Monday, October 26, 2015

The Beast of Cretacea--Shelf Awareness

New review in Shelf Awareness!

YA Review: The Beast of Cretacea

The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser (Candlewick, $18.99 hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9780763669010, October 23, 2015)

With The Beast of Cretacea, Todd Strasser (The Wave; Give a Boy a Gun; Fallout) crafts a thrilling interplanetary adventure based on Herman Melville's classic story of revenge and madness, Moby Dick. Gone are descriptive passages about whale species and shades of white. Instead, Strasser focuses on the action. Ishmael, Queequeg, Starbuck and Ahab are still on the ship, but their quarry, the great white whale, has been replaced by the Great Terrafin.

When 17-year-old Ishmael wakes up aboard the Pequod, he is amazed by Cretacea, the clean, beautiful planet on which he finds himself. He hopes to earn enough money to save his foster parents, before the foul air and lack of water back on the coal-burning, oxygen-depleted Earth kill them. Now, miraculously, he is floating on "a vast, glittering blue-green sea." As Ishmael trains for his new job--catching ocean-dwelling creatures to ship back to the dying Earth--he quickly proves himself a courageous leader among the motley crew of men and women. But when the Great Terrafin is spotted, Captain Ahab ignores the "catchable beasts," as well as the safety of ship and crew, to chase down his nemesis.

Ishmael grapples with fierce pirates, isolated island dwellers and various sea beasts, all the while worrying about his foster parents and his much-loved, disabled foster brother, whom readers learn about in flashbacks. High-tech gadgets, from drones to virtual reality goggles, add a modern twist to this apocalyptic adaptation, part political satire, part environmental cautionary tale. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. 

Discover: Ishmael risks his life to save his family in Todd Strasser's maritime swashbuckler and environmental cautionary tale, based on Moby Dick.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

SCBWI CenCal Writer's Day

This past weekend, I went to SCBWI CenCal Writer's Day in Simi Valley, California. The speakers were all pretty amazing.

Celia Lee, of Scholastic, talked about the importance of making book maps and dummies to help plan out our stories, as well as to help us judge the pacing of our work, and to look for any plot holes.

John Cusick, of Folio Literary Management, stressed the importance of staying sane while writing, including carving out a dedicated space to work in, and giving ourselves plenty of time to be creative.

Kelly Delaney, of Alfred A. Knopf, described the many different kinds of villains we write about, and the need to keep them three dimensional--not just use them as a plot device, but to help readers understand the source of their badness!

Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy, of Blue Slip Media, shared their thoughts about marketing. They suggested that marketing does not take place only before a book is sold, or after, but at all stages, including building your social media presence and getting your promotional materials in place. They gave useful feedback on website pages, and stressed the need for clean, professional, easily-read and -navigated sites.

And our Spotlight Speakers, local authors who have recently had books come out, provided a ton of encouragement. It was incredibly inspiring to hear about their journeys, and some of the wisdom they gathered along the way!

Here are the Spotlight Speakers and their books:


Robin Yardi, THEY JUST KNOW, Arbordale Press



Monday, October 19, 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live Here--Shelf Awareness

New review in Shelf Awareness!

YA Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (Harper Teen, $17.99 hardcover, 336p., ages 14-up, 9780062403162, October 16, 2015)

In British novelist Patrick Ness's The Rest of Us Just Live Here, 17-year-old Mikey Mitchell and friends want only to navigate their final days in high school before their school gets blown to bits, yet again, by unknown invaders.

No one talks much about the small Pacific Northwest town's various explosions, vampire infestations and soul-eating ghost episodes, or why the ultra-cool indie kids, "with unusual names and capital-D Destinies," keep dying. In fact, the parallel story of an Immortal Empress who wants to take over the world serves as a mere backdrop to the story's "real" action, narrated in Mikey's thoroughly engaging voice. Mikey is a worrier whose compulsive loops of hand washing and counting worsen as his troubles multiply: his sister may be starving herself again; his dysfunctional parents are almost entirely absent; he's desperately in love with his good friend, Henna, who has a crush on someone else; and his best friend, Jared, who is one-quarter cat god, is keeping secrets. Complementing the angst is plenty of creepy collateral damage from the current interspecies war, such as zombie deer--and police officers--with glowing blue eyes.

This clever sendup of traditional fantasy fare doesn't have nearly the body count as Ness's award-winning Chaos Walking trilogy, but it does have all of the heart, and then some. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators.

Discover: In Patrick Ness's funny quasi-fantasy, graduating seniors are more concerned about relationships than the dangerous Immortals threatening their town.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

October Recommendations

It seems like there are so many great kids books coming out lately! Recently I have read and loved these:


THE NEST, by Kenneth Oppel, with moody, atmospheric illustrations by Jon Klassen, is a wonderfully creepy changeling story. Steve's parents are worn out from caring for their new baby, who is sick with a mysterious set of problems. Steve, a big-time worrier, is just supposed to get a grip and not add to the family’s troubles. But once Steve is stung by a wasp, he begins to have visitors in his dreams. At first he thinks they’re angels. But gradually Steve realizes that something bad is happening, and it involves both him and the new baby. Only read The Nest if you enjoy being creeped out—and I know I sure did when I was a kid! (MG)

Newbery medalist Laura Amy Schlitz (also Newbery Honor with Splendors and Glooms) has another winner in THE HIRED GIRL. Fourteen-year-old Joan is tired of cleaning the chicken house and scrubbing the privy, hauling ashes and sweeping muck out of her family's house day after day, and year after year. She yearns to be a writer, a lady who strives for "truth and refinement." But what chance does she have on her family’s small farm, with Ma dead and no one else to keep house for the men? Stubborn Joan will not be denied, however. When Pa burns her favorite books, Joan takes a secret stash of money left to her by Ma and runs off to seek her fortune in Baltimore. Schlitz packs this always engaging novel with plenty of interesting details from the early twentieth century setting, but they never overwhelm the story of how Joan’s fierce pursuit of her goals plays out. (Upper MG)

And, finally, we have the epic and epically fantastic LAIR OF DREAMS, by the awesome Libba Bray. This long-awaited sequel to The Diviners needs all of its 690 pages to work its magic. Told from the varying perspectives of an ensemble cast, readers learn of the malicious evil invading the dreams of sleepers in 1920s New York City. From America’s Sweetheart Seer Evie O’Neill, to piano player and fledgling composer Henry Dubois, to dream walker Ling Chan, to Memphis, Theta, and scam artist Sam, everyone has secrets and passions, and everyone dreams. But now those dreams are turning deadly. Lair of Dreams, like the aforementioned The Hired Girl, is awash in period details which bring the story alive without smothering it. A most excellent series. (YA)

Picture books:

LITTLE ELLIOT, BIG FAMILY, by Mike Curato, is a sequel to Curato’s very successful Little Elliot, Big City. This time, Little Elliot’s friend Mouse takes off for a family reunion, leaving the elephant all alone, and lonely. From endpaper to endpaper, the pencil and digitally colored illustrations are as beautiful as they were in the first book, and the story is even better. Here’s to more stories about Little Elliot!

LEO, A GHOST STORY, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Josephine) is a charming and beautiful ghost/friendship story. Leo the ghost leaves his home when the new family who moves in doesn’t appreciate him. When he meets Jane, she thinks he is an imaginary friend, but Leo manages to convince Jane that he’s real. After some adventures, they two enjoy mint tea and honey toast at midnight. The fabulous illustrations are done in acrylic and cutout construction paper.

Last but not least, we have TWO MICE, by Sergio Ruzzier, a sweet and successful hybrid picture book, counting book, and easy reader. Two mice have some pretty cute adventures, until they wind up back at home eating much-needed soup in their cozy kitchen. A small trim size and lovely watercolor and ink illustrations make this an attractive and versatile choice.


Monday, October 5, 2015

October's Book of the Month--The Night Gardener

October’s Book of the Month is the wonderfully creepy THE NIGHT GARDENER, by Jonathan Auxier.

Newly orphaned Molly and Kip desperately need food and a bed, and they are willing to work for it. After slogging through the ominous “sourwoods," they find themselves facing a remote house that looked "like something from a horrible fairy tale. It might as well have come with a drawbridge and boiling cauldron.” But worst of all was the tree, which was grown up and over the house, as if it were part of it. Molly and Kip stay on as servants, and slowly the secrets of the house are revealed: muddy footprints that appear in the night, a mysterious locked door, and the strange transformation of all who inhabit this cursed place. Molly, a budding storyteller, and Kip, transforming from a boy into an insightful young man, serve as strong, complex characters to see this tale through.

Reading The Night Gardener is a perfect way to set the mood for Halloween. I would give it to fans of Holly Black’s Doll Bones. The way both authors build creepiness and dread is wonderful, and just right for mid-grade readers looking for a scare. It's a good book to enjoy on a chilly October night, under the covers, with a flashlight.

Have you read THE NIGHT GARDENER? Were you spooked by it, even just a little??