Thursday, June 4, 2020

Top 5 Adventure reads for Middle School

If your child is like mine, then they zip through their classwork online and then continue to play video games all day. I've had to entice my child to read with some good action books. Here are my top 5 list for ages 10+.

1. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
This book is a fun, adventure read that sets up a couple of series.
For centuries mystical creatures of all description were gathered into a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite.

Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken -- Seth is a bit too curious and reckless for his own good -- powerful forces of evil are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most.

2. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Welcome to the world of Percy Jackson. This book started at least two other spin-off series, so your child will be reading for hours.
Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can't seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse - Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy's mom finds out, she knows it's time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he'll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena - Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

3. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani 
This is a really great one that delves into fairytales and magic. 6 books in the series.
The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first, the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

4. Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
Adventure and magic all in one. This series has at least 8 books right now.
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. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from anything she has ever known.

Sophie has new rules to learn and new skills to master, and not everyone is thrilled that she has come “home.” 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.

5.Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Dragons and magic and a quest to save the planet. 4 books in this series.
When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon soon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself.

Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic, and power. With only an ancient sword and the advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an Empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds.

And a PS...
  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling
Yes! I had to include it. Reading it for the first time is still as magical as ever.
Harry Potter's life is miserable. His parents are dead and he's stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he's a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

After a lifetime of bottling up his magical powers, Harry finally feels like a normal kid. But even within the Wizarding community, he is special. He is the boy who lived: the only person to have ever survived a killing curse inflicted by the evil Lord Voldemort, who launched a brutal takeover of the Wizarding world, only to vanish after failing to kill Harry.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Everyone Hanging in There?

I just wanted to check-in and see how everyone is doing. Are you reading as many books as I am? or maybe streaming Netflix? What about homeschooling? The new norm is sometimes boring. Lucky for me, this week marked my first week at Everett Community College. I want to become a teacher and so I need to take extra classes to receive a history endorsement.

Yep, history! People just assume English, but culture is my passion. That's why I love mixing fantasy with history like in The Cleopatra's Legacy books. Funny thing happened though. I haven't been back to school in over 25 years. We didn't have the internet back then. So, I thought taking two classes would help ease me back into the swing of things. They use something called canvas. I registered for online classes, which turned out to be a boon because of Covid 19.

At the time I also signed up on the waitlist for two additional classes, just so I had options. Time went by, and I settled on my classes and I thought I'd dropped myself off of the waitlist. Well, on the second day of classes I got an email from the teacher of Ancient Civilizations saying I'd been added to his class so I should pay for it and buy the book. Say what?

I went to the college website with every intention of dropping the class since it had been an accident to get in, and then my plans changed. The class had already been added to my canvas account so I thought taking a look at the course and syllabus would be fun. It sucked me right in! So now I am taking three online classes, American Government, Pacific Northwest History, and Ancient Civilizations. I'm such a nerd I already completed the rough draft of my essay for Gov that is due at the end of the semester.

So, my days are getting a bit more interesting than normal. There are eight of us living here and it gets crowded. I can't wait for the stay at home order to end, but in the meantime, there's school.

On a side note, I am still waiting to see if I got into the MA of History program at ASU. It is taking so long to hear back. These three classes at the community college will hopefully fill my thoughts until I hear the news. Sticking up a picture of my writing area, not as neat as it used to be, lol. What's your workspace look like after four weeks of staying home?

I hope everyone is hanging in there and reading some good books. I have two YA reviews coming up soon.

Monday, March 2, 2020

PB Spotlight- Let's Dance by Valerie Bolling

Popping in today for a spotlight. The focus is on a brand new Picture Book, releasing tomorrow, on March 3! It is Let's Dance by Valerie Bolling.

The Book-

This rhythmic picture book showcases dances from all over the world and features children of diverse backgrounds and abilities tapping, spinning, and boogying away!

In this book, young readers can read while clapping and snapping with Flamenco dancers, twirling alongside ballerinas, and learning to dance the cha-cha! There are all kinds of dances to explore. Educational backmatter gives a toddler-friendly introduction to the history of each dance. Kids will want to leap, dip, and zip along with the dances on the page, and parents will enjoy the sly transition to counting dancing sheep that makes this read a perfect right-before-naptime ritual.

The Author- 
Valerie Bolling has been an educator for over 25 years and a writer since age 4. She is a graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College and currently works as an Instructional Coach. Ms. Bolling and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater ... and dancing.

What Inspired You to Write Let's Dance?
Everyone – or most people – love to dance! Turn on music and watch people – especially young, uninhibited children – start to move. Hips swaying, hands in the air. Pure joy!

This book was inspired by that joy and by my nieces, Zorah and Anyah, who love to dance. Thus, I decided to write a fun, rhyming story, celebrating the universality of dance. Dance is a language we all speak, even though we have different “accents.” To illustrate the variety of "accents," I wanted to ensure that the book displayed an inclusive representation of children: gender, race, ability. My goal was to show children from all walks – or dances – of life: a boy in a wheelchair, a girl in hijab, a child in a tutu whose gender is indiscernible. I wanted my story to showcase dance in a way that honors diversity – and that leaves no doubt that dancing is indeed for everyone!

My editor, Jes Negrón of Boyds Mills & Kane, expanded upon my vision for diversity and inclusiveness by recognizing that some of my words described cultural dances. Where I saw “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap” as tap dance, she imagined flamenco from Spain. I envisioned the electric slide for “Glide and slide/Side to side,” but Jes suggested long sleeve dancing from China.

I am thrilled that this cultural representation has been highlighted in Let’s Dance! Readers can dance across the globe!

Buy it Now!


Friday, January 31, 2020

A New Challenge for 2020

What's new with you? I have a whole new adventure awaiting me, earning a Masters in Teaching. Yep, that's right. I hope to go back to school.

These are excerpts from my entrance essay: My desire to become a teacher began over twenty-five years ago when I attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. While taking Humanities and History classes, I became filled with the joy of learning about other cultures and time periods. I decided I wanted to share that joy with others and the best way I could do that would be to teach students and open their eyes to cultures and places beyond their own.

I graduated with a BA in Humanities with special emphasis in Art History, French and Secondary Education; however, I never did my year of student teaching to receive my certification. Life went on and I married and had six beautiful children. I’ve enjoyed my time at home with them and even spent several years homeschooling. As I had more children, I decided to place them in public school and support their learning from home.

My passion for teaching about culture then took a different direction. I decided that to reach children and youth, I would write books that not only included adventure, but also history and culture. In 2012, my first middle-grade book, The Emerald Ring, was published by Cedar Fort Books. It was the first in a series about youth living in different areas of the globe who end up working together to defeat a common enemy. The books took readers to Egypt, New Orleans, France, and Great Britain. It engaged their senses while they learned about the art, architecture, and beliefs of those areas. I love writing and plan to continue writing books for youth so they can visit destinations around the world.

So what do you guys think? Teaching and writing, heck yes! 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy 2020!

Welcome to 2020! I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but I wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

I've been spending my time reading, just not children's books. I made the happy mistake of buying a Kindle Unlimited subscription and now tons of adult books are free! It's been years since I made the time to read thrillers, suspense, and action novels, so I'm catching up.

Netflix put out The Witcher series, so I decided I needed to read those books before the show started. Then, I got back to reading a series I had started, but never finished, the Sigma Force books, by James Rollins.

Kindle Unlimited has me reading a bunch of romance and independent books, and I'm having a lot of fun listening to Audible.

So, my challenge to everyone this New Year is to do something you haven't done in a while or choose a new experience. You'll be glad you did. If you have the time, tell me about it in a comment below.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Author Interview with Jennifer Voight Kaplan, author of the MG novel Crushing the Red Flowers

Welcome to Middle-Grade Monday! Today I have an author interview with Jennifer Voight Kaplan about her book Crushing the Red Flowers.

The Book-
Emil Rosen and Friedrich Weber couldn’t have less in common, but in the summer of 1938, they must both deal with the changes steamrolling through Germany. Friedrich struggles with an uncle in jail and a cruel Hitler Youth leader, while Emil does his best to avoid the blistering anti-Semitism that’s threatening his family. As the rules of yesterday no longer make sense, both boys find comfort at a private spot along the Leine River. Then in the late hours of November 9th, their world explodes, and the two boys are forced together in a race against time that requires Friedrich to risk his life in order to save Emil and his family. You'll hold your breath through the heart-pounding ending!

The Author- 

Jennifer Voigt Kaplan is an award-winning author of children’s fiction. Her debut children’s novel set in 1938 Germany, Crushing the Red Flowers, was praised by James Patterson and recognized in six literary contests before its publication, including earning a Letter of Merit for the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant and winning the middle-grade category of the BookLife Prize for Fiction (Publishers Weekly).

Jennifer was born in Germany, raised in Philadelphia, and now resides in the New York City area. Since her father was German and mother a German Jew, she grew up with a multilayered understanding of the challenges that Jews and Germans faced during WWII. She holds degrees from the Wharton School of Business in marketing and from the London School of Economics in social psychology.

The Interview-
1. Please tell us about the book in your own words.
Crushing the Red Flowers is the story of how two ordinary boys cope under extraordinary circumstances during the pogrom we call Kristallnacht. The novel alternates perspectives between two twelve-year-olds, Emil, a German Jewish boy, and Friedrich, a boy in Hitler’s Jungvolk. The two boys find themselves scrambling to keep up with the striking changes of 1938. Friedrich struggles with a cruel, new Jungvolk leader and a jailed uncle, while Emil tries to escape the anti-Semitic fog that’s seeped into every cranny of his life. Then on November 9th, the world unravels and nightmares leak onto the streets. They each must push past the person they thought they were because neither is certain they’ll survive what comes next.
Crushing red flowers (poppies) symbolizes the end of the distinct political, social, and economic culture that was present in Germany between the world wars. The Jewish characters explore patriotic loyalty, emigration, newly clouded German Jewish identity, and the optimist/ pessimist dichotomy that was present in the German Jewish community before Kristallnacht. The non-Jewish characters highlight the debate about how much Germans challenged Adolf Hitler and delve into the nuanced experience of German resistance to Nazism.

2. Tell us what inspired you to write about this difficult period of history?

While Crushing the Red Flowers is fictional, it is based on true family experiences. My heritage is half German and half German Jew. I grew up with a multilayered understanding of the challenges that Jewish and non-Jewish residents of Germany faced during WWII. The stories I heard from both sides of my family were filled with love and devotion, as well as pain and loss, so I think it’s important for young people to have access to historical fiction with diverse perspectives. 1938 is a turning point in history. That critical year offers a unique vantage point to examine what came before, during and after, but unfortunately, I sometimes find it overlooked in school curricula.

3. Was the research challenging?
Writers of history strive to genuinely portray events, but since writing fiction is by nature a subjective representation, some degree of distortion is inevitable. To minimize misrepresentation, I tried to conduct extensive research. To start, I interviewed family members who lived through the period, read everything I could find about Kristallnacht and the Jungvolk/ Hitler Youth, and worked with experts like Myrna Goldenberg, professor emerita of Holocaust history at Montgomery College, and Dr. Patricia Heberer-Rice from the Holocaust Memorial Museum. But that wasn’t enough. I still had many historical questions. What was the exact weather in Hannover on certain dates? In what month did wild poppies begin to wilt? What foods were difficult to attain in 1938? As a result, I ramped up the research with additional sources. For example, I wanted to mention wallpaper, but couldn’t find much about wall coverings used during that time in my existing sources. So, I hopped on the train and spent the day at the New York Public Library Picture Collection. I browsed through image after image until I gained a solid sense of German interiors in the 1930s.

4. What would you like readers to take away from your novel?
Many people today do not understand the Holocaust and I believe the more access young people have to historically accurate information, the more it informs their ethics and decisions. The novel explores the still relevant themes of kindness and bullying and provides a narrative explanation of how Jewish and non-Jewish residents of Germany proceeded during this era. Ultimately, I hope to help children develop their awareness of morality, realize how their decisions can impact others, and identify bullying in our modern day.

5. Tell us about your path to publication.
Crushing the Red Flowers took five years to write and then an additional four to launch. I began plotting in 2010, but didn’t know how to proceed. I had been writing short stories and picture books for enjoyment for a few years, but never a novel. There was plenty of trial and error. I’d sometimes write numerous paragraphs, sleep on it, and then do a complete re-write the next day. And in that way, during the limited amount of time I was able to afford myself to create the book, I taught myself to write. I squeezed in writing workshops, watched YouTube videos on craft, read tons of how-to books, and attended conferences. My reading time doubled as learning time. I twice-read books, first for pleasure and second for study. I deconstructed them, highlighted stunning prose and flagged memorable dialog. 
By the end of 2015, the novel was finished. I began submitting to literary agents, then editors, and all the while to writing contests. By the time it was selected from the slush pile by Ig Publishing, a wonderful award-winning independent press, Crushing the Red Flowers had been recognized in six writing contests, including earning a Letter of Merit in the 2012 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant and winning the Middle-Grade Category in the 2016 Publishers Weekly BookLife Prize for Fiction.

6. Any advice for aspiring writers?
Remain focused on day-to-day joy. The journey to publish Crushing the Red Flowers was lengthy, even by the monstrously slow standards of the publishing industry. But as I look back, I treasure all the varied moments that were necessary to create it — collaborating with my family, teaching myself the craft of novel writing, establishing relationships with fellow writers, and learning all about the publishing business. So, yes, it was a long journey, but also an affecting, vital, wondrous journey that I am honored to have had.

Thank you Jennifer!

Book Info

by Jennifer Voigt Kaplan – Debut Author
Ig Publishing ( / Distributed by Consortium Book Sales & Distribution
On sale November 19, 2019 / Ages 10-14 / 304 pages
Hardcover: 978-1632460943 / $18.95
Paperback: 978-1632460950 / $12.95

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Picture Book Round-Up- Bea's Bees by Katherine Pryor

Welcome to Picture Book Round-Up. Today I am looking at a new release, Bea's Bees, written by Katherine Pryor and illustrated by Ellie Peterson.

The Story-
Beatrix finds a beehive in the tree at her local park and continues to visit it every day. She loves to watch the bees fly around, visit flowers, and bring back food for their hive. One day, the bees are gone! Bea decides to find out what she can do to bring them back to the park. She talks to her science teacher, reads tons of books, and even does a school project where she hands out flower seeds for friends to plant.

Her efforts pay off and soon the bees are buzzing.

My Thoughts-
This picture book is a really good example of how you can introduce science and nature to young readers. Bea's adventures allow readers to learn about solving problems. The last few pages of the book include facts about the importance of bees and how they are necessary for fruits and nuts that humans eat. There is also a colorful illustration of the types of flowers that bees like best so those young ones can do their part to help the low bee population.

Bea is very brave. I wouldn't be one to keep an eye on a beehive or even check out its honeycomb. Perhaps a word of caution about the danger of bees should be given, maybe even a look at honeybees versus bumble bees. However, the overall message of the book is needed and I love how Bea figures out a way to solve her own problem. Great illustrations and a good message. I'm giving this book 4 stars!