Monday, April 7, 2014

By the Grace of Todd by Louise Galveston for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!

For other MMGM posts, see the links at Shannon's blog.

By the Grace of Todd by Louise Galveston (for ages 8 to 12, Penguin, February 2014)

Synopsis (from the publisher):

Twelve-year-old Todd has created life through sheer grossness.
How did he become an accidental god? 

Ingredient A: A worn athletic sock
Ingredient B: Dirt from the Great and Powerful Todd himself

Instructions: Leave under bed for months. Do not clean room.

Yields: 50 ant-sized Toddlians

BUT WATCH OUT! When school bully Max Loving puts the future of the tiny Toddlians in jeopardy, Todd will have to do everything in his power to save the race his very negligence created.

Why I recommend it:

Take a cup of The Indian in the Cupboard, a tablespoon or two of Toy Story, a few teaspoons of The Borrowers, add a generous dash of Dan Gutman and a pinch of Andrew Clements, stir in some highly original humorous situations, and shake well.

Even if this book wasn't about the timely topic of learning to deal with bullies, it would still be worth reading for the Toddlians alone. This is hilarious! I'm always happy when a book lives up to its premise. Best moment for me: the Toddlians learn how to speak English by watching TV all night and then they spout advertising slogans that will have you laughing out loud.

Note that the POV changes from Todd to an occasional chapter by one of the Toddlians (Lewis), and even a couple of chapters from each of two other Toddlians (Persephone and Herman). So the switching POVs might confuse some readers. But for sheer fun, this is definitely worth a read.

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I'm taking a blogging break for the next few weeks. Between my birthday, my younger son's birthday and the Easter holiday, I'll be busy with family get-togethers, plus I'm trying to finish revising my third MG novel so I can start querying this summer. I'll be back in May. Happy reading!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Catching up on middle grade books for MMGM

There are so many cool middle grade novels pubbing in 2014, that I'm tempted to read only what's new. After all, I have to keep up, right?

But then there's my TBR list... So this last month, I've been playing catch-up at my local library. I thoroughly enjoyed these gems from 2012 and 2013, some of which I first heard about on other MMGM posts. Added bonus: they're all multicultural!

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (Charlesbridge, 2012, for ages 9 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): American-born Skye and her Japanese cousin, Hiroshi, are thrown together when Hiroshi's family, with his grandfather (who is also his best friend), suddenly moves to the U.S. Now Skye doesn't know who she is anymore: at school she's suddenly too Japanese, but at home she's not Japanese enough. Hiroshi has a hard time adjusting to life in a new culture, and resents Skye's intrusions on his time with Grandfather. Through all of this is woven Hiroshi's expertise, and Skye's growing interest in, kite making and competitive rokkaku kite flying.

Why I recommend it: This is one of those quiet books I adore so much (and I don't think there are enough of them). Skye and Hiroshi seemed like real kids to me, with real concerns. Loved the kite flying, the alternating points of view, and the little bit of Japanese I picked up from reading this.

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad/Harper, 2013, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Eleven-year-old Brooklyn girl Delphine feels overwhelmed with worries and responsibilities. She's just started sixth grade and is self-conscious about being the tallest girl in the class, and nervous about her first school dance. She's supposed to be watching her sisters, but Fern and Vonetta are hard to control. Her uncle Darnell is home from Vietnam and seems different. And her pa has a girlfriend. At least Delphine can write to her mother in Oakland, California, for advice. But why does her mother tell her to "be eleven"?

Why I recommend it: A glorious sequel to the award-winning One Crazy Summer, this made me feel I was right there in 1960s Brooklyn. What I love most, though, are the relationships: especially among the three sisters, plus the sometimes-prickly relationship between Delphine and her distant mother. (Have to admit, I have a soft spot for the name Delphine, because I had a great-grandmother with that name.)

Written in Stone by Rosanne Parry (Random House, 2013, for ages 9 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Pearl has always dreamed of hunting whales, just like her father. Of taking to the sea in their eight-man canoe, standing at the prow with a harpoon, and waiting for a whale to lift its barnacle-speckled head as it offers its life to the tribe. But now that can never be. Pearl's father was lost on the last hunt, and now the whales hide from the great steam-powered ships, which harvest not one but dozens of whales from the ocean. With the whales gone, Pearl's people, the Makah, struggle to survive as Pearl searches for ways to preserve their stories and skills.

Why I recommend it: In a word: Pearl. The thirteen-year-old is headstrong, loving, and realistic. But the setting also deserves special mention. I could feel myself transported to the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s, with the ocean, beaches, rocks, and mist. Parry includes a glossary, historical notes, cultural notes, and other back matter, so this is perfect for schools.

For other Marvelous Middle Grade posts, see Shannon Messenger's blog.

What books are you catching up on?

Monday, March 24, 2014

If at first you don't like to read, try, try again!

Four years ago, I tried to read The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place... and I couldn't get into it. I read a chapter or two, said "meh" and put aside the ARC.

The other day I picked it up again. Yes, that's a long time to hold onto an ARC, but I'm a bit of a pack rat. Hey, don't judge. (But believe me, you don't want to see my basement.)

And this time? I was utterly captivated and laughing out loud. Why couldn't I read it the first time? Who knows. Maybe I was tired of Lemony Snicket. Maybe the times have changed. Maybe I've changed.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood (February 23, 2010 Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: advanced reading copy from publisher (um, a long time ago)

Synopsis (From the publisher): Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance's holiday ball?  

Why I recommend it: It's downright hilarious. Yes, I realize much of the humor will go right over kids' heads (for instance, the narrator calls a couple  of royals Hoover and Maytag), and there's definitely a sarcastic, Lemony Snicket tone to all of this. But it's fun. I had to keep reading to find out what happens. Which of course means I now have to read all the other volumes, because most of the questions are still unanswered (one thing that bugs me about series). 

Do you like reading series books that leave questions unanswered? And have you ever gone back and finished a book after putting it aside the first time?

I hunted down some other MMGM reviews of this very same book:

Middle Grade Mafioso
Gina Carey
Kim Aippersbach

And if I missed anyone, please let me know! For other middle grade reviews, check out Shannon's blog.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson (Sept 2013, Harper, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: I purchased the hardcover from Children's Book World when I met the Lucky 13s at Haverford Township Library in November 2013. Here's Caroline reading from her book.

Synopsis (from the publisher): Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword.

There's only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags. But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for an answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn't exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous -- and unexpected -- villain on the High Seas.

Why I recommend it: This is a rollicking romp of a novel. All of the characters are delightful, but especially Hilary (yay for a girl pirate!) and the adorable Gargoyle. This is precisely the kind of book I would have LOVED as a ten-year-old (and the kind I wish I could write). As a kid, I would have read this over and over until it fell apart. And I would have swooned to learn it's the first in a new series. Pirate's honor!

My only quibble (and it's minor) is how hard it is to read the hilarious letters interspersed throughout the story. Wish they hadn't used a dark background and a cramped font.

Have you read Magic Marks the Spot? If not, what funny pirate tales can you think of?

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Winners of THE EIGHTH DAY giveaways

Yes! I have two winners to announce today, both chosen by

The winner of the ARC of The Eighth Day by Dianne Salerni is


Congratulations! And expect an email from me asking for your mailing address.

And now (drum roll, please...), the winner of the hardcover, which will be purchased and signed at Dianne's book launch in April, is


Congratulations! Sorry you have to wait a few weeks for your prize, but as soon as I can I'll mail it to you. And this way, you have time to let me know how you want Dianne to personalize it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Part Two of my interview with Dianne Salerni, author of THE EIGHTH DAY -- and a Giveaway!

We're back with Part Two of my interview with Dianne Salerni, author of The Eighth Day, coming from HarperCollins in April.

You teach full time, have family obligations, keep up with your blog twice a week, AND you're very generous with advice and beta reading for less experienced writers, like me (thank you!). When do you find time to WRITE?

I write whenever I’m not teaching. Ask my family. They’ll tell you I’m attached to my laptop, that I can be obsessive, and it’s sometimes hard to get my full attention!

I do most of my blog reading and commenting in the mornings over coffee. I will write in the late afternoons, evenings, and weekends. What I’m writing impacts when I do it. I can revise already-written words at any time of day, but new words come most easily late in the evening.

So, if I’m facing the first draft of a new chapter, I will probably work on blog-related stuff or beta-reading in the afternoons and early evening (and promotional things like this interview!) and wait for the Muse to show up around 9 pm!

You are repped by Sara Crowe of the Harvey Klinger Agency. Can you briefly fill us in on how you got your agent?

I signed my first contract un-agented and quickly realized I didn’t know what I was doing. I started looking for an agent shortly before We Hear the Dead was published, but it took months to land with Sara. I had plenty of outright rejections and two full Revise & Resubmits that ended in “passes” during that time. As disheartening as those R & R rejections were, I credit them for helping me produce a manuscript that was worth reading before I queried Sara.

Your first two novels, We Hear the Dead and The Caged Graves, were YA. How different did it feel to write MG?

The manuscript I called “Grunsday” started out as YA too! It was my agent Sara who recommended that I revise it for MG, and as soon as she did, I saw the potential in that change. Writing the MG voice was a lot of fun for me. Maybe that’s because I’m around kids all day.

The one thing I miss from YA is romance. But Jax has a couple of YA friends with an understated romance going on, so I get to play around with it a little. Jax knows the romance is brewing, and he’s rooting for them, but he doesn’t want to know the details!  Eww.

Ha! That's great. The Eighth Day will be a series. Can you give us any hints about Book 2?

Well, Jax Aubrey is an orphan, living with 18 year old Riley Pendare, who was named as his guardian by Jax’s dad before he died. But there are a lot of things Rayne Aubrey lied about – and a very specific reason he chose Riley as Jax’s protector.

Turns out, Jax has relatives, and they want him back. And when Jax finds out who they are, his world is turned upside-down and backwards.

Oh, cool! What a great hint. Now I can’t wait for book two! Thanks so much, Dianne.

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And now, readers, I have a two-part giveaway. 

First, I'm giving away my ARC of The Eighth Day to one lucky winner I will choose at random.

Second, I will give away a pre-ordered, SIGNED hardcover copy of THE EIGHTH DAY to another lucky winner, also chosen at random. I will get it signed at Dianne's book launch in April.

All you need to do to enter this giveaway is be a follower and comment on this post. If you tweet about it or mention on facebook, let me know and I'll give you extra chances. I would give you an extra day, but that only happens in this book! International entries welcome. This giveaway ends at 10pm EST on Sunday March 9 and the winners will be announced on Monday March 10. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Part One of my interview with Dianne Salerni, author of THE EIGHTH DAY

Coming soon! 

The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni (April 22, 2014, HarperCollins, for ages 9 to 13)

Source: ARC courtesy of the author 

Synopsis (from Dianne's website): In this riveting fantasy adventure, thirteen-year-old Jax Aubrey discovers a secret eighth day with roots tracing back to Arthurian legend. Fans of Percy Jackson will devour this first book in a new series that combines exciting magic and pulse-pounding suspense.

When Jax wakes up to a world without any people in it, he assumes it's the zombie apocalypse. But when he runs into his eighteen-year-old guardian, Riley Pendare, he learns that he's really in the eighth day—an extra day sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday. Some people—like Jax and Riley—are Transitioners, able to live in all eight days, while others, including Evangeline, the elusive teenage girl who's been hiding in the house next door, exist only on this special day.
Why I loved it: Are you kidding? It's got everything! The most exciting premise ever. Action, adventure, fantasy, Arthurian legends, and both boy-appeal and girl-appeal. Plus it's fast-paced and grabs you right from the start. Bonus: it will be a series. 

And now for Part One of my interview with Dianne Salerni, Pennsylvania resident and the author of The Eighth Day:

Welcome to the blog, Dianne!  Even before I read The Eighth Day, I loved the premise. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea of an extra day between Wednesday and Thursday?

Thanks for having me here, Joanne! The idea came out of a family joke. My daughters would ask when they would get to do something, and my husband would respond, “Grunsday. We’ll do that on Grunsday.” One day, I said, “What if there really was a Grunsday in the middle of the week, but not everybody knew about it?”

The premise of a secret day hung around for a long time without a plot to go with it, although my family never let me forget the idea. It took maybe 18 months from the original inspiration to get a sense of what the story would be about. Even then, I pantstered the whole first draft. It ended up as a 98,000 word monstrosity that needed major taming and focusing and word slashing in the second draft.

Wow! That’s a lot of words. Good for you for taming that monster. Jax is a great character, so real and so likable. And I love his name, which is short for Jaxon. Do you choose names for their meanings or because they seem to fit the character?

I don’t choose the names, really. The characters choose them. They tell me what they want to be called. Jax, for instance, told me his name even before I had the plot nailed down.

I told him he couldn't have the name Jax. What kind of name was that for a boy? I wanted to set this story in contemporary America, and who names their kid Jax? I threw different names at him; he rejected them all. In the end, I did a little internet searching and discovered Jaxon as an alternative spelling for Jackson. So I let him have his name.

Since then, I’ve come across the name Jax, for a boy, twice on the internet. (So I guess people really do name their kid that! I grew to like it more and more as I used it.)

I love the way you incorporated Arthurian legends. Tell us a little about your research and how extensive it was. Did you do most of it on the internet or in the library?

First of all, I never intended to incorporate Arthurian legends into this story. That developed in the rambly first draft when I stumbled across stories about Merlin being imprisoned by his apprentice Niviane in “an eternal forest.” The description of where Merlin was trapped had some eerie similarities to the way I was describing Grunsday, or “the eighth day” in my draft.  Once the idea took hold, it wouldn’t let go.

I did most of my research over the internet. However when my family started planning a vacation in the U.K. this past summer, my husband hired a private tour guide to spend one day taking us to Arthur-related sites around Cardiff, Wales. (Our original reason for visiting Cardiff was to see the Doctor Who Museum. An Arthur-related tour was a happy bonus!)

Tune in next Monday for Part Two and the Giveaway!