Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Week: Writing to Reflect Life

I grew up an only child in a house with parents who did not read books. Sometimes I think I was lucky. Books were seen as benign entertainment and indeed, they were my constant companions. I was free to read anything I wanted, first from the library and later, purchased with my allowance money from the bookstore. My view of the world, of relationships, humanity, came in large part from books.

For example, Ray Bradbury’s 1984 taught me the importance of personal freedom and that books were precious, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange shocked me with its violence but then forced me to question the punishment given the offender. In James Leo Herlihy and William Noble’s Blue Denim, I saw how difficult it was for teenagers to deal with an unwanted pregnancy on their own and the importance of parents continually engaged in the lives of their kids. And then there was Shel Silverstein’s The Giving we have the right to be selfish just because someone is willing to continually give of themselves?

Each book taught me to think, to question. What if I hadn’t been able to read any of them?

I am an author. When I began writing fiction, I spent a lot of time thinking about how – and if – I should include cuss words, violent acts and sexually romantic relationships, even if they moved the story along. It made me crazy and deadened my writing. Then I read a line in On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner: “...we measure fictional worlds against the real world.” Good books feel real. They reflect the amazingly rich life that surrounds us in all its beauty and ugliness. It may be that some profanity or a sexual encounter represents a truer example of life than if they were left out.

The thing one knows what it is in a book – which passage or chapter – will provide just the right insight into life that someone wants or needs, perhaps even months or years later. So read! Read everything you can. Laugh, cry, gasp, swoon, throw the book against the wall. When you hold a book in your hand, anything is possible.

Marianne D. Wallace is a published non-fiction writer currently working on young adult and children’s fiction. You can find her on twitter as @penwallace

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallfower

Standing on the fringes of life... offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.


In honor of Banned Books Week, I'm doing a guest post reviewing one of my favorite books -- and one of the most widely banned young adult books -- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky.

Why was this book banned?
Honestly, why are any books banned? I'm not a huge fan of censorship. I think books should be available to everyone... at the right age of course. Once a child or person is emotionally and/or physically mature enough to handle the themes of a certain book, I don't think his or her school or library should make it unavailable.

Some of the reasons cited for banning The Perks of Being a Wallflower include: "Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide."

What is The Perks of Being a Wallflower about?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a young adult novel about a boy named Charlie that follows his freshman year at high school. The novel is told in epistolary form, that is, the whole book is a series of letters Charlie writes about his life to someone he addresses as "Dear Friend." Charlie has never met this person and the reader never finds out who this Friend is.

Charlie is a wallflower. He is shy and sometimes socially awkward, but he meets these two new people, Sam and Patrick, who become his friends and introduce him to new experiences in high school, like going to parties, becoming romantically involved with someone, and driving late at night with the windows down and feeling "infinite." Charlie makes an interesting relationship with a teacher at his school, who makes him read complex literature because he sees potential in Charlie.

Through all of these new people in Charlie's life, he grows up, deals with family issues, and discovers things about himself, all while trying to "participate" more in life.

Why do I love this book?
This book is one of my favorites because of how realistically it portrays people. The book doesn't condemn Charlie and his friends for some of the riskier behaviors they partake in, but it doesn't glorify them either. The Perks of Being a Wallflower really celebrates being special and different in ways that aren't always trendy or cool.

I also love Charlie as a narrator. He's so earnest and genuinely concerned about putting everyone else's problems first that he often overlooks himself and doesn't give himself a chance to live his own life. He's not passive in an annoying speak-up-for-yourself-already! kind of way, but instead he makes it really easy to like him and root for him. I'm so used to reading about characters who act impulsively and don't think about their actions first, so Charlie was a bid departure from that.

The writing is also beautiful. I have a quote underlined or highlighted on almost every other page. Although there is some material suited for older young adults, and the novel explores some sensitive and deep issues, I highly recommend it. If you enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger or any of John Green's books, I think you'll love this one. And now I'll leave you with the last lines of the book (which I love, and won't spoil anything for you):

     I'm not sure if I will have time to write any more letters because I might be too busy trying to "participate."
     So, if this does end up being my last letter, please believe that things are good with me, and even when they're not, they will be soon enough.
     And I will believe the same about you.
Love always,

-- Renée

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books Week: Celebrate YOUR Freedom To Read

Do you have a favorite children's book?  What about an adult book that you love? The other day I was standing in Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena facing a wall display with hundred of books that have been either challenged or banned.  You might be surprised at what was up there.  Did you love the Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder?  Yep, that was challenged.  How about Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl or maybe any Roald Dahl book?  Yep, those have been challenged and banned too.  What about The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein?  You may be scratching your head and saying who would ban the Giving Tree?!  Well someone out there has and did.

According to the ALA website: Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

When I first heard of Banned Books Week, I was amazed.  Having grown up in a home where my reading was never censored the concept of preventing a child or even an adult from choosing what they could or couldn't read stymied me.  I can understand electing not to read a book that you don't feel comfortable with but trying to prevent others from reading that same book angered me.  As a child, I learned some important and valuable lessons from books that have frequently been challenged or banned.  And some of my all time favorite authors appear to repeatedly make the list of challenged books.  Katherine Paterson, Judy Blume, Laurie Halse Anderson are talented and insightful authors who have chosen to take on the task of writing stories that address powerful and sometimes unpleasant topics. However, I can not imagine a world without powerful books that make us sit up and think.

Below is a list of some of the books (in no particular order) that I have read that have been challenged or banned. I have shared my list.  Now what would be on your list? 

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank
Vroman's Banned Books Wall
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Jacob, I have Loved by Katherine Paterson
Girl With a Peal Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Black Boy by Richard Wright
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyers
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
Harry Potter (series) - J.K. Rowling
Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Giver - Lois Lowry
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
The Great Gilly Hopkins - Katherine Paterson
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
Go Ask Alice - Anonymous
Blubber - Judy Blume
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton
Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
A Light in the Attic - Shel Silverstein
James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume
Native Son - Richard Wright
Where's Waldo? - Martin Hanford
Little Black Sambo - Helen Bannerman
How to Eat Fried Worms - Thomas Rockwell

What's your favorite book? Chances are good that someone has tried to ban it. Celebrate YOUR freedom to read during Banned Books Week, September 25 to October 2. For more information, visit

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Smart Chicks Tour - Vroman's

On Monday, September 20th, I had fun attending the highly anticipated Smart Chicks Kick It Tour in Pasadena at Vroman's Bookstore.  At the event, there were 9 YA authors -  Melissa Marr (Wicked Lovely Series), Kelley Armstrong (Darkest Powers Series), Melissa De La Cruz (Blue Bloods series), Rachel Caine (Morganville Vampire Series), Alyson Noel (The Immortals Series), Rachel Vincent (Soul Screamers Series), Mary Pearson (a personal favorite - The Adoration of Jenna Fox), and the ever wonderful Kami Garcia & Margie Stohl (a top favorite - Beautiful Creatures).

Not only were there great authors, but in the audience there were some wonderful local friends and twitter friends.

Khyrinthia & Me

Anne (acsimps)
I am Erin, Little Lauren, CGYvette
The crowd enthusiastically welcomed the authors.  And Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong played off of each other beautifully.

Melissa Marr & Kelley Armstrong
After a period of questions and answers, and some swag giveaways, the writers had some games for the crowd.  My favorite was "Marry, Shag (for the under 16 that means kissing) & Throw off a Cliff".  There were some interesting choices.  Wonder if I can combine books and pick different characters?

For the book signing, everyone moved upstairs.  Since I was in the first group, I had time to chat and visit with friends.  I don't have pictures of everyone, but I did get to see Katie Alender (Bad Girls Don't Die) and she introduced me to Cynthia Hand (Unearthly 2011 release) as they waited to get their books signed.  Vania (reveriebr) was taking pictures along with Khyrinthia's dad. 
I have been to a number of author events but I do have to admit.  This was really one of the best ones.  Thanks Smart Chicks for setting up this amazing tour and for bringing it to Pasadena.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Banned Book Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read!

Every year, the American Library Association along with several other sponsors host Banned Books Week (BBW) to help raise awareness about censorship issues surrounding challenged books.  To read more about ALA's Banned Books Week or to access their promotional materials and free downloads, please click here.

From September 25th to October 2nd, I will be posting several topics related to challenged and banned books.  There will even be a giveaway this week.  Earlier this week, I did a guest post for Mundie Moms.  If you don't know about Mundie Moms, you should check out their great website (blog, forum, author chats, book reviews and more).  During the month of September, they have been doing a variety of guest posts on different topics around challenged and banned books.  If you are interested in reading my thoughts as an educator on the topic of banned books, you can click here.

Celebrate your freedom to read and pick up a banned book.  For a downloadable PDF file of the 2009-2010 challenged books go here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Congratulations to Andye (@readingteen on twitter)! You have won a signed copy of Michael Grant's new book THE MAGNIFICIENT 12: THE CALL!  We hope you and your children enjoy the book.


Back-to-School Guest Post: Author Hilary Wagner

For our final Back-to-School Guest Post, Kid Lit Frenzy is hosting debut author Hilary Wagner.  Hilary's middle grade novel, NIGHTSHADE CITY, is being touted as the next REDWALL.  I can't wait to read it. Hope you enjoy Hilary's journey from reluctant reader to published author.

Bill Peet Reforms a Reluctant Reader!

When I was in first grade, I had a bit of a problem: I loathed reading! I was a good reader, but I always thought it took up far too much of my valuable kid time! I’d much rather be scaling the monkey bars or playing Ghost in the Graveyard with the neighbor kids (nighttime version of tag, much more fun in the dark!).

At parent teacher conferences, much to their mortification, my parents were informed about my lack of enthusiasm when it came to reading. We had a list hanging in the classroom with everyone’s name on it and a star for each book a student had finished. Let’s just say my name might have been at the bottom of that dreaded list and might have had maybe one star...or possibly none at all!

Long story short, duly worried, my mother forced me to our local library. The librarian asked me what I liked. I told her I liked animals and I like going to the zoo. She said, “I have just the book for you!” She vanished into an aisle and quickly returned with a book in hand. She handed me the book. It didn’t look too long, so I liked that! It was called HUBERT’S HAIR-RAISING ADVENTURE. The cover looked crazy! There was a lion, a zebra, a rhino and something that might be a goat, all tangled up in a massive pile of legs and hooves. My interest was piqued!

My fascination with books began at that moment, all thanks to famed author and illustrator, Bill Peet. HUBERT’S HAIR-RAISING ADVENTURE has been in print for 50 years (yes, I said 50)! After that day in the library, I read every single book that Bill Peet ever created—and the list is long! I have an inkling that Bill Peet’s wonderful books are a reason I so love writing about animals so much today! It’s amazing that one person’s writing can make a child love reading and eventually writing so very much.

You can find out more about Bill Peet at I highly recommend his books for any young reader—reluctant or otherwise. His stories are absolutely relevant to today’s world and could have been written yesterday! They are fun, exciting, teach great lessons about life and are beautifully illustrated by Bill Peet, covering just about any animal or creature you can think of!

Hmmm . . . from reluctant reader to published author! Sounds like I’ve had a hair-raising adventure of my own!

Hilary Wagner

NIGHTSHADE CITY is available for purchase on Amazon here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

SECRET SERIES: Pseudonymous Bosch Revealed?

Check out this great video of Pseudonymous Bosch - it really him?

Happy Book Birthday to Pseudonymous Bosch

Quick, run out and grab yourself a copy of the newest book in Pseudonymous Bosch's Secret Series - THIS ISN'T WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE.  It is out today.  Can't wait to get my copy.

Description from GoodReads:

The Secret Series continues in this dangerous and daring fourth adventure.

Cass finds herself alone and disoriented, a stranger in a dream-like, medieval world. Where is she? Who is she? With the help of a long-lost relative, she begins to uncover clues and secrets--piecing together her family's history as she fights her way back to the present world.

Meanwhile, back home, Cass is at the hospital in a deep coma. Max-Ernest knows she ate Time Travel Chocolate--and he's determined to find a cure. Can our expert hypochondriac diagnose Cass's condition before it's too late? And will he have what it takes to save the survivalist?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Back-to-School Guest Post: Renee from Notes In The Margin

For this month, I invited friends, authors, librarians, and bloggers to share their thoughts on the theme of "Back-to-School" and reading.  Today's guest blogger is Renee from Notes-In-The-Margin.  Renee and I met through connections over at the YA Literature Review Blog and our friendship grew from our love of books.  So, join me in welcoming Renee to Kid Lit Frenzy.


As a young person growing up in the 21st century, I didn't really see the appeal in reading. Sure, I went to school and I had to read textbooks for History, lab books for Biology, workbooks for Math, and novels for Literature, but I didn't understand why people read for fun. Why read the book when the blockbuster movie is coming out next summer? The ticket is probably cheaper than a book, and I only have to give up 2 hours of my day, instead of several hours or even... *gasp* several DAYS to reading one book! Madness!

It wasn't that I wasn't good at reading -- I was always pretty good at reading comprehension at school. I even read a few of the Harry Potter books, but that was it (and honestly, HARRY POTTER is probably the exception to everyone's I-don't-read rule). I just had so much going on between school, clubs, friends, TV... I didn't see where books would fit into that picture.

Then when I was 13, I moved to different country with my family. I didn't have any clubs and I didn't have any friends. Suddenly, my busy life had huge pockets of free time. That's when I started reading, as a way of interacting with "people" when people weren't really around. I didn't feel quite so lonely if I could go on adventures and meet new characters whenever I wanted. I started out with A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by Lemony Snicket, which at the time seemed to be a metaphor for my parent's uprooting me from Jamaica and dumping me in America all by myself. I felt like I could really relate to the characters -- young kids around my age who were clever and funny. Cornelia Funke, J. D. Salinger, Louise Rennison, Judy Blume... I read books of different lengths and genres, but I think young adult might still be my favourite!

It was a little strange, because I assumed the only people who read books were old people like my mother in her mid-40s, and that the only kids who read were weird and antisocial. Except, I was reading books, but I definitely wasn't antisocial... I just hadn't made any new friends yet. And, I kid you not, the first friend I made in America was with a girl who saw me reading (ANNA KARENINA... I was a bright 13-yr old) and started giving me book recommendations, then rides home from school, and soon we were exchanging BFF birthday presents.

Almost seven years later, I'm even more of an avid reader. By now I've obviously settled in and found my rhythm in America, but I cannot tell you how often I still make acquaintances and friendships with new people through a shared love of books. (Actually, I became friends with Aly -- who runs this blog -- through our mutual love of YA fiction!) I definitely find that reading gives me a few hours, or even a few minutes, in the day to relax and be by myself, which as I get older, I'm realizing more and more "me time" to keep myself sane (: Plus, your parents and teachers weren't lying when they said reading makes you smarter. I think it's something to do with learning new vocabulary and sharpening your mental skills.

Oh, and to anyone who thinks that reading is only for people with no friends and don't like to have a good time: you've obviously never been to a HARRY POTTER midnight release party!

- Renee

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Back-to-School Guest Post: Louisse Ang from Soul Sisters

As part of my Back-to-School series, I invited friends, authors, librarians, and bloggers to share some of their "school" inspired posts.  Today, I am welcoming Louisse Ang to the blog.  Louisse is a fellow blogger who I have gotten to know through blogging.  She loves reading and tells you why. 

School. The one word that crosses my mind as summer ends. But it is a word filled with so much meaning; seeing your friends, meeting a new batch of teachers and the smell of new books being cracked open by the eager students. I've always been excited for school, that is why people think I'm weird. I also love going to the bookstore and buying new school supplies and the rush of the Back-To-School annual sale.

As I enter school the one thing I look forward to, other than seeing my wonderful friends, is seeing my former Reading teacher, Mrs. Portacion. She is our school's grade school Reading coordinator. We were lucky enough to have her as our teacher last year. She is one of the people who have inspired me to read, besides my mom. She has always encouraged me to continue my reading.

To me, reading books is like a second-nature. Ever since I was a child my mom had already exposed me to books. I started reading when I was around two or three-years-old. I still have most of my childrens' books in my library. My most favorite series would have to be: Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, it is about a boy and his loyal dog who help solve mysteries for their friends. But as I grew older my reading choices changed. Now, my library is over-flowing with YA novels that I sometimes end up stacking them up on the floor instead. I have always had the passion for reading and my wonderful parents have always supported me and have always bought me the books I wanted. They have always believed that I am more mature than other girls and that I should continue to enhance my reading skills.

That's why I asked Keila, my best friend since kindergarten, to help me create Soul Sisters, YA review blog. Keila and I want to spread how awesome books are. We frequently have giveaway because we want to draw people's attention to books. Speaking of giveaways our Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare Giveaway is up, click HERE.

I would really like to thank Aly for letting me do a guest blog post! :) Thank you, Aly!!! :)

Happy Reading,
Soul Sister

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Magnificient 12: The Call - Book Contest

In chatting with my nine year old niece recently, I asked her what she wanted most in a book.  She answered "Adventure". 

When my blog was offered a chance to host a giveaway for Michael Grant's recently released Middle Grade Series called THE MAGNIFICENT 12: THE CALL , I jumped at the chance.  Like my niece, I can't pass on a book with adventure and humor. 

Twelve-year-old Mack MacAvoy suffers from a serious case of mediumness. Medium looks. Medium grades. Medium parents who barely notice him. With a list of phobias that could make anyone crazy, Mack never would have guessed that he is destined for a more-than-medium life.

And then, one day, something incredibly strange happens to Mack. A three-thousand-year-old man named Grimluk appears in the boys’ bathroom to deliver some startling news: Mack is one of the Magnificent Twelve, called the Magnifica in ancient times, whatever that means. An evil force is on its way, and it’s up to Mack to track down eleven other twelve-year-olds in order to stop it. He must travel across the world to battle the wicked Pale Queen’s dangerous daughter, Ereskigal—also known as Risky. But Risky sounds a little scary, and Mack doesn’t want to be a hero. Will he answer the call?

For more information about the book and to have some fun, check out the Magnificient 12 webpage:

AUTHOR BIO: MICHAEL GRANT is nothing like Mack MacAvoy. He travels all over the globe, he has a bit of a sarcastic streak, and he secretly suffers from belonephobia, a fear of needles. Seriously: Do not invite him to a sewing bee. Or a tattoo parlor. Okay, fine, maybe he’s a little like Mack MacAvoy.

Michael is the New York Times bestselling author of the Gone series and has written a total of 150 books (yes, you read that right: one hundred and fifty). He wrote most of his books with his wife, Katherine Applegate (K.A.), but the action-packed thrillers in the Gone series are all his. As is his newest series, the Magnificent Twelve, in which he delves into his inner (or, some might say, not so inner) child to create Mack, the unlikeliest of heroes. When Michael isn’t busy writing, he likes to travel, stare blankly at the TV, waste hours clicking aimlessly around the internet, listen to rock music and sing along in a nasal voice, complain, and go out to eat.

-Winner must be in the US and have a non PO box shipping address
-Winner must claim the prize within 14 days of contest end date

All participants must complete the entry form listed below.  You have until September 22, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. PDT to enter the contest.  Though you do not need to comment below doing so will result in additional entry points.  In the comment section, please indicate why you are interested in reading this book or why you like adventure novels.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Interview with Ellen Potter, author of The Kneebone Boy

In honor of the release of The Kneebone Boy, I would like to welcome author Ellen Potter to Kid Lit Frenzy.  Ellen is an amazing person and author and I have enjoyed getting to know her over the past year.  She was gracious to answer some questions about her new book.

The Kneebone Boy seems so different from your previous books. How did the idea for the book and the "voice" come to you?

With every new book that I write, I start out setting a challenge for myself. With SLOB, for instance, I wanted to write a book for boys that would have the right pacing to keep boys’ interest, but would also tell a moving story.

I set several challenges for The Kneebone Boy: to write an old fashioned “siblings-on-the-loose” adventure tale; and to write a book that would appeal to both girls and boys, hence the unidentified narrator. The narrator might be a boy or a girl, you have to guess. That way if a boy is put off by a female narrator or vice versa, they will, I hope, be so involved with the story that by the time that they figure out who’s narrating, they won’t care about the gender.

What writing rituals do you have? (i.e., Certain place that you write in, snacks that you like to munch on, music? no music, etc.)

I used to have all sorts of rituals. I had to write in a certain café. I had a fountain pen that I used to start off every story, writing by hand and, after I was a few pages in, I switched to a computer. Then I had a child. Now I write anywhere, any which way, any time. Fountain pen? Ha! I’ve written with my son’s giant Curious George pencil on a Walgreens’ receipt while he’s napping in the back of the car. Motherhood has made me astonishingly unfussy.

Though I have never been to England, when I read The Kneebone Boy, I had a very distinct impression that this was a British setting. What did you have to do in terms of research and writing to give readers that sense that they were in England?!

I had to do a lot of research! I went to college in England for a while and that also helped. But my secret weapon was a teenage friend of mine and her novelist mother who live in London. They vetted the manuscript for me, gently pointing out some of the more embarrassing mistakes I had made, and bringing me up to speed on the slang.

Did you have a favorite character in The Kneebone Boy? I couldn't imagine choosing between the three Hardscrabble children, but there are also other amazing characters.

I really grew to love and admire all three Hardscrabble siblings. Otto, the brother who doesn’t talk, was the difficult child, though. From the beginning he baffled me. When I first started writing about him, he was able to speak, but his dialogue was always so stiff compared with his siblings. I knew something wasn’t right. When I realized, “Aha! He doesn’t speak!” his character opened up to me. That is until I had to figure out why on earth he was wearing that darn scarf.

One of the things that hit me while I was reading The Kneebone Boy is that I wasn't frustrated in how much information you as a writer was providing me as the reader. Sometimes there is so much revealed that it takes out all the surprise and other times not enough so the reader gets confused. What was your secret? I imagine this would be hard to do?

Oh, that’s good to hear! I think this may come from the fact that I don’t know where the story is going as I’m writing it. Well, maybe I have a vague idea, but for the most part I’m writing blind. The story is gradually revealed to me, so I suppose that’s the way readers would experience it as well.

I have been impressed with all of your book covers but I think The Kneebone Boy is my favorite. I realize that authors often have little say in book covers. Did you get to chose your illustrator? What was the process like with this book?

I’ve never been able to choose my own illustrator, but I count myself extremely lucky in terms of covers. This cover was pretty special though. I remember the day my editor e-mailed it to me. I read the e-mail’s subject line and my heart started pounding. The cover is so important and I wanted this book to have something wonderful. When I downloaded the cover image I literally gasped. It was so outrageously perfect. Better than anything I could have imagined. The artist, Jason Chan, is my hero!

When I was reading The Kneebone Boy, I had to stop several times and just admire your writing and use of words. (Don't worry...children won't be doing that as they read...I'm just strange.) As a reader familiar with many of your books, I felt that you had moved to a new level of writing. Was this something that you were conscious of while writing the book?

No, but I did feel a little bolder while writing this book. I tried some things stylistically that I knew were a little quirky. I think I “played” more in this book, and hoped my readers would have as good a time with it as I did.

Any sneak peeks into your work-in-progress that you can share with fans?

My book-in-progress is set in the Thousand Islands, so the research has been heavenly. I’ve helped deliver mail to the islands, seen nesting shoals with an ecologist, and roamed through castles. Hmm, I’m thinking of setting my next book in Hawaii.

 For more information about Ellen Potter and her books, you can check out the following links:

Ellen Potter

Spilling Ink: Young Writer's Handbook

To purchase The Kneebone Boy, check out this link to Powell's Books.

To read my review of The Kneebone Boy, click here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Back-to-School Guest Post: Miss Tammy's Favorite YA High Schools

Kid Lit Frenzy is hosting a series of Back-to-School Guest Posts.  Let's welcome Miss Tammy - a YA Librarian from Kentucky.  She is super cool - you should ask her sometime about her Steampunk Tea or Renaissance Faire.  Trust me when I say I have never met such a hip librarian. 

When Aly first asked me to do a back to school post I thought I would share some clever stories from my own days as a yellow-bus-riding, backpack-toting slave to education. You know, an “Adventures of a Teenage Teen Librarian” sort of thing. Problem is, I don’t actually have any great stories to file under Miss Tammy: The High School Years.

Some might attribute my less than exciting high school career to my own nerd-like tendencies, but of course they’re wrong. It certainly wasn’t my fault that my days were filled with an endless stream of tedious lectures and inane homework assignments. No, the problem was that I went to the wrong school. I mean, who could have a rollicking adventure in a public school of all places? I should have gone to one of those bastions of learning where even the most unassuming bookworm would find herself battling evil while falling in the love with the most beautiful, brave, and sarcastic boy God ever saw fit to create.

But which one? After all, there are tons of them scattered across the YA landscape. I’ve thought about it long and hard, and after much deliberation, I’ve narrowed it down to my top ten choices (listed by alphabetical order, because that’s how I roll):

Culver Creek Preparatory

Looking for Alaska - John Green

Boarding schools just sound so cool with everyone living on campus and pulling major pranks. Plus, this one is filled with some pretty outstanding characters. Guaranteed to never be a dull moment.

Gallagher Academy

Gallagher Girls series - Ally Carter

Spy school! Sure, it has the misfortune of being an all-girl school, but still - A school that trains you to be a spy! Awesome, right?

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Harry Potter series - JK Rowling

Magic wands. Moving staircases. Ghosts. Quidditch. House elves. Defense Against the Dark Arts. Professor Snape. Obviously, this is the best school ever.

House of Night

House of Night series - P.C. Cast + Kristin Cast

House of Night students get to sleep all day and develop really cool powers. Of course, they have that whole chance of dying because their body can’t accept the change or getting killed by agents of their super-crazy High Priestess. Remember to weigh your options before sending in that application.

The Institute

Mortal Instruments series - Cassandra Clare

Technically, it’s not really a school, but young Shadowhunters train there, so I’m counting it. Maybe we could talk Magnus into teaching a class on the history of fashion.

The Princess Academy

Princess Academy - Shannon Hale

No matter what we might say or the image we project, every girl wants to be a princess.

Spence Academy

Gemma Doyle Trilogy - Libba Bray

Wearing corsets and dealing with Victorian society doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, but it might just be worth it for a chance at an epic Gothic adventure. Just remind me to stay away from the trees, okay?

St. Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters

X-Men comics - Marvel

Teachers who can control the weather and classmates who can walk through walls? Sign me up! Surely my ability to remember every lyric to every song I’ve ever heard is considered a mutant ability.

Sunnydale High School

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Joss Whedon

A high school built on a Hellmouth offers up daily chances at adventure. Plus, the library is where all the cool kids hang out.

Texas Prairie University

Morganville Vampire series - Rachel Caine

So maybe the other students can be a bit of a pain, and the whole town run by vampires thing can be a bit problematic, but I’d gladly deal with those minor flaws for a chance to run into Shane or Michael.

How about you? What’s your ideal school? Help me add to the list by leaving them in the comments below!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Book-A-Day Challenge Week 12

Though the Book-A-Day Challenge started by Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, officially ended for me last week, I a continuing with the weekly post to share what I am reading.

Picture Books:

Zen Ghost by John J. Muth - This beautifully illustrated story can be adapted for all ages.  Check out my review here.

Middle Grade:

Graphic Novel:
The Cloud Searchers (Amulet #3) by Kazu Kibuishi - This was recently released and my niece and I have been waiting to read it.  We nearly wrestled for it. Fourth and Fifth graders will love this series.

Early Chapter Book:
Betsy-Tacy (Betsy-Tacy book 1) by Maud Lovelace Hart - Not sure how I missed this series as a child but fans of Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie will love this series about two friends named Betsy and Tacy. 

Novel In Verse:
All The Broken Pieces by Ann E. Berg - I am learning to appreciate novels written in verse.  This is one that I would highly recommend.  It tells the story of Matt, who was airlifted out of Vietnam during the war. 

Unnamed Manuscript - Well it actually has a name but I can't reveal it yet but it will be out in 2 years.

So what are you reading?  Love to learn about new books.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Interview with the Elegant Marisa Hopkins - Artist Extraordinaire & Designer of My Header

Almost a year ago, I became acquainted with Marisa Hopkins through a Maggie Stiefvater fan site.  She was looking for beta reader for her writing and I was willing to be said Beta Reader.  We clicked and became e-mail and social networking buds (one of these days we will really get to meet).

When I decided to start a book blog, I knew that I wanted Marisa to design the banner for me.  I had no clue what I wanted but I knew I loved colored pencils, Marisa's beautiful designs, and that I could trust her to do a wonderful job.  Recently, she blogged about her process for drawing a picture and used my header as the basis of the post.  Head on over to her blog, Elegant Bloggery, to check it out.  

Marisa graciously agreed to an interview so that you can learn more about her as an artist. 

When did you know you wanted to be an artist/illustrator/designer?

Truly, I can't remember a time when I DIDN'T want to be an artist. Even back to my preschool days my teachers had to force me outside to play because I never wanted to leave the coloring table. I was a freshman in high school when I started looking into Illustration as a college major, though I did change my mind eventually and majored in Creative Arts so I could focus on more than just drawing - I took a lot of English Lit classes, as well as children's theatre and dance and loved them all!

I love that you use colored pencils. It is one of my favorite mediums. Was there a reason that you were led to use colored pencils? Were you influenced by anyone's work?

Hurray for colored pencil lovers! Pencils have been my favorite medium since I was ten and received my first professional set as a present from my grandma for not scratching my chicken pox. Those colored pencils and I just seemed to click, and though I have played around with other mediums over the years, particularly acrylics, pastels, and watercolors, the colored pencils have always felt the best in my hands! I'm loyal, I think. I could never leave my pencils behind. (I just have to say that professional colored pencils are amazing.  I have a set and let me just say "touch them and you'll pull back a bloody stump"**)

In this day of high tech, computers and electronic drawing, using colored pencils seem so "organic" (not sure if that is the word I want). Do you find yourself thinking differently with pencil in hand vs. a computer mouse?

I have always been drawn to traditional art. I love the look of digital art, and sometimes wish I could do it well, but it's the feel of the wood pencils in my hand and the working of the lead into the paper that I love most about creating. Maybe it's a control thing as well... I feel more in control with a pencil than when I'm trying to create digitally - perhaps because I'm not very tech savvy and computers are still a mystery to me!

You are both an artist with pictures and with words. When you are creating a story, do you see it visually in your minds eye and then write it down or do you think of the words and imagine how it would be sketched? Or other?

Hmmm... that is a very good question! When I'm writing, it's mostly about the words I hear running through my head and then scramble to write down before they float away. I actually struggle to see things visually while I'm writing, other than a general idea of what I'd like to achieve. That might be why descriptions are the last layer I add to my stories, and dialogue is the first! But at the same time, I don't often visualize my illustrations before I draw them, either. They just seem to pop out of my pencil tip and then I manipulate them until I'm happy.

Do you have an special rituals for drawing? (i.e., music, place, type of pencils, etc.)

I don't, actually! I'm used to drawing whenever, wherever, with whatever! I think having two high-energy kids underfoot all day long has taken away any rituals I might have had. However, take away the kids, and I would draw all day in my studio, listening to music, with my Design Spectracolor pencils (which I use sparingly, as they were discontinued 12 years ago, and not so easy to come by these days).

Is there a piece of your work that you are most proud of and why?

The first time I sat down and designed a piece entirely out of my head without reference shots was when I created this Blue Leopard Snake illustration during my first year of college. All my art teachers from high school had me working exclusively from photo references or from other people's artwork, and creating from my imagination was what I wanted to do most. Until this snake illustration, I wasn't sure I was capable of drawing from my imagination. Nowadays, I rarely use references, and when I do it's usually because I can't remember the size of a hedgehog's nose, or the shape of a peacock's beak, rather than an entire drawing.

When you are working on a project for someone else, how do you balance out your vision for the final outcome with what might be their vision?

In the last few years I've done many, many custom projects and find I am given a LOT of freedom just about all of the time. I'm not sure if it's that my customers don't necessarily have a complete vision of what they want, or if they are familiar enough with my work that they trust whatever my vision might be, because usually a customer will say something like, "I want a monkey in a car" or "I want a pink cupcake with some flowers and a kitten" and I have to figure out for myself what that will look like. Custom orders are a challenge, especially as I'm never sure of what I'm doing until after I send off my first sketch and get that thumbs up or thumbs down. But if my sketch doesn't cut it the first time, it's always the starting point for more direction ("Sprinkls on the cupcake!" or "Big ears on the monkey!") and that always helps!  [Let me just say...this is true...she takes sparse thoughts and does good work.]

If you could meet or work with any artist living or dead, who would it be and why?

I am such a fan of Mary GrandPre (well known for her work on the American Harry Potter covers) and would LOVE to peek into her workspace and watch her create! Because of her, I have tried and tried, and tried again to use pastels well... but alas, I am no Mary Grandpre and end up with nothing but chalk smears and messy fingers, clothes and hair. Her work is absolutely brilliant and I admire her use of color very much!

Thank you Marisa for sharing with us your love of colored pencils and design work.  If you would like to purchase any of Marisa's work, she has an etsy site that you might want to check out.  

**If anyone can guess where the quote came from, I will give the winner a print from Marisa's Esty site.  Winner may select one print worth up to $21 plus shipping.  (All guesses must be made prior to September 17, 2010. If more than one person guesses right, a drawing will be held for a winner. Leave guesses in the comment section.) Hint:  It is from a TV show - off the air now, but still in syndication- not a book.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back-to-School Guest Post: The Love of Reading - Pass It On!!

This month I am welcoming authors, bloggers, librarians and teachers to share about "Back-to-School" memories or experiences.  Today's guest blogger is Mel from He Followed Me Home

It all started when my oldest was still in my womb. Yes, I was one of those crazy first time moms who read to their unborn! Even now, every night we read a book together- though many times I thought it was also used as a stall tactic. We started out reading Golden Books, then onto my favorite Eric Carle books, Dr. Seuss and Rober Munsch. Now that he's reading chapter books on his own, it's been Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and most recently The 39 Clues series. Each night, we still have the bed time story ritual, but now he reads to himself.

Last spring during a parent-teacher interview, I was shocked to hear that some students in my son's Grade 2 class didn't have books at home. This was something I had never really thought of, taking for granted all the books I had growing up, visiting the library & the bookshelves of kids books I've accumulated over the years. It was then that I realized how fortunate my son is to have the love of books supported at home! He is no bookworm by any means. In fact, if given the choice of Lego or reading he'd pick Lego in a heartbeat, but I know the time he does spend getting lost in a book every night is invaluable.

As a mom of two boys, it's doubtful that my love for The Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High or Anne of Green Gables will ever be shared but I'm proud to pass on my love for books. I can't wait for the time he picks up Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl and The Lord of the Rings. What other books do you consider 'must reads' for pre-teen or teen boys?

Thanks Mel for sharing about how you have passed on your love of reading to your sons.  If you want to know more about Mel, check out her blog: He Followed Me Home

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Review - Zen Ghosts

Author/Illustrator: Jon J. Muth
Publisher: Scholastic Press (September 1, 2010)
Age Level: 4 to 8 years
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

On Halloween, Stillwater the panda, who dons a spooky costume and mask, promises his friends Addy, Michael, and Karl a spine-tingling ghost story to be told by a mysterious storyteller.
The storyteller--who looks remarkably like Stillwater--tells the children an unforgettable ancient Zen story about a girl named Senjo who hopes to marry Ochu, the boy next door.
But Senjo's parents have different plans for her future. They want her to marry a more prosperous man than Ochu--someone who will care for the family and her ailing father.
Heartbroken by the prospect of being separated, the two run off to a far away village and marry.
As the years pass, Senjo's regret for having left her family slowly eats away at her happiness, and she and Ocho return home to make amends.
But a surprise ending is in store. For Senjo's father swears his daughter has been sick and living at home with him the entire time. Yet Ocho knows differently, for he has been living with Senjo for many years. What is the truth? Who is the real Senjo?
The story of Senjo was originally written down by a Chinese Buddhist Monk Master named Wu-men Hui-hai in the early 13th Century. This type of story, called a Koan, is used by students of Zen to attain enlightenment. It provokes thought and conversation--yet has no concrete answers.
With Zen Ghosts, Muth has once again presented an original, beautifully crafted story, perfect for Halloween--or any time. 

This is the third book in Jon Muth's "Zen" series.  In Zen Shorts, the reader is introduced to Stillwater, the Giant Panda, who tells tales to three siblings (Addy, Michael, and Karl).  The tales each are intended to assist the children in looking at things from a different perspective.  In a similar vein, Stillwater has returned to provide new insight to his three young neighbors.  In a nod to Halloween, the children are each dressed up and go out into the neighborhood trick-or-treating.  They are joined by Stillwater, who is dressed as a ghost (of sorts).  

Muth's watercolors are breathtaking, and the two page inner spread captures the magic of a neighborhood in full Trick-or-Treat mode, with children dressed up in costume, and trick-or-treat bags.  I was mesmerized by the beauty of the paintings and the richness that they contribute to the story. 

In this installment, Stillwater shares with the children a surprise - their own special ghost story in the form of a Koan based on an original Zen story by the Chinese Buddhist Monk Master Wu-men Hui-hai.  The story presents to the children a mystery - how can one girl both be the wife of a man but also lay ill in her parents' home?  As with any koan, the intention is to provide the listener with a puzzle to contemplate.  

For younger children, the dichotomy presented in Stillwater's story may be confusing.  For older children, this same dilemma can provide for valuable conversation to develop critical thinking skills. This is a beautiful book and an excellent addition to any personal collection or school library collection.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pssstt....Happy Book Birthday to The Familiars

Best Wishes to Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson!  Their debut Middle Grade Book The Familiars is out today!!!!

Back-to-School Guest Post: So Long to the Dog Days of Summer

Let's give a big welcome to YA author, Judith Graves to Kid Lit Frenzy.  Judith's debut book UNDER MY SKIN is a favorite of mine from this year.  In addition to being an author, Judith is also an elementary librarian.  She is stopping by today to kick off my September Back-to-School feature

So Long to the Dog Days of Summer

As both a library technician, working in an elementary school library, and a young adult author, I freely admit the September BACK TO SCHOOL buzz is a favourite time of year. And I’m not the only one working in education as my husband is a high school social teacher and basketball coach.

Let me put this in perspective for you. We have summers off together. Just us and our two crazy labs. All summer long. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love my hubbie, fur kids and summers off. More time to chill. To renovate. To write. To procrastinate. But, and maybe I’m a sicko (more than likely), I relish going back to school.

There are the school supplies lining store shelves. The cool notebooks! (I have a coil notebook obsession, don’t you?) Even when I worked outside the educational world, I used to envy the get-new-clothes, get-new-school-stuff frenzy. September is like January (without the diets). It’s a time to embrace the future – the possibilities in life.

Now, I know this means a return to alarm clocks, granola bar lunches eaten while on supervision, stacks of books to catalogue and shelve, finding rotten bananas squished in said books, choir practice to organize, and drama club kids to recruit. But it also means hanging with the amazing staff at my school, finding out the summer gossip, meeting new students and families, feeling the “we’re back!” charge in the air, setting goals for myself, and planning a ton of cool things for my library world – plus, checking out all the new books and generally being inspired.

While I will mourn the sleepins, lazy days on the beach throwing sticks for the dogs, the travelling and doing whatever I want, whenever I want, I know I wouldn’t be half the writer, or the person, without my fantabulous job that surrounds me with opportunities to grow and learn.

So here’s to those fancy new highlighters and notebooks, bring on the morning announcements, staff meetings, and professional development workshops. But please let us have a few extra snow days this year.

You can find out more about UNDER MY SKIN and Judith Graves on her website:

Thanks Judith for stopping by and kicking off my Back-to-School Month Posts.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Review - Day & Night

Author/Illustrator: Teddy Newton
Publisher: Chronicle Books (August 4, 2010)
Ages: 4 to 8 year olds
Source: From Publisher for Review
Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

Description from GoodReads:

Day meets Night and Night meets Day in this delightful picture book based on the Pixar short, Day & Night, which premiered with Toy Story 3 in 2010. Kids will delight in the way these two characters explore their differences and eventually realize how much they like and enjoy each other. A wonderful way to experience the magic of this Pixar short again and again and—rejoice in the attraction of opposites!

I first became aware of Day & Night through the animated short which aired prior to TOY STORY 3The animated short was entertaining.  Watching the interactions between the two characters was humorous.  Consequently, I was expecting to really love the book as much as I did the animated version.  Yet, I am not certain that I did love it as much as the video version.

This is definitely one of those books where the cover and packaging produces an automatic favorable impression.  The black cover, bold white lettering, slick glossy cover, heavy-weight paper - of course it is going to be great.  The text and the ability of the printed format to carry the book to another level should be ensuring success.  However, despite all of those really cool and positive things, I was feeling only so-so when I finished reading it.  

Is this a case where the animated version causes the reader to expect something different?  I know I always say that the book is better than the movie but that is because I typically read the book before the movie.  In this case, I saw the "movie" prior to the book.  Did it spoil the book for me?  Honestly, I don't know.  All I do know is that even after a few read throughs, the book was okay - fun but not necessarily stellar.  

I will say that I enjoyed how Day & Night shared special abilities each one had with one another.  I felt that their message that their uniqueness plus the ability to overlap (even for short times) was part of an important message for young readers.  Along with the sense that they each have a part of the other one with them at all times.  

Will children enjoy looking at the illustrations and flipping through the pages?  Yes.  Will I share the book with my students.  Yes.  Will they like it?  Probably so.  Despite some minor concerns with the book, it is still a book that I would suggest to teachers to check out.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Book-A-Day Challenge Week 11

The Book-A-Day Challenge was started by Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer) at the beginning of the summer. Most of the teachers and librarians who have been participating in Book-A-Day have wrapped up their Book-A-Day posts since they have already returned to school.  This is my last "official" book a day post, but I will continue to post weekly "what I am reading".

Here are some things that I learned from Book-A-Day...

* I read a lot of books that start with the letter "S" and followed by "B", "R", and "C".

* Graphic novels I have learned to enjoy.  Manga still confuses me.

* Most books for 2nd & 3rd graders seem to contain a lot of humor.

* Picture books are a great fall back when you aren't going to reach your weekly goal. :-)

* Yes, it is possible to read this many books and still have a life in the summer.  (You won't watch much TV but that wasn't an issue for me anyway.)

* There are some inspirational teachers and librarians doing amazing things to get kids to read.  I have come to really appreciate all of my fellow #bookaday tweeps.

Here is the breakdown of books by general categories:

Picture books: 51 (fiction, non-fiction)
Middle Grade: 20 (mostly fiction, early chapter books, graphic novels included)
YA: 19 (includes graphic novels, and manga)
Other: 5 (includes adult books, and 3 full length unpublished manuscripts which I read in order to provide feedback)

Total number of pages: It is unclear but from a general count well over 9000 and that doesn't even consider the pages in picture books. 

To look back on last week's reading:

Picture Books

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts - A wonderfully touching story about friendship and giving.

My Best Friend is As Sharp As A Pencil by Hanoch Piven - A young girl uses unusual descriptions to tell her grandmother about her friends.  Illustrations are multi-media and very interesting.

Our Children Can Soar by Michelle Cook - Simple text, beautiful illustrations, powerful book with a universal theme.  Excellent for Black History Month.

How To Heal A Broken Wing by Bob Graham - Feel good story about a child who helps a pigeon heal from an injury.

Redwoods by Jason Chin - As a non-fiction book author friend of mine said "This is creative non-fiction."  Lots of great facts about Redwoods told in story fashion with very complimentary illustrations that make the text come alive.

Middle Grade:
Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo - A favorite find of the summer.  A graphic novel for MG that is fun and touching.  Can't wait to share this one.

A Mouse Called Wolf by Dick King-Smith - A recommendation from a 7 year old friend.  The story is about a Mouse named after Mozart and who may have more in common with his namesake than you would imagine.  A nice early chapter book.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (debut author 2010) - A good debut offering from Lauren Oliver.  This twist on GROUNDHOGS DAY (the movie) portrays high school in a very realistic manner.  The main character re-lives her last day of life 7 times.  Can she make just the right changes in the day to influence the final outcome?

Where will I go from here?  Well I won't stop reading books but as I mentioned earlier with the school year returning my reading will likely turn into 1 or 2 books realistically per week.  I will keep you posted with reviews and features.  And I encourage everyone to set a goal of reading at least 1 book a week.  If you were to do that you would read 52 books in the year.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Winners for the Thank You to My Followers Contest

Cue up the drum roll....the winners are in!  Remember there are actually a total of six lucky winners. All winners were generated with Research Randomizer number generator.

For the 2 Clockwork Angel Posters:
# 7 - Lucky Proof
# 15 - Aik

For the 2 Bookmark Packs:

The Debut Author Pack goes to:
#4 - Raven

The 2010 Release Bookmark Pack goes to:
#2  - Lisa

And now for the big winners....

# 12  - Khelsea will be receiving her first choice which is the ARC of Torment by Lauren Kate (and she has claimed it already - yay!)

#1 - Cynthia will be receiving her first choice which is the signed copy of Heist Society by Ally Carter.

I have emailed all of the winners and you have 24 hours in which to claim your prizes. 

Congratulations to all the lucky winners and thanks for following!

P.S.  Lucky Proof (Victoria) - Your email bounced back.  I will try again, but if you are reading this can you email me at kidlitfrenzy(at)gmail(dot)com Thanks