Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dragonfly by Julia Golding

Fergox Spearthrower, has invaded several countries in the Known World. The remaining nations must join forces to survive Fergox’s tyranny. To begin this international alliance, Princess Tashi of the Blue Crescent Islands must marry Prince Ramil of Gerfal. Tashi is sent to Gerfal but when she finally meets Ramil, he rejects Tashi’s sacred gift of respect. This rejection makes Tashi feel trapped and alone in a country that doesn’t understand her cultural beliefs. Ramil is against the marriage, but he must go through with it or the Blue Crescent Islands could make war on Gerfal. Feeling constrained to help his country, Ramil tries to patch things up with Tashi. But as the two are away from Ramil’s castle, they are kidnapped by a circus group loyal to Fergox.

Dragonfly is a beautifully conceived coming-of-age story about culture, adventure, respecting differences, doubts, religious beliefs, and love. As the book opens, readers meet Princess Tashi. Tashi starts off as a somewhat demure character who reluctantly accepts her country’s charge to marry Ramil. But Ramil's rejection causes Tashi's reserved nature to crack. Then when Fergox meets Tashi, he tries to break her by threating all the beliefs she has ever held dear. That final experience causes Tashi to decide who she really is thus making her immovable and strong. Ramil even sees this transformation and he grows to respect and love her for it. Even though this is a fantasy book, Golding creates a believable and richly diverse world. An incredible story great for readers 12 and up.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Stealing Death by Janet Lee Carey

Kipp Corwin grew up listening to tales of the death rider, Gwali, and his soul sack, Kwaja. But Kipp actually witnesses Gwali and Kwaja when he comes too late to save his parents and younger brother from a fire. After his loss, Kipp vows to never let his loved ones enter Kwaja again. So with the help of a potion, Kipp steals Kwaja from Gwali. But once Kipp witnesses Kwaja's power, he searches for a way to destroy the soul sack and possibly stop death forever.

Carey is gifted in weaving together myths, cultures, and magic into a seamless and engaging piece of literature. Carey's inspiration for Stealing Death comes from African culture and European legends. This combined perspective gives the story a unique foundation for Carey's characters. The theme of seeing death as a positive thing is rare in young adult literature. Kipp has many fears about death. But through Kipp’s experiences, readers learn the need for death and the joy that occurs with life after death. Stealing Death is a very enlightening, beautiful, and original piece of literature. Good for ages 12 and up.

Monday, March 23, 2015

2015 Children's Literature Festival, Day 3

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

We started off our day with Roland Smith. He is definitely a pro when it comes to presenting his work to kids!

Roland has written over 40 picture, middle-grade, and YA books. Roland wanted to be a writer when he was a small kid, but a job at the Portland Zoo and becoming a research biologist created a 20 year detour. But from these careers, he gained the inspiration he needed to write his contemporary stories.

When Roland is writing a book, he does all the research before putting anything down on paper. When he's ready to write, he puts his research and story ideas onto note cards. With those cards he storyboards his entire book. So when he is writing, he has a clear "map" to follow to keep on track.

Roland showed the cover of his newest book, The Edge, (a sequel to Peak) which will be coming out in October.

Next we saw Antony John. John is fairly new to the writing world, but he gives an expert presentation! He has published six YA novels, with a seventh one, Imposter, coming out in September.

He recently completed his YA dystopian fantasy trilogy, Elemental. The books are set in the United States after a plague has struck the mainland. A small group of survivors have moved to the harsh islands of the Outer Banks. Many of these survivors are gifted with an ability to control the four major elements: earth, air, water, and fire. But when pirates destroy one small community, a few teens are left behind to survive on their own.

Besides talking about his books, John also gives advice on becoming an author. He says that if you wonder what is going to happen next when reading a story, then you are starting to think like an author. Also he states the importance of the "What if...?" question. This question can lead you to creating successful stories.

Next we went to see Jane Kurtz. Kurtz writes both picture books and YA novels. Her newest book is called Anna was Here.

When Kurtz was two-years-old, her family moved from the USA to Ethiopia. It was a hard move, but she grew to love the people and the culture there. Because of this experience, she has written many books based on the Ethiopian culture, racism, moving, and family relationships.

She also gave advice about becoming a writer. She said the way to be a good writer is to be a good reader because everything you read will show up in your own writing.

She asked three personal questions to help inspire writing ideas: (1) What do you think is interesting to you? (2) What is inside you that's interesting? (3) What do you know and care about?

Next we saw Claire Rudolf Murphy. For her presentation she focused on three major topics: the power of writing, women's rights, and the history behind the song "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."

She said that writing is powerful! The better you are at writing the more doors will open to you. The better the piece of writing reads, the more work has gone into it.

Because the conference is held in Missouri, Murphy brought up the history of women's right in Missouri. She had kids participate in a political debate and vote on women's rights similar to what was done in 1920.

Then she focused on her picture book My Country, 'Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights. She showed how different lyrics were used in the song during many major events in US history. She had audience members sing along to the different lyrics.

The last presenter we attended was Laurie Calkhoven. Calkhoven writes both historical fiction and non-fiction for elementary and middle-grade readers. Many of her books are through American Girl.

In her presentation, Calkhoven focused on the research she did when she wrote her three Boys of Wartime books and I Grew Up to Be President.  When she discussed each book, she shared a historical "wacky fact". These facts included how a broken egg saved the Sons of Liberty from the British; how a union girl sang taunts to Confederate soldiers in Gettysburg; how many Parisians raised ducks, chickens, and rabbits in their bathrooms to survive WWII; and how President Taft got stuck in his bathtub at the White House.

A very informative presentation for history fans.

It was a great conference! I look forward to reviewing many of the books I learned about.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

2015 Children's Literature Festival, Day 2

Monday, March 16th, 2015

We had a fun and fulfilling day seeing author presentations!

The first presentation we attended was with Deborah Hopkinson. She highlighted all the books she mentioned in her speech the night before along with two other books: her first book she had published, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, and another picture book, Stagecoach Sal.

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt is about a slave girl who makes a quilt mapping the Underground Railroad. The book is illustrated by James Ransome. Ransome did research for the story by looking back on his own family history. One of his direct descendants was a slave on a southern plantation.

Stagecoach Sal was based on two true historical characters alive during the California Gold Rush: Delia Haskett Rawson, one of the first female stagecoach drivers, and Charles E. Bolton (aka “Black Bart”), an English gentleman turned criminal.

After Hopkinson, we visited Obert Skye. He presented in Warrensburg last year and we were incredibly impressed by his presentation. We wanted to see him again this year and we were not disappointed!

Skye based his session on highlighting his newest book Witherwood Reform School. The middle-grade series is about two siblings who are left at the gates of a strange boarding school that's located on forested mesa. Going along with his storyline, Skye revealed the five secrets of becoming an author to the five secret floors at Witherwood. These five secret "floors" were to (1)Read, (2)Brainstorm, (3)Write, (4)Revise, and (5)Finish. Skye kept his large audience of elementary and middle grade students anxiously engaged the whole time! That's talent. Awesome job, Bro. Skye!

Next we attended Ard Hoyt's presentation. Ard Hoyt has illustrated many children's books for such authors as Mary Casanova (see my post for One-Dog Sleigh), John Lithgow, Molly Shannon, Michelle Meadows, and Michael Spradlin. In his session he talked about three magic ingredients that can shape you to become an author or illustrator: talent, inspiration, and experiences. Ard talked about how talent can come from anywhere, especially from your ancestors. His talents of being an artist and a cowboy were engrained in his family's history. With inspiration, Ard said that is can come from anything. Growing up, Ard was really inspired by the power of a blank piece of paper. He could be anywhere, do anything, and control the environment all by drawing on a blank piece of paper. With his experiences, they shaped him to love reading, animals, art, and being a cowboy. An uplifting and hilarious program anyone, young or old, would enjoy!

Next we saw our dear friend, Henry Cole. He talked about discovering his love of drawing, learning, nature, and family when he was a child. When Henry was in elementary school he found John James Autobahn’s book, Birds of America, at his library. The experience of looking at Autobahn's book and researching Autobahn's life inspired Henry to write his first chapter book Nest for Celeste. Henry showed students the sketches and manuscripts for Celeste, along with all the edits he went through.

As a treat to students and conference attendees, Henry shared three uproariously funny stories about his pet field mouse, Sammy Shine. Henry is in the works to publish books based on Sammy Shine's adventurous life in the Cole home.

Our final presentation for the day was with Lois Ruby. Ruby discussed the backstory, inspiration, and plots to four of her books: Steal Away Home, Rebel Spirits, The Doll Graveyard, and The Secret of Laurel Oaks. Her middle-grade and young adult books lean more towards paranormal themes during the Civil War time period.

Check out these authors and their work. I'll be putting out reviews for many of their books soon.

Next up, I'll highlight Tuesday's sessions on Monday!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2015 Children's Literature Festival, Day 1

Hello everyone! I just returned from attending the Warrensburg Children's Literature Festival. This festival has been running for 47 years! It is one of the longest running children's literature conferences in the nation. This festival's enduring history is largely due to the dedicated people who set it up. They have crafted the festival into an incredibly organized and prestigious event that attracts some prominent authors and illustrators.

The festival is held on the campus of the University of Central Missouri. For two days, 30+ authors give presentations about reading and writing, along with highlighting their own books, to hundreds of students and conferences goers. The conference is set up so anyone can go for either the full three days or attend one day of events.

It's become a tradition, for the past few years, that I attend this conference with my mother and two of her fellow elementary teachers: Mrs. Sigg and Mrs. Johnson. These woman are incredible! They have dedicated their lives to spreading the word about quality literature and the importance of both reading and writing. They have greatly inspired me to be the best writer and reader that I can be. I love you ladies!

For the next couple of posts, I will be highlighting each day of the festival and the author presentations we attended.

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

Image result for deborah hopkinsonFor those who attend the full three days, you have the option to attend the author luncheon. During this luncheon, one of the invited authors is asked to be the guest speaker. This year's speaker was Deborah Hopkinson.

Deborah Hopkinson writes non-fiction and historical fiction for young readers. In her presentation she showcased several of her books. These included Apples to Oregon (historical fiction picture book); Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building (non-fiction picture book); and The Great Trouble: A Mystery About London, The Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel (historical fiction novel). She also discussed two upcoming books: Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark (non-fiction novel, coming August 2015) and Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of the Borrowed Guinea Pig (historical fiction picture book, coming 2016).

After the luncheon was complete, all those in attendance could get their books signed by the festival's authors. I ran into several of my author acquaintances as I got my books signed.
Here I am with my dear friend, the brilliant author and illustrator, Henry Cole.
Then with another friend, the amazing author I sponsored last month, Roland Smith.
It was a fun evening that I thoroughly enjoyed!
My next post will highlight the presentations on Monday, March 16th.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Toads and Diamons by Heather Tomlinson

While Diribani is fetching water from the sacred well, the goddess, Naghali, blesses Diribani with a gift. Whenever Diribani speaks, gems and flowers fall from her lips. Diribani returns home to show her stepsister, Tana, and her stepmother the results of Naghali’s blessing. Tana decides to go to the same well and she also meets Naghali. Like Diribani, Tana is blessed with a gift. But instead of gems and flowers, every time Tana speaks sacred toads and snakes appear from her mouth. Once word gets out about their gifts, the two girls are separated and taken away from home. As time goes by, both girls realize that Naghali’s blessings come with painful consequences.

Tomlinson's book is a beautifully written and heart-warming story based on Charles Perrault’s fairytale "The Fairies." But Tomlinson takes an exotic detour by setting her story and characters in India. Unlike the usual fairytale relationship, the stepsisters love each other, their mother, and their home. After leaving home and the glamour of their gifts sour, the girls mourn the loss of not being together as a family. It seems Naghali did not grant their gifts to necessarily bless the girls’ lives. She gave them those gifts to help the girls see what was really important, family and helping others in need. A lovely young adult read great for ages 12 and up.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Little Secret by Kate Saunders

Even though Jane was reluctant at first, she and the new girl at school, Staffa, become close friends. Even Staffa’s controlling mother, Lady Matilda, is happy with their growing friendship. Lady Matilda even gains permission to have Jane join her and Staffa on their summer vacation. As their vacation begins, Jane notices that Lady Matilda acts strangely around a small, beautifully painted box that she warns the girls never to touch. When the group reach their destination on a lonely Scottish island, the box is opened and all three of them are sucked into the miniature world inside. In this world, Lady Matilda is an oppressive queen over her children and subjects. But when she tries to control Jane’s future, Lady Matilda underestimates Jane’s powerful potential.

Saunders creates a unique fairy-tale adventure in The Little Secret. In this world bugs are the means of transportation and food and sugar is a valuable commodity. But in this micro-kingdom, Queen Matilda is a dictator that forces anyone, including her children, to obey her every whim. When Jane is tricked into joining the Matilda’s kingdom, Jane becomes the lynchpin that inspires a kingdom-wide revolution. A smartly written and lively tale with great descriptions and details told from an insect-like perspective. Fans of such classic children’s books like Stuart Little or The Borrowers would enjoy Saunders story. Great for young readers, ages 8 and up.   

Monday, March 9, 2015

Mutation by Roland Smith

After Grace and the dinosaur hatchlings’ rescue from Noah Blackwood, Wolfe and Ted take Marty, Grace, Luther, and Dylan to Brazil to aid in the search for Marty’s missing parents. The tweens and the two adults split into two traveling parities as they head towards Dr. Lansa’s jaguar preserve. Before and after the two groups arrive, several members of the preserve disappear into the rainforest with no trace. Finally only Marty, Grace, Dylan, and the hatchlings are left behind with Noah's henchmen close on their trail.

The final book of Cryptid Hunters will not disappoint fans of the series. Mutation is a dangerously exciting ride as Smith takes readers soaring along the Amazon, zip-lining through the rainforest, and pursing two determined baby dinosaurs. It seems Marty, Grace, Luther, and Dylan will do anything to keep the people they love safe from Noah’s clutches. What sets these books apart from other YA adventure novels is the way Smith integrates his past characters and settings into his current writings. Besides resolving Marty and Grace’s conflicts, Smith also settles unresolved dilemmas found in Sasquatch. Also, Smith uses the setting and characters from Jaguar as the stage for Mutation. Fans of these books will enjoy their characters being spotlighted again.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Chupacabra by Roland Smith

Ever since Grace left with her grandfather, Noah Blackwood, Marty never felt Grace was safe. While all the eWolfe adults are gone, Marty, Luther, and their new friend, Dylan, decide to rescue Grace and the Mokélé-mbembé hatchlings from Noah’s zoo, Seattle Ark. Meanwhile, Grace has been searching for any information exposing Blackwood. When she uncovers several secret passageways in Noah’s mansion, they lead Grace to Noah’s private quarters and his secret taxidermy display of rare or extinct animals. Noah's horrific display and the evidence that the boys are in the park help Grace resolve to escape Noah's clutches.

An edge-of-your-seat read, Chupacabra throws readers right into the action with Marty, Grace, Luther, and Dylan as they try to infiltrate and then escape Noah’s estate with their lives. The boys are completely on their own as they sneak into Noah’s park. They must rely on each other’s intellectual gifts and the dragonspy to help them make it out alive. Besides following the tweens adventures, readers will learn more about Noah Blackwood’s diabolic plans and his evil empire as readers delve deep into the bowels of the Seattle Ark. Many mysteries about Noah are still left unanswered, which will make readers excited for the final book, Mutation. Also, fans of Smith’s work may recognize Dylan’s character from Smith’s 1998 book, Sasquatch.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tentacles by Roland Smith

Travis Wolfe and his business partner, Ted Bronson, are in need of money to help finance their search for cryptids. The two men agree to a paid expedition to capture a giant squid for the Northwest Zoo and Aquarium of Seattle. Marty and Grace join Wolfe on the sea voyage, along with Marty’s boarding school roommate, Luther. Because Noah Blackwood poses such a threat, Wolfe secretly brings the Mokélé-mbembé eggs onboard under extreme security measures. But Blackwood’s spies and his best hunter, Butch McCall, infiltrate the ship to stop Wolfe's expedition by any means necessary.

In this book, Smith gives more insight behind the reclusive Ted Bronson and his amazing inventions for eWolfe. Marty and Grace have heard rumors that Ted Bronson is a reclusive, geeky genius who has not left his hut on Crytpos Island for three years. However, Marty finds out the truth onboard Wolfe’s ship when Marty discovers a fellow passenger is not who he claims to be. As Marty, Grace, and Luther prove their loyalty on the voyage, they are entrusted with information regarding eWolfe’s secret inventions, like a dragonfly-robot, a miniature nuclear-submarine, and impenetrable aquasuits. Tentacles is an extremely action-packed, imaginative book that will keep any reader glued to its pages late into the night. The next book in the Cryptid Hunters series is Chupacabra.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cryptid Hunters by Roland Smith

After hearing news that their parents may be lost in the Amazon, Marty and Grace O’Hara are told they will live with their uncle, Travis Wolfe. Wolfe is a cryptozoologist, someone who studies legendary creatures to prove their existence. After Marty and Grace join him, Wolfe sees evidence of a Mokélé-mbembé—a small dinosaur—living in the Congo. But spies warn Dr. Noah Blackwood, a supposed wildlife expert, about Wolfe’s trip and he hires men to steal both the Mokélé-mbembé evidence and Grace. As Wolfe’s expedition heads to Africa, Marty and Grace are accidentally dropped into the Congo. With only a small device to guide them, Marty and Grace must work together to find shelter while dodging Noah’s henchmen.

Cryptid Hunters is a rousing read that is totally original in its story, setting, and characters. The story is based on a true scientific study called cryptozoology, where scientists try to prove the existence of many cryptids like dinosaurs, the Sasquatch, or the Loch Ness Monster. Then there is the setting on Wolfe’s private island, Cryptos, off the coast of Washington where he and his partner, Ted Bronson, invent revolutionary technologies. Finally there are the two main characters of Marty and Grace. They may be related and geniuses in their own way, but Marty and Grace are far from being similar in looks or thinking. This is part of a four book series with Tentacles as Cryptid Hunters’ sequel.