Tag Archives: books

ALA Youth Media Awards

I’m here in Denver, where the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced this morning. Along with adding a few new titles to my hold list (WE ARE OKAY and HELLO, UNIVERSE) I was pleased to see a few of my favorite books receiving awards! Specifically PIECING ME TOGETHER, which won both the Coretta Scott King award and a Newbery Honor. It’s a character-driven novel after my own heart. Add it to your reading lists!

Other than that, there’s not much to update in… uh, two years. I still work as a comic editor, and I’m still working on PAPER MOON (and another book that is also exciting and wonderful). Since I’ve been in Denver I’ve had to listen to white noise playlists to fall asleep, and I hope that when I return home to Oregon the sleep will come easier. I’m pretty sure I’m just not used to sleeping all alone somewhere. And I’m also not used to sleeping with the high whine of a heater/air conditioner unit.

Also, a quick brag: I grabbed like, five pairs of PATINA shoelaces at ALA and I’m going to re-lace all of my shoes. ALL OF MY SHOES.

Oh, and I did a short story in an Anthology last year! So I should update my books section with that. Look, I’ve been busy, okay? Don’t shame meeeeeeee

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A New Rating System

Not that I rate books publicly, but I kinda rate them in my head when I’m finished. I’ve been thinking about my rating system and decided to overhaul it a bit:

ONE STAR: I didn’t finish the book for whatever reason. Does not apply to books I fully intend to finish, like THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST BOOK 2. I swear I’ll finish you someday! (It’s been like two years…) This is more for books I didn’t finish because I found them boring, or I couldn’t connect with any characters, or any other arbitrary reason that has more to do with my personal taste than the quality of the writing sometimes. ON THE ROAD was a one-star book for me.

TWO STARS: I finished the book but I didn’t like it. A WRINKLE IN TIME was a two-star book for me. Most people disagree, and I agree with them that maybe there is something wrong with me that makes me not like this book. Anyway, if I finished the book, something compelled me to do it. Something drove me to finish it. Characters, motivation, writing. SOMETHING. So it gets two stars.

THREE STARS: I finished it and liked it alright. Not earth-shattering, I definitely don’t regret reading it. MATILDA was a three-star book for me, probably because I saw the movie first and the movie is FOUR STARS NO QUESTION and the book doesn’t have Danny DeVito or Mara Wilson.

FOUR STARS: I finished the book and WOW, it was really great. Superb writing. Compelling. Wonderful. A book that makes me laugh usually gets four stars automatically. For whatever reason, it’s not on my list of favorite books ever, but I do love it. MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF N.I.M.H. was a four-star book for me.

FIVE STARS: It made me cry AND it made me laugh. (Both are usually required.) It made me feel strong emotions. I can’t stop thinking about the book after I read it. I have to buy it and put it on the bookcase where I keep all my other favorite books. I would buy out this book’s merchandise. I would maybe get a quote from this book OR THE BOOK’S COVER tattooed on my body. THE MURDER OF BINDY MACKENZIE was a five-star book for me. (I could totally get “Bindy Mackenzie talks like a horse” tattooed on me FOR SURE)

All my examples, except the five-star one, are from authors who are now dead, so they can’t get offended. That said, feel free to tell me how wrong I am. I AM VERY USED TO IT.

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SYNC Audiobooks!

I’m revising my book (see previous post) but I’m updating for a different reason. I think I’m gonna try and do the SYNC Audiobook Summer thing – it’s a program that offers free audiobook downloads of YA books every week (see HERE). Some I won’t listen to because of time (mostly the adult books that are sometimes paired with the YA books), and there are some books I’ve already read (WORDS IN THE DUST, HOW IT WENT DOWN, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, ON THE JELLICOE ROAD, THINGS FALL APART, and BONE GAP). Still, it should be fun. I’ve already listened to last week’s book, VIVIAN APPLE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, and just started this week’s book, THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER.

My audiobook listening has really increased lately! Some recent faves: BAD FEMINIST, DUMPLIN’, TINY PRETTY THINGS, THE MAGNIFICENT MYA TIBBS: SPIRIT WEEK SHOWDOWN, and PAX. Mmmmm, audiobooks.

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Robin’s Favorite Audiobooks of 2015

I’ve started listening to audiobooks since I ride my bike to work and they’re a nice (and not loud, so I can still hear the outside world) way to pass the commute. Also, I joined a gym, so I can knock out even more audiobooks than I used to. Here are my favorites of 2015 (not necessarily published in 2015 though):


1. THE COST OF ALL THINGS by Maggie Lehrman, read by Sharmila Devar, Shannon McManus, Jesse Bernstein, and Nicholas Dressel

The cost of all things

I think I would have loved this book just as much had I read it instead of listening to it, but listening to it did give me an appreciation of the language Lehrman uses. Sometimes listening to audiobooks is difficult because you notice things you wouldn’t notice in print. Repetitive sentence structure, or five bazillion instances of “said” that just grate. However, THE COST OF ALL THINGS didn’t have any of those problems. I loved the words as much as I loved the whole novel, which follows a girl who pays a large sum of money for a spell to forget her dead boyfriend. I won’t go into further detail, because it’s nice to listen to the novel just unfold.

Voice cast also did a great job. Another thing that will kill an audiobook for me is the narrator. There are four here, though, and they’re all good, and they all seem to get their characters.


2. FUZZY MUD by Louis Sachar, read by Kathleen McInerney

Fuzzy Mud

Sachar is one of my favorite authors and I think his writing style translates well to audiobook. McInerney does a really great job here with the cast of fifth- and seventh-graders.


3. SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli, read by Michael Crouch

Simon vs the homo sapiens agenda

Funny, heartfelt, and a really good narrator.


4. FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, NATE! by Tim Federle, read by the author

Five Six Seven Nate

I avoided this book for a while, because I’d really liked BETTER NATE THAN EVER and I was afraid the sequel wouldn’t hold up, BUT I WAS WRONG


5. MASTERPIECE by Elise Broach, read by Jeremy Davidson


Another book I avoided for far too long. I remember a lot of kids in one of my after-school programs reading this when it came out, so it’s always been in the back of my mind. However, I like to read physical books if they have illustrations, so I was holding off. I really shouldn’t do that! But I like looking at illustrations and they’re never included with my downloadable audiobooks.


6. KINDA LIKE BROTHERS by Coe Booth, read by John Clarence Stewart

Kinda Like Brothers

This one had maybe my favorite narrator of the year. He knew just where to put the emphasis, and even though his voice was clearly an adult man’s, he got the intonation and cadence of a preteen boy down PERFECTLY. I laughed out loud many times while listening.


7. IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE by Eric Gansworth, read by the author

If I ever Get out of here

I’m gaining an appreciation of authors reading their own audiobooks. It makes sense, they wrote it, so they’ve got the voice in their head already. Still, I know not everyone is the best reader. But Eric Gansworth is.

Coming up next: My favorite Graphic Novels of 2015!

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Heavenly Donuts!

I think I’ve found my reading groove again. I started downloading audio books (from my library, legally!) and listening to them as I ride my bike to and from work every day. Last week I got through THE DREAMER by Pam Muñoz Ryan and BETTER NATE THAN EVER by Tim Federle. This week it’s THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS, which I read in elementary school and loved but don’t remember enough about it to consider it read.

Aside from that, I’ve been reading while eating breakfast and dinner as well, so I was able to finish Varian Johnson’s THE GREAT GREENE HEIST last week as well. FOUR BOOKS! Anyway, we’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, I just wanted to share this picture.

photo (6)

I think there are three Heavenly Donuts locations in Portland, and here is one of them. The “Heavenly donuts!” catchphrase Star and her family use was a last minute addition, stemming partly from my love of slang and partly from my unease with making my characters say “Oh my God!” (Long story short: I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness.) I needed an alternative, and this seemed to fit perfectly.

The One Four MG group did a picture post recently, and while I was not together enough to get a photo in, I would have submitted this one if I’d had it. But hey, it should be shared SOMEWHERE.

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Filed under Books, Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, My Books

New Events!

I’ve added an event (and hints of events) on my EVENTS page! I’ll be doing quite a bit of traveling in the fall. Only to Oregon and Idaho, but still!

In the meantime, I’m hard at work finishing up that YA I’ve mentioned a few times. I’d like to finish it by the end of August, so posts may be smaller and more sporadic.

I also went to San Diego Comic Con this year, which was a lot of fun. Met with a lot of great people, ate a lot of great food, saw a lot of great costumes, and sold a lot of great books. In fact, you should totally pick them up if you’re into comics at all:


I WAS THE CAT by Paul Tobin, illus. Benjamin Dewey – ever wonder if your cat is actually plotting something sinister while it sits there and licks its paws? This book is for you. (It’s even for you if you don’t LIKE cats.)


ARCHER COE & THE THOUSAND NATURAL SHOCKS by Jamie S. Rich, illus. by Dan Christensen – I was telling people at San Diego that this book is like all the best parts of THE PRESTIGE. Great mystery paired with fantastic art, this book tells the story of Archer Coe, The Mind’s Arrow, a hypnotist who may be losing his mind.


THE BUNKER by Joshua Hale Fialkov, illus. by Joe Infurnari – I’m so proud of this book. It looks sharp, the story keeps you guessing, and I love how deliciously flawed every character is. The art takes this book to a whole new level – Infurnari’s subtle lines and color choices tell the story so perfectly. Great for time travel enthusiasts.


LETTER 44 VOLUME 1 by Charles Soule, illus. by Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque, colored by Guy Major and Dan Jackson – imagine if there was actually a conspiracy so large that only the United States President and a handful of people knew about it. Such is the premise in LETTER 44. I read the first issue script over a year ago, and when I finished, I emailed Jill, the book’s original editor, and demanded all the rest of the scripts. This is an intricately-plotted story, drawn with amazing detail.

Of course, these are all adult-ish books, so I wouldn’t read these unless you’re at least thirteen. Okay, time to go write. Happy Friday!

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Quick Update

It’s been a busy month!

Most of my time has been eaten up by my upcoming wedding, so I haven’t been able to post anything here. Amazingly, I’ve been able to do some reading–mostly comics, but I just finished fellow VCFA-er Rachel Wilson’s debut YA novel, DON’T TOUCH. Highly recommended, especially if you were ever involved in theater. (Find more info on it HERE.) Reading that book brought back a lot of fun theater memories.

After all, I met my husband-to-be on the set of a high-school play!

So, please give me a couple weeks to get adjusted. I’ll leave you with this Star Mackie doodle as a consolation prize:


stur mackie

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June 23, 2014 · 3:30 pm

Under the Covers…

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


Hope Jacket

This is my book with its jacket on.


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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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.

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.


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.


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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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.


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!


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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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!)



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.


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.)



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 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 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: 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.


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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2013 Book Awards!

Last year on twitter I gave out some silly book awards for my favorite books (Like “Grossest Depiction of a Human Foot” going to The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey), and I wanted to do the same thing again! Maybe a couple of days late, but oh well.



Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. From hysterical laughter to uncontrollable sobbing all on the same page! Terrible and wonderful all at the same time.



The Land by Mildred D. Taylor. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was like this too, come to think of it. Mildred D. Taylor is just one of those authors who’s gonna make me cry. And laugh, a bit, before dissolving, once again, into tears.



Caminar by Skila Brown. This beautiful verse novel feels more timely than it should.



Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. Look, there are certain words that are hard to read. It turns out those same words are even harder to hear.



The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson. So much whimsy! So much fun to read!



Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Lanesha has a poetic, lyrical voice I couldn’t get enough of.


I Heart Band

I Heart Band by Michelle Schusterman. Made me remember Junior High in a rose-colored light (unlike the usual brown-colored light in which it is usually remembered).



The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy: Teen Prostitute in Space!


Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones: X-Men Con Men (and women)!


By the Grace of Todd by Louise Galveston: Boy creates life through sheer grossness (I think that’s even a line from the book)!



Parched by Melanie Crowder. Less than 23,000 words and every one pulls double duty. Maybe even triple!



Steering Toward Normal by Rebecca Petruck. (Also wins the funniest book of the year award!)



45 Pounds (More or Less) by K. A. Barson. Grandma chain smokes and is a little rough around the edges, but you can’t help but love her.



Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. Can I live in a wacky apartment building down the block from a delicious pizza place?



Entangled by Amy Rose Capetta. Every single line you could frame and hang on your wall.



Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan. (Also wins Worst Parent Award.)

Here’s hoping that 2014 will be filled with just as much excellent reading! It’d be great if I could get back into the habit of reading 100 books a year, but we’ll see how that goes.


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Interview with Michelle Schusterman, author of I HEART BAND!

Today I am pleased as punch (or a similarly over-sweetened beverage) to host this interview with Michelle Schusterman! Michelle is the author of the upcoming I Heart Band series, which is everything a band geek could want in a middle grade series. Being a former band geek myself (trombone, 8 years), I knew that I simply HAD to interview Michelle about the books.

I Heart Band

First things first: How long were you in band, and what instrument did you play?

I started band in third grade. After an excruciating few weeks torturing squeals out of an innocent clarinet, I switched to percussion. I was in band through middle school and high school, including all the marching band/drumline madness. I ended up majoring in music education in college. That meant more marching band, as well as steel band, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban ensembles, women’s chorus, and methods classes on woodwind, brass, and string instruments, as well as piano. After that, I was a band director for four years.

So the short answer: I’m a lifelong band geek. 🙂

I’ve always wanted to write a book about my experiences taking band from 4th-12th grade, but could never quite think of a good story. Michelle, what was the inspiration for Holly’s story? Did you want to tell a band story, or was it something else?

Fun fact: I HEART BAND is actually a commissioned series! An editor at Penguin had an idea for a story about middle school band geeks and contacted my agent asking if she had any authors who might be a good fit. I had a phone call with the editor (Jordan Hamessley), and we discovered we both grew up in Texas. Jordan played French horn in middle and high school band and was, in her words, “a HUGE band geek.” We ended up chatting about state marching band contest and other competitions we’d both experienced–it was kind of surreal! She wanted a story about a talented French horn player named Holly who gets some competition from a new girl, who’s not only a great horn player too, but becomes close with Holly’s best friend. She gave me some notes, I wrote an outline, and we took it from there!

So that’s why Holly plays French horn! I was wondering, since the French horn is usually not the instrument people think of when they think of band. Usually it’s a trumpet or a flute. How did you pick everyone else’s instruments? Was that another conversation with your editor?

Yup! She’s a mini-Jordan. 🙂 Well, we knew Natasha (Holly’s rival) had to play French horn, too. I’m pretty sure Jordan also wanted Julia, Holly’s best friend, to play clarinet. We tried to have the main cast of characters represent a variety of sections – there’s a candy-loving sax player, a gossipy flautist, and a trumpet player Holly has a pretty big crush on. Her friend Owen is in the French horn section, too – he loves sci-fi, could totally be a professional comic book artist, and is my favorite character. (Don’t tell the others!)

Friends, Fugues, and Fortune Cookies

Ha! Owen is totally my favorite character, too, and I loved how real the other kids felt. They all reminded me of someone I knew in band. Did you draw a lot on real-life incidents when writing? Because I’m pretty sure we had several ant invasions in my band room, too!

SO many real-life incidents! The ant invasion was one of them. My first year teaching, the head band director told all the beginner classes this story about a clarinet student of hers who never cleaned her instrument properly…until one day, when she found maggots in her mouthpiece. I have no idea if that story was true or not, but it definitely encouraged kids to clean their instruments!

There’s bits and pieces of my own band experiences throughout the whole series. Book two includes a fundraiser bake sale – I can’t even count how many of those I’ve done. In book three, the kids take a trip to New Orleans, only to have their bus break down in the middle of nowhere – a variation on my senior band trip, when our buses were caught in a snowstorm in the Rocky Mountains! (Which, of course, only made the trip more epic.)

Honestly, every scene brought back tons of memories of rehearsals, football games, performance anxiety, the thrill of winning a competition, the anxiety of auditioning for all-region band (which was the bane of my musical existence back then)…it was unbelievably fun to be able to relive all of that while working on these books.

I’m legitimately having band flashbacks right now. Although our bus never broke down and we usually sold candy bars instead of holding bake sales. Still, I can’t wait to dive back into the series when it comes out next year. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little bit more about books 2 and 3? (And maybe even 4?)

Candy bars, poinsettias, car washes…I think I’ve probably done every school fundraiser known to man!

Book two (FRIENDS, FUGUES, AND FORTUNE COOKIES) comes out January 9th, along with book one! Holly tries to help the brass section win the band’s bake sale fundraiser competition while dealing with scary all-region tryouts and the prospect of asking someone to the winter dance. Book three (SLEEPOVERS, SOLOS, AND SHEET MUSIC) is out May 15th. This one’s all about band trip drama–fights, breakups, and new crushes develop while Holly and her friends are in New Orleans. Book four (CRUSHES, CODAS, AND CORSAGES) is out in the fall. Holly prepares for a huge band competition, the district’s science fair, the spring dance…and her possible-maybe new crush on a certain comic book artist!

Sleepovers, Solos, and Sheet Music

That makes me ridiculously happy! I’m so excited to have all four (and maybe more?) glitter-tastic books on my shelf next year. I have a few quick “this-or-that” questions for any and all band nerds who might be reading this (answer however you see fit!):

Treble or Bass? Bass!

Football games or Basketball games? Basketball. (After my Texas high school/college experience, I’ve had enough football for a lifetime.)

Tuba or Euphonium? Tuba!

Bass Clarinet or Oboe? Bass clarinet! (When I try to play the oboe, I feel like my head is going to explode.)

Timpani or Snare? Snare! (That’s what I played in high school drumline.)

Crescendo or Pianissimo? Pianissimo! (Never underestimate the power of super-soft!)

There you have it: crescendo sucks! (Just kidding!) 

And I encourage everyone – former band geek or not – to check out Michelle’s wonderful books. Seriously, I have been waiting years for a great band geek story, and I’m so glad to have finally found it! Even if it did remind me of how gross spit valves are. And besides that – awesome covers! (Plus, they have glitter! Everyone at work knows I’m a sucker for glitter.)


Filed under Book Recs, Books, Interview, Writing

Books, Books, Books

I’ll go several weeks without finishing a book and then I’ll finish several at once. Mostly this is due to audiobooks and timing and whatnot, but here’s what I’ve been reading recently:

  1. Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber (I spelled his name right on the first try!), read by Joe Jameson … I knew this would be a lot of fun going into it. When I’m reading audiobooks, they either have to be thrillers or practically slapstick or I’ll find my mind drifting. My mind didn’t drift while I was listening to this. Also, I really liked the way the author used college admissions essay questions as epigraphs.
  2. Doll Bones by Holly Black, read by Nick Podehl … I’m about halfway through this one now and I have no idea where it’s going. Which is very refreshing in a middle grade. It’s also pretty creepy, which you’d expect from Holly Black.
  3. Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington … This one I’m reading in paper form! I’m almost at the end. This book has also had me guessing. Every time I assume something is going to happen because of some trope or another, it doesn’t. It’s also got a really strong voice!

That’s it. Feel free to share anything you’ve been reading, as long as you are not a spambot. Okay, spambots, you can share what you’re reading too, as long as it’s not diet tips.

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Cover Love! Part Two

In my last post, I talked about middle grade covers that drew me in and made me want to see what was inside. This time, I’m sharing books whose covers I simply love, even though I read the book for different reasons (good review, VCFA-related, highly recommended, etc.).


Operation Redwood

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French

I’m a native northern-Californian. So I was really excited when I heard there was a middle grade novel that takes place there! (Seriously, it’s rare.) And heck yes, it involves redwoods. My only critique on this cover is that the title treatment makes the tree trunks look flat.

Compare with this cover, for example:

London Eye Mystery

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

Because the title and author name are curved, they keep the shape looking somewhat more three-dimensional. (I know it’s still two-dimensional. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.) Anyway, this is another cover I like because of the interesting angle, but I read this book because I’d heard it was one of the greatest MG mysteries ever. (Might be considered YA, but whatever.)


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

One of my favorite middle grade novels! And a case in which the cover tells you almost explicitly what will be on the inside. The fantasy, the whimsy, of that cover represents the novel so, so well. And look at all the textural details! From the sky swirls to the borders to the dragon’s scales.

(I read this because Riane, one of my former students, told me I should. Riane had excellent taste in books for a second-grader.)

Nice and Mean

Nice and Mean by Jessica Leader

More details! Okay, so they’re moreso in the “Nice” half of the title than in the “Mean” half. But I really love when covers play with typography. Also, the colors! This book is by a friend, fellow VCFA-alum and agent-sister Jess Leader, so that’s why I originally read it, but now I still occasionally take it off the shelf to stare at the cover.


Girl with Silver Eyes 3

The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts

This was the cover of the copy that I picked up from the library to read. Like Alana, Cimorene, and Caddie in my last post, I like that this girl has attitude. Seriously, I could read about kids with psychic powers intimidating the adults in their lives all day.

However, this book also has two other equally awesome covers:

Girl with Silver Eyes 2

Hope you like toast, sucker

Girl with Silver Eyes 1

More like the girl with the creepy eyes, am I right?

Seriously, this book. Here’s some advice: if your book features someone with awesome super powers, try and get your publisher to showcase that on the cover. PS – Fun fact: Willo Davis Roberts lived in my home county for a while, which I only found out when I came upon a cache of her books in my hometown library’s Humboldt Room (a room devoted to books about Humboldt County or by Humboldt authors). Okay, that wasn’t that fun of a fact.

I read this book because Betsy Bird said it was great.


Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

I think there’s a bit of backlash against silhouetted covers, especially when they’re used for books featuring non-white protagonists. So, I get that, and I agree with that. And I still like this cover because I think it represents the novel pretty well. Mostly because it looks like a political cartoon from the 1700s, what with the posing and the birds and the scroll-type title.

That being said, the UK cover is worth looking at for actually putting a face to Isabel, the main character:


Also for the flowers

I read CHAINS because Laurie Halse Anderson was doing a tour through my city and I wanted to be caught up on her most recent books. (Then I ended up having to work and not getting to see Laurie Halse Anderson. A shame.)


Keeper by Kathi Appelt

I like this cover for very simplistic reasons: mainly, the colors. The way the red boat matches the red of the title. The suggestion of gray on the seagull’s wings. The shimmering of the mermaid’s tail. And that sea of blue is so eye-catching!

I read this book because Kathi Appelt teaches at VCFA, but more than that, because I’d read KISSING TENNESSEE and THE UNDERNEATH and loved them both.


One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Warm colors, reflecting the heat of an Oakland summer. Actual faces. Bold linework and shading. The insinuation that this is a book about discovery that is ultimately hopeful.

Fun fact: I have a shirt with the sketch of this cover on it! Gifted to me by Rita Williams-Garcia when I was her student at VCFA.

Another fun fact: it took me quite a while to find this cover. Most of the covers you see of this book are PRACTICALLY COVERED IN AWARDS. (Four, to be exact!)


When this book first came out, it got so much buzz it was hard to believe there were any other novels out that year. Anyway, that’s why I read it. But as I was reading, I found myself flipping back to the cover over and over again, looking at that striking image of Hazel glancing back to her home before she departs into the forest. (With wolves!)

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Back in college, I wrote a paper about Latinas/os in Children’s Literature. I talked about ESPERANZA RISING extensively, as it was (and still is) very popular, but I’d never read it. So before I turned the paper in, I read it so I could talk about it with confidence.

Anyway, I probably don’t have to tell you that the image of Esperanza floating in her flowing yellow dress and black curls has become somewhat iconic. It’s an image that sticks in your mind.


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Sometimes after you read a book, you say to yourself, “Holy Cats. I need to read that again.” Here is one of my very favorite covers, because by itself it’s very soft, clean, quietly beautiful. But after you finish the book, the cover makes a whole new heap of sense. And you marvel at it.

I read this because, you know. Newbery.

Okay, that ends my spiel on Middle Grade covers. Last fun fact of the day? Over the weekend, my cover quietly went up on Amazon and Goodreads. (Possibly elsewhere, but those are the only two places I’ve seen it so far.) So if you’re so inclined, and you don’t want to wait for me to post my cover (waiting on a good, hi-res image!), you can go take a look.

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Cover Love! Part One

I’ve seen a version of the cover for HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL and I can’t wait to have the final version to show off and put on the site, and on the blog, and on other sites, and as spam emails…

Anyway, since I’m still waiting on a final cover, I thought I’d share some of my favorite middle grade covers.

Sometimes, I will walk around a bookstore just to look at all the fantabulous covers gracing middle grade novels. Why am I saying middle grade here, and not young adult? Because middle grade novels will more often have an illustrated cover.

I love illustrated covers!

I’m a big animation/comics/illustration-in-general fan, so seeing beautifully illustrated covers makes my heart soar.

First, I’m going to post some covers that SUCCESSFULLY MADE ME PICK UP A BOOK AND CHECK IT OUT AT THE LIBRARY OR BUY IT FROM WHATEVER STORE I WAS IN AT THE TIME. (Did that all have to be in capital letters? Maybe, maybe not.)

In a couple of days, I’ll post part two of this blog, about books with great covers (that I picked up for other reasons).

Come Fall

Come Fall by A. C. E. Bauer

The Lost Children

The Lost Children by Carolyn Cohagan

Here’s two covers I really like that are both kind of doing the same thing. Characters are kept small, and something is looming over them. In COME FALL, we’re seeing the children from the crow’s (or raven’s?) point of view, and you get a kind of ominous feeling, like that crow (raven?) is going to swoop down any second on those poor unsuspecting kids. In THE LOST CHILDREN, we are looking UP at something from the children’s point of view, and while there is a sense of foreboding, there’s also a kind of wonderment. (Note how bright the kids are!) This one gives you the feeling of a big adventure. You are going to go with those kids on whatever adventure they are having.

Other things I like: The way the C in COME FALL is behind the crow/raven, the way the twigs on the COME FALL cover frame everything, the single lighted window on THE LOST CHILDREN’s cover.

Lilys Ghosts

Lily’s Ghosts by Laura Ruby

Golden and Grey

Golden & Grey by Louise Arnold

A couple of ghosty covers! I can’t say for sure what drew me to these covers, but I think it was maybe the main characters’ expressions. Check out the red-haired girl (Lily) on LILY’S GHOSTS. She looks like she’s been putting up with this crap forever and she’s sick of it. How interesting! And compare her expression to the expressions of the ghosts all around her. Contrast! I love it! Meanwhile, Tom Golden (the non-ghost on the cover of GOLDEN & GREY) has an expression that reads as slightly scared, slightly curious, and maybe even a little surprised. The other thing about these covers is that they feature a single living character amongst a myriad of ghostly characters.

Other things I like: the Siamese cat on the cover of LILY’S GHOSTS, Grey’s (the ghost behind Tom on GOLDEN & GREY) lopsided ears, which are actually mentioned in the story.

Detention Club

The Detention Club by David Yoo

Homework Machine

The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman

I love seeing illustrated faces! Here we have what I call “cast shots.” The entire main cast looking straight at you. Since I love character-driven novels, I get really excited when I see cast shots. It shows me all the interesting characters I’m going to get to know while I’m reading. Another cool thing? Both these covers have a kind of “mugshot” feel to them. THE HOMEWORK MACHINE actually has an official police department folder, while THE DETENTION CLUB has got the heigh chart written on the chalkboard behind the kids.

Other things I like: the symmetry on both covers! Moreso on THE DETENTION CLUB than on THE HOMEWORK MACHINE.

Caddie Woodlawn

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink


Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Dealing with Dragons

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

I’m referring to these covers as “girls with attitude.” Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe I should rename it as “characters with determination.” Look at Caddie Woodlawn. Caddie Woodlawn, with her arms crossed and her assured smirk, knows how to get things done. Look at Alanna. Yeah, she’s a girl, but guess what? She’s holding a sword, and she’s got that fierce look in her eyes that says, “Come one step closer and I will use the sword on you.” Check out Cimorene (on DEALING WITH DRAGONS). She’s like, “Yeah, my braids are long, but I have a hand on a dragon’s SNOUT.” Look at her eyes. She is FEARLESS. (The dragon is merely amused.)

Other things I like: the fact that Caddie and Cimorene were illustrated by the same awesome illustrator (Trina Schart Hyman), the fact that the dragon on DEALING WITH DRAGONS is eating a sundae, the way Alanna’s horse is not even intimidated by her.

School of Fear

School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari

With a Name Like Love

With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo

Mysterious Howling

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

These three covers don’t have much in common, except for the fact that they’re all uniquely stylized. I love seeing different styles of art in children’s book covers. The kids in SCHOOL OF FEAR have such awesome clothes. I’m loving that linework, the way everything is so crisp, the way you can count individual strands of hair on each of their heads. In contrast, WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE is almost the exact opposite. No lines, a softness to everything, a slight hint of realism everywhere except the girl’s face and the trailer in the background. Gorgeous. Finally, we’ve got THE INCORRIGIBLE CHILDREN OF ASHTON PLACE: THE MYSTERIOUS HOWLING (whew!), which uses lines a little more sparingly, but still retains the sharpness in each and every shape. Simple expressions but complex body languages.

Other things I like: the giant cloud on WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE, everyone’s feet on SCHOOL OF FEAR, the symmetry on THE INCORRIGIBLE CHILDREN.

Aurora County All Stars

The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles

These last three don’t really have anything in common thematically, so I’ll do them each separately. THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS has a subtle sense of action in the illustration, despite the cover just being some kids and a dog walking. Look at the baseball in the air, suspended, giving you the sense that there is suspension awaiting you in this novel. Or the girl, as she chases the dog, looking like she’s possibly about to fall over. Is she going to be okay? And the stiffness of the boy in the blue baseball hat. What kinds of feelings is he holding back, and when are they going to come out?

Missing Magic

Missing Magic by Emma Laybourn

There’s a lot going on here. An asymmetrical cover with lots of details, telling you this is about a world in disarray. (Or a character in disarray.) Why is the boy so frowny, despite all the magical elements around him?

Prunella Bogthistle

The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle by Deva Fagan

Finally, I’ll end with possibly my favorite middle grade cover of all time. THE MAGICAL MISADVENTURES OF PRUNELLA BOGTHISTLE. The font is kind of standard, but look at that illustration! You’ve got action! The view is tilted a bit, giving the impression that the characters are running uphill, hinting at a hard and arduous journey! Throw in the alligator for some danger, the focal point object being held by Prunella (the girl in the skirt), AND THOSE COLORS. Beautiful! I also love the almost stilted way the puffy-shirted boy runs. You can tell he doesn’t run uphill much.

Okay, that’s it for now. Come back later for part two, and please share your favorite covers in the comments!


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