Keeper of the Lost Cities: Character Interviews & Giveaway

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a group of first graders on writing.  One of my favorite students, Andy (short for Andrea) grew into a voracious reader and a budding writer with a fabulous vocabulary.  This summer I introduced her to author, Shannon Messenger's Keeper of the Lost Cities.  Andy devoured the book.  I was lucky to acquire an Advanced Copy of Keeper of the Lost Cities: Exile which comes out in October 2013.  Before I had a chance to even read it, I knew I could make someone's day and shared it with one of my favorite young readers, Andy.

For some fun, Andy wrote up some questions for two of the main characters, Sophie & Fitz.  She also had a few questions for Shannon, too. 

Interview questions for Sophie:

When the truth was revealed about how you where created how did that impact your life? Could you elaborate on your experiences? 

Well, I'm honestly still figuring that out. There's still so much no one's told me that most of the time I feel like I have no idea what's going on. It can be a little frustrating. And sometimes a little scary. But I just have to take it one day at a time.

When you first learned that you had to move away from your love ones how did you feel? What were your thoughts? 

Oh wow--there were so many emotions. Of course I was sad. And scared. And angry that we all had to suffer because of things that we had nothing to do with. But honestly? I also felt a little relieved. I know that might sound bad, like I didn't love my family--and I do. But I never felt quite right with them--and I could tell that they were always worrying about me. So in a weird way, it was nice to finally understand why living with them had been so hard.

Interview questions to Fitz:

I find it very humorous that only your ears tend to change as you age! Can you explain why it happens? 

Ha--I don't know why you humans find that so weird. Don't you know that it even happens to you? Have you looked at your grandfather's ears? How about your great grandfather's? Go look if you haven't. You'll find they're quite large, because human ears continue to grow as you age too. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if your ears could grow points as well. You just don't live as long as we do to find out.

How does it feel being a telepath, and is there a reasons why it's not permitted to read people's mind without their permission? 

I love being a Telepath! It's a really important ability--and I'm good at it! Really good, actually. And we have laws for Telepaths to make sure we respect other's privacy. Just because some of us have the ability to hear thoughts doesn't mean we should be allowed to poke around people's heads all the time and find out what they're thinking. Wouldn't you want to be able to keep a few secrets?

Interview questions for Shannon:

What inspired you to create the characters, animals, and majestic places? 

Oh, so many things. The world of KEEPER is a little bit of everything I love, mixed with a lot of answers to the question, "What if?" I love to consider possibilities and think about what things would be like if they were different from the life we see every day. The story really came from there.

Do you plan to make the book into a movie? 

Well, that's one of those funny things a lot of people don't realize. It's not *really* up to the author whether the book gets made into a movie because it costs a LOT of money to make a movie. So that would be up to Hollywood to decide. But I think it would be very cool if it happened. Fingers AND toes crossed.

Thanks Shannon for answering Andy's questions and for participating in this interview. :-)

For more information about Shannon Messenger, check out her website:

Keeper of the Lost Cities Book Club Giveaway

Keeper of the Lost Cities has been a huge hit with every child I have shared it with.  To celebrate Exile (book 2) coming out next month, I am giving away 10 paperback copies of The Keeper of the Lost Cities (book 1) to a lucky reader with a U.S. mailing address (no P.O. Boxes).  Shannon and I are working out a way to get the books signed.  Additionally, Shannon has agreed to skype with the lucky book club or classroom that wins the books.

Please enter the contest using the Rafflecopter form below:

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Book Review - Doll Bones

Author: Holly Black
Illustrator:  Eliza Wheeler
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (May 7, 2013)
Source:  Finished Copy for review by publisher
Audience: Ages 9 to 13
Fiction * Friendship * Coming of Age * Ghost Story

Description from GoodReads:
Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity...

My thoughts on the book:
Doll Bones by Holly Black is a middle grade tale that will hook readers in and hold onto them until the end. It is the story of three 12 year olds – Zach, Alice, and Poppy – who have created an elaborate storytelling/role-playing game with action figures and dolls. When Zach’s father throws away Zach’s bag of action figures in a misguided attempt to help his son “grow up”, it sets in motion a series of actions and reactions that lead the three children on a journey of discovery and change.

Zach’s refusal to play the storytelling games and his fear in telling Alice and Poppy the truth leads Poppy to remove the “Queen” (a bone china doll) from her mother’s cabinet. Poppy reveals to Alice and Zach that the doll contains the actual ashes of a young girl who died. The girl’s ghost has asked to be returned to her grave in East Liverpool, OH (which is a long bus ride from where the children live in PA). Whether Alice and Zach really believe Poppy, each child strikes out on the journey for his/her own reasons. The reader is left to decide whether the doll is really communicating with Poppy.

Part of Black’s brilliance in her storytelling is that she has chosen to keep the story firmly in reality. Readers like the children have to come to their own conclusion about the Doll; however, each piece of the journey never seems contrived, but seems like something a group of tweens could have undertaken. This also keeps the balance between being just right scary vs. frightening scary.

Ultimately, Doll Bones is significantly more than a ghost story. It is a deep story of friendship, change, growing up, and leaving things behind. This is a journey story that results in characters growing and evolving in a meaningful way. The story is well-crafted without using more words than are needed. The pacing moves deliberately and never once did I want to scan a paragraph or skip a page. Additionally, Black is spot on with the voice of each of the tweens. It is easy to have children sound younger or older than they are, but here, the dialogue was real. The inclusion of dramatic dialogue that comes from times when the children fall into their character roles never dominates or takes over the story and just works to enhance the adventure.

In my opinion, Black has written her best story to date.  A book that will be in high demand once the children in classrooms or libraries learn about it.  And though I have absolutely no control over the decisions of the 2014 Newbery Committee, may I just say, I would be ecstatic if Doll Bones came away as a winner.

This is Holly Black's first foray back into the world of books for Middle Graders after a string of successful Young Adult novels.  For young fans, who may have missed her work on the Spiderwick Chronicles with Tony DiTerlizzi, Simon and Schuster has re-released the series with all new covers to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide.  Click here to see all of the covers.

For more information on Holly Black: website | blog | twitter | facebook | tumblr | pinterest

Do you have these Walden Pond Press Titles on your To-Read List?

Walden Pond Press (the off-spring of HarperCollins & Walden Media) focuses specifically on Middle Grade novels.  As a result, they have some amazing books.  Here are some upcoming releases.  If you don't have them on your "to-read" list, what are you waiting for.

April 30, 2013

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle (The League of Princes #2) by Christopher Healy - The sequel to last year's The Hero's Guide to Saving the Kingdom - this funny, witty twist on fairy tale Prince Charmings is sure to have you laughing. 

Check out the official Book Trailer:

May 7, 2013

Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked by Jarrett J. Krosoczka - Mystery, Humor, Great Artwork and something all new from the creator of The Lunch Lady

Check out the official book trailer:

June 25, 2013

Sidekicked by John David Anderson - I just discovered this one and can't wait to read it.  I love this comparison "the Avengers in Middle School..."  I know what I will be reading soon.  Enter to win a copy here.

Book Review - Write This Book

Author: Pseudonymous Bosch
Illustrator: Gilbert Ford
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (April 2, 2013)
Source: Copy for Review
Audience:  Ages 9 and up
More about the author: website | twitter | facebook

Description from GoodReads:
I feared this may happen. I knew reading was a dangerous business, but now it's not safe for writers either! You see, the author of this book is missing. Well, maybe not "missing." A certain author whom I won't name (okay, me) has abandoned his book and has left his readers hanging out to dry. This is a crime, I admit, but there it is. Most of this book, well, I just haven't written it. And I'm not going to, either.
Why? Oh, I have my reasons. Big. Grown up. Author. Reasons. Unfortunately, I can't reveal them yet. Let's just say a life is at stake (mine) and leave it at that. So will you do it? Pretty please? You'll do it? Thank you! But please hurry! Time is of the essence and you can't wait any longer. You must WRITE THIS BOOK!
This imaginative companion to the New York Times bestselling Secret Series teases, prompts, and leads readers through the steps of writing a story. Bosch's signature rip-roaring voice delivers an engaging narrative (for the reader to help complete!) and interactive puzzles and games. Readers get the chance to create their own story while enjoying a satisfying mystery as well.

My interview with Jax's (age 12) regarding Write This Book:

Why did you like the book?
The book had some comedy thrown into it because Pseudonymous Bosch is just funny.  It is similar in style to The Secret Series.  I, also, liked it because it seemed like it was written just for me.  It was just plain awesome. 

What did you learn from it?
I liked that Bosch gave us blanks to fill in, as an example of what to write.  I learned little tips on what authors use sometimes when writing from the "how-to's". 

Why would you recommend it?
I would recommend it because it is well written and will appeal to a wide age range (from kids to adults).  I would also recommend it because the comedy is great.

Who would you recommend it to?
I would recommend it to almost anyone over the age of 9 or 10.  It seems great for anyone to read.  I would also recommend it to anyone who likes mystery books, mad libs, and funny books.

What should I have asked you about the book? 
You should have asked me what my favorite scene is, but my answer would have to be all of them. 

Thanks Jax for that awesome endorsement of Write This Book. 

My thoughts on this book:
Not that you really need my endorsement after reading Jax's thoughts, but I guess I need to chime in here.

Fans of The Secret Series will feel right at home with Bosch's trademark style and humor which starts right from the beginning.  He encourages readers to create their own titles and even come up with their own "nom de plume".  Bosch does not take anything for granted.  He recognizes that his young audience has many questions about writing and may not know even some of the first steps; however, he is never condescending to his audience.  Instead, I could not help but think about the amazing vocabulary that is used as part of word play (particularly in the notes on various pages).  It is not as if students would need to sit with a dictionary, but Bosch has a respect for the intelligence of his audience and their ability to grasp words and concepts.

Write This Book is an interactive text.  Readers are encouraged to write thoughts down, play with ideas, and try different exercises.  This would be a great book to use in summer writing groups or as part of a writing club at a school.    

For those of you in the Pasadena area, check out the this event at Vroman's Bookstore on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 where Pseudonymous Bosch and Story Pirates present Write This Book: A Do-It Yourself Mystery at McKinley School.

Cover Reveal: Wig in the Window

I am so excited to have been selected to reveal the cover for Kristen Kittscher's debut middle grade novel The Wig in the Window (Harper Collins, 2013).   I have known Kristen for over a year now and she is not only a fabulous writer but also a wonderful friend and teacher.

Synopsis from the back of the ARC for The Wig in the Window:
"Sophie Young and Grace Yang have made a game of spying on their neighbors, but when they stake out the home of notoriously phony middle school counselor Dr. Charlotte Agford (aka Dr. Awkward) they stumble across a terrifying scene.

Or do they? No matter what, the girls are convinced that Dr. Agford’s sugary sweet façade hides a dark secret. But as they get closer to the truth about Agford, the strain of the investigation pushes Sophie and Grace farther apart. Even if they crack their case, will their friendship survive?

Perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Wig in the Window is a smart, funny mystery with a Rear Window twist."

And now the cover reveal...

I love the cover and I can't wait for everyone to meet Young & Yang.  One lucky reader will get to read The Wig in the Window now.  Kristen is giving away an advanced readers copy of The Wig in the Window.  You can enter by using the Rafflecopter form at the bottom.

Here is a teaser quote from the back cover
"I looked back across the dark stretch of Agford’s lawn to the house. Every light was ablaze and her blinds were pulled low, creating a milky-white screen. And projected onto that screen was the most terrifying image I had ever encountered. Agford’s silhouetted figure loomed before me, twenty feet high and ten feet wide. She raised one arm and paused—the black outline of a cleaver hovering overhead—before swinging violently downward."

For more information about Kristen Kittscher: twitter | facebook | website

Kristen Kittscher is a writing tutor in Southern California, where she lives with her husband, Kai. A graduate of Brown University and former seventh grade English teacher, she loves writing funny mysteries for the precocious middle schoolers she once enjoyed teaching so much. She’s now at work on Young & Yang’s next adventure, THE TIARA ON THE TERRACE.

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