Monday, March 2, 2015

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans -- Part I


A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep & Joanne Ryder, with illustrations by Mary GrandPre (for ages 8 to 12, Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House, March 10, 2015)

Source: hardcover copy from the generous authors

Synopsis (from the publisher): Crusty dragon Miss Drake has a new pet human, precocious Winnie. Oddly enough, Winnie seems to think Miss Drake is her pet--a ridiculous notion!

Unknown to most of its inhabitants, the City by the Bay is home to many mysterious and fantastic creatures, hidden beneath the parks, among the clouds, and even in plain sight. And Winnie wants to draw every new creature she encounters: the good, the bad, and the ugly. But Winnie's sketchbook is not what it seems. Somehow, her sketchlings have been set loose on the city streets! It will take Winnie and Miss Drake's combined efforts to put an end to the mayhem... before it's too late.


Why I recommend it: First, full disclosure. Once upon a time, in the late 1970s, I worked as an assistant to a young editor named Joanne Ryder in a major NYC publishing house. (I was "the other Joanne".) Fast forward a few years. I moved back to Pennsylvania, worked in a library, got married and became a mom. Joanne Ryder moved to California and married Newbery-honor-winning author Laurence Yep. Of course, Jo is also an award-wining author, with more than 70 books to her credit.

We haven't seen each other in ages, but I still correspond with her and we're Facebook friends. I miss seeing her in person (someday, Jo, someday), but reading her books is the next best thing. When I read in PW that Joanne and Larry were writing a book together for the first time, I begged for an arc. They did better than that. They sent me a signed, personalized hardcover. Woo hoo!

Of course, I worried. What if I didn't like it? How would I tell my old friend? Well, you can put your mind at ease, readers, because this book is adorable. It has everything you want in a modern-day fantasy for younger readers: humor, magic, and lots and lots of heart. Plus, not one but TWO spunky heroines. Miss Drake and Winnie made a formidable team. I love a dragon that drinks tea, uses a cell phone, and reads fashion magazines so she'll dress smartly when she changes to human form. And I love that Winnie isn't afraid of Miss Drake or any of the other fantastical creatures they confront.

Bonus: This book is the first in a planned series.

Favorite quote: A day at the fair could leave a dragon feeling two centuries younger.

Readers, be sure to come back next week for Part II -- an exclusive guest post from Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, plus a giveaway!


Monday, February 23, 2015

A Snicker of Magic


A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd (for ages 8 to 12, Scholastic, February 2014; paperback coming April 2015)

Source: My local library

Synopsis (adapted from the publisher's website): Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.

But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere, but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster.

Why I recommend it: Natalie Lloyd's spindiddly way with words! If I didn't know better, I'd think I was reading a cross between Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss, with a generous helping of made-up words along with a heaping portion of real words that are both scrumptious and colorful. The quirky characters and marvelous setting are further reasons to fall in love with this imaginative novel. I wish Blackberry Sunrise ice cream really existed (eating it helps you remember). And I wish I had this much imagination. 

Bonus: I appreciate that Jonah is in a wheelchair but the author doesn't make a big deal out of it. It's simply the way Jonah is. 

My favorite quote:  "Sometimes you don't need words to feel better; you just need the nearness of your dog." (from p. 173)

P.S. I hope the typo on p. 229 will be fixed in the paperback. Seriously: "Oliver slammed on the breaks". I guess even the best copy editor can't catch every error and this book with its invented words must have been a real challenge to edit. The publisher's full synopsis also includes a typo ("church eves" -- um, I think you mean eaves). Sorry. Things like that actually bother me...


Follow Natalie on Twitter

Have you read A Snicker of Magic? What did you think?  


Monday, February 9, 2015

All Four Stars





All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (July 2014, Putnam, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: I won this book from Rosi Hollinbeck at The Write Stuff (her blog always has helpful links for writers and an in-depth book review, so go check it out!)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Meet Gladys Gatsby: New York’s toughest restaurant critic. (Just don’t tell anyone that she’s in sixth grade.)

Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world.

But in order to meet her deadline and keep her dream job, Gladys must cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy and sneak into New York City—all while keeping her identity a secret! Easy as pie, right?

Why I recommend it: If you looked up "delectable" in the dictionary, this book could be the illustration. Also, "hilarious" and "imaginative" (I love that she lives in East Dumpsford, New York!).  I wish Gladys was a real food critic, awarding four stars to classy restaurants. Her reviews would be so much more fun to read. 

Reading this book will make you so hungry you'll want to whip up a frothy dessert and gobble it all down. And even though I found the parents a little over-the-top (they actually prefer microwaved meals? Ugh!), it's all in good fun and you'll find yourself rooting for Gladys. Give this adorable book to the young foodie in your life. 

Have you read any sweet and funny middle grade novels about food?


Monday, February 2, 2015

Congrats to the winners! And a graphic novel recommendation

Congratulations to the winners of the ALA Youth Media Awards, announced this morning in Chicago! Hope your favorite book wins an award. I'm posting this ahead of time, so I don't know who the winners are yet. I'll be following the live webcast at 9:00 am EST (8:00 am Central time).  




El Deafo by Cece Bell (Abrams, Sept 2014, for ages 8 to 12)

Source:
Aaron's Books

Regardless of whether or not it wins an award today (Schneider Family Award, maybe?), I wholeheartedly recommend El Deafo by Cece Bell. My writer friend Ilene Wong (who writes as I.W. Gregorio and whose groundbreaking YA debut novel None of the Above pubs on April 7th!) suggested Cece Bell's graphic novel to me when we were browsing at Aaron's Books in Lititz, PA (such a fun bookstore). I'm so glad she did because I really loved this book.

I have to admit, at first I put off reading it because the artwork didn't really appeal to me (yes, the characters are all rabbits), but when I finally sat down and started reading, I couldn't stop. El Deafo is actually a powerful memoir in graphic novel form. Touching and warm and always very funny, the book shows us Cece's life as a kid with hearing loss who's just trying to get along in a hearing world. She learns to lip-read, aided by her Phonic Ear. It's the Phonic Ear that turns Cece into a superhero, when it proves to be so powerful she can hear what the teachers are saying in the teacher's lounge. A terrific book for any kid who ever worried about being different.

What books about disabilities have you read?



Monday, January 26, 2015

Giveaway winner... and some Newbery love

First, I have a winner to announce...

According to randomizer, the winner of the signed hardcover of The Inquisitor's Mark (The Eighth Day Book 2) by Dianne K. Salerni is...



JESS HAIGHT


Congratulations, Jess! Expect an email from me asking for your mailing address. I'll be attending Dianne's book launch this Saturday, January 31st and will buy your copy then.



_______________________________________________________________

Now for some Newbery talk in honor of the 2015 ALA Youth Media Awards, which will be announced one week from today, at 8 am Central Time on Monday February 2nd. 


Back in October, I mentioned in this post that I had read 60 Newbery medal winners. (Here's a link to the Buzzfeed Newbery test if you haven't taken it).

Well, I'm happy to report that I can update that total once again. Thanks to my local library, I've now read 67. I believe Ms. Yingling has read all 93 of them (Congrats, Karen!), though I don't know how she did it, because some of those older books are, um, a bit slow (I tried to read Hitty, The First 100 Years. I really did. I think the cramped font put me off too).

Here's a brief look at some favorites from the seven Newbery medal winners I read in the last few months, all highly recommended:





Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, 2004, for ages 10 and up, winner of the 2005 Newbery Medal)

Katie Takeshima's big sister, Lynn, makes everything seem kira-kira, or glittering, shining. It's the 1950s and the family moves from Iowa to rural Georgia, where Katie's parents work long hours in a poultry plant and hatchery. This isn't so much a book about prejudice (although that's a big part of it) as it is a haunting and achingly beautiful look at how the death of a loved one tears apart an entire family. It's up to Katie to remind her family there is still kira-kira in the future.




I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965, for ages 10 and up, winner of the 1966 Newbery Medal)

I'd always put off reading this because I was afraid it would be dry and boring. I was wrong. Told in first person, this novel is based on the life of the painter Velasquez and his slave, Juan de Pareja, who became a respected artist in his own right. In seventeenth-century Spain it was forbidden for slaves to practice the arts, so Juan resorts to stealing colors and painting in secret, despite knowing he could be killed for it. A great novel about the injustice of slavery. I also loved the richness of the writing, with a tapestry of colorful details that brought Juan's world vividly to life.




Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Atheneum, 1991, ages 8 to 12, winner of the 1992 Newbery Medal) 

According to Wikipedia, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor completed the first draft of this novel in a mere eight weeks! Yet it's become a modern classic. Published in 1991 and set in West Virginia, this touching story of Marty and the dog he rescues must be one of the first MG books to talk about animal abuse (unless you can think of another?). And don't worry, it has a happy ending.  


What book do you hope will win this year's Newbery medal?

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is getting a lot of Newbery buzz, so I won't be at all surprised if it wins. I've only predicted the gold correctly one time (the year When You Reach Me won). Maybe I'd have better luck trying to predict honor books. This year, I'm hoping the Newbery committee gives some love to Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera, The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer, and El Deafo by Cece Bell. 



Monday, January 12, 2015

Guest Post from Dianne Salerni for The Inquisitor's Mark (coming soon!) - and a giveaway!




The Inquisitor's Mark (The Eighth Day, Book 2) by Dianne K Salerni (Harpercollins, January 27, 2015, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: advanced reading copy from publisher

Synopsis: When a mysterious man claiming to be Jax Aubrey's uncle kidnaps his best friend, Billy, Jax fears a trap. Before his father died, he never mentioned having a brother. Enemy Kin leaders and corrupt Transitioners are after Jax's guardian, Riley, the sought-after descendant of King Arthur, and his liege lady, Evangeline, a powerful magician descended from Merlin. To protect them Jax sneaks off to New York City by himself to rescue Billy. And it's a trap all right. Jax learns his real last name is Ambrose, not Aubrey. And his new-found relatives will stop at nothing to get what they want.


Crests designed by Dianne's daughter


Why I recommend it: As exciting as The Eighth Day was, this second book in the series ratchets up the tension even more. You'll be racing through the pages to find out what happens. Jax has to call on all his resources to handle not only his nasty new relatives, but an enormous and deadly creature he's never seen before.





And now here's Dianne herself to tell us what she enjoyed about writing the sequel:


When I sat down to plan and write The Inquisitor’s Mark, I remember feeling overwhelmed and nervous. It was the first time I’d ever had to write a book that was already sold, sight unseen, before it existed. HarperCollins had bought The Eighth Day and expected me to write at least two more books in the series. They believed I could, and I REALLY hoped their faith in me was well-founded!

As it turned out, this book was my favorite one to write in the series so far. (Writing Book 3 made me pull my hair out, but that’s another story …) What was fun about The Inquisitor’s Mark was that the personalities of the central characters were already established – at least up to the point where I left them in Book 1 – but since people change and grow in real life, I knew these characters would do the same.

For example, at the beginning of the first book, Jax loathed his 18-year-old guardian, Riley, but by the end, his opinion had changed. This is touched upon in several places, but with the whole We-Have-To-Save-The-World thing going on in the climax, there wasn’t a lot of time to fully explore it. Therefore, it was very rewarding to have the time in the early chapters of The Inquisitor’s Mark to play with this developing brotherly relationship, including the normal teasing and rough-housing one might expect between boys.

“I haven’t given up, you know,” Riley told Evangeline. “I have a trick or two up my sleeves.”

“I thought all you had up your sleeves were tattoos,” Jax said. Riley made sure Evangeline wasn’t looking, then smacked Jax in the back of the head.

Of course, you can’t keep up the tension if things are going great, so Jax overhears Riley planning to send him away for his own good and Mrs. Crandall urging Riley to break up the vassal-liege bond between Jax and Evangeline before Jax gets hurt … and suddenly Jax doesn’t know his place in the group anymore.

Enter the new characters – who were another favorite part of writing this sequel.

Jax has a family, as it turns out: an uncle, cousins, and grand-parents. Too bad they belong to the Dulac clan, the powerful and corrupt people who assassinated Riley’s family and would like to see Riley dead too!  The dynamics of meeting these people – blood relatives and also enemies – was massively fun to write as an author, while incredibly difficult for poor Jax. I particularly enjoyed the character of Jax’s uncle, Finn Ambrose. He’s the right-hand man of the evil Ursula Dulac and definitely a “bad guy,” but he loved his brother Rayne, and he sincerely wants to provide a home for his long-lost nephew. How does a 13-year-old boy deal with a man who, on one hand, wants him to betray his friends, but on the other hand, looks so much like his father?

Uncle Finn took Jax by the shoulder and steered him out of the apartment. “That was uncalled for.”

“You wanted to know if I had any talent,” Jax said smugly. “I just proved it.”

“It’s discourteous to use your talent to embarrass your clan members.”

“I don’t want those guys touching my tattoo.”

“It doesn’t seem necessary,” his uncle said. “You’re obviously an Ambrose.” Then he made a noise that caused Jax to glance at him in surprise. Jax couldn’t tell if it was a snort or a laugh or even a sob, but Uncle Finn was looking at him with strangely moist eyes. “Rayne would’ve done the same thing.”

Jax grinned. And his uncle grinned back.

I wrote The Inquisitor’s Mark in just eleven weeks, the fastest I’ve ever written any first draft in my life. And while there are many action scenes in the book that were wonderfully fun to write, what made this book my favorite (so far) was the character interactions. It was too long to make the tagline on the cover, but Jax is “Related to the enemy. Loyal to their targets.”


That provides a wealth of material for an author to work with!

*   *   *   *   *

Thanks, Dianne! I'm truly impressed that you wrote the rough draft in eleven weeks.

Readers, The Inquisitor's Mark pubs on January 27, 2015.  And if you haven't read The Eighth Day yet (and why haven't you???) the paperback is now available!

For this giveaway, I will be purchasing a hardcover copy  of The Inquisitor's Mark for Dianne to sign in a few weeks. To enter simply be a follower and leave a comment on this post. If you tweet about the giveaway or mention on facebook, let me know and I'll give you extra entries. US and Canadian mailing addresses only. This giveaway ends at 10 pm on Sunday January 25, 2015. And the winner will be announced on Monday January 26.

Monday, January 5, 2015

What happened in my world in 2014


Apologies for the long silence (and for not visiting all your blogs) but my father's illness took up a lot of my time toward the end of 2014.

My facebook friends already know this, but my father passed away on December 11, 2014, exactly two weeks before Christmas. Those two weeks are mostly a blur at this point, but we did manage to celebrate Christmas, although of course the tears flowed freely.

Looking through my myriad photo albums, I realized I have many wonderful pictures of my father to help me remember him. This one is from my wedding, nearly 30 years ago.



June 22, 1985




One of my favorite memories of Dad is when he read to me or told me stories. He was terrific at all the voices. Years later, he continued the tradition by reading to my sons. So you can see that books have always been an important part of our family.


This is Dad reading to his grandson in 1988


For a book blogger, of course, the end of the year means looking back to see how many books I read. What about you? Did you reach your reading goals? Do you have any favorite books from 2014?

In 2014, I read 108 books, eleven fewer than the year before, but five more than in 2012. And although I do read adult books from time to time (I read Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, and cried through the entire book), mostly what I read is MG. Here are a few MG titles that gave me comfort these last few weeks (and which I highly recommend). Source for all was my local library and all synopses are from Indiebound.




What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren (Putnam, February 2014)

Synopsis: Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. But even luck can't keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther's family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin.

Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but Esther makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck?


My take: You may remember that I adore books about the Great Depression and this is no exception. A lovely story. Simply lovely.





The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer (Putnam, May 2014)

Synopsis: After her mother's sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she's never met. She can't imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

My take: Since I read this the week after my father died, I found it extremely comforting. But I also loved Grace. She seemed so flawed and vulnerable and real and she really grew as a character.







Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Clarion Books, August 2014)

Synopsis: A rambling old smuggler's inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books.  

My take: The synopsis doesn't begin to do justice to this entertaining, many-layered, deftly-woven tale that takes place just before Christmas (I read it just before and after Christmas so it was perfect!). Milo is an orphan, raised by loving adoptive parents who just happen to run a smuggler's inn. I totally guessed the "secret" of this book less than halfway through, but highly doubt an 11-year-old would. I also think it would make a terrific graphic novel.



Next week: A giveaway and guest post from author Dianne K. Salerni, whose book, The Inquisitor's Mark (a sequel to The Eighth Day) comes out on January 27, 2015.