Wednesday, November 26, 2014

PM’s Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Historical Fiction Lovers

Chris here, with part two of the Project Mayhem holiday shopping guide – Historical Fiction. An earlier post covered Books for Fantasy Lovers. Coming up, I’ll be listing Adventure Novels, and then Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Paranormal. I wanted to celebrate some of our Project Mayhem books – order a copy for your favorite middle grade reader, or for yourself! The links are to the author’s website or blog; if you want to buy, it might be faster to go to your favorite online retailer and paste in the name, or ask your local bookstore to order the book. 

Caroline Starr Rose’s May B.: May is helping out on a neighbor’s homestead—just until Christmas, her pa promises. But when a terrible turn of events leaves her all alone, she must try to find food and fuel—and courage—to make it through the approaching winter.

This gorgeous novel in verse by Caroline Starr Rose will transport you to the Kansas prairie—to the endless grassland, and to the suffocating closeness of the sod house where May is stranded. May’s eloquent yet straightforward voice, and her bravery, determination, and willingness to risk it all will capture your heart.

Caroline’s book Blue Birds, set in 1587 in the colony of Roanoke, Virginia, is coming in March.

Dianne K. Salerni’s The Caged Graves (young adult): In Catawissa, the dead don’t always stay where you put them… 17-year-old Verity Boone expects a warm homecoming when she returns to Catawissa, Pennsylvania in 1867, pledged to marry a young man she’s never met. Instead, she finds a father she barely knows and a future husband with whom she apparently has nothing in common. And a truly horrifying surprise awaits her: the graves of her mother and aunt are enclosed in iron cages outside the local cemetery. Nobody in town will explain why, but Verity hears rumors of buried treasure and witchcraft. Perhaps the cages were built to keep grave robbers out . . . or to keep the women in. Determined to understand, Verity finds herself in a life-and-death struggle with people she thought she could trust.

Dianne K. Salerni’s We Hear the Dead (young adult): Spirits knock and tables tip for Maggie and Kate Fox, two teenage sisters who convince people they can talk to the dead with their mysterious rapping noises. What begins as a clever prank traps the girls in their lie as neighbors beg for the chance to receive messages from dead relatives. When their older sister Leah realizes the money-making potential of the scam, she takes them on the road to bamboozle newspaper editors, politicians, and the public at large. As their fame grows, each sister pursues a different goal. Maggie loves the attention. Leah seeks wealth and influence. Kate comes to believe in her own powers. Then Maggie meets Elisha Kane, a dashing and romantic Arctic explorer who offers her a chance to better herself — but only if she will turn on her sisters and give up spirit rapping forever. Caught between two worlds, Maggie must decide where her loyalties lie.

Chris Eboch’s The Eyes of Pharaoh: When Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt? Then Reya disappears. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

The Eyes of Pharaoh, set in Egypt in 1177 BC, brings an ancient world to life

Chris Eboch’s The Well of Sacrifice: Eveningstar Macaw lives in a glorious Mayan city in the ninth century. When the king falls ill and dies, the city begins to crumble. An evil high priest, Great Skull Zero, orders the sacrifice of those who might become king, including Eveningstar’s beloved brother. Suspicious of the High Priest’s motives, Eveningstar attempts to save her brother, thus becoming the High Priest’s enemy. Condemned to be thrown into the Well of Sacrifice, Eveningstar must find a way not only to save her own life but to rescue her family and her city from the tyrannical grasp of Great Skull Zero.

“[An] engrossing first novel….Eboch crafts an exciting narrative with a richly textured depiction of ancient Mayan society….The novel shines not only for a faithful recreation of an unfamiliar, ancient world, but also for the introduction of a brave, likable and determined heroine.” - Kirkus Reviews

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift; a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. In The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, a brother and sister help a ghostly miner find his long-lost mine. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Middle-Grade Books I’m Thankful For by Hilary Wagner

Books always leave an impression on us. Good, bad or otherwise, they leave us feeling something. Over the years, though, there have been certain books that have really left an impression on me, not just as a writer, but as a person. Books that have made me stop and think and really change the way I look at the world. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here is a short list of the middle-grade books I’m most thankful for. 

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

This was the first book I ever read as a kid that gave me that “wow” moment. I actually remember sitting up in bed and thinking to myself, ‘So this is why reading is so great! This is what my teachers are talking about!’ Not to mention, the first scene with the owl terrified me!

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows was the first book that made me laugh out loud! The antics of Mr. Toad had me rolling on the floor, but I was also deeply touched by the friendship between Rat, Mole, Toad, and Badger. A true book about friendship. 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This book taught me about triumph over tragedy and forgiveness. I cried when the lion died. It was such a tragic scene and such a sad moment for me, but as those of you know who read the book, it did not last long. 

The Call of the Wild

How could you not love Buck? London puts you right there with him, feeling his struggles as he’s thrust into the harsh wilderness of Alaska. It was the first book that really made me feel that I was there in that space and time. I could actually feel the cold. 


Westerns are normally not a book I’d be drawn to. I’m so thankful to my teacher who forced me to read this! Shane is a powerful story of bravery, faithfulness, and taking the right path, even if it’s the hardest one to take. Shane is thought of as one of the strongest children’s Westerns ever and with good reason.

So, there’s some of the books that changed me as a young person and as a future writer. What are some of yours? 


Monday, November 24, 2014

World-Building in 1/12 Scale by Kell Andrews

I spent the day cleaning the house. This one:
Which is the same as this one:

That's me in the heart-shaped deely-boppers, behind my little sister. It was my 13th birthday, and that was my new dollhouse. Dollhouses weren't the coolest thing in eighth grade, but that didn't stop me. I liked to build worlds, even if I didn't know that's what I was doing. 

There were no Minecraft, no MMORPGs. Some kids had 12-sided die; I had an X-acto knife and embroidery floss. I used it to recreate my Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Witch of Blackbird Pond dreams (all historical periods mingled in a Mercer Museum fever dream.Here's one of the bedrooms, with a patchwork quilt, cross-stitched pillow, and miniature acrylic self-portrait.
In that painting, I was 14, and I was reading. Age 14 was more of a no man's land then than now, so the book was probably Charles Dickens or Charlotte Bronte. But reading and miniature making were sides of the same coin -- immersion and construction of imaginary worlds.

Writing, whether fantasy, history, or contemporary, requires building the world from the ground up -- and often from the ground down too. Whether a world is faithfully reproduced or entirely invented, the writer must construct it on the page.

I constructed my dollhouse out of scrap calico and wood. I populated it with costumed fur mice, which didn't seem ghoulish at the time but definitely were when I took them out of the non-archival storage of our garden shed. Generations of live mice had scurried through those open-sided walls. My mouse house had become real with time, like the Skin Horse in the Velveteen Rabbit. Like the stories I wrote and bound myself that turned into other stories, and still others that are real books and books-to-be.

So this weekend I cleaned out the mouse droppings and washed the linens. Salvaged broken furniture and paged through the mini newspapers and magazines I had made, complete with crime reports and cigarette ads. (The past was no paradise.)

And now the dollhouse belongs to my daughters to rebuild, redecorate, and repopulate with their own imaginations. I do have a few ideas for hardwood floors and curtains, and I may have time to squeeze them in between drafts. Worlds must be built.


What activities, seemingly unrelated to books, helped shape you as a writer or reader? 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

PM’s Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Fantasy Lovers

Chris here: In honor of the holiday shopping season, I wanted to celebrate some of our Project Mayhem books – order a copy for your favorite middle grade reader, or for yourself! The links are to the author’s website or blog; if you want to buy, it might be faster to go to your favorite online retailer and paste in the name, or ask your local bookstore to order the book.

Today I’m starting with some fantasy novels that involve alternate worlds. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be listing books in the categories of Historical Fiction, Adventure Novels, and Fantasy (our world), Sci-Fi and Paranormal.

Hilary Wagner’s Nightshade Chronicles - Nightshade City: Book One: Deep beneath a modern metropolis lies the Catacombs, a kingdom of remarkable rats of superior intellect, ruled by decadent High Minister Killdeer and his vicious henchman Billycan, a former lab rat with a fondness for butchery. Three young orphan rats—brothers Vincent and Victor and a clever female named Clover—join forces with Billycan’s archenemy, Juniper, and his maverick band of rebel rats as they plot to overthrow their oppressors and create a new city—Nightshade City.

“Fast paced and full of intrigue. One fantasy lovers won’t want to miss.” – Kirkus Reviews

Also in the series:
The White Assassin
Lords of Trillium
Catacomb City

Dawn Lairamore’s Ivy’s Ever After: The kingdom of Ardendale has always locked its princesses in a white tower guarded by a dragon. It’s the only way to lure gallant young princes to the tiny, out-of-the-way kingdom to marry them. But Ivy is a princess who doesn’t care to be rescued, and Elridge a dragon afraid of being slain. Never mind that humans and dragons have loathed each other for centuries, it isn’t long before this feisty princess and rather undragonly dragon have fled the tower and set off on a perilous journey….

* “This is a fun and entertaining fairy-tale based fantasy with a nice balance of character development and action.” –School Library Journal (starred review)

A Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, 2011

See also: Ivy and the Meanstalk

Marissa Burt’s Storybound: In our world, twelve-year-old Una Fairchild has always felt invisible. But all that changes when she stumbles upon a mysterious book buried deep in the basement of her school library, opens the cover, and suddenly finds herself transported to the magical land of Story. But Story is not a perfect fairy tale. Una’s new friend Peter warns her about the grave danger she could face if anyone discovers her true identity. The devious Tale Keeper watches her every move. And there are whispers of a deadly secret that seems to revolve around Una herself….

Storybound has been praised by Kirkus Reviews for its “richly imagined world” and by Publishers Weekly as “an appealing fantasy with strong writing and interesting characters.” 

See also: Story’s End

Chris Eboch’s The Genie’s Gift: Shy and timid Anise determines to find the Genie Shakayak and claim the Gift of Sweet Speech. But the way is barred by a series of challenges, both ordinary and magical. How will Anise get past a vicious she-ghoul, a sorceress who turns people to stone, and mysterious sea monsters, when she can’t even speak in front of strangers?

The Genie’s Gift is a lighthearted action novel set in the fifteenth-century Middle East, drawing on the mythology of The Arabian Nights.

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift; a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. In The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, a brother and sister help a ghostly miner find his long-lost mine. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


My first professional cover!
Before I jumped headfirst into the world of MG books, my life’s ambition was to draw comics. I was serious about it, too. I even went to grad school to pursue my masters in sequential art. At one point I worked as an intern in the Marvel Comics bullpen assisting editors. One morning, I was opening the Marvel office mail with my trusty X-acto knife, and without realizing, I accidentally sliced up a piece of original artwork, an illustration drawn by the #1 ranked artist in the industry at the time. The artwork was for the cover of an upcoming issue of X-Men, and thanks to me, it looked like Wolverine slashed it with his claws.
I was immediately overcome by a wide range of emotions.
While pondering the topic of covers for this entry, I thought back to that incident and I wondered what it must be like for an author, filled with the giddy anticipation of seeing their book cover for the very first time, opening a box of arcs (or an email file), only to be horrified by what they find inside. A disaster of a cover. It happens, and it's a nightmare most of us don't anticipate. Nobody wants to spend months or years of hard work carefully crafting a book only to have it represented on the shelf by an image that doesn't do it justice. Or an image that says the completely wrong things about the book’s content.
A cover's job is to attract eyes as it sits on a book store shelf, but it should also tell the reader something true and relevant about the story inside. People say not to judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest, that applies to just about everything except books. The reality is that a bad cover can hurt sales and a great cover can generate sales. And this holds especially true with Middle Grade books as children are weaned off of picture books where the pictures carry the primary narrative. Kids love a great cover, and great MG covers should be able to tell a story in and of itself. And why not? If someone can write a horror story on Twitter in 140 characters or less, then a picture which can paint a thousand words should be capable of doing the same. 

How involved is the writer in the cover design process? Going into my first book, I was clueless. I just knew that as an artist I wanted input. Ideally, an editor will ask an author questions early on to determine their vision, and at this point in the process it’s good to be as clear and descriptive as possible. What else can you do to make sure you get a cover you'll be proud of? If you’re an artistic person, you can share your vision in several ways. You can email photos of other covers that you think are particularly well done. You can also create a Pinterest page to capture the mood of your novel and share that with your editor and the design team. In my case, my editor was happy to look at some concept drawings I whipped up.

In the end, I loved the simple, in-your-face approach that the cover artist assigned to Frenzy took for the finished piece. It was the right choice. It says everything you need to know about the book in an eye-catching manner without giving too much away. 
Now, it could also be that none of your ideas are incorporated into the cover, and you should prepare yourself for that possibility. It really just depends on the vision your publisher and the marketing team have for your book. For The Murk, my suggestions to add a crane and to make the alligator’s eyes a glowing red made it into the finished design. 

Is there anything you can do if you’re vehemently opposed to your book’s cover art? Yes, there are steps you can take. If you’re truly not happy with the cover, first ask yourself why that is. Is it because the direction the art team took wasn't exactly what you envisioned or is it because you honestly feel the cover looks bad or misrepresents your story? If the former is true, you should know that it’s not the publisher’s job to give you exactly what you want. It’s their job to sell the book and sell as many copies as possible. The publisher has a lot at stake, too. They’re investing their time, energy and money, and the last thing they want is to let that investment go to waste because of a poorly executed cover. The cover is just as important to your publisher as it is to you. Show the cover to a few trustworthy bibliophiles and artistic friends. Show your agent. Get opinions. But if you still feel as though the cover is entirely wrong for your book then you should talk to your editor, preferably through your agent, if you have one. Keep in mind, it’s not enough to say, “I hate this cover.” You should be able to offer a list of suggestions to fix the problem. You may find that your publisher is open to implementing some of them. Just know that unless your contract says otherwise, in the end, your publisher has the final say. 

I'd love to hear other cover stories. What kind of reaction did you have upon seeing your book covers? What kind of input did you have in the process? What do you like the most about your cover art? What do you like the least? Is there anything that surprised you about the process? If you're still waiting to see your first cover, what kind of experience and results are you hoping for? 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2014 Middle Grade Novels That Deal With Bullying + A Giveaway by Caroline Starr Rose

According to the Indicators of School Crime and Safety report from 2013, "about 28 percent of students ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the school year." Bullying can affect school attendance, physical well-being, and emotional health.

As a mother, a former teacher, and a children's author, I am so grateful for the writers who choose to take this difficult topic head on. Here are four books published in the last year that touch on bullying in some way. These aren't the simple "problem novels" of my childhood. Each contains layers of real complexity, allowing readers to experience the story alongside characters who are true to life and reside in a recognizable world.

ALWAYS, ABIGAIL -- Nancy Cavanaugh

Abigail and her two best friends are poised for a life of pom-poms and popularity. But not only does Abigail end up in a different homeroom, she doesn’t make the squad. Then everyone’s least favorite teacher pairs Abigail up with the school’s biggest outcast for a yearlong “Friendly Letter Assignment.” Abigail can hardly believe her bad luck. As her so-called best friends and potential for popularity seem to be slipping away, Abigail has to choose between the little bit of fame she has left or being a true friend.

ALWAYS, ABIGAIL is an epistolary novel whose entire story is told through a series of lists. What I found fascinating about it was how familiar these sixth graders interactions felt. There isn't one bully in this story. Several kids get that title, at times including Abigail herself.

Sourcebooks has developed a curriculum guide that talks about popularity, outcasts, friendship, and bullying.

JUST A DROP OF WATER -- Kerry O'Malley Cerra

Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross country team, Palmetto Ridge. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.

Kerry O'Malley Cerra has managed to capture the confusion and fear that surrounded the early days of September 11, 2001 as well as actions of both kindness and biogtry. Kerry's website includes excellent resources, including the story behind the inspiration for the book as well as teacher resources.

EL DEAFO -- CeCe Bell

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.

The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.

I loved this review of EL DEAFO by teacher Gary Anderson, specifically this observation: "EL DEAFO also includes a bully who is mean to Cece in a way that has nothing to do with her deafness." This story moves beyond what might be expected in a way that is both rich and satisfying.

Abrams has created this teacher's guide.

THE PAPER COWBOY -- Kristin Levine

Though he thinks of himself as a cowboy, Tommy is really a bully.  He’s always playing cruel jokes on classmates or stealing from the store. But Tommy has a reason: life at home is tough. His abusive mother isn’t well; in fact, she may be mentally ill, and his sister, Mary Lou, is in the hospital badly burned from doing a chore it was really Tommy’s turn to do. To make amends, Tommy takes over Mary Lou’s paper route. But the paper route also becomes the perfect way for Tommy to investigate his neighbors after stumbling across a copy of The Daily Worker, a communist newspaper.

Tommy is shocked to learn that one of his neighbors could be a communist, and soon fear of a communist in this tight-knit community takes hold of everyone when Tommy uses the paper to frame a storeowner, Mr. McKenzie. As Mr. McKenzie’s business slowly falls apart and Mary Lou doesn’t seem to get any better, Tommy’s mother’s abuse gets worse causing Tommy’s bullying to spiral out of control.

THE PAPER COWBOY, which debuts this month, has so far earned three starred reviews. Kirkus calls it "winningly authentic; Publishers Weekly says its "a thoughtful story about understanding and compassion, distinguished by complex characters"; and Booklist describes it as "sophisticated [and] powerful."

Editor Stacey Barney talks about her love for THE PAPER COWBOY here.

Do you have any other books that might fit on our list? Please add to the conversation!

I'm giving away an advance reader copy of THE PAPER COWBOY. To enter, simply leave a comment below. US residents only, please. The winner will be announced Friday, November 21.

Monday, November 17, 2014

John Smelcer: A great Alaskan Writer

I can’t really do John Smelcer justice in a short blog post. He’s authored over forty-five books, has degrees in archeology, linguistics, literature and education, is the last surviving reader and writer of the Alaskan Native Language, Ahtna, and has won numerous awards for his writing. His books, four of which I’ll highlight below, have been widely and favorably reviewed. If you’ve never read any of Smelcer’s work, I’d start with The Trap. It is a classic survival story, and like most of Smelcer’s fiction, it is inspired by true events and personal experiences.

The Trap (2006 Henry Holt)

Seventeen-year-old Johnny Least-Weasel knows that his grandfather Albert is a stubborn old man and won’t stop checking his own traplines even though other men his age stopped doing so years ago. But Albert Least-Weasel has been running traplines in the Alaskan wilderness alone for the past sixty years. Nothing has ever gone wrong on the trail he knows so well. When Albert doesn’t come back from checking his traps, with the temperature steadily plummeting, Johnny must decide quickly whether to trust his grandfather or his own instincts. Written in alternating chapters that relate the parallel stories of Johnny and his grandfather, this novel poignantly addresses the hardships of life in the far north, suggesting that the most dangerous traps need not be made of steel.

Edge of Nowhere (2014 Leapfrog Press)

Seth is a typical teenager—overweight from not getting enough exercise. One night he and his dog, Tucker, are washed overboard from his father's fishing boat during a torrential storm in the Gulf of Alaska. Although a rescue search goes on for days, the two are assumed drowned. But by good fortune, Seth and his dog make it safely to one of the hundreds of islands that line the coastline there. Over many months, the boy and his companion makes their way, island by island, toward home, while Seth's desperate father never gives up hope. Along the way, Seth learns many hard lessons about survival and even harder lessons about himself.

Lone Wolves (2013 Leap Frog Press)

Deneena Yazzie’s love of the woods and trail come from her grandfather, who teaches her their all-but-vanished Native Alaskan language. While her peers lose hope, trapped between the old and the modern cultures, and turn to destructive behaviors, Denny and her mysterious lead dog, a blue-eyed wolf, train for the Great Race—giving her town a new pride and hope.

 Savage Mountain (Forthcoming 2015 Leapfrog Press)

Summer 1980. Brothers Sebastian and James Savage climb one of Alaska's highest mountains to prove to their father that they are worthy of his love and respect. Inspired by true events, Savage Mountain is not a story of father-son reconciliation. Some relationships can never be mended. Instead, it's a touching story of two brothers who save each other's life time and again, only to discover that brotherhood is the strongest bond of all.