Things I’m Excited About This Week

This may become a regular feature. But here are some things I’m excited about this week! (And it’s only Wednesday!)

FIRST, Louis Sachar is writing another book. EXCITEMENT!

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SECOND, Larissa Theule, whose work I was lucky enough to read at Vermont College, posted the cover of her new book, FAT & BONES. EXCITEMENT!

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THIRD, Marie Lu dropped some info about a LEGEND graphic novel. EXCITEMENT!

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FOURTH is, of course, the Kidlit Trivia I’m co-hosting at Green Bean books in Portland this Saturday. (See previous post for pertinent information.)

EXCITEMENT!

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TRIVIA TIME

A few weeks ago, my friend Chris Struyk-Bonn asked if I’d be interested in doing an event with her at one of our local bookstores. When she mentioned that it would be a TRIVIA EVENT I was beyond thrilled.

So, here’s the deal: We (Me, Chris, and our other friend, Mary Elizabeth Summer) wrote up some AMAZING young adult and middle grade trivia questions! And we will be holding a trivia competition THIS SATURDAY!

Some of the questions are hard, some are easier, and some are just weird. (Like my Library of Congress Subject Heading Guessing Game.) But if you consider yourself a children’s book expert, you should come give the trivia course a shot. We did write it with kids in mind, so if you know some avid child readers, bring them along!

Here’s all the info in a HANDY, DANDY FLYER. I’d love to see you there!

And if you can’t make it, watch for my recap next week and get a taste of some of my sweet, sweet Library of Congress questions.

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“Everything Happens for a Reason…”

…is a terrible saying.

I don’t like it. I don’t like what it implies or how people use it, usually after someone has gone through something horrible. I don’t think telling anyone who’s just gone through a breakup, or lost someone close to them, or been hurt, that “Everything happens for a reason” is appropriate. At all.

However, it’s a saying I use for myself. When bad things happen to me, even though I don’t want to hear that phrase from anyone else, I’ll say it to myself. Internally, in my head. Really, what I’m telling myself is, “Eventually, you will learn from this.” But occasionally, something bad happens and, days or weeks or months or years later, I’ll be glad that it happened, because it led to something else in my life.

Quick example: one of my first jobs was working as an omelet chef at a chain buffet-style restaurant. I hated it. I had to wear an awful, ill-fitting uniform (that no one else had to wear, just me) and work in a stifling hot bakery area. I made ready-to-order omelets for people at 7 in the morning on weekends when I would have rather been sleeping in. And making ready-to-order omelets for people who want 6-7 items in their omelet was terrible. On the side, when I wasn’t making omelets, I assisted the baker by prepping cakes and cookies and brownies and by frosting cakes, which wasn’t SO terrible.

Years later, in college, I applied for an internship with a publishing company. I put the restaurant on my resumé and “cake decorator” as one of my job titles. (I didn’t have a real job title there anyway.) When I got an interview at the publishing company, one of the first questions was, “You really decorated cakes?”

That little tidbit had caught their interest. Even though it had NOTHING to do with publishing. So I was grateful, in that moment, and when I was eventually hired as an intern for the company, that I’d spent five months sweating into my horrible uniform and overstuffing omelets.

Anyway.

I’m thinking about this phrase this week because of something that happened recently. In short, I lost my garage door opener. In long:

I ride a bike to work. And I keep my bike in our garage, which is nice. So I use the garage door opener to open the garage in the morning, when I leave, and in the evening, when I return home. I started storing it in my hoodie pocket so I’d have easy access to it and not have to get off my bike.

One day, however, I wore a pocket-less hoodie to work. Luckily, my garage door opener has a clip on it, so I was able to clip it to the neckline on my hoodie. Still easy access. When I rolled into work, everyone gave me strange looks.

“Is that a garage door opener?” my co-workers asked, pointing at my neck.

I then explained the easy-access thing.

“It looks weird.”

I had to admit that it did.

For the rest of the day, I got some grief. Some ribbing. Nothing I can’t handle, but I thought to myself, “What a hassle.” So the next day, I wore a hoodie with pockets. But this hoodie was different from the other two. It had shallow pockets since it was a zip-up hoodie. To save myself the minor ribbing from co-workers, I put the garage door opener in my pocket and rode to work.

It was still there when I got to work, and when I put away my bike. We had pizza for lunch, and I had to go pick it up, using my co-worker’s car. Overall, it was a good day! No ribbing, pizza, and I got to drive a car. All good in my book.

That evening, Portland was unseasonably warm. And, considering my bike ride home is almost entirely uphill, I was overheated. I unzipped my hoodie, forgetting that I’d shoved a garage door opener in the shallow pockets. The sides of the sweatshirts flapped behind me as pumped the pedals. The breeze felt great.

Until I got to my apartment complex, reached into my pocket, and realized my garage door opener was gone.

I was so mad at myself. Clearly, it had fallen out of my pocket on my ride home because I’d been stupid enough to put it in the shallow pockets of my hoodie. I’d even thought to myself, as I was leaving that morning, that I should clip it to my neckline, but to avoid people at work pointing it out, I’d ignored that thought. GREAT.

For the next three weeks, I had to open my garage by leaving my bike unattended outside of it, going through the laundry room, entering my garage through the back door, and hitting the button inside that made the door slide up. It was an extra 30 seconds of my day, but it was a HASSLE. And when I left in the mornings, I had to close the garage door from the inside and then run underneath it before it closed. (It closes slowly. But I still hate doing it!)

I tried to tell myself that I had lost that garage door opener for a reason. But I couldn’t figure out the reason! It wasn’t to teach me a lesson. If it was, it was a harsh lesson that I didn’t like. And it wasn’t to make me talk to apartment management, because I wasn’t going to talk to them over something so small that I probably would have to pay for. I kept replaying the day over and over in my head, and I came to a conclusion: if I hadn’t been so embarrassed about clipping the garage door opener to my neckline, I would still have the darn thing. I was certain.

But then, why did THAT happen? Why did I wear my garage door opener to work that one day? WHY did I get teased about it? I couldn’t answer. There was no answer. I began to move on. Life without the garage door opener was a hassle, but it wasn’t worth being upset over.

On Monday this week, I did my usual morning routine. Ran under the garage door. Biked to work (mostly downhill). As I pulled up to the sidewalk outside my office, I saw one of my co-workers getting out of her car, so I waved. She waved back, and I saw, in her hand, a familiar object.

My garage door opener.

“You found it!” I squealed.

“It was in my car!” she said.

And I remembered, for the first time in weeks, that I’d used her car to go pick up pizza the same day I’d lost my garage door opener. It hadn’t fallen out on the street at all. It’d fallen out while I was driving!

And then, something amazing happened. Something that reaffirmed what I’d tried to tell myself the previous three weeks.

She said, “I wouldn’t have known it was yours if I hadn’t seen you wearing it that one day.”

Everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t worn the garage door opener on my hoodie the day before losing it, I still would have lost it. But my co-worker wouldn’t have known what it was, or whose it was.

Amazing, isn’t it?

I’ll still never say “Everything happens for a reason” to anyone else. But it works for me.

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Under the Covers…

Something cool I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me.

EXHIBIT A:

Hope Jacket

This is my book with its jacket on.

EXHIBIT B:

Hope Under

This is my book with its jacket REMOVED!

That there is a foil stamp! And boy, is it shiny! I think I actually alluded to this in a previous post, but now I have photographic evidence for you. I went ahead and pulled lots of other books off my shelf and looked under their jackets as well. You can see some photos I took of those books HERE (on my tumblr).

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March Books!

Getting back into the swing of things! Hopefully, anyway.

Sadly, I did not read very many books in March! Mostly due to how hectic launch month turned out to be. But I wanted to comment briefly on what I did manage to read.

17341550Trust Me, I’m Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summer

I’ve been excited to read this book ever since I got the chance to meet Mary Elizabeth last year. (So, a while.) There are four debut 2014 authors from Oregon that I know of, and (since I just finished Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz) I’ve now read all four! Mary Elizabeth’s debut is exciting and page-turning, with a knock-out voice and a great use of language. (I love it when books are seeped in language relating to the main character’s world. In this case, cons!)

 

Sizzle by Lee McClain10564957

Read for the 2014 Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge! This was one of those books I kept yelling at. You know, where some of the characters are so mean and despicable to the main character that you just want to reach your hands through the pages and strangle them?

 
 
 
 

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Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

Adi was a classmate of mine at VCFA, so I’ve been a fan of her writing for a long time. I knew I would love Strange Sweet Song before I even started reading it, but something about the cover kept me from picking it up right away. There are a lot of covers with girls in dresses on them, so I had to fight against what my brain was trying to tell me, which was that this book would be just like the others. Cover judgement can be terrible. Anyway, I’m only saying this because I don’t want anyone else to fall into the same trap I did. Adi’s book is gorgeously written, fantastically realized, and positively infectious. Honestly, the less you know about it going in, the better. Just pick it up, all right? (It’s out now! Because Adi and I shared a book birthday.)

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Launch Party!

Last week, Hope Is a Ferris Wheel came out!

Along with doing a reading at A Children’s Place bookstore and some school visits coordinated with Barnes & Noble, I also held my first ever LAUNCH PARTY at Powell’s Books.

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I REALLY NEED A HAIRCUT

As you may be able to tell from the above photo, it was a fun-filled event complete with three boxes of donuts and a ton of flowers! And of course I wore my lucky cat socks.

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There was a nice crowd, even! Made up of people I knew, but still. They showed up, which was really nice. Seated in front in the above photo are members of my critique group. Also in attendance were members of my family, some friends who had driven up from Eureka, my BFF Tessa and her family, my friend Amy (who helped me make my book trailer) and her family, some of my former students from the school I worked at (which made my heart swell), practically all of my co-workers (along with a couple of our creators!), and some other Portland friends and writers! I wish I’d had more time to print up the flyers I’d made and deposit them around town, but launch month had me pretty beat. Still, enough people came to the event that I think it was considered a success!

One thing I didn’t get to mention at the launch party was that I had specifically gotten donuts from Heavenly Donuts. Which, if you’ve read the book, is a phrase Star and her family use often. It was such a good tie-in! HOW COULD I NOT MENTION IT.

I must have been too excited by the fact that my critique friend, Barbara, brought me an actual working toy Ferris wheel to display! (You can see it in the background of the following photo.)

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There are a lot of posts I need to make, about books I’ve read and places I’ve been and things I’ve done, and I hope to post them soon. But for now, here’s this, at least: A record of a great launch party.

Thanks to everyone who made it out!

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Latin@s in Kid Lit Challenge for February: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Once again, I’m posing a bit late for my Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge. Turns out the beginning of the year is TERRIBLE when your book launches in March. (LESS THAN A WEEK! GADS!) But I should be better this month! You know, after all the launch stuff.
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I’m going to preface this by saying this book made me WEEP. Not just like, made my eyes itch for a little bit. I had tears running down my face. And no one even dies!

Okay. You may have heard of this book already, because it won a Pura Belpré medal, and they don’t just hand those out to everyone. This book has been on my radar for well over a year, but it wasn’t until A) the ALA awards happened, and B) I read The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind last month that I really, really wanted to read it. I stated somewhere (twitter?) that Meg Medina was on my watchlist, and this book just solidified that.

About the book: Piddy Sanchez (Medina once again showing her ability to come up with great names) doesn’t know who Yaqui Delgado is, but that changes when a girl named Vanessa tells her that Yaqui wants to beat her up. At first, Piddy’s not worried. After all, she did nothing to Yaqui, so why in the world would she want to kick Piddy’s ass? But it soon becomes clear that Yaqui isn’t backing down. And Piddy, who’s never been the fighting-back type, doesn’t know what to do. Fearful for what Yaqui has in store for her, Piddy loses track of assignments, starts ditching school, and even talks back to her mother.

So, I think the reason I began crying was because Medina really made Piddy’s fear and humiliation real for me. Piddy was so obviously a victim that I truly felt for her.

SPOILER TIME

However, I also felt for Yaqui. I admit that I was a little disappointed when the book didn’t go the way I thought it would, revealing more insight into Yaqui’s character. There’s some insight, but it’s speculation. We never hear from the girl herself. I was also expecting some kind of understanding to happen between Piddy and Yaqui, which maybe would have explained things from Yaqui’s point of view, but that also didn’t happen. This doesn’t detract from the writing or the book in any way, but I’m a big fan of characters and I really wanted to know Yaqui better.

At the end of the book, there’s a sense of closure for Piddy, but there isn’t one for Yaqui. I was left with the impression that Yaqui will stick to her old ways and continue to bully other girls who say or do the wrong thing in front of her (or her boyfriend). And I craved that. Even if it isn’t realistic.

One thing I especially liked, though, was the ending, despite there being no resolution/explanations for Yaqui. I love that Medina had Piddy going to her school’s principal instead of having a Rocky-themed training montage and going after Yaqui in the parking lot. I’ve read quite a few books about bullying, and they often end in violence. It’s not a problem, because that is a realistic way to deal with a bully – to fight back. However, there are kids like Piddy who simply can’t fight back. They aren’t like that, or they just can’t bring themselves to do it. How are they supposed to stop their bullies?

I don’t believe going to an adult or an authority figure always works in the case of bullying, but sometimes it does. Medina did a great job of drawing a parallel between Joey’s abused mother and Piddy. Both were being bullied, and both refused to tell anyone. Piddy refused out of fear, while Mrs. Halper refused out of (it’s implied) love for her abusive husband. I loved that Joey told Piddy, toward the end of the book, that she should run if she needed to.

Sometimes running doesn’t seem like a good option. Running is perceived as cowardly, when in actuality running is a survival technique. When faced with something bigger and stronger than ourselves, does it make sense to stay and fight? I’m really glad this was something Piddy embraced.

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Another thing I really liked was how totally Yaqui invaded Piddy’s life. Every problem Piddy had could be traced back to her situation with Yaqui. It was eye-opening, and I’d never thought of bullying that way – as something that can affect the victim so much that their whole personality starts to change. It makes sense, because I believe victims of domestic or child abuse go through the same thing, but it wasn’t until this book that I saw just how much bullying can affect someone.

My hat’s off to Meg Medina. Not only has she written two fabulous books, SHE MADE ME CRY BOTH TIMES. BOTH TIMES!

If you want to take part in the Latin@s in Kid Lit challenge, it’s not too late! Follow the link to sign up!

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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – The Lost Characters

Happy Monday! I debated posting this on Saturday, and then figured that if you’re anything like me, you are scrambling to get errands done on the weekend and don’t have time for the Internet.

Today I’m posting about the lost characters of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – the characters that got CUT.

Erin Delligatti

Erin holding cat

Erin was the most important character to get cut. In the first and second drafts of the book, Erin was another fifth-grader at Pepperwood Elementary who lived in Treasure Trailers and who was Star’s next-lot neighbor, as you can see in this sweet, sweet map. (Big version HERE)

Treasure Trailers Map

You can also see where Gloria’s, Mrs. O’Grady’s, and the tinfoil man’s trailers are! Plus, the owner’s shack. This map isn’t up-to-date as there’s now a storage area behind the owner’s shack where Star’s mom keeps some important things in a storage shed. Anyway, back to Erin.

I actually liked Erin’s story quite a bit! It was established at the beginning of the story that Star and Erin had been friends over the summer, but when school started and Star said she lived at Treasure Trailers, Erin stopped talking to her. Because Erin was hiding the fact that she lived at Treasure Trailers, knowing it was something she’d be teased for. Star spent a lot of that first draft missing Erin’s company and trying to win her back as a friend, but in the end, Erin just wasn’t secure enough to be Star’s friend. (And then, from the curtains, came Genny! Heeeey!)

Erin also hung out at the dump a lot, as she was planning to build a robot out of junk for the science fair, and she also took care of Treasure Trailers’ resident stray mama cat, Queen Elizabeth, and her kittens, whom Erin had named after planets. The idea was that Erin was a really nice person, but not a good friend to Star.

Erin head

Unfortunately, her story detracted a lot from the story I was trying to tell, which was the story of Star and Genny’s friendship. Why should I write Star spending time wishing Erin was her friend when I could do that with Genny? Erin had to go. And when Erin went, so did her fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Keyes. (DUN DUN DUNNNNN… that’s why Mr. Keyes isn’t in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel!)

So, Erin doesn’t live in the trailer park anymore. She’s still in Mr. Keyes’ class, and her family lives in a tiny run-down house not too far from Pepperwood. But she and Star don’t interact at all. At least until… SIXTH GRADE!

Nichole “Nicky” Konicke

I almost snuck Nicky into the final draft of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, but my editor saw right through my attempts and said, “Why is this random character here at the end?” So I cut her, YET AGAIN.

Nicky

In the first draft, when Star first goes to detention, she meets a group of kids she dubs the Detention Junkies. Eddie was one of them, and Nicky was another. Nicky’s story was that she never really tried in school, and thus got detention a lot. Miss Fergusson, through sheer force of will (and kindness), was able to turn Nicky around. Towards the end, she stopped going to detention, which made Star wonder why she was still in detention.

Nicky got cut at the same time as Erin, because it was more important to me to have Eddie in the story, and she and Eddie were kind of crowding each other. In between draft 1 and my last draft, I changed Nicky’s character considerably.

Nicky age chart

Here’s an age chart on new Nicky, showing her in Kindergarten, 3rd grade, and 5th grade. I gave her a sense of style, made her wealthier, and streamlined her design. New Nicky was set to join Star’s club at the end of the book, because of spoiler-y reasons, so I won’t go there now. But you can ask me in person after you’ve read the book! Also, if I ever write a sequel to Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, Nicky will definitely be in it.

But Erin won’t. Sorry!

Couple more things about Nicky:

  • In the Sixth Grade Delinquents story, Nicky was the “wildcard” of the class. No one knew if she was good or bad, and even Eddie kind of stayed away from her.
  • Nicky wears fancy and colorful cowboy boots.
  • This wasn’t originally the case, but Nicky has a huge crush on Eddie. She’s always trying to impress him.
  • In sixth grade, she no longer has her braid.
  • She’s very mildly based off this tough-as-nails fifth-grader I taught at one of my school jobs. A girl who could pound anyone into the pavement, but was also conscientious of her clothing and style.

Amanda Parker

Okay, Amanda was hardly even important to the plot, but she’s pretty cool, and I wanted to post a bit about her.

Amanda first

When I describe Amanda to you, she might sound a lot like Nicky, but the fundamental difference between Amanda and Nicky is that Amanda does what she does out of malice, while Nicky does it out of indifference.

Amanda was in the first two drafts, I think, along with Nicky and Erin. (Draft 3 was like a massacre.) She was another one of the Detention Junkies, and her crime was plastering everyone at Bloody Knuckles behind the dumpster during recess. At Pepperwood, Amanda was the Bloody Knuckles Champion. (Her teacher was also Mr. Keyes.)

Amanda colored

Amanda’s definitely not a nice person AT ALL. She’s downright cruel. She has a superiority complex that makes her think she’s better than everyone else, so she treats them accordingly. (Which is why she has no friends.)

So, no, Amanda didn’t add anything to the story, and so she was cut. BUT.

SIXTH GRADE.

Remember, if you have to cut characters, you can always tell yourself you’re saving them for the sequel! :)

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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – Teachers and Students

Considering the fact that I was busy plotting the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story, I don’t think you’ll be at all shocked at this map of Pepperwood Elementary, with all the teacher/room assignments, that I drew about five or six years ago.

Pepperwood Map

Big version is HERE if you’re interested. Clicking on the big version, you’ll be able to make out the names of every single teacher at Pepperwood Elementary. I’m stretching credibility a bit here, because honestly, this is too many teachers for a lot of California schools. Pepperwood has a pretty big student population, though. Over 400. So it’s not completely unreasonable.

Anyway, this map will tell you how meticulous I was in making this school feel like a real place. The only thing to note on this map is that Miss Minh, the 6th grade teacher over in the portable, isn’t a teacher during the events of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel. When Star is in 6th grade, Miss Minh joins the staff as a student teacher, then joins the staff full-time the year after that. (Miss Minh is not Star’s 6th grade teacher, though. Ms. Davenporte is.)

Okay, enough about teachers you don’t care about! Here’s some teachers you actually might care about if you’ve read the book.

Teachers

From left to right: Miss Fergusson, Mr. Savage, Mr. Keyes. The three fifth-grade teachers of Pepperwood Elementary. I like these three a lot. If you’ve read the book, you know that Mr. Savage is kind of a jerk, and that Miss Fergusson is stern but sweet, and you have no idea who Mr. Keyes is. More about him later.

Mr. Savage was the only choice for Star’s teacher. Why? Because I knew they would clash, and when you’re not sure about the plot of your story, it’s sometimes a good idea to just put your main character in a terrible situation. The fact of the matter was, Miss Fergusson is Star’s ideal teacher, and Star is Miss Fergusson’s ideal student, so there’s no conflict there. Mr. Keyes is laid-back, having taught kids for over thirty years, and he knows when he needs to be tough on kids, so he wouldn’t be tough on Star, since, like Eddie says, she’s not really a bad kid.

But Mr. Savage is a new-ish teacher. He’s full of raw idealism and he’s a little terrified that his class will someday get the better of him. At the first sign of delinquency, he would turn on Star like that. (Imagine me snapping my fingers.)

Sometimes people ask whether the characters in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel are based off anyone I know. The kids aren’t, but the teachers are.

Fergusson first

Miss Fergusson is based off my own fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Lawson. Like Miss Fergusson, Ms. Lawson was caring and strict. She cared about every one of her students and did her best by every single one of them. (Above is the first drawing I ever did of her, sometime in 2006, maybe.)

Mr. Keyes is based off a teacher I worked with in Oakland, Mr. James. (The kids called him by his first name.) Mr. James was an art teacher and an artist who encouraged his students – even the ones who weren’t good at or interested in art. He was funny and lively, and the kids loved him, because they knew he loved them, too. Even when he had to discipline them.

Mr. Savage… is based off me. I was only an after-school teacher for 6 years, which, in teaching, is a tiny fraction of experience. Suffice to say, I made a lot of mistakes as a teacher. Sometimes, like Mr. Savage, I put on this “tough teacher” mask instead of being myself. Luckily, Mr. Savage works with a couple of experienced teachers, both of whom don’t mind guiding him in a better direction. (I worked with lots of awesome teachers, too, and I like to think they rubbed off on me.)

Anyway, Mr. Keyes doesn’t appear in the book because, well, he just got cut. His character was extraneous, and Star doesn’t interact with any of his students anyway.

Along with teachers, there are a couple of students mentioned in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel. I could give lots of info-dump on Maggie, Meg, and Chelsea, but I forgot to scan their stuff in. So all you get is Delilah and Jared.

Delilah Lilac Manning

Delilah was originally a much more involved character. She was actually kind of the villain in the story! But a lot of Delilah’s stuff was given to Denny, and Delilah quietly slipped into the background to occasionally give biting comments and be a jerk.

There was a part in the first draft where Star threw a basketball in Delilah’s face for making fun of another trailer park resident, but of course that all got cut/repurposed. But I liked that scene, because it led to Star going to the principal’s office and Winter coming down to pick her up, pretending to be Carly.

Jared Barrel

I think what happened with Jared (who never actually had a bigger part – he’s always been a small fry) was that I had all these traits from the old Denny (timid, mild, meek, soft-spoken, etc.) and I needed to give them to someone else. So I picked Jared. There’s not a whole lot revealed about Jared, but Jared is one of Eddie’s unfortunate victims. So not only is he timid and quiet, he also lashes out at others, like Star. (Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t remember if he actually lashes out at Star in the book. He is the boy who asks if he can join her club and then laughs in her face, though.)

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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – Eddie and Langston

Eddie is actually my favorite character in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, and even in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story. My favorite characters are the ones who are very contrary. The basis of Eddie’s character is that he’s a “bad” kid who is slowly realizing that he doesn’t have to be a bad kid.

I won’t give away too much of Eddie’s backstory, but if you’ve read the book you know that he thinks he’s stupid, because that’s what people have been telling him for a long time. DESPITE the fact that he has a bunch of poems memorized, and DESPITE the fact that he’s reading a thousand-page novel to himself in his free time.

Eddie first

Here is the earliest picture I have of Eddie, who predates every other character in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel except for maybe Miss Fergusson. In the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story, Eddie was the top delinquent. He’s the one no one else would dare challenge, because he’d been beating up other kids since like, the second grade. But Eddie wasn’t a dumb bully, he was a smart bully, and he’d already figured out how to play sixth grade.

Denny and Eddie sixth grade

This is a picture of Eddie and Denny in sixth grade. They were part of a group, and I won’t say anything else in case I ever end up writing that story. :) But you can see here how smug Eddie looks, like he’s got everything figured out. Which he does.

Eddie glasses reading

But fifth-grade Eddie is a lot less confident and much more insecure about his intelligence. (If you’ve read the book – you’re right, Eddie doesn’t wear glasses. He gets them right around Thanksgiving, right after Hope Is a Ferris Wheel ends.) (Oh, and yeah, his last name is Valentine, which is never mentioned in the book since he’s not in Star’s class.) Also, you can see that, since that first picture, his hair has expanded quite a bit, and that I got a lot better at drawing it.

EDDIE

So, Eddie’s tough and a bully. And a major reason of why he’s a tough bully is Langston.

Langstons early

Langston is not in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story at all, because at that point he wouldn’t be a sixth-grader anymore and wouldn’t go to the same school. But in the story, there were a lot of rumors about him. The administration of Pepperwood Elementary sees Langston as the ringleader and Eddie as the sidekick, even though it’s actually the other way around. But Langston and Eddie do feed off of each other. Langston likes being a bully, making fun of other people, feeling like he’s in charge of things, even if it’s just his own thing he’s in charge of.

Above are early pictures of Langston looking a lot meaner than he actually is. I gave Langston a mohawk because I’d taught some kids with mohawks, and I noticed a couple things about these kids that I wanted to convey in Langston’s characters.

Kids with mohawks:

  • Got them because their parents or parent were convinced that their kid having a mohawk would look cool and make them stand out
  • Were wisecracking and troublemaking, but also charming, with a soft side
  • Usually only had it once and then let it grow out

Langston head

Langston’s a good foil for Eddie. Eddie is perceived as stupid but is actually very smart, while Langston is perceived as stupid and is actually stupid. But it doesn’t bother him the way it bothers Eddie. Langston’s also very cocky where Eddie is insecure. Langston is pretty easy-going while Eddie has a short temper and tends to be angry and hold grudges. And even though Eddie’s smarter than Langston is, Eddie’s the one who was held back in first grade, not Langston, and Langston holds that over Eddie’s head quite a bit.

Still, they’re best friends. They live in the same neighborhood and, despite being a grade apart, are always together. The thing that binds them is that they’ve been branded delinquents from an early age. But again, despite what everyone thinks, Langston is the one who follows Eddie, not the other way around. (Eddie’s also older than Langston by about a month.)

And in case you’re wondering, Langston’s last name is McNeilly, which again isn’t in the book since he’s not in Star’s class.

LANGSTON AND STAR

I drew the above image around the time Langston started being more involved with the plot. And also when Star would wear a ponytail to disguise her mullet. And I guess wore fancy zip-up boots? Oh, wait. I remember why I drew those boots on her – because Langston was already wearing combat-esque boots and I thought it would seem odd if they were both wearing them.

Okay then!

Oh, and one more little tidbit: Langston didn’t have a name until I think draft 2. The kids in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story referred to him as “Firestarter” for reasons I won’t get into. And then he didn’t have a last name until draft 3.

Now that I think about it, Langston might predate Eddie. The idea of a kid called Firestarter has been in my mind for a long time.

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Hope Is A Ferris Wheel – The Libras

Denny and Genny Libra are, after Star and her family, probably the most important characters in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel. The story, after all, started as a way for me to explain how Star and Genny became best friends, basically. But first, a little about how they came to be!

Denny early design

I actually laughed when I found this old Denny drawing. This, I’m pretty sure, must be the first drawing of Denny I ever did. I left my notes there so you could read them. From the beginning, there was a pretty heavy emphasis on his eyes. The first version of Denny was a timid, shy boy who didn’t say much. (And he was a sixth-grader in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story.)

Shortly after drawing this doodle, I named him Denny. While walking to the store one day in my hometown of Eureka, California, trying to come up with a good last name for him, I thought up the name “Libra.” It sounded pretty good. Denny Libra. I knew I’d remember it!

I didn’t. I forgot it as soon as I got home and didn’t remember it for several months. So, writers: ALWAYS WRITE STUFF DOWN.

Denny long hair

Not too long after naming Denny, I got Star. The two seemed like a hilarious pair: Star, loud and flashy, Denny, quiet and mousy. They were natural-born enemies. Oddly enough, Denny’s “theme song” was “Jenny, You’re Barely Alive” by Rilo Kiley. Something about the way it sounded matched Denny’s personality pretty well at that point. While listening to that song one day and thinking about Denny, I decided he should totally have a sister named Jenny.

Except… I couldn’t figure out why Denny’s parents would name him something a little weird like Denny and then slap the very common name Jenny on his sister.

So I changed it to Genny. I didn’t want her to be Gennifer, though, so I made her full name Geneva. Geneva and Denny are two names I can believe that two kids in the same family can have. (Names are important! Always think about names and whether they fit together!) The only thing I didn’t like was that Geneva Libra doesn’t have quite the awesome ring to it that Denny Libra has. BUT I figured maybe that’s part of the reason why Genny likes to be called Genny instead of Geneva.

Also, c’mon. It’s hilarious to have a brother and sister named Denny and Genny. There’s a good line I had in one of the previous drafts where Eddie refers to them as “The Wonder Twins” and Star just says, “They’re not twins.” I can’t explain why I think that’s funny. It just is.

Denny fullGenny full

Here’s the first picture I ever drew of the two of them together. (They were on opposite sides of the page, though, so I scanned them separately.) Denny was still a bit timid at this point, but you can tell that Genny’s personality has always been upbeat. But they’re both lanky, it’s just that Genny hides it better, and they have the same face shape. I always meant for them to look like a brother and sister. (I also think, at this stage, that I wanted Denny to look like a kid whose mom still dressed him, while Genny was a kid who dressed herself. I later dropped that.)

Denny thoughtful

Denny glare

These two Dennys were probably drawn about a year apart. In that time, I began actually writing Hope Is a Ferris Wheel and mean Denny took over, pushing timid Denny off a cliff. Mean Denny is more fun to write than timid Denny anyway. All the insults he shoots at Star aren’t things he actually believes, they’re things he thinks would bother her. So he’s not really the jerk he seems to be. Still, Denny and Star aren’t and probably never will be friends.

Genny OLD

Genny, on the other hand…

Man, look at that hair. This is an extremely old picture of Genny, a picture where I was trying to capture what she might look like during 4th grade. (Because, like every other character in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, Genny started out as a side character in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story. As a fifth-grader, of course.)

Genny nice

Genny’s two main characteristics, to contrast her brother, were “nice” and “talkative.” In the first two drafts of the book, Genny was sick with a disease I never bothered to look up. It didn’t really fit in the story and felt too trivial, so I dropped it. I also changed my mind about a later plot point – in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story, Genny died a little over halfway into the school year. I never figured out what she died of, only that she died, and that Star and Denny never spoke again afterwards.

It was kind of a bummer of a storyline. I dropped it for reasons I won’t get into now, but if I ever write a sequel to Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, I’ll be able to explain.

Genny tattoos

I’m pretty sure it was draft 5 where Genny got her signature tattoos. She and Denny didn’t actually have standout personalities for a long time (aside from being nice and mean, respectively), so I spent some time on their characters. Denny didn’t actually change much, but I gave him some family issues and he seemed to stand out a bit more. Genny got tattoos, probably because I’d worked with kids who slathered themselves with rub-on tattoos and thought that was interesting.

But every time I draw Genny with her tattoos, I only get halfway down her arms because I’m lazy. They’re supposed to go all the way down to her wrists. And she’s probably got a couple on her legs.

One thing that never gets mentioned about Genny is that she loves to draw. There was a scene in some early drafts in which Star goes to the Libra house and sees Genny’s room, which is kind of messy and filled with fantasy novels. I imagine Genny draws her own fantasy lands in her spare time. Even though it never made it into the story, it informed a bit of her character for me.

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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – Star’s Family

Today I’ll talk about Star’s family, which includes her mother, Carly (short for Carlotta), her sister, Winter, and her pseudo-godmother, Gloria.

Winter, Carly, Gloria

Here’s a fairly recent picture of the three of them (from left to right: Winter, Carly, Gloria). I was really excited, by the way, that a recent review of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel referred to Winter as “goth,” even though I didn’t use that term once in the book. (“Goth” is a term I hardly ever hear anymore, so I decided to leave it out and avoid possible confusion.) But yes, Winter is goth. She dyes her hair black and wears black clothing and combat boots.

Carly is sensible. She’s flaky, but sensible. She dresses as professionally as she can because she often has to deal with food bank people or welfare people and she doesn’t want them assuming she’s flaky, even if she is. Carly takes pride in her role as a mother and she assumes she’s a great one because, despite being impoverished, she provides everything her children need.

Gloria is like a fun aunt. Winter’s too old to be amused by Gloria anymore, but Star is still the right age for it. Gloria does her own thing, mostly. She works at a salon, having recently graduated from beauty school. She’s sloppier about her appearance than Carly is, but proud of her credentials. She thinks she’s the world’s expert on hair despite giving Star a mullet.

Carly and Gloria are kind of a reference to me and my childhood/current best friend, Tessa. Tessa also had a child when she was 19, and I am the weird pseudo-aunt that her child will probably find unamusing in a few years. Gloria’s love of donuts is a reference to my sweet tooth, but Carly isn’t a whole lot like Tessa, except that they both wear glasses.

Alright, back to Winter.

Winter OLD

This is, I think, the first picture of Winter. She was a bit more bubbly at first, and instead of having dyed black hair, she had dyed blonde hair. (She wasn’t goth yet, obviously.) I was basing Winter a bit off my older sister, who I’ve always thought of as way cooler than me. When I was Star’s age, my sister had the coolest clothes and was super smart, and everyone in the family thought she’d be a writer because her English grades were ridiculously high. The notoriously tough Shakespeare teacher at my high school said that she was one of his favorite students and that she wrote amazing essays.

(She’s in a geology-related field now. WHO KNEW?)

So I based Winter off that. Amazing writer, but on the morbid side. Totally cool, but also a teenager and therefore pretty contrary regarding her mother. (My sister had a rebellious phase, but she stayed a good student and was always nice to our mom.)

Winter and Allie

So, I ditched blonde-Winter pretty early on. Here she is with a character not worth mentioning until you’ve read the book. Her hair became curly/tangly and she became a lot rougher around the edges. I don’t remember when I decided she’d go to an alternative school due to being expelled from her old school, but it was definitely before I started writing the first draft. Winter was also originally kind of mean to Star, but when I started writing it didn’t work out, wasn’t going anywhere. Once I made their sisterly relationship a positive one, the writing came easier.

Sometimes, you gotta switch characterizations at the last minute!

Winter Harper

A post-it doodle of Winter from 2008. I had an internship at a publishing house, where one of my tasks involved using a system that took a long time to load things. So while I waited for stuff to load, I banged out lots of doodles on tiny post-it notes. I think Winter’s look really took shape during that time.

Winter glasses

In I think draft 5 of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, Winter wore giant sunglasses as a way to hide her emotions from her family. That only lasted one draft. (I think she might put them on once in the book.)

Winter color

This is the quintessential Winter. And it’s like, a thirty-second doodle. So there you go. I’ve reached the point where I can capture her in thirty seconds. HUZZAH

Carly ages

Carly is a different story. In fact, it wasn’t until about draft 3 that I actually knew what she looked like. (She was always just “vague mother figure yelling in the trailer” before that.) Between drafts 3 and 4, I started wondering a bit more about her past, so I drew this quick reference sheet for myself of Carly when she had Winter (age 19), when she had Star (age 25), and in the current storyline (35/36). You can see that at age 19 Carly was a bit more lively. After she had Winter she got that “professional” look so she could get benefits more easily.

carly mackie

Carly’s story is a bit tragic and not at all like Tessa’s. Carly was in community college when she became pregnant with Winter, and she had to drop out to take care of her, which was disappointing because Carly was the first in her family to go to college. Her family also kicked her out when she got pregnant, so she moved in with Gloria until she saved enough money to live on her own. (They all lived in the same trailer park, which made things awkward.) Star followed five years later, and Carly was never quite able to get back into school.

Carly has a history of staying in jobs for less than a year. In a previous draft I explored this more: Carly’s a bit restless. It’s just her personality. She doesn’t do well doing the same thing for a long period of time. So she’s reached a point in her life where she’s had so many jobs that nobody really wants to hire her. Thus, she has a hard time finding a job. She’s not on unemployment because she always quits her jobs and is never actually fired from them.

As for Gloria, well, I don’t draw her much, but I imagine she looks like me if I had a degree from beauty school and actually did my hair and wore makeup. Her last name is never mentioned in the book, but it’s Sanchez.

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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – Star Mackie

I’ve got two full weeks until the release of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, so I decided to do some process posts. There’ll be one every weekday!

So, the way I write a story is that first I draw out the characters. I draw them until they’re very clear in my mind, because when they are, they start to interact with their environment and tell me (indirectly) about their stories. These drawings usually start as classroom doodles. Things I doodle during a lecture or what have you.

(Now that I’m not in school, I do a lot of doodling on my iPad while watching TV. Closest I can get.)

So, I’m starting with STAR, the main character of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel.

Star was actually not the first character I had for this story – Eddie and Denny came before her. But they weren’t doing much until Star came around.

Star first

The girl on the right is the very first drawing of Star I ever did. (You can see some java notes on the far right of the notebook paper; I drew this during a computer science class. I’m almost positive it was early 2007, but it could have been late 2006.) She started out a bit older, as you can see, but when I did the drawing on the left immediately after I made her a bit younger and that seemed to fit her.

You can see a small star right by Star’s head in the drawing on the left. I believe I made that star so I would remember to figure out something with her later, but looking over my notes at the end of the day, I decided that “Star” was a good name for her.

Now, what in the world was I thinking with her hair? I have no idea. But I do know that, looking at the picture later, I said to myself, “In the drawing, that looks kind of cool, but in real life that would totally be a mullet.” (I was thinking a flashy David Bowie type mullet.)

I decided to go with that. A young girl with a mullet. Named Star.

That’s where it all started.

Star color second

I guess Star’s mullet is midnight blue because of this drawing. My original idea for Star (and here, she’s a sixth-grader, not a fifth-grader), was that she was a somewhat-streetwise trailer park denizen who knew a lot about things like make-up and hair products, and who tried to act more mature than she was, even though she was still a child and very naive. (Hence the eyeliner and the high heels.)

And yeah, she was a sixth-grader. I originally put her in this story I was working on about a sixth-grade class of kids, who were known as the “bad class.” Star was a side character who would brag about her life and how cool she was, not realizing that it wasn’t actually cool to live in a trailer park.

I also had this character named Denny, a timid, nervous kind of kid, who I’d drawn and named right before Star. So naturally, they became connected. I thought it’d be funny if they were enemies, and then I had to figure out WHY they were enemies, so I decided that Star was friends with his sister and was constantly over at their house, driving Denny crazy. (More about Denny and his transformation from timid to glaring in another post.)

Star Grin

The more I drew Star, the more I got to understand her mullet and the way it worked. For a while, it was kind of curly. And though I often imagined her in skirts, she sometimes made appearances in straight-legged jeans.

Star and Genny fifth grade

One day in 2008, during a lecture in my History of Latinas/os in 20th Century California class (as you can tell from the terms “chicano” and “gentrification” up there), I drew this picture of Star and Genny. I liked the way Star looked like she’d achieved something great, so I added the caption at the bottom, which eventually became the working title of the book. I made Star a 5th grader here because I’d made her hair a little different, but then I thought it could be a good “origin story” for this side character. The two things I’d need to cover in the “origin story” were:

1. How Star and Genny met and became friends

2. How Star ended up being placed in the “bad class”

So, I started working on that. In my head, not on paper. I decided early on that, despite my love of YA, this would be a story for children. (Like the children I was working with at the time as part of my work-study job.)

Star boots

In my sketchbook, I drew a page devoted to Star Mackie: Queen of Fifth Grade, deciding which characters from the aforementioned Sixth-Grade Delinquents story would make appearances. Genny and Denny, obviously, would need to be there, and I also decided to put Eddie in. There were some other characters on the page who either didn’t make it in or did and were cut later. (I’ll cover those characters in a different post.)

Star and Winter

Star had always had a sister. She was a vague figure in Star’s life until I started doing Star Mackie: Queen of Fifth Grade, and then she became a full-blown character. More on her later. For now I’ll just say that Star’s sister, Winter, became an extremely important part of the book. In fact, there was a vague side-plot in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story regarding Winter that I moved into Star’s origin story. But you have to read the book in order to know what it is. :) Anyway, note in this picture that Star is wearing high heels and that they are too big for her feet. That’s because they’re Winter’s. (And Winter is wearing the combat boots that Star now wears in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel.)

Star incensed

Eventually Star’s mullet became a bit more streamlined, which is what happens when you draw a character over and over again. She was in combat boots full time now, too, due to a comment I received from my would-be editor, Tamar, about the high heels making Star feel too mature. There was an entire plot thread of Star wearing high heels and gradually moving to Winter’s combat boots, so I decided to nix that and just put her in the combat boots from the beginning. Made some things a lot easier.

Star Skull Janes

Here’s a somewhat more recent picture of Star. I haven’t drawn her a whole lot since getting the book deal, sadly! I was also experimenting with some different footwear for her (these are called “Skull Mary Janes” in my notes), though that never panned out. You can now make out the separate layers in her hair and see how it can be viewed as a mullet. As far as I’m concerned, it’s totally a mullet and Star is in denial about it, but some readers have stayed adamant that it’s a “layered cut” and totally not a mullet even, and that’s a valid interpretation. I think there are a lot of people walking around with mullets who are in denial. Own your mullet! They’re actually pretty cool. :)

So, there you have it! Star Mackie was created SEVEN DANG YEARS AGO. And now her little origin story is out in the world.

It just goes to show you to keep your eye on those side characters. They’ll sprout their own stories when you least expect it.

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Events!

If you look at the navigation bar up top here on the ol’ website, you’ll see a tab for EVENTS. I just added three I’ll be doing in March!

HOOZAH

These are Portland, Oregon-centric, so probably of no use to you if you don’t live there. But if you do, now you can be in the know!

events

My disembodied head wants you to come to Portland and party!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

tumblr_n0z83xEw5a1t61bgfo1_1280

 

Happy Valentine’s Day from me and Emily Dickinson!

Holy cats, less than one month until my book is out in the world! I mean, technically, it is out. I got copies last week! I will say this: it’s a darn good looking book. I’ll post pictures later, but there is:

1. SPOT GLOSS all over this thing!

2. FOIL underneath the dust jacket!

It is a GORGEOUS looking book. The Amulet team has outdone themselves!

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting lots and lots of sketches and art related to the book. If you want to see it as it’s posted, check out my tumblr. I’ve been posting some sketches and photos there recently.

I’ve also got some blog posts and interviews at other blogs coming up! I’ll link to those as they come out.

THINGS ARE GETTING EXCITING!

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January Reads

I’m still hoping to read 100 books this year (aside from graphic novels), but I’m running a tad behind. Here’s what I read in January (in the order I read them):

1. Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Corinne is another Amulet debut author and I was really excited to read her book. It has a diverse cast and a really imaginative fantasy setting. Also, Corinne did not disappoint! I loved the writing so much, in fact, that I had to read it slowly. This sounds weird, huh? But I needed to read it slowly to drink in every detail. Highly recommended! This comes out in June.

2. Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

A touching middle grade novel about a Japanese family interned in Arizona during World War II. I listened to the audio version of this while I washed dishes. It also includes a diverse cast of both Japanese and Mohave characters, as the land the Japanese-Americans are forced to live on happens to be on a Mohave reservation. I like it when I learn things from books!

3. I Heart Band #2: Friends, Fugues, and Fortune Cookies by Michelle Schusterman

After reading about Holly’s misadventures in I Heart Band #1, I was eager to get my hands on this second volume. I got so into it I burned the rice I was cooking. (Spanish rice, in case you’re wondering, since it’s a lot harder to burn plain old white rice.)

4. The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner

I highly recommend this debut MG if only because after you read it you can go back on the 2014 Mad for Middle Grade posts and understand all of Lauren’s hilarious references to her novel. But seriously, this is a very funny book in the vein of Sideways Stories from Wayside School or the beginnings of every Roald Dahl book. I described it as “hilariously non-sequitur.” If you know any children, this would make a great read-aloud for them.

5. Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Laura’s imaginative and mysterious debut had me turning pages in a frenzy. I’ve only visited New York twice, but Laura made the city come alive for me in a way I’ve never felt before. Truly remarkable. Also, I loved the main character, Theo, and her voice.

6. The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina

My review of this is in my previous blog post! So scroll down or hit the previous page link. This was a magnificent book filled with gorgeous setting details and characters I didn’t want to let go of.

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Latinos in Kidlit Challenge for January: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina

My first entry for the Latinos in Kidlit Challenge is about Meg Medina’s fabulous The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Meg Medina’s name will be familiar to many, as at the ALA awards her YA novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, won the Pura Belpré award. I’ve had YDWTKYA on my to-read list for a long time, but hold lines at the library were long. So instead, I decided to check out Medina’s debut YA novel.

And I’m really glad I did.

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is the story of Sonia Ocampo (GREAT NAME), something of a “miracle worker” in her tiny mountain village of Tres Montes, due to her birth coinciding with the halt of a particularly fierce storm. After a villager asks Sonia to pray for her son, who turns up dead, Sonia realizes that she is no miracle worker, and longs to leave behind the burden of holding the town’s hopes, dreams, and problems. She journeys to the capital, a bustling city where rich families are in constant need of labor, with three other women to be a maid.

This book was simply a joy to read. From the prologue, I was hooked into Sonia’s world, the rich language and the wonderful storytelling. Medina’s story reminded me of many magical realism books I’ve read – she encapsulates the whimsy of the ordinary so very well. In her author biography, Medina said that she was inspired by “old Latino tales – romantic and magical.” That’s exactly the impression I got from the story.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The only thing I was disappointed about was the disappearance of Sonia’s co-workers from the capital after she and Pancho leave to find her brother. I was especially interested to hear from Dalia, since I have a soft spot for hard-edged girls. And I wanted to know that Dalia would be okay after the events at the end of the book. (SO SAD. UGH)

I applaud Medina, though, for weaving such a brutal story and giving it a bittersweet ending. Also, the romance was so well-done. Romance is hard to do well, because you want a kind of slow build, and you want the sense of the characters really yearning for each other. I was beyond invested in Sonia and Pancho’s romance. I would say they’re now one of my favorite YA couples!

SPOILERS END!

Now, here’s hoping I’ll get my hands on Yaqui Delgado, because I have the sneaking suspicion that Meg Medina is going to be one of my favorite authors. If you’re a fan of Jaclyn Moriarty like I am, Medina is an author I think you’ll love as well.

 

Random things I liked in The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind:

  • The names! And not just of people, but of towns, of places, of objects. The names made the world feel especially thought-out and real.
  • The omniscient narration. It was usually more of a “one chapter in this character’s POV, one chapter in this character’s POV,” but would occasionally switch POV in a single chapter. I think Medina used it really well, and the fact that the prologue was omniscient prepared me for it to show up again.
  • Sonia’s family. Actually, all of the characters in this novel, good or bad, felt real and whole and complete.

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ALA Awards

I used to get really excited about the Oscars. One year, my then-boyfriend (now-fiancé) won 2nd or 3rd place in an Oscar contest for guessing a lot of the winners, and his prize was a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant (which he then took me to). So I’ve always associated great things with the Oscars.

Over the last few years, though, I’ve gotten really into the ALA Youth Media Awards.

It’s odd. I never guess who wins, and I often haven’t read a lot of the books that end up with awards or honors. But I care a lot more about them than the Oscars.

Part of it is the no-nonsense way in which the awards are presented. Hey, look! A librarian is at the podium, announcing a bunch of awards. Next librarian! Pause for applause. More awards. Bing, bam, boom.

The Oscars have always been a little cheesy, but the ALAs retain a sense of dignity. There’s no crying authors giving too-long speeches, and no one cares what anyone is wearing. (Probably because all the people watching are likely wearing their pajamas!)

Anyway, if you want to join me and watch the awards this year, they’re happening on January 27th at 8:00 AM EST. (Which means I’ll have to get up at 5:00 AM to watch them… alas!) And you can tune in HERE. I’ll probably live-tweet the event like I did last year. Twitter! Bringing together the weirdos who wake up at 5 AM to watch children’s book awards.

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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel Giveaway on Goodreads!

Taking a quick break from a majorly busy day to announce that ARCs of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel are being given away by Abrams on Goodreads! The link (if you have a goodreads account) to enter is HERE. And there are TEN COPIES up for grabs, which is awesome!

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My favorite comics of 2013

This could be the year I read more comics and graphic novels than middle grade and YA. 114 out of the 163 books I read this year were graphic novels. I blame it on my job. Besides, it takes a lot less time for me to read a graphic novel. I can often finish them in one sitting.

Also, I just really like comics.

I had quite a few favorites this year (how couldn’t I?) that I wanted to share here. (Non-Oni Press titles, natch. I’m biased!)

FAVORITE MANGA:

KNT

Kimi Ni Todoke by Karuho Shiina

A really sweet shojo manga about creepy outsider Sawako “Sadako” Kuronuma and her quest to make friends, inspired by the popular, gregarious boy in her class who begins talking to her. Sawako’s attempts to be more social can be comedic (like when she doesn’t realize how weird or creepy she’s coming across as to her classmates) and touching (like when she tells off a group of mean girls for spreading rumors about her two best friends). I really love the supporting cast as well, especially Sawako’s two best friends, Yano and Chizu. Probably because they remind me of my own best friend.

I’ve actually started buying volumes of this as they come out, as the series isn’t over yet. Next volume is out this month! AAAAH!

Cross game

Cross Game by Mitsuru Adachi

I read the final volume in January and I cried. Partly because it was really touching, and partly because it’s over. (The first volume ALSO made me cry, by the way.) Comedy, romance, really cool sports sequences – just because I hate sports doesn’t mean I hate comics about sports, after all.

kitchen princess

Kitchen Princess by Miyuki Kobayashi and Natsumi Ando

Another shojo manga, a bit predictable and derivative but still great. It takes the trope of a poor, talented orphan who goes to a boarding school where she is bullied by her rich classmates and gives it new life. Also, it has adorable recipes at the end of every volume! These are available in omnibus form now, and I’m looking forward to buying the whole series once I get another bookshelf.

BRIDE_1

A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori

Kaoru Mori also wrote and illustrated Emma, a manga about a romance between an English maid and a rich bachelor. Mori’s art is so incredibly detailed, I can’t help but wonder how long certain panels take her to draw. She’s amazing. A Bride’s Story takes place in the 19th century in Central Asia (some characters travel around widely), focusing on Amir, a woman in an arranged marriage to 12-year-old Karluk. What I really like about this series, and what I think separates it from a lot of historical fiction with female protagonists, is that Amir does “male” tasks like hunting, and she also does “female” tasks like weaving and cooking, and they’re all treated with equal importance. Amir never bemoans the weaving or the cooking or the housework, and these things are woven into the plot as much as her hunting is. This is another series I’ve begun to buy as volumes become available. (Normally I’d wait until my library gets a copy.)

wandering son

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako

This series is problematic in its very one-sided portrayal of transgender characters, but I also think that portrayal is believable. Shuichi is a fifth-grade girl, assigned male at birth, while Yoshino is a fifth-grade boy, assigned female at birth. These children have a lot to learn about themselves, their gender, and gender in general, which is why I think the portrayal (and their misconceptions) is believable. However, I don’t think any of that is intentional on the author’s part, so it’s still problematic. But I recommend it anyway, not as the end-all be-all transgender story, but as a transgender story, period. (I’d actually recommend it as a coming-of-age story, period, that happens to star transgender characters.)

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVELS:

hilda

Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson

Sometimes you read a book from cover to cover in one sitting. You put it down and realize it’s the best book you’ve read since… you can’t even remember what the last book was that was this good.

Anyway, this was that book. Beautiful art, brilliant characterization, compelling plot, SIMPLY AMAZING ALL AROUND.

broxo

Broxo by Zack Giallongo

This title had been on my to-read list since it came out, and after I read it, I only had one regret: that I didn’t read it sooner! A beautifully-illustrated story about a girl named Zora and a boy named Broxo, members of different clans, though something unspeakable seems to have happened to Broxo’s clan, and Zora needs to find out what it was.

saga

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

This book defies description. Sci-fi/fantasy romance full of action and intrigue. That’s the best way I can think of to describe it. Also: LYING CAT.

captive prince

The Captive Prince by Scott Chantler

I have a confession to make: I was “meh” on the first two volumes of this series. And then I read this, the third volume, which was clear and compelling all the way through. Which made me change my mind about the first two volumes, after I’d gone back and re-read them. Just goes to show you that sometimes your first impressions of books can be wrong, wrong, wrong. (The same thing happened with me and Because of Winn-Dixie.)

aya

Aya: Love in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Clément Oubrerie

Another favorite series of mine, I eagerly awaited the release of this title. This is an omnibus of three Aya stories, and if you haven’t read any Aya, you should fix that immediately. A really cool comic about life in Cotê d’Ivoire (aka Ivory Coast), Africa. While the comic deals with some heavy issues (unplanned pregnancy, infidelity, attempted rape, sexism), there’s good doses of light-heartedness and comedy to even it out. It’s a view of Africa different from what the media tends to portray. The people of Côte d’Ivoire are modern, nuanced, and downright captivating.

Marguerite Abouet is now writing children’s books as well, and I couldn’t be happier about that. She’s a skilled writer, nailing casual dialogue.

16002011

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

I love this graphic novel because it reminded me of high school. It reminded me of being young and foolish, and not caring enough about consequences unless they specifically affected me. Also, I think Hicks NAILED the comedy in her art.

I’m really looking forward to comics this year. There are going to be a lot of great graphic novels coming out, and I’m looking forward to reading as many of them as I can!

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