to an author page when there is something to promote?  I’d love to know your thoughts since you have both (and both are so perfectly aligned visually!).
Hazel:  I started my blog first. I stayed off social networks for a while, but now I use everything in tandem. Which reminds me … I need to update my blog! 
You can find Hazel online at:
twitter:  @thewackybrit
 
BOOK GIVEAWAY! Hazel has generously offered a copy of ONE WORD PEARL to one lucky reader.  Just enter your favorite word in the comments below, and I’ll put your name in the hat!  If you’re not the gambling type, ONE WORD PEARL is available at your local indie bookstore.  Just click here!
Happy Reading.
Update 9/30/13:  Congratulations to the winner of a copy of ONE WORD PEARL, Michele Manning!  Thanks for playing.  By the way, my favorite word is fresh.  I especially like it in the context of fresh sheets, fresh piece of paper, and my all time favorite, fresh pot of coffee. 

Summer Reading: July Kindle Fire Giveaway Hop!

kindlefireSummertime, and the reading is easy!  If you are like me, your TBR (to be read) stack is teetering with juicy stories waiting to be devoured like a ripe summer peach. Maybe you’ve been able to steal away to the quiet of a hammock, or have enjoyed getting lost in a book with the ocean’s dull roar as a backdrop.  (Or perhaps, more likely,  you have to swat kids away like mosquitoes and fight for every chapter!

However it happens for you, I do hope you’re enjoying a good book this summer.  With that in mind, I’ve hooked up with the good folks at the above blogs (inspired by Kathy http://www.iamareader.com ) to offer you a chance to win a Kindle Fire!  If you haven’t joined the age of digital readers, I must say it is so satisfying to be able to get that new book you’ve wanted instantly!  For me, it’s also fun to be able to read after “light’s out” without balancing a flashlight on my shoulder so as not to bug my husband.

And for those of you who swear by good old-fashioned hold ’em in your hands and smell ’em books, I will also be offering the winner  five fantastic middle grade reads (suitable for adult readers, too!):

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Here’s how to enter:  The contest runs JULY 8 – July 29.


Welcome to our Kindle Fire HD giveaway!

Sponsored by 
Kid Lit Frenzy
Read Now Sleep Later
Nite Lite Book Reviews
The Windy Pages
The Book Pixie
There’s a Book
The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog
Teach Mentor Texts
The Reading Date
Nancy Tandon
Read Write Mom

Show our blogger friends some love and at the same time earn entries into the giveaway!

The Kindle Fire HD winner (US only) will also get their choice of

1 July or August Kindle eBook from Kid Lit Frenzy
1 YA Kindle eBook from Read Now Sleep Later
1 MG Kindle eBook from There’s a Book

If you are not from the United States, use the second Rafflecopter to enter to win

up to $20 worth of books from BookDepository.com 
and an ARC or signed copy of a book from Kid Lit Frenzy
(A list of possible prizes will be posted after July 14, so check back!)

If you are a blogger, you can earn an extra entry by re-posting the giveaway. Copy the HTML from this page and paste it into a new post. We cannot count your entry unless you leave us the link, so remember to paste the link into the Rafflecopter widget. If you cannot embed the Rafflecopter widget, here is the Share Link for the Kindle Fire HD (US only) and the Share Link for the International $20 bookdepository.com widgets.
Rules:
1. You must be 13 years of age or older to enter, or have a parent/guardian enter for you. All entries are subject to verification.
2. We will notify the winner via email within 48 hours after the contest’s end (11:59 pm on July 29).
3. The Kindle Fire HD winner must have a mailing address in the United States. The International ($20 bookdepository.com books) winner can be anywhere except the United States.
4. The winners will have 48 hours to reply with their mailing address or another winner will be chosen.
5. Contest sponsors are not responsible for items lost in the mail.
6. We love comments, but please do not leave personal information such as email or mailing addresses in the comments! We are using Rafflecopter because it will keep your information private.
Questions? Please email the organizer, Alethea, at frootjoos at gmail dot com.
Good luck!


Escaping Your Comfort Zone

I love the padded walls of my comfort zone.  When I leave it, it is usually with a lot of kicking and screaming and fanfare.  Sometimes nausea.  Funny, then, how much I absolutely love encouraging other people get out of theirs.  You should have seen my boundless confidence as I goaded my friend and fellow writer Michele Manning to take advantage of the “open mic” forum at a recent conference.  I kept thinking, she’s got this, she’s got this, she’s going to be great!  Easy for me to say, all I had to do was sit in the audience and cheer like crazy.

IMG_1522     But she did have it! She rocked the mic.  AND, after her reading, a person in the audience came up to express how much the words had meant to her.  Success!  There was something so magical in the moment, because even though Michele looks so cool, calm, and collected in this picture, I think inside she was feeling more like this:
This is me out of my comfort zone, freaking out on a kiddie roller coaster.

This is me out of my comfort zone, freaking out on a kiddie roller coaster.

     It’s rare and exhilarating to witness the actual moment when someone steps outside the box to carpe diem.  But watching and doing are two different things!  If you’re like me, you loooove to stay in the box, enveloped in a thick, cozy blanket of calm.  It’s nice there.  Of course you want to stay!  But hidden away, you’ll never have the chance to let your true talent rise.
     Long ago, I heard the “analogy of the coral reef”.  On a reef, the lee (calm) side is white, hard, and lifeless.  But the side of the reef that bears all the pounding waves is constantly changing, and teeming with diverse life and vibrant colors.
Isn't change pretty?

Isn’t change pretty?

It’s nice to rest on the quiet side sometimes, but don’t forget how great it can be out where the waves crash over you, where you experience real change and growth.  Spend enough time out of the box, and you just might begin to:
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I’m grateful for the people in my life who keep pushing me to do more, try more, and be more.  If you ever need a cheerleader, send me a note.  I’ll be ready with my pom-poms!
     ****NOTE:
Many great stories come from the idea of a character struggling to get out of their own comfort zones so that they can grow and change.  One that I recently enjoyed, which is written for the Middle Grade crowd but can be enjoyed by any age, is A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT by Linda Urban.  Warning:  you may experience “Neil Diamond song stuck in your head-itis” after reading.  Check it out!
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Hey, Mikey! He likes it!

Breaking news:  Boy reads book without pictures or potty humor – and likes it!  “I think this is going to be my new favorite series,” says Boy, age 9. “I’m excited because [the book] actually took me longer than a day to read.”

Related news:  Mom is knocked over by feather; faints.

What is this magic that has entered my home and swept away my son and his imagination? Friends, I give you:

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From the jacket flap: “Jennifer A. Nielsen has woven a heart-racing tale full of danger and bold adventure, lies and deadly truths that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.”  True, all of it, true!

I have written in the past about my struggle to find the right books for my capable but reluctant reader.  Since my son was between books (because, you know, everything he ‘liked’ took him less than a day to read), I suggested we start this one together.

“No thanks,” he said, looking at the cover and not seeing any underpants.

“Okay, well, I’m going to read chapter one right now.  Why don’t you come sit next to me and just give a listen?  You can leave whenever you want,” I said.  (There may have been a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies near me as well, but I swear I didn’t mean it as a bribe).

He begrudgingly agreed.  On page 2, I read, “The butcher gave me one final kick in the side, then leaned low toward me. ‘If you ever come into my shop again, I’ll cut you up and sell you as meat at the market.  Got it?'”   That’s when my son sat up a little straighter and said, “Oh.  This is a really good book.”

And that is how our adventure with THE FALSE PRINCE began.  The story, the first in Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, is a medieval adventure with swords, plot twists, dungeons, and more plot twists.  It had been awhile since I’d read something aloud to my son, and it was so fun to share our reactions when surprises popped up.  In the end, he finished reading the book on his own because he couldn’t wait for the next bedtime to keep reading the story.

This type of fantasy/adventure is not typically a genre I gravitate to, but in this case, I’m so glad I did.  (Special thank you to Librarian Friend #2 for the loan).  I highly recommend THE FALSE PRINCE to any writers looking for good examples of world-building.  Nielsen hits the mark with this one.

Additional related news:  Mom trips over self on the way to the bookstore to purchase Book Two of the Ascendance Trilogy, THE RUNAWAY KING.

What is it about underpants?

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I’ve been reluctant to admit that I am raising a reluctant reader.  At two months old, my kid was bapping the pages of board books to turn them faster than I could read.  Look at that, I thought smugly… So clever! As a kindergartener, he would follow along when his older sister poured over early readers, and blurt out words if she stopped to sound them out.  I’d look over at my husband and arch my eyebrows as if to say, Pretty good, eh?  

As he advanced in grades, reading remained a strength.  I thought that “getting my boy to read”  was one of those battles I wouldn’t have to fight.  I made the mistake of assuming that because he was able to read, he would want to read whatever I got for him from the library, book store, community book sale, you name it.  So many great books!  Hey, MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli, he’ll love that!  Oooh…TREASURE ISLAND, what boy could resist?

"No thanks"

“No thanks”

But time and again, my son would look at the cover of a book, read the first paragraph, then shrug his shoulders and pass the book back to me, saying, “no thanks.”  The latest blow came after I’d made a special trip to a fantastic indie bookstore.  Carefully, I selected Gary Paulsen’s HATCHET.  Cool title.  Invokes violence.  He’ll bite.  

“No thanks.”

A week after that I was at a big box store and saw a stout volume of the first three books (Super Burp, Trouble Magnet, and World’s Worst Wedgie) in the George Brown, Class Clown series by Nancy Krulik.  Nearby was book #7 in the series: the picture on the front was of a boy in underpants, of the tighty-whitey variety.  My son had loved that other famous Captain of the unmentionables, so I sighed and put the collection of the first three stories in my loaded cart.  It just wasn’t what would pick.

That night I handed it to him the way you would hand a banana to a hungry ape.  Hoping it will satisfy.  He checked out the cover, and nodded seriously.  He opened the front page and read one, two, three, paragraphs.  He looked up at me, and clutching the book to his chest, said, “YES.  This is the perfect book.  This is the kind of book you should be getting me.”

"Yes please"

“Yes please”

I hadn’t even realized I how harshly I was judging the underpants, diaries, and other graphic novels he gravitated to.  There is a place for stories that simply seek to be silly and fun.  And apparently one of those places is on my son’s nightstand. I had to just get over myself and my vision of what were the right books. The right book, it turns out, is any one that makes a kid run up to his room after school so he can get back to the story.

I have to remind myself that maturity level and style of humor have a lot to do with what works right now.  I haven’t given up on to Treasure Island, Maniac Magee, or Jerry Spinelli.  But for the time being, here are some that have worked for us:

1) George Brown, Class Clown (Series by Nancy Krulik) “Mom, did you know a lady wrote this?”  Yes, and I thank her!

2) Captain Underpants (Series by Dav Pilkey) “I love letting the funny seep into me.”

3) Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Series by Jeff Kinney) The “Do-It-Yourself” books in this series have the added benefit of encouraging creative writing.

4) Horrible Harry (Series by Suzy Kline)

5) The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, and The Secret of the Fortune Wookie, all by Tom Angleberger.  Bonus side effect of son taking an interest in origami.  (At least when the end result is a Star Wars character).

There are many other fantastic graphic novels out there that are kid favorites.  If you have suggestions that have worked for the reluctant reader in your life, I’d love to hear them!