Friday, April 29, 2016

Bentonville's Second Annual Youth Literature Festival, 2016

Spring Greetings!

Last Friday & Saturday my husband and I took a weekend vacation to Bentonville, Arkansas, to help support the community's fairly new children's literature festival. The event was held at the Bentonville Public Library where picture book, poetry, and YA authors presented seminars to children, teens, and adults.

We knew many of the authors attending, so this felt more like a reunion with close friends than a literature event. The authors in attendance were Henry Cole, Obert Skye, Mary Casanova, Janet Wong, Cheryl Harness, Michael Spradlin, Kashmira Sheth, Karen Akins, and Roland and Marie Smith.

Roland and Marie's daughter, Bethany Culpepper, was responsible for starting up the festival. She and her staff did a fabulous job in making things run smoothly for their second annual event. Keep up the good work!

On Saturday morning, we headed to the library and started our day with Ard Hoyt. During his slideshow, he showcased a new picture book series he and Amber Harris, a Bentonville author, worked on together called Wisteria Jane. Amber was actually in attendance and Ard turned some time over to her to describe the ten book series. Their books are about a little girl who gets into hilarious trouble but tries to blame it on her dog or other people. The next book in their series, Bingo Did It!, will come out in October.

After Ard's presentation, we watched Roland Smith present. My husband had never heard Roland before, so it was a treat for him to learn about Roland's adventurous life of zoo keeping, mountain climbing, world traveling, and storm chasing that led him to becoming a successful YA author. During Roland's presentation, he showed the upcoming cover for the sequel to Beneath called Above. That will be coming out in September. I look forward with GREAT anticipation to the ARC of Above I should be receiving soon!

After a short lunch break, we headed off to our next presentation with Henry Cole. We had both heard Henry present before, but his stories, humor, and quirky character always bring us back for more! At the end of his presentation, he turned on some music and drew his Sammy Shine character from his new book The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine. So fun!

Finally, our last author of the day, Karen Akins (pictured below), was new to both me and my husband. Karen is another Bentonville author but she specializes in humorous YA science fiction. She has written two books, Loop and Twist, that are a duology based on time travel. Her presentation was more about writing than discussing her books. She compared telling a good lie to writing successful fiction. She used examples from Harry Potter and the board games, Balderdash and Monopoly, to illustrate her points. She also gave some good writing tips on what to do when you get into a writing slump. One suggestion was writing your story from the antagonist's perspective. So for a few minutes we all took some time thinking about our favorite story and then tried to write a scene from the antagonist's perspective. A very insightful and instructive presentation!

When we finished for the day, we joined the authors in the library's "Walmart Room" to get books signed. Bethany had invited us, my mom, and my Warrensburg buddy, Linda, over to her house for a Happy Hour with the authors. Of course we don't drink, so we enjoyed our bottled water while getting to know the authors even better and solidifying friendships.

After the Happy Hour was over, we walked around downtown Bentonville. It seriously is a lovely, homey place with lots of charm, artistic flare, and character. We definitely plan on returning for next year's festival!

Stay tuned for next week's highlights of the Allen County Young Author's Celebration!     

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine by Henry Cole

Jimmy has built a flight-ready, small aircraft, and he’s itching for a test pilot. So, he steals Hanks’ pet mouse, Sammy Shine. But the launch goes awry when Jimmy accidentally destroys the plane’s remote. Sammy takes over the controls, but he eventually crashes inside the wild Great Woods. Once there, Sammy meets a mouse clan and their friendly leader, Osmund. Osmund believes Sammy is magical because of his airplane, but warns that Mustela, the evil weasel, will want it to take over the woods. When Sammy’s aircraft disappears and Mustela isn’t to blame, Sammy searches for Goggles, an old and wise raccoon, for advice.

Cole’s wildly imaginative novel is a perfect mix of such classic stories as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Sammy loves his reclusive, relaxing life as Hank’s pet. But when Jimmy launches Sammy in the plane, Jimmy also initiates Sammy’s confidence, intelligence, and courage while facing the unknown world. From that point on, Sammy tries to jumpstart the confidence of others by acknowledging their strengths and accepting them for who they are. Supporting his light-hearted read, Cole weaves in several graphite illustrations throughout the book to bring personality to his characters and life to his setting. Each chapter beginning includes a unique drawing that foreshadows Sammy’s adventures. With Cole’s well-written story and his fun illustrations, The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine has potential to become another classic in children’s literature.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

Several apothecaries have been murdered and apprentice, Christopher Rowe, fears for the life of his kindly master, Benedict Blackthorn. After a randomly abusive episode with Master Blackthorn, Christopher returns home to find Blackthorn murdered and their shop ravaged. In the midst of the mess, Christopher finds an encrypted note left by Blackthorn. Christopher takes the message and tries to solve its contents with the help of his best friend, Tom. However, the authorities pass the blame of Blackthorn’s death onto Christopher.

Sands’ debut novel is an original story loaded with mysteries, codes, deception, explosions, murder, and outrageous courage. As readers start the book, they learn that Christopher is fearless when it comes to trying anything. This fearlessness is why Christopher is a both a good apothecary and a gifted trouble maker. But that fearlessness becomes his saving grace as he, alone, faces down the people who murdered his beloved master. However, there is one major drawback to this supernatural historical fiction. The story’s setting is in the 1660s, but the way the characters talk and think seems too modern for the time period being presented. Sands does have an author’s note stating he used modern spelling for locations and our modern calendar for the times, but he makes no mention of modernizing all the characters’ language. Also, parents and teachers should note this book is suited more for teens than middle-grade readers due to the graphic descriptions of several fights and murders. Still, on the whole, a face-paced and thrilling ride of a read.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lost & Found: Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye, illustrations by Keith Thompson

While lost in their Marvin-mindset, Tobias and Charlotte are attacked in their room by a creature who supposedly protects the Witherwood grounds. Soon after Charlotte is whisked off to the girls’ dormitory leaving Tobias imprisoned in his confining cot accommodations. However, Tobias stumbles upon his secret notations and injuries himself out of Marvin’s mental hold. With a clear head, Tobias searches for his sister and a way out.

Lost & Found in Skye’s Witherwood trilogy will have readers rolling on the floors with laughter but glued to their seats in nail-biting suspense. Skye’s brilliantly quirky narration at chapter beginnings may be hilarious, but these nuggets of insight do two things: foreshadow events for Tobias and Charlotte and give empowering advice to young readers. Skye exacerbates the story’s tension by making Tobias and Charlotte pretend to be submissively clueless kids as they secretly gather clues to comprehend Marvin’s demonic scheme. But behind the humor and adventure, there is also real heart to Skye’s story regarding the Eggers family. Anger, loss, and misbehavior may have driven them to fall apart in Book 1, but the foundational love of being a united family drives each to find one another again, no matter the odds. A magnificently written series no reader should pass up.   

Saturday, April 2, 2016

2016 Warrensburg Children's Literature Festival, Day 3

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

After a quick breakfast, we hustled over to the campus to get our seats for Obert Skye's first presentation. We got there with plenty of time to chat with Obert about his upcoming visit to Allen County Young Authors in April....which I will be attending. Yes, we may have seen his presentation before, but he is a stellar presenter. I love his closing remarks to kids in challenging them to 1) Have courage and suppress fears that keep them from doing the things they love; 2) Think BIG by giving life to their extraordinary ideas; and 3) Be Great at whatever they decide to do and don't settle for being average. Awesome job, Bro. Skye!

Next we visited Mary Casanova. Her presentation focused on how she wasn't a strong reader when she was a kid. She would start reading a book, but would get easily distracted by the inviting Minnesota wilderness and she would leave the book behind to be outdoors. She thought there was something wrong with her, but she realized many people had the same issue. It wasn't until she read Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, that she found her niche with both reading and writing. So her stories deal a lot with the outdoors whether it's her One-Dog Canoe picture books or her Wolf Tracks chapter books...all her material focuses on her love of the great outdoors. At the end of her presentation, she gave me her newest picture book, Wake Up, Island, to review. I'll be putting that up on my blog soon.

After Mary, we saw a new presenter to Warrensburg this year--Leslie J. Wyatt. Leslie is fairly new to the publishing world, but she has published a few books for young adults: River Rats and Poor is Just a Starting Place. She focused her presentation on the cliff dwellers who lived in Mesa Verde. She shared the history of finding Mesa Verde by cowboys and the evidence archeologists have discovered of the people who built and lived in the magnificent cliff palaces.

Our final presenter we saw was Stephen Johnson. Johnson is also fairly new to the children's publishing world. He is foremost a fine artist, but he has designed and written books for children. He uses his artistic abilities to create such books as Alphabet City, My Little Blue Robot, Alphabet School, City by Numbers, and A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet.

It was a fun conference! Check out these authors and their books.