Just a few pages in, I can already tell this book is going to be excellent. Author's website Publishers Weekly review Horn Book Review

 

MERCI SUAREZ CHANGES GEARS by Meg Medina (MG)

Just a few pages in, I can already tell this book is going to be excellent.

Author’s website

Publishers Weekly review

Horn Book Review

        
 
 

Beth’s Faves — Top Middle Grade and YA Books I’ve Read This Year

As promised last week, my fave Middle Grade and Young Adult reads of the past year. (There won’t be as many MG and YA as there were picture books.)

As I said last week, please note that not all these books were published this year. I chose from what appealed to me, as well as what I hadn’t yet read, and so those choices spanned many years. I rely solely on the public library system as my source of books, so although many books are available to me, not all are. If your book, or your fave did not make this list, that’s not a reflection on the book or on you! It’s a reflection of the reality of what’s available in terms of both books and reading time. I’d be delighted if you would tell me about your faves in the comments!

This list is not in order of preference – it’s in the order I read the books over the course of the year. I won’t share all the titles I read this year, or we’d be here all day, but I do want to give a shout-out to these wonderful books.

As with last week’s post, every title is a hyperlink that will lead to more information. I certainly don’t expect you to click on every one and read what you find there (although if you want to, go for it!), but if you’re intrigued by a title and want to learn more, the information awaits you. Some of the links are to the author’s website, some are to reviews, and some are even interviews with the author. Enjoy!

The MG List:

THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY by Natalie Lloyd, 2016

CONNECT THE STARS by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, 2015

STARS BENEATH OUR FEET by David Barclay Moore, 2017

QUICKSAND POND by Janet Taylor Lisle, 2017

FOX MAGIC by Beverley Brenna, 2017

RIDING CHANCE by Christine Kendall, 2016

THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH by Ali Benjamin, 2015

ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, 2013

THE BEST MAN by Richard Peck, 2016

THE GIRL IN THE WELL IS ME by Karen Rivers, 2016

MARY ANNING’S CURIOSITY by Monica Kulling, 2017

BUBBLE by Stewart Foster, 2017

AMINA’S VOICE by Hena Kahn, 2017

HARBOR ME by Jacqueline Woodson, 2018

PROPERTY OF THE REBEL LIBRARIAN by Allison Varnes, 2018

RULES by Cynthia Lord, 2006

JOPLIN, WISHING by Diane Stanley, 2017

THIS WOULD MAKE A GOOD STORY SOMEDAY by Dana Alison Levy, 2017

NATE EXPECTATIONS by Tim Federle, 2018

The YA List: (I don’t read much YA, but what I’ve read this year has been STELLAR!)

SAINTS AND MISFITS by S.K. Ali, 2017

HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith, 2018

Now – what should I read next? Please give me your recommendations in the comments!
        
 
 

Beth’s Faves — Top Picture Books I’ve Read This Year

At the beginning of 2018, I had the intention of reading one picture book every morning throughout the year. I did well for the first half of the year, then not so well the second half – but I’ve still read a LOT more picture books than I would have otherwise, and many of them have been stellar. In this post, I want to share some of my faves, since I couldn’t possibly do full blog posts about all of them. Next week, I’ll share some of my fave MG and YA books from this year’s reading.

Please note that not all these books were published this year. I chose from what appealed to me, as well as what I hadn’t yet read, and so those choices spanned many years. I rely solely on the public library system as my source of books, so although many books are available to me, not all are. If your book, or your fave did not make this list, that’s not a reflection on the book or on you! It’s a reflection of the reality of what’s available in terms of both books and reading time. I’d be delighted if you would tell me about your faves in the comments!

This list is not in order of preference – it’s in the order I read the books over the course of the year. I won’t share all the titles I read this year, or we’d be here all day, but I do want to give a shout-out to these wonderful books.

Note that every title is a hyperlink that will lead to more information. I certainly don’t expect you to click on every one and read what you find there (although if you want to, go for it!), but if you’re intrigued by a title and want to learn more, the information awaits you. Some of the links are to the author’s website, some are to reviews, and some are even interviews with the author. Enjoy!

THE LIST: 

BLUE SKY, WHITE STARS by Sarvinder Naberhaus, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, 2017

STOLEN WORDS by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, 2017

THAT IS MY DREAM based on the poem by Langston Hughes, with illustrations (and a few edits) by Daniel Miyares, 2017

THE ROOSTER WHO WOULD NOT BE QUIET by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, 2017

VINCENT CAN’T SLEEP: VAN GOGH PAINTS THE NIGHT SKY by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre, 2017

MY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS by Suzanne Del Rizzo, 2017

HERE WE ARE: NOTES FOR LIVING ON PLANET EARTH by Oliver Jeffers, 2017

SCHOMBURG: THE MAN WHO BUILT A LIBRARY by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrator Eric Velasquez, 2017

VOICE OF FREEDOM: FANNIE LOU HAMER: SPIRIT OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, 2015

BEFORE SHE WAS HARRIET: THE STORY OF HARRIET TUBMAN by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome, 2017

BOB, NOT BOB! by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Matthew Cordell, 2017

THE RIGHT WORD: ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, 2014

SAM & EVA by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, 2017

TWINDERELLA: A FRACTIONED FAIRY TALE by Corey Rosen Schwartz, ill. by Deborah Marcero, 2017

AFTER THE FALL: HOW HUMPTY DUMPTY GOT BACK UP AGAIN by Dan Santat, 2017

A COOKED-UP FAIRY TALE by Penny Parker Klostermann, illustrated by Ben Mantle, 2017

THE FIVE FORMS by Barbara McClintock, 2017

FREEDOM OVER ME: ELEVEN SLAVES, THEIR LIVES AND DREAMS BROUGHT TO LIFE by Ashley Bryan, 2016

XO OX: A LOVE STORY by Adam Rex and Scott Campbell, 2017

OUT by angela may george, illustrated by owen swan, 2016

BIG CAT, little cat by Elisha Cooper, 2017

IDA, ALWAYS by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso, 2016

BUNNYBEAR by Andrea J. Loney, pictures by Carmen Saldana, 2017

LOVE, MAMA by Jeanette Bradley, 2018

BUB by Elizabeth Rose Stanton, 2018

MY NAME IS BLESSING by Eric Walters, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, 2013

KENTA AND THE BIG WAVE by Ruth Ohi, 2013

BATS AT THE LIBRARY by Brian Lies, 2008

THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, 2013

FOUND by Salina Yoon, 2014

ON DUCK POND by Jane Yolen, ill by Bob Marstall, 2017

THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE by Carter Higgins, ill by Lucy Ruth Cummins, 2017

THE SNATCHABOOK by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty, 2013

PRIDE: THE STORY OF HARVEY MILK AND THE RAINBOW FLAG by Rob Sanders, ill by Steven Salerno, 2018

BOTTLED SUNSHINE by Andrea Spalding, illustrated by Ruth Ohi, 2005

STEPPING STONES: A REFUGEE FAMILY’S JOURNEY by Margriet Ruurs, art by Nizar Ali Badr, 2016

GIANT SQUID by Candace Fleming, art by Eric Rohmann, 2016

MOMMY’S KHIMAR by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, ill by Ebony Glenn, 2018

JULIÁN IS A MERMAID by Jessica Love, 2018

EVERYTHING YOU NEED FOR A TREEHOUSE by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Emily Hughes, 2018

ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME by Juana Martinez-Neal, 2018

ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu, 2015

THE REMEMBER BALLOONS by Jessie Oliveros, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, 2018

FLYING DEEP: CLIMB INSIDE DEEP-SEA SUBMERSIBLE ALVIN by Michelle Cusolito, illustrated by Nicole Wong, 2018

THEY SAY BLUE by Jillian Tamaki, 2018

WE ARE GRATEFUL : OTSALIHELIGA by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac, 2018

KEEP YOUR EAR ON THE BALL by Genevieve Petrillo, illustrated by Lea Lyon, 2007

LITTLE WHALE by Jo Weaver, 2017

PENGUINAUT! by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Emma Yarlett, 2018

THE STUFF OF STARS by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, 2018

 

Now – what shall I read next? Recommendations in the comments, please!
        
 
 

HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Title: Hearts Unbroken

Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Publisher: Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018

Genre: YA Fiction, #ownvoices

Audience Age: 14 to 18 years

Themes/Topics: Friendship, romance, Native American history and issues, racism

Synopsis: Lou (short for Louise), is a high school junior in current-day Kansas. By the time the book ends, she is a senior. She and her family moved fairly recently from Texas. She’s a member of the Muskogee tribe. When the story opens, she is dating one of the most sought-after guys in her school, but when she realizes how deep his racist attitude toward Native people is, she dumps him.

She becomes heavily involved in the school newspaper, wanting to make a difference in her corner of the world – and as a bonus, getting to work closely with Joey, a talented photographer of Lebanese heritage. One of the stories they cover, that blasts its way through the school and the community, is the controversial casting of the school musical, The Wizard of Oz. Instead of the expected casting of white students in major roles, three talented students of color are cast – including Lou’s brother, Hughie, as the Tin Man.

A parent group pushes back against this, and the controversy soon gets out of control and frightening, as Lou’s family and the families of the other two, receive threatening notes, a teacher is suspended, and the library is “weeded” of “questionable” books.

As the controversy escalates, Lou has to navigate the complications of friendship, romance, race, and family loyalty as she tries to be true to herself, and in trying to do so, risks losing some of the relationships that mean the most to her.

This book was moving, real, gripping, eye opening and thought-provoking, while also being a heart-warming and affirming read. It touches on the many “micro-aggressions,” as Horn Book puts it, that Native American/First Nations kids face daily, showing how easily such things come up in conversation, in thoughtless actions, in ingrained habits as well as in overt racism. I highly recommend it.

For Further Enrichment: You can find an excerpt, links to reviews and resources, and much more at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s website.

Cynthia also wrote a series of blog posts about the book and writing it at her excellent Cynsations blog. The series begins with this post.

There’s an interview with Cynthia on the School Library Journal podcast The Yarn.

Availability: Readily available. Check your local or online independent bookstore.

 

        
 
 

The Value of Courses, Challenges, and Community for Writers

Most of us cannot get where we want to be on our own. We need to learn from others, to be challenged by others, and to be supported and encouraged by others. The same is true for writing.

At first, I was too nervous to share my writing (except my hymn texts) with anyone but close friends and family. Finally, I realized that I needed more. I needed to reach out to others who were more experienced writers, to learn from them, to challenge myself to grow as a writer and as a person.

I began by signing up for Emma Walton Hamilton’s Just Write for Kids, an online picture book writing course intended to be worked through over the period of eight weeks, but still self-paced (if you need more time on any section, that’s fine.) I found Emma to be not only knowledgeable and a good teacher, but also supportive and encouraging. I have since taken her Just Write for Middle Grade, which has become available in the years since I took Just Write for Kids.

Not long after I took JWFK, Emma launched a community for children’s writers called the Children’s Book Hub, which lives on in the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group. Through the Hub, I met other writers all over the world, heard interviews with experts in many areas of children’s writing and publishing, and learned an incredible amount about the kidlit world.

At Emma’s urging, I became a member of SCBWI – the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – an international organization that promotes education, connection, and community. I was able to attend the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles in 2011, and some day will be able to be there again.

As I became connected with more and more writers online, I learned of Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month, PiBoIdMo, which at that time was held in November each year. By participating in that month-long event, not only did I generate more than 30 ideas for possible writing projects, I became even more connected with the writing community. PiBoIdMo has morphed into StoryStorm, is now held in January each year, and now has a broader focus than just picture book idea generation. All writers are welcome.

When, after that challenge, Julie Hedlund decided to start a year-long picture book writing challenge which she would call 12×12 in 2012 (with the aim of writing 12 picture book drafts in 12 months) I decided to join. Being a part of 12×12 for three years brought me much more knowledge, deepened my writing, and deepened my connection to wonderful people – writers and illustrators – all over the globe. I’m now focused more on Middle Grade writing and adult fiction, so I’m no longer a member, but I still recommend this challenge/community/experience wholeheartedly.

With Facebook becoming more and more the place where writers and illustrators gathered, I became involved in first the 12×12 Facebook Group, the PiBoIdMo Facebook Group, and then the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group, which Emma Walton Hamilton and I administer together.

I’ve also had the pleasure of attending the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Conference, which is held in Southampton, NY on Long Island every July. Twelve writers in each of Picture Books, Middle Grade Novels, and Young Adult Novels, are taught by stellar authors in five intense days which include morning workshops in the intensive, plus “cross pollinating” with optional afternoon and evening workshops with attendees from the larger Southampton Writers’ Summer. It is an amazing time of learning. Southampton Children’s Literature also has an MFA program, and a year-long mentorship program called the Children’s Lit Fellows.

Since those initial experiences, I have participated in and learned from several other groups, courses, webinars, and I highly recommend that if you are serious about growing as a writer, you do the same, to the extent that your budget will allow.

Emma Walton Hamilton’s courses and other learning opportunities are available year-round, and can be completed on your schedule. You can find them all – Just Write for Kids, Just Write for Middle Grade, Just Write for Young Adults, Editor-in-a-Box, School Visit Wizard, and others – at her website. (Note that The Complete Picture Book Submission System is only offered a couple of times a year – watch for the next time it’s open to registration.) There is a cost involved, but it is well worth it.

If you’re a writer or illustrator of kids’ books, whether you’re just starting out or you have books published, you will be welcomed in our Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group.There is no charge. As stated in the publicly-viewable information, This private group is for established and aspiring children’s book authors, illustrators and editors. It is intended to facilitate news and discussion about all things pertaining to writing and publishing books for children and young adults.” Just go to this link, and request to become a member. You’ll be prompted to answer a few simple questions to indicate your involvement in the children’s book world. Once you’ve answered those, I will be able to approve your request and welcome you to the group.

Tara Lazar will, I am sure, soon be gearing up for StoryStorm 2019, which will take place in January. The purpose of StoryStorm as stated on her website is “to create 30 story ideas in 30 days. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). You don’t need potential best-seller ideas. You might think of a clever title. Or a name for a character. Or just a silly thing like “purple polka-dot pony.” The object is to heighten your idea-generating senses.”

There is no charge to participate. It’s all on the honor system. You don’t post, share or divulge your ideas at all. Registration will begin in late December and continue through the beginning of January. If you are registered, and create 30 ideas over the course of the month, you will not only have a great sense of satisfaction, and a plethora of ideas to work from in the coming year, but you’ll be eligible for the draws for awesome prizes. Check it out at the link here, and sign up to follow Tara’s blog for further word about it (and for other beneficial posts throughout the year.)

Julie Hedlund will soon be opening the floodgates for registration for her wonderful 12×12 challenge. Registration only happens in January and February of each year. There is a cost involved, but it is worth every penny (and more). There are monthly webinars with experts in the kidlit world, an amazing community of writers and illustrators who will surround you with support and encouragement, a forum where there are further learning opportunities as well as critique opportunities, a Facebook Group only for 12×12 members, and for Gold members, there is the opportunity to submit to one agent per month and bypass the slush pile. You can learn more and sign up to show your interest in 12×12 at this link, and you’ll be notified when registration opens.

As I said earlier, there are many, many other wonderful opportunities to learn and to experience community as a writer or illustrator of children’s books. A few I recommend from personal experience follow.

KidLit411 is a compendium of information for the writer or illustrator of children’s books.  Although they don’t offer courses or webinars themselves, they offer heaps of information and links to more information at their website; a great community in their Facebook Group where you can ask anything that’s perplexing you about kidlit, and people will help you with their answers; and opportunities for critique in their Manuscript Swap Critique Group and their Portfolio Swap Critique Group.

Susanna Leonard Hill, author and encourager extraordinaire, teaches an online course called Making Picture Book Magic. Although I haven’t taken it myself (see previous mention of focus on Middle Grade) I have heard nothing but glowing reports of the course’s worth – and of Susanna’s teaching ability.  She also offers amazing opportunities for writers on her blog. Be sure to check it out, too.

Renee LaTulippe, who is a poet as well as a writer of kids’ books, teaches an online course which is much in demand, called The Lyrical Language Lab. As she says on her website, Using poetic techniques in your prose will help you create read-aloud language that will transport children (and their parents) into a world of imagination — in as few words as possible.”

The Children’s Book Insider/Clubhouse, with Laura Backes Bard and Jon Bard. They offer a subscription-based “Clubhouse” jam-packed with opportunities to learn, to connect, to participate in webinars, as well as a monthly publication that comes as a PDF to members. You can find them at this link. I am a member, and I heartily recommend them. They also have an offshoot called Writing Blueprints, which draws from many other children’s writing experts to offer webinars and courses that will give you a firm grounding in whatever aspect of the kidlit world you wish to learn about. Although I haven’t taken any of their courses (yet), I have participated in several webinars and they have been excellent.

I recommend that ALL children’s writers and illustrators join SCBWI. There is so much available in that organization. The Blue Board forum on the website will likely be able to answer any question you have about creating books for kids; there are regional groups all around the world that offer conferences, workshops, meet-ups, and webinars; there are international conferences twice a year (Los Angeles in summer, New York City in winter); and so much more. There is a cost involved for membership, but it’s worth it. Check it out here.

SCBWI Nevada keeps an up-to-date listing of webinars from all regions of SCBWI. Some are free, some have a nominal charge, all are worthwhile. You can find their listing at this link.

Mary Kole, former agent and freelance editor, has just started offering webinars. I have participated in two of them, and from that experience (as well as my familiarity with her expertise from her book WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT and her blog) I highly recommend them. You can find information here.

I could go on and on, but this post has already run too long!

Are there any you would recommend? Please let me know in the comments.