Waking Brain Cells
ROT & RUIN issue 5 (of 5) in comic stores tomorrow. Here’s a sneak peek!… http://fb.me/3UkWo6HEG
Filed under: Recommended Links
Other years, I have live blogged the event, but this year I won’t be able to. I’ll still post my reactions and lists of the winners later though. Here’s to celebrating some great reads for children and teens.
And congratulations too to all of the amazing books that don’t win the big awards but still make a huge difference for young people.
Filed under: Awards
I am honored to be part of the Morris Blog Tour and to get to interview Morris finalist, E. K. Johnston, the author of one of my favorite books of 2014, The Story of Owen. The Morris YA Debut Award celebrates new voices in teen literature each year. The 2015 winner will be announced next week at the ALA Midwinter Youth Media Awards ceremony.
The Story of Owen is entirely unique. Right from the beginning you know that the book is something special. Tell us about how you came to combine modern-day Canada and dragons.
E. K.: The Story of Owen started with a picture I had in my head of a dragon slayer standing on the Burlington Skyway, fighting a dragon while people on the bridge ran away/filmed her on their iPhones. So it’s been Canada + modern day + dragons right from the beginning. I wanted to set a book in my own country, and I thought that dragons would be fun, and then it got out of control very quickly, as these things do.
Another aspect of The Story of Owen that wowed me was that you edited the world’s history to include dragons too, reweaving it so that it supported the story you were telling. Your world building is deep and extraordinary. Tell us about your world building process.
E. K.: My world building process was actually pretty straightforward in this case. I did it in one of two ways. The least frequent method was to take a story about a dragon and make it into Actual History (as I did with St. George, for example). The most common method I used (also the most fun), was to break every piece of world building I had into four parts, and make sure the dragon was the last quarter. Thus:
- Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as Canada’s capital because it was far away from the American border.
- Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as Canada’s capital because it was far away from the American border and also a safe distance from a Hatching ground.
You’d might be surprised at how easy it was to put together. Also, it was super fun. I think it paid off the most with Lester B. Pearson, who my editor thought I had made up whole cloth until two days before my release date when I had to tell him that Lester B. Pearson was an actual person (and Prime Minister of Canada, WWI Ace, WWII “courier”, semi-pro hockey and baseball player, Nobel Prize Peace Winner, helped to found NATO and the UN, etc).
You write fight scenes so brilliantly, letting the readers see the physicality of the fight and the beauty of the skill it requires. Where did you learn so much about fighting dragons and battle in general?
E. K.: I learned it in high school, actually. From the real life version of Mr. Huffman, who had us do Offence/Defence Friday in his class. We never did the Panama Canal Crisis, but we did do a lot of castles, and look at a lot of battle plans from WWII. I was already quite interested in the ideas and concepts thanks to a lifelong love of fantasy novels, and then in university I studied archaeology, which is also a lot of fortification systems and weaponry and whatnot. Maps and movies filled in the gaps, so I guess it’s been a sort of accumulation since I was four, and my father read me The Hobbit.
Just as surprising as the dragons in Canada is a teen novel where there is a boy and a girl who spend time together, like one another and there is no romance. Tell us about Siobhan and Owen and why you crafted their relationship the way you did.
E. K.: “There Will Be No Kissing” is actually the only rule I made up for myself that I didn’t break while writing The Story of Owen. They were always going to be friends, Owen was always going to end up with Sadie, and Siobhan was always going to be totally thrilled about that (even in the first draft, where I kind of forgot that people couldn’t read my mind and see Sadie’s character progression even though I hadn’t written it down). Owen is waiting for a girl that is 100% committed to dragon slaying (actual. dragon. slaying.) to avoid inflicting any kid of his with a parental situation like his own, and Siobhan has zero interest in ever parenting a dragon slayer, and, eventually, zero interest in ever leaving Trondheim, and I can’t tell you more about that because: PRAIRIE FIRE.
The sequel to The Story of Owen is coming out this year. Tell us a little about Prairie Fire and what fans can expect!
E. K.: While OWEN was pretty localized, PRAIRIE FIRE covers Canada from coast to coast (almost, anyway). Owen and Siobhan are themselves a full year older than they were when we left them, and most of the supporting cast is older than they are. There are characters from Japan, the UK, and the US. There are several new kinds of dragons, all of which I took extreme delight in naming. And one possible culturally-appropriated recipe for pancakes that I took out of a cookbook a co-worker found, and showed to me because the computer had misspelled its name so badly in the system that we couldn’t shelve it (Vikings, man).
Huge thanks to E. K. for participating in the blog tour and giving us such a great glimpse into her process and a peek at the sequel!
For more Morris Blog Tour sites, head to Cinco Puntos Press where you can find links to all of the blogs on the tour.
Filed under: Authors, Awards, Teen Tagged: blog tours, interviews
Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner
Magdalie lives in Haiti with her cousin Nadine and Nadine’s mother, but Magdalie considers them to be her sister and mother. Her aunt works for a wealthy lady, cooking and cleaning, and the three of them live in the lower rooms of the house. When the earthquake hits Haiti in 2010, the girls survive but Nadine’s mother is killed. The two girls have nowhere to go but they are rescued by Magdalie’s uncle and move into the refugee camp. Soon after they move, Nadine’s father gets her a visa and she moves to Miami to live in the United States. Nadine promises to send for Magdalie as soon as she can. Magdalie is left all alone, unable to afford to attend school any longer and mourning the loss of her sister and mother. Magdalie holds tightly to the hope of heading to the United States, but eventually has to admit that she is staying in Haiti and figure out how to not only survive but thrive there.
Wagner writes with a passion that shines on the page. She shows the beauty of Haiti, creating a tapestry of food, sounds and voices that reveals what is often buried beneath the poverty. She does not shy away from the ugliness of poverty, from the waste, the violence and the impossible choices facing a girl like Magdalie. Sex simmers constantly around her, offers are made to young girls, and in one instance Magdalie must make the choice of whether she is willing to be taken care of in exchange for sexual favors.
Through it all, even when she is deep in despair, Magdalie is clearly a smart girl who loves to learn and wants to be something more than where she finds herself. Magdalie is incredibly strong too, facing on a daily basis things that American readers will never have experienced. And that too is part of Wagner’s amazing depiction of Haiti. She makes it clear that it is because of the society of Haiti that there is immense poverty but also that people can survive that poverty. When Magdalie visits a rural part of the country, readers revel right alongside her in the natural beauty. When she longs to return to the camps and the filth, readers too will begin to understand what she sees there and the potential it offers her if she can just find a way.
This is a complex book that does not try to answer society’s issues in a pat or simple way. Rather it stands as witness to the brutality, beauty and incredible strength of Haiti and its people. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: earthquakes, families, Haiti, natural disasters, poverty
The longlist for the Branford Boase award has been announced. The British award was started 15 years ago and is awarded to the author of an outstanding debut book and their editor. The shortlist for the award will be announced on May 4th with the winner to be announced in July. Here are the title in the longlist:
Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret by DD Everest
Bone Jack by Sara Crowe
Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen
Broken Strings by Maria Farrer
City of Halves by Lucy Inglis
Cowgirl by Giancarlo Gemin
Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott
The Dark Inside by Rupert Wallis
The Executioner’s Daughter by Jane Hardstaff
Half Bad by Sally Green
Leopold Blue by Rosie Rowell
Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall
A Room Full of Chocolate by Jane Elson
Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall
Trouble by Non Pratt
True Fire by Gary Meehan
Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens
The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss
Filed under: Awards, Teen
The National Council of Teachers of English have announced the 2015 winner, honor books and recommended books for the Orbis Pictus Award. The award was created in 1989 to promote and recognize excellence in writing of children’s nonfiction.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming
A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cats by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop
Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert
The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Terry Widener
Strike!: The Farm Worker’s Fight for Their Rights by Larry Dane Brimner
Filed under: Awards, Elementary School, Middle School, Nonfiction
The National Council of Teachers of English has announced the winners, honor books and recommended titles for the Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children. This award was established in 2014 and promotes and recognizes excellence in writing. “This award recognizes fiction that has the potential to transform children’s lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder.”
2015 Charlotte Huck Award Winner
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
El Deafo by Cece Bell
The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
Revolution by Deborah Wiles
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Draw by Raul Colon
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long
The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer
The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye
Filed under: Awards, Elementary School, Middle School, Picture Books
First Snow by Peter McCarty
Pedro is visiting his cousin Sancho. While he is there, snow starts to fall, something that Pedro has never seen before. But he knows already that he won’t like the snow since it’s so cold. The next morning, his cousins are thrilled to head outside into the fresh snow that fell all night long. Pedro is very doubtful, saying again how cold it is. When the other children make snow angels, Pedro doesn’t even want to try. Other children in the neighborhood arrive with their sleds. One of them shows Pedro how to catch snowflakes on his tongue. They all take their sleds to the top of the big hill. Pedro is too cautious to go first, but soon he finds himself joining everyone else riding down the hill. He is thrown off his sled and lands in the cold snow, but he no longer finds it too cold to have fun.
McCarty deftly shows the reluctance of a child experiencing something for the first time. He handles it with a delicacy that shows the hesitation clearly and the hanging back. Yet Pedro still tries things as the day goes on, and the other children don’t force him to try anything he doesn’t want to. By the end of the day, Pedro is just as merrily playing in the snow as the others. This book shines with a gentle spirit and allows children to see themselves clearly on the page.
As always McCarty’s illustrations are a treat. I particularly enjoy seeing characters from his other picture books in this story. Plus you have the added bonus of little creatures in snow suits with room in the hoods for their ears!
An ideal pick for snowy days or a way to discuss trying something new in a gentle and supportive way. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: families, sledding, snow
Geek Girl by Holly Smale
Released January 27, 2015.
This British import is hilarious, geeky and great fun. Harriet Manners knows that she is not a popular person. She shares too many factoids about things, she doesn’t care about fashion to the point that she took wood shop to avoid going to a fashion event, and she even has a list of the people who hate her. So when Nat, her best friend, demands that she come along to the fashion event, Harriet knows that she has to. Nat has dreamed her entire life of being a model, something that Harriet doesn’t even start to understand. She’d much rather be a paleontologist and spend her time watching nature documentaries. But everything goes wrong and it is Harriet who is discovered at the fashion show, and now Harriet starts a series of lies and cover ups to keep both her best friend and her step mother from knowing anything about her being discovered. Modeling is hard when you’ve never walked in heels before, when you don’t know the rules and when you are sitting next to the most gorgeous boy you have ever seen.
Smale has managed to give us a perfect mashup of geek and Next Top Model in this novel. Harriet is an unforgettable heroine, someone who is awkward in the extreme, entirely herself, and uncertain about who she wants to be. She is bullied by a classmate even as she is being discovered as a model. Even as she wants modeling to transform her into someone else, Harriet manages to be a voice for teens who are different, fascinated by facts, think in charts and graphs, and who are different from the rest.
Smale is also deeply funny. Harriet has wonderful asides that reference geeky movies and books. Her father and step mother have the most marvelous arguments, ones that read like a real argument when things stop making sense and have plenty of zinging comments. Best of all, the arguments don’t end their relationship but somehow form a basis for it. The writing throughout is clever and witty, making it a book that is impossible to put down.
The first book in a trilogy, this book came out in the UK in 2013 and was nominated and won several awards. It certainly lives up to the hype with its wit, strong heroine and inherent joy. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Harper Teen and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: fashion, humor, individuality, modeling
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