Monday, January 27, 2014

For Multicultural Children's Book Day, I suggest Vanished by Sheela Chari (one of my all-time favorites) #MCKlitDay

It's Multicultural Children's Book Day! Don't worry if you weren't aware--I wasn't until the lovely Mia Wenjen (a.k.a. Pragmatic Mom) asked me to join in and feature a multicultural children's book today. So I did. Here's Mia's motivation behind Multicultural Children's Book Day, with some statistics, too. It's important stuff for all of us to consider.

I'll be honest: I agonized over picking the right book... I started by looking at picture books, because those are most likely to show their multiculturalness (is that a word?) on the cover. And there are lovely ones at my local library; we're fortunate that way. But then I felt out of my depth in the picture book department, so I went back to middle-grade, and looked at our bookshelf.

And one book jumped out at me: Vanished by Sheela Chari. It's a few years old, and originally made it on my radar because it was nominated for an Edgar Award in the Best Juvenile category. This book is one of our favorites here at Casa Bradley, and I hope you'll consider it for your kids, school or library. The author does an outstanding job blending mystery and Indian culture, with top-notch middle-grade appeal.

From the Publisher:

Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother-intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon.


When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a tea kettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela's instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?

My Thoughts:

This story felt like a classic middle-grade: the coming of age story, the unique cultural insight, and a mystery to keep the story moving. The author added some notes in the back of the book about the veena and her research--great extra material that I think should put this book with the classics in MG.

I'll add that I think this might be one of my all-time favorite covers...

How about you? Do you have a favorite multicultural children's book to share?





Thursday, January 23, 2014

Edgar Award nominees for Best Juvenile and Best YA

In case you missed it, last week Mystery Writers of America announced their Edgar Award nominees. As always, I'm going to make an attempt to read the Juvenile and YA category books.


In case you feel like joining in, here is the list:


BEST JUVENILE
Strike Three, You're Dead by Josh Berk (Random House Children's Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)
Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne (Penguin Young Readers Group – Dial)
P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man by Caroline Lawrence
 (Penguin Young Readers Group – Putnam Juvenile)
Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
(Disney Publishing Worldwide – Disney-Hyperion)
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (Random House Children's Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)


BEST YA

 
 All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry
(Penguin Young Readers Group – Viking Juvenile)
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (Random House Children's Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)
Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy (Simon & Schuster – Simon Pulse)
How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller
(Penguin Young Readers Group – Razorbill)
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Confession time: I had not heard of most of these... Since I read a lot of MG and YA mysteries, I did see the (very long) list of submissions, so I guess it's not surprising that these titles are unfamiliar to me. There are just so many books being published--which is a good thing.

I do have to say that I was surprised how many strong YA and MG mysteries from the submissions did not make the list this year, including ones by fairly well-known mystery authors... I guess awards are always a bit of a mystery, huh?

I'll be sure to review the nominees as I read them! This'll be fun...



 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cliches in middle-grade books for reluctant readers, and why they need to go

I spent the past few years very focused on reading as much middle-grade as possible--especially middle-grade aimed at reluctant readers. You know, the not-so-fat books, books with more illustrations in them (like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, only not), books with bigger type, you get the idea. If you're going to write for a certain age group, you should read lots in that department too, I think.

So you'll routinely see me checking out stacks of middle-grade books at the library. It's nice reading, even if you're not eight-to-twelve years old. But as I read more, I also started noticing some cliches/trends.

Trend 1: Lots of smarty-mouth books featuring boys. Now, I can't say anything about the mouth business, because Linc has his share of attitude. But some of the attitude I see in these books is kind of... Disrespectful toward adults, or fellow kids that are portly/foreign/homely-looking. Maybe it's the parent in me, but I frowned at this trend. You can be a smart-mouth without being disrespectful, I think (hope).

Trend 2: In these same books, we're FOREVER AT SCHOOL. Wimpy Kid makes it work, but there's more to life than school, even if you're a kid who gets around on a bike or via parental transportation.

Trend 3: No plot. A smart mouth and middle-school detention does not a story make.

What's frustrating to me about these books is that I visit classrooms full of the intended readers all the time. We plot a novel together (loads of fun), and what strikes me every time is how smart, creative, imaginative, and positive middle-schoolers are. They deserve better books. Especially if they're reluctant readers, because how do we expect them to keep reading if all they get is books on boogers, farts, and snarky comments about odd kids?

The good news? There are a lot more books being published for middle-graders, and really GOOD books at that. Sure, many are still in the fantasy department, but contemporary fiction is represented too. Let's hope that we'll see fewer Wimpy Kid knock-offs (why try anyway? Jeff Kinney does such a great job), and more stories taking kids on adventures outside the classroom... More mysteries too, I hope.

What do you think? Are there any cliches you're sick of seeing?



Thursday, January 9, 2014

Blog post: My plans for 2014 and January, plus a cat picture

Happy 2014! Hopefully, you're off to a good start, despite the frosty temperatures. Me, I've been fighting a wicked jetlag from our trip to the homeland (that's the Netherlands for me), and Paris, with a quick stop in Germany. I'll be sure to share some pics soon.

But I'm finally ready to join the new year, and have some new goals. First I'll be posting on Thursdays from now on--or at least, that's the plan. With writing, book business, and life in general, it seems like a good target. I hope you'll continue to stick around. What to expect? I'm glad you asked (maybe you didn't, but I'll share anyway. You can always skip to the cat picture).

1. More about books, and about reluctant readers.
I've been hosting a workshop at library and book conventions on reaching the reluctant reader, and the feedback and book recommendations from librarians, teachers and kids have been the best part for me. I'll share bits and pieces of info here in 2014.

2. More reviews.
My goal is to read all the books that were recommended to me during my workshop--so YA and MG for reluctant readers straight from the source. I'm excited to check out these titles.

3. More reviews--part 2.
I hope to read the Edgar nominees for both Juvenile and YA. It's a lofty goal, but I'm hoping to make it...

4. More reports from the road.
Because those are fun. I'm busy planning events for the first half of 2014; I'll have more to share on this next month...

In January, I'll be writing (YA this time, top-secret work-in-progress), and at the end of the month I'll be driving up to Jackson, MS to sign books at Lemuria along with fellow MG author J.E. Thompson. I'm really looking forward to this event.

How is your 2014 kicking off? Any good plans?

Oh, and here's the cat picture, as promised:



I put this basket out to hold our plethora of computer/electronics cables, but Xena instantly claimed it and gave me the stink-eye. It's obvious who rules the house...