March 30, 2012

Book Review: The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook

Title: The Five Lives of our Cat Zook
Author: Joanne Rocklin

In this warmhearted middle-grade novel, Oona and her brother, Fred, love their cat Zook (short for Zucchini), but Zook is sick. As they conspire to break him out of the vet’s office, convinced he can only get better at home with them, Oona tells Fred the story of Zook’s previous lives, ranging in style from fairy tale to grand epic to slice of life. Each of Zook’s lives has echoes in Oona’s own family life, which is going through a transition she’s not yet ready to face. Her father died two years ago, and her mother has started a relationship with a man named Dylan—whom Oona secretly calls “the villain.” The truth about Dylan, and about Zook’s medical condition, drives the drama in this loving family story.

My Review
What a sweet little book! I was completely enchanted by this story and the characters within it.  As someone who just recently got a cat from the humane society, I felt a little connection to Zook and cared about him from the start.  As for Oona, the main character, I will have to say it took me a bit to warm up to her.  I’ll be honest, sometimes characters that are as precocious as she is tend to annoy me.  But what hooked me in with her was how much she cared for her little brother! Her love for him was so strong that she wormed her way into my heart.  I love how she tells these stories about Zook so her brother won’t be worried or sad – but the whole time she’s fighting the same feelings!

As far as the plot – this isn’t a story of action.  It’s a story of change and acceptance of that change.  Oona is holding onto the past with such force that she really fights what’s happening in her world right now.  She wants nothing to do with it.  It was watching her change, knowing she needed to that kept me reading.  I wanted to see how she would accept the change and accept it on HER terms.  She didn’t disappoint.

Final Thought: Heart. Growth. Love.  What better story is there?
Best stick-with-you image: When “the villain” walks into Oona’s world
Best for readers who: Have ever loved an animal
Best for ages: 9+

For the Guys? Possibliy.  Although the main character is a girl, she’s a tomboy.  
And what she’s going through is something many kids can relate to.

Check out the book trailer and don't forget to read my interview with the author and enter the giveaway!

Author Interview: Joanne Rocklin +GIVEAWAY

I'm so very very excited to welcome Joanne Rocklin author of One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street and The Five Lives of Out Cat Zook.  
I've had the pleasure of reading The Five Lives - review later today!  My daughter read One Day and One Amazing and absolutely loved it.  

A bit about Zook
In this warmhearted middle-grade novel, Oona and her brother, Fred, love their cat Zook (short for Zucchini), but Zook is sick. As they conspire to break him out of the vet’s office, convinced he can only get better at home with them, Oona tells Fred the story of Zook’s previous lives, ranging in style from fairy tale to grand epic to slice of life.
Now welcome welcome Joanne!!!!!

Let us first start with the easy questions

Point of View: 1ST

Is the main character a BOY or GIRL: GIRL

What Genre: Realistic contemporary with fantasy stories told by main character 

Middle Grade or Young Adult: Middle Grade 

More boy or girl book (stereotypically) – which do you think it would appeal to more? 
Perhaps girls, as girls like to read about girls and boys; boys prefer to read about boys. But the plot is about a pet, there are boys featured in the story, and issues relevant to everyone’s life.

The Serious Questions! 

What part/character/event are you most excited/proud about In The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook? 
I am excited about the stories Oona and Fred tell during the course of the novel. My book is mainly about storytelling, and how important that is for everyone—the teller and the reader or listener. Stories help us make sense of this crazy world we live in. Stories help us connect with those around us. Oona and Fred’s beloved cat, Zook, is ill. To make her little brother feel better, Oona tells Fred a big lie, which he believes. She tells him that cats live nine lives, and that Zook has lived five of them, with four more to go. Then Oona tells Fred the stories of Zook’s other lives: about Miraculo, who saved a kingdom, and Jewel the Ghost Cat, and Beau, the Flying Cat., and Mud who solved a big mystery. I loved creating those stories! They are funny and exciting and show how Oona puts pieces of her own life into their creation, just as all storytellers do. The stories help Oona deal with what’s happening to Zook, and also accept all the big changes happening in her own life. 

Tell about your writing process. How long did it take you to write The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook from idea to finish? Please tell about revision is you can! 
It took me about one year to complete The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook, and that includes four or five drafts! Here is what happened, and let me say right off the bat that revision is the most important part of my process, and the most fun for me, while the book “grows.” First I got a Good Idea which started the story flowing, and that’s the way my books always begin. I have always lived with cats, and I’m always wondering where they came from, since all of them were adopted from shelters. For this book, my Good Idea was to write about an ailing cat, and a girl who tells stories about his other lives in order to cheer up her little brother. But then I got an idea that complicated things much more—there’s a Villain in the story who enters Oona’s real life, and that was my second draft. (That’s all I’m telling. . . .) My third draft was simply beginning it again, from start to finish, polishing, adding, switching chapters around, thinking of a tight ending. My fourth draft was in response to my editor’s suggestion to enlarge one character (Oona’s Secret Love, if you really must know!) My fifth and sixth drafts were in response to questions from the copy editor—questions about fact, grammar, spelling and logic. I think there were other drafts, or partial drafts, but I promise you, it was all a lot of fun. The very hardest part is that first initial Good Idea, and also, creating a character to tell the story. A character I’ll want to hang out with every day for a whole year (and more)! So I decided to create someone who made me laugh, and made me experience strong feelings—and that was Oona. 

When you were in middle school kind of student were you? Did you write then? 
I was kind of nerdy--always reading, dreaming and studying. I was terrible in sports, and shy, so I put my effort into excelling in my schoolwork. I wasn’t very well-rounded. That’s why I try to make my characters less shy and more interesting than I used to be. Writers have the power to live other lives, through their characters. I’ve always, always written stories and poems. It felt good to do that. When I was in elementary and middle school I also wrote a lot of letters to my best friend over the summers, hundreds! One day we exchanged some of those letters, so now I have them in a big box in my garage. Sometimes I use them for research! 

And because it's the owl my standard question always is: WHOOO do you admire when it comes to writing? OR WHOOO do you like to read or really enjoyed in HS or middle school?
There are so many, many wonderful writers writing for children today that I can’t possibly pick favorites—it would take up a whole page. But when I was growing up I loved Anne of Green Gables, and every single one of the books written by L.M. Montgomery. That’s because I grew up in Canada, like the author, and most Canadian kids were introduced to her books early. I also read scads of mysteries, and a bit of fantasy as well. But it was the “Anne books” that I often reread, which is what marks a true favorite. My books today always have a main character who is funny, but naive, anxiously questioning, but brave at the end. Like Anne.

The Fun Questions! (based on what 7th graders do!
Do you chew gum? Yes or No If yes favorite kind? 
Yes! I’m chewing gum right now. Trident sugarless, has to be spearmint...
Do you text? 
I do. But only when I’m not near my computer.
Was school lunch just as yucky then as it is now?! 
It probably was, but I’m a big eater so I probably ate everything and loved it. I’m still the same.

Thank you for joining us today! I like how you took your middle school memories to create characters.  I too give my characters traits I wish I had!

Check out the book trailer.  Super cute!

The Giveaway!
I have one copy of The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook to giveaway
Must be a US or Canadian resident
Fill out the Rafflecopter below

March 29, 2012

Guest Post: Jana from Milk and Cookies - MG Books Parents should Read!

I'm so excited because today I get to welcome one of my most favorite MG bloggers.  Jana from Milk and Cookies: Comfort Reading!  If you've never visited her blog you so need to! She's awesome and has such great reviews.  

Today Jana is talking about MG and what ones might help parents see their child's lives through new eyes.  
Welcome Jana!!!

Recently read a book that affected me so strongly.  So I passed it along to my fellow librarian and it affected her just as strongly.  So she asked me if I thought that book would affect young readers as much as it did us because the young readers are not parents yet.  The book was Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur and reading it from a parent's perspective made the experience so emotional.  The storyline of a dad knowing he was going to die before he got to see his daughter grow up and what he did to prep for that was gut wrenching as a mom.  But, if I had a daughter who was having a hard time transitioning from elementary to middle school this would be a fantastic book to see things from her point of view.

And that is one reason I love reading middle grade books.  It is such an interesting time of life for our kids!  Emotional, stressful, hormonal, all of it.  Middle grade books get into the heart of what children are feeling at this stage of life. And most of us do not remember what that is like.  We just know that we made it through and we are ok (for the most part).

It is also the time of life that kids tend to start keeping things to themselves.  It's hard to get to the heart of what your child is feeling or going through when they won't talk to you about it.  And sometimes they sugarcoat what they are going through so that you don't worry about them.

I have been going through middle grade collection and have come up with several books that can help you see things from your child's point of view!

If your daughter is having problems with her best friend from grade school read The Secret Language of Girls by Frances O'Roark Dowell.

If she has an unrequited crush (or is having a hard time connecting with the "popular" kids) read Shug by Jenny Han.  Or  Deep Down Popular by Phoebe Stone.

If your son is having learning issues read The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan together.  Percy has dyslexia and has been kicked out of lots of schools,  but that doesn't stop him from becoming a hero of epic proportions!

If your child is having some bullying issues or you know he/she is keeping something from you read Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur.

This is the tip of the iceberg my friends!  Middle grade authors do a fantastic job of getting the the heart of what it is like to be in middle school.  Take the time to get to know some of these books and I a guarantee you will look at your child's middle school experience through new eyes!

I so love this post! We so often think about getting kids to read MG, but what a strong use of MG books by getting the parents to read them too! Thank you Jana for reminding us of this and for sharing some fantastic books! 
If you have other books you think might be great please share!!!

March 28, 2012

The Giveways Plus TWO MORE!

I wanted to remind everyone of all the giveaways going on.  Most end April 4th, but a few end the 6th.  They are all listed below with link.  

Remember also to link up your MG reviews for a chance at the big drawing!  This ends April 4th!

The Giveaways

Now I have two new ones!!!

Mystery Pack
Two Maggie Brooklyn Mysteries: Girl's Best Friend and Vanishing Acts
Madhattan Mystery by John J. Bonk

Enter below!!!!

Wow Good Books Pack
Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami

Enter Below!!

Author Interview: Lory Kaufman

Today I welcome Lory Kaufman author of The Looker and the Lens and The Bronze and the Brimstone
Learn about the books and check out my review.  

Lory has agree to answer some questions about his books.  Welcome Lory!

Let's start with the basics.
Point of View: 1st or 3rd:
LORY’S ANSWER: Each Point of View style (POV) has its own strengths and restrictions, and therefore the most appropriate one has to be chosen to suit a particular story. In all three books of the Verona Trilogy, I am working in what is called Third Person Limited. That is, the story is told by an outside narrator, but each ‘scene’ can be told from a different character’s point of view, or, from behind his or her eyes. In limited, the narrator must describe only what this one character is seeing and thinking. (the narrative is limited to one character at a time) You can switch from character to character, but I put certain rules on it, for myself. To fully describe my method, I would have to give the definition of what a scene is in novel writing. The definition is different from TV and movies.  A scene starts, and thus the describing of a scene from a particular character’s POV starts, when the writer makes known that the character wants or needs something. That something can be an object, a goal or some emotional need. I write the scene from that person’s point of view until they either get it or fail to get it. Then the POV may change. The strength of 3rd person limited is that it brings the reader very close to the character and hopefully engages them in the story more.
 What Genre is it?
ANSWER: I actually don’t like to think I am writing Genre fiction. I like to think I’m just writing a story in a way that I hope will appeal to a broad audience. However, over the past twenty-five years bookstores became large and, therefore, needed to be broken up into specific departments. Publishers began asking that books be written specifically for narrower and narrower categories, so they could be put in with a bunch of other similar books. The marketplace is changing again and many books are now bought online as either paper or E-books. Hopefully a writer can now find an audience without fitting a specific formula.
That being said, even the best genre fiction can find an audience outside of its category, if it has two particular attributes. One is that it has to be a great story and two, it has to be written well.

QUESTION; Middle Grade or Young Adult
ANSWER: Similar to above, I am just trying to write a good story well. However, I initially had a very hard time finding a publisher because they said my writing was neither middle grade nor young adult. The truth was I saw myself writing a story about troubled young teens who had to grow up fast, so it crossed over. Personally, I just try to write a good book for readers between the ages from 13 to 113 years-old.
I’ll tell you what I see as the ultimate middle grade book that is also a young adult and an adult book. It’s the book that made me want to be a writer when I was fourteen. (that’s a long time ago) It’s Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. It’s a book about kids, and only kids, stuck on an island. However, it can be read by middle graders, teens or adults.

Do you see your books more for boy’s or girls?
LORY’S ANSWER: When I started, and before I had a book deal, I thought I was writing a book mainly for boys. Then, when I met Lou Aronica, my editor and publisher, he explained how over 70% of books are bought by females and also that the love story and the adventure I was writing would be very appealing to girls. Although I didn’t consciously change my writing style after I heard this, I did notice the way I wrote my female characters changed. But something I heard a long time ago, and I didn’t believe was true at the time, is now true for me. It’s who I really write for. While I do endeavor to write clearly and interestingly, so as many people as possible will relate to what is happening in my stories, the person I am really trying to please when I write . . . is me.

For these two books - what part/character/event are you most excited/proud about?
LORY'S ANSWER: I’m most proud of just finishing them. I didn’t get my first book published till I was sixty years old. And I find it hard to be proud of just one thing, because a book is a compilation of thousands of ideas done in a hopefully seamless way, so if one thing stands out, it may distract from the story.

Tell about your writing process. How long did it take you to write these books from idea to finish? Please tell about revision is you can!
The first two books took about five years to write. That’s because I was getting my writing skills up to professional standards and taking many classes.
As for writing and revision, there’s three parts to writing. The outline, the draft and then editing.
One cannot spend too much time outlining. It includes a one paragraph description of what the kernel of the story is about, then a one page description, an up to five page outline, and then a full outline.  Maybe 5,000 words. This includes character essays. The 5,000 words does not include research, so there’s lots more outside of the outline, especially since part of my stories include detailed historical descriptions.  That’s part one.
Next comes the draft. For the most part, an author’s draft is just to get a sense of the story and all the little inspirations that he or she thinks will make the story unique. The inspiration part is actually what makes writing addictive to me. I get a buzz when I am writing away and all these little ideas emerge. It gives me a rush and I love watching the show in my head. It’s part of being ADD, I guess. So, one works and works for weeks, writing a section, adding scenes and dialogue, experimenting and just having fun. The number one question I am constantly asking myself when I am at this stage is, “Why is this scene here or piece of information here? What does it add to the story?”
There’s an old clique that says “writing is rewriting”. That brings us to the next phase, editing. This usually is much quicker than the rough draft but I find a book goes through 6 or 7 edits. At first I concentrate on just smoothing things out, going paragraph by paragraph, moving lines and ideas around to get the information flow in the right order. You see, sometimes you get a great idea, but when you look back at it, it’s not quite in the right place. Then there’s smoothing the characters out, making them consistent. When you start a book, the character is usually not well formed. As the writer gets to know the character, things change, so when you rewrite, you will be changing the early stuff you’ve written for them. This first edit is where you usually find your plot holes too, the things that don’t make sense. Don’t get me started on plot holes. I could write a whole blog on plot holes, especially since I’m talking about time travel. (hey, that’s a good idea. But another time)
After the first edit, I put the thing away for a week or two, to get some objectivity, and then I do it all over again. Now I can concentrate on making sure there’s a sense of pacing, both in the writing and the story’s flow.
At this point I usually have my line editor, who is my daughter, Jessica Kaufman, do her thing. She is a primary school teacher working in Shanghai, China. She goes over the manuscript and usually cuts down about ten to fifteen percent of the manuscript, suggests ideas be moved here or there, etc. I then make the changes which I accept, usually about 80%.
After this the polishing begins. I go paragraph by paragraph again, trying to ensure a real flow to the words. Cutting back any words I can. If I’ve said something with twelve words and I can say it with ten, I cut it. If I’ve said something with five words and I can say it with three, I cut it. If I can change a seven letter word to a four letter word, I change that.
Then I send it to my editor and publisher, Lou Aronica. Lou reads the whole book, gives me a five to eight page report on EVERYTHING, commenting mostly on story structure.  And then, can you guess what I do? REWRITE it again, polishing, polishing, polishing. Then Lou reads it again and I polish, polish, polish.
And then it’s done!
When you were in middle school, what kind of student were you? Did you write then?
LORY'S ANSWER: I always wrote. In grade three I was writing and organizing school plays, believe it or not. But life, ADD, dyslexia and a whole bunch of other things got in my way and ended up in business till I was in my 50s. And what type of a student was I? A complete failure. Back in those days they had no idea about ADD and dyslexia, so I was categorized as lazy, a day dreamer and someone who wasn’t living up to their potential. This caused huge insecurities which dogged me until I was in my 40s and I learned the facts about these things.  But that’s a whole other story and something for another blog.  So, the answer is YES, I always wrote.

And because it's the owl my standard question always is: WHOOO do you admire when it comes to writing? OR WHOOO do you like to read or really enjoyed in HS or middle school?
LORY'S ANSWER: Because writing is an art, it’s hard to compare writers, but here’s a few names of people I have learned a lot from, just by reading and thinking about what and why they are doing certain things.
As far as middle grade modern writers, I really like Rick Riordan and Neil Gaiman.
For young adult, right now a few of my favorites are David Benioff, Scott Westerfeld, Neil Shusterman, Suzanne Collins, to name but a few. 
When I was in high school I very most influenced by William Golding, George Orwell, Aldus Huxley, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, again, to name but a few.  

The FunQuestions! (based on what 7th graders do!)
Do you chew gum? Yes or No If yes favorite kind?
Not anymore.  When I was a kid I loved Double Bubble. 
Do you text?
Very little. My sons text me all the time, and sometimes I think it’s just faster to phone back. But sometimes it’s nice to text and know that the person can get back to you when they can.
Was school lunch just as yucky then as it is now?
Is it yucky now? I didn’t find it that yucky. When I was in grade 7, it was what was called Junior High, a school just for grades 7, 8 and 9, so in grade 7, when I moved from a public school, K to 6, I thought I was a big shot. So lunch was a time to socialize.
Thank you Lory! And good luck with the 3rd book in the trilogy!!!
If you want to know about the Verona Trilogy check out the History Camp website.  

March 27, 2012

Interview: Jen K. Blom +GIVEAWAY

Today I'd like to welcome Jen K. Blom! She is the author of two MG novels Possum Summer and the soon to be released Blue Appalosa. 

Possum Summer
a lonely kid.
a dad that says no way.
how do you keep that kind of secret?
and what happens when you’re found out? 
an orphaned baby possum.
Possum Summer is a heartbreaking novel about a girl and her father whose fractious relationship is healed by the hard lessons they learn about love and letting go.

Blue Appalosa (to be released May 2013)
Abby, a girl from Virginia visits her estranged father and his feedlot in Texas for the first time ever - learning just how fleeting real affection and friendship can be when she falls in love with the wrong horse.
Welcome Jen so glad you could join on on The O.W.L.! 

We'll start with some easy questions.

Point of View: First !!

Boy or Girl main character: Hm. Hard to answer. Girls, mostly so far. But boy books are in the pipeline!

Genre: ANIMALS all the way, baby!

More boy or girl book (stereotypically): Hm. I guess more stereotypically girl.

The Serious Questions!
Why MG instead of any other age level?
At the Middle grade age, you really truly LIVE it. All the ups and downs, and hormones, and OMG I AM GOING TO DIE feelings…that is truly the most authentic age group there is.

For you MG novel what part are you most excited about? What part do you think they'll enjoy reading the most or was the most fun to write?
For my book POSSUM SUMMER, I enjoyed the possum pooping part the best – and I’ve had feedback from readers that they loved it, too. :)

For my upcoming book BLUE APPALOOSA (Fall 2012) I really enjoy the part where Abby, our protag, touches the horse she’s dreamed of petting for the first time.

When you were in middle school kind of student were you? Did you write then? Did you read?
I read. I was a bookworm with a capital B! I was also a humungous dork. BUT – I wouldn’t change it for the world, now, because I have so much raw material I’ll be writing about it forever! (I read too. I didn’t like any other subject). 

And because it's the owl my standard question always is: WHOOO do you admire when it comes to writing? OR WHOOO do you like to read or really enjoyed in HS or middle school?
I love animal books. I love Sterling North and his Rascal, and Wilson Rawls’ books are a highlight. I also love Mercedes Lackey (especially in high school). She does talking animals and hawks like no one else I’ve ever read. Anne McCaffrey, too…I wanted a fire lizard SO MUCH.

The Fun Questions! (based on what 7th graders do!)
Do you chew gum? 
Yes or No If yes favorite kind? Nope! Gum is icky!

Do you text?
I have an iPhone so I find myself emailing more now. :)

Was school lunch just as yucky then as it is now?!

Thanks Jen! I love animal books too! And the possom pooping??? Interesting :)
To learn more about Jen and her books check out her website.

Now for a giveaway.  
Jen has offered up a copy of Possom Summer and  LookBook (a notebook) much like what P uses in the book!

To enter fill out the Rafflecopter below.
Must be at least 13

March 24, 2012

7's Up: In the Spotlight

I love teaching 7th grade, and I love hearing their thoughts on reading.  And I really don't care if the thoughts are the good, the bad or the ugly! I can deal with them all.  Well Saturday's are now the day I'll be highlighting them - the real reason I run this blog.  Bi-weekly I'll be feature a MG reader.  These are the kids that are really out there reading MG and YA books.  And these are their thoughts on reading.  For the spotlight they answer a bunch of questions about their reading.

Today Our Spotlight Focuses On: Trevor!

What book are you currently reading (or JUST finished). AND in one sentence tell what you thought of it. I just finished Dust and Decay and thought was the best book ever made!!!

What are your favorite kinds of books/authors? I mostly read action books or zombie books. I LOVE reading books by Jonathan Maberry!!! 

For a bookmark you use....... Who needs a bookmark????? :)

If you could only take one book with you on a deserted island what book would it be??? Dust and Decay

I like to read because........... I like to read sense it passes time and make me have a better imagination.

When I'm not reading I'm......... Doing homework, Eating, Hanging out with friends, Playing video games

If a kid didn't really like reading - what book would you recommend that you think would get them reading? Rot and Ruin

When someone says reading is dumb or stupid you say.......... I say "Hey NO"

I think Mrs. F is obsessed with books and reading????? YES!!! She's crazy! But a good crazy :)

When someone bugs me while reading I........... Threaten to hit them with my book if they don't stop

On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your love of reading? 8

When I'm looking for a book to read I find one by........ Looking at Mrs. F's books

I prefer hardcover or paperbacks. Hardcover

I cheat and read the end of the book first or before I get to it. Gasp no! Never! That's horrible!

Thanks Trevor for sharing your thoughts on reading! And I agree - Rot & Ruin is an amazing book!

March 23, 2012

Author Interview: Charles London

Today I welcome Charles London to the blog for a second time! I had the pleasure of hosting him earlier and reviewing We Are Not Eaten by Yaks.  
Check out my review HERE and his guest post HERE.

This time around he has answered some questions for us. But first about his books.

We are Not Eaten by Yaks (An Accidental Adventure #1)
Eleven-year-old twins Oliver and Celia Navel live on the 4-1/2th floor of the Explorers Club with their father, Dr. Navel. Their mother, Dr. Navel, has been missing for years. So when an explorer shows up with a clue as to where his wife could be, Dr. Navel drags Oliver and Celia to Tibet to find her. Once there, the twins fall out of airplanes, encounter Yetis, travel through waterfalls, and end up in the Demon Fortress of the Warrior King where they-just possibly-might find their mother and save their father from the Poison Witches. Thing is, they would much rather be watching television. And if their trip doesn't work out as planned, the twins could end up as slaves to Sir Edmund Thitheltorpe III, an evil explorer with breath that smells like boiled carrots, who has it in for the whole Navel family. 
We Dine with Cannibals (An Accidental Adventure #2)
When we last saw Oliver and Celia Navel, they had fallen into the clutches of Sir Edmund S. Titheltorpe-Schmidt III and were doomed to spend their entire summer vacation doing his deadly bidding. In their second unwanted adventure, "We Dine with Cannibals," Oliver and Celia will travel from the ruins of ancient temples to the shadowy forests of the Amazon. They'll need all their reality TV survival skills when they ride a llama, race the rapids, and even fly an airplane If that's not enough excitement for you (it is decidedly too much excitement for Oliver and Celia Navel), they'll be forced to learn the proper etiquette for a cannibal feast and confront the strangest and most brutal rite of passage ever devised by human imagination: dodgeball.  
 And We Give a Squid a Wedgie comes out in June!!! 

Welcome Charles! We'll start with the easy questions first. 

Point of View: 1st or 3rd: 3rd person, but very much from the main characters’ point of view 

Boy or Girl main character: Both! A brother and sister

Genre: Comedy-Adventure

More boy or girl book (stereotypically) I really don’t think there are girl or boy books. The Accidental Adventures sometimes gets called a ‘boy book series’ but I think there are girls who like wedgie jokes and fast-paced action and boys who just want to read a love story (the Accidental Adventures don’t have a love story, alas). I would say these are silly books, and silly has no gender! 

The Serious Questions!

Why MG instead of any other age level?
Because when I was in that age group, I wasn’t much of a reader and I wanted to write the kinds of books I wished I’d had. You never love a book as much as you do at that age…you also never hate a book as much, so I guess it’s a gamble! 

For you MG novel what part are you most excited about? What part do you think they'll enjoy reading the most or was the most fun to write?
I love the snark! As danger and adventure come flying at my reluctant heroes, Oliver and Celia, they never lose their wit, their eye-rolls, and their snarky comments. I loved writing scenes like that, where they’re hanging off the edge of a cliff, bored, or battling the Yeti and wishing they were watching reality TV instead. The absurdity of their attitudes is my favorite part.

When you were in middle school kind of student were you? Did you write then? Did you read? 
I was a pretty indifferent middle school student…not the best in the class, not the worst and not all that engaged with school. I was a day-dreamer and it took a lot of work for my poor teachers to keep me focused. I loved to write and to make up stories, but it wasn’t until later that I really became a devoted reader. Of course, once I discovered writers I loved, I became a complete book addict and remain one to this day. But back in middle school, I much preferred telling stories to studying them, and making my teachers crazy to actually doing my homework. Somehow, with patience, they got me through and I may have even learned a thing or two along the way.

And because it's the owl my standard question always is: WHOOO do you admire when it comes to writing? OR WHOOO do you like to read or really enjoyed in HS or middle school? 
I read a lot and widely, so my taste is all over the map. Writers I admire, for younger readers: I think Gary Schmidt is a genius. He can evoke so much power in a simple moment perfectly described. The same goes for Katherine Patterson. I also think Suzanne Collins is a master of plot and pacing and I learned a lot from reading her. MT Anderson’s Feed is one of my favorite YA novels, but Patrick Ness is probably my favorite YA author. The Chaos Walking trilogy haunts me still. In high school, I discovered Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey at the right time for a teenage boy and then the assured story telling of Russell Banks got me hooked on novels. Don Dellilo’s books showed me how a sentence can pop like fireworks and right now, I think David Mitchell is probably the most exciting living novelist. I have never read a book quite like his Cloud Atlas. Not an easy read, but it does astonish. At the same time, I love Stephen King, so my taste really is all over the place! That’s the great thing about books…there are so many, you never have to choose and you can learn a little something from every one of them, even ones you don’t like. It’s a bit of magic. Good books can change your life for the better, while bad books are entirely forgettable.

The Fun Questions! (based on what 7th graders do!)
Do you chew gum? Yes or No If yes favorite kind? 
I love candy, but for some reason, I hate gum with the raging heat of a thousand burning suns. I have no idea why. It’s not rational. But I really hate gum. I wasn’t always this way. I used to love Bubblicious Watermelon. But things change and now I am thoroughly anti-gum.

Do you text? d00d! OMG! I <3 2 txt! (yes, I text…a lot)

Was school lunch just as yucky then as it is now?! 
Oh it was so much worse when I was in school. There wasn’t any sort of movement to make it healthy or fresh. The pizza was barely pizza: the cheese was radioactive yellow and the tomato sauce seemed to have come from the lab of a mad scientist trying to destroy the world, one lunch tray at a time. I did like the tater tots though. I still like tater tots. And pizza, but only when it’s good. I live in New York city, so it’s easy to find good pizza. Although, New York City school lunches, from what are hear, are still pretty awful.

Thank you so much for visiting today!  And I agree - the main characters attitudes (aka snark) is fantastic!

March 22, 2012

Middle Grade Fantasy Classics by Charlotte from Charlotte's Library

Today I welcome Charlotte from Charlotte's Library.  
She has this fantastic post every Sunday where she rounds up all the MG fantasy reviews/highlights from around the blogosphere!  Fantastic - check it out!!

Today she is here to talk about Middle Grade Fantasy Classics.  Welcome Charlotte!

The first room in our dilapidated old house that was finished was our unborn son's bedroom, complete with built in bookshelves. I carefully placed there all the books on my mental list of fantasy "classics"--the books that I considered essential reading for a child of mine. It was part of a Plan.

My Son's Bookcase

Tolkein, in his classic essay "On Fairy -Stories," speaks of the Cauldron of Story, in which simmers a multitude of things old, potent, beautiful, comic, and terrible. Out of this soup can be drawn new stories. I want my boys to have in their minds as full a cauldron as I can give them, not only so that they can, if they wish, be creators of their own stories, but so that they can also take from the world of story an appreciation for the numinous--the flashes of joy or chills on the back of the neck that come from seeing something beyond the mundane world--and bring that back into "real" life.

In much the same way that learning a language is easier when you are young, I think that it is easier to fill your imagination when you are not yet a teenager, or (even worse) a grown-up. When you're a child meeting various stories for the first time, the impact of a new book is much greater than it is for an older and more cynical reader like myself--I have read of a hundred lamp-posts in snowy woods (or more accurately lamp-post equivalents), and so I can't help but be a bit blase. For the child, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe holds the first Lamp-post, and there's no world-weariness born of experience (such as one might have at 13) to keep it from being an awe-inspiring moment.

These images and emotions become evocative signifiers--touchstones for life, building blocks of the imagination, reminders of the past. It's not just me who thinks so; Neil Gaiman said in the introduction to M is for Magic (p. ix)--"Stories that you read when you're the right age never quite leave you... if they touch you, they will haunt the places in your mind that you rarely visit."

And so I feel a sense of urgency in making sure that my boys read the books that I consider the fantasy classics, while they are still in the "middle grade" age bracket of nine to twelve years old. I want so badly myself to be "the right age" for many books, knowing how much they would have thrilled me back in the day, that it is almost painful to think that that age is passing by for my children.

On a slightly more selfish level, I want my children to speak the same literary language as my husband and myself. I want them to recognize quotes and allusions to shared stories, to know the same myths and
metaphors as we do. The books that I consider the middle grade fantasy classics are simply the ones that were the basis of my own literacy, and of course every parent who is a reader themselves will have a somewhat different list.

But in any event, here's mine.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
Moominland Midwinter, and the other Moomin books, by Tove Jannson
The Dark is Rising and the other books in that series, by Susan Cooper
The works of E. Nesbit and Edward Eager,
Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series
C.S. Lewis' Narnia books
Mary Poppins, by P. L. Travers
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Thirteen Clocks, by James Thurber
The Green Book, by Jill Paton Walsh
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle

To this list my husband brought A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner, and The Midnight Folk, by John Masefield (all fine books that I'm happy to count as classics, but which, because I didn't read them myself until I was older, weren't immediately books I put in my son's room!).

The process of making sure these books get read to the boys is going fairly well. On the plus side my youngest is now reading The Hobbit to himself for the third time and my oldest can quote Alice; on the
negative side The Dark is Rising was rejected, and Nesbit evoked only polite interest.

However, I am less worried than I was at the onset of this whole reading to children business. I'm more aware then I was that reading is in large part a social and situational thing, and my children are going to be finding classics within their communities. I'm thinking of Harry Potter, and the Warriors series, and Percy Jackson, and even The Hunger Games--YA in name, but de facto middle grade.

These are the stories that make up the shared vocabulary of the playground, and are the icons of its culture. Though none of these books evoked in me any awe or stunned shock of recognition, I can't say that they haven't done so for my children. They (typically) refused to answer directly when I asked them if this was the case, but there are still indications. Yesterday, for instance, my little one spent an hour in the woods alone, telling himself Story as he lived the life of a Warrior kitten, growing from from Maplekit to Maplepaw.
Those books, that do little for me, might well end up the classics he presses on his own children.

As my children grow older, I wonder what books I'll read to my grandchildren; in particular, which books from the past ten years of middle grade fantasy books galore, I will think of as "must read" classics. Of those that have recently won Newbery Awards, the only one I'm betting on is Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin. Many of my own favorites, like Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman, and Letters to Anyone and Everyone, by Toon Tellegan, don't seem to me to have enough general appeal to be classics.

But in any event, when my putative grandchildren come visit, all the books their fathers read and loved will still be here waiting for them. Unless their fathers sneak off with the books behind their
mother's back....

Please do share the middle grade fantasy books you consider classics! I can't help but notice that the books I've listed are all over forty years old, and so I have a question for those of you who were children in the eighties and nineties in particular--what books from those decades do you hold dear?

Thank you so much for this post! I never really enjoyed fantasy book until Harry Potter! Now I love them :)

March 21, 2012

7th Grade Guest Review: The Unwanteds

Today I have a guest review by one of my 7th graders.  He is reviewing the mg book The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths. 
Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret—behind the mirage of the "death farm" there is instead a place called Artime. 
In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it's a wondrous transformation. 
But it's a rare, unique occurence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron's bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.
The Review

Your Name Tyler

Why did you decide to pick up this book and read it?
I picked it up because the cover had a short sentence reading something like "The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter". And I enjoyed both of the Novels.

Did you like the book? Please explain why you liked it or not.
I liked it very much. Fast paced, interesting, and plenty of action, and of course the distopia, my kind of book.

What part did you like the best and why?
I liked the ending the best because that was when the most action occurred and the excitement got to me. I couldn't stop reading.

Tell me what you thought of the main character(s). Did you like him/her/them? Did you like how they acted/reacted to events in the story?

The characters were very well put together, the author put a lot of thought into the character Mr. Today. He was the man providing refuge for the "unwanteds" in a magical kind of world. His wisdom, decisions, and appearance reminded me a lot of like "Dumbledore", from Harry Potter. They also have funny names in common.

Would you recommend this book to a friend?
Yes, it's a good, average length book that would stick with you even after finishing it. It makes you think, predict, and sometimes laugh. Very interesting.

Tell me anything else about the book and your opinion of it that you want to share!
"The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter" was very true to the book. You'll regret not picking it up.