Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review - Marty McGuire

Author: Kate Messner
Illustrator: Brian Floca
Publisher: Scholastic (May 1, 2011)
Pages: 160
Audience: 1st to 3rd grade
Source: ARC from Mid-Winter ALA
Fiction * Early Chapter Books 

Description from GoodReads:

A fun, accessible chapter-book debut from an exciting new talent--simultaneous hardcover-paperback launch!

Marty McGuire would rather spend recess catching frogs in the pond than playing dress-up with the other girls in third grade. So when her teacher casts Marty as the princess in the class play, Marty's absolutely, positively sure that there's been a huge mistake. But after a special lesson in the art of improvisation, Marty comes up with her OWN plan to IMPROVE the play: Why use stuffed-animal frog onstage when a live one would be so much better? In the end, Marty's one-of-a-kind performance makes for an unforgettable show. Maybe Marty CAN live happily ever after, after all!

One of the most challenging age groups to write for are children in grades 1st to 3rd.  These developing readers are at all different levels.  Finding just the right book to draw them in and keep them reading - well that isn't easy.  When I find one that I love, I get pretty excited.  Kate Messner's first early chapter book is definitely one that falls in this category.

"I'd call Veronica Grace Princess Bossy-Pants if I were allowed to call people names. But I'm not.  So I won't."  - Marty McGuire, p. 1

Messner had me with this line.  I immediately became quite fond of this third grader who would rather be Jane Goodall than a princess in a school play.  Messner does a great job of creating a character who is funny, energetic, but not annoying.  I had great empathy for Marty's teacher and loved her down-to-earth parents.  And of course, I got a great chuckle out of a rehabilitating raccoon named Sparky who is currently living with the McGuires.

Since I loved this so much, I had to share it with a class of second graders.  They loved Marty as well.  Here are some of their thoughts:

"I like the part when she (Marty) kisses the frog." - Perla, age 7

"The book was funny, and nice.  It will be cool to have another." - Dulce, age 7

"I like Marty McGuire because it was funny.  I liked the book because Marty got a new friend in the end." - Celeste, age 8

"My favorite part was when Marty fell into the pond." - Chanler, age 7

"What I liked about this book is that Marty didn't want to be a Princess in the play, but she still did it. And she was showing courage." - Sierra, age 7

Since we were so excited about Marty McGuire, we asked Kate Messner if she would Skype with us.  She agreed and my students were so thrilled.
We asked lots of questions and even learned that there were be one more Marty book coming out in 2012 and hopefully more after that. (Scholastic - please take note that we would like many more Marty books.)  Kate even asked the students to give her feedback for possible future titles of books.  Our love for Marty McGuire didn't end here, we made sure she was featured at our Spring Bookfair at Vroman's Bookstore.

For more information about Kate Messner and her books, check out her website: http://www.katemessner.com/marty-mcguire/

You can follow her on twitter: @katemessner

She can be found on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KateMessner

Monday, May 30, 2011

Spellbinder Series Blog Tour Information

Blue Slip Media has arranged for a Blog Tour for author Helen Stringer's The Midnight Gate release.  If you are interested in checking out all of the blog posts and interviews, click on the links below.

May 23, 2011 - Mundie Kids:

May 24, 2011 - Poisoned Rationality:

May 25, 2011 - Cracking The Cover:

May 26, 2011 - Bookworming In The 21st Century:

May 27, 2011 - The OWL for YA:

May 30, 2011 - Wicked Awesome Books

May 31, 2011 - TeenReads:

June 1, 2011 - Kid Lit Frenzy (that's me):

June 2, 2011 - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books:

June 3, 2011 - The Joys of Reading

June 6, 2011 - The Bluestocking Guide:

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Spellbinder

Author: Helen Stringer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (Hardcover: September 29, 2009; Paperback: April 12, 2011)
Source: Personal Copy
Audience: Ages 9 to 12 years
Fiction * Middle Grades * Fantasy

Description from GoodReads:
Belladonna Johnson can see ghosts. It’s a trait she’s inherited from her mother’s side of the family, like blue eyes or straight hair. And it’s a trait she could do without, because what twelve-year-old wants to be caught talking to someone invisible?

It is convenient, though, after Belladonna’s parents are killed in a car accident. They can live with her the same as always, watching the same old TV shows in their same old house. Nothing has changed . . . until
everything changes.

One night, with no warning, they vanish into thin air—along with every other ghost in the world. It’s what some people think ghosts are supposed to do, but Belladonna knows it’s all wrong. They may not be living, but they’re not supposed to be gone.

With the help of her classmate Steve, a master of sneaking and spying, Belladonna is left to uncover what’s become of the spirits and to navigate a whole world her parents have kept well-hidden. If she can’t find her way, she’ll lose them again—this time for good.

"Some parts you don't want to put this book (Spellbinder) down and then in other parts you don't know if you should keep reading (because it is a bit scary)." - Jackie, age 10

Writing for children in what is considered the Middle Grades (Ages 9 to 12) can be a definite challenge.  Reading levels, life experiences, and maturation vary so much.  And just like the variety of children in this age group, books for this audience seem to also vary significantly.  However, I always love finding smart writing that holds the reader's attention, has a cast of solidly developed characters, and doesn't seem to be too old or too young for it's audience.

Helen Stringer's debut novel Spellbinder is really an amazing book.  Several times I stopped as I was reading just to admire, Stringer's use of language.  Maybe I am a little partial to British mysteries and fantasy stories, but when they are well done there is nothing better to read.

In Spellbinder, readers are introduced to Belladonna Johnson.  A 12 year old girl who can see ghosts, including her parents.  Of course, seeing ghosts isn't the unusual thing about Belladonna, at least not in her family.  However, what is unusual is when the ghosts start disappearing.  Belladonna sets out to find out what has happened to all the ghosts.  With her parents' disappearance, and her aunt and grandmother's unwillingness to include her in discovering what is happening, she must rely on the support of a classmate, Steve, and a 100 hundred year old ghost named Elsie, who died as a student and haunts the school.

Stringer works to tie in the present with a bit of Greek Mythology, and some bits and pieces of various ghost stories to provide just the right mix of creepy scary with action adventure.  As Belladonna searches for her parents and what is happening to the world, she must find the Spellbinder for the answers.  Some say she is the Spellbinder and that her friend Steve - her Paladin.  But if she is the Spellbinder, how come she doesn't feel like she has any answers?  Steve adds a bit of humor with his quick comebacks and ability to sneak into places he technically shouldn't be in, but he certainly proves himself a faithful friend.  Elsie, despite being annoying at times, proves to be quite the guide and mentor when adults don't seem willing to answer any questions.

Though the story ties up nicely, there were enough questions left unanswered for readers to yearn for future books.  At this point, if you are just discovering this series, you don't have to wait to pick up book 2 -
The Midnight Gate - which was released in the middle of May.  More action and adventure await Belladonna and Steve.  To find out a little more about the book, stop by the blog on June 1st, for a guest interview with author Helen Stringer.

When Feiwel & Friends released
Spellbinder, the original cover was of Belladonna having a meal with her ghostly parents (see cover above).  I guess they must have felt the cover wasn't exciting enough.  With the release of the paperback version, Spellbinder received an exciting update that matches the cover for The Midnight Gate.

I can see where the new covers may be much more attractive to middle grade readers.  What do you think?

If you haven't discovered Helen's website, she has quite a few things on it for children interested in her books.  You can click on the link to check out the information and games about her books: 

You can follow Helen Stringer on Twitter: @hcstringer
She can be found on Facebook by clicking

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hot Off The Press! New Picture Books (12)

This is a feature that I try to do weekly called Hot Off The Press! based on my visits to Vroman's Bookstore and checking out their wall of new picture books.  Here are the 5 new releases that stood out from the pile this week:

Author/Illustrator: John Rocco
Publisher: Hyperion (May 24, 2011)
Audience: Ages 4 to 7 (and the adults who will read it to them)

As soon as I saw the book trailer, I knew I had to see this book.  I was so excited to find it on the display shelf this week and immediately sat down to look at it.  Based on a 2003 New York neighborhood blackout, Rocco tells the story how one community learned something new about family and friends and neighbors from an unexpected event.  I have included the book trailer below for readers to check out.

Are You Awake?
Author/Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. BYR (May 10, 2011)
Audience:  Ages 3 to 6 years

Though I indicated that the audience was for children ages 3 to 6 years, I want to say that this one may more likely be for every parent who has been awaken in the middle of the night or way to early in the morning by a small child who is all too eager to chat.  The dialogue was so real and I had to chuckle to myself as I read this one.  I love Blackall's illustrations as well.  My only complaint - Why did the publisher not release this one a few weeks earlier?  This would have been a lovely picture book to gift to a mother of a toddler for Mother's Day.

Here is a link to a blogpost that Sophie Blackall wrote about how she came up with the concept for the book, click here to read.

Here is a video of Sophie Blackall talking about her illustrations:

Earth to Clunk
Author: Pam Smallcomb
Illustrator: Joe Berger
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (May 12, 2011)
Audience: Ages 4 to 7 (and the adults who will be reading it)

I looked all over the place for a book trailer or some inside peeks or other information on this book and I found so little which is a shame since this book deserves at least a fun book trailer.  I have to admit that when I looked at the cover I didn't have the highest expectations (Yes, I know - shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. Shame on me!).  But by the time I got to the part where the main character mails his older sister to his alien pen pal, I was giggling aloud.  This book takes the concept of pen pals to a whole new place and I found myself loving the quirky illustrations and how they worked perfectly with the text which completely changed my attitude about the cover by the end of the book.

Hopper and Wilson
Author/Illustrator: Maria Van Lieshout
Publisher: Philomel (June 9, 2011)
Audience: Ages 4 to 7 years old

There are some friendship books that are charming and delightful, and Van Lieshout's Hopper and Wilson fit that description.  I hunted for a book trailer for this one as well and was disappointed not to find one.  I can truly imagine these two friends in their paper sailboat bobbing along with just the right musical accompaniment.  One blue elephant in search of a staircase to the moon, and a yellow mouse in search of an endless supply of lemonade set out in a paper sailboat.  Yet, as typical in life, the two friends find something more important.  If you are a fan of Oliver Jeffer's books, then I would strongly encourage you to check this one out.

Tweak, Tweak
Author: Eve Bunting
Illustrator: Sergio Ruzzier
Publisher: Clarion Books (May 23, 2011)
Audience: Ages 2 to 6 years old

I adore Eve Bunting.  She has created so many wonderful picture books that I have used over and over again in my years as a teacher.  So, I am always excited to see what new book she has released.  After reading this one, I was bummed that Clarion hadn't chosen to release it earlier in the year.  It falls in that perfect "mommy & toddler" book category but with a release nearly two weeks after Mother's Day, there was a lost marketing/gift-giving opportunity.

I will say that I loved how this Mother and Baby Elephant's excursion is well told.  When Baby Elephant wants to fly like the birds, or hop like a frog, Mother Elephant has just the right response. The illustrations are whimsical and gentle and compliment the text.

Reading Rockets did an interview with author, Eve Bunting.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and to Pixie @ Page Turners.

The Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop runs from Wednesday, May 25th to Tuesday, May 31st.  There are over 200 blogs signed up to host a giveaway so have fun checking out all the giveaways.

The Giveaway:
I love adding books to my To-Read pile for the summer when I have more time to read.  And I imagine that if you are participating in this Hop, you do too.  I would love to know what is on your To-Read pile for the summer.  In the entry form below, tell me about one book on your list ($15 or less - on Amazon or Book Depository) and why you are interested in reading it.  If you win the giveaway, I will have the book sent to you from either Amazon (US participants) or Book Depository (Canadian, International participants).

Good-luck everyone!

Rules for the Contest:

1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section,you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest.  Any comments with personal information will be deleted.
2.  The Contest runs from 12:00 a.m. PDT on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 to 11:59 p.m. PDT on Tuesday, May 31st.
3.  You must be 13 or older to participate in this contest.
4.  If you are selected as a winner, I will notify you by e-mail.  If you do not respond within 48 hours, I will select a new winner.
5.  International participants are welcome to enter the contest.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Interview with Anita Silvey, Children's Book A Day Almanac

Today on Kid Lit Frenzy, I am welcoming Anita Silvey whose Children's Book-A-Day Almanac is the one blog that I check out daily no matter what.  I love the book reviews, fun facts, and events in children's literature.  One day I hope to meet this amazing woman in real life, share a meal, and talk books for hours.  Until then, I will have to settle for a virtual chats and interviews.

For people who might not be familiar with Children's Book-A-Day Almanac, can you tell us a little bit about how and why you created it?

The idea for the Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac was proposed to me by my Editor at Roaring Brook, Simon Boughton. He thought it would be a creative way for me to recommend the best books to teachers, parents, librarians, booksellers, and those who love children’s books. Like a regular Almanac, it is organized around the calendar. For each day of the year, I talk about a book and what makes it special and sometimes tell the story behind its creation. Essentially each essay is a love letter to a book or person. Readers can and, thankfully, do comment – often discussing their own experiences with the book. On a side bar I note other events of the day -- authors’ birthdays or historic events--and link them to other books people might want to use.

You have been reading and writing about Children's Books/Children's Literature for many years. Are there trends that you see being repeated or new ones that you are excited about?

I always say that trends don’t matter but individual books and authors do. Our great works almost never appeared as part of a trend and were often rejected by editors because they were so different from the prevailing publishing norm. One of my mentors used to say that trends in publishing are like sun spots – they come and go for no earthly reason. But great books endure.

If you could hang out for the day with your favorite book characters, who would they be and what would you do together?

After reading Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, I’m skeptical about the idea of actually befriending my favorite character in the real world! But as a child, I desperately wanted to have Anne of Green Gables as my best friend. And I still do.

As a child, did you have a book that you would identify as "the book" that got you hooked on reading?

I don’t have a single book. I loved books from my earliest memory. My grandmother trained to be a teacher at the turn of the 1900s, and I was her last, and I hope, her best pupil. My father, an engineer, pioneered all the commercial electronic devices of the 1950s and 1960s. We had the first black-and-white television and the first color television in the area. I would humor him, pay attention to each new invention to please him, and then go back to reading books. I really think there must be a genetic component for me. I even organized my stuffed animals, putting them in groups, and helped them develop reading skills.

Knowing that you have read literally 1,000's of books, do you have a favorite author or illustrator that rises to the top for you? Maybe someone who no matter what type of book they release you know you will pick it up?

I could never choose a favorite author or illustrator – there are too many. On the Almanac you will see one favorite each day! But I have often said that if I had only one book to take to a desert island, it would have to be Natalie Babbit’s Tuck Everlasting. Every time I read it, I am moved in a different way.

What advice might you give to teachers who think they are too busy to keep on top of current book releases or those who might have gotten stuck in a rut and continue to assign or recommend the same books?

They should just spend five minutes every day on the Almanac to learn about the best of the new books and to be reminded of the classics they may not have used recently in the classroom. If they want to scroll through the archives, quite easy to do, they can read about more books and often find testimonies from teachers in the comment section. The Almanac, in fact, was invented for a teacher or a parent who wants to spend a little time catching up with books --but doesn’t have hours each day.

Do you have a guilty pleasure type of book that you love to read?

I always say that all reading is good reading. To relax at night I love picking up murder mysteries – who knows why? Currently I’m working my way through Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander Mysteries, classic detective stories set in Sweden.

Thank you Anita for stopping by to tell us a little more about yourself and your love of books!  

For more information about Anita Silvey, check out her website: http://www.anitasilvey.com/
To follow her on twitter: @anitasilvey
To find her on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/anita.silvey

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Special Edition Literacy Café: Author Candace Ryan

This past week we hosted picture book author Candace Ryan in a Special Edition of our Literacy Cafés.  As part of the Café, we featured Ryan's picture book Animal House.  To read my review of Animal House, click here.

For the Animal House Café, we ran two multi-age group sessions:  one for kinder to second grade and one for students in grades three to five.  This was a special treat for children who were selected to participate.

Candace arrived with really cool props.  She met with small groups of students to discuss how she created her story and characters, and what it was like going through the publication process.

Students also had a chance to create different elements in making a group Animal House.

In the third group, students talked about creating animal hybrids and worked with partners to create, through drawings, new hybrid animals.

When all of the groups had rotated through the three activities, children had an opportunity to ask Candace questions about her book, writing, working with illustrators, and more.  During this time, children had milk with - yes - animal crackers.

Candace was a great guest in our Literacy Café.  She was wonderful with each group of students and they responded to all of the information she shared with enthusiasm and excitement.  Thank you Candace for such a wonderful visit!

Check out our animoto video:

For more information about Candace Ryan and her books, check out her website: http://www.candaceryanbooks.com/
You can follow her on twitter: @candaceryan
You can folow her on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/people/Candace-Ryan/1185104167


Monday, May 16, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Juniper Berry

Author: M.P. Kozlowsky
Illustrator: Erwin Madrid
Publisher: Walden Pond Press (April 26, 2011)
Source: ARC for Review
Audience: Ages 9 to 12 years
Fiction * Modern Fairy Tale * Elementary

Description from GoodReads:
Juniper's parents have not been themselves lately. In fact, they have been cold, disinterested and cruel. And lonely Juniper Berry, and her equally beset friend, Giles, are determined to figure out why.

On a cold and rainy night Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world's secrets in a simple red balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn't.

M.P. Kozlowsky's debut novel is a modern-day fairy tale of terror, temptation, and ways in which it is our choices that make us who we are.

Sometimes the key to writing something scary is to simply write the truth. M. P. Kozlowsky in his debut middle grade novel Juniper Berry combines just the right aspects of the truth with powerful storytelling for a novel that grabs you from beginning to end.  Juniper Berry has everything in some ways except for the attention and affection of her famous parents.  She wishes for friends, for a life outside of her family's home, and most importantly for her parents to see her again.  While exploring the woods around her home, she meets a boy named Giles.  It seems that Juniper's parents aren't the only one who have been changing.  Giles has been noticing a change in his parents as well. Together the two discover a secret that is both alluring and terrifying.  And how does a woodcutter, a raven, and a red balloon fit into this puzzle?

Kozlowsky plays with common themes of desire and hope and the consequences of getting what you asked for.  Juniper and Giles are likeable protagonists that you want to root for as they must address what is happening to their parents, the struggles in their own lives, and some attractive choices.  As I read through the story, I could feel tension that these two children are facing.  Layered with a secret underworld and a really creepy adversary, the two children must fight for their lives and the lives of those they care for.

Juniper Berry will appeal to both female and male readers.  The story maintains a steady pace culminating in a battle which will determine the winner.  Though I wondered at times if children would fully grasp the extent of the author's underlying message about temptation, I never doubted that it would be a story they would enjoy and one that would be easy to book talk.

Kozlowsky's debut novel is a winner and I look forward to future books from him.  If this is on your "to be read" pile, I would encourage you to bump it up or at least add it to a summer reading list for students.  Thanks to Kellie and Walden Pond Press, I have a hardcover copy of JUNIPER BERRY by M.P. Kozlowsky to giveaway. This contest is open to readers in the U.S. or Canada only. To enter to win, please complete the form below.   

To check out Juniper Berry Blog Tour Week 2, head on over to the Walden Pond Press blog here.
To read M.P. Kozlowsky's guest post The World Outside A Book's Cover, click here.
For more information on M.P. Kozlowsky, check out his website here.

Here is the Official Book Trailer for Juniper Berry:

* Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays were started by Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. You can check out her Marvelous Middle Grade Monday choice and Giveaway Post here.

Rules for the Contest:

1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section, you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest. Comments with personal information will be deleted.
2. The Contest runs from 12:00 a.m. PDT on May 16, 2011 to 11:59 p.m. PDT on May 21.
3. You DO NOT need to be a follower of this blog to enter.
4. You must be 13 or older to participate in this contest.
5. If you are selected as a winner, I will notify you by e-mail. If you do not respond within 48 hours, I will select a new winner.
6. Only US and Canadian participants may enter the contest.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hot Off The Press! New Picture Books (11)

This is a feature that I do weekly called Hot Off The Press!  based on my visits to Vroman's Bookstore and checking out their wall of new picture books.  Here are the 3 new releases that stood out from the pile this week:

Buglette: The Messy Sleeper
Author/Illustrator: Bethanie Murguia

Publisher: Tricycle Press (May 10, 2011)
Audience: Toddler/Preschool

Buglette is a tidy bug by day but when her dreams take over she becomes a very messy sleeper.  This is a concern for her family especially because it may put them at risk of attracting unwanted attention.  A nice twist on the theme of being different and how that might just help her family. Sweet watercolor illustrations really made this book extra special for me.

Below is the official book trailer for Buglette.


Bee & Bird
Author/Illustrator: Craig Fraiser
Publisher: Roaring Book Press (May 10, 2011)
Audience: Toddler/Preschool

Wordless picture books sometimes require more than one reading to fully appreciate them.  When I first flipped through this book, I thought "hmmm, interesting", but it was on the second closer viewing that I really began to appreciate the visual perspective of the various illustrations.  Bee rides on Bird's head and as they fly from one spot to another there is some fore-telling of what is to come from looking at parts of the pictures.  The book has a nice wrap-up for the story.

How To Get A Job By Me The Boss

Author:  Sally Lloyd-Jones
Illustrator: Sue Heap

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (May 10, 2011)
Audience: Kinder to Second

I couldn't help but laugh out loud when reading this one. An interesting perspective on how to get a job from the eyes of a child as told to her baby brother. Loved the part where in the interview she reminds him "You shouldn't EVER bite the Boss when he is talking to you. Or sit in his lap. Or fall asleep." Young children will enjoy this a lot and parents will get a kick out of it as well.

Guest Post: The World Outside a Book's Covers

Today, I would like to welcome Debut Author, M.P. Kozlowsky to Kid Lit Frenzy.  As part of the JUNIPER BERRY Blog Tour, M.P. has done several guest posts and interviews.  To check on all of the posts, head on over to Walden Pond Press for more details.

When I set out to build the world of Juniper Berry – or any world for that matter – I knew I had to create something larger than the book itself, something that would exist outside its pages, somewhere in the reader’s peripheral long after the story is over. This is what makes a book rich, fuller. So, when creating the underworld of Juniper Berry, as well as its cast of characters, I tried to establish a backstory that, barring a sequel, may never even be revealed. Where did these characters come from and what are their fates? What is the meaning behind certain markings and all the suggestions and asides sprinkled throughout? Is there more to Mr. Berry’s rants and notes? Details cannot be gratuitous. There has to be a reason for everything – readers can spot inauthenticity. I made sure to insert many details that are not quite necessary to the progress of the story, but hopefully, in the end, broaden the scope of the book. By doing so, I have answers, entire plotlines with which to extend the story if I ever choose. I believe a reader, whether subconsciously or not, picks up on this. They become further invested in the story, creating their own theory for each scenario, their own subplots. This is why, after so many books, we, as readers, always wonder what happens next, perhaps continuing the story ourselves or debating possibilities with friends and family.

As a writer, one should also create a world that came before as well as after, an entire globe of information. Where did Skeksyl come from, how did Theodore get there, what is the origin of the balloons, the doors and Roman numerals? I had to think this all through in order to make it authentic to the reader. A writer should also know the individual world of every character. Where they were and where they’re going. I never mention how the Berrys found the tree, but of course I know, just as I know how Dmitri came to work for them. Every tiny detail should be accounted for. This is world building and the reader demands it, expects it every time they open the cover of a book. Even if such aspects are not in the text, they pick up on it. The work certainly pays off – it is something I would definitely encourage to every aspiring author. If all of this is done correctly, the reader wholeheartedly buys into the world the writer establishes. Juniper Berry is very much set in the real world, but it also delves into the fantastical, which can get tricky, since the reader also has to venture there, along with the characters. If the reader does not feel like the underworld in my book is credible, if they don’t sense the depth of its creation, there will be no suspension of disbelief. In essence, by creating a world, the writer is trying to capture the reader’s imagination in full. I can only hope I have done so.

Thank you M.P. for stopping by Kid Lit Frenzy and sharing with readers about how you created your world for JUNIPER BERRY. 

M.P. Kozlowsky was a high school English teacher before becoming a writer.  JUNNIPER BERRY is his first book. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.  For more information about M.P. Kozlowsky, check out his website: www.mpkozlowsky.com

Juniper Berry Writing Contest: To celebrate the release of M.P. Kozlowsky’s debut novel Juniper Berry, Walden Pond Press is inviting all writers aged 9-14 to write their own tales of terror and temptation in at least 500 words. One grand prize winner will receive an iPad, a library of Walden Pond Press eBook, paperback and hardcover novels, and his or her story published online at walden.com. Author M.P. Kozlowsky will select the winner. To learn more: www.walden.com/win/juniperberry.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Jeremy Bender vs. The Cupcake Cadets

Author: Eric Luper
Publisher: Balzer & Bray (May 1, 2011)
Pages: 240
Audience: Grades 3 to 7
Source: ARC from Mid-Winter ALA
Fiction * Humor

Product Description
When eleven-year-old Jeremy Bender does major damage to his father's prized boat, he figures he has one way to avoid being grounded for life: Fix it before Dad finds out. But even if Jeremy and his best friend, Slater, combined their allowances for a year, they still wouldn't have enough money for the cost of repairs. 

Inspiration strikes when the boys see an ad for the Windjammer Whirl. Sponsored by the Cupcake Cadets, the model sailboat race pays five hundred dollars to the winner. There's just one problem: You must be a Cadet—and a girl—to compete. 

Confident that it will be the easiest money they've ever made, Jeremy convinces Slater they should dress up like girls and infiltrate the troop. But as the boys proceed to botch everything from camping to field hockey, they realize that being a Cadet is no piece of cupcake.

Can Jeremy and Slater earn their badges and win the money? Or will their Cupcake careers be over faster than you can say "vanilla frosting"? 

With the release of Jeremy Bender vs. The Cupcake Cadets, young adult author Eric Luper successfully transitions into the world of Middle Grade novels.  Even without reading the description of the book, and only looking at the cover and title, I was already expecting a book that would provide some laughs.  I didn't take that many pages before I was already chuckling.  The description of Jeremy's options of what he might do to avoid eating a fistful of grass and dirt being served up by the school bully had me completely hooked and then came...the megawedgie.    

As I read Jeremy Bender vs. The Cupcake Cadets, I occasionally had images of I LOVE LUCY or BOSOM BUDDIES. When an accident involving Jeremy, his best friend Slater, some grape soda and green spray paint damages his father's boat, Jeremy has to come up with an idea to raise some money and fast. He talks his friend Slater into dressing up as a girl and joining the Cupcake Cadets and entering their annual Windjammer Whirl for a chance to win $500.  (Doesn't this just sound like something Lucy would talk Ethel into?) Jeremy's plans of course never turn out exactly as he expects which makes for quite a few mistakes and lots of laughs. 

The nice thing about Jeremy Bender vs. The Cupcake Cadets is that you can easily book talk this to both girls and boys.  Luper's use of humor and short chapters will also draw in fans of some of the more popular graphic novels who have been reluctant to crossover to regular length Middle Grade chapter books.  Additionally, it would make a great classroom read aloud with wonderful opportunities to discuss things like gender, responsibility, sportsmanship, and more.  I am excited to share Jeremy Bender vs. The Cupcake Cadets with students that I know and anticipate this being a book that is frequently checked out of a classroom or school library.    

Check out author, Eric Luper's website: http://www.ericluper.com/
To follow Eric on Twitter: @ericluper
On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/eluper

Below is the official book trailer for Jeremy Bender vs. The Cupcake Cadets

* Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays were started by Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. You can check out her Marvelous Middle Grade Monday choice and Giveaway Post here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Books of Elsewhere: Spellbound - New Interview

Last year (2010), one of my favorite Middle Grade releases was The Shadows: The Books of Elsewhere by debut author Jacqueline West.  When I finished the book, I was eagerly hoping that there would be more stories of Olive, her strange home, and some unusual friends.  I was thrilled to find out that there would be a sequel.  Spellbound: The Books of Elsewhere #2 will be released in July 2011.  Just in case you are having trouble waiting, here is an interview with author Jacqueline West.

For more information about the Books of Elsewhere, check out the official website:  http://thebooksofelsewhere.com/

Hot Off The Press! New Picture Books (10)

This is a feature that I do weekly called Hot Off The Press!  based on my visits to Vroman's Bookstore and checking out their wall of new picture books.  Here are the 5 new releases that stood out from the pile this week:

Leap Back Home To Me
Author: Lauren Thompson

Illustrator: Matthew Cordell
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (April 26, 2011)
Audience: Toddler/Preschool 

With a nod towards Mother's Day, this story celebrates the classic theme of developing some independence while knowing that mom will always be there.  This little frog goes leap frogging all over the place but mama frog is always waiting for him to return.

Itsy Mitsy Runs Away
Author/Illustrator: Elanna Allen
Publisher: Atheneum  (May 3, 2011)
Audience: Preschool

You can have a lot of fun around the "I'm not going to bed" theme and Allen does just that with Itsy Mitsy Runs Away. With a twist on "The House Jack Built" repetitive lines, children will enjoy all of the things Mitsy must do before she can "run away". Below is the official book trailer which gives you a taste of the book.  I think my favorite line was "LITTLE GIRLS don't mow lawns - GROWN-UPS do!"

Author/Illustrator: Ethan Long
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (May 3, 2011)
Audience: Ages 4 to 6 

There are a lot of picture books or stories that focus on being yourself/celebrating one's uniqueness.   Chamelia wants to stand out but sometimes this can be a challenge for making friends and participating in things at school.  Can Chamelia find a way to fit in that doesn't cause her to be the same as the others. This is an enjoyable story that does a nice job with a common picture book theme.

Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator!
Author/Illustrator: Mo Willems
Publisher: Balzer & Bray Books (May 1, 2011)
Audience: Ages 4 to 7 

Mo Willems does it again. I really enjoyed the 6-1/2 stories about Amanda and her stuffed alligator who is awfully busy for being a toy. Perfect for beginning readers.  Below is a great interview/book trailer which will tell you more about this new offering by Willems.

Ollie and Moon
Author: Diane Kredensor

Photographer: Sandra Kress
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (April 26, 2011)
Audience: Ages 4 to 6 

This has been on my list to read for several months and it finally is out. Though it wasn't exactly what I expected, I was still excited about this one.  Ollie & Moon have a great friendship and trying to guess what the end surprise would be kept it interesting too. I enjoyed the cartoon characters layered over real photographs.  Check out the trailer below. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Book Review - The Pull of Gravity

Author: Gae Polisner
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (May 10, 2011)
Pages: 208
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Advanced Reader Copy for Review
Genre: Contemporary Fiction 
Read withOf Mice & Men by John Steinbeck

Description from GoodReads:
While Nick Gardner’s family is falling apart, his best friend, Scooter, is dying from a freak disease. The Scoot’s final wish is that Nick and their quirky classmate, Jaycee Amato, deliver a prized first-edition copy of Of Mice and Men to the Scoot’s father. There’s just one problem: the Scoot’s father walked out years ago and hasn’t been heard from since. So, guided by Steinbeck’s life lessons, and with only the vaguest of plans, Nick and Jaycee set off to find him.

Characters you’ll want to become friends with and a narrative voice that sparkles with wit make this a truly original coming-of-age story.

Here is one of my litmus tests for a book that I really like - I pick it up to read and get interrupted but it stays in the back of the mind whispering for me to find it and finish reading it.  In the story, Jaycee and Nick are discussing foreshadowing in reference to Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.  Jaycee tells Nick:
"I guess. But that's what makes it so brilliant.  Because, if I closed the book now, you'd want to know what happens, right? Sure, you know something's is going to happen, but you don't know what.  And you care about them, so you want to know." (quote taken from p. 87 of the ARC)

Here I was suppose to be finishing a pile of books for a project, and I start reading The Pull of Gravity.  By about 50 pages in, I realized that I had to return to my book stack and reluctantly put it down. Yet, I was already attached to the characters in Gae Polisner's debut novel, The Pull of Gravity, and wanted to know what was going to happen.  I loved that Polisner managed in less than 50 pages to already make me care about the characters and that I knew this would be a book that I would go back to and read.

Likable characters are not the only thing I enjoyed about The Pull of Gravity.  I truly appreciated that the book had short, readable chapters and was only a little more than 200 pages.  With some teenagers, I have the challenge of trying to convince them to read a book.   If they already think they don't like reading and I hand them a book that is 400 pages long, I might lose them.  If I can read a couple of quick chapters to them, make them laugh, and hook them in, then I will usually be successful in convincing them to give it a try.   

The Pull of Gravity also has a boy narrator who actually seems like a 15 year old boy.  I spend a considerable amount of time with children and teens and the majority of the teen boys I meet do not seem like the suave, got it all together male heart-throbs in some YA novels.  Many are kind of geeky, awkward, and not sure what to do around a girl they might potentially like.  Nick (the main character and narrator) says/does/thinks a bunch of things that made me chuckle basically because it seemed real.  And yet despite all of the awkwardness, you really find yourself liking him.  He is paired up with Jaycee, a quirky classmate, who wears necklaces made of troll dolls and slinky bracelets.  Together they set out on a road trip guided by the lessons of Steinbeck, and with the mission of reuniting a first edition copy of Of Mice And Men with the estranged father of of their dying friend, Scoot.

If you have been counting, you'll notice there are several things about this story that I like (characters you care about and who seem real, short chapters, humor).  Here is another one, the road trip has a purpose.  By this, I don't actually mean why the characters went on the road.  Instead, the road trip has the purpose of helping the characters change and grow.  Road trips without purpose, no matter how fun or quirky it may be, actually irritate me.  This is probably my own personality quirks coming out but still, it makes my list of another reason I liked the book.  

I, also, have to admit not being exactly a true fan of contemporary fiction.  Partially because so much of it is filled with way too much high school drama.  Consequently, I can probably count on one hand the ones I really like.  Books such as Natalie Standiford's How To Say Goodbye In Robot or Allen Zadoff's Food, Girls, And Other Things I Can't Have stand out in my mind as contemporary fiction that I adore.  Polisner's The Pull of Gravity will likely appeal to fans of those books.

Finally, Polisner creates an ending for Nick, Jaycee, and the others that is right.  Not a perfectly wrapped up ending but one that feels right for the book and for the characters.  Polisner's debut novel is an enjoyable read and I certainly look forward to future offerings.

For more information about Gae Polisner, check out her website: http://gaepolisner.com/
On Twitter, you can follow her: @gaepol

Below is the official book trailer for The Pull of Gravity: