November 16, 2013

Author Interview: Walter Dean Myers and a Chance to Help Give to The Fallen Heros Fund

I'm unbelievably excited today! 
I had the amazing chance to ask one of  my most favorite authors, Walter Dean Myers a few question about his book Fallen Angels.  

Before I get into the interview you need to understand how much I love that book.  When I first started teaching 18 years ago I read Fallen Angels and was blown away.  It was the first YA book I read that was raw and realistic.  It showed me how powerful books for teens can be.  It has, since then, continued to hold a special place in my heart.  So when I was contacted by Goodman Media to share a wonderful opportunity to both share about the launch of Fallen Angels in ebook form and help veterans I jumped at the chance.  But then they offered to let me ask Mr. Myers some questions.  I just about fell over! I could not be more excited to share this all with you.

First if you don't know about Fallen Angels:

FALLEN ANGELS tells the story of seventeen-year-old Richie Perry, a Harlem teenager who volunteers for the service when his dream of attending college falls through. Perry and his platoon - Peewee, Lobel, Johnson, and Brunner - come face-to-face with the Vietcong, the harsh realities of war, and some dark truths about themselves. The book has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Coretta Scott King Award, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a Booklist Editors’ Choice, and a School Library Journal Best Book.

Now I would like to welcome Walter Dean Myers to The OWL

First I’d like to ask about Fallen Angels.  It was written at time when books this realistic were not widely written for teens.  What lead you to write the story and what did you hope teens would gain from reading it? 
The initial story was prompted by my own experiences.  I joined the Army at 17, full of spirit and patriotism, and little knowledge about war. My younger brother joined after I did and was killed on his first day in Vietnam.  A sobering experience.  I realized, of course, that I had influenced his entry into the military.  I wanted, needed, to remove the romanticism that had influenced me to join and this became my impetus for writing the book.  I wanted teens to understand the brutality of war when they were thinking of joining the Armed forces and also later, when they were in positions to influence our nation’s entry into wars.

Some people shy away from sharing Fallen Angels with students because of its content and the language in it.  What is your response to that issue? 

The bottom line of personal involvement is that you are asked to kill people you do not know, who have not personally offended you, and who might not be a danger to you if you did not engage them on the battlefield. To accomplish this soldiers are taught to dehumanize the enemy. Young men and women, fresh out of high school, need to be changed into young killers.  They are encouraged to use language and symbols that turns Asians into Gooks, Charlies, and the like. Unfortunately this language often slips over into the relations between soldiers.  I should have explained this better in the book.

You now have a sequel, Sunrise over Fallujah, and a prequel, Invasion, to Fallen Angels.  The stories take place many years apart.  Why did you decide to create the series in that way? 

What constantly shocks me is the seemingly never ending idea that violence can possibly answer man’s problems. Today, nations continue to build atomic arsenals at a time when the entire world is convinced that these weapons can end all life on this planet.  The poorest nations spend their resources on arms and soldiers instead of feeding their people. Can’t we ever learn that wars don’t work?  Perhaps not. But we have to teach that wars are not the answer.   It’s our only hope.  I keep revisiting the different conflicts in an effort to understand the thinking that caused them.

Your stories withstand the test of time.  Fallen Angels was first published in 1988, yet students still relate to the characters now?  Why do you think that is?

We are fascinated by the extremes of human emotion.  Love, fear, hatred, serve as beacons to help us explore the feelings that drive us from day to day. When those extremes are combined, when the fear of combat is melded with the friendship of the young soldiers, we recognize the  complex stages of our own lives.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!
Thank you for your continued interest.  

I feel now like I understand the book and it's sequel/prequel much more!

Ok if you've never read Fallen Angels, or you want to reread it - November is the time to pick up the ebook.  Here is why:


Proceeds from E-Launch to Benefit Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original publication of FALLEN ANGELS, the multi-million-copy bestselling novel by current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Walter Dean Myers, Zola Books is releasing it as an e-book for the very first time.  FALLEN ANGELS, lauded as one of the best of the post-Vietnam novels, has continued to sell in paperback year after year, and today, Zola is excited to bring the powerfully moving story of a young man’s first experience of war to an even wider audience. 

Released on November 7, 2013, the FALLEN ANGELS e-book will include a bonus interview with Walter Dean Myers. The discussion covers Myers’s perspective on how war has changed over the years, the most poignant reader reactions to FALLEN ANGELS, his advice for readers coming to it for the first time, and more.

To commemorate the e-release, days before Veterans’ Day, Zola Books will launch a limited time promotion to raise funds for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, an independent not-for-profit organization that has provided close to $150 million in support for the families of military personnel lost in service to our nation, and for severely wounded veterans. Both Walter Dean Myers and Zola Books have agreed to donate 100% of their proceeds from all sales from November 7 through November 30.  The FALLEN ANGELS e-book will be available for $6.99.

You can find the book HERE.
And it can be read on Nooks, Kindles and tablets.

“I have been a fan of Walter Dean Myers – the writer and the man – for many years, and it is an honor to publish one of his most significant books,” said Joe Regal, CEO and co-founder of Zola Books. “There is no better way to honor Walter’s body of work, particularly FALLEN ANGELS, than by making a donation to the IFHF, an organization that offers tremendous support to the men and women who have sacrificed for our country.”

About Walter Dean Myers:
Walter Dean Myers is the New York Times bestselling author of Monster, the winner of the first Michael L. Printz Award, the 2012-2013 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and inaugural NYC Literary Honoree. Myers has received almost every single major award in the field of children’s literature. He is the author of two Newbery Honor books and five Coretta Scott King Awardees. He is the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, a three-time National Book Award Finalist, as well as the first-ever recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was the 2010 United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and is considered one of the preeminent writers for young people. Walter lives in Jersey City, NJ with his family. You can visit him online

About Zola Books:
Zola Books' mission is to create an online paradise for book lovers. Zola takes everything readers do in the real world – browse bookstores, read book reviews, visit blogs, follow authors, share reviews and recommendations, and buy all kinds of books – and puts it all in one place. Zola also shares profits with booksellers who recommend books online and off. In addition, Zola offers exclusive e-books from major writers - including The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The New Hunger by Isaac Marion, and The Accidental Victim by James Reston Jr. Visit us at and follow us at @zolabooks.

November 8, 2013

Early Book Review: Panic by Lauren Oliver

Title: Panic
Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: 14+
Stand alone book
Release Date: March 14

Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn't know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

I loved Lauren Oliver's book Before I Fall.  It is long lasting favorite of mine.  I also read Delirium and enjoyed it as well (I never did go on to the rest of the series tho), so when I was able to get an advanced copy of her new book Panic I was really excited.  Now that I've finished it, I have mixed emotions.  Really mixed emotions.  There were parts I enjoyed a lot, but some parts seemed predictable.  Without having spoilers, I can't tell you exactly what I found predictable.

I liked the fact that Oliver went back to realistic fiction with this book.  (Although Before I Fall is NOT complete realistic fiction it feels like it) There is so much dystopia and fantasy that is was nice to go back to something real! The main character Heather was great.  She is so strong! Heather's mom is really not a mom.  She drinks, doesn't come home sometimes, and treats them like an inconvenience sometimes.  Heather uses this to push herself to try to be better. She takes care of her little sister Lily and because more a mom to her.  But at the same time, she has a typical teenage experience - boyfriends, good friends, parties.  I liked that there was this balance.  It made her seem more realistic.  It also made her decision to join the game Panic less understandable to me! That was ok though because even she isn't completely sure why she decided to join.  The other characters were good too.  The character of Dodge was good even though as a person I didn't care for him.  I understand why he was the way he was, so I got him.  Natalie, Heather's best friend, could have been developed more as well as Bishop another friend.  

I also liked Panic itself. You need to understand that this is a long standing tradition for graduating seniors that everyone at least gives money to the pot that goes to the winner! You can opt out of playing Panic, but you can't opt out of 100% of it.  I loved how Panic showed how desperate some kids are to get out of the life they've been handed, and how they'll do anything to take a chance to get out. You see Panic can be deadly.  So here are kids willing to take that much of a risk for a way out.  As an adult I can see the error in their willingness to play because I know there are other ways to get out of the place they are in now - but I could see and understand why they joined. 

What I didn't like - or what bothered me...  There was a huge part of the plot that I couldn't buy into as well because I saw from the start where it was headed.  I could tell that it was put into the story for one purpose, and when it actually happened in the story I was saying "I told you so"! This held me back from truly really really liking the book.  It was too coincidental or something but it bothered me. I'm sorry I can't go into detail about exactly what this was, but I don't want to spoil anything!

Final thought:  I liked it but was held back from LOVING it.

For the guys?  Hmmmmm I'd love to say yes.  It does give the perspective of another player in the game, Dodge, so they'd get a boy's view.  But I'm not sure that would be enough for this story to really appeal to boys.  

Note: this book is clearly for ages 14+  These are graduating seniors, so some of the things they say and do are clearly not for the younger age group.  

Review: Cool Creations in 35 Pieces

Title: Cool Creations in 35 Pieces
Author: Sean Kenney
Genre: Nonfiction
Ages: ALL!

About the Book
Building with LEGO® pieces can inspire children and adults alike to construct wonderfully imaginative and grand creations – towering castles, massive aircrafts, and intricate cities. But LEGO models don’t have to be complicated to be fun and exciting. InCool Creations in 35 Pieces, best-selling author and artist Sean Kenney taps deep into his imagination with an exercise that will challenge readers of all ages. He creates dozens of figures—from menacing robots with names like Blurg and Scraps, to transforming trucks, to creatures that live in the rainforest—out of LEGOs, but uses no more than 35 pieces in each construct.

Cool Creations in 35 Pieces is Sean’s sixth book that showcases his LEGO art work. His intricate-yet-simple designs will inspire millions of LEGO fans to unleash their own imaginations. He provides starting points, and also includes a step-by-step instruction guide on how he created his pieces.

Sean Kenney ABCAbout the Author
Sean Kenney is an artist who creates sculptures and models out of LEGO bricks at his studio in New York City. A LEGO-certified professional, Kenney has toured the world with his creations and produced six inspirational and instructive children’s books, including Cool Castles, Cool Robots, among others. To find out more information about his books and artwork, visit

My Son's Thoughts

I have a 12 year old son who loves Legos.  This is him a few years back after a trip to the Lego store.

He constantly amazes me with the creations he comes up with.  Several years ago he made a Titanic look alike! So when I was offered this book for review I knew I had the perfect expert for it sitting right in my house! I told him about the book, and he was interested right away.  He asked if it was here yet several times as we waited for it to arrive. Finally it came!

I watched him pour over the ideas in the book, and then instantly went over to our HUGE two tubs of Legos and start digging.  Within 15 minutes he had made a few of the ideas. 

Here's what he did:

So later I asked him what he thought about the book.  You need to understand my son is a boy of few words when it comes to praising something! Just getting to say he likes something can be difficult.

Here was our exchange

Me: What did you think of it?
Him: It was good.
Me: Was there ideas in there that you liked?
Him: Yes.
Me: A lot or just a few?
Him: A lot.
Me: Did you find things you hadn't thought of?
Him: Yes.  I mean I hadn't thought of making the city like it showed.
Me: What did you make that you liked?
Him: Well...... the city like I said.  Also the gas station.
Me: Were the instructions good?
Him: Yes
Me: To keep it fair was there anything you didn't like?
Him: There was a few things shown in the pictures that I couldn't find in the instructions.
Me: Did you just miss them?  
Him: No.
(I verified this.....)
Me: Do you think it's a good book?
Him: Yes.
Me: Why?
Him: Because it had good ideas and you only needed a few bricks.  Except sometimes they were rare bricks and I had to dig to find them.
Me: Did it show you some ways to use bricks that you hadn't thought of before?
Him: Yes (and then he went on to explain what brick and EXACTLY how you used it in a way he hadn't thought of but as a non-Lego person I didn't get it)
Me: So it was a good book and you'd give it a good review?
Him: Yes

Isn't he just detailed???? So according to a 12 year old boy who loves Legos this is a good book.  As his mom - I liked it because it kept him busy NOT on the computer.  I'd suggest it for any Lego lovers you have in your life.  It would be a perfect holiday gift!

Ps I liked the Nutty Animals and Goofy Faces- cute ideas there. 

November 7, 2013

Author Interview: M.D. Payne - Monster Juice Series

Today Hooked on Books is happy to welcome M.D. Payne. He is the author of the fun Monster Juice Series.

My students brainstormed questions they had for an author, and I narrowed it down to the most common or interesting. Before we get to the answers a bit about the books.

The Fear the Barfitron
When Chris Taylor discovers that the residents of the retirement home where he volunteers are secretly monsters--and have stolen what appears to be his life essence--he leaves to recruit his friends to help him get it back. But once they return to the retirement home, the boys find themselves at the center of a vomit-inducing war against some of the grossest monsters this world has ever encountered. Will Chris and his friends join the residents to fight off the Barfitron?

Chris Taylor and his friends are sent on an unexpected school field trip to a remote tropical island--only to find their new monstrous friends waiting for them. Once again, they need the boys' help: A new evil is on the rise. And it's a frightening sea monster made entirely out of dead skin. Will the boys be able to help defeat such a monster?

They look like pure fun!

Now for the interview.  Welcome to Hooked on Books!

Why do you write?
This question reminds me of a famous quote made by one of the first people to climb Mount Everest, George Mallory. When asked why he wanted to climb Everest, George replied, “Because it’s there.” The idea of doing something simply because you feel like you must rings true for me. I write because I feel I have to create, and I’ve been lucky enough, after years of dabbling in music, acting, audio production, radio, film and television that I’ve found a really fun creative outlet.

Does writing all day get boring?
I would love to find out! At the moment, I juggle my children’s book writing with a full-time job and a family that includes a beautiful 14-month old girl. That being said, my full-time job as a Director of Communications at a private school in Manhattan also requires a large amount of writing, and it does sometimes feel like I’m stuck in a computer all day long. So, I wouldn’t say it gets “boring” so much as, like anything you do non-stop, endless and overwhelming. Sometimes I feel like I spend so much time writing that I can’t communicate properly without a keyboard in front of me.

When you were in middle school did you like to write? When did you start writing?
I’ve always liked writing. When I was seven, I wrote a book of cool presidential facts—not for school or my parents or anyone but me. (That reminds me—I really need to ask my mother where that is!) In middle school I won the Young Writer’s Competition and had my worked published in my local paper, the Idaho Statesman. I just recently re-read my story, Creatures of the Night, and I was shocked at how violent it was. I was writing for adults as a kid, and now, as an adult, I’m writing for kids! But, it’s all been horror so far.

Where you a big reader when you were a kid?
Yes! I remember reading during recess out in the huge grass field behind Rio Vista Elementary School. I read a lot in elementary school—Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The House with the Clock in its Walls, A Wrinkle in Time, and countless other tales. By the time I hit middle school, I spent most of my free time playing video games, but I still read, mainly Stephen King and lots of non-fiction.

This premise of this series is pretty funny and crazy. What was the inspiration for them?  Where did the ideas come from?
The series started with a very simple idea—what would a retirement home filled with monsters look like? Then, I had to figure out what would happen if kids unraveled the secret of the retirement home. Then, I realized the reason that the old monsters were so old was because newer, more evil monsters were taking over. And what would save the old monsters, and in turn, all of humanity? Gross stuff. Barf and burps. By then, I was just really excited to see how I could mix everything together—be funny, gross and scary all at once, but in a way that moved the story along.

I have so many influences. On the funny-scary side, Goosebumps was a huge influence, as was The Addams Family and The Munsters. On the funny-gross side, my number one influence was the cartoon Ren and Stimpy, which to this day I regard as the funniest thing ever animated. And I’ve always been a funny person—I love making people laugh.

Are any of the characters in Monster Juice series based on people you know or people you’ve met?
Many of the characters in Monster Juice are based on people I know. I actually had a really hard time figuring out how to write the first book, until I started thinking about my own time at middle school, and all of the people I knew there. That’s what got me goin’! Chris is me as a kid, so I get to write as “myself.” Shane is a dear friend of mine from middle school who is like his namesake in many ways—having a black belt, for one. Ben is an interesting character because I wrote him with an adult friend of mine in mind--I never actually knew him as a kid. Gordon is totally made up. Then there are teachers featured who actually were real—Mr. Stewart is the greatest science teacher of all time, and I was lucky to have him in the 8th grade.

How long did it take you to write either book? How many times did this book get sent back to the editor for changes? – Basically how many drafts did it go through – how long did it take?
Fear the Barfitron took a really long time, as I was working with my editor on the entire series idea as well as the first book that would kick it off. We started talking about the idea in 2009, and it wasn’t until mid-2011 that I really started drafting. Then, it took about a year of going back and forth with changes and refinements to make it right. The main bulk of the book went through 3 major drafts before we focused in on just a few sections and finished it off. Fartsunami was a completely different beast—it only took 2-3 months to draft, there were only a few structural changes in a second draft, and then a lot of changes came after it was laid out because it was too long. I think, all told, Fartsunami took 6 months from beginning to end.

What is the hardest part about writing this series?
This was my first series, as well as my first books, so the hardest part was just answering the question, “Can I really do this?!” I had a lot of doubts that I had to break through, and I also had to learn patience—as you see from above, writing a book takes a lot of time! The second hardest thing was writing for 8-10 year olds—you become quite limited not only by simpler words but by simpler plot devices: you can’t confuse the reader or they’ll slam the book shut, but you need to keep the story going. I think I hit a happy medium.

What is something you want us to know about this series?
I had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs writing it, so I hope that readers have a lot of fun and tons of laughs while reading it. It takes a while to get into the characters and the story, but then once the second half gets cookin’, BOOM, you’re off! So be patient. I know I had to be. J

Thank you so much for visiting with us! If you want to know more about the series check out the video below or M.D. Payne's Tumblr account House of Payne.

This interview was also ran on my student book review blog Hooked on Books.

November 3, 2013

Middle Grade Monday: Chomp

It's Middle Grade Monday!

For those of you that don't know - the great MG (and YA) author Shannon Messenger started a great movement to make Monday "Middle Grade Monday".  Every Monday she has a posts filled with links of great MG books that are being shared and reviewed.  
I have been thinking for a long time that The O.W.L. should be MG only just because there are so few blogs with that focus.  I've tried, but it's gets frustrating that my MG posts get so few comments etc.  
But you what, it's time - time to promote MG!

(My student blog also has a MGM review up for The Farfield Curse by Bran Hambric)

Here's this week's book:

Title: Chomp

Author: Carl Hiaasen
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: 9-12
Stand Alone Book

Wahoo Cray lives in a zoo. His father is an animal wrangler, so he's grown up with all manner of gators, snakes, parrots, rats, monkeys, snappers, and more in his backyard. The critters he can handle. His father is the unpredictable one.

When his dad takes a job with a reality TV show called "Expedition Survival!", Wahoo figures he'll have to do a bit of wrangling himself—to keep his dad from killing Derek Badger, the show's boneheaded star, before the shoot is over. But the job keeps getting more complicated. Derek Badger seems to actually believe his PR and insists on using wild animals for his stunts. And Wahoo's acquired a shadow named Tuna—a girl who's sporting a shiner courtesy of her old man and needs a place to hide out.

They've only been on location in the Everglades for a day before Derek gets bitten by a bat and goes missing in a storm. Search parties head out and promptly get lost themselves. And then Tuna's dad shows up with a gun . . .

It's anyone's guess who will actually survive "Expedition Survival". . . .

Ok I have a confession to make, and you may all gasp at this........I've never read a Carl Hiaasen book before! I've seen them all and heard about how good they are (Flush, Hoot, Scat), but I just never picked one up to read it.  Then this summer I did this program called Camp Read-a-Lot, and Chomp was one of the choices.  I decided it was time.  And I'm so excited because it was great! Now I can wholeheartedly recommend it to my students.

I found this book to be funny, serious, fast-paced and smartly done. It was funny because of the character of Derek Badger.  Here is a guy that plays on survivalist on TV but is clearly not one in real life.  The problem is - he's believing the hype about himself, so he thinks he can do all kinds of things he can't do.  This gets him into one problem after another.  I found myself just shaking my head at him but laughing at him too - especially towards the end of the book (but I can't say way or I'd spoil it!).  He's written so larger than life that he almost become a caricature of a real person.  Thankfully it's kept from getting to crazy and totally unbelievable.

I also liked the character of Wahoo (how can you not like a kid name Wahoo). He's such a smart kid - figuring out how to keep his dad, the 
TV crew and himself - all under control.  Over and over again he had to figure out how to keep his dad on the job he was hired to do for the TV show.  He had to remain calm when his dad was ranting and ready to walk.  You could easily see what Wahoo does has unrealistic, but honestly I could see a kid acting like him especially growing up in the family Wahoo grew up in.

I need to talk about the story of Tuna.  This is a young girl that Wahoo and his dad end up helping.  If there was any part of the story that was unrealistic this might have been it.  I like Tuna's story - she's on the run from her dad - but how she ends up with Wahoo's family seemed a bit unrealistic.  What I liked was how her mind worked. Wahoo was street smart, but Tuna added the book smart that was often times needed.

Lastly I liked the message embedded into the story.  It dealt with how we treat the environment.  What I liked was that it was clearly there - there was no  missing the message - BUT it didn't club you over the head with it in a super preachy way.  It just made it clear in a way that you saw the affects of NOT taking care of animals and the land they live on.  Well done there!

Final thought:  I'm glad I got to meet Wahoo and these crazy cast of characters.  Enjoyable and smart.

For the Guys?  Yup for sure.  Wahoo is someone boys could relate to, and I think many would enjoy the outdoor aspect of the book.  

November 2, 2013

Under 14's Only Month at The Book Zone (AKA MG Books!)

Hey all I wanted to share a great month long event that is happening over at The Book Zone.  The entire month of November is decided at U14 books - we here in the US know them as Middle Grade (MG) books.  They are those great books written for the wonderful kids 14.  

I'm very excited to see this, because I've always felt there isn't enough focus put on this category of books.  I see YA everywhere, but it's much harder to find MG. And it's frustrating to read great MG/U14 books, review them and have very few comments.  Even more frustrating to have a giveaway and very few entries! 
So months like Under 14's Only are perfect!  

I hope you all stop over and check out the books highlighted throughout the month.  I know I will be!

Oh!  I do have to give a shout out to Shannon Messenger and her Middle Grade Mondays.  She has done a great job get the spotlight on MG books more! I really need to get my act together so I can participate more!

I also know Green Bean Teen Queen also does a Tween Tuesday post quit often.  

Plus I know there are plans in the works by Deb Marshall for another March of Middle Grade! 

Let's hear about any more that you know of! 
And lets get MG/U14's in the spotlight!!