The Misadventure of the Magician's Dog Blog Tour: Guest Post & Giveaway

I am excited to be able to host debut author, Frances Sackett today on Kid Lit Frenzy.  Join us as we celebrate the release of her first middle grade novel and the magic of middle grade boy readers. Thanks Frances for stopping by.

First of all, I want to thank Alyson so much for hosting me! This is an amazing blog: I’ve gotten a number of good book recommendations for my own kids by reading through it.

I wanted to write today about middle-grade boys. This is a topic that’s very dear to my heart, since I spend most of my waking hours with two of them (my son and my boyfriend’s son, both of whom are ten). And everyone knows that if you have a house with two ten-year-old boys, then as often as not, you’ll find yourself with three ten-year-old boys, or four… It’s a little like the premise for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Ten-year-old boys like nothing more than other ten-year-old boys; as a result, my house is generally overflowing with them.

What does this mean? It means I hear a lot of poop jokes on a daily basis. The word “balls” in almost any context will elicit an unbelievable amount of laughter. I find wrinkled, smelly socks left in every corner of every room, and way too often in the yard (why do boys take off their socks outside? Can someone explain this?). There are constant, SERIOUS discussions of Minecraft that mirror the passionate intensity with which members of the U.N. might debate solving world hunger.

Sometimes, when you’re dealing with all of these stereotypical ten-year-old boy qualities, it’s easy to forget how enormous those same boys’ hearts are. That even though they don’t always show it, they remember that two minutes ago they were toddlers who liked nothing better than to curl on your lap while you sang lullabies. That they’re paying attention to every word you say and every thing you do, trying to understand how to transition from that little child to the grown man they are rapidly becoming.

And that they need books to help them do this.

But boys don’t like “issue” books, you might argue. Girls will read about life and death and loss and love, but many boys are reluctant readers. They want adventure! And excitement! They want to laugh, for goodness sake! They don’t want to read about FEELINGS.

I’d agree with all of this except the last sentence. Yes, boys like page turners, and adventure, and excitement, and humor, just like they like poop jokes and video games. But I think we make a mistake when we underestimate their emotional capacity. They want to read about life and death and loss and love too, because—just like middle-grade girls—they sense the adult world, lurking just out of their reach, and they’re looking for points of entry.

But that said, they want their “issue” books in a different package. I will be honest: my ten-year-old boys are not picking up serious literary novels to read in a quiet moment. At their age, I read Jane Eyre and Gone With the Wind. They’re not even close. But if you put emotional depth in a story that’s also got adventure, fantasy, fun, and poop, they’ll gobble it up—and look for more. I don’t know that middle-grade boys like mine are always served well when the publishing industry puts “issue” books on one shelf and “fun” books on another.

My passion for fun middle-grade boy books with emotional depth was one of the driving forces behind my debut novel, The Misadventures of the Magician’s Dog. The main character in my book is a twelve-year-old named Peter Lubinsky who adopts a dog that can talk and do magic. The dog offers to teach Peter how to do magic too—but only if Peter first helps rescue the dog’s former master, a magician who has accidentally turned himself into a rock. There’s plenty of wacky humor and adventure: in his quest to rescue the magician, Peter gets to fly; he visits a magic carnival; and he’s attacked by dinosaurs too. But the novel has some serious emotions at its heart. Peter is the son of a deployed air force pilot, and throughout the book, he struggles to understand his complicated feelings around his beloved father’s absence. He’s insecure and pretty lonely, and his relationship with one of his sisters isn’t always easy. In fact, when he first learns magic, the only way he can do it is by tapping into his unacknowledged anger at all the things that aren’t right about his life—and how powerless he feels to change them.

Though many of my readers may not have deployed parents—and, sadly, probably don’t have magic dogs!—I wanted to write about emotions with which many middle grade boys could identify. But I also wanted to write a story that would keep those same boys flipping pages to find out what happens next.

Middle-grade boys are pretty amazing. I love their zany humor, their boundless energy, the profound joy they find in each other’s company. I also love the intensity with which they feel emotions: there’s nothing more heartbreaking than their grief or more heartwarming than their love. They deserve books that reflect the full scope of their wonderful complexity—poop jokes and all.

Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang
For more information about author, Frances Sackett, check her website: author's website

To check out all of the stops in the blog tour:

Monday, Sept 30 - I Am a Reader - Interview
Tuesday, Oct 1 - Read Now Sleep Later - Review
Wednesday, Oct 2 - Kid Lit Frenzy - Guest Post
Thursday, Oct 3 - Sharpreads - Review & Guest Post
Friday, Oct 4 - Mrs. Brown Loves Bookworms - Review
Monday, Oct 7 - The Serial Reader - Interview and Review
to be cross-posted at I Am a Reader
Tuesday, Oct 8 - Dee's Reads - Review
Wednesday, Oct 9 - Paperback Writer - Guest Post

To enter the giveaway:

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Clementine and the Spring Trip Blog Tour & Giveaway with Guest Post by Sara Pennypacker

Today, I am excited to welcome Sara Pennypacker to Kid Lit Frenzy.  I love her Clementine series and often recommend them to students.  

Hi Alyson, and thanks for inviting me to stop in and guest post. You may end up sorry you did, but it’s too late now. I’ve been on a blog tour for my newest Clementine book, CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP, for a week now, and many of the blogs have been interviews with lots of good questions. This has made me want to turn the tables, so I’ve decided to interview you...

First of all, Alyson, do you know you live near Marla Frazee?!?! (I figured this out because you often seem to stop in at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, which is where Marla lives.) If you already know this, do you stalk her? Because I sure would. She’s a genius and I am so lucky she illustrates my Clementine books and will be illustrating my next series (starring Waylon, a boy in Clementine’s class.) I would spy on her to try to figure out how she gets so much emotion and humor into her drawings.

Look at this one here, where Clementine is telling her father how much she misses her cat:

Illustration © Marla Frazee

Or this one here, where she’s being a bit dramatic about how she likes her eggs:

Illustration © Marla Frazee

Also, I would try to find out what Marla does to make her hair look so awesome.

Because I’m such a big fan, if I lived near Marla I would be tempted to bust into her house on Sunday mornings and make her heart-shaped pancakes, just to thank her for making such wonderful art, but that’s the kind of thing that’s well-intentioned in theory but a little creepy in actuality, so it’s good I live 3000 miles away.

Ahem. I have signed books at Vroman’s twice now...were you there? If not, will you come the next time?

To entice you, here’s my favorite Vroman’s story: While I was taking a little break from signing, a woman came up to ask Marla if there was any vomiting in the Clementine books. I’m not kidding! Marla was, of course, a little taken aback by the question, and replied, “Well, I didn’t illustrate any.” Unfortunately, the woman left before I came back to the table, so I didn’t get to educate her. Yes, there is vomiting, because it’s kind of a big deal to elementary school kids! In fact, in the first book, Clementine very responsibly doesn’t spin her little brother in the wok a second time because it makes him throw up. And in THE TALENTED CLEMENTINE, there’s an accident onstage at the talent show that our hero quickly closes the curtain on. Mostly I wish I’d been there to ask the woman, “What kind of a crazy question is that? Weren’t you ever a kid???” Now don’t you wish you’d been there, too, Alyson?

A favor: May I please steal the word Frenzy?

Of course you don’t own it, but the truth is I hadn’t realized what a fabulous word it is until coming to your blog, so I’d owe you. I love that it has a Z in it, and that it sounds like “Friend-sy” but most of all that it conjures up such an energetic, crazed image. In return, I will give you a writing tip to pass on: It’s always funny to connect two words that are usually opposites. For instance, Clementine might notice that her mother is “frenzying very calmly” or that Margaret was “in a frenzy to calm herself down.”

Would you like me to talk a little about the CLEMENTINE series, and about the newest book? You would?

Great! In case you don’t know them, the Clementine books are about a third grade girl who possibly has just the slightest, teensy issue with attention. I base her on my own son (who lives in LA now, so is another neighbor of yours!) who got his own attention issues from his mother, I’m afraid. While the books are funny, I’m very serious about two things when I write them.

First, kids like this, while presenting some challenges, are often extremely empathetic, gifted artists, and creative problem solvers – three things the world could use more of.

Second, all the adults in Clementine’s world are functional, supportive, caring and present. The smart author avoids adult characters like this, because there’s more reader sympathy for the main character who’s an orphan, or neglected or mistreated. Also because it’s harder to drum up dramatic tension in a story when everyone around is helpful to the main character. But I really felt there was a need for contemporary fiction about healthy family dynamics, and that it could be compelling if told truthfully with a lot of humor. Bringing these perfectly ordinary, yet beautifully extraordinary, people to life on the Clementine pages has been the biggest joy of my writing career.

While the Clementine books are funny first, they also explore real issues kids her age often encounter: sibling rivalry, missing pets, worries about one’s place in the family, etc. In the newest book, the sixth in what will be a series of seven, CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP, I decided to push Clementine’s sense of fairness a little. On a field trip, she encounters a chicken and can no longer avoid an unpleasant injustice – people eat animals! – and must work out her response. As with all the books, I loved writing this one – Clementine and her friends and family are so much fun to hang out with!

I will be in your area next summer, Alyson. Will you have a literacy café with me, where you and I eat cake and get frenzied about books?

You will? Excellent – I can tell you and I would have a lot to talk about, and we may have to order seconds on the cake, to keep us fortified. BTW, I like to bake cakes, not just eat them – here’s a picture of me with a chocolate zucchini cake, mascarpone frosting:

I will send you my California dates when I have them...

Oh Sara, yes, I have met the wonderful Marla Frazee several times at Vromans, and she also visited my school.  Also, I would be more than happy to attend one of your book events at Vroman's or another store in Southern California.  And, I would be honored to host a Literacy Café for you to celebrate you and Celementine.  Thank you for this delightful post. - Alyson

Sara Pennypacker ( was a painter before becoming a writer, and has two absolutely fabulous children who are now grown. She has written several books, including the Clementine series, all illustrated by Marla Frazee, The Amazing World of Stuart, Sparrow Girl, and Summer of the Gypsy Moths. She grew up in Massachusetts and splits her time between Cape Cod and Florida.

For additional stops on her blog tour check out the dates below:

Mon, June 17: GreenBeanTeenQueen -
Tues, June 18: Once Upon a Story -
Wed, June 19: Mother Daughter Book Club -
Thurs, June 20: Media Darlings -
Fri, June 21: Sharpread -
Mon, June 24: Children's Book Review -
Tues, June 25: Kid Lit Frenzy -
Wed, June 26: There's a Book -
Thurs, June 27: As They Grow Up -
Fri, June 28 Bookingmama

Thank you to Disney Hyperion and Blue Slip Media for arranging the blog tour and for giving away a copy of Clementine and the Spring Trip for a giveaway (US/Canada).  Please fill out the rafflecopter below to enter to win a copy.   a Rafflecopter giveaway

Blog Tour: Guest Post & Giveaway - Toni Buzzeo

Toni Buzzeo's new book - Just Like My Papa (Disney-Hyperion, April 2, 2013) was released in time for Father's Day.  Toni stops by today to talk about the importance of fathers reading with their children.  Thanks Toni for sharing with us.

There’s something so magical, so heart-touching, about a father engaged in nurturing his child. Perhaps it’s because in so many species, the father disappears after conception, not lingering to share in the child rearing duties or joys. And perhaps nothing is more touching to my own heart than seeing a father reading to his little one. Of course, as a school librarian and a children’s author, that would be so! I’m passionate about children and their reading.

Ken reading to Topher 1984 - photo credit Toni Buzzeo
My own son Topher, who once filled one of his two allotted duffel bags for a month-long African safari with books, is proof to me that reading fathers beget young readers. Not only did my husband Ken always have a book or two and several magazines going, but he spent long hours reading book after book to our son. You’ll have predicted, of course, that Topher has grown up to be a devoted adult reader who will soon be reading to his own little ones.

In fact, I especially recommend that fathers read to their children. There are so many reasons to do so! First, of course, is the physical closeness of snuggling up with a book. Second is the modeling of reading in a shared experience with the child. Third is the opportunity to share the world of the stories and informational texts that are read, to engage in conversations about the reading. Fourth, discussion of the shared books will foster critical thinking skills and build vocabulary. All this from the joyful experience of sharing books. What father could resist?

Of course, reading takes time. As any parent who has tried to rush through a bedtime story by skipping pages knows, reading in a hurry is destined for failure. Instead, reading requires a commitment to slow down, sit down, sink in, and give oneself over to the power of story and the shared experience of that story. Yet much like Papa Lion in my new book Just Like My Papa, fathers have other responsibilities that take up their time. What’s the solution?

Papa Lion has actually found a pretty successful solution. First, model the behavior you hope to inspire as often as possible. Young Kito watches his father with an eagle eye as he performs the duties of king and protector of his pride and emulates them to the best of his ability. So fathers, do your own personal reading publicly in your home. Let your children see you reading. Second, whenever possible, take as much time as you can find to settle in for shared reading. Young Kito approaches Papa with an invitation to play and Papa responds patiently and positively to his repeated requests. So fathers, when your child appears with one book, prepare to read several, one right after the other. Third, encourage children, even pre-readers, to spend time alone with books as well. While Papa is busy with his kingly duties, Kito emulates his behavior. So, too, will children of reading fathers!

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads reading this blog. May your children always admire you as much as Kito admires his father!

Next stop on the blog tour: As They Grow UP -

Toni Buzzeo - photo credit Sasha Salzberg
Bio: Toni Buzzeo is the author of nineteen picture books for children, including Stay Close to Mama, a companion to Just Like My Papa, the Caldecott Honor winning One Cool Friend, illustrated by David Small, and No T. Rex in the Library, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa. For sixteen years, she worked as a Maine school librarian. She combines her knowledge of children’s literature with her love of children to write about characters of all stripes (including lions, giraffes, dinosaurs, penguins, loons, and human children) who explore their worlds, their relationships, and themselves in a variety of settings. Toni works both from a writing cottage just past the gardens at her colonial farmhouse in Buxton, Maine and from her sunny winter nest in Sarasota, Florida. Visit her at

Disney-Hyperion is offering a copy of Just Like My Papa by Toni Buzzeo to one lucky reader.  This giveaway is open to individuals with US or Canadian mailing addresses. a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Best Part of Me...Poetry Project by Jan Tappan

This past weekend, Jan Tappan, a teacher friend of mine shared about a class poetry project that she did recently with her 4th graders. 

From Jan...

I got the idea for the "Best Part of Me" poems from Carol Raby, an Elementary Librarian & a source of a great number of really terrific ideas. Hope Anita Smith visited Carol's school to conduct poetry workshops with the students there. The poetry project I was interested in was the one where the students used paint colors as metaphors for aspects of themselves (physical characteristics, emotions: "When I'm mad, I'm Maine Lobster," for example) and then illustrated the poems with torn white core scrapbook paper collage.

When Readers (a monthly book group comprised of teachers and librarians) visited her school, Carol showed me her photo album of the paint color poems, and I had great success with those last year. As I looked through her scrapbook, I found the photos (see example above) with poems displayed in a very unusual way. The sign on that bulletin board said that the poems had been inspired by Hope Anita Smith, but I later learned about the Wendy Ewald book, The Best Part of Me: Children Talk About Their Bodies in Pictures and Words and Literacy and Justice Through Photography: A Classroom Guide, the source for the original idea. Carol told me that the poems celebrated the "best part" of each student and that they used one metaphor, one simile, and one other kind of figurative language. The poems started and ended with "The best part of me is.."

I asked my students to write poems about what they felt was their best visible feature. The kids had a great time thinking up similes and metaphors to go with the body part that they had chosen, a process they found not as easy as they first thought! They shared their poems with each other for help with editing, revising, and ideas for metaphors and the "other figurative language" line. We took closeup photos of the kids' faces and of the body parts they wrote about. The kids used our word processors to type their poems, we formatted them so they looked the same and mounted them so the photos stood out from the board. It was a great success at our open house!

Mounting directions: Fold the 8 1/2" ends of letter size paper to the center line, creating two side flaps. Glue the student's face picture to the outside of the right flap, and the student's body part photo on the side facing the center line so the two photos are glued back to back with the body part photo facing the poem. Mount the poem's final copy in the center between the two flaps. I laminated the poem/photo display to make the photos stand out and to protect the display which is in a crowded hallway. When I put the bulletin board up, I backed each of the poems with a contrasting paper and re-folded the flaps on the poetry frame.

Additional Resources:

Check out this "Best Part of Me..." Resource on Scholastic.

Click here for an article about Wendy Ewald's work.

Thanks Jan for sharing about this great project...I can't wait to try it with students. - Alyson

Guest Post: What's the Next Big Thing in YA Literature?

What is The Next Big Thing in YA literature? Is it angels? Mermaids? Garden gnomes? In November I spent three days in St. Louis with a gaggle of librarians and authors who tried to answer this very question at the YALSA Literature Symposium. And what did we decide?

No one knows.

Seems like a disappointing end to three days worth of conversations, doesn’t it? But you know what? It isn’t. In fact, it’s some of the best news I’ve heard in a long time.

Since I work both as a librarian and writer, I know what it’s like to feel the pressure to find The Next Big Thing. I’ve spent a million hours worrying whether or not I’ve bought the right books for my collection or if that new story idea will become/still be mainstream once I get it written. I’ve read industry articles and blogs and followed conversations on social media sites in an attempt to spot trends early on. Heck, I drove all the way to St. Louis (a city in which both Mello Yello and sweet tea are scarce) to get ahead of the curve.

Quite frankly, I’m exhausted.

At some point, and I’m not sure when it was, I began obsessing over trends instead of books. I wanted to be the cool librarian who always recommended the hot new book before anyone else. I wanted to become the writer who released a book at just the right time instead of a few years too early or too late. I worried about popularity and numbers instead of what is truly important... the story.

What I took away from St. Louis was that trends are unpredictable. Who knew a year ago that I wouldn’t be able to keep bondage erotica on the shelf at my small town Kentucky library? Small town Kentucky. Bondage erotica. It’s crazy! And it came out of nowhere. Why? How? Because people got so attached to the story, they told their friends. And those friends read it, became attached, and told their friends. It went on and on until you couldn’t turn on a morning talk show without hearing the words “Fifty Shades”. Could anyone have predicted it was going to happen? I don’t think so. Because you can’t predict emotional responses to books, and those are what make The Next Big Thing happen. Writers, editors, and marketing specialists might be able to somewhat steer popular taste, but it takes passionate readers to create a trend-setting phenomenon.

So, what does that mean for those of us whose job it is to be on top of book trends? What are librarians, teachers, and writers supposed to do? I think the answer is simple. Find the passion. Read books that set you on fire, and then tell others about them. Buy books that excite you, and then hand sell them to your patrons and students. Write the stories that are clawing to get out of your brain. Don’t worry about what is supposed to be The Next Big Thing, focus on the thing right now that gets under your skin and won’t let go. Maybe that book you’re telling every person who will listen about will become the next every-human-must-read-it-and-watch-the-blockbuster-movie book, and maybe it won’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is getting excited about books and spreading that excitement. The rest will work itself out. And if you end up feeling blindsided by that garden gnome trend, don’t worry about it. Most of the rest of us will be scratching our heads and wondering where it came from, too.

Thanks to Miss Tammy for sharing your insights. Tammy Blackwell is the Young Adult Services Coordinator for a public library system in Kentucky. When she's not reading, writing, or cataloging books, she's sleeping. She is the author of the YA Novels -  Destiny Binds, Time Mends, and Fate Succombs .

You can follow Tammy on twitter: @miss_tammy or check out her website:

Tammy has a special treat for fans of her Timber Wolves Trilogy - From January 4th to 6th, At First Sight: A Timber Wolves Companion will be available as a free download for Kindle on Amazon.  It is a wonderful peek into her fabulous characters.