WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER, hooray!!

There are tons of books I can’t wait to see in 2019. Every year, I love the steps publishing, especially small and independent publishers, take towards being more reflective of the reality of the current world we live in. We are not making near enough strides fast enough but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate the victories and the new additions to the market. In fact, celebrating these books, talking about them, sharing them in our professional networks and basically building word of mouth buzz (and SALES) for them helps ensure there can be MORE of the kind of titles we want to see: titles from marginalized creators reflecting the truth of the world and the truth of their experiences.

That’s why this week I have been so excited to be part of the campaign to get people excited for When Aidan Became A Big Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita. It’s a 2019 title from Lee & Low and this week I’ve been revealing illustration spreads from the book along with thoughts from Kyle about writing the book and his thoughts on the illustrations. It’s been a real joy to share these images and hear Kyle’s thoughts AND watch people get to find out about Aidan and it it on their radars. This is an (all too rare) picture book about a trans boy written by a trans author. It is also a joyful celebration of families, new siblings, and finding your community. It fills a lot of collection gaps and because of Kyle’s tender, immediate, realistic writing and Kaylani’s wonderful illustrations it’s also just a genuine joy. I can’t wait for everyone to have a chance to share this book and I especially can’t wait for trans boys to see themselves reflected so lovingly and truthfully in these pages.

Today I am going to share the cover !! and some thoughts from Kyle and Kaylani. If you want to see the other amazing illustrations I shared throughout the week, you can see them in this Twitter thread (unrolled here for easier reading) AND I have an extra special giveaway on Twitter thanks to Lee & Low – if you head over to my Twitter and retweet the cover and follow Kyle you have a chance to win one of three copies of When Aidan Became A Big Brother (US addresses only)

The release date for When Aidan Became A Big Brother has moved from May to June – the new release is June 4th so put it on your calendars now and add it on GoodReads!

Kyle’s thoughts:

When I first considered writing a picture book about a trans boy, I mostly thought about what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to use that old trope of being “trapped in the wrong body.” I didn’t want to talk about his body at all; trans people are more than our bodies. I also didn’t want him to deal with bullying or transphobia–not from family members, not from other kids. Our lives are more than just the experiences we have to survive. I wanted to focus on the joy of self-expression, the unconditional love families can provide, and the possibilities for change that trans people create in the world. As a librarian, a writer, and a transgender man, I hope that you make room for WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER on your bookshelf, because I’m sure that kids like him already have a place in your heart.”

Kaylani’s thoughts:

“I was really excited to illustrate WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER because it’s a fresh perspective on an underrepresented topic within kids lit. Kyle did an amazing job writing— I wanted the illustrations to seem sweet and charming like the manuscript. As a queer artist, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to illustrate such a special story!”

WOW I love everything about this cover. Look at Aidan’s awesome shirt and amazing hairstyle – look at how his parents are so fully supporting him, holding him up, and embracing him with love. You can feel the warmth and strength literally radiating off this cover – it’s a book full of family love just waiting to be on shelves all over the world!

I hope you’re as excited about this book as I am – and I hope you’ll start sharing word about it with all your colleagues. Join me over on Twitter for a chance to win a copy from Lee & Low and let’s keep this conversation going and growing so we can see more books like Aidan out there.

If you want to know a little more about Kyle and Kaylani, please check out their bios and visit/add them on social:

KYLE LUKOFF is the author of A Storytelling of Ravens, which Kirkus Reviews called “not to be missed” in a starred review. After a decade as a bookseller he now works as a school librarian New York City, and has been involved in trans communities since 2004.” You can find him online at www.kylelukoff.com, @Shekels_Library, and facebook.com/kylelukoffwrites.

 

KAYLANI JUANITA describes her mission as an artist as “supporting the stories of the underrepresented, and creating new ways for people to imagine themselves.” Her work has appeared at the Society of Illustrators and on the BBC website, as well as in her first picture book, Ta-Da!, written by Kathy Ellen Davis. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Look for her online at kaylanijuanita.com and @kaylanijuanita on Twitter and Instagram.

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LOCK & MORI – Interview & Giveaway

I’m finally back from vacation and back on track now that school has started.  PHEW is there any rush like the end of summer programs meeting the beginning of the school year? After all the delays and holidays I am finally returning to Lock & Mori which was released YESTERDAY – wheeeeee! You might remember my overwhelming affection for this modern day re-telling of the Sherlock Holmes canon featuring a female teenage Moriarty (yes) and a teenage Sherlock solving mysteries and kissing as they hurtle towards their fate from my last blog.  Today, I have an interview with author Heather W. Petty AND I’m giving away a copy of Lock & Mori! Onto the interview!

heather

How were you first introduced to Sherlock and the work of Arthur Conan Doyle?  Did you always want to write your version?

I read the stories when I was a teenage murder mystery addict, but they weren’t my favorite, if I’m being honest. I was way more into Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. But rereading the stories more recently was really interesting. The narrative style really holds up for a modern reader. I think the first-person narrative mixed with some of the more progressive ideals presented in the stories are why derivative works have been so popular throughout the years.

How did you decide to write from Mori’s POV instead of Sherlock’s?

From the start, I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the villain. It was the biggest part of the appeal of the idea for me, really.

Why did you choose to set the story in present day?

I wasn’t really interested in writing a historical, so pulling the characters into the present day was a pretty easy decision.

I know you don’t want to spoil the next two books – but are you planning on introducing more characters from canon (in your own versions, of course!)24885790

The book is an origin story, so I’m trying to match up this story with an alternate, modern version of what happens in the canon. That means a lot of the characters introduced in the canon aren’t necessarily available to me. But I can’t answer this specifically yet. For reasons. 🙂

Do you have some recs for other YA mysteries?

YES! One of my favorites of the 2015 debuts is Mary McCoy’s DEAD TO ME. It’s Golden Age Hollywood noir perfection. I love that book so much! I also really loved TEN by Gretchen McNeil, UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan, and THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOWS by Robin Wasserman. Finally, keep 2016 in mind. Kristen Crowley Held has the cutest most hilarious mystery coming out in March called HOLDING COURT. And in June 2016, Bill Cameron has a YA mystery called PROPERTY OF THE STATE coming out that is BRILLIANT. I literally can’t wait to get my hands on a finished copy when it publishes just so I can reread it again and again.

Rank your favorite versions of Sherlock?  (note: it is OK to have The Great Mouse Detective as number one)

I couldn’t possibly rank them. I will say that House was probably, to me, the most unique derivation so far—so unique many people don’t realize it’s a Sherlock derivative work. And there’s a special place in my heart for the Jeremy Brett Sherlock from ITV’s various Sherlock series in the 80s and 90s. That show is probably what made me first fall in love with Sherlock and want to read the full canon. (As an aside, I saw Great Mouse Detective in the theaters when it first came out! Aaaaand, now I feel like the oldest ever.)

Find Heather online: website | Twitter |Facebook | Goodreads

Thank you, Heather!  I sometimes forget House is a Sherlock reboot too!  I love when stories come back over and over in different ways, I think it’s one of the things that really drew me to Lock & Mori.

ARE YOU DYING TO READ IT YET?  Since it’s out now you can order a copy of your very own!  Or you can go check it out from your local library (if don’t have it, suggest they purchase it.) AND YOU CAN WIN A COPY HERE!  All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog by Wednesday, September 23 and I’ll select a random winner.

Get on the case already! (sorry, I couldn’t resist …)

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The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick – an interview & a giveaway!

ghosts of heaven

I honestly can’t think of anyone in YA who does what Marcus Sedgwick does.  Perhaps this is why I am so entranced by everything he’s ever written.  Sedgwick won the Printz Award last year (that is the highest honor in young adult literature) for Midwinterblood, which remains one of the most atmospheric and overwhelming YA books I’ve ever read.  Since then he also wrote an amazing book about a blind girl who is not defined by her disability but by her will (She is Not Invisible) and created this week’s new release – The Ghosts of Heaven.

ThenGhosts of Heaven is one of my favorite books of 2015.  I know, it’s early.  But I also know that this book is special. I could give you a summary of The Ghosts of Heaven, I suppose.  It’s four stories told in four different styles that can be read in any order or not even necessarily together at all. (But once you read one, you’ll want to read them all, I promise.)  The one thing they have in common is Sedgwick’s unbelievable sense of pacing – this man can wind a story like no one else around. The second story, The Witch in the Water, reminded me of Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is about a witch hunt and much more and the sense of impending malice and tension in it was so perfectly created that I honestly had to put it down a few times to take a breather from it. The last section, The Song of Destiny is a mystery set on a spaceship sent out to colonize a planet and it was so beautifully crafted it made me cry with joy. Now THAT is some writing.

These Ghost of Heaven is also united by the image of a spiral, which is found through-out all the stories and weaves them together in the smallest and yet also most significant ways. It’s haunting and subtle and just a little brilliant to wind a story around a spiral.  And the use of the spiral is a great narrative device that makes it easy to step into any of the four stories and follow the thread of them.  The spiral is a little creepy, yeah, but also totally beguiling – which is the perfect combination in a book for teens.

Teens – yes, there’s that question you’re dying to ask.  Sure, Sedgwick’s books are smart and LITERARY~~ but, I mean do teens like them?  Yeah, they sure would.  Look, I’m not telling you every reader is going to be on board with Sedgwick’s books – but there’s NO book that “every” reader is on board with, no matter what you’ve heard.  But I don’t even think his writing is just for the NON reluctant reader (one of my favorite concepts) I think there’s something haunting, creepy, compelling, and ENTICING about Marcus Sedgwick’s books.  They whisper of things just out of sight, things in shadows, things you feel dance across your skin in the quiet.  C’mon now – that’s perfect for teens. And for that teen that just keeps BEGGING for something new, something else, something different, something more (you know the one) … Marcus Sedgwick is perfect.

With that, this is highly recommended as a first purchase for libraries. It will appeal to a wide section of teen readers, from those looking for a challenging read to those looking for a quick short story, especially if you give it the kind of booktalk that highlights the mystery and original atmosphere through-out time.

When I had the chance to participate in the book tour for this title, I jumped up faster than Katniss at the Reaping. ESPECIALLY when I was told that I’d have a chance to ask Marcus Sedgwick some questions about the book.  One of the best things about Ghosts of Heaven is that it’s simply meant to be talked about – there’s so much to be discussed!

Not only that, the awesome publishers are giving away a copy – perfect for adding to your library!  All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this entry by January 19. (US residents only)

The whole tour is pretty cool: there are reviews, more giveaways, and more interviews so you should check out the whole schedule to find out more about the book. You can also read a summary and the first forty pages.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE QUESTIONS I ASKED MARCUS SEDGWICK THAT HE ANSWERED IN THE BEST WAYS POSSIBLE THAT MADE ME JUST WANT TO RE-READ THE WHOLE BOOK OVER AGAIN BECAUSE THEY WERE JUST THAT FASCINATING?! Read on!

BLOGTOUR

 

Like Midwinterblood, The Ghosts of Heaven is a book of intertwined stories that COULD be read alone but work together to create a fuller picture. What draws you to writing this kind of narrative?

If it’s a truism to say that all writing is trying to work out what it is to be human, then there are perhaps broadly two ways of doing that – by working from the individual to speak of the universal, or by working from the universal to speak about the individual, because both are part of being human. With these two books I was attempting to look at things on a larger scale than the individual, to talk about large and eternal subjects, and yet, the paradox of that is, as I just said, that the way to do that was by using the individual. By using stories about several individuals across different times, I was hoping to convey a large feeling, an eternal atmosphere.

Can you talk about the specifics of how you wrote this narrative? Did you write it “in order” or create the order after the individual pieces were written?

I planned the four stories (and planning for me is half way towards the finished writing anyway) in bits and pieces, flitting backwards and forwards between the four ideas in my head as I felt like it, or as I found a particularly interesting thing in what I call research, or as something randomly pushed me in one direction or another. Once I had finalized things (as far as I was going to finalize things, at least) in my head, I wrote the stories in the order in which they appear in the book – a physical book being limited in this way of course, and though this order is important, there is another one that I feel is of equal importance, but I’m keeping what that is to myself. I would like each reader to feel for themselves how the story might alter if the four parts were taken in a different order.

I am fascinated by the different narrative forms in the book – including verse to diary entries. Was this a deliberate choice to make each section have an even more unique voice?

Yes, partly, but it also stemmed from a very conscious choice about the section called Whispers in the Dark. Having decided that I wanted to set a story in a Neolithic period, in which we are witness to the very earliest origin of writing, I felt I had a problem. I cringe when I think of certain books and films that try to be authentic with stories set in prehistory. I’m thinking of films like One Million Years BC and so on, where cave men ‘ugg’ and ‘agg’ at each other and all have names with at least one K in them. The view of this stage of our history seems to require that we spoke in harsh and guttural tones. For all we know, we spoke in a mellifluous and beautifully lyrical language. But I would have had no more reason to create a language or accompanying atmosphere in that fashion either. The solution I felt was to write that part in free verse, to distance us somewhat from the world, and give it a remote and foreign feel. It meant I could basically avoid dialogue and direct narrative thought, which I felt would have been inauthentic, no matter what I did. So having one part in verse, I thought I should give each quarter a distinct narrative approach.

What are some literary inspirations for this work? Tonally, the third part, The Easiest Room in Hell, reminded me of Lovecraft and the second section, The Witch in the Water, reminded me of Hawthorne. (Maybe I’m totally off-base, but I loved the way each section seemed to allude to other classic works of literature.)

You’re spot on! Lovecraft was a big influence on the feel of Easiest Room – I’d been making some road-trips through New England, and it brought back memories of reading Lovecraft as a teenager. As an Englishman, I love seeing all the English place names transposed to New England – we have such a shared history and I feel fond of it. Lovecraft of course then did his own thing on top of that, and my character Charles Dexter is a direct reference (for those who know) to Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. That meant I got to write some poetry in the style that Lovecraft might have done, which was great fun. Witch in the Water has a feel of Hawthorne, I see what you mean, but that wasn’t conscious, though may have come through. I was trying to recreate the tone of classic accounts of witch trials – although I set my story in England, Diane Starkey’s fantastic book, The Devil in Massachusetts, captures what is scariest about all witch trials – the combination of claustrophobia and violence that propels their inevitability. I was also driven for this section by an obscure 60s thriller called Ritual, by David Pinner, from which the classic British horror film The Wicker Man was derived (and no, I’m not talking about the Nicholas Cage version!)

You never seem to write the same book twice! Even this book, which shares traits with Midwinterblood is different in pacing, setting, tone, and even theme. Are you consciously trying to innovate in your writing? Do you just get bored easily? 🙂 Where does the constant innovation come from?

Yes, yes, and I don’t know. Perhaps I should elaborate on that a little bit. Yes, I am consciously trying to innovate, and yes, I do get bored easily. That’s a direct way of saying that I’ve been writing for a reasonably long time now and I nearly stopped two or three times because I didn’t know where to go next. I don’t want to write the same book every time, but that makes things hard because there must be a finite number of times that I can do that. But that’s what I really want to do, and it’s important because to keep on doing things this way means I have to continually find something new to be excited about, and some new way of working. But I’m not complaining, I love a challenge when I’m writing and this makes sure that I keep setting myself new challenges. Where does the innovation come from? I’m not really sure, I think the only thing is that I try to be influenced by as wide a range of books, films and ideas in general in order to keep things fresh. So I don’t know what’s coming next. If I can’t set myself a new challenge, there may be no new books at all, but if there are, I can promise they will offer something new, or something new to me, at least.

Here’s me after reading Marcus Sedgwick’s answers and feeling like I understood the book so much more/wanted to read it again/got the literary moods and references right:

Actually, those are just my faces in general when it comes to Marcus Sedgwick’s books. (I could talk for a thousand years about Midwinterblood – perfect choice, my Printz friends.  What a stunner.) If you haven’t read a Sedgwick book, The Ghosts of Heaven is the perfect place to start.  Buy a copy, check it out from your library or recommend they buy a copy or …. leave a comment to enter to win one!

In any case: read it as soon as possible so we can discuss it and you can share it with your teen patrons!

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Stray by Elissa Sussman – a review, an interview and a giveaway!

Stray Cover
I think there’s something primal about fairy tale re-tellings.  I really do.  And I think that they are a staple of YA because of this very thing, because they say to teen readers: you can pull the sword from the stone, you can evade the evil step-parent, you can save the day.  And, yes, you can wear a beautiful dress and fall in love while doing it.  That’s a message worth hearing, and it’s one that I understand teens are drawn to time after time.  So!  If it’s a fairy tale re-telling, IU am on board.  But even if this weren’t a favorite genre of mine, I would have still absolutely adored Elissa Sussman’s magnificent debut Stray.

I love everything about Stray.  I love the fully realized magical world where women have strong magic that their patriarchal society has turned into a tool to shame and control them. I love the blending of fairy tales in a subtle and dark way – there’s a kingdom tangled in thorns and plenty of fairy godmothers but they are not what you remember and they are most certainly not what you expect.  (This is maybe the part I love the best – I am sick of fairy tale re-tellings where it’s a gentle tweak on the story or a happy kind of twist – Stray is unafraid to put sharper, darker edges on things and that makes it not just stand out from the pack but twice as readable as you rush to find out what happens next and HOW.) I love Aislynn the main character, who is not perfect, who makes stupid mistakes. She has more magic than she can manage and lives in a world that tells her that this is her fault and she must be punished for it. What I love the most about Stray is that it asks teenagers to consider if they agree.  It asks teen readers to actually sit down and think about how magic would be handled and who would try to control it and what a society would do to keep it under control.  What I love most about Stray is that it takes these questions about magic and turns them into questions about our world – about female autonomy, about class inequalities, about justice and love.  It makes the magic, it makes the stakes, real.

That’s what the very best fairy tales, re-tellings or not, do.  And that’s what Stray is.

Stray is on-sale now and I recommend it as a first purchase for public and high school libraries. Your fairy-tale fans will love it but I think it also has high appeal to fans of stories with darker edges.  If you can’t afford to buy a copy, recommend your library purchase one.  ALSO…I’M GIVING ONE AWAY! Aw yes!

I was more than excited when Elissa asked me to be part of Stray’s book tour!  “YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES,” I instantly replied.  She agreed to answer some of my burning questions about the larger themes and genesis of Stray and they just made me love it more.

She’s also going to give away a copy of Stray AND a very cool tote bag (tote bag with a fairy tale slogan on it, bestill my heart!) to one lucky reader.  All you have to do is leave a comment on this post by October 15th and I will choose a random winner. (US only, please.)

Onto the questions … but first a picture of what you have a chance to win!!

stray and tote

1. The fairy tale influences in Stray are, of course, obvious. But I felt a real Margaret Atwood Handmaid’s Tale vibe, particularly about the subjugation of women, in it. And I loved what you did with the undeniably feminist underpinnings of the story. Am I totally off-base or was this deliberate?

Thank you! I love it when people can see my feminist underpinnings (that sounded dirty). But seriously, yes, it was quite deliberate. I’m a huge fan of THE HANDMAID’S TALE. I think it’s a testament to how little things have changed that so many writers (because there have been several recent, excellent YA books dealing with similar topics) still feel that these are issues that still need to be addressed.

2. But back to those obvious fairy tale elements … there’s a blend of fairy tales and fairy-tale-like elements happening here. What inspired you to weave these particular elements/stories together in this way?

There’s that saying “write what you know”, but I really think it’s “write what you like”. And I really like fairy tales. And feminism. And food. I basically let those things simmer in my brain pot for a few years, occasionally tossing in bits of familiar fairy tales until it turned into the stew that is now STRAY.

3. I know you have a history in animation. Parts of Stray felt, in the very best of ways, like a darker, deeper version of not just classic fairy tales but of the Disney/pop culture variants most teens will be familiar with. Was this intentional? An inevitable byproduct of your work and our culture?

The very first inkling of STRAY was born out of my love for animated movies, and my attempt to reconcile my feminist leanings with my love for a genre that historically has not been very welcoming or respectful of women. I wanted to write a story that addressed the problems I had with most princess movies, while still paying homage to them.

One of the wonderful things about fairy tales is how layered they are. Each new version builds off of the old one. And for me, someone who grew up with Disney films, it made perfect sense to construct STRAY with those pop culture elements.

4. Besides being a genuine pleasure to read – a fairy tale yarn full of action, surprises, strong characters, twists, and a dash of romance – what do you hope teen readers will take from Stray?

I’m a big fan of fantasy and fairy tale retellings, and I find there’s a particular type of heroine that is very popular in these stories. From page one, she has a fully formed feminist identity. She doesn’t want to follow cultural guidelines because she knows they’re restrictive and outdated.

I love those characters and when I was sixteen, I desperately wanted to be them. But I wasn’t. It took a long time for me to understand, let alone verbalize how restrictive the world can be to women, especially ones in their teens. And I’d look at the characters I idolize and wonder “how did they get there?”

There’s a learning curve when you’re that age. You’re just beginning to sort through all the bullshit, trying to figure out who you are and what you believe. Society works really hard to convince young women that sexism is over and that women’s right’s activists are humorless, sexless shrews. Did I prefer to (inaccurately) call myself a “humanist” over a “feminist” when I was in high school? You bet I did.

We expect a lot of young women, both fictionalized and real. I wanted Aislynn to be someone who’s at the very beginning of her journey. I wanted her to be naive, who believes things that maybe she shouldn’t, someone who makes mistakes. Because not all of us have the answer on day one. Or on page one.

5. Can you touch, ever so briefly, on the awesomeness of the title and the levels it works on? What’s the genesis of the title? Also – does this series have a larger name yet and when might we expect the next book? (note how I am politely not asking for any plot details though I crave them wildly!)

The title, as well as the concept of the Path, are inspired by the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and especially by the song “I Know Things Know” from the musical INTO THE WOODS. It’s also where a lot of the wolf imagery originates from – this idea that leaving the path, straying from it, will only lead to bad things.

STRAY and BURN are both Four Sisters Novels, because although each book exists in the same world and often has appearances from familiar characters, each will follow a new protagonist, or in BURN’s case, two new protagonists. It doesn’t have a release date yet, but I am having a really fun time working on it.

(I Know Things Know – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RK81Rv65fgQ)

Thank you SO MUCH, Elissa!  You can find out more about Elissa (including more about her history in animation and with Disney, which I alluded to in the interview) at her website.  Also, I follow her on Twitter and she’s just delightful so you should follow her on Twitter!  Comment for a chance to win this awesome book (and awesome tote, screenprinted by Elissa herself, what!) and hurry up and read it so I can discuss it with the world!

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Books for Ferguson – UPDATED

11/28/14 We have a FOURTH list of titles for Ferguson! Believe it or not, we got through the third list in less than two days.  This is amazing, world.  These titles have been approved by Scott Bonner.  They fill gaps in Ferguson’s popular reading collection for teens (lots of African-American authors) and expand their collection of titles with Native American, Asian American, and Latin@ American protagonists.  There are also adult titles on this list.  None of these titles are currently held at the Ferguson branch and would be welcome additions to their shelves. Please read through the rest of the original post to find out specific instructions on how/why these titles were selected and how to get them shipped directly to Ferguson.

You may also still donate cash! Librarian Scott Bonner wants to use  these donations to possibly  hire a new librarian, which would be truly amazing.  You can donate via the Paypal link on their homepage.  If you’re having trouble linking to the current list, you can go to Powell’s “find a Wishlist” link and use the email booksforferguson @ gmail to locate the list called “Books for Ferguson IV”  Thank you for caring about libraries!

What has been happening in Ferguson, Missouri for the past few weeks has been absolutely enraging and heartbreaking on so many levels.  I don’t want to say it is shocking or unbelievable or HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN IN AMERICA because while what has been happening in Ferguson might seem “un-American” to me, it’s the America that so many people exist in. And that’s part of the warranted rage and heartbreak. While following the news about Ferguson on Twitter (by far the best place to get news on issues like this) I saw the hashtag #kidlit4justice” start.  The idea was to round up book suggestions about It was created and promoted by three of my favorite people on Twitter: Sarah Hamburg, Kids Like Us, and Ebony Thomas.   (Dr. Thomas also writes the amazing blog The Dark Fantastic, which should be on your must read list.) Lots of people chimed in with great suggestions.  There’s a Storify of their suggestions which is unmissable.

Twitter was also how I found out about the amazing work happening at the Ferguson Library.  In the wake of school being cancelled, the Ferguson Library went about creating a school and community place for the children of Ferguson. Teachers volunteered to come in and teach, classes were held at the library and a satellite location.  You can read all about it on the twitter for Ferguson Library.

Once Scott Bonner, the director of the Ferguson Library, indicated that their library would be open to taking donations, both of cash and of books, I saw many people willing to donate. I was heartened by this, but I was also concerned that people would send them things that end up not being useful for their collection and end up taking time and effort to get rid of.  So, following the example of annual book drive GuysLitWire hosts for Ballou Library, I thought the best approach was to create a list for people to buy from.  And what better way to start than with the suggestions from #KidLit4Justice?

Using the #KidLit4Justice tag and my own reader’s advisory knowledge, I created a list of 60 titles. I checked each title against the Ferguson Municipal Public Library District catalog to make sure that none of these titles are held at the Ferguson branch. Some were held at other branches in the system, some were not in the system at all. This first wave focuses titles that are about social activism, peace, building communities, healing from trauma, and dealing with emotions. There is a mix of fiction and non-fiction but they are all geared at children and teens.  Scott Bonner, Ferguson’s library director, has looked over and approved this list, so these are titles that will be welcomed and used at their branch.

Here’s the instructions (only slightly modified from GuysLitWire, thanks to the amazing Colleen Mondor for the guidance and inspiration!) on what you can do.  If you can’t buy a book for Ferguson, please share this list far and wide!

A wishlist for Ferguson has been created at Powell’s.

I chose Powell’s because they are an independent bookstore that has a huge stock and doesn’t have any of Amazon’s sketchiness. Feel free to check out the list, read more about the books, and make your selections as you see fit. While we prefer new it is perfectly fine to purchase used copies of a book , but make sure the book is in “standard” used condition. Also, if at all possible – especially when it comes to picture books – please select hardcover or library-bound.  These titles are more expensive, but they are better for library circulation.  (I’ve placed the preferred editions into the cart, but this is just a general reminder!)

Once you have made your selection(s) head to “checkout” and you will be prompted to inform Powell’s if the books were indeed bought from the wishlist. This lets the store know to mark them as “purchased” on the list. After that you need to provide your credit card info and also fill in the shipping address. (If you have already done this in the past the info will be saved to your Powells account.)

Here is where the books are going to:

Ferguson Public Library
ATTN: Scott Bonner
35 North Florissant Road
Ferguson, MO 63135
(314) 521-4820

I can’t remember if Powell’s lets you include a little note with your order, but if it does, feel free to do so. You can also share with @FergusonLibrary on Twitter so that you continue to boost the signal AND let them know what amazing books are coming their way.  Hopefully, if we get everything bought off this list we can use this method and work with Scott to add MORE titles of all kinds to their collection.

Ready to buy?  Ready to signal boost?  Ready to get these books on shelves in Ferguson today? Let’s go!

Please ask me any questions/make any suggestions in comments here or on Twitter.)

UPDATE

It took only a day to get 55 books sent to Ferguson!  Amazing.  So … I created a whole new list!  The procedure for sending them is the same.  Please let me know if you have questions, comments, or SUGGESTIONS!

MORE Books for Ferguson

If you’re having trouble linking to the current list, you can go to Powell’s “find a Wishlist” link and use the email booksforferguson @ gmail to locate the list called “More Books For Ferguson”.  Please let me know if you have other questions.

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Banned Books Week: an interview with Meg Medina and a GIVEAWAY!

“What kids need and deserve is to feel respected – not just by their classmates, but also by teachers and school leaders who ought to have faith in young people’s ability to read, think, and decide.” – Meg Medina

Yesterday, I wrote a short review of Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and talked about a situation involving Meg  being uninvited from a middle school speaking engagement in Virginia because of the word ASS in the book’s title.  I wanted to know more about the situation, so I reached out to Meg.

I was so happy when Meg Medina agreed to answer a few questions about not only her work and her motivation, but her recent experience with being in the spotlight.

And then she sent back her incredible, thoughtful answers and I was beyond happy!

Below, you’ll find out a little bit more about Meg and her work, particularly the motivation for writing the wonderful Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.  There’s also more information about the situation in Virginia and some really insightful commentary.

Meg Medina

Meg Medina is a Cuban American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. Her work examines how cultures intersect through the eyes of young people, and she brings to audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and to the qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls. Her books are Milagros: Girl from Away; The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind; Tia Isa Wants a Car; and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. She is the 2012 winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award. When she is not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth and/or literacy. She lives with her extended family in Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Where does it end? When we only allow kids to read books that offend absolutely no one and that offer up nothing that makes them reflect on the uncomfortable realities of their lives?  – Meg Medina

Tell us a little bit about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS.  What was the genesis of the book?

Meg Medina: YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is the story of 16-year-old Piddy Sanchez who finds herself the target of a school bully at her new high school. Bullying is the main event in the novel but we cross lots of terrain, like cultural identity, relationships between mothers and daughters, sexual relationships, relationships between students and teachers. I based the novel on a shard of truth from my experience with a school bully in junior high school. The impact of that experience was long lasting and awful. I lost my trust of others. My grades dropped, as I cut class and skipped school. And for a time, I experimented with risky people. It took years for me to feel better and get back on track.

At the National Coalition Against Censorship blog, they mentioned that you had been told that your book seemed to “address the inner city“.  I think many people can see this as a thinly veiled racist dog whistle.  What was your reaction to this element of the administration’s response?

MM: It was actually a quote to a reporter who covered the story. Neither the superintendent nor the principal spoke to me at all. http://www.richmondmagazine.com/blogs.php?blogID=3fa19738ea6e1cb340bfc8ee7b35d280

But, in any case, it was a stunner coming from a school superintendent.

Even if she were trying to point out that the novel was set in Queens, New York, it would be a silly reason to dismiss a book. The idea that a reader has nothing to learn from characters that are in different circumstances is ridiculous.

As for the alarming overtones: Kids aren’t bullies because they’re Latino or because they live in a city. Kids who dress in Northface jackets and drive nice cars — or who live in Cumberland County — can be just as awful.

Have there been any updates on the situation in Virginia?  What has happened since the story has become more widely known?  How has it impacted you?

MM: Well, my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with much-appreciated support. This included a post from Judy Blume who has been fighting censorship for decades now.

I’ve received invitations to places as far away as Alaska – and I’ll be part of an anti-bullying community event in Washington, DC next month where I will definitely say the title of my book. Also, I’m proud to say that Richmond City Library, Main Branch, is starting a teen book club this coming spring. YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is one of their first titles on the list.

The biggest impact, though, has been on my willingness to speak up. As a rule, I’m not a person who seeks out conflict. However, I’m now past just shaking my head and quietly “working around” people who feel justified in censoring books for young people – mine or anyone else’s. Where does it end? When we only allow kids to read books that offend absolutely no one and that offer up nothing that makes them reflect on the uncomfortable realities of their lives?

One of the things I love about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is how effectively you get across that bullying can start over seemingly nothing (Piddy doesn’t even know Yaqui) and then escalate into something that takes over the victim’s whole life.  Can you talk about the process of making the bullying feel so accurate intense? 

MM: Definitely, you can be bullied for the most ridiculous reason. In fact, bullying has very little to do with the victim. It’s mostly about power and about what the bully is trying to work out. The sad part, though, is that kids who get bullied often believe that there is something wrong with them, something that marks them as a loser. That’s where the hopelessness and shame begin.

When I drew Piddy as a character, I drew a normal kid with brains and average looks and people who loved her. She could be anybody. There’s nothing about Piddy that’s “wrong.”

Yaqui was tricky; you could write an entire novel about a girl like that, couldn’t you? But I wanted to tell Piddy’s story, not Yaqui’s. So, as I fleshed out Yaqui, I worked on revealing her only through Piddy’s experience and perceptions. Yaqui started out as a sentence, something that didn’t worry Piddy very much at all. But as each chapter unfolded and as Piddy’s self-confidence eroded, the idea of Yaqui seeped into every part of Piddy’s being until it was all consuming. That overpowering dread felt the most realistic to me.

What lessons about bullying do YOU want young readers, be they bullied, bullies, or bystanders, to take from this YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS? What about the messages for adults who work with or are involved with teenagers?

MM: Researchers will tell you that the reasons for bullying are varied and complicated, and they may be right. But at the core, I think kids savage each other mostly because they want to ease their own insecurities, rage and despair – and because no one has stopped them from doing so.

I don’t know that I have lessons in mind, and I certainly don’t offer easy solutions. What I do have is a story that might help a reader feel less lonely and one that might open honest dialogue in a classroom, a library or at a kitchen table.

I wish adults would stop wringing their hands about the wrong things – like whether it’s okay to say, “ass” in front of 14 year olds. Conversations like that miss the point and cement adults’ reputation as being out of touch. What kids need and deserve is to feel respected – not just by their classmates, but also by teachers and school leaders who ought to have faith in young people’s ability to read, think, and decide.

I love your GIRLS OF SUMMER project as well as how all of your work apologetically concentrates strong female characters!  Why do you think this is so important in books for children and young adults? 

MM: Thanks. I love that project, too. Gigi Amateau and I pick 18 books for strong girls every year and then we spend the summer chatting with the authors of those books on our blog.  We include picture book all the way to YA to reflect the long and challenging journey of growing up a strong girl.

There are other fantastic lists (the Amelia Bloomer Prize, for one), but Girls of Summer reflects our personal favorites, the books we recommended to our own daughters and the newer titles we mention to the wonderful girls we meet every day. We’re picky about finding books about unconventional girls who choose their own path, girls who reflect on themselves and who learn to take charge of their fate.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on next?

MM: I have a picture book due out in 2015 called LORO MANGO (Candlewick Press).  And I’m just lifting off on a Young Adult manuscript for Candlewick Press. It’s also set in Queens, but this time we travel to 1977.  Oh, and heads up. I’m pretty sure someone will say “ass” in that one, too.

Thanks so much to Meg!  Not only did she agree to this interview, but Meg is giving away a signed paperback copy of her last YA novel The Girl Who Could Silence the Winda lovely, ethereal story about (you guessed it!) a strong girl finding her place in the world to one lucky reader.  And since I want to keep my pledge to stand up for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by getting it in as many hands as possible, I’m giving away a copy of that!  

Want to be entered to win these awesome books?  Leave a comment on this blog and I’ll choose a random winner! And since the point of  these blogs is to share this story and Meg’s experience as widely as possible?  You can earn an extra entry by sharing this on Twitter or Facebook.  Just link to your share in your comment and you’ll be entered twice

Let’s honor the battles of Banned Books Week by STILL talking about this; by saying it was wrong and, as Meg points out, symptomatic of a larger problem teens face.  Let’s have faith.  And let’s fight for it.

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Kevin Emerson’s THE FELLOWSHIP FOR ALIEN DETECTION: a review, an author interview, and a GIVEAWAY!

fellowshipI love middle grade!  Boy, do I love middle grade!  This is one of the reasons I am so crazy about Walden Pond Press – they are an amazing middle grade imprint full of all sorts of interesting stuff written for the 8-14 year old range.  I was super-excited for the chance to work with Walden Pond on the blog tour for their new title The Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson.  (I’ll tell you all about why shortly…)

Fellowship for Alien Detection is the story of Haley and Dodger – two middle schoolers from different parts of the country who basically have nothing in common.  Well, there’s one thing – they’re both developing some very interesting theories about extraterrestrial life and how it all relates to the mysterious happenings in a small town in Arizona.  What Haley and Dodger are about to discover will change their lives and even, you guessed it, the fate of the world.

This is a truly delightful book and I am so excited to be the very first stop on the blog  tour. The tour is going to be full of bonus content, give-aways, and Q&A with Kevin Emerson, so you’ll want to follow it along every stop for the next twelve days.  If you click on the handy banner below you’ll be taken to Walden Pond’s blog tour site for the complete listing.

As part of the tour not only am I posting a short review BUT Kevin Emerson answered a few questions for me and I get to share them with you (and, y’all, these are some great answers.  Gave me a lot more insight into the book.  I LOVE when an author does that) AND Walden Pond is generously providing a copy for one lucky person!   Hooray!

Aliens!

4 Reasons I Love The Fellowship for Alien Detection SO HARD

1. SCIENCE FICTION!  We’ve had a real demand for this at my library, both with the teen crowd and the middle grade audience.  I think MG needs to catch up.  Overall, I think one of the things middle grade needs more of is genre fiction and this is a stand-out example.  It’s classic sci-fic (Aliens!  Science!  Other worlds! Awesome freaking spaceships!!) and classic middle grade: the discovery and sense of wonder about the wide world?  Those go together hand in hand, don’t you think?  Emerson knows they do and this book sure shows it.

2. Setting, setting, setting! I really think one of the things kids like the most about Rick Riordan’s work is the way the action takes place all over the country (and the world).  It doesn’t feel urban, it doesn’t feel rural – it feels like the world.  Fellowship has that too – there’s believable small towns and fancy suburbs, out West and back East.  Emerson is really good at establishing place and how it can shape who you are.  And you know what that means?  It means when the super-cool aliens and spaceships show up?  That feels like a totally believable setting too.

3. Action! Yup, this book is, as they say, “action-packed”.  But what I really enjoyed was that the action never felt forced.  I love that the word “detection” is part of the title because besides this being a very cool science-fiction story with aliens and spaceships and all it is ALSO a story with a lot of detection and solving going on thanks to our intrepid protagonists and that, naturally and in the best of ways, leads to some really clever, well-plotted, and whiz-bang action sequences that makes this book just fly.

4. Our amazing protagonists!  I have truly saved the best for last.  What REALLY makes Fellowship for Alien Detection great is the protagonists, Haley and Dodger.  They do not fall in love, they do not flirt with each other.  They push and pull at each other and become friends and learn from each other.  It’s AWESOME.  They make each other stronger and more interesting and, each in their own right, they are complicated characters who want things and learn things and mess up and even change.  Haley and Dodger are smart and independent and yet still obviously middle-schoolers.   You root for them and you empathize with them (I recognized a lot of myself in Haley, which made more sense when I read Kevin Emerson’s answers about characterization, but I really felt for Dodger).  They are characters I loved spending time with and I know middle-grade readers are going to as well.

I know, now you’re dying to read it.  As you should be.  BUT WAIT!  Here comes the most exciting part of the blog: Kevin Emerson’s interview, which involves awesome answers and a reference to Duane Barry.  Hang on!

Kevin Emerson Interview

I’m always interested in what draws writers to specific genres.  What’s the appeal of science-fiction for you as a writer and/or you as a reader?

 This is my first attempt at writing sci-fi but the genre was probably my first love as a reader. I love both the speculative nature of it, thinking about the possibilities of space travel and far off worlds, of time travel, and I also love the way that it allows you to pose big questions about the human condition, to wonder where we really fit in and what really matters. I like the serious versions, like Ender’s Game, but I also love the more absurdist visions, like Douglas Adams or Kurt Vonnegut. With FELLOWSHIP, I tried to do a little of both. That’s actually one of my favorite things about writing middle grade: it’s a great age to pair funny and serious, big questions and small, like, ‘what is the point of life?’ with, ‘how am I going to NOT kill my brother right now?’

This book is also seriously influenced by 100 hours of X-Files episodes (There were more episodes than that, but we don’t talk about those). Haley is somewhat my Scully, and Dodger is somewhat my Mulder. Actually, Dodger is more my Duane Barry. And The Alto is Alex Krycek. Only like 5 people are going to get those references.  (I GOT THEM!  DUANE BERRY, OMG!)

Related, I love knowing how authors found themselves writing middle-grade fiction!  Did you know this was a genre?  How did you decide this was a middle-grade story you wanted to tell?

I learned about middle grade fiction as an elementary school teacher. My favorite students were fifth graders, and I fell in love with books for that age. Sharon Creech really made me want to write middle grade. Philip Pullman, too.

There were two original inspirations for this book. One was a cross-country road trip I took when moving from Boston to Seattle (via Graceland, Texas and Roswell). The second was a certain kind of student that I’ve run into a few times: the anxious, over-stressed, over-scheduled kid who seems too grown-up, too serious, and too exhausted for her age (sometimes they were boys, but more often girls). The kind of kid who was already thinking about the college applications and resumes even in middle school. Some of them had really motivated parents, but others had parents who would just shrug and say, “We tell her to chill, but she doesn’t.” I always worried about those students as much as I admired them, and that’s where Haley came from.

I knew it was a middle grade story from the start because I felt that a story about trying to find something alien and other-worldly was also a story about trying to get away from what was completely familiar and every day, like our families. From the first draft, I knew that the essential conflict of this story was that pull between being your own adventurer, and being a member of a family’s adventure (which usually seems much more boring). It something I always pushed and pulled against as a teen.

I actually had an editor who wanted to buy this story a few years ago, except he wanted me to take out the parents and age up the kids. I had to say no. Haley and Dodger on the road with their parents was the book. That, to me, is one of the essential middle grade conflicts. Also, I wanted to write a fun version of alien business that wasn’t too dark, and certainly didn’t have any steamy romance. (ick!)

One thing I loved about the book was that you included strong, interesting male and female leads.  Can you talk a little about the process and decision regarding that?

Haley and Dodger were born from different types of students that I have run into over the years. Haley, as described previously, and Dodger as the inward boy who feels all wrong in his body, in his life, but can’t find the key to balance. As a teacher, I always enjoy students like Haley, because they’re so smart and game. You can discuss really sophisticated topics and they’re so into it. And I always empathize with the boys like Dodger because I felt that way, at that age, (though I was a bit more outwardly successful than he is).

The thing you always want to tell the Haleys is, keep burning that fire and going for it, but also, relax. It’s a long journey. There’s plenty of time. But of course you sound like an old sod if you actually say that. And to the Dodgers, you just want to (gently) shake them and be like, man, just be you, on the outside, like you are on the inside. Be a quirky, interesting, messy painting in progress. It’s okay if it’s abstract art. Let the world know that you don’t know where you fit, and see what happens then. You might be surprised.

Both characters were really obvious to me from the get-go, though it did take me many drafts to really zero in on their journeys. Same for their families. Haley’s is supportive and moderately laid back, trying to meet their daughter halfway. Dodger’s is caring too, except they don’t know how to show it. I started the early drafts of this manuscript before I had kids of my own, but now that I have two (daughter, 7, and son, 2), I feel like the two dads in the book, Allan and Harry, each have pieces of me in them (Allan got the good parts, Harry less so).

I revised the plot logistics of this book so many times, but Haley, Dodger and their families, and Suza, have been the same kids all along.

This book has some really great location pieces!  How do you work to create believable settings – even if they involve aliens and spaceships? 

Most of the key sets in this book are real places I’ve been, or are closely based on real places. Even the caverns are heavily influenced by Carlsbad Caverns (which used to have its own scene in an early draft). I take a lot of pictures when I’m places, and I keep a journal, or at least notes on my phone about the important signs, smells, stuff like that. I love travel; it’s when my senses are at their peak. Part of what was really fun about this book was adding the weird and extra-terrestrial to these concrete places, taking that sense of possibility and making it come alive.

One of my favorite books in the world is a road atlas. I love to sit in the passenger seat and just study it. And those strange places you find, when you’re a week from home and just driving, disconnected from your inbox, places like Roswell or a forest road somewhere in Arizona, those are the places where life feels big and full of possibility, the places you remember years later even if the only thing you did there was eat at a Denny’s, or snap a photo of a series of rock spires while munching on a trail mix bar. So, the great fun of writing this book was to take a trip like that, and to find the big answers to the questions that new map always poses.

Thanks for letting me go on and on!

Kevin Emerson - Author Photo - Resized

 Kevin Emerson has never been abducted by aliens, at least not that he remembers. He has been to Roswell, but all he found there was a cool key chain. Kevin is the author of a number of books for young readers, including the Oliver Nocturne series, Carlos Is Gonna Get It, and The Lost Code, the first book in the Atlanteans series. Kevin is also a musician. His current project is the brainiac kids’ pop band the Board of Education. He lives in Seattle with his wife and two children. You can visit him online at www.kevinemerson.net or tweet with him at @kcemerson.

 

Such big thanks to Kevin for the interview and everyone at Walden Pond for the opportunity to be part of this!  Don’t forget to stop by Walden Pond’s blog to get the full tour info. (So many chances to win!  so much more to find out about Fellowship!)  And if you want a chance to win Fellowship for Alien Detection from me?  All you have to do is be a US resident and leave a comment on this post by March 11. I’ll chose one winner at random.  And even if you don’t win, you should still read Fellowship for Alien Detection, – it’s an amazing middle grade title.  If you can’t rush out and buy your own copy, go check it out from your library and, if they don’t have a copy, request they purchase one.  Highly recommended all round!

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Malinda Lo’s ADAPTATION: a review, an author-created playlist, and a GIVEAWAY!

When I think about Malinda Lo, shivers of delight run up my spine.  And why’s that?  It’s because whenever I read something by her I know that piece is going to be quintessential YA – a story about a teenager figuring out their place in their world and finding their own voice.  And, even more than that, it’s going to be well-written, well-plotted and, this is the best part, unblinkingly honest about the complexities of teenage life.  That, that’s the part that makes me always look forward to what Malinda Lo is going to write.  So, yes, I’d read whatever she wrote.  But to discover her latest book,  Adaptation, was going to be science-fiction, a genre I have a nerd’s special and life-long devotion to?  Well, I could hardly contain my excitement.

And, with another shiver of delight,  I was quite happy to discover that Adaptation not only lived up to all my expectations but exceeded them.  This book is the YA book I’ve been waiting for, the YA book of my dreams.  It’s the YA book your collection is missing.  It’s a perfect blend of several genres: it has elements of contemporary YA, science-fiction, and romance.  It’s a book about how you’d handle it if the creeping feeling that, as a teenager, there was something off about you, something different indeed, turned out to be  … true.

Damn!  There they are again, the shivers of delight!

I hesitate to spoil  Adaptation because, as with all the best written and well structured books, so much of the pleasure of it comes from the unfolding of the whiz-bang revelations of each chapter.  So, without spoiling I can say that this is the story of some very mysterious and unexplained things that happen to a teenage girl named Reese.  The story kicks off with planes all over the country suddenly being downed by large flocks of birds.  One thing I love is how Lo uses these plane crashes to set up not just an ominous tone for the story (what’s happening?  Is the government telling us everything about these crashes?  How suddenly isolated this makes us and how that creates a creeping feeling of anxiety) but a really believable one.  This all feels grounded in the hyper-anxious times we live in.  That, to me, is always the best place to launch speculative fiction from – the reality of now.

 Adaptation follows Reese and her crush David as they make their way home after being stranded by the grounded flights and the story is propulsive from the first chapter.  But the REAL story is what happen when Reese and David survive car crash and wake up in a military hospital.  The military won’t tell them what happened but, as I am sure will come as no small surprise to you, Reese and David find that just as the world isn’t quite the same … neither are they.

It’s everything that makes YA great and everything that makes sci-fi great (also, it should go without saying but, just to be sure, this book is not “hard” sci-fi, so if that’s your passion, well, read Losers in Space) and it’s full of conspiracies and plot twists and, boy, is it FUN!

I would also be remiss to not mention the fact that, yes, this book isn’t just about ominous end time doom, wide-ranging government conspiracies, and teenagers caught in the middle of all of this but also about sexuality.  Yes, that’s the other reason a Malindo Lo book gives me shivers of delight – when I pick up one of her books I know that there are going to be intelligent teenage characters dealing with the complexities of their sexual attraction.

And, of course, this works so amazingly well with Lo’s sci-fi universe.  After the accident, Reese feels like everything about her has changed.  Is she right?  How right?  Does that explain why she’s suddenly drawn to the enigmatic and alluring Amber or is that completely unrelated?  I won’t bore you with spelling out all the metaphors and the great thing is neither does Lo.  (She is FAR too talented a writer to bog such a well-crafted, well-realized story down with obviousness, preachiness).

Adaptation is a story of changes and, yes, adaptations of all kinds.  THAT’S what makes it so darn readable and, for teens, so darn relatable.  That one of those changes has to do with sexuality?  Well, that’s just what makes this book even more fantastic, original, powerful, and needed on every library shelf.

What I’m saying to you is: Adaptation is worth all the shivers of delight.  

Today is Adaptation’s release day!  That means as of today, you can rush out and buy your own copy or buy a copy for your library.  If you can’t buy it, go into your library and request it.  If they don’t own it, request they purchase it.

AND since this post is part of the publicity for Adaptation (the second I finished the AR of this book, I contacted the publishers and begged them to let me spotlight it here because I loved it so) now YOU have a chance to win your very own copy!  Little & Brown has generously provided me with a copy to give away.  (Thanks, LBYR, you’re the best!) All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog no later than Tuesday, September 25 and I’ll choose one random winner.

AND Malinda Lo agreed to share her playlist for the book here on my blog.  SQUEE!!  IS THERE ANYTHING BETTER THAN A PLAYLIST!?!  This is a super one because not only do all these songs totally match the atmosphere of the book but I even found some new favorite music.

Thanks for sharing this, Malinda!  For more information about  Adaptation and all of Malinda’s other writing, visit her website.

Malinda Lo’s Adaptation Playlist

(click on this link to go directly to the awesome YouTube playlist created by Malinda featuring all of these songs.  Aw yeah!)

One of my favorite things to do while working on a novel is look for music that fits a character or a particular mood. At least, this is the way I justify all the time and money I spend on iTunes! Music can give me a gut-level sense of connection to a character, and it can help me get in the proper frame of mind to write a scene. Sometimes I listen to music when writing to motivate myself, and often I listen to the playlists I create for my novels while I’m walking or driving. Because I listen to these songs repeatedly while I think about what I’m writing, I start to identify the music with the story. Then, when I’m stuck or need a nudge to get to work, listening to a particular song can actually flip the creative switch in me, enabling me to dive right into the scene I’m working on.

I created eight playlists while writing Adaptation, some very short and focusing on particular characters; others much longer and centering on mood. Out of all these playlists I’ve selected 12 tracks that represent the book to me. Whenever I hear one of these, I always think of some aspect of Adaptation. Here’s the playlist and some of my thoughts on why I chose these songs:

1. “Help I’m Alive” by Metric — This was the first song that truly connected me to the main character, Reese. What I love about this song is that the lyrics seem like a cry for help (“help I’m alive”) but the music beneath it isn’t at all weak. I like that contradiction. In the chorus, Emily Haines sings: “Hard to be soft / Tough to be tender.” The words imply that the person crying for help isn’t soft or tender; she struggles to be tender. I think this is at the heart of Reese’s character arc throughout Adaptation and its sequel.

2. “Magical World” featuring Nelly Furtado by Bassnectar — This was the first song I listened to that carried the mood of the book that I wanted to write: mysterious, futuristic, and sexy. Also: “not everything in this magical world is quite what it seems.” That is the truth!

3. “Twilight Galaxy” by Metric — To be honest, Adaptation’s theme band could be Metric. I listened to their albums Fantasies and Live It Out repeatedly while writing the book. This is one of my favorite songs from Fantasies.

4, 5. “Crash and Burn Girl” by Robyn; “Liar” by Dragonette — These two are fun, addictive pop songs about “bad” girls. That’s why some girls are “bad”: they do wrong things, but you can’t resist them. There is a girl like that in Adaptation.

6, 7, 8. “Assassinations” by Stateless; “Between Two Points” featuring Swan by The Glitch Mob; “Timestretch” by Bassnectar — All songs I listened to for mood: creepiness, depressing angst, and mysterious plot acceleration. Is “mysterious plot acceleration” a mood? It was in Adaptation!

9. “Leave My Body” by Florence + the Machine — I listened to this song on repeat while writing Chapter 36. I listened to a lot of Flo in this chapter!

10, 11. “Bluetrace” by Stateless; “How to Be Eaten By a Woman” by The Glitch Mob — I listened to a lot of electronic music while writing Adaptation, including the Stateless albums Stateless and Matilda; and every Glitch Mob track I could find. They all go under “mysterious plot acceleration.”

12. “Cosmic Love” by Florence + the Machine — I’ve always connected this song to the romance in Adaptation, but the lyrics surprised me by being completely relevant to Chapter 39.

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Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE: a review, an interview, a GIVEAWAY!

Lush.

If I had to pick just one word to describe Laini Taylor’s startlingly original new novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone that word would be:  lush.

Lush in every definition of the word – full of sensory detail, a world that you can sink right into and be totally immersed.

If you follow YA lit, you’ve probably heard the buzz around Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  Besides the rapturous professional reviews (four starred reviews and counting) it currently has a perfect 5 star  “average customer review” on Amazon and 63% perfect 5 star review rate on GoodReads.  So, basically, what you’ve been hearing has probably been pretty damn positive.

But I’m here to tell you that whatever you’ve heard about Daughter of Smoke and Bone,  which was released here in the USA this Tuesday, no matter how glowing and positive it might have been, it just doesn’t do justice to the lush surreality, the almost painful beauty of this book.  I’ve never read anything like it, YA fiction or not, and it’s exciting that something this challenging, this haunting, this complicated is being published for young adults.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the story of Karou, a beautiful, mysterious art student who lives in Prague.  Karou has a secret, a secret even she doesn’t fully understand.  While she lives in our world, she also has a life in “elsewhere”, a world beyond our sight full of magic Karou doesn’t quite understand.  She runs errands, dangerous errands that span the globe, for a chimaera named Brimstone, a creature who raised her and just might know the secrets that Karou longs for, namely who she is. When Karou and Akvia, a beautiful creature with wings, meet and engage in a bloody fight in Marrakesh, it’s the beginning of Karou’s story unfolding and changing in a way she couldn’t predict.  Karou is about to discover the truth about the world she thinks she’s always understood and find out who she really is.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a violent, passionate, complicated novel.  When I gave to 16 year old Xian, one of my most avid readers and reviewers,  I told her, “This one is unlike anything you’ve read before.”  She rolled her eyes and smiled.  The next day, already in the middle of the book, she came back to tell me, wonder in her voice, “This is like nothing I’ve read before.”

What works best about this book is that sense of wonder, the way Karou and her world spring off the page: full of sensory detail and an ominous, precarious sense of something wrong – something hidden lurking just around the corner.  When Taylor unravels the plot of just what’s hidden (and why!) you can’t help but marvel at the brutal perfection of it, to gasp at everything you haven’t known about the story.  It’s stunning and shocking and terribly perfect and unfair and wonderful, all at once.  It’s the kind of plot reveal that makes you go back and read the whole book over again, so you can revel in the details and spot even more the second time around.

So, yeah, you’re reading another YA book about demons and angels and star-crossed lovers … but with Taylor’s masterful use of form and craft, with all the twists that squeeze your heart until you think it might burst, with every complicated moral question that sends your head spinning, with every passage you want to read out-loud just so you can savor the way the words feel on your tongue: you’ve never read anything like this before.

Since this post is part of the official blog tour for Daughter of Smoke and Bone, now YOU have a chance to win your very own copy!  Little & Brown is giving away one finished copy to a US resident.  (Thanks, LBYR, you’re the best!) All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog no later than Friday October 7 and I’ll choose one random winner.

If you want more info about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Little & Brown and Laini have an amazing online presence for the book, from book trailers to excerpts and more.  Check it out at the following places (the official website is pretty much the best ever):

If you want other chances to win a copy or to just read more of Laini’s awesome Q&A (there’s great questions and, OMFG, sketches of Karou!) please visit the other blogs that are part of the tour: Presenting Lenore, The Story Siren, Books Complete Me, and (as of Friday) The Compulsive Reader.
Being part of the official tour also means I got to ask Laini some questions about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which was really the most exciting part of all.  She gave awesome, intriguing answers.  You must, must, must read her responses!

Laini Taylor Interview

ME: From the beginning, I was struck with what a great feminist text this is!  There are such strongly realized the female characters in this book.  Karou and Zuzana have a great friendship full of support for each other and Karou, herself, is fully-formed, assertive, curious, and determined.  It’s sometimes hard to find such fully realized female friendships and characters in fantasies or paranormal titles.  Did you specifically approach writing this relationship and writing Karou with this in mind?

LT: Well, I knew I wanted to have a strong character and that she would be a girl. Before any considerations of theme or ideas, I’m always thinking of story first, and relatability, and wish-fulfillment. I want to write stories that readers will want to climb inside of and live in, characters that people will want to inhabit for a time. I have spent some time trying to figure out what it is that does that, what creates that magic, but I’m not sure I could articulate it. Mainly, I am targeting myself as a reader and hoping that if I write the book that *I* want to live in, that others will too.

Karou has a lot of fantastical qualities. In so many ways, she’s who I wish I could have been as a teenager: talented, resourceful, quirky, unique, mysterious, tough, and oh yeah, beautiful. But she’s also nice, and she’s a little dark, a little sad. She has the same longing to be loved that any girl has, the conflicting impulses: to be strong and independent, but also to seek love and acceptance from possibly undeserving boys. I hope that in spite of her fantasy elements, she has a true emotional core.

Where Zuzana comes into things is, on the one hand, a practical matter. A main character must have someone to talk to, someone to reveal to. Dialogue and interaction are the lifeblood of a book. Zuzana stands in for the reader in discovering Karou’s secrets. But she’s more than a device, of course. She’s a lifeline for Karou.

Having just one good friend can get a person through a terrible time, and Zuzana is Karou’s one good friend. She was so much fun to write. Some characters immediately take over, and she was one of them. And when I go back to her, even to write a tweet for her (@rabidfairy; Karou is @bluekarou) she comes back instantly. It makes me love her, she feels so real and immediate to me.

ME: You and your husband Jim Di Bartolo are both artists and your last title Lips Touch, Three Times had illustrations by Jim.  In this book, Karou herself is an art student who is constantly sketching the world around her.  Did you consider including some of her fantastical illustrations or did you want to leave that more to your reader’s imagination?  Did you make character sketches to help you with the design and, in my perfect dreamworld, is there a chance we might get to see them someday?

LT: Ha ha! I did originally imagine this book looking like Karou’s sketchbook, embellished with some of the art that’s mentioned in the text. I think that would be amazing, but I do also think there’s a lot to be said for leaving the visualizing entirely up to the reader. I’m always so bummed when a cover image depicts a character in a way I don’t agree with. It can affect the reading experience profoundly. So I was happy that the cover is obscure. As for interior art, it would be so fun to work with Jim to create some of Karou’s sketchbook some day, in some capacity.

ME: Without giving away too many spoilers, it’s safe to say chimaeras are a big part of this story!  I was struck with what a resonant metaphor this is for adolescence, which not only makes the plot stronger but really makes this story especially relevant and interesting to teen readers.  Did you think about those connections while you were writing?  Was there something in particular that drew you to writing about chimaeras?

LT: Hm. I think you’d have to tell me what you mean about the adolescence metaphor. It wasn’t conscious. I don’t tend to think of those things consciously while writing, but I am always fascinated to find them “in the lint trap” after the fact! I learn a lot about myself by what sorts of themes recur in my writing.

Why chimaera?

They’re visually intriguing, they’re not vampires or werewolves (not that I don’t love vampires or werewolves), and they stand in well for “devils.” I have a fascination for world folklore, and I love playing with the notion that it could be based on real sightings. This has cropped up in my other books too. In my Dreamdark books, djinn feature prominently, but they aren’t what humans think they are. The idea is that humans see just enough to get the story all wrong. In the case of chimaera, sightings throughout history could conceivably account for all devil and monster lore—even gods and goddesses. Issa’s tribe, the Naja, could have been the inspiration for serpent goddesses that are fairly prevalent in mythology.

And because they defy our standards of beauty, chimaera would naturally be classed as evil, while beautiful angels would be presumed good and godly.

But really, everything in the book is an outgrowth of one freewrite. Giving myself permission to write anything at all just for fun, what emerged was a scene in which a blue-haired teenage girl argued with her monstrous father figure. Brimstone came into being that day, ram horns and all, and all the chimaera grew from him.

Thank you, Laini for such amazing answers! (and yes, the chimaera are a great metaphor for adolescence: Who am I?  How can I feel like so many things at once?  Why do I sometimes feel monstrous and sometimes feel beautiful, why am I a little bit of both all at the same time?  Good stuff!)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is highly recommended as a first purchase for all public and school libraries – it has HUGE appeal for a wide swath of readers: those looking for a new fantasy series to fall in love with, those who want something different than the same book they’ve read a hundred times, those who want to challenge themselves, and those who just love a good, old-fashioned, heart-stopping, star-crossed lovers love story.  This book will fly off your shelves and start discussion with your teens.  And, of course, it will leave you in agony for the next volume in the series.  As for me, I’m already counting down and, believe me, the minute you turn the last page … you will be too.

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So what, exactly, *is* The Monstrumologist? A very special GUEST POST by Rick Yancey

When I started thinking about why I loved The Monstrumologist series (the series is The Monstrumologist, The Curse of the Wendigo and the forthcoming Isle of Blood, which  – DON’T FORGET – releases next week and is the book we’re currently doing a PR push for!) why I thought it was so damn special in a crowded young adult literature field, I kept coming back to the kind of books they were – they way they straddled genre and were something entire unique, entirely compelling in how original they were.

With that in mind, I had one major question for Rick Yancey about the series’s providence.  That question was:

The Monstrumologist series is unique in the way it blends the horror genre and what we usually refer to as “literary fiction”.  How did you decide to bring these two genres together?  What ways do you see these genres as complimentary, particularly when it comes to the appeal of this series?

His answer was so perfect, so much more than I was expecting, so fabulous and thoughtful and comprehensive, I knew I had to share it all with you.  Enjoy and thanks so much to Rick for participating in all this and for this amazing reply.  (and make sure you stop by tomorrow when you can comment for a chance to win a copy of The Monstrumologist!!)

Call it a product of naivete or denial, but when I completed the first Monstrumologist book, I did not consider it horror or “literary.”  I looked at it (and still do to a certain extent) as an adventure yarn, sort of like a darker version of “Treasure Island.”  That was the original concept and still there is a part of me that cringes when I hear those two descriptions of the series slammed together.  The stylist in me rebels at the mash-up, “literary horror,” and I will confess I’ve never read anything of Lovecraft, read “Frankenstein” just once and that was years ago, and hadn’t even picked up a King novel since I was in my twenties.  Recently (between writing Book One and Book Two), I tried to get through “Dracula,” and couldn’t.

I think if I purposely tried to write something “literary” I would fail miserably.  What I have been attempting to do (as I have with all my books), is create – or re-create – an authentic voice.  I first tried writing the story in third-person, which is not comfortable for me, and quickly abandoned the attempt and recast the story through the voice of an older Will Henry.  I did want to capture a 19th Cent. feel, because in many ways Will was trapped in that era, unable to extricate himself from the memories of that time when his childhood vulnerability was tested to the extreme.  In a sense, I was trapped there with him – in a time when people wrote – and even thought! – in full sentences.  That cuts against the grain in most of current YA fiction (and adult), so maybe that’s why some folks call it literary (Full sentences!  Big words!)

I knew, of course, that the adventure would have to have a certain dark flavor, since monstrumology, by its very nature, is dark and dangerous – it ain’t butterfly collecting, after all.  If Warthrop hunted something equivalent to a three-toed sloth . . . well, where’s the thrill in that?  And if you have these outlandish and nightmarish things running about, it’s going to get a little intense.

And I wanted INTENSITY.  Not just intensity of the chase and the inevitable physical dangers of monster-hunting, but psychological intensity, emotional intensity.  19th Century writers never shied away from this and Will, being forged in that time period, would not have either.  There was, and still is, a danger in these stories of descending into the cartoonish (Headless bipeds with teeth in their bellies . . . come on!), and I knew beyond elevating the language a little I had to elevate the complexity of the characters and the intensity of their relationships.  Whenever I get bogged down in the esoterica of monsters or the convolutions of a plot set a hundred plus years ago, I tell myself, “Go back to the characters.  It’s about them and their relationships.”  It adds a richness to the tale, the chief function of which is to keep me from getting bored.  These characters fascinate me – not the gore, not so much the “big themes” of love, faith and what it means to be human (though I like that these themes have emerged as a by-product), i.e., the “literariness” of the books.  As I said in another interview, I fell in love with my characters.  They are quite real to me.  I suffer with them, laugh with them, cheer for them and fear deeply for them.

I worried when the first book came out about some of its more challenging aspects, particularly since it was published as YA.  But I don’t worry about that anymore.  Like real people, Will Henry and Warthrop are who they are.  The stories are what they are. Readers, whether they are sixteen or sixty, who like a good story well told, will discover the books and share a little, with me, the thrill and satisfaction that is unique to fiction: immersion in an alternate universe we are loathe to leave when the last page is turned.

Rick Yancey

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