Wednesday, February 29, 2012
with me long after I turn the last page.
2.Assertive characters that talk me to me at three
a.m. and insist on page time
3.Thoughtful smart, savvy agents, like the amazing
5.Typing The End
8.My writer friends who "get it" and provide support, humor, and
sanity in equal measure
9.My Kindle Fire
11. Odd Numbers and lists (I know that’s two, but I
love breaking rules, remember?)
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Because they were filled with exotic treasure hunting adventures galore!
And marvelous mysteries!
And naughty evil villains and monumental chases!
And plenty of mundane situations!
Yes, but even the mundane situations would always quickly devolve into hilarious insanity.
These Disney Duck stories sound like they would be easy to love.
They are and I love them all, just not equally. I love some Disney Duck stories more than others...
What do these stories you love the most have in common?
They were all written and illustrated by the great Carl Barks!
This Carl Barks sounds like an amazing man!
He was. He was beloved by millions (including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas!
He sounds dead.
He is but his work lives on! In fact, Fantagraphic Books has just begun reprinting the complete Carl Barks library and I just got volume one in the mail!
Was this volume beautifully designed and thoughtfully compiled?
Do you work for Fantagraphics?
by Michael Townsend
Friday, February 24, 2012
Stephanie J. Blake
I should have majored in history. I love it. I could look at black and white photos for hours, imagining what kind of lives people had "back then." I love reading historical novels and discovering all of the details that make the setting so real. I love historical movies, and don't get me started on Downton Abbey. It's really no surprise that my debut is a historical.
I've been working on three very different manuscripts off and on for a couple of years, but none of them are truly working in "real time." The problem is, I've failed to fully commit to the kind of story I want to tell. I've been hit with too many ideas at once.
I have realized something important this week. I should be writing another middle grade historical. Thus, I need to do a ton of research. (Good thing I'm in love with it!)
Yesterday, in the history section of my local library, I found myself filling my arms with books and couldn't stop. I could barely carry the bag to the car and came home with several fun books.
Four of the books are about the 1980's. Three are about the roaring 1920's. Two of them are about Telluride, Colorado. One is about the 1970's. One is about prominent women in the history of Colorado.
I have a hankering to write a middle grade about Butch Cassidy and the gold rush in Telluride in the 1880's. I'm in love with the roaring twenties and would love to do a noir. I want to explore a character with a mom who starts marching for women's lib in the 1970's. I have an angsty teen character in mind for a story set in the 1980's.
Whoa, Nelly! So many ideas, so little time. My agent would like an outline sometime in the near future--like before spring break. So, here's the plan. I'm going to read all of these books and pick ONE idea and run with it.
Looks like I'll be doing a ton of reading this weekend.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
I completely agree with the other Smack Dabbers who have already said that one of the coolest things about the writing gig is the fact that it’s so incredibly hard for a writer to whittle what they love most about writing down to a single favorite. No—not just hard. Impossible.
For me, it’s all incredible: That initial, thrilling spark of inspiration. Outlining the entirety of a new book. The first few rounds of exploratory writing that introduce me to my characters.
While I’ve often said that a first draft—especially the middle—isn’t necessarily one of my favorite parts, I can’t say that I completely dislike drafting, either. There’s just something about getting through the first draft that feels—well—triumphant.
And, as I’ve often said—I adore revising. Revision is when my book inevitably becomes three-dimensional.
I even love the letter that comes from an editor, and the excitement of looking at the book from another’s eyes—brainstorming how to make my current work come together, using that editor’s suggestions.
As geeky as it sounds, I really do love the entire process—and beyond. I anticipate release dates, and treasure the relationships I’ve forged with my readers through the blogosphere.
To the outsider, writing probably looks like a dull occupation—one that pits a face and a computer screen against each other for hours on end. Inside, though, it becomes a grand adventure. And I can’t imagine doing anything else.
But beyond the process itself, one of the most rewarding parts of my journey has been sticking with a dream long enough to see that dream begin to pay off. I don’t care what the dream is—to become a singer, actor, writer, artist…There’s going to be a time, in the pursuit of that fantasy, when it feels like the dream is kicking your butt, a little. I’ve talked often about my long and winding road to publication—how it took seven and a half years of full-time effort to get the first book deal. Nothing could have been sweeter than inking that first deal…and then seeing that first book hit the shelves a year and a half later.
Whatever your dream may be, there will be a point at which you’ll look at yourself and wonder what you’re doing. There will be giant obstacles—a class that feels impossible, or a time commitment, or a monetary commitment…life’s obligations will try to block you from your ultimate goal. But trust me—there’s just nothing like seeing the sweat of hard work begin to pay off…
Below: my dog "advertising" my two published books
Monday, February 20, 2012
LG: How would you say the industry, and your role as an agent, have changed since you got into the business?
SB: I think a lot has changed. For one, there is more pressure on agents. People were just waking up to the commercial possibilities of YA and middle-grade in the mid-2000s, and it wasn’t yet the all-out craze for blockbusters it is today. There was maybe more of an exploratory, speculative mood. You would find a good project over the transom, sign it up, and send it out to a few editors, and someone would call you a couple of weeks later and say, “It needs a lot of work, but will you take $15,000 for it?” That would never happen now. Agents are expected to do a lot of development work prior to a submission, and most editors would be too nervous to bring a half-baked manuscript to their acquisitions board.
There’s more of an emphasis on performance, on finding books that will sell and meet financial expectations. Children’s publishing has become a lot like adult publishing, basically. You look at Bookscan numbers, obsess over the first week sales, the bestseller lists, the first printing, the publicity and marketing plans, the social media presence, all things that perhaps weren’t scrutinized as carefully before.
The other change we’ve had to adapt to is the rise of e-books. Publishing has been caught in the cross-hairs of these giant technology companies—Amazon, Apple, Google, and so on—who are changing the way Americans consume and read books, and agents have had to figure out how to protect their authors’ interests in the midst of this upheaval. On the whole, the agent community has not done a very good job. The current e-book royalty rate authors are getting from publishers, 25% of net proceeds, is a scandal. So there are these pressures, these major changes, agents are dealing with now.
LG: I feel like (from my experience as a former editor) there's always such a push and pull in the publishing world, between wanting to latch on to a "sure thing," something that fits in with our idea of what will always sell, and wanting to be the "next great thing," something that will blow everyone's minds with its inventiveness and then take off on its own terms. Where would you say you fall on that scale, in terms of the projects you chose to take on? Do you simply pick things that speak to you artistically, or is it somehow a more calculated process than that?
SB: One reason I might take on a new client is that their writing speaks to me so strongly I just have to represent them. That’s the easiest case, when I know someone fits my taste perfectly and that there’s going to be a good match. But often there are other factors at play as we consider new clients. It’s so important for me, and for all of the agents at Foundry, to be selective with who we sign up and to have a client list where writers have the space to be special, and to get the level of attention they deserve. Sometimes a good project comes in and I might like it, but I’ll worry about if it’s different enough, if it’s fresh enough, if it competes with other projects here. For instance, you have all these trends now in YA—dystopian, dead girl, post-apocalyptic, and so on. How many dystopian series should an agent represent? How many books should you represent on the same topic? These questions come up a lot. And we don’t feel like we have to represent every work in every category. We’re not volume agents, we’re very careful in what we take on.
The other thing now is that you have to be clear on how you’re going to talk about a book. It’s not enough to like it and think you might be able to sell it. How will you position it? Who are the best editors for it? You sort of need an idea of where the book fits in the world, whether it’s a bestseller, an award winner, something with a chance to be a backlist success, a critical success, or whether it’s just so delightfully weird and offbeat that you want to take a chance on it. The world is full of talented people, but talent isn’t necessarily a decisive thing in our business. There are street basketball players who can do the same thing Kobe Bryant can do with a basketball—but can they do it at the Staples Center, before a TV audience of millions? That’s the challenge for an agent, to figure out how to take a talented person and make their talent effective in the world. So that’s a big part of our thinking—where does this new writer fit on our list, in the marketplace? Do we have an idea how we can help him or her succeed? That kind of thing.
LG: What are a few of the projects you're working on right now who you have especially high hopes for? Was there anything specific about those books that drew you in?
SB: There are a lot of great books coming out from our authors in 2012. Lauren Oliver’s PANDEMONIUM, the sequel to her New York Times bestseller DELIRIUM, comes out the end of this month. She also has a truly creepy middle-grade coming in the fall I’m excited about, THE SPINDLERS. It’s my favorite book of hers so far. Laura Amy Schlitz, who is an exquisite writer, has a sort of magnum opus later this year—SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS, a big Victorian Gothic she spent six years writing. Lots of exciting debuts, too: Kate Ellison’s THE BUTTERFLY CLUES, a literary thriller which already has two starred reviews; former Penguin editor Jess Rothenberg’s THE CATASTROPHIC HISTORY OF YOU & ME, a novel about a girl who dies of a broken heart and finds love in the afterlife, is a Spring ’12 top ten Indie Next pick. And lots of middle-grade, too: M.E. Castle’s hilarious POPULAR CLONE. Jack Ferraiolo’s sequel to his Edgar Award nominee THE BIG SPLASH, THE QUICK FIX; Lisa Graff’s adorable DOUBLE DOG DARE, in April [Ed note: Yay!]; and this fall, F.T. Bradley’s DOUBLE VISION, an action/ adventure debut which Harper is publishing.
SB: I think that most writers, judged by their actions, probably aren’t looking at their careers in strategic terms. They want to write what they want to write, and they try to piece together a living doing it, and at the end of the day some of their books were good and others maybe not so much. I’m fine with that. It’s your career, of course. Certainly, we would never tell anyone to not follow their passions or inclinations.
But I do think if you want to have a great career, there are some options available to you, some things you might try. It helps to have a good agent, someone who is connected to the best editors and who can handle your subsidiary rights and other important minutiae. It helps to be a house author—to have one publisher totally invested in you. In some ways, success is really all about this one thing, consistency, which is not something that’s seen as being very sexy. It’s working with the same people, regularly producing books that are satisfying to your audience, practicing, fine-tuning, constantly studying what works and what doesn’t work and learning through observation. Success is boring, you could say. From the outside, it seems amazing and glamorous to be a repeat New York Times bestseller. But what’s that writer’s life like? It’s a lot of the same. It’s grueling. It’s hard to be on top for a long time and to sustain the demands of a big career. But does that kind of commitment make a difference? Yes.
LG: I think you make consistency sound very glamorous! Okay, last question: If you weren't an agent, what career do you think you would have chosen for yourself?
SB: Probably I would be like Gabrielle Marcotti or Simon Kuper, living in some city like Paris or Rome and writing about European soccer for a newspaper. I did a little bit of sports writing for the Wall Street Journal after college and that was fun. But then of course I got into publishing. And I do love it now. But there’s a passage from J.D. Salinger I think about a lot: “Sentimentality is loving something more than God loves it.” You could say that I love my clients even more than God loves them. But publishing, editors? Just as much—but probably not more.
Meet Fisher Bas: 12 years-old, growth-stunted, a geeky science genius, and son of the Nobel Prize-winning creators of the Bas-Hermaphrodite-Sea-Slug-Hypothesis. No surprise: Fisher isn't exactly the most popular kid in his middle-school, tormented daily by the beefy, overgrown goons he calls The Vikings. But he senses relief when he comes upon the idea of cloning himself--creating a second Fisher to go to school each day while he stays at home playing video games and eating cheetos with ketchup. It's an ingenious plan that works brilliantly, until Fisher's clone turns out to be more popular than him--and soon after gets clone-napped by the evil scientist Dr. Xander.
The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to our winner, Tricia!
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Here are ten fantasy books I fell in love with over the years. Each one of them influenced my dystopian middle-grade novel The Owl Keeper in different ways:
1. The Alchemyst by Michael Scott ~ A cracking adventure/fantasy that mixes myth and legend with the present day. Shortly after twins Sophie and Josh meet the immortal alchemist Nichola Flamel, an ancient book is lost, unleashing mythical beasts such as the Egyptian cat-goddess Bastet, the Morrigan, and the three-faced Greek Hekate. A wild, magical ride.
2. The City of Ember by Jeanne Du Prau ~ In Ember, an underground post-apocalyptic city, supplies are scarce and blackouts are frequent. Two friends, Lina and Doon, team up to decipher an ancient message and find a way to save the citizens of this dying city. Brilliantly original.
3. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper ~ Eerie and atmospheric, set in rural England in the dark of winter. When Will discovers his true heritage, life turns strange and wonderful as he learns of his role in the battle against the Dark. Menacing, with supremely evil beings and surprise twists.
4. Floodland by Marcus Sedgwick ~ In the watery landscape of a future England, where the sea is rising, a girl named Zoe sets off to find her lost parents in this tale of courage and determination. The scenes of submerged lands are mesmerizing, as is the chaos amid a gang of kids seeking shelter on an island.
5. The Giver by Lois Lowry ~ Jonas lives in a futuristic society where there is no poverty, crime, illness or unemployment. Training to become the Receiver of memories, he slowly grows aware of dark undercurrents, and the hypocrisy that rules his world. This book chilled me to the bones.
6. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman ~ No reader can help but fall in love with Lyra, the book's tough, sassy, street-wise heroine. Drawn into a terrifying struggle - missing children, secret experiments, witch clans and armored bears - she travels with her daemon to the far North. I never wanted Lyra's epic journey to end, and found myself longing for a daemon of my own.
7. The Navigator by Eoin McNamee ~ Owen, an outsider of a boy, is unexpectedly thrown out of his world and into another: when time flows backward his family and familiar places vanish. Owen must stop an ancient enemy, the Harsh, or everything he knows will disappear. Dazzling, heart-stopping; I was intrigued by the creepy Harsh, whose breath freezes humans.
8. Skellig by David Almond ~ A mystical gem of a book that blends the supernatural and the ordinary when ten-year-old Michael discovers a strange being in the shadows of his garage. What is Skellig? Man, bird, angel - or a beast he's never seen before? I loved how Michael and his friend Mina dared to carry this unearthly creature out into the light.
9. The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo ~ A haunting, lyrical tale of a grieving young boy, Rob, who discovers a caged tiger and meets a feisty girl named Sistine, all on the same extraordinary day. Rob and Sistine stayed with me long after the book was finished.
10. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin ~ A stunning tale of wizards, dragons and shadows. Sparrowhawk, a student of magic, meddles with dangerous powers, setting loose a terrible evil. From the first page I was caught in the spell of this imaginary world, watching as the shadow-beast hunted Sparrowhawk to the far corners of Earthsea.
Friday, February 17, 2012
I love libraries. With their shelves upon shelves upon shelves of books I haven’t read yet, so many books on so many subjects that by the time I get them all read, there will be shelves upon shelves of new books at the ready.
I love libraries, with their librarians, who can sort out exactly what book my student is asking for when all he gives them to go on is “no driving, bird!” – and in his hands appears Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems.
I love libraries, with their meeting rooms, where some of my favorite kids come dashing in every Thursday, trailing chewed-up pen caps and loose leaf paper, ready to tackle a new type of poetry or weave another chapter about beloved characters.
I love libraries, with their classes on everything under the sun, from knitting to taxes to cooking to computers, offered free to anyone who wants to learn.
I love the library I grew up in – above the police station, hot and stuffy, where I read Nancy Drew and Danger on Panther Peek and every Dr. Seuss book there was – and I love the library I frequent now, with a WHOLE ENTIRE FLOOR DEVOTED TO CHILDREN’S BOOKS – so I can still read Nancy Drew and Danger on Panther Peek and every Dr. Seuss book there ever was – and also The Hunger Games and the Clementine books and Harry Potter.
I love that no matter where I live -- no matter how many times I pack up my own books and everything else I can carry into boxes and move to a new space that isn't yet familiar –- there is always a place in the nearest town that smells like books and feels like home.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
- Reading Mercer Mayer's Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperumpazoo to my three-year-old son and listening to him laugh and laugh with pure delight, just like I laughed over it 31 years ago - and like I laugh over it now, with him;
- Reading a completely new book that utterly delights me, makes me want to skip meals and sleep and everything but reading, and reminds me why I wanted to write MG fiction in the first place;
- Talking about writing with my husband (also a writer), being challenged and inspired by his ideas;
- Fighting with a scene, being certain that I just can't get it right, feeling all the despair of realizing that I'm just not up to the task - and then finally, FINALLY finding the right turn of phrase that makes it all fall into place, and thinking: YES. I am a writer, really truly, after all;
- Getting to celebrate with a dear friend when her wonderful, wonderful new book comes out at last, after years of hard work and waiting;
- Realizing that I am part of a community, now, of writers and readers who care desperately about books - that this fact about myself doesn't make me feel weird anymore, not singular or odd or lonely - that in fact, there are SO MANY of us, and it's the best community I can imagine.
What about you guys? What do you love this week, today?
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The thing is—I love these books. I am having a very hard time letting them go. My favorites are probably the short chapter books I used for read-alouds with my classes. Every day brought another chapter and took us deeper into the story. It was a delight to hear the moans, groans, and pleading to just hear a little more, and even better when students would hunt down their own copies to that they could read on their own.
Some of these great books I fear will disappear. I just don’t see them on the bookstore shelves, on reading lists, or in classrooms anymore, yet they are as good, if not better (in my humble opinion) than some Newberry and Caldecott winners. So for today’s blog, I thought maybe I could mention a book I love, that I hope you will hunt down and read, if you don’t know it already. It’s one of those books we can learn from as writers and enjoy as readers and just plain humans.
From a writer’s viewpoint, it is a book with no wasted words. It has incredible economy. The story moves from page to page with a building tension and excitement. The characters are well drawn, their motivations totally believable and understandable. The writing seems effortless and the writer’s presence is never noticed, something Elmore Leonard mentioned as his acid test for whether he has to rewrite or not.
It's the story of Wharton the toad, who is captured by a fearsome owl. The owl brings Wharton to his home in a tree trunk and informs him that he will be eating Wharton the following Tuesday. Wharton tries to devise a means of escape while at the same time learning about who this owl really is. There is excitement and humor and very realistic detail both in the setting and in the habits and actions of the characters. It is a fantastic story of bravery and friendship. As one reviewer stated, it is a story where “intelligence, kindness, and compassion win the day.” And you have to love a story like that.
Monday, February 13, 2012
I used to think that epiphanies happened like this:
You know, you're sitting at your computer (or holding your snazzy red book), pondering where to go next, how to fix some awkward dialog, how to pick up the pace, where to insert that crucial scene, and lo! from out of nowhere the solution arrives.
That's what it can feel like, anyway.
But now that I've been at this a while, I recognize that an epiphany—that out-of-the-blue thought, idea, realization—is a more subtle process.
I also recognize that when I'm stuck, there's no point in pushing. I'm not one of those 2,000-word-a-day writers. If I wrote 2,000 words in a day, I'd wind up deleting 1,950 of them the next day. I'd rather write 200 solid words than 1,950 crappy ones. There are people who can write 2,000 solid words in a day, but I'm not one of them.
So when I'm stuck, I stop writing. And I've come to realize that what I'm doing in those days—sometimes weeks—is preparing the ground for the ideas that will spring from the seemingly barren dirt. I have to lay myself open to the new ideas.
My latest epiphany occurred a few weeks ago. I was facing several seemingly unrelated problems in my work in progress, and every fix I made to one made the others worse. So I quit, and went to the SCBWI Midwinter Conference.
The title of a session in the conference program caught my attention. Something clicked in my mind, and I recognized the click: A puzzle-piece had slid into place (okay, I'm leaving the fallow field analogy now). I didn't know where it fit, or even what it meant. I didn't probe. I didn't even attend that session.
A few days later, while reading Octavian Nothing, I felt another click. A small episode in that amazing book added another piece to the puzzle, and when I stood back and looked at it, I saw a smooth and cohesive scene in the puzzle where before there had been a hole.
If I didn't understand and accept my own writing process, and if I hadn't been paying attention, I wouldn't have known why that hole in the puzzle had suddenly filled in.
I still don't know if this will be the solution to the WiP's problems. But if it isn't, I can always hope for that angel.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
There are those moments you don’t forget. This one came when I was still pre-published, still raw from a particularly heart-wrenching rejection. I was on my daily cardio-walk past an elementary school filled with sounds you can only hear in a schoolyard. “If only,” I thought in regard to my book on submission. “If only I could go into schools and talk to kids.”
In a less emotional state, that might have had me figuring out a way to be a touring motivational speaker. But no. I wanted something more specific than I’d voiced. I wanted to be invited into schools because I’d written a book kids and teachers and media specialists wanted to talk about, wanted me to talk about.
Sometimes you throw things out into the universe and they do stick. And sometimes you should be careful what you wish for.
Not too much later I got my “yes,” had my first novel published, and scheduled my first school visit. But then reality struck. I needed to go into that school and talk. I got a bit terrified. What should I say? How could I entertain these kids and bring something worthwhile to this school? Like many authors, I’m inherently shy. Would they see through me? Would I blank out? Would I survive? Ahhhhh!!!
It turned out that my wish to go into schools and talking to students – from elementary through college – was something worth wishing for. I love the moment before they’ve heard my voice, wondering if the sounds and words match their expectations. I love all the hands that shoot up when it’s time for questions. I love the challenge of being asked something new, something off the wall, something they maybe shouldn’t ask.
I love going into schools. And I love the reason I get to.
Friday, February 10, 2012
Like most writers, I have a very active imagination. I love picturing a scene in great clarity and detail. But the challenge comes in trying to portray that scene through writing. If it exists only in my head, then I am the only person that can enjoy it. I love the task of taking something from my mind and putting it on paper so everyone who reads it can enjoy the thing I imagined.
That said, my favorite part of the writing process is the first draft. I love to see the story unfold as I write action-packed adventure scenes for the first time. I love to see characters develop as I write conversations for the first time. The initial draft of a manuscript is raw and unrefined creation to me. A bit of drudgery comes in the necessary months of revising and editing, but it's all worth it!
There is so much that I love about writing! I am so grateful to have a book published and excited to share the future volumes of the Janitors series.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
I had just begun my studies in logic, and based on my previous experiences with Alice I had no idea what I was in for:
"'Speak when you're spoken to!' The Queen sharply interrupted her.
'But if everybody obeyed that rule,' said Alice, who was always ready for a little argument, 'and if you only spoke when you were spoken to, and the other person always waited for you to begin, you see nobody would ever say anything, so that -- '
'Ridiculous!' cried the Queen. 'Why, don't you see, child -- ' here she broke off with a frown, and, after thinking for a minute, suddenly changed the subject of the conversation."
Wait, there's a logic formula in there!
"It is a very inconvenient habit of kittens (Alice had once made the remark) that, whatever you say to them, they Always purr. 'If they would only purr for "yes" and mew for "no," or any rule of that sort,' she had said, 'so that one could keep up a conversation! But how can you talk with a person if they always say the same thing?'"
Even existential questions were deftly handled with logical fun:
"'Do you know, I always thought unicorns were fabulous monsters, too? I never saw one alive before!'
'Well, now that we have seen each other,' said the unicorn, 'if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you.'"
I love the fact that Carroll came at children with more than just a fantastical story to tell. There was a truth to it, many truths, actually, to be uncovered and discovered. Alice does more than entertain, she teaches. Not always on a conscious level (any child can learn, if nothing else, terrific manners from Alice), but it's there nonetheless.
There is certainly joy in writing something that entertains. But when we can touch upon the truths of the world as well . . . now that's something special.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Nothing Like a Puffin by Sue Soltis and Bob Kolar was my favorite picture book from 2011. Funny and philosophical, this book beautifully considers what makes a puffin a puffin and not something else, essentially leading young readers through a playful logic puzzle to understand what makes us all unique. I’ve used this book in so many early elementary classrooms, and it’s an unequivocal hit.
Hopefully you have already discovered Tom Angleberger’s runaway hit The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda. If not, don’t wait another day. Last year brought not only the sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back, but also a bonus Angleberger book Horton Halfpott Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset.
Angleberger masterfully pulls off pee-stain-on-the-pants humor as well as unsentimental heart-string tugging, often in the same chapter. Horton Halfpott had me choking with laughter with its Downton Abbey-esque story that at times is hilariously bizarre and still keeps the Angleberger secret weapon for having characters with tons of heart.
While Brian Selznick’s graphic novel-novel hybrids have been a revelation for older readers, Eric Wight is working similar magic for a younger audience with his Frankie Pickle series. Last year brought the third, Frankie Pickle and the Mathematical Menace, of Wight’s comic book-early reader hybrids. Wight’s books blend the fantastical with the ordinary, as well as dynamic drawings of Frankie’s adventures through his own imagination with hilarious storytelling. I’m not sure who loves these books more - my four-year old daughter or me! She’s now convinced there’s such a thing as a “dryer sheet fairy.”
The final book in the Everlost trilogy by Neil Shusterman, Everfound, came out last year. Don’t you love when you discover a great series when all the books are out and you can enjoy them all in frenzy? I don’t know why this trilogy isn’t buzzed about more. To me, Everlost is on par with fantasy epics like His Dark Materials and The Dark Is Rising. Officially labeled “young adult,” these felt completely and wonderfully middle-grade to me. Set in a limbo world between life and death, the complex characters and rich world-building left me wanting nothing more than to start back over at the first book and enter Everlost again.
Since I’m already breaking from the Smack-Dab format and hyping children’s books across age ranges, let me end with my favorite young adult novel from last year, This Girl Is Different by J.J. Johnson. Although I’m a fantasy author, I love realistic fiction. And the best young adult novels strike readers as a call-to-arms. This Girl Is Different begins with a homeschooled teen deciding to finish her senior year in a public high school as an experiment and grows into revolution against bureaucratic complacency and the everyday abuses teens face. Beautiful and inspiring!
Full disclosure, I know or have met all the above authors. While this might have led to my reading their books, it is my happy fortune to have discovered my 2011 favorite books in this way. I hope in them you discover some new favorites as well.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Now, here is where it gets a little weird . . .