Sunday, December 16, 2012

Friday-ish Forward: Two Books to Help Children Cope With Tragedy

This is not the post that I had planned for this weekend. Then again, nobody really plans for the kind of tragedy that happened on Friday. In honor of the children who survived that horrible day, and in honor of the children and teachers who died, I want to share two picture books that I hope will help.

The first is The Heart and the Bottle, by Oliver Jeffers. It tells the story of a little girl who suffers a terrible loss, and her heart hurts so much that she takes it out and puts it in a bottle... Until one day when she finds that she needs it again. It is raw and gentle at the same time, and it cuts straight to how heartbreak feels to a child. You can find it at your local bookstore, or order it here.

The second is Fireboat: the Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman. It tells the story of 9/11, and how one old retired fireboat made a difference. This is a book that teaches children that there are always heroes, even in the worst disasters, and that sometimes it is the most unexpected heroes that make the biggest difference. Look for it at your bookstore, or order it here.

I think I've probably said enough for today. More tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wednesday Writing: When Critiquing Funk Attacks

Holy WOW, it's been a while since I've done one of these!

So, I've been in a strange kind of critiquing rut lately. The writing is great. But the urge to send my chapters in for critique has definitely waned. I haven't sent anything in to my crit group in a while, and when my turn rolls around, I look at my pages and think, but they're not ready for critique yet... I spent the longest time trying to figure out what was going on with me.

My crit partners? AWESOME. They are my rocks. They are equal parts friend and critique partner. I love them. The feedback they give me? ALSO AWESOME. They make me look hard at the words I have chosen and the structure of my manuscripts and how to make them as good as they can be. My enthusiasm for my pages? TOTALLY THERE. So what the fonk is my problem?

I read through some of my blog posts and recent emails to my group and the feedback I've been giving other people on their work and it just now hit me:

Critique groups are amazing, but sending in 10 pages at a time takes a L-O-N-G time! And once you get the idea of what direction you need to go in, sometimes it's better to just fix the whole darn thing. Plus, sometimes someone's opinion of a piece changes as they read through it. There might be something on page 67 that completely changes how your crit buddies feel about that horribly uncharacteristic thing your protagonist's best buddy does on page 9.

Put another way, sometimes you go a few chapters in with your crit buddies, and by then, you already know how you have to revise it. So you revise it. And then it's time for a Beta reader.

My crit group has begun to experiment with a couple of us sending in whole manuscripts, or big chunks of whole manuscripts, and then going for long stretches without sending in anything else while we work on the revision and other members submit weekly excerpts. I'm not sure if it's working yet - it's too early to tell - but it's more evidence that critique groups are not a one-size-fits-all situation, sometimes writers go through cycles, and sometimes you have to mix it up a little to figure out what's going to work for everyone.

As for me, right now, I just want to write and revise, and then send in the whole thing so my critters' sharp eyes can pick out the flaws.

How does your critique group do it?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Friday(-ish) Forward: BREATHE, by Sarah Crossan

So, last month my bookclub read BREATHE by Sarah Crossan. We liked it! Here's the blurb from amazon:

Inhale. Exhale. 
Breathe . . .
The world is dead. 
The survivors live under the protection of Breathe, the corporation that found a way to manufacture oxygen-rich air.

has been stealing for a long time. She's a little jittery, but not terrified. All she knows is that she's never been caught before. If she's careful, it'll be easy. If she's careful.

should be worried about Alina and a bit afraid for himself, too, but even though this is dangerous, it's also the most interesting thing to happen to him in ages. It isn't every day that the girl of your dreams asks you to rescue her.

wants to tell him that none of this is fair; they'd planned a trip together, the two of them, and she'd hoped he'd discover her out here, not another girl.

And as they walk into the Outlands with two days' worth of oxygen in their tanks, everything they believe will be shattered. Will they be able to make it back? Will they want to?

I found the concept behind this book really intriguing. And in today's political climate that sees several world leaders treating water as a commodity, it's not that far off, either. In the world of Breathe, someone is always watching. Oxygenated air is something that has to be bought, and it leaves people sick and struggling to survive. That said, this is where the parallels to that aspect of the real world end. While Bea and her family of "subs" do struggle to pay for the air they breathe, they still have modern commodities like showers and electricity. Bea goes to school with other kids from all tiers of society. Her best friend is a Premium. And while I found the social system disturbing, it still felt a lot like "First World Problems." This is not A LONG WALK TO WATER (which you should definitely go read, by the way).

Nor should it be. Despite its post-apocalyptic setting, this is not really a book about socioeconomics. It is a book about three teenagers and the decisions they make. It's about being faced with impossible choices and horrible truths, and growing up in the face of them. And in that respect, this book shines. Though I found myself repeatedly flipping back to check who was speaking during Bea and Alina's chapters, Quinn was a unique and very believable character, and I couldn't help empathizing with him, spoiled and clueless though he was. But the real strong point in this book is the cast of secondary characters. From the innocently obsessed Jazz, to the mysterious Maude Blue, to the freakishly bipolar resistance leader Petra, the people who populate this world are richly imagined and extremely well-fleshed-out. When I finished this book, I was left desperate to find out more about these people, and eagerly awaiting their appearances in its sequel.

BREATHE is not without its issues. The science behind the lack of oxygen, and the way Breathe controls the oxygen in the population living within the pod, could be really solid. But because there aren't enough details to satisfy my scientifically curious mind, it felt flimsy. With all that rain and all that carbon dioxide floating around, there's no way the employees of Breathe would have been able to zap every bit of plant matter for hundreds of miles. And what about other countries? Who runs their pods? How did those governments handle the drop in Oxygen? It is implied that every country responded the same way, but I just don't buy it. I felt like this book could really use an appendix to explain the science, a la AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by John Green (which you should also read), as well as more bigger-picture world building within the text itself. Additionally, even though the cover is intriguing, because it depicts a world so different from the world actually in the book, I felt that it really did the book a disservice. Every time they found a patch of moss or ivy growing on the outside, and especially when they were walking around in the city, I flipped back to the total wasteland depicted on the cover and shook my head. This is a big pet peeve for me - it's one thing to show something intriguing and metaphorical on the cover (like the infamous TWILIGHT apple), but it's another thing to show a scene differently from the way it actually happens in the book.

That said, I still enjoyed reading BREATHE. This book is carried by its supporting cast, and they. Are. AWESOME. I can't wait to see more of them in the sequel. BREATHE is out now, and can be found in most bookstores, or online at IndieBound here, at Amazon here, and for Canadian shoppers, at Chapters Indigo here.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Friday(-ish) Forward: Destroy Me by Tahereh Mafi

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll remember me getting a little excited when this book came out: 


And then I got even MORE excited when Tahereh Mafi came out to MY OWN BOOKSTORE to sign copies! ZOMG! Of course, I had to go there to meet her.

And, of course, I got her to sign the ARC that I had read. And I got her to sign another copy, too, for you guys. WOOT! More about that at the end of this post.

And, OF COURSE, I had to read Destroy Me, the e-novella that came out last month! Here's the blurb: Perfect for the fans of Shatter Me who are desperately awaiting the release of Unravel Me, this novella-length digital original will bridge the gap between these two novels from the perspective of the villain we all love to hate, Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

In Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, Juliette escaped from The Reestablishment by seducing Warner—and then putting a bullet in his shoulder. But as she’ll learn in Destroy Me, Warner is not that easy to get rid of. . .

Back at the base and recovering from his near-fatal wound, Warner must do everything in his power to keep his soldiers in check and suppress any mention of a rebellion in the sector. Still as obsessed with Juliette as ever, his first priority is to find her, bring her back, and dispose of Adam and Kenji, the two traitors who helped her escape. But when Warner’s father, The Supreme Commander of The Reestablishment, arrives to correct his son’s mistakes, it’s clear that he has much different plans for Juliette. Plans Warner simply cannot allow.

Set after Shatter Me and before its forthcoming sequel, Unravel MeDestroy Me is a novella told from the perspective of Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

I ate this up. What surprised me most, in a good way, was how sympathetic Warner is as a character. I finished Shatter Me wishing that a sinkhole would open and swallow him up, crush him, and erase him forever. I hated his guts. But I finished Destroy Me kind of feeling sorry for him, despite myself. And also wondering if he is as bad a guy as Shatter Me led us to believe. Kind of the way I felt about Mitt Romney after the election: he's still not my guy, but at least I don't hate him anymore, and I can't help feeling a little sorry for him and wondering if he would have turned out better if he'd only had a different beginning. And I KNOW we're going to need to know this stuff about Warner by the time Unravel Me comes out! Destroy Me is available on e-book only, and you can order it from all kinds of places from the Harper Teen webpage here.

And to celebrate the release of Destroy Me, I am GIVING AWAY my beautiful, signed, original cover design, basically-a-collector's-item copy of SHATTER ME! AAAAAAHHHHH!

To enter to win, simply leave a comment on this here post. I will put all the names in a hat (because I'm old-fashioned that way, and also still slightly technologically challenged) and pick one at MIDNIGHT, on the night of DECEMBER 8TH.

One extra entry for every time you spread the word, IF you leave a link in the comments. I homeschool, guys. Time is a precious, precious commodity. The direct links really help me out.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Friday(-ish) Forward: The Vindico by Wesley King

This week's Friday Forward is another book club pick from last month: Wesley King's YA debut THE VINDICO.

Here's the blurb: The Vindico are a group of supervillains who have been fighting the League of Heroes for as long as anyone can remember. Realizing they’re not as young as they used to be, they devise a plan to kidnap a group of teenagers to take over for them when they retire—after all, how hard can it be to teach a bunch of angsty teens to be evil?

Held captive in a remote mansion, five teens train with their mentors and receive superpowers beyond their wildest dreams. Struggling to uncover the motives of the Vindico, the teens have to trust each other to plot their escape. But they quickly learn that the differences between good and evil are not as black and white as they seem, and they are left wondering whose side they should be fighting on after all . . .

I enjoyed this book on two levels. First, I enjoyed the superhero elements, and I loved the exploration of how different superheroes (and super-villains!) can get their powers. As a former (who am I kidding, current) superhero wannabe, I loved immersing myself in the possibility that a kid could get swept off the streets and given superpowers just like that. And what a premise! Kids kidnapped and trained to be superheroes is one thing - but training them to be super-villains? Now that's a twist I can go for.

Additionally, though, I enjoyed the exploration of what it means to be a hero in the first place. By coincidence, I read this book at the same time that the news about Lance Armstrong's doping scandal came out, and I was glad for the opportunity to think about the artificial granting of extraordinary abilities in a real-life context. While the League of Heroes insists that the only legitimate superpowers are those that a person is born with, and The Vindico insist that all people with superpowers should be welcomed no matter how they got them, the reader is asked to consider whether the fact that one has been born with an innate ability is more or less important than what we do with that ability, and how far one should go in trying to achieve and cultivate that ability. While it doesn't come across as pro-cheating, it does raise some very interesting questions about the nature of good and evil, and what it really means to be "good" or "bad".

I also loved the characterization. all the characters are well-thought-out, with deep histories that have shaped them into the people we meet in this book. I loved that even the worst of the bad guys are relatable and understandable - it lent a depth to this book that all superhero stories should have. And Hayden and Emily? All I can say is, AWESOME.

THE VINDICO is a quick, fun, surprisingly thought-provoking page-turner available in a bookstore near you or online at Indiebound here, Amazon here, and (for readers in Canada) Chapters Indigo here.

Happy Reading!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Friday Forward meets MMGM: Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid

I'll admit it: I was a holdout. I don't know if it was the fact that it was SUCH a big deal, or if it was the cartoony element (back before cartoons in books were a common as they are now - in other words, it was something new), or if it was the fact that when I opened it up to a random page, I got the page where he plays a prank on his best friend and my thought was, "This Wimpy Kid is a sucky friend, which is the opposite of awesome." Let it suffice to say that I was not eager for Kidlet Number One to discover these books.

Until he did.

It was one of those days. We were in a bookstore. We were waiting to see the amazing Libba Bray (more on that later!). The line was long. He was wilting. I told him to go pick a book - any book - from the pre-teen section and if he liked it, he could buy it with his allowance. And he came back with... Dun-dun-DUUUNNNNN: THE BOOK WHICH WAS NOT NAMED:

To my discredit, I argued with him. I told him that I hated that book with a passion that burned with the power of a thousand suns. (Yes, I actually said that. About a book. In a bookstore. I am a cretin.) But standing there surrounded by book-lovers, reason (and shame) prevailed. We can read this together, I thought. And then we can talk about it.

And then I laughed pretty much nonstop for over 45 minutes. This book is hilarious. Here's the blurb from Amazon and Goodreads:

It’s a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you’re ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.

In book one of this debut series, Greg is happy to have Rowley, his sidekick, along for the ride. But when Rowley’s star starts to rise, Greg tries to use his best friend’s newfound popularity to his own advantage, kicking off a chain of events that will test their friendship in hilarious fashion.

Author/illustrator Jeff Kinney recalls the growing pains of school life and introduces a new kind of hero who epitomizes the challenges of being a kid. As Greg says in his diary, “Just don’t expect me to be all ‘Dear Diary’ this and ‘Dear Diary’ that.” Luckily for us, what Greg Heffley says he won’t do and what he actually does are two very different things.

From the moment Greg says that he specifically told his mother not to get him something that said "diary" on it (and then follows it up with a cartoon illustrating his fear: a bigger kid beating on him because of it), I knew that this was a book that would speak to the hearts of every middle-grader out there. Through Greg, Jeff Kinney gives us a picture of Middle School that echoes the universal Middle School experience: trying to find your niche in a universe that seems to have no niches left. From the Halloween mishap to the Christmas play shenanigans, Greg speaks for all middle-schoolers out there as he navigates the perils of hallway bullies, fights with his best friend, unreasonable parental expectations, and clueless teachers.

There are still definitely things about Greg's behavior that I didn't like: he treats his supposed best friend pretty badly from the very beginning, and he sneaks around a couple of times breaking his parents' rules. But these are things that echo the true middle-school experience, and while I don't like them and I don't want my kids feeling like it's okay to do these things, I do think that this book is a better way to bring up these issues and to illustrate why it's important to treat our friends well and listen to our parents, even when we don't know why they make the rules that they make. In other words, this book has some great talking points in it, and I encourage parents to read this book with their kids so that you can ask them questions and discuss those moments and find out what they think about Greg and his escapades.

As for me and my kid, we're already looking forward to laughing our way through the second book in this deservedly popular series.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney can be found in pretty much every bookstore that sells books for kids, or online at IndieBound here, at Amazon here, and (for Canadian readers) at Chapters Indigo here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Musings: VOTE ALREADY

So, I spent my Friday night filming my first out-of-country voting experience:

If you follow my tweets, it's pretty obvious who I support. But this vlog isn't about getting you to swing the same way. It's about letting you know that I really believe that things like choosing the President of our country are not things that we should just leave up to everyone else. And when it comes to local issues, like whether to continue a tax levy to fund schools or choosing the next governor of your state, you need to step up, because these things affect you. If you don't care right now, then take a look at your tax bill and think about what that money gets used for. If you think it doesn't affect you, then take a look at your neighbours, because even though it may not affect you, it probably affects them. Learn about the issues. Read the newspaper. Educate yourself.

And vote.

And spread the word!

Happy Monday. :-)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Forward: LUNA, by Julie Anne Peters

It's Friday, and boy, do I have some catching up to do! I missed a couple weeks while I was busy at writing conferences and making videos about cupcakes, but from now on, I promise to be more vigilant about my Friday reviews - as well as with the rest of my online life!

This week's Friday Forward was a book club pick from last month: LUNA, by Julie Ann Peters. Here's the blurb from Goodreads and Amazon: Regan's brother Liam can't stand the person he is during the day. Like the moon from whom Liam has chosen his female namesake, his true self, Luna, only reveals herself at night. In the secrecy of his basement bedroom Liam transforms himself into the beautiful girl he longs to be, with help from his sister's clothes and makeup. Now, everything is about to change-Luna is preparing to emerge from her cocoon. But are Liam's family and friends ready to welcome Luna into their lives? Compelling and provocative, this is an unforgettable novel about a transgender teen's struggle for self-identity and acceptance.

This book was a real eye-opener, and on the heels of Presidential debates that (barely) touched on issues like gay rights and gender equality and a very informative vlog by the Hank half of the Vlogbrothers, it came at a good time for me: a time when I was interested in learning more about transsexuality from the viewpoint of a transsexual, and also interested in learning about what it looks like from a closer but still external viewpoint. Told from the perspective of a transsexual male-to-female's younger sister, this book informs on both those levels, which is an extremely tough thing to do.

I have to honestly say that I found the introduction of Luna's transsexuality and her sister Regan's conflicting feelings about it to be a little heavy-handed at the beginning. I loved the opening scene in which we first meet Luna and learn that Luna by night is Liam by day, but the moments after that when Regan remembers their childhood and wonders when little Liam first showed signs of identifying as a female felt like more overt backstory than I really needed. Additionally, Liam spent a lot of time at the beginning getting down on himself and crying and generally expressing how much he wanted to break free, and while I can't make any claims AT ALL to know how it really feels to literally be in the wrong body - I'm sure it is every bit as horrible as Liam says it is, and then some - strictly for the purpose of telling the story, I would have gotten more deeply into this story and found Regan's character more relatable if there were a scene or two less of that. The first time Liam said that Luna wanted to break free, I understood exactly what she meant, and it irked me that it took several more scenes of that for Regan to clue in.

That said, I did eventually get really into this book. I loved the extreme contrast between Regan and Luna's parents and the parents Regan babysits for, and the irony that Luna got stuck with a set of parents who are so extremely conservative and traditional and badly suited to dealing with a child who doesn't slot nicely into society's idea of "normal". Then the reaction of the parents Regan babysits for when they do find out that Liam is really Luna really highlights just how difficult it is for people who are transgender to find acceptance in the world. The scenes at the end between Luna and her best friend Alyson are honest and heart wrenching and one of the best parts of the book.

Additionally, Regan has a lot going on in her own life, and there was a good balance between moving Regan's story forward and letting us see how in a lot of ways, she was held back by feeling like she had to hide so much of her private life from her friends.

I came away from this book feeling like I understand transgendered people a little better, and also feeling like I have a few more tools in the box that will help me behave in a more sympathetic and understanding way when I meet people who are transgender. And for that alone, it's worth the read.

You can find Luna in bookstores now, or pick up a copy online at Amazon here or preferably at Indiebound here or (if you live in Canada) at ChaptersIndigo here.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! And a Query Critique for Linda!

It's Halloween, so what better than a query critique for a picture book about a guy who keeps trying to be like someone else?

Our query today comes from Linda, who has never done this before, so everyone be nice to her in the comments, okay? She's one brave lady.

Here's the query:

Dear [Agent]:
Purvis is a pig with a problem.  He is just too small and nobody will play with him; all he wants is to grow! One day, Purvis happens to meet a wise, old farm cat, who tells Purvis that "size does not matter" and he can be whoever he wants to be.  Purvis decides he wants to be just like the cat!  Purvis then meets other farm animals and Purvis wants to be just like each of them!  Then, finally, Purvis finds himself with a baby brother who thinks Purvis is just the greatest and he wants to be just like Purvis!  Perhaps Purvis is okay just how he is -- and to his surprise he finds that he has grown after all!
PURVIS--NOT SMALL AT ALL, at approximately 1400 words, is a read-aloud picture book in verse which should appeal to children aged 3 to 8 and is about the common childhood concerns of feeling different, unable to fit in; about trying to figure out who in the world to be.  I am writing to you because of your representation of author-illustrators, your experience working with stories in rhyme, and your taste for picture book stories with traditional, universal themes.  I hope that you will have an interest in my story.
You will find the entire text of the manuscript pasted below. I have also provided a link to my illustrations and a complete 32-page dummy.  There are samples of other projects I am working on in the same location.  I have created full illustrations for this manuscript and am attaching three samples hereto.  Although I hope you will consider my text and illustrations as a complete package, I do respect your option to select illustrations separately. 
This is a simultaneous submission.  Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.

And here's my feedback in red:

Dear [Agent]:
Purvis is a pig with a problem.  He is just too small and nobody will play with him; all he wants is to grow! One day, Purvis happens to meet a wise, old farm cat, who tells Purvis that "size does not matter" and he can be whoever he wants to be.  Purvis decides he wants to be just like the cat!  Purvis then meets other farm animals and Purvis wants to be just like each of them!  Then, finally, Purvis finds himself with a baby brother who thinks Purvis is just the greatest and he wants to be just like Purvis!  Perhaps Purvis is okay just how he is -- and to his surprise he finds that he has grown after all!

I like the way you introduce Purvis and his problem here, but the rest of the paragraph is too long for a picture book query. This is a common mistake: people often use this paragraph to summarize the whole manuscript, while really the point is to give a taste of the story and entice the agent to read more. Think of what you would read on the back of the book in the store, and aim for that - just a couple of short sentences. Let the flavor of your book - the style of writing - seep into this portion of the query. And please don't tell us how it ends. ;-) Let the reader be surprised!
PURVIS--NOT SMALL AT ALL, at approximately 1400 words, Current trends are towards manuscripts that are 500 words or less - just a thing to be aware of. is a read-aloud redundant; all PBs are meant to be read aloud picture book in verse Good for you for stating this outright. which should appeal to children aged 3 to 8 and is about the common childhood concerns of feeling different, unable to fit in; about trying to figure out who in the world to be. You have a punctuation error in here. ALSO: you might want to add a line in here about how this book will fit into the marketplace - name three books whose fans will also like this book. If you can show that you know how to market your work, it will make it easier for an agent to sell. I am writing to you because of your representation of you represent author-illustrators, your  you have experience working with stories in rhyme, and your taste for you like/have a taste for/etc. picture book stories with traditional, universal themes. Great! I hope that you will have an interest in my story.
You will find the entire text of the manuscript pasted below. I have also provided a link to my illustrations and a complete 32-page dummy.  There are samples of other projects I am working on in the same location.  I have created full illustrations for this manuscript and am attaching three samples hereto.  Although I hope you will consider my text and illustrations as a complete package, I do respect your option to select illustrations separately. This whole paragraph is excellent.
This is a simultaneous submission.  Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.

Overall, I'm impressed with this query. Linda gets most of the main points in here, which is excellent for a first query. With some work on trimming and refining in the first paragraph, this should be an excellent query.

Have different feedback? Have ideas on how Linda can refine her first paragraph? Chip in in the comments!


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Friday(-ish) Forward: Infinity Ring, Book One by James Dashner

FIRST: If you haven't yet entered to win a copy of Joanne Levy's SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE or Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ohi's I'M BORED, you can do that here. I have four prizes, so if I don't get at least ten entries, I'm going to have to save the prizes for another day.

Now for this week's Friday Forward: the first book in the INFINITY RING series, A MUTINY IN TIME by James Dashner.

Here's the bumpf from Amazon: Scholastic's next multi-platform mega-event begins here!

History is broken, and three kids must travel back in time to set it right!

When best friends Dak Smyth and Sera Froste stumble upon the secret of time travel -- a hand-held device known as the Infinity Ring -- they're swept up in a centuries-long secret war for the fate of mankind. Recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society that dates back to Aristotle, the kids learn that history has gone disastrously off course.

Now it's up to Dak, Sera, and teenage Hystorian-in-training Riq to travel back in time to fix the Great Breaks . . . and to save Dak's missing parents while they're at it. First stop: Spain, 1492, where a sailor named Christopher Columbus is about to be thrown overboard in a deadly mutiny!

I really enjoyed this book. With high-stakes action broken up at exactly the right places with bursts of humor, it has just the right mix of history, science, intrigue, and thrill to keep me turning pages. The characters are well developed, and their relationships are complex and interesting. And on top of being a great introduction to different periods in history, A MUTINY IN TIME is a good introduction to the topic of time travel. It will get kids asking good questions about the nature of time: can you really change history? Is it possible to change it so much that you cease to exist? And what happens to the changes you made if you are never born? Is time linear, multi-leveled, or something else entirely?

My primary issue with this book is really more of an issue with the series as a whole: the basic premise behind the "breaks". The series proposes that the present is affected by what came before, and yet, after fixing the break in 1492, the kids travel even further back in time to the viking invasion of France. But what if fixing the break in France changes how things go down in Spain in 1492? And if breaks have been happening for so long, then why didn't they set Columbus' journey off course in the first place? This series seems to want the breaks to be able to affect the future, and yet treats each incident as fairly isolated at the same time, and I'm not sure if this "having their cake and eating it too" is working for me. However, the question is intriguing enough to make me want to read the next book to find out more, and the fact that it raises these questions and gets kids thinking about the topic of time travel in a critical way makes it well worth the price.

A MUTINY IN TIME is available in all good bookstores now, or pick it up online at IndieBound here or Amazon here or (for Canadians) at Chapters Indigo here.

Happy Reading!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Forward: Joanne Levy's SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, and a DOUBLE GIVEAWAY!

It's Friday, and today at the blog, Friday means FREE STUFF!

But first, let me introduce to you the wonderfully funny middle grade book that is Joanne Levy's SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE.

Here's the blurb from Goodreads: After she’s hit by lightning at a wedding, twelve-year-old Lilah Bloom develops a new talent: she can hear dead people. Among them, there’s her overopinionated Bubby Dora; a prissy fashion designer; and an approval-seeking clown who livens up a séance. With Bubby Dora leading the way, these and other sweetly imperfect ghosts haunt Lilah through seventh grade, and help her face her one big fear: talking to—and possibly going to the seventh-grade dance with—her crush, Andrew Finkel.

This is a delightful, fast read. Lilah is a frank, funny heroine, whose relationships with her best friend and dear departed Bubby sparkle with humor. While I found her to be a little on the nice side - her attempts to help her father AND her music teacher AND Andrew's ghosted father reveal a more generous and philanthropic girl than any twelve-year-old I have ever known - there was enough hilarity to win me over. The scene in which Andrew's ghosted father tells her to prove his existence by telling Andrew she knows about his underwear stands out, in the best possible (read: side-splittingly funny) way. This is definitely worth picking up.

And to hep spread the word about this book, I have a SMALL MEDUM AT LARGE Prize Pack!

The prize pack includes: One SIGNED copy of SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, one bookmark, and one wristband, to go to one lucky commenter! WOO-HOO! And for TWO OTHER lucky commenters, I have a bookmark and wristband each!  THAT'S THREE PRIZES!

AND, as if that weren't enough, you may remember my review of Michael Ian Black's I'M BORED, illustrated by the immensely talented Debbie Ohi, from a couple of weeks ago. Well, I have a copy to give away! WOO-HOO!

So, Here's the skinny:

For ONE ENTRY, you need to:

1) follow this blog;
2) leave a comment on THIS POST with your email address so I can contact you if you win something.

For EXTRA ENTRIES, you can blog/tweet/facebook/Google+/whatever about it. One entry per thing you do, but you MUST PROVIDE ME LINKS IN THE COMMENTS. I have limited time to spend on the interwebs searching for random mentions of my giveaways. I need to spend that time writing my own book so I can give away a copy of it to one of you one day. Cool?


You have two weeks. I will draw names on THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11, at MIDNIGHT. So get commenting!

And Happy Friday!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Query Critique Wednesday - Denise's Queries!

Good Morning! Today we have TWO picture book queries from Denise. Wow!

For those of you who are new, here's how this thing works. I post queries from the brave souls who email them to m, along with my feedback on what's working and what isn't and how to make them shiny and bright. Then, you guys throw in your own two cents in the comments! The only rules are that you have to be honest, AND you have to be nice. No slamming or flaming, guys.

Let's get this party started!

Denise's first query is:


Geared toward the 4-8 year old market, PHEWIE HUGHIE is a humorous 486 word children's picture book.

Hughie loves his toots and the louder the better and Hughie thought everyone should love his toots. Well, Hughie has a hard time finding someone to appreciate his wonderful ability until two children come to an important dinner and Hughie is told to remember his manners.  Mayham happens after Hughie realizes he just can’t hold it in.  What’s a boy to do? 

I am a member of SCBWI Canada East, and the SCBWI picture book and middle grade groups. I look forward to hearing from you.  Thank you for taking the time to consider PHEWIE HUGHIE.  Please note, this is a multiple submission.


There's a lot to like about this concept - fart-loving boys! - and the basic elements of the query are there, which is good, but I think the descriptive paragraph needs some clarification. Here it is with my feedback in red:

Dear Mr/Mrs________,

Geared toward the 4-8 year old market, PHEWIE HUGHIE LOVE THE TITLE! Is this a rhyming book? If it is, you should say so. is a humorous 486 word children's picture book.

This is kind of an abrupt start. If you're going to open with the housekeeping - which is totally fine, and which a lot of agents and editors prefer - I'd recommend prefacing it with a bit of personalised stuff: I saw you at x conference/read x interview/whatever and because you said y, I'm sending you my manuscript....

Hughie loves his toots and the louder the better and Hughie thought everyone should love his toots.  This is a run-on sentence. Since the last portion is implied, I think this query can do without it. Love the idea of a kid who loves his own farts! This is every little boy's dream. Well, Hughie has a hard time finding someone to appreciate his wonderful ability until two children come to an important dinner This  raises some questions - why important? Why important with KIDS present? - and feels a little awkward. Maybe try reframing the inciting incident to eliminate those gaps and focus on the really crucial element: Hughie now has an audience for his farts. and Hughie is told to remember his manners.  Mayham Typo: Mayhem. happens after Hughie realizes he just can’t hold it in.  What’s a boy to do? Instead of ending with a rhetorical question, which some people don't mind but a lot of people dislike, maybe hint at where this goes: do the kids love his farts? Hate them? Join in?

I'd also include some comparatives here: this book will appeal to fans of A book, B book, and C book. It's good to give the person you're querying an idea of where your book will fit into the marketplace, and it gives him or her more ammunition to use if your book goes to acquisition. Another good place for comparatives is at the end of the first paragraph.

I am a member of SCBWI Canada East Good to include this!, and the SCBWI picture book and middle grade groups I am not aware of these groups. Do you mean the critique groups? In which case you should mention that they are critique groups, and mention the Canada East part, since different regions have their own groups. Or skip the critique group part - many have said they don't need to know about it. I look forward to hearing from you.  Thank you for taking the time to consider PHEWIE HUGHIE.  Please note, this is a multiple submission. Great closing.


All together, not a bad query. With some reworking in the middle there, I think Denise will be ready to go.

And here's her second query:

Dear Mr/Mrs________,

Geared toward the 6-12 year old market, MALLIGA’S RAINBOW is a touching 927 word children's picture storybook.

Malliga and her Amma (mother) shared many memories, but the most memorable to Malliga was when they would play who could find the rainbow after a rain. After losing her Amma, Malliga has trouble facing the ache in her heart.  Her Appa (father) helps her and together they find a way to help Malliga one stitch at a time.

I am a member of SCBWI Canada East, and the SCBWI picture book and middle grade groups. I look forward to hearing from you. 
Thank you for taking the time to consider MALLIGA’S RAINBOW.  Please note, this is an exclusive submission.

This, in my opinion, a pretty strong query already. I have some comments, but very few. Here's my feedback in red:

Dear Mr/Mrs________,

Geared toward the 6-12 year old market, MALLIGA’S RAINBOW You excel at titles. is a touching 927 word children's picture storybook. You've put yourself in the danger zone here. "Picture storybook" is a phrase usually equated with books like Beatrix Potter's TALES OF PETER RABBIT or A.A. Milne's WINNIE THE POOH, and while those books sell steadily, I have heard it said by editors and agents that that's more because people want to share their childhood memories with their kids than because the current market demands more stories like those. Books for young kids are now either picture books or chapter books. Your word count puts it into the picture book category - chapter books are typically 5,000-10,000 words - but your age range says chapter book or novel. I suspect that this is actually better aimed at the 4-6-ish market. (Don't be afraid to write books about death and loss for little kids; they need them as much as older kids do.)

Also: I have the same comment about the opening paragraph as in the last query.

Malliga and her Amma (mother) shared many memories, but the most memorable to Malliga
Memorable is repetitive - maybe "Malliga's favorite"? was when they would play who could find the rainbow after a rain. After losing her Amma, Malliga has trouble facing the ache in her heart.  Her Appa (father) helps her and together they find a way to help Malliga one stitch at a time. I love this last part. This is a great paragraph! Super job. It's clear that Malliga has a cultural background, so I would say what that background is somehow, so it will be easier to imagine how to market this book.

I am a member of SCBWI Canada East, and the SCBWI picture book and middle grade groups. I look forward to hearing from you. Same comment as in the other query.
Thank you for taking the time to consider MALLIGA’S RAINBOW.  Please note, this is an exclusive submission. You don't really need to say that it's an exclusive submission; in fact, they usually assume that a submission is exclusive unless you say that it is simultaneous. However, you may wish to put a time limit on the exclusivity: "While this is an exclusive submission, I will send it to other agents/editors if I haven't heard from you in x months." I've read that something in the neighborhood of 3-6 months is typical.

Despite the sea of red - sorry, Denise! - this is actually, in my opinion, a really good query. The most important section - the descriptive paragraph - is really solid. There were just a couple things that took a lot of explaining at the beginning and end!

Do you have your own comments? Ideas? Thoughts? Share them in the comments! Let's help Denise out!

And be sure to come back on FRIDAY for a giveaway!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Musings: Heroic Princesses, Body Image, and the Size of Ariel's Butt

Happy Monday!

I've been busy over the weekend learning how to use video-editing software, which I hope will lead to much better quality YouTube videos in the not-too-distant future. But in the meantime, we'll have to settle for ideas over looks.

Which, interestingly, dovetails nicely with my latest vlog:

See you tomorrow, when I'll post my reading of The Elephant's Child in two parts, and announce the book I'll be reading in the lead-up to Halloween. I can't wait!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Friday(-ish) Forward: I'M BORED!

Good morning, beautiful readers! Happy Saturday!

Since neck pains stopped me from posting my Friday Forward on Friday, I'm posting today! The weekend days all run together anyway.

Today I am VERY excited to feature I'M BORED, a delightful picture book written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by the lovely, clever, and very talented Debbie Ohi.

I'M BORED features a little girl who is bored out of her mind - until a talking potato makes her prove just how much fun kids can have. With a twist ending that will have pre-schoolers howling with laughter, this book will help kids cure those boredom blues. As for the moms and dads, I DARE you to look at the last page without laughing! You will not be able to do it!

I'M BORED is out now, and can be found in a good bookstore near you, or at Amazon.

IshtaReads Rudyard Kipling's How The Leopard Got His Spots, and Explains the Armbands She's Wearing.

So since I wasn't able to vlog until the middle of Thursday night, I made two vlogs back to back. This one was fun - I'm getting more relaxed and having more fun as I do more of these. Hope you enjoy it! My neck is still a bit stiff, and I think it's that huge sucker of a book I've been reading from. Plus, the rest of the stories are all too long for vlog posts. So, my next vlog will be a "rant," but a fun one. I hope you'll join me for it. :-) Later, folks!

Ishta Reads Rudyard Kipling's How The Rhinoceros Got His Skin, Which is Her Favorite Just So Story EVER

I woke up with a very stiff neck on Wednesday, so I wasn't able to blog or write or vlog or do much of anything, really, except lie on my back on the floor and wish I were somewhere where there were no kids and where I had a numb spinal column. Fortunately, I was doing sort-of okay by the evening, but I was still not really in vlogging shape until late (very late) Thursday night, when I did this: I think the hidden moral of this is, "Rhinos are dumb." Because, seriously. Just take off the darn skin and shake out the crumbs already! But whatever. It's still a great story. Thank for watching!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ishta Reads How The Camel Got His Hump, and finds a surprising geographical link to Amelia Earhart

Hi there! No time today for more than my daily Vid, so here it is: Incidentally, I think the choosing of a landing place no more than half a mile wide and a mile and a half long might not have been the best decision, but it was the biggest thing for miles, so she didn't really have many options. (I suppose the argument can be made that airport landing strips are smaller than that, which is true, but airports are surrounded by roads and fields and other reasonably good landing places in case the pilot makes a mistake, while an island is surrounded by, you know, water, which isn't a very good alternate landing place at all.) Also: you can find all my videos on my youtube channel, IshtaReads. See you there! And see you here tomorrow!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Brave New World of Vlogging

Okay, so remember last week when I said I was going to do more reading and also some vlogging and that they would be linked?

Well, this is what I was talking about.

Me reading How the Whale Got His Throat, by Rudyard Kipling

This is going to be my new project for a while - a video a day of me reading something short-ish, starting with the Just So Stories, which I really love for their fun spirit, even if they do moralize. (They're products of their time, and they're very imaginative, so I can forgive the moralizing.) This is a new thing for me, and I'm not sure how it's going to go, and I'm not sure what I'm doing or whether I'm doing any of it right, but if you like what I did and want to see more of it, I'd be really grateful if you'd like it/link it/do whatever else you do to spread the word. That would be totally awesome and I would love you forever.

In other news, be sure to stop by Literary Rambles today, where my friend Natalie Aguirre is interviewing a very special young expert in the field of kidlit.

ALSO! There will again be changes to the blog! Daily vids will be linked here, as well as Wednesday Writing posts (which will either be craft-oriented or Query critiques) and Friday Forward posts (which will be reviews of books I've read and liked and sometimes will be giving away). This means TWO POSTS on Wednesdays and Fridays! WOOT! But less about writing in general.

I know. Changes suck. But this change will be a lot better than the last change, which consisted of me not blogging at all for the whole summer. We take what we can get, no?

Hasta Mañana!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Summer Shenanigans

Wow. So much for "springing back into the swing of things."

So, this summer I realised a few things:

1) Blogging takes up a lot of time;

2) Reading takes up a lot of time;

3) Keeping up with my writer friends takes a lot of time, although I enjoy spending this time;

4) Writing should be taking up more time.

So here's the skinny:

1) Less blogging, more vlogging. More on that very very soon.

2) More reading* and also reviewing**, since it will help with 4 above. Check in with me on Goodreads (link in the sidebar), or here, since I will be copying and pasting reviews to both places.

3) Much more keeping up with writer friends. I can be found at TorKidLit Tweetups on the first Wednesday of every month and at Toronto CANSCAIP meetings on the second Wednesday of every month. If you write books and live in the general vicinity of Toronto, I shall see you there! I'm the tiny lady with glasses who is swamped by her hair.

4)Writing will be taking up more time. Every evening, at least one scene. It might be a half-page scene, but it will be a scene nonetheless. I'm pantsing my way through this thing and the only way to keep it moving forward is to keep moving forward with it.

In other news, Hubbles and I have family and friends in Old Blighty, so we took the kidlets to see the Olympics. YouTube clips and thoughts video (videos? I can't decide) to come soon, linked here.

Also, we're homeschooling, starting tomorrow. I live on the edge, my writerly friends. The edge of sanity.

Until next time!

*Numbers 1 and 2 will be linked in what I hope will be a pleasant and enjoyable surprise. Stay tuned.
**Please don't actually ask me to review your book - I only want to do largely positive reviews, and I only know it will be one of those after I actually read the book, so I'm just going to pick the books I review. But if I know you, and I liked your book even though you had no idea I had even read it, then you might be pleasantly surprised one day. Deal?