Top Ten Reads in 2016

I escaped into the pages of  676 books this year. Whittling those reads down to my top ten was painful and nearly impossible, but here are the final picks. 
For YA:
the-catalystI was completely shocked to discover that the author of this book is 15. Her author bio mentions that she wrote the rough draft at age 13, so I researched her. I was completely impressed before I knew the age of the author and now I’m blown away. This story pulled me in immediately. I felt engaged with the characters who were authentic and flawed. The plot was fast paced and compelling. I loved the world building and the idea of angels and demons and hybrids and MAGIC. I was intrigued with the exploration of whether it’s possible to be innocently evil.
For Middle Grade:
I finished this on the day that Echo won a literary award.
echo
It’s  lyrically written historical fiction with a magical element. This book is a tribute to the power of music and relationships. The complex interweaving of characters and events makes for a powerful read that will stay with you for months afterwards. My entire family still talks about this incredibly moving story of hope and healing!



full-cicada-moonThis is a refreshing historical fiction written in lyrical verse. Told from 13 year old Mimi’s point of view, this story is raw and complicated and beautiful.  Mimi’s experience with discrimination and and displacement are met with her resilience which she explains eloquently:
“Like raindrops on granite.” I say,
because we know that’s how I persist—
drip, drip, drip
until the granite cracks.”
For Chapter Books:
My six old son loved this book so much, he was a blue super happy party bear for Halloween.
super-happy-party-bearThis book is clever, cheerful and easy to read. Filled with likable animal critters who are comically flawed, and a simple, action-filled plot, this book is fun for kids and adults. I read this book in one sitting with my 6 and 8 year olds. Both of them wanted to move on to the next in the series immediately. My 8 year old took the book to bed and re-read it that night. The next day I got requests from her brother for more SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS!
His words: “These are awesome. I love them! They are super fun and funny. Everyone should read them!”
For Graphic Novels:
narwalFilled with engaging illustrations and humor, this book is pure delight. My 6 year old has decided this is the perfect book for mid morning, mid day, mid afternoon, before bed and after he should be asleep. So MUCH fun!



For Picture Books:
ida-always
Wow! This book is lyrical and lovely. It touches on death in a peaceful and hopeful way. It’s a great book for evoking discussion of death and friendship. The illustrations add depth and power to the well chosen words. The bond between Ida and Gus is unmistakable and there’s an emotional resonance to this story that stays with you long after you’ve read it.


a-hungry-lionThis is a brilliantly funny book, filled with surprises. The illustrations work seamlessly with the text to create a story that you will want to read over and over again.




ada-twist
Written in rhyme, this rollicking book highlights a brilliant little girl who asks what, why and how? She answers her questions with creative experiments.  I love the message that girls can and should do science.



normal-normanNormal Norman celebrates being different. It’s an extraordinary book filled with quirky humor, bright and lively illustrations and a message of how powerful it is to be an individual.


norberts-big-dream
To read the rest of this review, go to Writer's Rumpus, here.

What are your favorite books in 2016? 

Book Review of Once Upon a Memory

What writers and illustrators can learn from Once Upon a Memory...

How to…

  • infuse lyrical language and meter.
  • create a guessing game with compelling questions and predictable rhyme.
  • enhance the text with whimsical and vibrant illustrations.
  • provoke discussion with intriguing backmatter and related questions.
  • combine fantasy and reality in a way that resonates with children and adults.
  • Include concepts like “before” and “after” that teach and delight.

“Does a cake remember it once was...grain?  Does an ocean remember it once was...rain?”  

Once Upon a Memory, written by Nina Laden and illustrated by Renata Liwska beautifully combines lyrical language, rhyme and whimsical illustrations to create a moving book about memories.  The personification of each object helps the reader enter a magical world of “before and after”.  The structure of this story lends itself to guessing what words will come next, and even when the answers are unexpected, the predictable rhyme will make you want to read this book more than once.  We also adore the backmatter at our house!  The author and illustrator both share memories and ask:  “What are some of your favorite things to remember?”  This question inevitably leads to great discussions about memories of cookies and how we should be making more cookies and therefore more favorite memories!  This book is a luscious read and well worth studying as a mentor text for anyone who wants to write lyrical, yet sparse texts.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus--an Excellent Mentor Text

What writers and Illustrators can learn from The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus...
How to...


  • Create a biography that fully engages the reader and involves the common core.
  • Interweave illustrations, words, and personality quirks to make a person come alive for a young audience.
  • Use collage to enhance the message of the story.
  • Organize intriguing backmatter.
  • Celebrate the power of words and education with story.


Amazing, astounding, breathtaking, extraordinary, impressive, marvelous, spectacular, wonderful, captivating.  The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is all of this and more. The thesaurus has been a beloved companion of mine since childhood.  Learning about Roget and his list-making genius made me smile. This is a biography well told through the perfect interplay of words and illustrations.  We learn about the power of words and how Roget's thesaurus became what it is today.  Jennifer Bryant artfully chooses the perfect words to describe Roget and his life.  Roget's introversion, his need for the thesaurus to be accessible to all classes, and his drive to learn make him someone that I wish I could meet.  This book includes some of the best back matter I've ever seen in a picture book:  A list of principal events, author and illustrator notes, a list for further reading and an actual picture of the original word book.  This book genuinely uses just the right words to make Roget's story come alive!  

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus--an Excellent Mentor Text

What writers and Illustrators can learn from The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus...
How to...


  • Create a biography that fully engages the reader and involves the common core.
  • Interweave illustrations, words, and personality quirks to make a person come alive for a young audience.
  • Use collage to enhance the message of the story.
  • Organize intriguing backmatter.
  • Celebrate the power of words and education with story.


Amazing, astounding, breathtaking, extraordinary, impressive, marvelous, spectacular, wonderful, captivating.  The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is all of this and more. The thesaurus has been a beloved companion of mine since childhood.  Learning about Roget and his list-making genius made me smile. This is a biography well told through the perfect interplay of words and illustrations.  We learn about the power of words and how Roget's thesaurus became what it is today.  Jennifer Bryant artfully chooses the perfect words to describe Roget and his life.  Roget's introversion, his need for the thesaurus to be accessible to all classes, and his drive to learn make him someone that I wish I could meet.  This book includes some of the best back matter I've ever seen in a picture book:  A list of principal events, author and illustrator notes, a list for further reading and an actual picture of the original word book.  This book genuinely uses just the right words to make Roget's story come alive!  

The Body Institute, By Carol Riggs



The Body Institute, a young adult novel by Carol Riggs, is a compelling read with an intriguing premise.  It grapples with body image and scientific technology gone awry.  What if you could swap bodies? What if you could pay someone to enter your body and lose weight for you? Would you do it?  Do our bodies affect who we are inside?  Does our consciousness change with changes in our physical appearance?
Carol Riggs explores all of this with her engaging characters and fast paced plot. The book shines a light on fat shaming in a way that seems eerily close to the truth in our world today.
Morgan is a teen girl who needs money to keep her family out of the slums. Although she is brilliant, her application for a school grant is suspiciously denied. She discovers she will get the grant if she becomes a REDUCER and allows her brain to be uploaded into the body of a girl who is 100 pounds overweight. Morgan must lose the weight before she can be returned to her own body. She imagines the job will be fairly easy and without lasting consequences, but when her thoughts are invaded by those of the girl she’s inhabiting, will her views change? She begins to consider: “Are we our minds…or our bodies?”
This book is well worth the read for anyone who enjoys sci-fi or simply enjoys a good read!
What are you reading this summer?

Life's Homework and Collecting Stories

Recently I watched a Ted talk by Matthew Dicks.  He’s a masterful storyteller and his Homework for Life changed my perspective on writing and storytelling. His advice for finding stories is powerful and simple.  He challenges us to take five minutes at the end of each night to really think about the day and write down the most story worthy moment:  “When you start to look for stories in your life, you suddenly have stories well up”.  He suggests that we ask ourselves:
  1. What’s the 5 minute story from today?  
  2. What makes today different from yesterday?
Taking the time to really contemplate my day and find something story worthy has made me pay more attention to each moment.  My Life’s Homework document contains thoughts like:
  • Sheri can’t get the ring on Jim’s finger at wedding
  • Sammy at 5:30am asking for story cubes
  • ​Fox with chicken in mouth and dropping her when startled
  • Plane delayed 2 hours and got home at midnight.
To read more of this post, go to Children's Book Academy, here

5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Library Card

Children's Librarian, Kimberly Bears Shares her Wisdom

Picture
Last month I wrote about 5 ways to make the most of your library card.  This month, I decided to interview my favorite children's librarian, Kimberly Bears.  I first met Kim in the children’s section at my local library 5 years ago.  I’ve never known a more cheerful, helpful and engaging children’s librarian.  I still go to night readers, a tween and parent book club that she leads.  I’m delighted to have her perspective here on Children’s Book Academy.  

Kirsti Call: Why did you choose to go into library science and focus on kidlit?

Kimberly Bears: I have always loved going to and working in the library.  I think in the back of my mind I always wanted to be a librarian, but was side tracked by meteorology first.  Anyway, I was taking a Ch. Literature course in college and one of the projects I chose to do was do a story time.  I remember it vividly…it was on my birthday, and I chose to do a Halloween story time (you were allowed to do that back then ;)  I dressed up like Dorrie the Witch and shared the book Dorrie and the Witch’s Imp.  It went so well!!  I left the room knowing exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life…be a Children’s Librarian…and I am still doing it.

Picture
KC: What was your favorite book as a child?

KB: My favorite book as a child was The Three Billy Goat’s Gruff by Paul Galdone.  My first grade teacher read it to us and I immediately went home and told my family all about it.  My Dad said he would take me to the library that weekend to see if we could borrow it.  I can still remember him showing me how to look it up in the card catalog and how to ask the librarian where to find it.  I was hooked from then on!  (Luckily the book was in…or who knows where I’d be now…lol.)  Can you even believe that I was in first grade before I actually went to the library for the first time?

KC: Who is your favorite children’s author and why?

KB: 
Oh man…this is a tough one…so many levels of books, so many genres…I honestly can’t pick just one!  How about if I give you my favorite one for today…I just read Flora and the Peacocks by Molly Idle and I loved it! 
To read the rest of this interview, go to Children's Book Academy here.

Talented Author, Miranda Paul and Trainbots

Miranda Paul.jpgI first met Miranda Paul through the 12×12 challenge.  I was immediately impressed by her passion and willingness to give back to the kidlit community. She’s a fellow blogateer for Children’s Book Academy and an incredible wordsmith. Exactly 4 weeks from today her newest book, Trainbots, will be released! I’m thrilled to interview her on Writers’ Rumpus!
Kirsti Call: When did you start writing children’s books, and why?
Miranda Paul: Technically, second grade. But I’m sure that’s not what you meant. I took my first class on writing for children in 2003 with Lucille Clifton. During that class I realized how hard writing a children’s book was. It wasn’t until 2010 that I finished my first official draft of a children’s story. I think I’ve always wanted to write for children because it’s such a transformative time, and books are such an influential part of that. I also think it’s where my talents are best suited.
KC: What was your favorite picture book as a child?  
MP: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
KC: I just read Whose Hands Are These? to a group of 2nd graders and they loved the guessing game. What sparked the idea for this story? whose_hands_final_cover_lo-res
MP: I started working at a very young age, and have had many jobs throughout my lifetime so far. I’m also fascinated by what hands can do to help others, especially when my husband fixes (or builds) things around the house. Combined with my love for some other interactive “game” picture books, Whose Hands Are These? was born.
KC: Many of your books are non-fiction.  What type of research is usually involved?
To read more of this interview, go here, to Writer's Rumpus. 

Poetry Month

*This was originally posted on Writer's Rumpus, here.
journal
I’ve always loved poetry.  Robert Frost’s STOPPING BY THE WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING and Emily Dickinson’s I’M NOBODY are permanently seared into my memory from childhood recitations.  My first published poem in the elementary school newsletter still makes me smile: “…he howled and yowled all through the town, which made the sheriff frown.  And that is why my dog’s in jail and that’s the end of my tale”.  
I still memorize poetry with my children.  We can recite IF and DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT and O CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN.  I read  Jane Yolen’s poems daily. If you sign uphere, one of her phenomenal poems will come to your inbox every day. But until recently, I hadn’t written poetry for about 20 years.  I just finished taking Renee LaTulip’s Lyrical Language Lab.  (Thanks Kidlit411 for the amazing prize!)  What a wonderful way to get me writing poetry again!  I’d forgotten how much fun it is to puzzle out a meter and rhyme!  This month I’m also participating in Angie Karcher’s Rhyming Picture Book Month challenge.  Every day I read 2 rhyming picture books and a blog post about writing rhyme well.  I love the idea of a full month of focusing on the power of poetry!  
Here’s a poem triggered by an assignment from Renee.
Daddy Long Legs
I see your shadow–
Eight angled knees looming over my journal–
An anorexic octopus sans ink.

Delicate as a bird’s wings–
Ravenous for my words,
The things of my heart…

But I wonder about you–
A spider, confider, an object of beauty…
A creature unruly, unchecked by your duty.

I’m grateful for poetry and here’s my challenge for you:  Take a moment to read or write a poem this month.
What is your favorite poem?  Please share your favorite or share something that you’ve written this month in celebration of poetry!

3 Kids' Reviews of Newbury Honor Book, Echo

Picture
Echo by by Pam Muñoz Ryan, is one of those books you can't put down. Ryan masterfully interweaves magic, pain, and hope with historical fiction in a way that resonates deeply with . The book is an incredible tribute to the power of music and how it spreads hope and healing. My 3 oldest kids devoured this book after I told them how good it was.  Their thoughts are below: 

James Call, 14 years

Echo
 by Pam Munoz Ryan is an incredible book. It starts out with a very intriguing prologue that makes you wonder whether the book is fantasy or realistic fiction. There are three parts to this book, and each part has it's own story and main character. All of those characters have one thing in common. They all love music and play the same harmonica, a harmonica that has a special ability to make them and others feel happiness and hope. The first character finds it in an abandoned attic, and because he works at the harmonica factory in Germany, he ships it to the Americas. The second character buys it from a music store, and later gives it to charity. The third character has a teacher that gives everyone in the class harmonicas, and she gets the special one. Overall, Echo has very good character development and a great plot. I would definitely suggest this book to anyone who can read. (It won a Newbury Honor Award).

Naomi Call, 12 Years

Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, is an enjoyable book. It is well written, and very unique. Echo is all about the power of music. I love music, and that was something that I really liked about this book. The harmonica helps each of the characters with something different. One character that resonated with me was Mike. Mike plays the piano and takes good care of his little brother Frankie. I also play the piano, and have three younger siblings.  This is a lot of sorrow in this book, but it’s also hopeful. As an avid reader, I would highly recommend Echo to anyone. 


Sydney Call, 10 years


Echo is a great book that has three different people in it: Friedrich, Mike and Ivy. Each person has the same magic harmonica and all of the stories are happening around a war but in the end all of the characters get together. Ivy is my favorite character. I like the part when she says: "Your fate is not yet sealed. Even in the darkest night, a star will shine, a bell will chime, a path will be revealed." I really loved this book. I highly recommend that you read it.  

We all give this book 5 stars!  If you haven't already read it, now's the time to go to the library or your local bookstore and check it out!  What have you read lately that resonated with you? 
*this post was originally on Children' Book Academy, here.

Interview with Anna Staniszewski talented author of Finders Reapers

Anna Staniszewski
I first discovered Anna Staniszewski when my kids and I read her Dirt Diary series.  We adored them and quickly devoured herUnfairy Tale Life series.  Anna’s books are fast paced, clever and adorable!  I expected my girls to love these books, but even my 14 year old son reads them and was excited when he heard about Finders Reapers.  I’m thrilled to have Anna on Writer’s Rumpus today!
Kirsti Call: Finders Reapers is a clever, fun, fast paced read.  How did you come up with the idea?

Anna Staniszewski: The idea for the first book in the series, I’m With Cupid, came from a brief mention of a play in the British classic The Children of Green Knowe in which Cupid and Death accidentally swap powers. I loved that idea and wondered what would happen if those mythical characters were average middle school kids. For the sequel, Finders Reapers, I wanted to throw my characters into the midst of more magical mayhem and see how they dealt with it.:)
KC: What is your process and how long did it take you to complete the book?
AS: These days I sell most of my books on proposal which means that I send my editor a few sample chapters and a detailed synopsis, and then I have to complete the book by a specific date. That means that from the time I start writing a book to the time it hits shelves, it’s usually about a year. I guess you could say my process is a bit stressful, but I seem to work best when there’s a little adrenaline involved!
KC: Do you have a writing schedule?i'm with cupid final cover
AS: I used to! Then my daughter was born and that all went out the window! These days, I sneak in writing time whenever I can. If I don’t have time to write every day, I try to still check in with my current project every day or two (even if it’s just five minutes of brainstorming while I’m in the shower) so I don’t get too far away from it.
KC: How do you choose what to write about?
AS: When I get a story idea, I usually write it down and then go back to it later to see if I still like it. If I do, I’ll see if I can come up with some concrete scenes that would happen in the story. If those scenes start playing out in my head like a movie, that usually means there’s something there worth pursuing. If there’s no movie then I often put the project aside and let it stew for a bit longer.
To read more go to Writer's Rumpus, here.

My Collaboration with James on Penny Parker Klostermans's Blog!

Kirsti Call and her 14 year-old son, James

James’s Movie: Clouds

Artist Statement: The ever changing nature of clouds makes me think of how life gives us a fresh start every moment of every day.

Kirsti’s PoemSlide1

A photo of the collaborators.James and Kirsti Jan 2016 copy
Many thanks to James and Kirsti for sharing their talents with us today.

Photo by London
Photo by London

Meet James: James Call is a 14 year old boy who loves drumming, singing, and making movies.  You can follow him on YouTube, here.  Or Instagram, here.  He’s currently rehearsing for his role as Reverend Shaw in FOOTLOOSE for the local middle school.

James and Kirsti copy

Meet Kirsti: Kirsti Call is a homeschooling mom of five. Her debut picture book, The Raindrop Who Couldn’t Fall, came out December 2013. Her family band, Calling Out, plays songs written by her children. She contributes to Writer’s RumpusKids are Writers and Institute of Children’s Literature. If you visit her house, you’ll likely find her reading or writing. You can find out more about her at www.kirsticall.com or on Facebook or Twitter.

See all the Call Family Collaborations:
Side note:  James showed me this movie without the surprise ending when I wrote the poem.  I got a good laugh when I realized what he added without my knowledge :)