Monday, December 1, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Truth About Twinkie Pie

To find out more about Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, click here.  

Title: The Truth About Twinkie Pie
Author:  Kat Yeh (link)
Pub Date: February 2015

Goodreads Synopsis:  Take two sisters making it on their own: brainy twelve-year-old GiGi (short for Galileo Galilei, a name she never says out loud) and junior-high-dropout-turned-hairstylist DiDi (short for Delta Dawn). Add a million dollars in prize money from a national cooking contest and a move from the trailer parks of South Carolina to the Gold Coast of New York. Mix in a fancy new school, new friends and enemies, a first crush, and a generous sprinkling of family secrets. That's the recipe for The Truth About Twinkie Pie, a voice-driven middle grade debut about the true meaning of family and friendship.

First Line: Truth is, I knew the lady with the green scarf was not Mama. But I followed her anyway.

I was so excited to score a copy of this middle grade debut by Kat Yeh at BEA that, out of all the books I was lugging in my heavy backpack, I picked this one to devour on my subway ride home from the expo. And it did not disappoint! 

First, can we talk about the cover? No wait -- first let's talk about the title. What's more fascinating than a dessert that has secrets, especially when you've never seen or heard of it before? From the cover, it looks as fun and kitschy and pink as I hoped. Food and the act of cooking with love and intention (and a lot of sugar) are woven throughout the narrative via recipes written in a most hilarious voice. 

Family and identity are both at the heart of this story. GiGi has just moved from the South with her lottery-winning sister DiDi to a wealthy Yankee town. Instead of splurging on their winnings, DiDi enrolls GiGi in a private school and continues to work as a hairdresser. As GiGi navigates this new suburban life, one that is a far cry from their old trailer park, she stumbles upon her first real crush, tries to win over an instant enemy, and begins to unravel the mysteries of her family.

DiDi and GiGi have a Gilmore Girls dynamic that will make you want to jump inside the pages and join their peculiar little family. The story takes fresh twists and culminates in a tear-jerker ending that magically captures the power of sacrifice and unconditional love -- so grab some tissues and a sweet treat or two before you dive in. 

If you want to hear more about the recipes and how this story came to life, check out this great podcast interview with Ms. Yeh on Publishers Weekly.

Why You'll Love Galileo / GiGi / Leia: You can tell a character is going through some major changes when she has that many names, and this gal does so with kindness, a level head, and spunk... until she doesn't. GiGi's deadpan observations and razor honesty perfectly serve up the characters at her fancy new school. And whether she's dealing with preteen politics or peering into her family's mysteries, her genuine worldview will simply charm you.

THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE Topics & Themes: family, identity, bullying, starting a new school, class, lgbtq issues, crushes, home cooking, friendship.

Want to read about more marvelous middle grade books? Check out my past picks, as well as these MMGM bloggers who feature recommendations every Monday!  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Oh, Hey 2014!

*Blows dust off blog* Hello there!

It's been awhile since I posted anything here, and when I look at the date of my last entry (February 16), I remember that as far as excuses go, it's honestly not been a "the dog ate my homework" kind of year.

Around the time I last hit publish, I found out I was pregnant. Pregnant! As in, hey, you better dust the sour patch kids off your face because you are about to become a mom.

Two weeks later, my sweetheart and I closed on our first house. I've been an apartment dweller my entire life, so this was pretty huge. We found a sweet brick colonial in a writerly suburb of NYC that has an amazing library... and as an added bonus, the village is also haunted, at least in the literary sense.

We decided to do major renovations before moving in, which required a lot of time and energy, all while I was fantastically nauseous.

And since I hit two major life events, I decided to go for a hat trick and accepted a job offer a few months later. The week after moving into our half-renovated home, I started my first day, with a new role, new boss, new new new.

Home ownership. Renovations. Nine months of pregnancy. New desk at work. It's been a hell of a year for sure!

My son Max was born in late October, and now one month in, I'm finally getting the hang of infant care. Though every time I think that, the little monster throws me for a loop :)

Fox-themed story time on Max's first night home

And even though Max came early, even though we still need to hang curtains and paint some rooms, and even though I sometimes don't brush my teeth until after noon, this tornado of a year has given me so much to be thankful for. And a big fat one is the shiny love, support, motivation, and hope I find in my kidlit community.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my writer friends -- amidst the whirlwind this year has brought on, you've been my constant! I've loved reading your blogs, your books, finding out about your book deals, and typing alongside you whenever I've had a free moment!

Hope you have more than one slice of pie and a few days of holiday bliss.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Writer's Treat: Amy Einhorn Opens Up

It's pretty rare to encounter a five-page interview on the internet that you'll want to read in its entirety -- but that's what I found the other day on Poets & Writers.

Check out this amazing interview with editor and publisher Amy Einhorn. You'll get the most forthright insight I've ever read on the editorial process, what it means to buy a book, and how the industry ticks. Enjoy!

Quotable Bite:
When you do your launch presentation and you say, “I love this book,” that’s almost completely meaningless to a sales rep. Every editor loves the books he or she bought. I know only a small portion of what the reps are up against, but related to the perception that everyone thinks that editors just read, a lot of what I do is sell. I have to sell the book to my reps, to publicity, to marketing, to booksellers, to reviewers.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Writer's Treat: Middle Grade On The Narrative Breakdown

This morning, I discovered Scholastic exec. editor Cheryl Klein's amazing writing podcast (hat tip Andrea Mack).

Episode 35 of The Narrative Breakdown features author and editor Jill Santopolo. She and Klein discuss everything middle grade, touching on topics from outlining to what makes a book middle grade to increasing writing productivity. They also chat a bit about the series that made me love reading as a kid: The Babysitter's Club.

If you have some free time this chilly Sunday, put the kettle on, pour a cup of tea, and have a listen! The conversation lasts about 30 min.

-- More About The Narrative Breakdown --

In The Narrative Breakdown, Cheryl Klein, James Monohan, and other guest co-hosts discuss storytelling tips and techniques of interest to any writer, student, or fan of quality creative writing, screenwriting, playwriting, fan fiction, English literature, etc. Each episode, Cheryl and James draw upon their respective experiences in publishing and filmmaking to analyze popular novels, movies, plays, television shows, short stories, and song lyrics. Featuring various co-hosts and writers, as well as material from Cheryl Klein’s book ‘Second Sight’ and James’ iPhone / iPad app ‘The Storyometer.’

Monday, November 25, 2013

World Book Night 2014

World Book Night is back! Well, not quite yet, but the 2014 books were announced recently, and there are some amazing choices this year.

If you are not familiar with World Book Night, get ready to smile. I participated in 2012, and sincerely loved every second -- even while carrying around a load of books.

Here's the full list of the 2014 books. The kidlit choices include
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Hoot, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, and Code Name Verity.

Until then... more free books!

My last Marvelous Middle Grade Monday featured Keeper Of The Lost Cities with a giveaway to a commenter. I used to pick a winner from the comments. And without further ado, the owner of a shiny new paper book copy is...

Congrats! I don't have a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendation today, but you can find plenty of great picks from these bloggers.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Keeper Of The Lost Cities + A Paperback Giveaway

To find out more about Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, click here.  

Title: Keeper Of The Lost Cities
Author:  Shannon Messenger (link)
Pub Date: October 2012

(Giveaway info below)

Goodreads Synopsis:  Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She’s a Telepath—someone who hears the thoughts of everyone around her. It’s a talent she’s never known how to explain.  

Everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s a place she does belong, and that staying with her family will place her in grave danger. There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory -- secrets about who she really is and why she was hidden among humans -- that other people desperately want. Would even kill for.

First Line: Blurry, fractured memories swam through Sophie's mind, but she couldn't piece them together.

What a fun, fun book! But before I gush some more, I want to disclose that the mastermind behind Marvelous Middle Grade Monday penned this novel.

Ms. Messenger signs her middle grade debut at BEA 2012
I've been reading Shannon's blog for a few years now. She provides great tips for new writers, and brings much needed humor to the ups and downs of publishing. I couldn't wait to read her debut novel, and was able to get an arc at BEA last year.

I'm so happy to report that I was not disappointed. The story follows Sophie, a 12-year-old high school student who discovers that there is an explanation to her advanced cognitive and telepathic skills -- she is an elf! From there, readers are whisked into a colorful new world where Sophie struggles to find her place with the help of a few friends. Fans of Harry Potter will especially enjoy this story of an underdog kid who is introduced to a magical sphere.

Why You'll Love Sophie: It takes a special kind of character to eat the news that she's an elf with grace and style. Sophie's transformation from the human world to her new elfin one oscillates from cringe-worthy to complete fun. Her determination and grit in the face of a new school, a new family, a dangerous mystery, and even droolly dinosaurs will keep readers rooting for Sophie throughout this trilogy.

Keeper Of The Lost Cities Topics & Themes: new schools/students, identity, fitting in, outcasts, friendship, crushes, bravery, family, hard choices.

Exile, book #2 of this series came out this month! Let's celebrate with BOOKS!:

Keeper Of The Lost Cities Giveaway: Can't wait to get your hands on this book? Well I have one paperback copy up for grabs -- and all you have to do is comment and Tweet (+1 entry) or follow me on Twitter (+ 1 entry) for a chance to win it! Go for it!

Want to read about more marvelous middle grade books? Check out my past picks, as well as these MMGM bloggers who feature recommendations every Monday!  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Instagram #PhotoADay: October

Confession: I'm a bit of a social media lurker. By nature, I'm an undersharer -- so some social sites elude me completely (I'm looking at you, Facebook).

But I find Twitter and Instagram fun, and I love catching up on people's clever (or not) updates -- even though I rarely post tweets and photos myself.

But that's about to change on Instagram. This month I'm attempting to post one daily photo. And three days in, sharing random pictures has been much easier than I suspected. In fact, I think it's reminding me to appreciate some of the small things I'd pass by without thinking twice about.

Take yesterday, for instance. While walking down Lexington Avenue on my way to work, I encountered a film crew that spanned a block and a half. This is a fairly common sight in NYC, but instead of rolling my eyes at the detour to my subway stop, I snapped a photo:

They are filming parts of the new "Annie" movie starring Quvenzhané Wallis in Harlem, and I spied the adorable actress getting her nose powdered between shots.

I'm glad I stopped and checked out Lex with fresh eyes rather than raced by to catch a train. It's not every day the street's packed with expensive camera equipment and a busy crew. And now I'll definitely be looking out for this scene and my familiar neighborhood sites when I watch the movie.

Are you on Instagram? Let me know - I'd love to connect and check out your feed! And you can find my profile here. After four months, it's about to get a lot less boring -- I promise!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Which Book Would You Buy A 5th Grader?

One of my dearest friends recently moved back to NYC from San Francisco to teach fifth grade English at a charter school in the Bronx.

We were chatting the other day about the library she's putting together for her kids. A company donated books to her school, and she received a sizable share for her class. She created a really special nook with cozy chairs for her students to cuddle up and read.

Given how much middle grade I devour, this conversation was bound to inspire me. So I decided to donate some of my favorite modern middle grade books to her classroom.

This was a task I took on with utter seriousness. I wanted to find a range of novels for her library, ones with fully formed characters of color, as well as stories set in diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and settings. And most of all, books that encouraged bravery and adventure while stirring the imagination.

After a few trips to The Strand, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, I got hardcover copies (for durability) of the following books for her kids:

1.)  Wonder by RJ Palacio
2.)  Waiting For Normal by Leslie Conor
3.)  Chained by Lynne Kelly
4.)  May B by Caroline Starr Rose
5.)  Where The Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin
6.)  How Lamar's Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen
7.)  Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
8.)  When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
9.)  Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
10.) Inside Out And Back Again by Thanhha Lai
11.) Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
12.) Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective by Octavia Spencer
13.) Malcolm At Midnight by WH Beck

There were many more that I wanted to add to the list, but I had to stop somewhere! And since thirteen is my lucky number, I ended up going with a baker's dozen.

So, what middle grade books would you recommend to a fifth grader? If you could get every elementary schooler to read one book, what would it be?

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Post-Conference Slump

At SCBWI LA with writing pals (left to right) Bridget,
Jodi, Pat, (me), Kathryn, Ghenet, & Edith
When I started writing fiction seriously about four years ago, I also began attending writer conferences. So far I've been to about six of them, and this August I made it over to the national SCBWI conference in LA for the first time.

Many of my writer friends consider this event one of the most special, motivating, and authentically fun weekend seminars for children's book writers. And I'm happy to report that the conference did not disappoint. The keynotes were delightful, particularly Laurie Halse Anderson, Matt de la Pena, and Jarrett Krosoczka. I had an amazing critique from an agent, and Richard Peck's first line workshop seriously inspired me to write more beautifully. I even got to meet a blogging pal - Cynthia from Read Is The New Black.

During the entire four-day event, I was pumped. The talks energized me to write the best book I can possible write -- to sharpen my prose, raise the stakes in my plot, liven up my characters. But when I got off the plane in NY, my brain remained in plan mode. Aaaand... I didn't write again for about three weeks.

This wasn't the first time I experienced a post-conference writing slump. In fact, it's happened to me after every single weekend-long conference I've attended. So what gives?

Last week at another SCBWI workshop (this one in New York) the words of a wise author hit home to me. And for the first time, I realized why conferences -- while stirring and enlightening -- have been so temporarily disruptive to my own writing.

Editor Wendy Lamb and Newbery winner Rebecca Stead at
SCBWI Metro NY's Professional Series
Rebecca Stead, along with her editor, Wendy Lamb, were special guests at my local Metro NY branch's monthly writing talk. If you read my MMGM features, then you know I'm a Fan of Stead. Yes, that's fan with a capital F. As far as middle grade goes, she's top notch, and I seriously wish I could have read her books in elementary school.

While describing her writing process, Stead mentioned how perfectionism can really get in the way of doing the work. And what writer can't relate to that? She said that sometimes, preparing to write is like setting up for a perfect dive. And if you're a good, dedicated diver, you'll stand on the edge of the pool and concentrate on the building blocks of that set up so you execute strongly.

But if you're too focused on setting up perfectly -- you might not dive at all.

Here is a tweet from another attendee that sums that up more concicely:
Though I enjoy and learn a ton from conferences, the intense amount of information, feedback, and reflection put me in set up mode. I leave thinking of a million things I should change and improve. And for a small amount of time, I'm too intimidated to dive (ha) back into my writing. Because a piece of me wonders if I can ever live up to the renewed vision I have for my work.

That said, I seriously love attending writing conferences. This problem eventually solves itself, but next time, I might paste a few gentle reminders in my notebook to help bolster me from my own hyper criticism.

How about you? Do you ever psych yourself out when you're learning all the good stuff at writing conferences? Any tips on how to incorporate craft lessons without slipping into a slump?

Monday, September 2, 2013

'Counting By 7s' Galley Winner

Merry Labor Day, peeps!

Last week I featured a new favorite middle grade story, and promised to share my arc with a reader. has spoken, and the winner is...

Joanne Fritz!!!

Joanne is a terrific blogger and author who frequently posts middle grade recommendations on her site. You should check her out!

Happy reading, Joanne. Will be in touch to get your mailing address.