NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

New February Fiction!

Those Lucky Thirteeners* just keep on coming. Here's the lineup for February! This is a big month for young adult (YA) contemporary novels, but there are a few paranormal/fantasy titles too. And February heralds the first of the middle-grade (MG)  titles! Drooling yet? Warm up that credit card, folks! Click on the titles to learn more, and on the author names for news, blogs, and events.

Blaze, or Love in the Time of Supervillains by Laurie Boyle Crompton
February 1 (Sourcebooks Fire)
YA contemporary

Me, Him, Them, and It by Caela Carter
February 5 (Bloomsbury)
YA contemporary

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
February 5 (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
MG humor/contemporary

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
Feburary 5 (HarperTeen)
YA fantasy

Pivot Point by Kasie West
February 12 (HarperTeen)
YA paranormal

Infinite Sky  by C.J. Flood
February 14 (Simon & Schuster)
YA contemporary

Dualed by Elsie Chapman
February 26 (Random House Children's)
YA dystopian

* What's a Lucky 13? An author lucky enough to be publishing his or her very first book for kids or teens in 2013! Each month, I'll introduce a new crop of fabulous debut fiction. Search for the tag 2013 debuts to see more, and read the Lucky 13 blog right here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Best Links of January

Hey, blogfrogs, I'm starting a new recurring post idea here on the blog. On the last Tuesday of the month, I'll post my linklove--that means a list of the best blog posts, articles, tips, whatever that I've read from other people that month. I'm not linking to my own stuff, because, well, duh.

So here we go ... Linklove for January 2013 ...

Gwen Hernandez on How to Write Faster and Get Organized with Scrivener 
Lee Wardlaw from Project Mayhem: What Every Middle-Grade Writer Should Know About Middle Graders
Kristin on Smack Dab in the Middle: The best marketing advice you'll get
Lee Wind from the SCBWI Blog shares Mitali Perkins' Ten Tips for Writing Race in Novels
from Write to Done: Your Grammar Mistakes Are Killing Your Traffic
Lee Wind on the SCBWI Blog offers a timeline & checklist leading up to your book's release
John Claude Bemis from Smack Dab in the Middle tells where to find & engage with your MG readers
Elana Johnson on the importance of taking time off
Kristin Lenz on Literary Rambles has a great revision/reading tip
Elizabeth Craig from Mystery Writing Is Murder on The Importance of Doing Nothing
and Craig also on finding time to write in small chunks of time
Cynsations on the brilliance of Joss Whedon
C. Hope Clark on surviving writer's envy

Jennifer Represents explains why you need an agent (or don't)
Agent Rachelle Gardner on Why You Should Pitch a Single Book

Yay! Galleycat reports that 41 New [Indie] Bookstores Opened Last Year. Is there one in your town?
Hooray! PW says that one of my fave authors will soon be back in print: Random House to Reissue Ruth Chew's Fantasy Oeuvre
PW reports on A Very Merry Christmas for Children's  Booksellers
from Galleycat: Dr. Who Short Stories Coming from Famous Children's Authors (maybe Ms. Rowling?? The AQ [Awesome Quotient] would be staggering!)

from Galleycat, a video: How R.L. Stine Discovered Ray Bradbury and changed his life
from Cynsations, an interview with debut author Lenore Appelhans (Level 2)
and another with debut author Erica Lorraine Scheidt (Uses for Boys)
Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles talks to debut author Ellen Oh (Prophecy)
PW talks to debut author A.G. Howard (Splintered)


(links go to reviews from Kirkus unless otherwise noted)

Hokey-Pokey by Jerry Spinelli (upper MG contemporary)
Jinx by Sage Blackwood (MG fantasy)
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blackmore (MG mystery)
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool (MG historical)
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd (YA historical paranormal/suspense)--from IceyBooks
Hooked by Liz Fichera (YA contemporary)
Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook (YA contemporary; review from PW)

Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans (YA paranormal suspense)
Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt (YA contemporary)
The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell (YA fantasy)
The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson (YA supernatural)
Prophecy by Ellen Oh (YA fantasy)

via Cynsations: Because Amelia Smiled (David Ezra Stein)
via Cynsations: The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Emily M. Danforth)

Agent Jennifer Laughran from Jennfier Represents weighs in on Boy Books & Girl Books

Galleycat video: R.L. Stine Explains the Gersberms Meme
Karen from Teen Librarian's Toolbox on what she wishes library patrons knew

*Note: PW = Publisher's Weekly, the venerated trade mag. I got tired of typing it out.

image courtesy of wikimedia common; resuable under this Creative Commons License.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Now THAT'S a Shepherd

Everyone has probably already seen this. I usually am a bit late to the party. But I can't help saluting these crazy Welshmen and their sheep (and dogs!). Genius.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inspirational Talismans

Small confession, folks: Small because a lot of people already know this about me; confession because, well, not everyone does.

I keep stuffed animals around.

No, not that kind (taxidermy--ew). I mean plushies. The fun kind that I look at throughout the day and think, Oh yeah--work is supposed to be play for me. (And it is, most of the time.) So I thought I'd introduce you to some of my pals.

This is Snort, who sat on my desk throughout the writing of The Key & the Flame. The book revolves around the element of fire, so a dragon ... well, you get it. He came from a shop at the Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City, KS.

Yes, that is Hedwig, fresh from the Harry Potter series. Since those are some of my favorite books, Hedwig deserves a place of honor. She was acquired at a shop at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, FL. (I know ... so cool, right?)

 Aslan the lion sits on my bookshelf in honor of The Chronicles of Narnia, my very favorite series of books from childhood. If you haven't read it, I can't think why you're hanging out on this blog instead of snatching up your very own copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Aslan was snagged from my daughter's collection of stuffed animals when she decided to cull the herd one day. *Whew* We nearly lost him.

Mortimer the Moose has no literary reference whatsoever, but he's cute as all get-out and represents the first stuffed friend I acquired in adulthood. He was a souvenir from my sister, who bought him on a trip to Jackson Hole, WY.

 Jabbers the parrot is one of the few genuine Beanie Babies to ever grace our home. I'm nuts about birds of all kinds, especially parrots, but they're so beautiful and wild I can't bear to keep them in cages. So Jabbers is my substitute. He was a gift from one of my lovely sisters-in-law.

Gimpy the frog came to live with me when I broke my wrist back in August 2011. It was a particularly sucky month, to be frank, and the broken wrist capped it nicely. I had to wear an external fixator for several weeks, so I looked kind of like a cyborg. Gimpy, a gift from my sis, made me feel less alone.

Pooh, my Bear of Very Little Brain, is both a tribute to A. A. Milne, who I love dearly, and to my daughter, who worshipped all things Pooh-related for a big chunk of her life. She's much bigger now, but Pooh never grows up, so he remains very special to me. Also, he's downright huggable. He came from a toy store that closed a long time ago in our suburb.

I bought the Reader Owl years ago because I thought she was hilarious. She used to sit on my desk when I was a teacher's aide and amuse the kiddos. Now she sits on my file cabinet and reminds me of the first rule of good writing: Read! Read! Read! I think she came from our local Borders Books, whose demise I still mourn.

Finally, Áedán is a little bean-filled plushie who represents the Golden Salamander in The Key & the Flame. Just as he's lucky for Holly, he's lucky for me, and sits on my keyboard while I write each day. My daughter found him for me in the gift shop of the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, one of our favorite haunts.

Now tell me: What talismans do you keep?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Hey, blog lovers, it's Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday around the blogosphere! Over at The Lucky 13s, author Kit Grindstaff (The Flame in the Mist) is handing out tricks and tips from fellow MG writers for jumpstarting your writing year. (Yeah, I'm one of them. That's why I'm telling you.) Go take a peek.

Looking for middle-grade recommendations? Shannon Messenger, who originated MMGM, has loads of links on her blog today to reviews and recs from various middle-grade bloggers.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Where Have All the Literate Men Gone?

Come on, you guys. (Yes--guys.) A little proofreading, a little use of the common language we all share (but apparently, don't all love)--it goes a long way. I don't use dating sites, and I can see that, alas, I never will.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

WAW Nominees, Grades 6-8

You may recall that last week we looked at the nominees for the William Allen White Award for grades 3-5. Now for the upper middle-grade hopefuls. Again, the descriptions come from Goodreads. They all look like winners to me:

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Thomas Angleburger
Amulet Books, 2010
fiction / contemporary, 145 pages

Meet Dwight, a sixth-grade oddball. Dwight does a lot of weird things, like wearing the same T-shirt for a month or telling people to call him "Captain Dwight." This is embarrassing, particularly for Tommy, who sits with him at lunch every day.

But Dwight does one cool thing. He makes origami. One day he makes an origami finger puppet of Yoda. And that's when things get mysterious. Origami Yoda can predict the future and suggest the best way to deal with a tricky situation. His advice actually works, and soon most of the sixth grade is lining up with questions.

Tommy wants to know how Origami Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. Is Yoda tapping into the Force? It's crucial that Tommy figure out the mystery before he takes Yoda's advice about something VERY IMPORTANT that has to do with a girl.

This is Tommy's case file of his investigation into "The Strange Case of Origami Yoda."

Zora and Me  by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon 
Candlewick  Books, 2010
fiction / historical & bio, 192 pages

Whether she’s telling the truth or stretching it, Zora Neale Hurston is a riveting storyteller. Her latest creation is a shape-shifting gator man who lurks in the marshes, waiting to steal human souls. But when boastful Sonny Wrapped loses a wrestling match with an elusive alligator named Ghost — and a man is found murdered by the railroad tracks soon after — young Zora’s tales of a mythical evil creature take on an ominous and far more complicated complexion, jeopardizing the peace and security of an entire town and forcing three children to come to terms with the dual-edged power of pretending. Zora’s best friend, Carrie, narrates this coming-of-age story set in the Eden-like town of Eatonville, Florida, where justice isn’t merely an exercise in retribution, but a testimony to the power of community, love, and pride. A fictionalization of the early years of a literary giant, this astonishing novel is the first project ever to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust that was not authored by Hurston herself.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Philomel, 2010
fiction / contemporary, 224 pages

In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes that is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white—the world is full of colors—messy and beautiful. Kathryn Erskine has written a must-read gem, one of the most moving novels of the year.

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
Dutton Juvenile, 2010
fiction / fantasy, 252 pages

In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.
Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after.

Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret
Dutton Juvenile, 2010
fiction / suspense, 192 pages

Each day, Rusty feeds a dog that's left chained in the frigid weather with no shelter and no food or water. When he realizes that the dog's been injured, Rusty and his friend Andrew unchain the dog and take it. Are they stealing, or are they rescuing a dog in need? With the dog living in their secret hideout, the boys face multiple challenges, including a mysterious ghost dog that tries to lead them to a startling secret, Andrew's snoopy sister, and the escalating threats of the dog's abusive owner. The fast-paced suspense builds to a surprising conclusion, which will leave young readers cheering for Rusty's compassion and determination.

The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) by Barbara Kerley
Scholastic, 2010
nonfiction / biography, 48 pages

Susy Clemens thought the world was wrong about her papa. They saw Mark Twain as "a humorist joking at everything." But he was so much more, and Susy was determined to set the record straight. In a journal she kept under her pillow, Susy documented her world-famous father-from his habits (good and bad!) to his writing routine to their family's colorful home life. Her frank, funny, tender biography (which came to be one of Twain's most prized possessions) gives rare insight and an unforgettable perspective on an American icon. Inserts with excerpts from Susy's actual journal give added appeal.

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” by Michael O. Tunnell
Charlesbridge Publishing, 2010
nonfiction / historical, 110 pages

After World War II, the United States and Britain airlifted food and supplies into Russian-blockaded West Berlin. US Air Force Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen knew the children of the city were suffering, but what could one man do? Lt. Halvorsen began dropping candy that floated down to the kids by parachute. Michael O. Tunnell tells an inspiring tale of candy and courage, illustrated with Lt Halvorsens personal photographs, as well as letters and drawings from the children of Berlin to their beloved Uncle Wiggly Wings.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
Delacorte, 2010
fiction / historical,  368 pages

Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.
Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”
Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

Have you read any of these? Which would you pick as the winner?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Woo-Hoo! Another Winner!
Fanfare and confetti all round! Congrats to Chelsea P. of Portland, who won the January Countdown to Pub Day Party Giveaway. Yes, Chelsea, we'll fly you and the companion of your choice on an all-expenses-paid trip to Rome, Italy! And what's this? A NEW CAR ?

Sorry, Chelsea, I was in Bob Barker mode for a minute. You won't get the trip, but you will get a lovely copy of Jacqueline West's novel SPELLBOUND, the second in the BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE series. And I'll throw in some bookmarks too.

Did you miss out? There's more great middle-grade kidlit to come. Look for the next giveaway on February 5, when I'll be giving you a chance to win a hardcover edition of a best-selling author's book. Details to come!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pet Peeve: Attack of the Killer Apostrophes

I don't know what's happened out there, people. Apostrophes have infiltrated and taken over the rational minds of ordinary folks everywhere. Once we found them attached to objects people owned, such as

Lord Grantham's hair
Mr. Bates's cane
Lady Sibyl's trousers

But now they're all over the place. We've given up! Plurals be damned! You never know when you might need an apostrophe, so best to insert them willy-nilly, right?

Adult's $7, Kid's $5
Thank's for Not Smoking
Free Pancake's for Everyone

Wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

This isn't hard, folks, which is why it's such a pet peeve:

Don't use an apostrophe to make a singular noun plural.

If a noun has an apostrophe s, you're left hanging, wondering what's coming next. The Adult's ... what? The Pancake's ... what? (syrup? waffle buddy? I don't know). And Thank's is frankly puzzling. So, let's make it easy:

2 Books for $1
Get Your Burgers and Fries Here
Cars Washed While You Wait
Happy Holidays
Free Kittens to a Good Home

I know none of those looks odd to you. Trust your gut. If your Books, Burgers, Cars, Holidays, or Kittens don't possess something, they won't need an apostrophe. Note the difference here. The possession is in red, hence the apostrophe is needed:

Kittens: FREE
Kitten's Toy: FREE

We stayed for two nights.
I had a good night's sleep.

Priests Sleep Free
Priest's Car for Sale

Questions? Or, maybe, question's?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Behind the Scenes at Scholastic

Ever wonder what really goes on in the hallowed halls of your favorite publishing houses? I'd love to take you on a tour of Simon & Schuster, my own personal lovely house, but frankly, I haven't even seen it myself. (I know ... weird ... that's the biz for you.) But failing that, here's a look at the offices of Scholastic Publishing, the largest kidlit publisher in the world:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

WAW Award Nominees!

Hey, MG readers, it’s time again for the William Allen White Awards! For those of you who don’t know, this is the time of year when readers all across the great state of Kansas choose their favorite middle-grade books. I love this award because it’s all about what young readers love, not what teachers and parents and librarians say they should love (though the latter do pick the nominees). Because the nominating process takes some time, nominees for the 2013 prize were published in 2010. (See the complete rules here.)

Next week, we’ll look at the upper middle-grade hopefuls, but today I’m highlighting the nominees for the grades 3-5 category.  Descriptions come from each book’s Goodreads page unless otherwise noted. Kids, get ready to vote!

Prairie Peter Pan: The Story of Mary White by Beverley Olson Buller

Kansas City Star Books, 2010
nonfiction / bio, 48 pages

The story of William Allen White’s daughter, who died young in a tragic accident. Her famous father penned an essay about her, which forms the framework of this book. (description is mine)

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010
fiction / contemporary, 295 pages

Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there's no delete button. She's the smartest kid in her whole school—but no one knows it. Most people—her teachers and doctors included—don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can't, because Melody can't talk. She can't walk. She can't write. Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind—that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice . . . but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.

Turtle in Paradise by Jenner L. Holm
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2010
fiction / historical, 208 pages

Life isn't like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She's smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it's 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle's mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn't like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she's never met.
Florida's like nothing Turtle has ever seen. It's hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what's happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she has spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.

Guinea Dog by Patrick Jennings

Egmont USA, 2010
fiction / contemporary humor, 183 pages

Rufus has been dreaming of getting a dog. His best friend has one. His worst friend has one. But his dad has a few objections: They whine. They gnaw. They bark. They scratch. They beg. They drool.
Rufus pays no attention when his mom offers her think-outside-the-box suggestion, because she can't be serious. She can't be.

She can be. And she actually comes home with a guinea pig. And if Rufus's dad thinks dogs are a problem, he won't know what hit him when he meets the Guinea Pig that Thinks She's a Dog. She barks. She bites. She'll eat your homework.

Emily’s Fortune by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010
fiction / historical adventure, 160 pages

From Newbery Award winner Phyllis Reynolds Naylor comes a witty tale of the Wild West filled with comical cliffhangers and featuring a cast of plucky orphans and dastardly villains.
Emily Wiggins is poor and timid, without a drop of self-confidence. When she is unexpectedly orphaned, she is left all alone except for her turtle, Rufus.

Emily's neighbors, Mrs. Ready, Mrs. Aim, and Mrs. Fire, have the answer to her problems: Emily must travel by stagecoach to the home of her honorable aunt Hilda. But Miss Catchum of the Catchum Child-Catching Services will get a big bonus for delivering Emily to her next of kin, the vicious Uncle Victor.

It will take all the gumption and cunning of fellow orphan and traveler Jackson to help Emily find her confidence, her conniving spirit, and the true reason Uncle Victor wants to claim her.

The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco

Philomel, 2010
fiction / contemporary, 48 pages

When young Trisha finds out her class at the new school is known as “The Junkyard,” she is devastated. She moved from her old town so she wouldn’t be in a special class anymore! But then she meets her teacher, the quirky and invincible Mrs. Peterson, and her classmates, an oddly brilliant group of students, each with his or her own unique talent. And it is here in The Junkyard that Trisha learns the true meaning of genius, and that this group of misfits are, in fact, wonders, all of them. Based on a real-life event in Patricia Polacco’s childhood, this ode to teachers will inspire all readers to find their inner genius.

Star in the Forest by Laura Resau
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010
fiction / contemporary, 160 pages

Zitlally's family is undocumented, and her father has just been arrested for speeding and deported back to Mexico. As her family waits for him to return—they’ve paid a coyote to guide him back across the border—they receive news that he and the coyote’s other charges have been kidnapped and are being held for ransom. Meanwhile, Zitlally and a new friend find a dog in the forest near their trailer park. They name it Star for the star-shaped patch over its eye. As time goes on, Zitlally starts to realize that Star is her father’s “spirit animal,” and that as long as Star is safe, her father will be also. But what will happen to Zitlally’s dad when Star disappears?

Stay tuned next week for the nominees for grades 6-8. How many of these have you read?