Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Back-to-School Bookshelf Tour: Part Two

Last week the Don and I welcomed four fantastic middle grade writers to the blog. The good news: now there are eight! Please welcome them, and then enter to win each one of their books at the Rafflecoptor link below:

1) MGM: "What is the funniest mistake you ever made on your journey to publishing this book?"

Mike Grosso
Released: 9/6/2016

My funniest mistake was emailing my editor when I should have been watching my son, who was two at the time. I was trying to send my first round of revisions when he ran up to my desk and pounded on the keyboard, auto-correcting several words and sending my half-finished email in the process. That technically means my editor received an email with "I AM DRUMS Revisions" in the subject line full of incomprehensible gibberish. My son thankfully didn't interfere when I sent a follow-up later that day with an explanation of what had happened.

2) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?

Sarah Reida
MONSTERVILLE: A Lissa Black Production
Release: Sept. 20, 2016

It depends on what kind of book I'm in the mood for. If it's humor - which is what I usually read - it's Judy Blume. Gosh, I love her Fudge series. I will never forget how ashamed I felt when I was eight and accidentally left a library book of Superfudge on the back bumper of our van. When we drove the van, the book fell off, got rained on, and was then picked up by the librarian at my grade school. (Thanks, Mrs. Clasquin!). I paid for it out of my own allowance - $8. And I still have it! Partly out of shame, and partly because I truly love that book and there's no such thing as a "ruined" book so long as you can read the words. (For the record, the only ruined books I own are the THREE John Green novels my dog has eaten. The man offends him).

3) MGM: Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it.

Kathleen Burkinshaw
Released: August 2, 2016

I loved writing about the Cherry Blossom celebration because it was one of my mother’s favorite memories with her entire family and her friend.  It was also one of the last “normal” holidays before the atomic bombing on August 6th. This quote seemed to sum up my mother's thoughts: "I looked around the room at their happy faces, realizing that even though there is so much uncertainty and fear, joyful, happy moments still existed. And I smiled."

4) MGM: "What book is on your nightstand now?"

Jennie K Brown
Released: September 13

Right now I am reading What Light by Jay Asher. I love his work and was so excited to pick up a copy at ALA in late June! I'm about half way through it so far and it's absolutely magical. The setting is during the holiday season, so it gives you all the warm and fuzzy Christmas feels!


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Back-To-School Bookshelf Tour: Part One

One of the great things about being The Don's slave employee is meeting so many middle grade--I mean "top-grade"--authors. And now that autumn is upon us, The Don has turned his attention from his vegetable patch and is actively soliciting me to fill the compound with gangs of authors. Because, as he says, "September's the time for all-out reading, youse guys."

I was therefore fortunate to be approached by a merry band of middle grade authors who've organized themselves into "The Back-To-School Bookshelf Tour," and who agreed to take a stab at my Magnificent Mafioso questions. I think you'll find the answers illuminating. The Don has decided that these authors are worthy of the Order of the Eggplant, and is sending them each a vegetable basket, bruschetta, and a flask of his finest espresso.

Here we go:

1) MGM: Respect is a Middle Grade Mafioso's watchword. Use the word "respect" in a sentence or two (or a few) about writing for Middle Grade readers.

Released: September 13, 2016

When you write for middle grade readers, you have to respect their intelligence. They’re smart, they’re opinionated, and they probably know more about electronics than you do. Engage them honestly, and they’ll listen. Also, a little humour helps too.

2) MGM: If you found yourself in a tough situation, how would you use your book to get out of it?

Bridget Hodder, THE RAT PRINCE Released: August 23, 2016

If I were in a tough situation...let's say, a post-apocalyptic scenario, I would tear off THE RAT PRINCE's awesome cover (by Charles Santoso) and use it to barter for food. Then my family would make our way to a post-apocalyptic cave full of grim, sad people whose trust I would win by reading them the book and brightening their lives with the climactic happy ending (since no actual happy ending is possible in a post-apocalyptic cave).

3) MGM: Fill in the blank: I’m really awesome at….

Casey Lyall, HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. Released: September 6, 2016

Okay, I have thought of and discarded SO many answers for this question. For example, I thought, “You’re awesome at keeping secrets!” But only for other people. I’m terrible at keeping my own secrets because I get excited and blurt them out to everyone.

Then I thought, “You’re awesome at baking cookies!”But I’ve been watching the Great British Bake-Off and whoa – talk about being awesome at baking cookies.

There are more items on the list, added and scratched off, but I think I have the answer now. I’m really awesome at being me. Top notch Casey-ing happening over here. I’m the only me there is and I think I’m pretty good at it! Correction. Awesome at it.

4) MGM: If you could visit any place, where would it be?

Erin Petti, THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE, Released: September 13, 2016

I'm about to let my dork flag fly here a little bit. I desperately want to visit the locations in New Zealand where Peter Jackson filmed the Lord of the Rings movies. My husband and I have been planning this make-believe trip for literally years. I honestly can't think of a place I'd feel more at home than outside Bilbo's hobbit hole enjoying the view and a hot cup of tea.

Join this fabulous crew for a Twitter party on September the 28th:
PLUS enter this Rafflecoptor giveaway for the chance to win each of these authors' book--eight in all!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: CLOUD AND WALLFISH by Anne Nesbet

CLOUD AND WALLFISH by Anne Nesbet (Candlewick, September 2, 2016)

What It's About:
Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. And he can’t even ask them why — not because of his Astonishing Stutter, but because asking questions is against the newly instated rules. (Rule Number Two: Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because Rule Number One: They will always be listening).

As Noah—now "Jonah Brown"—and his parents head behind the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the rules and secrets begin to pile up so quickly that he can hardly keep track of the questions bubbling up inside him: Who, exactly, is listening — and why? When did his mother become fluent in so many languages? And what really happened to the parents of his only friend, Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives downstairs?

Opening Lines:
"Noah knew something was up the moment he saw his mother that May afternoon in fifth grade. She swooped up in a car he didn't recognize--that was the first thing. And, secondly, his father was sitting in the other front seat, and in Noah's family, picking up kids at school was a one-parent activity."

Why I Loved It:
As the son of a diplomat, and having lived in more than half a dozen countries, I love stories set in different locations. And you can't get much more different than East Germany in the years before the Berlin War came crashing down.

I loved the sense of skulduggery in this novel, of the sense of something not being quite right when the family sets off to East Germany and Noah has to change his name. The reader suspects the parents are spies, but quite what they are doing, and how, remains veiled. Noah continually wonders how far down the rabbit hole he's fallen--and one feels for him in this new country where so much is different. But one thing that isn't different between the U.S. and the German Democratic Republic is the possibility of friendship, and he discovers the possibility of that with a girl in his apartment building, Claudia--whom he calls Cloud. But Claudia has some secrets of her own. The novel is a wonderful puzzle. (It is not an accident that Alice in Wonderland features so prominently in it. See Anne Nesbet's post at Project Mayhem last week for more insights on that.)

Noah is also a stutterer, and it's great to see how deftly Anne Nesbet portrays this without bogging down the novel's flow.

As mentioned, Anne is a member of my group blog, PROJECT MAYHEM, and I was lucky to have her answer some questions for me. Take it away, Anne!

1) Tell us how you got to spend time in East Germany. What was hard about
living there? What was surprising?

My first stay in East Germany was in the summer of 1987. I had been
studying in France, and I saw a notice pinned up on a wall about advanced
German language programs in the GDR (East Germany). I had lived in West
Germany and spent time in the Soviet Union and was thought it would surely
be interesting and a change of pace to study in the Communist Germany, the
German Democratic Republic--and indeed it was! I made friends there,
learned a lot of German, and realized I wanted to know more about East
German literature and culture.

So I changed my dissertation topic to incorporate Soviet and East German
literature and applied to return to the GDR on a scholarly research
exchange program in 1989. My husband and I had to get married so that he
could get a visa to come with me! We were in Russia in 1988, and then
arrived in January 1989 in East Berlin. We were given what seemed to us a
very luxurious apartment to live in--the very one my main character's
family is assigned. East Germany had more consumer goods than Russia at
that time, but the surveillance of the population was much more thorough.

The only hardship we suffered was a lack of green vegetables. We couldn't
go over the Wall into West Berlin for the first three months or so because
of a tiff between the GDR and the United States about multiple-entry
visas. We could leave East Germany whenever we wanted, of course, but they
wouldn't let us back in. So for the first part of our time in Berlin, we
lived entirely on the East German economy and ate only what the East
German markets had to offer. When the green peppers arrived from Cuba in
the spring, it felt like a miracle!

As for surprises--everything was surprising. This was a country we had
known so little about, in the West, that everything was illuminating.
There were so many creative, wonderful people living there, and trying to
make their lives interesting and fulfilling despite the limits set on
where they could travel, what they could study, etcetera. We also found
the political bureaucracy quite fascinating. We would go to political
meetings around local elections (which, naturally, did not ask you to vote
between different candidates, but just to approve the candidates the Party
was offering), and we were very impressed by the courage some young people
showed in asking questions, like, once, "I don't really see why you even
need us to vote!"--and also impressed by the ability the Party men had to
drone on and on and on after a question like that, skillfully putting the
whole audience back to sleep . . . .

2) Cloud and Wallfish is different from your other books. Have you been
mulling over this story for a while? Why did you decide to write it with
explanatory notes between chapters?

My first three novels (The Cabinet of Earths, A Box of Gargoyles, and The
Wrinkled Crown) were all fantasies, with a common theme of the tension
between science and magic--so Cloud and Wallfish, set in the unmagical
year 1989 in East Berlin, is a real departure from that pattern. I never
really stopped thinking about East Germany and about my experiences there
in 1989 (and then also in 1990), though; I just didn't realize until
recently that I could use my archive from that period as "world-building"
for a novel for children.

The structure of the novel is unusual, too, as you note: there is a
fictional story in the "chapters," and then each chapter is followed by a
"secret file," with more juicy information about the historical context of
the story I'm telling. Children in the United States aren't exposed much
to history of places outside the USA, nor do they hear all that much about
important, but relatively recent, periods like the Cold War, or the fall
of the Wall in 1989. And yet it is so vital for all of us to have our
curiosity about the wider world stimulated and encouraged! History is as
amazing and surprising as any Harry Potter story--it really is.

At the same time, I think it is really essential to respect (and to poke
at) another border, that between "fiction" and "nonfiction." In the last
paragraph of the Author's Note that accompanies Cloud and Wallfish, I lay
out some of my thoughts on why engaging critically with the
fiction/nonfiction divide is so important:

"In this book, the fictional parts--the story--are mostly to be found in
the regular chapters, and the nonfictional historical material in the
Secret Files at the end of each chapter. But of course there is a lot of
history in the fictional parts of the book, and of course every account of
history always has some fiction mixed up in it. When you read a nonfiction
book, or nonfiction parts of fictional books, you have to stay as alert as
any researcher (or spy). Truth and fiction are tangled together in
everything human beings do and in every story they tell. Whenever a book
claims to be telling the truth, it is wise (as Noah's mother says at one
point) to keep asking questions."

3)Pick out a favorite scene from the novel, and tell us why it speaks to you.

I have several favorite scenes. The most fun to write was the scary bit
where Noah is being interrogated by the East Germans. When you travel
across borders as much as I have in my life, you think all the time about
the offices that must be there, hidden away behind the scenes, the
"mirrors" that are really windows, the people whose job is to question
everything the poor traveler claims is true. It's a terrible experience
for Noah, but I really enjoyed the writing of it.

The scene where Claudia and Noah cement their friendship in hard times by
working on a jigsaw puzzle together--that interaction is very close to my
heart. I do believe that working on a project together, even a simple
project like a puzzle, can help people overcome various kinds of walls
that might otherwise separate them.

Also the scene with the cloud at the end--well, I can't say much about
that, since I guess it would be a spoiler--but anyway, that image was in
my head from the very beginning of this project.

4) Have you been back to East Germany since German Reunification? If so,
what changes did you see?

I've been back a number of times, and on each occasion I have been stunned
by the changes. In 1990 we went back to East Berlin during the period
before the two Germanies were officially reunited, but after the fall of
the Wall and of the East German government. I remember it as a time of
joyful anarchy: parties being held at all hours in the old ruined
buildings in the center of East Berlin. Then in the 2000's, I went back
again to Berlin, and the old neighborhoods our friends had lived in, where
there hadn't been many trees and where the air was soaked with
coal-smoke--those neighborhoods were now full of trees and children and
adventure playgrounds for those children and excellent, inexpensive ice
cream and sidewalk cafes! It was astonishing to see how quickly the city
had evolved. It was already hard to find traces of the Wall that had stood
so long between East and West.

When I went back most recently, the feeling of the city seemed again to
have changed. Prices and rents have been rising, and fewer East Germans
can afford to stay in the old neighborhoods. I am sure this city is going
to continue to change and change and change as the years go by, as all
vibrant cities do!

5)You've done a lot of traveling in your life. Are there any places you
haven't been to yet that are on your bucket list? What sights do you want
to see?

Oh, there are so many places I haven't been! Whole continents! I've never
been anywhere in Africa or in South America, for instance. I've never
visited Japan or India. I would love to see more of China. Closer to home,
I would like to go backpacking in the Rockies. I can never get enough of

6) You're a professor at UC Berkeley. How do you balance your teaching and
academic life with your writing of fiction?

"Balance" seems an optimistic term. There's a lot of careering (nice pun
here, actually!) this way and then that way, a lot of looking at the To Do
List and despairing. I am lucky to have very inspiring colleagues and
students, though, who keep me on my toes.

THANK YOU so much, Michael, for asking me these questions! I have really
enjoyed thinking about them.

About The Author (from Project Mayhem bio:)
Anne Nesbet reads while walking, which means she relies on echolocation (or chance) to avoid injury.  She teaches film history by day and writes novels for middle-grade readers in stolen moments. (Sometimes she steals a whole week.) She plays viola, composes strange pieces of music, and is happiest above 10,000 feet. Her fantasies for middle-grade readers are THE CABINET OF EARTHS (HarperCollins 2012), A BOX OF GARGOYLES (HarperCollins 2013), and THE WRINKLED CROWN (HarperCollins 2015), and her first historical novel for kids, CLOUD & WALLFISH, came out in 2016 from Candlewick. She lives with her tolerant family and demanding dog in California. WEBSITE  TWITTER  FACEBOOK

Monday, September 12, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: HUNDRED PERCENT by Karen Romano Young

HUNDRED PERCENT by Karen Romano Young

 I am thrilled to be part of this blog tour for HUNDRED PERCENT, the latest by Karen Romano Young!

What It's About:

The last year of elementary school is big for every kid. Christine Gouda faces change at every turn, starting with her own nickname—Tink—which just doesn’t fit anymore. Readers will relate to this strong female protagonist whose voice rings with profound authenticity and absolute novelty, and her year’s cringingly painful trials in normalcy: uncomfortable Halloween costumes, premature sleepover parties, crushed crushes, and changing friendships. Throughout all this, Tink learns that what you call yourself, and how you do it, has a lot to do with who you are.

First Lines:
In late August, Tink got a new name. Her best friend, Jackie, renamed her. This was after Tink realized that none of her school clothes fit and her mother took her on a hellish shopping trip involving two sizes up, three bras-for-the-very-first-time, and four arguments about style that had both Mom and Tink in tears. On the way home, Tink convinced her mother to drop her at Jackie’s with all six shopping bags, so they could have a fashion show.

My Thoughts:
HUNDRED PERCENT is a tremendous portrayal of shifting friendships, and really captures all the confusion of 6th grade. I loved the characters' voices--and I think this is one of the truest renditions of the changing relationship between boys and girls at this age that I've read. I loved it!

Here's my interview with Karen Romano Young:

Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
• Christopher Paul Curtis (Bud, Not Buddy)  This book is in my dreams and notes or allusions to it pop up in my own writing often.
* Jean Craighead George (fiction and nonfiction) This woman followed her own star to the north, and nerded out exactly as much as she wanted to.
• Louise Fitzhugh (Harriet the Spy) Because Harriet, unapologetically curious and observant and obsessed by writing. That Fitzhugh, what an enabler!
• Eleanor Estes (The Witch Family, Pinky Pye, The Moffats, Rufus M.)   Her writing is so natural, enchanting, it feels like home.
• Nora Raleigh Baskin (Nine, Ten)  Always taking chances and doing amazing things with not very many words.
• Hilary McKay (Saffy’s Angel, Forever Rose) The Casson Family series are my go-to’s when I’m sad, or lonely, or want to do art or write or just about anything. I love these books so much, and when I learned my editor, Chronicle’s Taylor Norman, loved them too, I knew I was in the right place.
• David Macaulay (The Way Things Work) Macaulay is proof to me that you can be yourself and do it well and come up with great books that change people’s lives.
• Brian Selznick (Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck) I just can’t even talk to Brian Selznick, I am so in awe of him.  I see him at conferences and circle him but never approach.
• Grace Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon) Here is someone whose work started out great and just gets better and better. Lin is so talented!

2) What's on your nightstand now?
• Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books — They are a little dated in some ways but really are incredibly respectful toward children. These books emphasize something I can’t get enough of these days: the idea that kids are able, responsible, and capable of independence.
The Girl Who Played with Fire — It’s not often I get drawn in by a thriller, but this series seems to break so many molds that I’m fascinated, waiting to see what will happen next.
• Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I started working through this amazing book/program in September 2015 and have found it to be transformative.  It’s not easy being a writer sometimes — and this book helps.
• Eleanor Estes’s Pinky Pye.  Because it’s summer and the family’s at Fire Island and Uncle Bennie (age 4) is catching crickets every day and wondering why they are missing every morning. What’s getting them?  Don’t you want to know? Pinky the kitten is on the case…  Also, I find Edward Ardizzone’s illustrations to be sublime (he illustrated The Witch Family, too).

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it.
Oh wow!  What a question!  Is it the scene I like the most or the one in which I’m most pleased with my writing? I think it has to be one of the parts where people are playing with words. Jackie and Tink do it just as much as Bushwhack.  I do love the part where Bushwhack is in the bowling alley and Jackie is trying to teach Stanley to bowl, and Tink calls Keith “lava boy” and then realizes it sounds like “lover boy” and instead of being mortified, the two of them just burst out laughing.  But I also love the phone conversation where they are talking about Romeo and Juliet and lobsters at the same time, and one of them says, “O that I were a claw upon that lobster” instead of “O that I were a glove upon her hand.”

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at...
Um. Drawing skunks.

5) My breakfast of champions is…
This is funny because just last week I described my lunch of champions as peanut M & Ms and iced coffee.

 Breakfast is often yogurt, peaches, and/or cinnamon babka.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?

I have a copy of this marvelous book I would like to send to one lucky commenter. Leave a comment, with your email address within, for a chance to win. (US and Canada only, please.) Ciao! UPDATE on 9/18: The winner, chosen by Random.org, is Andrea Mack. Andrea, I'll be getting in touch with you soon!