Monday, April 25, 2016

LIBERTAD by Alma Fullerton: Celebrating Poetry Month with Novels in Verse


Libertad by Alma Fullerton (2008, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 215 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): With their father gone to America to make money for his family, Libertad, his little brother Julio and their mother scrape a living out of a dump in Guatemala City. Although it is too late for him, Libertad is determined that his little brother should go to school. Taught to play the marimba by his father, Libertad uses his talent as a street musician to raise enough money for his brother's school supplies. But his dreams for their future are destroyed when their mother is killed in a freak accident. Libertad must face the inevitable truth; they cannot survive on the streets of Guatemala City alone. There is only one thing to do. They must set out on the long and lonely journey to the Rio Grande River, where they plan to cross the water and enter the United States to find their father.

Why I recommend it:  Libertad means "freedom" and that's exactly what Libertad and his brother seek. A moving and inspiring story of brotherly love, strength, despair, and hope. Like any good verse novel, each poem stands alone, yet together the poems form a whole greater than its parts. Libertad, the boy, is a sympathetic character with a strong voice, and you'll find yourself cheering on both boys as they head north to find their father. Although I've read books by Pam Munoz Ryan and Christina Diaz Gonzalez and others, I still feel there aren't enough MG Latino novels being published, despite the fact that people of Hispanic origin are the largest ethnic minority in the US. So I was happy to find this one in my quest for verse novels. 


Favorite lines: (from a poem called Games on page 4-5)

         We collect our marbles, rushing
         for the safety of our homes.
         Tonight, even the moon is
         afraid
         to show its face
         on our dump.


Bonus: Use as a springboard for timely discussions about the current political race and the immigrant experience.  


Monday, April 18, 2016

THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander: Celebrating Poetry Month with Novels in Verse




The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 237 pages, for ages 9 to 13)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): "With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I m delivering, " announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.


Why I recommend it:  This is so much more than poetry. The words practically explode off the page. The poems vary from rap to free verse to Basketball Rules to definitions of Josh's vocabulary words. So much imagination and artistry went into the writing, it's easy to see why this won the Newbery in January 2015 and was also named a Coretta Scott King Honor book. I'm not even a basketball fan, but I loved this book.

Favorite lines (from a poem called The Second Half on page 181):
                             
                         My brother is
                         Superman tonight.
                         Sliding
                         and Gliding
                         into rare air,
                         lighting up the sky


Bonus: This isn't just a novel about basketball and sibling rivalry. It's about a close-knit, loving family having to accept the father's illness.

What poetry are you reading for Poetry Month?



Monday, April 11, 2016

INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN: Celebrating Poetry Month with Novels in Verse



Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2013, HarperCollins, 262 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher):  For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope—toward America.

Why I recommend it: The text is spare, with lots of white space on the page. Yet the imagery is gorgeous and colorful. I could taste the papaya, see the cramped boat on which they escape, feel Hà's anger and frustration at leaving home and starting over. Hà's voice is honest and childlike. Based loosely on the author's own childhood, the story is a deeply moving one. Like Hà, Thanhha Lai fled Vietnam with her family when she was ten, and moved to Alabama. Today she lives in Kansas.

The paperback edition includes suggested activities and an interview with the author.

Thanhha Lai's website

Favorite lines: (from a poem called Twisting Twisting on p. 37)
                       
                          Mother measures
                          rice grains
                          left in the bin.
                          Not enough to last
                          till payday
                          at the end of the month.

                          Her brows
                          twist like laundry
                          being wrung dry.

Bonus: Use this as a starting point for classroom lessons about the Vietnam War, and timely discussions about refugees and prejudice.

Have you read Inside Out & Back Again or any other novels in verse? What did you think of them?


Monday, April 4, 2016

Musings on writing my fifth novel

Yes.

You read that right. I'm nearly finished writing the rough draft of my fifth novel. In the past nine years, I've written four MG novels and one YA, in addition to more than a dozen picture books. And no, in case you're wondering, I don't yet have an agent or a book contract. I've had fourteen publication credits to date, but they're all poems or flash fiction or micro fiction for adults.

Still, I keep writing for children and teens. Perseverance is my mantra.

But I have to admit, Novel #5 is, well, a little different. In what way?

Read on.

I started an idea notebook for my fifth novel back in the late spring of 2015, so nearly a year ago. After gathering ideas, and working out character sketches and a setting and a conflict, I wrote three chapters. Almost immediately, I became stuck. Something didn't feel right about it. So I put it aside and revised my fourth novel instead.

And then, in September, after reading Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (even though it wasn't the first verse novel I read), I had an epiphany.

This new novel? The one I was stuck on? It was meant to be written in verse.

I spent two months reading and studying verse novels and then in November 2015 I started writing Novel #5 all over again.

Am I crazy? Well, this doesn't feel crazy. It feels... right. Since making that decision, the process has changed for me. Writing a verse novel is the hardest thing I've done as a writer, but at the same time, it's like I've grown wings. I look forward to writing every day, which is something I never did with a rough draft before. Rough drafts are usually agony.

I've been accepted into the Highlights Foundation workshop on Novels in Verse which will take place in May. Who knows where this will lead? Maybe nowhere. But maybe, just maybe, something good will happen.

For the rest of April, in honor of Poetry Month, I'll be looking at a few of the verse novels I've studied in my quest to learn this new (for me) form.

Over the past few years, I've read, in approximately this order:

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
42 Miles by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (this made me first fall in love with verse novels)
Pieces of Georgia by Jen Bryant
The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas
Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli
Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli
Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Libertad by Alma Fullerton
Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

(I've also read Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, which is actually an autobiography, and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, which some consider prose poetry.)

What verse novels do you recommend? All suggestions are welcome.



Monday, March 28, 2016

And the winner of FREE VERSE is...

I'm happy to announce that according to randomizer, the winner of the hardcover copy of FREE VERSE by Sarah Dooley is...

JESS HAIGHT


Congrats, Jess! Those extra chances really did help. Look for an email from me asking for your mailing address.


I'll be back next week with something a little different... In the meantime, enjoy my latest Fifty Word Story: Midnight at the Urgent Care Clinic.


Monday, March 21, 2016

FREE VERSE by Sarah Dooley -- and a Giveaway!


First, I have a winner to announce from last week's giveaway of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE. According to randomizer, the winner is

JENNI ENZOR

Congratulations, Jenni! And look for an email from me asking for your mailing address. For those who didn't win, remember the book is now available from Viking or your local indie bookstore.


Now on to today's feature:





Free Verse by Sarah Dooley (March 15, 2016, G.P. Putnam's sons, 352 pages, for ages 10 and up) 

Synopsis (from the publisher):  When her older brother dies in a fire, Sasha Harless has no one left. Her father died in the mines and her mother ran off, so Sasha's brother was her only caretaker. They'd always dreamed of leaving Caboose, West Virginia together someday, but instead she's in foster care, feeling more stuck and broken than ever. But when Sasha discovers cousins she didn't know she had, she finally has something to hold onto, especially sweet little Mikey, who's just as broken as she is. Sasha even makes her first friend at school and is slowly learning to cope with her brother's death by writing poetry.

Then a tragedy strikes the mines where Mikey's father works, and Sasha fears the worst. She takes Mikey and runs away.

Why I recommend it: I know what you're thinking: oh, how sad! And yes, of course, it is sad. As sad as Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt or One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt or Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. But what the synopsis doesn't tell you is how strong and likable Sasha is, and how powerfully and in what exquisite detail this novel brings to life a West Virginia coal-mining town. Yes, there is tragedy, but there is also a wonderful ending filled with hope. Best of all? It's about the power of poetry to heal.

Bonus: Poetry Month is coming up in April and this would be a great discussion starter. While not written in verse, one part of this four-part novel is Sasha's poetry notebook, with many different forms that Sasha learns: haiku, cinquain, tanka, found poetry, etc, as well as a section of free verse poems.

Favorite lines:  I HAVE STOPPED

                          corralling
                          my poems
                          by form.
                          They run
                          loose like
                          wild dogs.


Now for the giveaway details: The publisher has generously offered one hardcover copy for giveaway. To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. If you mention the giveaway on social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances to win. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only (sorry!) and will end at 10:00 pm EDT on Sunday March 27. The winner will be announced on Monday March 28. Good luck!






Monday, March 14, 2016

THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE by Janet Fox -- Guest post and Giveaway!


First, according to randomizer, the winner of last week's giveaway of a new paperback of THE ANCIENT ONE by T.A. Barron is:

FAITH HOUGH

Congratulations, Faith! And look for an email from me asking for your mailing address.

Now onto today's feature!




The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox (March 15, 2016, Viking Books for Young Readers, 400 pages, for ages 10 and up)

Synopsis (from the arc): Twelve-year-old Katherine Bateson believes in a logical explanation for everything. But even she can't make sense of the strange goings-on at Rookskill Castle, the drafty old Scottish castle-turned-school where she and her siblings have been sent to escape the London Blitz. What's making those mechanical shrieks at night? Why do the castle's walls seem to have a mind of their own? And who are the silent children who seem to haunt Rookskill's grounds?

Kat believes Lady Eleanor, who rules the castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must face the truth about what the castle actually harbors--and what Lady Eleanor is--before it's too late.

Why I recommend it: You can just tell from that dark, atmospheric cover that this will be a fantastic and chilling read! Yet it's not too scary (for example, the children find sympathetic adults to help them). The Scottish setting is superb, the writing masterful. I had trouble tearing myself away from the book to cook dinner or even sleep. Kat is a strong and resourceful protagonist, and you'll be with her every step of the way as she puzzles out the mysteries of the castle, Lady Eleanor, and the Lady's mysterious chatelaine with one charm for each child.

I'm honored to be the first stop on Janet Fox's blog tour! And now, for a special treat, a guest post from the author herself.

Please discuss your research process (particularly if it involved mysterious trips to Scotland!). Please also expand on how your research brought you to become interested in chatelaines.


Janet Fox from her website

Thanks for this great prompt! My entire process - writing and researching - is very organic.

Many of my best ideas come from a place I can only call "my magic zone". Lots of my ideas have come from dreams; I've often started writing a novel from a single image that pops into my head from out of the blue. In the case of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, the inspiration was a picture. The chatelaine in the story was posted as a picture on the internet and the story grew from my reaction to that strange piece of jewelry.

Once I begin a project I research as I go. When I need to know more about something, like castles or the London Blitz, I'll look it up, study the details, read various accounts. I do both online research and traditional book research, and the only hard part is keeping track of where the information came from. (Note to scholars: keep a good record!)

That's not always the way it works, however. In the case of my YA novel SIRENS, I wanted to add something more - some layer, something deeper - but I didn't know what, until one night in winter while I was listening to a radio program. The interviewer was discussing a new book on Spiritualism in the 1920s and the magician Howard Thurston, and how he was a friend and rival of Harry Houdini. Thurston believed in life after death; Houdini did not. That was the layer I was looking for, and I bought and read the book on Thurston and incorporated magic and spiritualism into my story.

More recently, I've been working on another MG novel set in Scotland (a possible sequel to CHARMED CHILDREN). Again, I was trying to find some way to make a richer and more compelling story, so I went on line and began to research old clocks, and discovered that the unfortunate Mary, Queen of Scots, possessed something called a "death's head watch." If that novel comes to life, you'll find out just what a death's head watch is, and I can assure you it's pretty creepy.

As to trips to Scotland, I didn't take that trip on the spur of the moment! I've been to Scotland before, and my husband and I planned to go to the UK to visit friends, and when I sold CHARMED CHILDREN we adjusted our plans to make an excursion through Scotland. That way I could visit the castle I plucked out of photographs to become Rookskill - and it exceeded my expectations in its scary splendor.

In short, I tend to follow my instincts, and I've found that once I become interested in a certain aspect of what I'm writing, references pop up everywhere. It's as if the universe is affirming what I'm doing. Writing really is like magic - backed up by science (solid facts) - with an energy all its own.

Thanks so much for your guest post, Janet. Glad a trip to Scotland was involved somehow! And I'm thrilled to hear of a possible sequel!


And here's the first video of Janet's twelve videos about the charms.


For the next stop on the blog tour, visit Word Spelunking tomorrow, Tues March 15 for a Top Ten List and Video #2! And next Monday, our very own Middle Grade Mafioso has an interview with Janet and Video #6!

Now for the giveaway details. The publisher has generously offered one hardcover copy to one lucky winner (US mailing addresses only. Sorry!). To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. If you mention the giveaway on social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances for each mention. This giveaway ends at 10:00 pm EDT on Sunday March 20 and the winner will be announced on Monday March 21. Good luck!