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.


Filed under Book Awards, Books

2014 Reading Challenge: Latinos/as in Kid Lit!

Just a quick announcement to say I’ll be doing this challenge for 2014:


Click for more info!

I can’t wait! One of my favorite books last year was Becoming Naomi Léon by Pam Muñoz Ryan and I’m excited to find more Latino/a favorites. Then maybe I can revise that paper I wrote in college about Latinas/os in Children’s Lit and make it somewhat more relevant.

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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, Growing Up Poor, and Class Issues

I saw the great CBC Diversity post, “Dumpster Diving: An Observation on Class in Children’s Books,” and decided to share a few things about Hope Is a Ferris Wheel.

Class issues aren’t necessarily at the center of Hope. Star (the main character) and her family are poor. Her mother doesn’t have a job, they live in a small trailer, and they’re on food stamps. (Except it’s a food card instead of stamps. I don’t think California uses stamps anymore.) I gave Star’s family these traits because I was poor growing up, too. And while I wasn’t as poor as Star, I wanted to portray what it’s like to live at the poverty line, and how it isn’t entirely hopeless, or desperate, or completely terrible. I mean, it sucks being poor, but people learn how to be poor. They deal with it. I wanted to write that kind of a family, one who was comfortable being poor, though a bit of money might solve some of their problems.

I didn’t base Star’s home life entirely on my own. I used the experiences of other poor friends of mine, which is why Star’s mother doesn’t have a job. (My mother worked two jobs as far back as I can remember.) Some of my friends’ parents didn’t have jobs, but they still had money, either from welfare, unemployment, or a family friend. Star’s mom is on welfare, and the family friend Gloria, who is employed as a hairdresser, provides some luxuries like donuts and movie rentals.

Star’s family isn’t starving. Their food card provides them with enough food, and Star is eligible for the free lunch program at her school. (Winter, her sister, is as well.) They have health insurance through the state, but they don’t have dental insurance. All their clothes come from thrift stores or department store clearance racks. Some of this isn’t stated in the book, but it stayed in my mind as I wrote. It stayed in the background.

Star’s poverty is the background of her life, just like it was the background of my life. But it isn’t an issue for her. Star does deal with a lot more bullying and prejudice than I did – I dealt with virtually none until I went to college. Mostly, though, Star is teased for her mullet and the fact that she lives in a trailer park, and not necessarily because she’s poor.

That’s how it was in my life. I was never teased for being poor, but some of the things I was teased about were a direct result of being poor. My clothes, for example, which were hardly ever in fashion. I mean, I like to think I made it work, but I don’t think I did. Or my extreme love of ketchup. (I still get made fun of for that!)

I still remember the time in high school, during an honors English class, when we were talking about To Kill A Mockingbird. We had just finished reading the chapter in which Scout invites her classmate home to eat lunch with her and he douses his lunch in molasses – ruining it, in Scout’s view. Our teacher asked us if we knew why the boy had done that, and nobody had an answer. “Think about it,” he said. “Anyone here ever put a lot of salt on something? Soy sauce? Ketchup?”

Ketchup! My hand shot up in the air. I loved ketchup on practically everything.

Pointing at me, the teacher announced, “Yes! That’s something poor people do to mask the taste of bad food!”

Although I was embarrassed at the time, it didn’t occur to me until years later that my teacher had basically announced to the entire class that I was poor. Probably because I didn’t often think of myself that way. Like Star, I thought of myself as a kid. (Or, in that case, a teenager.) My family had been through some rough times, but what family hadn’t? Being poor didn’t negatively affect my life, except that I couldn’t afford a lot of things and often skipped lunch to save my lunch money so I could go see movies with my friends.

Some people still tease me about the time I ate a bagel out of the trash, though they conveniently leave out the part where the bagel was still in a ziploc bag. And hey, it was a perfectly good bagel. I had listened to some girl despair over the fact that her mother had packed her a bagel for snack, and then watched as she threw the entire thing, bag and all, into the trash. It wasn’t like I had to dig through the trash to get it. And besides, in that moment, I could only think of one thing: I hadn’t had breakfast, and there was a perfectly good bagel right at the top of the trash can.*

Anyway, I’m getting off track.

I didn’t just write Star as poor because I was poor. I wrote her that way because there was a distinct lack of impoverished children in the books I read. Which was weird, considering that I, along with my two best friends, grew up poor. And it was weird, considering how many poor kids I worked with while I was an after-school teacher. It seemed to me, in the small town where I grew up, that a lot of people were poor. A lot of them were poorer than we were. It seemed so foreign to me to read about all these kids in houses with yards and fences and a second or third story.

So, one of my ultimate hopes for this novel is that it will ring true for some poor kids reading it. And another hope of mine is that it won’t ring true for some poor kids reading it, and that they will grow up to write their own version of growing up poor, for me to read.

Or something.

In the meantime, here’s some books I love with poor protagonists (both MG and YA):

  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (YA) (Eleanor has the typical miserable poor existence, but that isn’t the main problem of the novel.)
  • The Land by Mildred D. Taylor (MG/YA) (Work hard and you won’t be poor anymore! Just kidding. The only reason Paul-Edward is poor is because he’s saving up to buy SOME LAND, but this still counts!)
  • The Revenant by Sonia Gensler (YA) (Girl runs away from poor family to teach at Navajo boarding school, class issues between her and the wealthy Navajo mean girl gang are subtle and don’t drive the story)
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (MG) (Poor family front and center.)
  • Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan (MG) (Naomi lives in a trailer park too! And her life with her grandmother is pretty ideal aside from their lack of money.)
  • With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo (MG) (Family is poor because they’re traveling religious folk. Big, happy, poor family.)
  • Tyrell by Coe Booth (YA) (Saddest ending ever. But Tyrell’s struggles to get out of the roach-infested hotel his family is forced to live in are so immediate and gripping.)
  • When Pigs Fly by June Rae Wood (MG/YA) (Family becomes poor, moves into weird old house. They have that weirdness that my family (and other poor families I knew) had.)

* You’re still allowed to make fun of me for eating a bagel out of the trash if you are one of my very good friends. Even if you aren’t, you can still make fun of me.


(This is x-posted to my tumblr.)

EDIT 1/13/14: Stacy on tumblr reminded me that THE REVENANT takes place in a Cherokee boarding school, not a Navajo boarding school. Sorry for getting it wrong and for any confusion I caused.


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

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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Something I’ve been working on. Might make it a temporary tattoo. All I know is that I spent way too much time on it to just let it sit on the blog.

(That’s Emily Dickinson, by the way.)


November 26, 2013 · 10:13 pm

Nanowrimo Update #2: Slacker Edition

I put off posting an update on my dismal, thankfully unofficial NaNoWriMo progress. I’m sure I’ve written a lot of words, but I’ve been deleting them over and over again. What do you do when you get to chapter two and everything starts falling apart?

1. Have an awesome writing buddy. (Mine is my friend Elysia, who was also one of the first readers of HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL. Elysia writes in practically every genre save for non-fiction and is incredibly insightful about writing in general.)

2. Keep bashing your head against the wall. With breaks, of course, because if you bash your head against the wall forever, then you’ll just end up killing yourself. But I’ve prided myself in writing every ding-dang day this week, even if it wasn’t productive at all and I ended up deleting those thousand or so words the very next day.

3. Have a playlist! To almost quote Madonna, “Music makes the plotlines come together.”

I’m not very good at giving advice, and I haven’t even crawled out of my chapter 2 hole yet, but I think these three points are pretty solid. I’ll let you know next week if they actually worked.


Filed under Writing

Nanowrimo Progress Report: Week 1

I’m so glad I’m doing this unofficially.


CHAPTERS I HOPED TO HAVE COMPLETED: 2 (I’m setting the bar pretty low, and I still tripped over it)

TIMES I HAD TO STOP WRITING TO RESEARCH SOMETHING: 1 (This is practically my all-time lowest record)

RESEARCH WAS: Were LARPers around in 1990?

ANSWER: Yes (thank goodness!)



GOAL FOR NEXT WEEK: Get to chapter three, Robin!

WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Writing is like stabbing yourself in the face with a spoon.”

Alright. Back to writing.

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A Real Live Book Cover!

Likely, you’ve already seen my cover, as it’s been gracing the Amazon/Goodreads page for about a month. But for posterity, here it is:


Sometimes authors end up with covers they really dislike, and I’m happy to report that is not the case here! I think it’s cool that Amulet ran with the Ferris wheel (the original title of this book was IN THE WORDS OF STAR MACKIE), which is an idea that evolved over the course of six drafts. I’m sure some people will be surprised that the entire novel does not take place on a Ferris wheel. Sorry, folks!

Anyway, my favorite thing about my cover is the colors. So! Bright! So! Pretty! So! Eye-catching! Plus, isn’t that title treatment the best? And, after looking at my final pass pages last week, I’m pleased to tell you that the inside design is just as beautiful as the cover.

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Filed under Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, My Books


I’m not officially doing Nanowrimo this year, but I figured I would use the opportunity to get as far into my WIP as possible. I have an outline, and a rewritten first chapter (that needs to be rewritten again), and I made this amazing* mock-up to inspire me:

paper moon

I’ve officially done Nanowrimo a few times before, and only once did it result in a finished, 50,000-word book. The book sucked. And since I technically never deleted it from my hard drive, the book continues to suck. However, I’m really glad to have finished that piece of crap!


*not actually amazing at all


Filed under Art, Doodle, Writing

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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Read this Middle Grade: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Last weekend I sat down to read Rebecca Stead’s 2012 middle grade novel Liar & Spy and I finished it in almost one sitting. (I had to make dinner, so I had to pause while stirring my pasta.)

It’s such an unassuming little book! And the title of the book is BRILLIANT. One of those titles you don’t fully understand until the end. And Rebecca Stead has a way with characters – they get under your skin in the best way. Even the unimportant ones!

What really got me, though, above everything else, was the way Georges and Safer’s friendship developed over the course of the novel. SAFER’S SUCH A GOOF.

liar and spy

I can’t say too much more without spoiling the entire thing. I don’t have much more to say anyway, IT WAS REALLY GREAT

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OH MAGGIE. Poor, poor Maggie. Pre-haircut, still full of raw idealism.

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September 18, 2013 · 7:05 pm