Monday, October 27, 2014

Three Newbery winners

Recently, I've been trying to catch up on my Newbery reading. Having taken this test for fun, I was surprised to learn I'd only read 57 out of 93 of the medal winners (I've read far more of the honor books).

So I hustled down to my local second-hand book shop and bought what they had. Now my total's up to 60. Not bad, but nowhere near a perfect score. Naturally, I've read more of the recent winners, plus the ones from my childhood, but not as many from the decades before 1960. Still working on that.





Sounder by William H. Armstrong (originally published by HarperCollins in 1969; this paperback released 1972)

Newbery Medal Winner 1970

Synopsis (from HarperCollins)During the difficult years of the late nineteenth century South, an African-American boy and his poor family rarely have enough to eat. Each night, the boy's father takes their dog, Sounder, out to look for food and the man grows more desperate by the day. When food suddenly appears on the table one morning, it seems like a blessing. But the sheriff and his deputies are not far behind. The ever-loyal Sounder remains determined to help the family he loves as hard times bear down on them.

Why I recommend it: The writing has a lyrical and timeless quality, helped I'm sure by the simplicity of calling the characters "the  boy" and "his father" and "his mother". The only character with a name in the entire story is the dog, Sounder. 







Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (hardcover published in 1964 by Atheneum; this paperback edition from Aladdin, 2007)


Newbery Medal Winner 1965


Synopsis (from Indiebound)Manolo was only three when his father, the great bullfighter Juan Olivar, died. But Juan is never far from Manolo's consciousness -- how could he be, with the entire town of Arcangel waiting for the day Manolo will fulfill his father's legacy?


But Manolo has a secret he dares to share with no one -- he is a coward, without aficiĆ³n, the love of the sport that enables a bullfighter to rise above his fear and face a raging bull. As the day when he must enter the ring approaches, Manolo finds himself questioning which requires more courage: to follow in his father's legendary footsteps or to pursue his own destiny?

Why I recommend it: Despite the dated subject matter, this is a quiet and inspiring little book about courage and facing one's fear. I totally fell in love with Manolo as a character. 






The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (hardcover published in 1973 by Bradbury Press; this paperback edition published 2008 by Aladdin)

Newbery Medal Winner 1974

Synopsis (from Indiebound)One day, thirteen-year-old Jessie Bollier is earning pennies playing his fife on the docks of New Orleans; the next, he is kidnapped and thrown aboard a slave ship, where his job is to provide music while shackled slaves "dance" to keep their muscles strong and their bodies profitable. As the endless voyage continues, Jessie grows increasingly sickened by the greed, brutality, and inhumanity of the slave trade, but nothing prepares him for the ultimate horror he will witness before his nightmare ends -- a horror that will change his life forever.

Why I recommend it: I thought I knew a lot about slavery in the U.S., but then I read The Slave Dancer and learned a lot more. This book would be excellent for starting classroom discussions.

How many Newbery medal winners have you read?




Monday, October 20, 2014

Where's Lenny Lee????




 LENNY LEE IS 15!





Happy 15th Birthday, Lenny Lee! I really miss you and all your helpful and sunshiny posts! Here's a sunny picture just for you. It's from Lake Geneva, Switzerland. I always think of you when I see sunshine. And I always smile when I think of you. I hope you will get back to blogging soon.


Wishing you plenty of sunshine and smiles and lots of cards and presents on your 15th birthday.








Readers, if you're not familiar with Lenny's blog, Lenny's World, zip on over there and check it out. He writes about holidays and sunshine and animals and all kinds of good things.

He has lots of helpful stuff on there for writers, too, like how to write a good ending for your novel, and how to get ideas, and what to do about rejections. He writes with great insight and enthusiasm.

Lenny Lee's avatar!


For other Lenny Lee posts today, see Sharon K. Mayhew's blog.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Not that many books in the world




The boy had heard once that some people had so many books they only read each book once. But the boy was sure there were not that many books in the world.  

                                                                     ---from Sounder by William H. Armstrong



(Sounder was published in 1969 and won the 1970 Newbery medal, but the story takes place decades earlier. There still aren't enough books in the world today, especially for underprivileged children. That's where organizations like First Book come in.  In two weeks, I'll be discussing several Newbery medal-winning books I've read recently. But next week, I'm participating in something extra-special, so be sure to stop by then.)


Monday, October 6, 2014

Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron


First, I have a winner to announce in the ACTUAL & TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER hardcover copy giveaway. According to randomizer, the winner is:


ROSI


Congratulations! And expect an email from me asking for your address. And thanks again to author Jessica Lawson for generously offering the giveaway copy.

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Now on to day's MMGM:









Atlantis Rising by T. A. Barron (Puffin paperback, Sept 25, 2014, for ages 10 and up)

Source: review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review


Synopsis (from the publisher): In a magical land called Ellegandia, a young boy named Promi scrapes by, stealing pies, cakes and sweets to survive. But little does he know that his country is a pawn in an ages-old war between good and evil, battled both in the spirit realm and in the human world. Harboring secrets of his own, Promi teams up with a courageous girl named Atlanta and the two vow to save their land—and each other—no matter the cost. But their vow has greater repercussions than they ever could imagine—in fact, it may just bring about the creation of Atlantis, an island cut off from the rest of the world, where magic reigns supreme.


Why I recommend it: I love T.A. Barron's The Lost Years of Merlin and I've had the privilege of meeting Tom Barron (twice!), so I may be a wee bit prejudiced here, but I'm awestruck by the sheer scope of his imagination. Plenty of authors have written about the destruction of Atlantis, but only a storyteller like T.A. Barron would think of writing about its origins.

Not only is Barron a magician with words but he also shows a deep respect for our planet. His love for nature shines through in his descriptions of the forest, the flowers, and the animals. His characterization is also noteworthy. Promi's a thief who steals food, including, one day, a lemon pie. But then he sees a girl in the city who's weak from hunger and he gives her the entire pie. That girl turns out to be Atlanta, who wants to save the forest from an unknown blight, and Promi has to change his ways to help her. Writers, study this one to learn how to make characters likable.

I did find the first half of the book a little slower than the second half, but if you like your fantasy long and colorful and with plenty of both action and description, this book's for you. Fans of The False Prince will enjoy this.

T.A. Barron's website

Follow T.A. Barron on twitter


For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, see the links on Shannon Messenger's blog



Monday, September 22, 2014

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson - and a Giveaway

First, I have a winner to announce from the LUG giveaway. Drum roll please............ 

The winner is.......


SUZANNE WARR



Congratulations, Suzanne! Look for a message from me asking for your mailing address. 


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Today's MMGM features another debut novel. And it's the debut of our own Jessica Lawson! 

For other MMGM posts, look for the links on Shannon Messenger's blog.






Jessica Lawson from her website







The Actual &Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno  (for ages  8 to 12, Simon & Schuster, July 2014)

Source: purchased from B&N

Synopsis (from the book jacket): Becky Thatcher is sick and tired of that tattletale Tom Sawyer following her around! Becky is determined to have her own adventures, just like she promised her brother, Jon, before he died. When she joins the boys at school in a bet to steal from the Widow Douglas, the rumored town witch, Becky recruits her best friend Amy Lawrence to join her in a night of mischief. And that's when the real adventure begins.

Why I recommend it: What a fun read! This is one of those delightful stories you could easily read over and over again, especially if you're eleven or twelve. You don't have to be familiar with Tom Sawyer or Sam Clemens, but it helps. This is a smart, funny book, and best of all, it features one of the strongest female protagonists I've encountered this year. Or in a lot of years. The sassy and tomboyish Becky is a joy to get to know. You'll have a great time tagging along as she searches for adventure, escaped convicts, and maybe even treasure.



What MG novel could you read over and over again? Tell me in the comments.



Now for the GIVEAWAY details:


My very own hardcover copy (*hugs book*) is staying right here in my house, but the author herself has generously offered a FREE hardcover copy for one lucky winner, who will be chosen by randomizer. This giveaway is open to US/Canadian addresses only. To enter, you must be a follower and you must leave a comment on this post. If you tweet about the giveaway or mention on facebook or your own blog, I'll give you extra entries, but please include the links. Thanks! This giveaway ends at 10 pm EDT on Friday Oct 3, 2014 and the winner will be announced on Monday Oct 6.


Monday, September 8, 2014

LUG, DAWN OF THE ICE AGE Review, Guest Post, and Giveaway



Lug, Dawn of the Ice Age: How One Small Boy Saved Our Big, Dumb Species by David Zeltser for ages 8 to 12, Egmont, September 9, 2014

Source: Netgalley, by invitation from the publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher): In Lug’s Stone Age clan, a caveboy becomes a caveman by catching a jungle llama and riding against the rival Boar Rider clan in the Big Game. The thing is, Lug has a forbidden, secret art cave and would rather paint than smash skulls. 

When Lug is banished from the clan for failing to catch a jungle llama, he’s forced to team up with Stony, a silent Neanderthal with a very expressive unibrow, and Echo, a girl from a rival clan who can talk to animals and just may be prehistory’s first vegetarian and animal rights activist. Together they face even bigger challenges—Lug discovers the Ice Age is coming and he has to bring the warring clans together to save them not only from the freeze but also from a particularly unpleasant migrating pride of saber-toothed tigers. It’s no help that the elders are cavemen who can’t seem to get the concept of climate change through their thick skulls.




Why I recommend it: Lug is my new hero. He's endearing, funny, and smart. David Zeltser has managed the magical feat of channeling the voice of a twelve-year-old cave boy to perfection. Lug is the only one in his clan who seems to realize climate change is coming, although in this case, it's an ice age. But you'll also enjoy Lug's creative tendencies, his attempts to bring rival clans together, and of course his first crush. An easy and fast read. Final art not seen, but it looks as if the lively drawings will enhance the story nicely.



Photo credit: Fiona Dulbecco


David Zeltser emigrated from the Soviet Union as a child, graduated from Harvard, and has worked with all kinds of wild animals, including rhinos, owls, sharks, and ad executives. David lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Cruz, California. He performs improv comedy and loves meeting readers of all ages. His second book about Lug is scheduled to publish in Fall 2015. Visit David’s website at www.davidzeltser.com. He’s also on Twitter: @davidzeltser

And now, a touching guest post from David, with giveaway details below that.

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Dear My Brain on Books readers,

Joanne kindly asked me to share something about my journey as a writer.

Although I was a constant reader, up until I was 21, I was sure I’d be a theoretical physicist. But right before my senior year at Harvard, my best friend was struck and killed by lightning. His name was Qijia Fu and that sudden loss changed everything for me. Instead of continuing on with my plans to go to grad school and do theoretical physics, I suddenly felt I wanted my work to have more of a connection to people, emotion and imagination. I spent my last year of college taking classes in everything except science. There was a regular playwriting contest at Harvard where the winning piece was produced. I co-wrote a play with my brilliant friend, Alexis Gallagher. Encouraged by the win, I began writing screenplays. I wrote with Alexis, with my wonderful actor friend Max Faugno, and on my own. A couple of scripts got optioned, but for some reason it never occurred to me to move to LA. Instead, I wrote whatever I wanted and paid for my tiny NYC apartment by working as a freelance advertising copywriter on the side. My friend Zimran Ahmed always called me Madman, long before the famous show came out.


For more about me, LUG, and other upcoming books, please visit my website. And here’s the page with the LUG book trailer: http://davidzeltser.com/books/lug-dawn-of-the-ice-age

Hope you enjoy it!
David

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Thank you, David. I'm so sorry to learn this about your friend, but glad you found a beautiful way to connect with people.  

Readers, the publisher has generously offered a signed, hardcover copy to one lucky winner. Open to addresses in the US or Canada only. You must be at least 12 years old to enter this giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower and comment on this post. I will give extra entries if you mention this on Twitter, Facebook, or your own blog, but please include a link. Thanks! This giveaway ends at 10 pm Eastern Time on Friday, September 19, 2014. Winner to be announced Monday, Sept 22.


Be sure to visit these other stops on the LUG Blog Tour: 



 Monday, September 08, 2014
Review and giveaway

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Guest Post and giveaways

Guest post and giveaway

Guest post and giveaway



Monday, August 25, 2014

The Fourteen Fibs of Gregory K. for MMGM





The Fourteen Fibs of Gregory K. by Greg Pincus (ages 8 to 12, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, Sept 2013)

Source: I won this book from Deb Marshall at Read Write Tell. She reads a lot of MG, so go visit her soon.


Synopsis (from the publisher): Gregory K. is the middle child in a family of mathematical geniuses. But if he claimed to love math? Well, he'd be fibbing. What he really wants most is to go to Author Camp. But to get his parents' permission he's going to have to pass his math class, which has a probability of 0. THAT much he can understand! To make matters worse, he's been playing fast and loose with the truth: "I LOVE math" he tells his parents. "I've entered a citywide math contest!" he tells his teacher. "We're going to author camp!" he tells his best friend, Kelly. And now, somehow, he's going to have to make good on his promises.

Hilariously it's the "Fibonacci Sequence" -- a famous mathematical formula! -- that comes to the rescue, inspiring Gregory to create a whole new form of poem: the Fib! Maybe Fibs will save the day, and help Gregory find his way back to the truth.


Why I recommend it: This is a perfect back-to-school read. If your kids are groaning because summer's almost over, give them this book. They'll get so involved in Gregory's predicament they might even forget school is coming.

Gregory is a likable and realistic character. Whether or not math is your strong suit, you'll enjoy this. I did well in math, right up until Geometry, and then I earned my first-ever D. So I empathized completely with Gregory.

You'll also love the Fibs, the poems Gregory writes. Six lines, based on the beginning of the Fibonacci sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8). You may even be inspired to write one of your own! Give it a try. I've written eight of them since I read the book. First line is 1 syllable, second line is 1 syllable, third is 2 syllables, fourth is 3 syllables, fifth is 5 syllables, sixth is 8 syllables. No need for rhyme, but rhyme if you want to.



And now for a special treat, here's an exclusive interview with Greg Pincus.

From Greg's blog, GottaBook


1) First of all, welcome to My Brain on Books! The story of how The Fourteen Fibs of Gregory K. became a book is an unusual and fascinating one. I understand Arthur A. Levine spoke to you about it before you actually wrote it. Can you tell us briefly how the novel came to be?
The novel definitely came about in an unusual fashion. I'd met Arthur at my very first SCBWI conference and had been submitting picture book manuscripts to him. My cover letters and follow-up letters, however, seemed to get a much better reaction than many manuscripts - they were funny, somewhat snarky, and, in retrospect, better writing than the picture books. Arthur felt that I should be writing novels. I kept sending him short stuff. Then in April of 2006, my blog and I went viral and into the New York Times, all due to poetry based on the Fibonacci sequence. Arthur saw this as an opportunity to combine various things we both liked - the tone of my letters, Fibonacci poetry, my other poetry, and his desire to have me write novels. We came up with the very broad idea of The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. on a phone call - there was no manuscript when I got the deal back in 2006 - and over time, it morphed and changed and revised itself into the final book. 

2) You're not only a poet and a middle grade novelist, you're also a screenwriter. In what ways did screenwriting help you craft this novel?
I found that screenwriting helped in terms of writing individual scenes - keeping multiple things happening and ending them before they've gone too far, in particular. I actually found my screenwriting to be a bit of a problem in terms of not always filling in the visual details of a scene. I mean, heck, it's all gonna be there on the screen, right? Uh... no. 

3) Do you have a writing routine? Outline or pantser? Morning or evening? Coffee or tea (or chocolate)?
I am a combination of outliner/pantser in the sense that I always do have an outline, but in areas where there's not much detail, I'm fine winging it. I write when there's time, and always have, but love bigger chunks of contiguous hours, so if my schedule looks like I'll get that in the evening, I'm an evening writer, but if there's only free time in the morning, I'm a morning writer.  And coffee and chocolate, of course!

4) Do you still write Fibs? Can you share a favorite one with us?
I do write Fibs as a kind of warm up session for myself (which is how I initially used them). The focused form truly helps me focus on word choice and the like. And I still find it VERY hard to come up with good ones. Still, one of my favorites remains A Beach Fib, posted over at my blog - http://gottabook.blogspot.com/2006/07/beach-fib.html. 


5) I LOVE A Beach Fib! Thanks so much for sharing. Greg, you're one of the founders of #kidlitchat. What would you like to tell my readers about it?

Even after five years on Twitter (a social media eon!), #kidlitchat is still going strong every Tuesday night at 9 PMEastern/6 PM Pacific. It's a fun, low-key way to hang out with some fellow children's literature lovers, get inspiration and resources, and make friends. Plus, when it really gets going, it can teach you just how fast you can read!


6) Please satisfy my curiosity: did you name your character after yourself? Is he you as a kid?

I had been writing a lot of individual poems, and many of them came out in the voice of the same kid. I had been writing the poems as "Gregory K." rather than Greg Pincus (or really, rather than Gregory K. Pincus which is what I'd been writing screenplays as). When Arthur and I discussed the book initially, we decided that the "poem voice kid" had a good perspective and the novel was going to be about a kid who wrote poetry. Then Arthur came up with The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. as a title (perhaps the only thing that remained from the first conversation to the final book!), and who could argue with that? He is definitely not me as a kid, nor is the book autobiographical!


Here's a post from Greg's blog, Gotta Book, about Fibs.
Find Greg on Twitter


Be creative, readers! Write a Fib and share it with us. Leave it in the comments (unless you're shy).

Here's one of mine:

Wet
leaf.
Spider
balances
between the raindrops.
Nature's tiniest acrobat.



For other MMGM recommendations, visit Shannon Messenger's blog.