Happy Book Birthday! The Teacher's Pet and Fall is for School!

As the school year comes to an end for us in New England, it's time to start thinking about next year! The Teacher's Pet, by Anica Mrose Rissi, and Zachariah Ohora and Fall is for School by Robert Neubecker are both incredible back to school books.  

The Teacher's Pet will evoke discussion about science experiments gone awry, and what really happens in the classroom.  The idea of an inappropriate classroom pet is hilarious. This book is filled with surprises in the text and the colorful illustrations enhance the fun of the story. The title is a clever word play that makes perfect sense, yet will make parents chuckle. I especially love the diverse cast of children, animals, and of course, the oblivious adult. I love how the kids are the characters in the book that understand the truth of the situation and know how to deal with it, whereas the teacher is absolutley clueless. People of every age will love this rollicking read aloud.

Fall is for School does a great job of showing a conversation between a sister who is excited about school, and a brother who is not! Periodically, the rhyming text is appropriately interrupted by the brother which adds to the humor of the story. For example: 

Recess is for playing games:
We'll run and jump and climb!
Let's go right now and join the fun.
You really must not whine!

The illustrations are darling, using a fall palette that helps us get excited for the upcoming school year.   The endpapers feature a tree at different seasons, and different colored texts show us who is talking.  As the sister eventually gets her brother excited about school, the illustrations show the kids' imaginations coming to life.  

This story will resonate with all types of children and learners and may even help the un-enthusiastic kids laugh about their trepidation, and process how they're feeling.   

Each of these stories is a great way to get excited about and prepared for a new school year!

What are you favorite back to school books?

Interview of Author Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Elizabeth's books are compelling and creative. I'm excited to share her thoughts!

Kirsti Call: I've read many of your YA books. Your characters are authentic and engaging. Cogling is one of my favorites.  What was your inspiration?  

Jordan Elizabeth: At the time, I belonged to the Utica Writers Club, a local group.  I was a member, vice president, and then president.  Another member, Aaron Siddall, is a professional illustrator.  We met up at a local cafe and brainstormed a steampunk project where I wrote and he illustrated.  Unfortunately, his illustrations weren't included.  However, we have another steampunk collaboration coming out sometime this year from Oloris. The tentative title is FANYA IN THE UNDERWORLD.  

KC: I can't wait to read that one! You infuse a lot of humor in your books as you tackle difficult subjects. As you write the story, how do you gauge when to be serious, and when to infuse humor?  

JE: Honestly, I just write.  I don't even realize something is funny until I'm rereading and chuckle.  I get an idea and just start writing.  I go for walks a lot, and that's how I flesh out my plots.

KC: What is your favorite book that you've written?

JE: Each book means a lot to me, but in a different way.  There is a book I've written that I love, but it hasn't found a publishing home yet.  Other than that book, it would have to be TREASURE DARKLY.  I laughed so hard while rereading the parts about Amethyst.  

KC: What new projects are you working on?  

JE: I'm working on a kid's story for my baby about a boy growing up in the 1960s.  So far I'm only on chapter 3.  I have to keep rereading to make sure it is appropriate for beginning readers.

KC: What advice would you give to aspiring kidlit authors?  

JE: Keep going.  I queried so many agents and publishers.  It can be daunting.  So many people told me to just give up.  Eventually you become numb to the rejections and it just makes an acceptance letter that much sweeter.

KC: Thank you Jordan! I'll be looking for your young reader story for my children!

Jordan Elizabeth, formally Jordan Elizabeth Mierek, writes down her nightmares in order to live her dreams. When she’s not creating art or searching for lost history in the woods, she’s updating her blog. Jordan roams Central New York, but she loves to travel. 

Jordan is a young adult fantasy author represented by the Belcastro Agency. 

Interview of Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth

I've always been a fan of award-winning author Frank Cottrell Boyce's books.  

In Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth, Cottrell Boyce seamlessly weaves humor into a story about a boy named Prez who hasn't spoken since his grandfather was dragged away. This book masterfully covers the issues of select mutism, Alzheimer's, grief, loss, foster-care, and the power of the the choices we make. Prez is an endearing and imperfect protagonist who longs to find his grandfather and live with him again. He meets up with an alien and together they try to find grandfather and save the world. Their adventures provide endless fun and laughs for the reader and also help us understand how remarkable our lives really are. This book made me think about my childhood, my relationships and how grateful I am to be on this earth. 

I'm thrilled to interview Frank!

Kirsti Call:  I love Spunik's Guide to Life on Earth.  What was your inspiration?

Frank Cottrell Boyce: Thank you! I honestly think the inspiration was Sputnik himself. I was driving my daughter to her Saturday-morning sports club. I stopped at the traffic lights and the idea seem to just step - uninvited - into the car.  I turned to my daughter - Heloise - and said “How about a lonely kid meets a little loud mouthed person in a kilt.  Everyone else sees this person as a dog.”  She said,  “That’ll work.” I went home and started writing. It’s the only time that’s ever happened to me. I’ve driven up and down that road a hundred times since.  I’ve even lingered at the traffic lights,  hoping it would happen again. But it hasn’t, sadly.The setting of the book - South West Scotland - is just a place that I really really love.  Hardly anyone goes there.   But we spend a lot of time there as a family.  The Cow Palace is a real thing and it really does look like Hogwarts for cows. Here it is …

KC: You do a wonderful job of infusing humor into your books as you tackle difficult subjects.  How do you decide when to be serious, and when to be silly as you're writing your books?

FCB: Oh Gosh.  That’s a tough question to answer in life as well as in art!  My father suffers from dementia - like Prez’s grandad - and he’s living with me at the moment. In some ways it’s incredibly painful - he gets confused about everything - but it’s also often very very funny. Like when he insists that I chase the monkeys out of his bedroom and I have to pretend to be chasing monkeys. The very worst things are often funny if you see them from a different angle.  And seeing things from a different angle is what art is all about.

KC: What is your favorite book that you've written?

FCB: Well it’s always the next one really.  I have very fond memories of Millions because it was my first and it was written quickly and easily.   Of Framed because I’m just really proud of it.  But in the end I guess it’s Cosmic because it’s set in space and anyone of my age is - whatever else they’ve achieved - a disappointed astronaut.  I was alive when Man walked on the Moon!  No one told me it was only going to be just a handful of men and not all of us. I fully expected to be astronaut by now.  Writing Cosmic was my chance to imagine that.

KC: What new projects are you working on?

FCB: Happily I’m working on the movie of Cosmic.  And on a new book of course.

KC: What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book authors?

FCB: I would give the same advice to aspiring children’s book authors as I would to aspiring chefs,  or engineers, or astronauts,  or parents, or mathematicians or brain surgeons or carpenters or plumbers -  read a lot!  Anything you do you will do better if you read a lot. Obviously that’s extra true of writing.

Thanks Frank!  I'm completely agree that reading improves everything!

Frank Cottrell Boyce is the author of Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth, The Astounding Broccoli Boy, Cosmic, Framed, and Millions, the last of which was a New York Times bestseller and was made into a movie by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. His books have won or been nominated for numerous awards, including the Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, and the Whitbread Children's Book Award. Frank is also a screenwriter, having penned the scripts for a number of feature films as well as the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. He lives in Liverpool with his family.

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby plus GIVEAWAY!

I recently attended a writing conference where I learned from the best and the brightest in the kidlit writing industry.  One of the panels included New York children's librarian, Betsy Bird. When asked to recommend just one book, she enthusiastically suggested York, by Laura Ruby.   

The first lines of York drew me in immediately: "The true story of any city is never a single tale; it's a vast collection of stories with many different heroes. But most storytellers believe that theirs is the only true story and that they are the only true heroes. They are surprised to find out they are wrong."   

These lines held the promise of mystery and adventure. I was so captivated that I read the entire 430 page book in one sitting. Granted, I was sequestered on a flight across the country, but I had plenty of distractions (mainly my five children and husband!) This book is filled with adventure, mystery and intrigue. The characters are engaging, the plot fascinating, and the interweaving of past and present is magical. And did I mention the puzzles? It is a tribute to the beauty and intrigue of New York City and the secrets it holds. 
It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher — a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann, a brilliant set of twins, live in a Morningstarr apartment house with their friend Jaime Cruz— until a real estate developer announces his plans to buy the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. If Tess, Theo, and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real and solve it before the buildings are destroyed. 

What the critics are saying:

“In this smart, immersive series starter, Ruby expertly juggles stunning plot choreography, realistic stakes in a captivating fantasy setting, well-wrought characters, and flashes of sharp cultural commentary.” — Booklist (starred review)

“This first volume opens up an ever expanding sense of magic, culminating in a bittersweet ending that promises bigger things to come. The past informs the present as the review informs readers: don’t let this one go.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Ruby’s latest is a high-stakes mystery novel filled with intriguing puzzles, solid world-building, and diverse characters. An engaging series opener that will leave readers eagerly awaiting future installments.” — School Library Journal (starred review)

*Win a signed copy of the book!

To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through May 6th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, please mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter and this giveaway is U.S. only. 

Laura Ruby is the author of books for adults, teens, and children, including Bone Gap, a National Book Award finalist and Michael L. Printz Award winner, among dozens of other accolades. Her other books include the Edgar-nominated mystery Lily’s Ghosts, the Book Sense Pick Good Girls, and the acclaimed novels Play Me and Bad Apple. She is on the faculty of Hamline University’s MFA in writing for children and young adults program and lives in the Chicago area. You can visit her online at www.lauraruby.com.

Top 3 Things I Learned at NESCBWI

*This was originally posted on Writer's Rumpus, here.
melissa sweet
Melissa Sweet
1. Get started!  Incredible author/illustrator, Melissa Sweet said: “We don’t have to know what we’re going to make, we just have to get started.”  How many times do I stare at a blank page, unsure of what to do next?  How many times have I failed before I even began because I failed to start? Jane Yolen echoed Melissa’s sentiment when she said: “If you show up, the muse will listen.”  Both Jane and Melissa helped me remember that when I sit down to write, the words come.  All I need to do is get started.  
Black and White JY, Heidi, Susannah
Me, Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, Susannah Richards
2. Take advantage of your great ideas! This may seem obvious.  As creatives, of course we use our great ideas, don’t we?  The venerable Jane Yolen said: “If you are blessed with a great idea, don’t debase that coinage. Make it sing, and keep the change.” Great ideas don’t sing without hard work and revision.   Jane’s words motivated me to take a look at some of my stories, find the flaws, and make them sing!
elly swartz
Elly Swartz
3. Write with heart!  In a fantastic workshop on infusing emotion into our work, Elly Swartz challenged us to write from the heart during a 2 minute class exercise.  I imagined my character and wrote:
I sit on my bed,
my heart a stone in my chest.
Its weight catapults me backwards.
I will never meet my father.
My tenuous string of hope stretches thin
and breaks,
Its remains wobble in my mind,
a tangled nest of sorrow and regret.
Writing from the heart helped me understand my character’s feelings in a way that I hadn’t before.  
lynda mullaly hunt
Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Talented Lynda Mullaly Hunt‘s words resonated with me: “If you are willing to put your vulnerabilities on the page, you will change lives.”  Is there anything better than that?
THANK YOU to NESCBWI conference organizers Josh Funk and Sera Rivers for creating an environment conducive to learning and filled with creative energy!
What did you learn at your last writer’s conference?

Interview of David Anderson, Talented Author of POSTED!

My first introduction to David Anderson was his book, Sidekicked. His storytelling had me and my 3 oldest children laughing and crying and wishing for more. I've enjoyed every one of David's books. His newest book, Posted, is another compelling read, with powerful lines like: "Words accumulate.  And once they're free, there's no taking them back." When David agreed to answer a few questions for me, I was thrilled! 

Kirsti Call: My kids and I adore Posted. Your characters are authentic and definitely resonated with the tweens/teens in my home. What was your inspiration?

David Anderson: Emotionally, the novel draws much of its inspiration from my own memories of middle school. We didn't have a Gauntlet and there was no Post-it note war (of course we didn't have cell phones either), but there was plenty of nudging and name-calling going around. Moreover there was the struggle to find that core group of friends and to keep it together at all cost. The loss of friendship at that age and in that often antagonistic environment can be heartbreaking. That's what I set out to capture, but in a way that reflected on some of the current difficulties that adolescents face--namely the constant barrage of messages, both positive and negative--that assail them every minute of their lives.

KC:  You infuse a lot of humor in your books as you tackle difficult subjects. As you write the story, how do you know when to be serious, and when to be silly?

DA: I feel it's necessary. Sometimes the drama gets ridiculous--ridiculously awful, but still ridiculous. J. K. Rowling was dead-on when she described how to deal with all the boggarts in your life. You have to laugh. It keeps you sane. It helps to put everything in perspective. It helps you to catch your breath. There isn't much between a punch in the gut and punchline (just a fine line). I try to keep that in mind whenever I'm writing. When I feel the weight of the world crushing down on my characters to the point that I'm not having any fun telling the story, I know it's time for a bit of parody, or a goofy moment, or just a good fart joke.

KC: What is your favorite book that you've written?

DA: I get this question a lot, and after some twenty books (counting ones I've written but haven't been published), I still have to say The Dungeoneers. It was simply the most fun I've ever had writing a book, and it brought back so many memories of a childhood spent reading fantasy stories. That said, every book gets its own little chamber in my heart. (Book lovers are born with more than four--we have thousands. That's why our hearts are so big.)

KC: What new projects are you working on?

DA: Honestly I need to reorganize the garage and probably lay new tile on the kitchen floor. But I will probably put both of those off so I can keep writing books (and being a smart aleck). I'm currently in the editing process with a novel called Granted that comes out in December, which is about a fairy agent charged with going out into the human world and granting a wish. Except, of course, a million things go wrong and much peril and hilarity ensues. Plus there's a talking dog.   

KC: What advice would you give to aspiring kidlit authors?

Talking dogs are funny. Superheroes are still cool. And kids have giant, hungry imaginations that demand to be fed on something besides YouTube videos and standardized test questions. There is no journey too fantastic or heartfelt or hilarious that a young reader won't embark on. Just channel your inner eleven year old and remember what it was like to believe in the impossible. At the same time, I think kidlit authors should always be cognizant of their power, not just to encourage kids to keep reading, but to get them to engage with the world around them, to open their eyes to new experiences, and to help those kids turn into superheroes of their own.

Thanks for sharing your insights, John! Read my full review of Posted, here

John David Anderson is the author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Sidekicked, Minion, and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org

Check out other blogs from the tour here: 

17-AprLibrarian's Quest
Walden Media Tumblr
18-AprNerdy Book Club
19-AprFor Those About to Mock
20-AprTeach Mentor Texts
21-AprUnleashing Readers
22-AprNext Best Book
Read, Write, Reflect
23-AprBluestocking Thinking
24-AprLitcoach Lou
Book Monsters
25-AprKirsti Call
27-AprThe Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
Ms Yingling Reads
28-AprMaria's Melange
Novel Novice
29-AprThe Hiding Spot
30-AprThis Kid Reviews Books