April 30, 2009

Help a Kidlitosphere Librarian

If you went to the Kidlitosphere Conference this past fall, perhaps you were fortunate, as I was, to meet the lovely Bridget Zinn--a YA librarian and writer recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She's in treatment, but it's very expensive--so the kidlitosphere is chipping in to help out. Jone--conference organizer extraordinaire, and blogger at Deo Writer--is organizing an online auction as well as an in-person silent auction to help defray the cost of treatments. The online auction goes live TOMORROW--read about the details here. I've donated a handmade blank book (photos at right), Cloudscome has donated a handmade baby quilt, and there will be numerous other wonderful items up for bidding. Stay tuned!

I was very excited about my library haul from this past week--you can see the results here. After a reading binge several days long, I've already made it through most of them, so expect some reviews to materialize throughout the next week. In the meantime, why not check out a couple of exciting new blog links? Teaching Authors, if you haven't heard, is a group blog with April Halprin Wayland, Esther Hershenhorn, Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford, JoAnn Early Macken, Mary
Ann Rodman, and Carmela Martino--all published, working writers who also happen to be writing teachers. They'll be posting writing exercises called Writing Workouts, as well as addressing topics of interest to writers, readers, and teachers alike. Here's the official intro.

Another new star in the kidlit sky is the blog Booklights from PBS Parents--brought to you by blog buds Jen Robinson, Mother Reader, and Susan Kusel of Wizards Wireless, along with Gina Montefusco from PBS and various guest contributors. The goal of the blog is to help parents and others encourage a love of reading in kids. I can't think of better champions for the cause!

April 28, 2009

Short Story Contest: A Surprising Market & The Merry Sisters of Fate!

If you don't know WHO they are, I will say one word: Lament. Yes. That's my connection, Maggie Stiefvater, the author with whom I'm most familiar in the three-woman short speculative fiction dynamo that is The Merry Sisters of Fate, is the reason I started reading -- and then, wow -- her cowriters are made of awesome, too. And so, you should go -- now... just... check them out.

It's their one-year anniversary as well, and all of you who want to write short speculative fiction should really, really, really play. Not just for the prizes, either.

Look, it's an excuse to write. Just -- take it, all right?

(Writing group, I am so looking at YOU.)

via Powell's Book News:
Esquire magazine's Fiction Contest is open to one and all. The catch is, the story must be based on one of the following titles:

1. "Twenty-Ten"

2. "An Insurrection"

3. "Never, Ever Bring This Up Again"

Says Esquire: "A date, a thing, and a statement. No exceptions. Make of them what you will, do with them something great. But no taking an old story and slapping one of our new titles on it. We'll know, and we won't be happy."

Powell's blogger Brockman brings up a good point: lots of excellent writers have written for Esquire, and they're a very high paying market, if you can a.) write adult fiction and b.) make it through their all-seeing, all-knowing won't-b-happy gates.

Good luck!

Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month - May

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I'm early. I'm just eager. I was reminded of the month-to-come by Susan at Color Online, who's chosen an interactive way to honor Asian heritage peeps this month. She's asking you to:

1) List favorite Asian, South Asian or Asian American writers and their works.

2) Share a little history or geography about a particular country.

3) Be creative. Share a quote, passage from a work or write a brief bio sketch of a favorite writer.

4) How about writing about nonfiction? A cookbook- include a recipe. A history book or memoir.

5) Don't know much about Asian writers? Explore and then report on what you discovered.

6) If you are familiar with writers, please share a few recommendations. Please cite country/ethnicity. Asia is a lot of ground to cover.

If you're willing to participate, please create a post on your blog and leave a link at ColorOnline with Mr. Linky, and make sure you check out other people's posts and leave comments.

I'm excited because for once, I'm at the forefront of a movement, instead of laggin'! And it's not even May, but I'm going to throw down my Asian Pacific American Heritage knowledge, scanty as it might be. Here I go with my list of authors and my recommendations to you:

1. Favorite Asian, South Asian or Asian American writers and their works:
* Maxine Hong Kingston, Chinese-American Woman Warrior
* Amy Tan, Chinese-American, Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, and others,
* Jhumpa Lahiri, Bengali American, The Namesake, Interpreter of Maladies,
* Merlinda Bobis, Filipino, The Kissing,
* Kao Kalia Yang, Hmong/Laotian The Latehomecomer.

* An Na, Korean-American, A Step from Heaven, Wait for Me,
* Marie G. Lee, Korean-American If It Hadn't Been for Yoon Jun, Finding My Voice, Saying Goodbye, Necessary Roughness
* Yoshiko Uchida, Japanese-American Journey to Topaz, Picture Bride, Jar of Dreams, etc.
* Lawrence Yep, Chinese-American Dragonwings, Child of the Owl, The Star Fisher, Dragon War, Dragon Kate and many, many, MANY more...
* Justina Chen-Headley, Taiwanese-American, Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies), Girl Overboard, North of Beautiful,
* Mitali Perkins, Bengali-American, The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, Monsoon Summer, Rickshaw Girl, First Daughter I&II, Secret Keeper
* Tanuja Desai Hidier, South Asian-American, Born Confused,
* Cynthia Kadohata, Japanese-American Kira-Kira
* Lensey Namioka, Chinese-American, Half and Half
* Derek Kirk Kim, Korean-American, Good as Lily
* Gene Luen Yang, Chinese-American, American Born Chinese,

Whew! And there are probably some I've forgotten, but these are the authors whose books I've read that I can think of off the top of my head.

2. A little history or geography: My historical links to an Asian country come from my interest in my sister and in a handful of students I had when I taught for the State of California's juvenile system. I've learned all I can about Laos and Hmong people -- which isn't much, sadly. The most succinct knowledge I have is from The Latehomecomer (which is nonfiction, taking care of #4), which tells about the CIA's bad deal with the people of that country, and how, when the Vietnam war was declared... over-ish, and the Americans left, the Laotians had to bear the brunt of the anger from the Vietcong. It decimated a people, and brought many of them stumbling to America, some to succeed, some to fail.

3. Be creative: My creative bit of information about an Asian American is about Tanuja Desai Hidier, whose book was a serious hit. I expected -- tons more books, tons of interviews - for her to really rock the whole Indian-American Spotlight thing. Nope. She retired after one book, to become lead vocalist in a London rock band. Seriously. The only reason she even pitched her book was a mix-up; she was going to Scholastic to interview for a copy-editing job; the editor thought she was there to discuss a book pitch. Ms. Hidier was fast enough to get a foot in the door and shove it open when opportunity knocked, and she got better than a copy editing job!

4. Asian-American Nonfiction Picks: I already hit nonfiction, but I have to also give props to my very favorite, seriously best-food-ever Asian cookbook in the world -- Mai Pham's The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking. This book has childhood reminiscences in it, as well as pictures -- the recipes are awesome, but almost incidental (almost, I said -- not quite, the food is darned good), after her story is told in these pages. She owns a restaurant in Sacramento, and let me tell you: Yum.

Looking back over this, I actually read a few Asian and Asian American authors and I kind of feel good about that. To the Asians, South Asians, and Pacific American peoples in the blogosphere - happy month. To ColorOnline, thanks for the challenge. To the rest of you, check your knowledge -- this is a good exercise to help you expand your reading and knowledge of quality multicultural literature.

April 24, 2009

The Seems: The Split Second by John Hulme and Michael Wexler

Part of this past week’s sequel splurge (well, not really a splurge, since I got them at the library) was the sequel to the 2008 Cybils nominee The Seems: The Glitch in Sleep, a quirky fantasy about a parallel world whose entire function is to make sure OUR world runs smoothly: The Seems. The second book continues the adventures of thirteen-year-old Becker Drane, the youngest Fixer in The Seems.

It appears that the shadowy underground organization known as the Tide has managed to steal a Second and split it—and much like splitting an atom, splitting a second could result in total chaos and destruction. The explosion in the Department of Time has caused leakages throughout The World—speedups and slowdowns—and the senior Fixer called in to defuse the bomb inexplicably disappeared upon explosion, and is presumed dead. Becker’s put on the case, and his journey to find the Split Second and fix the time leakages takes him from the Department of Time, to a live-action freefall through a panoply of other people’s Frozen Moments, to the dark and dangerous depths of Meanwhile in search of the elusive Time Being.

Like the first novel, the sequel is creative, fun, and fast-paced. The authors have created a humorous, tongue-in-cheek, but still fully-rounded world, and the action is nonstop. If you haven’t read the first one, the constant new terminology might seem a little relentless, but fortunately, there’s a helpful glossary at the back and numerous amusing appendices that will entertain even those familiar with the setting.

Buy The Seems: The Split Second from an independent bookstore near you!

April 23, 2009

Zombies! Magic! Giant Squids!: Flora’s Dare by Ysabeau S. Wilce

I always know I’m reading a great book when I don’t want it to end, ever ever, and I want to stay in the world that the author has created for as long as possible. Ysabeau Wilce’s fantastical version of California—Califa—is like that, and I really didn’t want to stop reading her second book, Flora’s Dare. Nope, not one bit.

If you enjoyed the first book, Flora Segunda, in all its quirky, sweeping glory, then this sequel won’t disappoint. Flora and her best friend Udo tangle with zombies, giant squids, decadent scions of powerful families, Springheel Jack, earthquakes, rabble-rousing rebels, bird-headed human Quetzals, and out-of-control magical workings that could send you anywhere or anytime.

But my favorite part of the book might be the introduction of a character called Tiny Doom: ambitious (constantly trying ridiculously difficult magic), well-dressed (with a huge closet full of fabulous clothes), and unutterably foulmouthed (every other word out of her mouth is "fike," the Califan version of the f-word), she’s more than a match for Flora. And that’s all I can tell you. You’ll just have to go read it, and find out if Flora has the guts to attempt the Ultimate Ranger Dare—cheating death--in order to save the world as she knows it, even if that means finding out that she didn’t know her world as well as she thought she did.

Read our 2007 SBBT interview with Ysabeau Wilce here, and buy Flora's Dare from an independent bookstore near you!

April 20, 2009

Here's One for the Happy Files

via SF Signal:
A surprising and fun discovery from the comic book files -- free comic book day! This event celebrates the independent comic book specialty shops, thousands of which exist in North America alone. Each one is unique in its community, with a style and personality all its own, and each one carries a full line of comics, graphic novels, toys and related products. While not every comic book store participates in this giveaway day, and while the free comics vary from store to store, it's easy to find out the store nearest you and what they have to offer -- just pop your zip code into the handy store locator and find out.

Free Comic Book Day is international -- you can find shops in Canada and all over the world participating. Happy reading!

April 19, 2009

Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe: Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

Yeah, I know, this isn't technically a YA book. But because I started reading Gaiman's Sandman comics as a YA myself, and because I've been sort of a gibbering fangirl ever since, well...it's gotta be done. Honestly, though, if you're a fan of his other work you'll almost certainly enjoy this amazingly diverse collection of short (and somewhat longer) stories and poems. I finished each one amazed by the author's skill in attacking a number of different styles and themes—this is a versatile volume and an excellent showcase of Gaiman's talent and vision. I even enjoyed reading the introductory notes, for crying out loud.

The initial story, "A Study in Emerald," won a Hugo award in 2004 and starts the collection off with a bang—in fact, it's the story that has lingered in my mind the most, perhaps, of all of them, with its dark Lovecraftian setting and its mystery structure. "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" was another memorable piece, maybe because I could so easily picture a young version of the author narrating the uncanny events. Stories of insatiable gourmands seeking a once-in-a-lifetime delectation; bizarre underground circuses; demons, killers, schoolboys...it's a veritable potpourri of strange delights and an awe-inspiring glimpse into the author's imagination. By the time I finished reading it, I was even more of a fan than when I started. Seriously.

Buy Fragile Things from an independent bookstore near you!

April 18, 2009

We Shall Overcome: Between Us Baxters by Bethany Hegedus

The Baxters are a poor white family living in 1959 Georgia, and twelve-year-old Polly certainly gets to hear about their undesirable social status both at school and at church. Even more humiliating is having to go to lunch every Sunday at the house of wealthy Meemaw, her mother's mother, and submit to constant criticism of her manners. But what stirs up the most talk is their family's friendship with the Biggs family, who are black. Timbre Ann Biggs is two years older than Polly and Polly's best friend, and their mothers are best friends, too—Aunt Henri used to work in Meemaw's house when Polly's Mama was growing up.

But there's a source of tension even between the two families—Sam Biggs owns a repair shop, one of the few colored businesses in town, and he's quite successful. So the Biggses are quite a bit better off financially. Polly is tired of wearing Timbre Ann's hand-me-downs, and her Daddy is resentful of her Mama's friendship with Aunt Henri. And to make matters worse, Daddy's lost his job and started drinking a lot. When violence starts to break out at colored businesses around town, tensions reach a boiling point not only between black and white residents but also between Polly and Timbre Ann.

Despite a few moments when I felt like the writer was leading me in a particular direction rather than letting things unfold, this was, overall, a touching look at the sad realities of a particular time and place in U.S. history. The story of Polly and Timbre Ann, the Baxters and the Biggses, holds the seeds of the story of civil rights in America. At the same time, on a more human scale, it shows how painful and difficult it can be to be brave enough to take a stand for friendship and peace when your own family seems to be falling apart. Polly, as a narrator, is very flawed but above all, very human, and the author does an admirable job with the complexity of both the characters and the situation.

Buy Between Us Baxters from an independent bookstore near you!

April 17, 2009

And speaking of books...

They're not coffin bookshelves, but have you seen the Gratz's bookshelves?

*envious sigh*

Meanwhile, the Seventh Annual Fire Escape Contest is ON. Teen authors should check out Mitali's site for details.

Via Cynsations:

Calling all YA and children' writers! We are thrilled to present the inaugural Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult (YA) and Children's Writing in Hunger Mountain.

Hunger Mountain, the arts journal of Vermont College of Fine Arts, will launch our new online arts journal early this summer.

Our new site will include YA and Children's Literature. We'll feature articles on hot topics and trends in YA and children's literature, interviews with publishing industry insiders, and fiction selections by well-known and up-and-coming YA and children's authors.

Upcoming issues will feature pieces by Katherine Paterson, Carrie Jones, Cynthia Leitich Smith, K.A. Nuzum, Rita Williams-Garcia, Sara Zarr, and many others!

Writers of young adult fiction, middle grade fiction, and picture books are encouraged to enter the Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children's Writing for a piece of fiction not yet under contract or under consideration by a publisher.

Newbery Award-winning author Katherine Paterson will judge.

One winner will receive $1000.00 and publication in Hunger Mountain online, and two honorable mentions will receive $100.00 each.

Entries may include:

• young adult (YA) fiction (novel excerpt or short story).

• middle grade (MG) fiction (novel excerpt or short story).

• picture book (PB) (text only).

Submission Fee: $20 per entry

Deadline: entries must be postmarked by June 30.

Contest Guidelines

Your packet should include:

• A one-page cover sheet offering:

o your name, address, email and phone number;

o the title of your manuscript;

o the category of your manuscript (YA, MG, PB);

o a brief (one-to-two paragraph/200-word) bio of yourself;

o a brief (one-to-two paragraph/250-word) synopsis of your manuscript.

• Your manuscript:

o up to 5,000 words of middle grade/young adult fiction, or one picture book manuscript (text only).

o entries must be double-spaced, with margins of at least 1”.

o please number the pages of your entry, and label each page with the title.

o please do not label the manuscript with your name (entries will be judged anonymously).

o please paperclip (do not staple) your entry.

• Entry Fee:

o check or money order for $20, payable to Hunger Mountain.

• A self-addressed, stamped envelope for notification of award winners.

• A self-addressed, stamped postcard for us to acknowledge receipt of your entry (optional).

Packets should be mailed to:

Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing
Hunger Mountain
Vermont College of Fine Arts
36 College Street
Montpelier, VT 05602

April 16, 2009

Toon Thursday is Back! ...-ish.

Before I show you this toon, please note that I'm not certain of the frequency or regularity of Toon Thursday from this point forward (huh, perhaps I should've phrased that differently) but I do resolve to post cartoons from time to time and hopefully figure out a schedule that will work for my poor overworked brain. Fair? OK. Then here it is. It's not strictly writing-related, but those of you who've been tweeting and twittering may enjoy it. Starring Roxie (top) and Zelda (bottom).

So there you go. Apologies to any trademarks I may have inadvertently infringed upon or deliberately parodied. No apologies to spam twitterers. No cats were harmed in the production of this cartoon. As for me personally, though I didn't actually draw anything this time, I found the process both therapeutic and highly amusing. But then, I'm easily amused. I hope it brings a little entertainment into your day as well.

While we're on the subject of toons, also go check out the list of Eisner nominees, which were recently announced and posted on GraphicNovelReporter.com. There are plenty of well-known names like Chris Ware, Sergio Aragones, Neil Gaiman, Lynda Barry, not to mention a large portion of Cybils nominees--especially in the Kids/Teens/Tweens categories. Do take a look--it's one of the premier and most-respected awards in the field of comics.

April 15, 2009

Reading: Fun! and Fundamental!

Happy Not Spring! It's freezing, so I deny the existence of the season today, and ignore any and all attempts at flowers to break through earth. My message to the world: WARM UP ALREADY. Who cares that I'm in Scotland?!

Okay, first up, did you see the new and spiced up Share A Story, Shape a Future site? You *must* take in the cuteness that is their RSS link. I don't know WHY a mini RSS feed is so cute, it just... is. Trust me. I love that this wasn't just a one week reading emphasis -- it's a daily thing there now, and that's a win for kids and parents.

This is just the YEAR for reading -- the president read a book aloud on Easter Sunday, his kids and wife read ANOTHER ONE (wow, TWO at a White House function!) and I'm sure soon there will be a children's book about Bo. (Pardon me while I roll my eyes.) And, we got a nice note from the folks at Reading is Fundamental, thanking us for linking to them in the past, and asking that we continue to talk about what they're doing this year -- which is really pushing to log five million minutes between April 1 and June 30 - of collective reading to and with a child. I don't have any kids handy, but I've been known to read over the telephone, people. Reading is seriously fundamental -- but my favorite part is that it's fun. The fun is upped at RIF, because you have a chance to win a trip to Disneyworld. Check it out.

Also - if you loved A Curse As Dark As Gold, and I know tons of people on the Cybils judging panel did -- then check out the Elizabeth Bunce interview at The Enchanted Inkpot.

Finally -- and this made some twisted part of me very, very, VERY happy -- it's a coffin! It's a bookshelf! It's a ... coffin bookshelf! And it's perfectly beautiful and functional as both. Just... not at the same time. Because, dear ones, you can't take it with you, the books will only get dirty and then the book lice will eat them. But prior to that -- it holds TONS of books and it's lovely. Via the ever hip Bookshelves O' Doom.

Happy Wednesday.

April 14, 2009

Just Cruising By...

I always put links by to post at a later time, all at once, and what happens? I end up with this ridiculously long list and feel intimidated, so I tell myself I'll do it later. But of course, later there will be even MORE links, right? Yup. Sigh.

Anyway. Links for you! First, a couple of tidbits for writers. Tanita mentioned a site called Come in Character--it's a blog where you can comment AS the character in your fiction, and hopefully get to know him or her on more levels. Interesting idea--pretty intense, too. I'm not sure I'm quite up to it, but it seems like a great practice space. Also of interest to writers is Nathan Bransford's Agent for a Day Challenge, which happened over the past weekend. Check out the follow-up posts (as well as the sample queries) here.

Next, a plug for Tanita and her novel A La Carte--don't miss the excellent review by Interactive Reader Jackie, and then be sure to put her next book, Mare's War, on your TBR pile, because it's coming out in just a few months! W00t!!

Lastly, a couple of random things for you--Don't forget to check out Amanda's Patchwork of Books on Thursday for the beginning of Winston Breen's Puzzle Party--visit all the blogs on the tour to find different pieces of the puzzle, and if you solve all of them, you might win a signed copy of The Potato Chip Puzzles. I'm not familiar with the book, but it sure sounds like a fun promo, and you'll find many of the usual suspects on the tour.

So...what thinkest thou of e-ARCs? It's a topical subject of sometimes-heated discussion in the kidlitosphere, and a recent article in the Shelf Awareness newsletter covers some of the concerns and upsides of the idea. Personally? Probably a good idea that would save a few trees. I'm just waiting for an e-reader that A) looks and feels good and B) is AFFORDABLE for, like, writers who might not make a lot of money.

I've still got a few links in my pile, but I'll leave them for another day. My cat is meowing at me, and you'd be amazed at how distracting she can be...Happy Tuesday Night!

The Bloom Award: Celebrating Mildred Bloom

via Cynsations, we have this announcement from Blooming Tree Press:

The Bloom Award
Submissions Guidelines

"The Bloom Award" celebrates the life of Mildred Bloom, matriarch of Blooming Tree Press. Mildred passed away in 2007 at the amazing age of 88. She touched thousands of people's lives with her generosity, hard work, and faith that hopes and dreams will always prevail.

Each year's award will recognize a different genre, target age group, and imprint. This award includes a publishing contract for one winner--if all parties can come to an agreement. The award is for unpublished authors only.

The first Bloom Award will recognize the following:

1. age group: middle grade;

2. genre: mystery/adventure, who-done-it. (fiction only);

3. imprint: "Tire Swing" (our children's-paperback imprint).


Each submissions package should include:

1. a book proposal;

2. a detailed synopsis;

3. a detailed outline;

4. an author biography (include email address);

5. the first three chapters (8 ½ x 11 double-spaced pages, 12-point font).

Additional Guidelines

1. Our definition of an "unpublished author" is one with no previous full-length published book in the children's or young adult market. Published short stories, poems, or magazine articles don't count.

2. Only one entry per person.

3. If you make the first cut, you will have to be able to produce the completed manuscript immediately. So don't enter if you don't have a completed or near-completed manuscript.

4. Manuscript length should be between 18,000 and 40,000 words.

5. If you are the winner, you must be willing to promote and market your book to the best of your ability.

Submissions Dates and Mailing

Postmarks are as follows...

Submissions window opens: May 18.

Submissions deadline is: Oct. 31.

Again, please make sure your submission is not postmarked before May 18 or after Oct. 31.

Please mark clearly on the outside of the package "The Bloom Award."

Note: All submissions will be read, but no material will be returned. All communication will be via email and phone.

Mailing Address: Blooming Tree Press, P.O. Box 140934, Austin, Texas; 78714.

Award Announcement

The winner will be announced no later than Dec. 25. The winning book will be released each year on Mildred Bloom's birthday – April 25. (The first release is scheduled for April 25, 2011)

Details via A Publisher's Life Blog.

April 10, 2009

Poetry Friday: April, Eliot, and National Poetry Month

You all already know how much I love the poster for this year's National Poetry Month. But that's because I'm an inveterate Eliot fan. I just can't help it; the way he uses language, the way he evokes images even when I have no idea what he's talking about because he's just too much smarter than I am... so, since National Poetry Month happens to be in April, and I just happen to love Eliot, here's a famous bit about April from one of my favorite Eliot poems, The Waste Land:

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.

Summer surprised us...

If you have a spare hour or two (because it's fairly epic in scope), read the rest of The Waste Land here...

Like most months, this April has been both cruel and kind...but there's certainly been kindness in the wealth of poetry links and events. Go check out more at Carol's Corner, the host of today's Poetry Friday, and don't miss her original poem!

April 09, 2009

Joy: Unexpectedly

May the mundane never drown you, may unexpected laughter bubble up within. May the last day of summer, the final day of vacation, the last ten minutes before the alarm -- stretch -- just enough for you to acknowledge it as a gift.


April 08, 2009

Save Humanity Now: The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner

Tane and Rebecca are best friends, both in their second year of high school in Auckland, New Zealand. They've known each other practically forever, and can talk about anything and everything, from the most mundane of everyday topics to something as esoteric as time travel. Tane's sort of the quiet, creative one, while Rebecca is a math and computer whiz; so when Tane mentions the idea of transmitting data through time instead of people, Rebecca immediately starts thinking about how that might be possible, if you used a big enough satellite dish and were able to harness the energy of the universe's gamma-ray bursts.

When Rebecca gets hold of some of that raw gamma-ray data and writes a computer program to scan it for patterns, they get a real shock: somebody in the future seems to be sending them coded messages, and if they aren't able to interpret the messages properly, all of humanity could be in danger. How do they know the messages are from the future? The first message they receive is a series of numbers. Lotto numbers.

WINNING Lotto numbers.

Unfortunately, the only way they can get hold of the Lotto money without making it a huge public deal is to confide in Tane's older brother Fatboy, a motorcycle-riding rebel of dubious reliability. Fatboy cashes the ticket and promises to help them out, but then he and Rebecca sort of become an item...something that makes Tane just a bit irritated. The relationship tension mounts as they find out more and more about a top-secret, dangerous experiment called the Chimera Project.

The stakes just keep getting higher in this suspenseful page-turner. Author Brian Falkner has created truly deep, interesting, textured characters that are easy to care about, and I enjoyed reading a contemporary sci-fi novel set in New Zealand, too. Even though I had to suspend my disbelief about a couple of things, I willingly did so and was not disappointed. It's got everything—lab experiments gone awry, deadly fog, coded messages, yellow submarines, and a nice twist towards the end. A great one for fans of dystopian novels and suspenseful adventures.

Buy The Tomorrow Code from an independent bookstore near you!

April 07, 2009

Doing It for the Cause: The Kayla Chronicles by Sherri Winston

Kayla Dean and her best friend Rosalie are hard-core feminists. They idolize strong women of history and throw famous quotations at each other the way other teenage girls toss slang, and they both want to raise community awareness. But Kayla's taking her determination in a slightly different direction—she'd rather fight using the written word. Good thing her new school, the prestigious Royal Palm Academy, has an award-winning journalism program.

Their school also happens to boast a champion dance team, the Lady Lions—and rumor has it that the Lady Lions have unfair selection practices when it comes to who's worthy and who isn't. Kayla, an excellent dancer, has a decidedly pear-shaped figure and nonexistent fashion sense, a combination that Rosalie insists is a sure-fire fail for the dance team. And if—no, when--Kayla doesn't make the team, Rosalie says that will give them the journalistic exposé of the year.

But Kayla DOES make the team. And you know what? Those Lady Lions aren't as catty as she thought they were. In fact, they kind of take her under their wing. Unfortunately, Rosalie isn't too thrilled by this development, and challenges Kayla on her feminist ideals and, ultimately, their friendship. Can Kayla balance feminism and fun; can she be friends with Rosalie and still be a Lady Lion? Or has Rosalie taken her crusade too far? The Kayla Chronicles is a funny, sassy look at the lighter and darker sides of idealism, balancing some truly serious themes with humor and a diverse, lively cast of characters.

Buy The Kayla Chronicles from an independent bookstore near you!

April 06, 2009

Monday Night Randomness OF DOOM!

In honor of this gorgeous little golden poppy princess made by our blog bud Farida (orange included for scale), our top story tonight is the fab contest for Unnecessary Children's Book Sequels That Never Were, sponsored by Farida along with Minh of Bottom Shelf Books--go enter before the contest ends!! And then go enter your choices for the worst picture books of all time--Laurel Snyder and inquiring minds want to know!

Then, when you're done, go check out some of the fabulous podcasts and videos that Andrea and Mark have put up on Just One More Book!! for the Rock Stars of Reading tour. It's the true readers' road trip. And don't miss the fab poster. Then, if you've still got free time after that (in which case I'm very jealous), why not participate in helping proofread public domain writings in teeny-tiny bite-sized portions? Project Gutenberg and Book Oven need your help! Read more here.

And with that, happy Monday night.

April 05, 2009

Knowing Too Much: Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

I’m sad to report that Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy has been in my TBR pile for an embarrassingly long time. However, I’m pleased to report that I’ve now read it, and though it’s not an easy story to read, Lyga should be commended not only for his writing chops but also for his courage in tackling the difficult subject of a teacher in a romantic "relationship" with a much younger student. And he does it without pulling any punches.

Every single character in this book is amazingly well-developed and each one has a role to play—whether they are complicit, ignorant, or confused about the situation. The story begins with narrator Josh almost ready to graduate from high school. He’s a successful baseball player and a whiz at math, but he doesn’t have many close friends. That’s because he lives in the kind of small town where everybody knows everybody else’s secrets—and his secret is the Elephant in the Room kind of secret.

For Josh, he’s just treading water until he can leave the town where people see him as That Kid. And then he finds out that Eve has been released from prison, and his life goes topsy turvy again. Even his friendship with Rachel—the first time he’s ever opened himself to the possibility of a romantic relationship since Eve, and the first time he’s ever really talked about what happened—even that seems tenuous and frightening.

Told in alternating sections that flip between present and past, this is an absorbing, well-crafted, and well-written book that drew me in on a very strong emotional level—I believed in the narrator and his pain, as well as his confusion and conflicted ideas about what truly happened when he was twelve. At the same time, it’s the sort of story that forces you to think about what it means to be a victim, what it means to be the perpetrator of an inappropriate relationship, and what it means to simply be flawed as all human beings are. This book was the 2006 Cybils YA winner, and it’s easy to see why it was a contender.

Buy Boy Toy from an independent bookstore near you!

April 04, 2009

Mean Streets: Cashay by Margaret McMullan

Cashay is just thirteen going on fourteen, but she’s growing up way too fast. When she’s not taking care of her younger sister Sashay, she’s dodging thugs in her inner-city Chicago neighborhood and trying to figure out how to feed their family when her mom doesn’t seem to care about anything except doing drugs with her seedy boyfriend.

And then, when Sashay is shot and killed, Cashay’s own hopes of surviving the projects seem to dwindle away to nothing. Her mother’s drug problems continue to worsen, and Cashay is forced to attend counseling and an after-school mentor program full of angry inner-city kids and successful white folks who couldn’t possibly have a clue what she’s going through.

But sometimes it’s not just about having a clue. It’s about finding a kindred spirit despite appearances and backgrounds, about letting yourself open up enough to find that person. When Cashay meets Allison, they seem to be polar opposites, but they find common ground in their loneliness, and forge a real bond. Allison tells Cashay she’s smart enough to apply to the charter school opening up in the new housing development nearby, and for the first time, Cashay allows herself to feel hope.

Above all, this IS a novel about hope, despite the gritty subject matter and the difficulty of reading about what is, for many young people, a grim reality. The development of the relationship between Cashay and Allison is handled with delicacy, turning what could have been simply an "urban problem novel" into a story about an unusual but life-saving friendship.

Note: This review was based on an advance review copy.

Buy Cashay from an independent bookstore near you!

April 01, 2009

Dreaming in Color: Seeing Red by Anne Louise MacDonald

Frankie Uccello is thirteen years old and basically the most ordinary guy you can think of--he loves skateboarding, he's not that keen on girls yet--except for one thing nobody knows about him: every once in a while, he dreams about the future, and the dreams come true. Whenever Frankie has a dream in which a particular color recurs portentously, he knows that he has to keep an eye out.

When Frankie dreams he's a black bird, flying, and then crashes to the ground, he doesn't think much of it at first, even though it's a red dream. But when he finds an injured stormy petrel in an alley behind the school, he remembers the other part of his dream: someone in a red jacket falling from a black horse. His best friend Tim owns a black horse...and later that week, Frankie's dad signs them both up as volunteers to help special needs kids who visit a horse farm as therapy.

Now, Frankie may be a skateboarding maven, but he's terrified of horses--and after his dream, he's scared that Tim might be in danger. Not only that, when he shows up at the horse farm, one of the weirdest girls in his class turns out to be a volunteer, too. Maura-Lee always seems to be hiding something, doesn't talk much, and has a reputation for being able to read minds. And now he's got to deal with her, too.

This is a good solid novel about friendship and learning to trust others--and learning when to trust your own instincts, too. The concrete details about skateboarding and horse riding really bring Frankie's world to life, and I enjoyed reading a story set in Nova Scotia for a change. The supernatural edginess kept me turning the pages throughout the book--plus I'm a sucker for the idea of prophetic dreams. A fast-paced read for older MG/younger YA readers.

Note: This review was based on an advance review copy.

Buy Seeing Red from an independent bookstore near you!

Fresh & Bold Talks on Race in Children's Lit

"If labels aren’t used, but you know a character is nonwhite, ask yourself and your students how the author communicated that fact. Check for tired food-related clich├ęs about “coffee-colored” skin or “almond-shaped” eyes versus fresh, bold attempts to delineate race and culture in a story."

Mitali's talking race and writing at the School Library Journal. (Please: click the link! Read the whole piece!) This article is a refreshed and updated culmination of the many brilliant conversations Mitali starts on her "fire escape," as readers and thinkers gather to talk about interactions between cultures. I'm proud as can be that the SLJ ghosted by her blog and picked up on the thought-provoking, intelligent discourse Mitali brings to the kidlitosphere. I have often wished that I had her eloquence and wit, and her ability to ask good questions. Here's to all of us finding a fresh boldness as we write across cultures in our own ways.

Happy National Poetry Month! And today, kick off April with Unnecessary Children's Book Sequels That Never Were with the notably insane Minh from Bottom Shelf Books and Saintly Spinner Farida. Garrulous MacKenzie is baaaack...