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Saturday, December 31, 2011

On the Horizon

     As I frantically try to keep up with the new books coming into the store, I'm already preparing for the books to come in 2012. Already, our basement storage area at the store is overflowing with advanced reading copies for books due out through August. And yet, I still have ARCs for January on my pile.
     I'm excited about what's on the horizon for this next year. It is shaping up to be as promising as this past year. While we're waiting for the sequels to Divergent, Ashes, Ashfall, and eagerly awaiting the upcoming Hunger Games movie, we can fill our thirst for compelling reads with CINDER by Marissa Meyer (out January 3).
    I'm not overexaggerating how great this book is. With the re-emergence of fairytale-based stories (Grimm and Once Upon a Time -- television shows), Meyer may just have a mega-hit on her hands. And in August, Stephanie Bodeen's next book, THE RAFT, comes out. Like all her books, this one has to be read from start to finish as quickly as possible.
   Also in January, John Green's new YA novel, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, comes out. A powerful, raw, and poignant look at kids with cancer. Don't miss this one.
   And for humor, Meg Rosoff's THERE IS NO DOG will do just fine. This is an irreverent and often humorous answer to the question "What kind of God would...."  The answer is hilarious -- and strangely makes a lot of sense.

   There are certainly more out there, and I do hope to discover them as they come along. I hope you do too.

Have a great new year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Newbery Season

 The season of speculation for the major children's literature awards is upon us. Lots of places are holding Mock Newbery, Caldecott, or Printz discussions. While it's anyone's guess, really, what the winner will be, it's always fun to try to pick the winners.

Like everyone else, I have my favorites. And while I'm usually less disappointed in what the committee chooses, there are always a few that I truly wish hadn't been overlooked.

This year, instead of waiting for the committee to announce the winners and writing a blog about which ones I wished had won, I'm going to stick my neck and write about the ones I think deserve notice.
Okay for Now - Gary Schmidt
     It will be difficult for the committee to ignore this one. Schmidt, once again, writes a compelling story. This companion to Wednesday Wars has been getting buzz since it the advanced reading copy was released.
A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness (from an outline by Sioban Dowd)
     Once it was determined that it was actually eligible for the award, this one has been one everyone's list. This is a moving and poignant tale of dealing with illness and death.
With a Name Like Love - Tess Hilmo
     This one isn't getting as much attention as I'd hoped it would. I'm hoping the committee finds it and loves it as much as I do. The voice is amazing. The story is kid-friendly. This is a keeper.
Dead End in Norvelt - Jack Gantos
     I'm not as big of a fan of Jack as some people are, but this book is a gem. Funny. Surprising. Informative.
The Trouble with May Amelia - Jennifer Holm
     I was a huge fan of the original Newbery Honor book. I'm a bigger fan of this one (in spite of the historically inaccurate cover). Holm has shown she's a talented writer. This one once again proves it.
Wonderstruck - Brian Selznick
   Amazing! I was completely blown away by it. My concern is the criteria for the Newbery which must be based on the text. In this case, it means the committee must take into account only half the book.
Small Persons with Wings (They Hate to be Called Fairies)- Ellen Booraem
   An early "front runner" that still holds up. It has great magical elements. And not since Tinkerbell have there been fairies with such attitude.
Small as an Elephant - Jennifer Richard Jacobson
   A moving novel about a boy abandoned by his bipolar mother at a campground. Structure is similar to the Secret Life of Bees in that each chapter begins with some quote about elephants.
The Absolute Value of Mike- Kathy Erskine
   Another great novel from the National Book Award winner. This time, she adds some comical characters that will warm (and break) your heart.
Inside Out and Back Again - Thanhha Lai
   Wonder first novel in free verse about a young girl's experience as a refugee coming to America. Based on the author's personal experience, it is both informative and moving.
Amelia Lost - Candace Fleming
   Beautifully written and comprehensive account of the famous aviatrix. Reads more like a novel than non-fiction.
Bluefish - Pat Schmatz
  This one sits on the cusp of the Newbery/Printz awards. Only two books have been honored by both committees. Told in two voices (both of which are spot on), readers witness the destruction and reconstruction of two teenagers who find a way to help each other rebuild their shattered lives.
Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Septys
   A masterful work depicting the real, but often overshadowed, plight of eastern block people at the hands of Stalin.  This time it's a girl whose family is labeled war criminals who are forced to travel (train and marching) to Siberia, stopping only to work along the way.

These are the books that seem to be showing up on lists with some consistancy. Of course, the committee may have discovered a hidden gem among the many books that have been published this year. We'll find out in January.

Keep reading.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Scratch This Off My Bucket List

     A few weeks back, I attended a writing group that I've been part of since at least the early 2000s. Not much had been happening in my writing life recently, short of getting used to my new editor's management and communication preferences at Reading Today.  I had started a new novel, but even this work was going slowly. And while I was still in the "infatuation" period, it wasn't anything I felt comfortable talking about just yet.
     Nothing traumatic. Nothing terribly exciting. Just the daily grind. Add to that the dull, dreary, continual rainy weather we'd been having, and you can guess my general outlook.
    I left the meeting a little early that evening, as I had much to do the next day and was hoping to get a good night's sleep. When I arrived home, my wife told me I needed to check my email. Kent Brown from Highlights for Children had called and asked for me. When he found out I wasn't home, he asked if my email was still the same, and then said he'd contact me there. I didn't have anything out to Highlights at this time, so I assumed it was about something of mine they'd previously published. If you're a writer, you may think getting a call like this would set off the adrenaline pump. But if you've have ever worked with Highlights for Children, you know that personal contact is the norm, not the exception. They really do run their operation differently.
    My email did have a note from Kent -- one I wasn't expecting. Kent wanted to know if I'd be interested in being part of the Founders Workshop faculty for one of the session. Needless to say, I had to read that line 4 or 5 times before it actually registered what he was asking.
   Of course, once I'd whooped and hollered, hugged my wife, kids, dog (and one cat, the other would have caused a bigger scene than I was making), I emailed back with a definitive YES!
   I've since learned Patti Lee Gauch is heading up the workshop with Robert J. Blake, Jillian Sullivan, with special guests Joy Cowley and Peter Jacobi. What an incredible line-up! And quite humbling to consider that my name is among theirs for this workshop. There's still a part of me that thinks I'm attending, not facilitating.
  I'd been to the Chautauqua Workshop (2004) in New York and a Founders Workshop in Honesdale, PA(2007). Both were amazing experiences, professionally and personally. I'd made friends, contacts, and eventually got my Reading Today position because Pat Broderick, my mentor at Chautauqua, happened to know my love of books AND the editor of this periodical. I made lasting friendships, and many of these people have gone on to publish their work in various venues. Some have even won national awards. In addition to this, I've had the privilege of working with Highlights for Children on two articles, and I couldn't have asked for better treatment.
  So it's no wonder I had "Be a part of the Chautauqua or Founders Workshops faculty some day" on my bucket list. I wanted to know what it was like to be on the "other side." What I didn't think was that it would come so soon. While my books have been to a few acquisition meetings, and my writing gets personal responses from editors, I'm still chasing that elusive book contract. "Some day," I kept telling myself, "I"ll get that contract, and maybe, just maybe, I'll give Kent a hint that I'm always available as a last minute sub -- just in case."
  It turns out, someone else was bending his ear about me, and he was listening. In June 2012, I'll be able to cross this off my bucket list.
  The class is called Master's Class in Fiction Writing for Children and Young Adults. It's one of three new workshops offered at the Honesdale location in lieu of Chautauqua. The Foundation has built its own facilities and lodging on Myer family homestead and will be able to offer the same outstanding workshops there at a more manageable cost to the participants. 
  I strongly encourage anyone who has ever considered trying one of these workshops to go for it. There scholarships funds available, if cost is an issue.
  You won't regret your decision. It is definitely worth it.

 Personal attention. These workshops are intensive, but the amount of one-on-one time you get with so many professionals in your field is amazing. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, you are with the faculty. These people make themselves available to you all through the day. Just one lunch listening to Patti Lee Gauch talk about writing is worth more than the cost of the whole conference. Believe me. I've seen her in action.

Great workshops no matter what level you are on. From beginners to intermediates, to experienced writers, these workshops offer something for everyone. The workshops cover all aspects of writing from plot, to character, to revision, to marketing. It's all there, and you can tailor it to your needs.

Critiques. You get a formal critique with a one-on-one conference, but there are so many opportunities throughout the workshop to get informal advice and share your work with other attendees.

Great keynotes.  Since this is new, I don't know exactly how this will work, but I've seen these people talk to a large group. It's always a treat.

Meet the Highlights and Boyds Mills Staff. The offices are just a few miles down the road. I'm sure they'll be stopping in. They wouldn't  pass up a chance at Marcia's cooking. (see below).

Build contacts/make friends. No one leaves without at least one email address, phone number, address, or Facebook friend. There's something magical that happens at these workshops. Perhaps it's a shared purpose, or maybe it's the sharing of writing and meals. Whatever it is, many of these relationships last well beyond the week you are there. 

The food. No, seriously. If Marcia is cooking, you're in for a treat.

The price. It's a steal, really.
     1. Consider what you pay for a "day" workshop. It really isn't a whole day, is it?. Often it's over at 2 or 3
          p. m. When Highlights says it's a full day, they mean it. Multiply that by 7, because it's a full week, not
          just one day.
     2. Add to that lodging for the week. What would you pay for a hotel room for a whole week?
     3  Food. That's included. We're not talking box lunches with a meager turkey sandwich, some
         macaroni salad, and soggy cookie . These are meals prepared by a real chef. A week's worth of meals.
         How much would that cost?
     4. Critiques. Most conferences charge extra for this. Here, it's included.
     5. Access to faculty. Most conferences shield the guest speakers/keynotes from attendees. Here, that
         won't happen. You get access to them all day long. Formally and informally. This in itself is priceless.
     6. The unexpected. Kent Brown and the Highlights Foundation crowd always throw in a surprise or two.
         They're always invaluable and memorable. 

      While the Highlights Foundation (or any writing organization for that matter) can't promise you that you'll be published, I'd be willing to bet their percentages of former attendees who have done so is quite high. There are many people from the year I attended who are now published. I suspect it's because serious writers know they need education to go along with talent. But I also suspect it's because these serious writers get the opportunity to work with seasoned professionals in the field and learn to avoid many of the pitfalls that writers make on the journey. Maybe it's time for you to take that next step too. I've never regretted my decision to attend either workshop. And it's paid off for me, once again. I get to cross this off my bucket list.

Needless to say, once everything sank in, the adrenaline pump went into overdrive that night. A good night's sleep was out of the question -- but I'm not complaining. Not one bit.

Keep writing.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Here and Somewhere Out There

One of the advantages of working as a book reviewer and in a book store is that you get a multitude of advanced reading copies long before the books are published. One of the disadvantages is that you get a multitude of advanced reading copies long before the books are published.

I do like getting the jump on things and having an "in" on books that are highly anticipated. But when I say multitude, I mean just that. Any given season, we get 100-300 ARCs into the store. Now I'm an avid reader, but come on, even I can't keep up with that. Consequently, my pile grows and grows. Often, some books just have to be put on the "someday" pile. And more often than not, a book becomes terribly popular, then the publisher decides an ARC is not needed to create buzz and bolster sales. That means, unlike the general population, I have to wait MUCH longer to read the sequel.

The following books may or may not have sequels, but here's hoping if they do, the publishers won't leave me hanging.

Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater. Carniviorous horses from the sea. A budding romance. A much anticipated race. The perfect combination.

Cinder - by Marissa Meyer. Based on the Cinderella fairytale. This one takes into the distant future and does it well. This quartet (each based on a specific fairytale) will keep everyone wanting more.

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green. We all know that whatever John writes is going to be good, but this one is great. Poignant and heartbreaking, this novel takes a real look at teens with cancer. People will be talking about this one.