- 150 Ways to Give a Book: Every year my friend MotherReader posts this list of gifts which pair a book with something fun related to the book. Check out the updated 2013 list here.
- I've been involved with the Cybils Awards since the award was founded in 2006. Our goal is to honor those children's books which have both literary merit and child appeal. The Cybils lists are great sources of ideas for book gifts. Go to www.cybils.com and check out the 2013 nominations lists by category in the middle sidebar. The nomination lists include links to judges' reviews for many of the books. You can also check out previous years' finalists and winners in the right hand sidebar.
- I've also been doing some web development work recently for the Mom's Choice Awards, making enhancements to their web store. Here you can shop for books, toys, and other gifts that meet the Mom's Choice standards of excellence. (My husband's book, The Dark Dreamweaver, is a Mom’s Choice Awards® Gold Recipient)
- Don't forget your local independent bookstore! Independent booksellers are knowledgeable resources who can help you find the perfect gift. You can find a local bookstore or search for books through the IndieBound website.
Kidlitcon has always been a small conference, and that's part of its appeal. This year was even smaller in terms of attendance numbers than the last few, but what it lacked in size it made up for in heart, spirit, and community. I felt that the smaller size was an advantage; I think I talked to everyone there at some point, and all of us there formed such a strong connection.
It would be impossible to try to recap everything about the conference, so I'm just going to hit some of the highlights. For more recaps of Kidlitcon, see the round-up post on the Kidlitosphere.org website.
ThemesSeveral themes recurred throughout the conference:
Kindred SpiritsI'm not sure if the actual words "Kindred Spirits" came up until the final session, when Sarah Stevenson asked everyone for one or two words that summarized what the Kidlitosphere meant, but the feeling was definitely there throughout the conference. We all felt an instant connection created by a shared passion. I think it was Jen Robinson who said that what makes us different as a community is that we all care deeply about children and reading, and so we connect on a deeper level than other blogger groups, whose primary connection is about the blogging and financial aspects.
AuthenticityFrom the keynote speech by Cynthia Leitich Smith to the last words in the "Past, Present, and Future of Blogging" session, authenticity was an idea that came up over and over again. Our authenticity as bloggers and/or as writers, authenticity of characters in books, and our authenticity as a community.
DiversityDiversity was another topic that resounded throughout the conference, not only in the sessions but in many conversations over meals, at the hotel bar, and anywhere else we happened to be. Lee Wind challenged us to be upstanders, not bystanders, and Cynthia Leitich Smith said that it's essential to let the powers-that-be know that there are loud booklovers. Lee had some eye-opening statistics, such as that 24% of the U.S. population are Latino, but only 1.1% of books have Latino characters. I think that everyone at the conference cares deeply about making sure that as many kids as possible find books that are "mirrors" and "windows," but it's clear we have a long way to go to get there, and that we bloggers, as a public voice for children's lit, have a responsibility to call out both good and not-so-good examples of diversity.
One thing that really struck me is how diversity, true diversity, is not about representing "groups," but about representing authentic (there's that word again) individuals. Lee talked about how we are all made up of hundreds or thousands of characteristics, and none of us are any one thing, yet too many books have "the" gay, "the" black, "the" Asian character. Charlotte Taylor said in her session that "Every child is a different target audience," and I think that's an important thing to keep in mind. Every child is different, so the more different, authentic, diverse individuals there are in literature, the better chance a child will find books that they can relate to.PeopleThe people were the best thing about the conference. It was great seeing old friends, and I met such wonderful and interesting new people. I wanted to try to mention everyone, but I'm afraid I'll miss someone, and I don't want to make this too long. So I just want to post a few special shoutouts:
- To MotherReader Pam Coughlan, for being such a terrific host. As an extrovert in a group of mostly introverts, she was the glue that held us together.
- To Jackie Parker-Robinson and Tanita Davis, and anyone else who helped with the planning but couldn't attend. I can't imagine anything worse! Thank you, thank you, to everyone who worked to make this conference a success.
- To Charlotte Taylor, a special friend who is incredibly funny and intelligent. I enjoyed hanging out with you and comparing books on the flight back. I hope I didn't talk your ear off.
- To my roommate Maureen Kearney, who was as great a roomie as you could ask for. We both gave each other space when we needed down time after the excitement of the day. Even if she was playing Candy Crush when I thought she was reading.
- To Jen Robinson and Sarah Stevenson, who have been Kindred Spirits for a long time.
- To Lee Wind, for being funny and fun and for your special talent for making people feel at ease. And for reminding us how important it is to be upstanders, not bystanders.
- To Sherry Early and Camille Powell, both longtime friends online whom I finally met in person.
- To Molly Blaisdell, who was a fascinating person. I learned a lot from listening to her.
- To Allie Jones, for sparkling dinnertime conversation
- To everyone else! This list is already longer than I meant it to be, and I feel bad about the people I didn't mention.
What happens at kidlitcon13 stays at kidlitcon13.
—Pam CoughlanWe're passionate and with passion comes peril.
—Cynthia Leitich SmithBlogs are a battlefield, but pick your battles and pick them wisely.
—Cynthia Leitich SmithDiversity: "Finding yourself on a library shelf."
—Cynthia Leitich SmithDiversity: Letting the "powers that be" know that there are loud booklovers is essential.
—Cynthia Leitich SmithAuthors don't want to do it wrong, so they avoid diversity. "You might make a mistake, but not trying is so much worse."
—Cynthia Leitich SmithYou may write for adults, but if you're writing about Percy Jackson, fourth graders will find you.
—Cynthia Leitich SmithIn many ways we just have to take it on faith that we are doing SOME good getting books into the hands of readers.
—Unknown, Blogger Burnout SessionGive yourself permission to NOT do things!
—Sarah StevensonNo one is just ONE thing.
—Lee WindThe way you empower a child is to let them know that variety exists. (How better than through books?)
—Lee WindStories/words are powerful, they can challenge stereotypes that people hold dear.
—Lee Windwhat does it mean when you don't see yourself? You feel written out of history.
—Lee WindCharacteristics of sticky ideas: simple yet profound, surprising, credible, concrete, emotional, relatable.
—Molly BlaisdellEvery kid is a different target audience.
—Charlotte TaylorBooks are not "good and "bad", it's just a matter of finding the right reader for each book.
—Sheila Ruth (me)You have to trust that, as a reader/blogger, that you DO know what you're talking about.
—Unknown, Critical Reviews SessionWords of kidlitosphere: Community. Literacy. Connection. Opportunity. Kindred spirits.
—All of us
And finally, I wanted to leave you with a thought from Lee Wind that I can't stop thinking about. I feel like this one idea profoundly affected my thinking:Diversity is not "the other" it's the diversity within ourself, and we are all the other to someone.
Last Friday, at the pre-con leading up to Kidlitcon, I met author P.J. Hoover, and I took the chance to interview her about her new book, Solstice, and her writing life. This post was also used as an example of the techniques I taught in my Kidlitcon session, "Don’t fear the code: spice up your blog with HTML and CSS."Q.Your new book is called Solstice. Can you tell me a little more about it?
A.It is set here in Austin, in the future when global warming is killing the earth. There's a girl named Piper and she turns 18. She gets a present delivered to her house, and when she opens it, this whole world of mythology starts to explode around her. Her best friend almost dies, so Piper has to travel to the underworld to save her, and there are lots of Greek gods.
Q.That sounds great! Tell me a little bit about your path to publication.
A.Solstice is my fourth book published. I actually have a trilogy out from a small press. My path to publication has been really working on my writing, and also networking. I met my first editor at a conference, and I met my agent at a workshop out in California, and I met my new editor at a conference also. So for me a lot of it has been really focusing on the writing, and also getting out and meeting people.
Q.So is that what you would advise for new writers? To get out and go to conferences?
A.I think it's really an important part of it. It's one thing to write a book, but it's easy to get trapped in a bubble and forget there's a whole world out there. It's important to know the business. I think if it as a lifetime thing, not just about one book.
"...it's easy to get trapped in a bubble and forget there's a whole world out there."Q.That's good advice. Tell me a little bit about your writing process. Do you write every day, or just when it inspires you?
A.I try to write every day. There are days when I'm just not able to write. Sometimes I take weekends off, now that I'm writing full-time, but I think having some sort of regular routine is really what matters. Even if some days you might write eight pages, and some days you might write a paragraph. Sticking with it even when it gets hard, and not quitting a project even when it stops being so interesting.
Q.That's hard in any project. Do you have a particular place you write, particular music you listen to?
A.I have an office in my house, so if I have really intense work, like hard line edits or something, I work at home. But otherwise, I like going out to coffee shops, as long as the coffee is good, and sometimes I meet friends there. Music that I write to at home, sometimes I'll listen to the soundtrack from The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. There's no words, and it's soothing. It puts me in a good writing place.
Buy Solstice from: Amazon Independent Bookstores
BUT - if you're thinking about attending my session, I have HOMEWORK for you! "Whaaaaa?... I didn't know there was going to be homework," I hear you say. But this is going to be fun, help the cause of kidlit, and hopefully leave you with a great, shiny blog post you can show off.
Because this session is hands-on, you need to have a blog post to work on. Rather than just having you make up a nonsense post just for the class, I want you to have a real post to play with. The interview format will be perfect for what I have in mind, so I ask everyone who is thinking of attending my session to find an author (or another blogger) at Kidlitcon and do a short interview sometime before Breakout Session #4. It doesn't have to be a long interview; two or three questions will be sufficient. If you're going to the precon, that will probably be a perfect opportunity, but just try to do it (and type it up in draft) sometime before the session. If you know someone who will be attending, you could even do it remotely before the conference, but I want your subject to be another Kidlitcon attendee.
Also, if you will have one with you, please bring a tablet or laptop to the session! If you don't have one, you can still attend, but you won't be able to do the hands-on part. A phone might work, but I suspect it will be too difficult to do it on a phone, and I'm not sure the blog editors will let you work in source code on a phone.
If you're still on the fence about attending Kidlitcon, get yourself over to the site and register! The deadline to register is this Friday! You won't be sorry, I promise you. If you need more convincing, check out these posts from MotherReader, Jen Robinson, Kelly Jensen, and Leila Roy. Also see the schedule and partial list of attendees.
See you in Austin!
Suggested NominationsSyloMacHale, D J My ReviewRebel Heart ( Dust Lands Trilogy #2 ) Young, Moira
Raven Flight ( Shadowfell #2 )
Obsidian Mirror ( Obsidian Mirror - Trilogy )
Fire & Ash ( Rot & Ruin #4 )
The Shade of the Moon ( Life as We Knew It )
Pfeffer, Susan Beth
Shadow on the Sun
Gill, David Macinnis
The Madman's Daughter
The Final Descent ( Monstrumologist #4 )
The Watcher in the Shadows
Ruiz Zafon, Carlos
For more YA Speculative Fiction suggestions, see Finding Wonderland and Miss Print
Synopsis: Rose is a practical girl. When the other orphans daydream about finding their parents, Rose dreams of getting a position in domestic service, of being independent, working hard, and earning a living. So when the housekeeper for a leading magician comes to the orphanage looking for a young housemaid, Rose is thrilled to be selected.
Rose doesn't hold with magic, so when she begins to suspect that she may have some magic abilities, she is determined to get rid of them if possible. She just wants to be an ordinary person, and to fit in with the other servants, especially her new friend, the houseboy, Bill. But when someone starts stealing children off the streets, and Rose's best friend from the orphanage disappears, Rose teams up with the magician's apprentice, Freddie, his spoiled daughter, Isabella, and the magician's cat Gustavus to get to the bottom of it.
Review: Rose is a fun middle-grade fantasy with a delightful, no nonsense heroine. Practicality and imagination are usually portrayed as being mutually exclusive, so it's terrific to see a protagonist who has both in abundance. Young readers will identify with Rose's struggles to both find herself and fit in, two things which sometimes seem to be in conflict. I fell in love with Rose from the first page.
The story is set in an alternate Victorian England where magic is real, although rare and expensive. There's a variety of interesting characters, and most are pretty well developed. The one exception is the villain, who's a pretty clichéd evil villain, and is really more of a story device than an actual character. It doesn't really matter, though, since the battle with the villain doesn't come in until later in the book. Rose is the real centerpiece of this story, and most of the book revolves around her learning to adjust to life outside the orphanage, developing relationships with the other members of the household, and coming to terms with her magic.
This is an engaging book with a lot of kid appeal, and I would recommend it to young readers who enjoy a fun story with great characters and a little bit of magic, as well as those who enjoy historical and pseudo-historical settings.
Get it from:
Here's my category description from the Cybils Blog:
Speculative Fiction takes us to realms of the imagination: places and times and realities where the rules of life may be different than our own and where the impossible and improbable become real. But good science fiction and fantasy does more than that: it asks, "What if?" It makes us think. It holds up a mirror to our own society and lets us see ourselves in a different light. This year we are changing the name of this category, but not the focus. "Speculative Fiction" better reflects the diverse types of books that we have always considered in this category. Magic, aliens, ghosts, alternate universes, time travel, space travel, high fantasy, dystopian, post-apocalyptic futures, and sentient animals are just some of the many topics that belong here. If a book could happen today or could have happened in the past, nominate it in YA Fiction. But any story that's impossible, improbable, or merely possible - but not quite yet - belongs in Speculative Fiction. Magic Realism is tricky, but more often than not ends up here. The age range for this category is approximately 12-18, although there is some overlap with the Elementary/Middle-grade Speculative Fiction category that will be decided on a case by case basis. Speculative fiction novels with graphics in addition to text belong here, but if the book is primarily told through serial artwork, it belongs in the Graphic Novels category. This category accepts books published in either print or ebook formats.
You can see my fantastic list of judges for the category here. I want to thank everyone who took the time to apply. I wish I could have accepted everyone, but I only have twelve slots and I had a lot more applicants than that. Just because you didn't get in doesn't mean we didn't think you were qualified. If you applied and didn't get a slot this year, I hope that you'll try again next year. We have several panelists who applied several years before they got a slot.
In recent years, I've been Chair for both the middle-grade and young adult books in this category. But the category has grown so much that it's really too much work for one person. This year I'm thrilled to be passing the baton for Elementary & Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction to the fabulous Charlotte Taylor of Charlotte's Library, who really knows middle-grade much better than I do. You can read her category description for Elementary & Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction here, and the judges for Elementary & Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction here.
Synopsis: Eve remembers nothing. No past, and not even any recent memories. Eve isn't even her real name – she has no idea who she really is. All she knows is that she's in the witness protection program, and that she can do magic. Any use of magic, though, causes incapacitating visions of a strange carnival, and a Magician and a Storyteller. Eve begins to suspect that the visions are actually memories, but who are the Magician and the Storyteller? And more important, who is Eve?
A magical serial killer is on the loose, and Eve may be the key to finding him, if only she can remember in time. As Eve tries to unravel the mystery of her life, it becomes increasingly difficult to know who she can trust. The Witsec agents? Patti, the library manager? Zach, the boy in the library that she wants to kiss? Or handsome, cocky Aidan, who has magic of his own? It seems that everyone has their own idea of what Eve should be doing. But in order to decide what to do, Eve must first figure out who she is.
Review: Conjured is an exquisitely crafted book that stands out for its tight writing, unique story, and intriguing character arc. Durst obviously spent time and care on the writing: every word is carefully chosen and rich with meaning, from smells, sounds and colors, to the use of point of view.
It must have been exceptionally difficult to write a character who is essentially a tabula rasa at the beginning, and do it in an engaging way, but Durst succeeded admirably. Eve is engaging, and the reader becomes her as her character journey unfolds. An important theme of this book is defining who you are for yourself, rather than allowing your past or other people to define who you are.
Conjured is mysterious, suspenseful, and oh so creepy. The descriptions are evocative and convey a strong sense of atmosphere, whether the deliciously comforting atmosphere in the library where Eve works, (obviously written by a book lover!) or the bizarre and creepy atmosphere in her visions.
Put this in the hands of anyone who enjoys the creepy, mysterious, and atmospheric books, or someone who is just looking for something a little bit different.
Get it from:
by D.J. MacHale
Synopsis: When tailback Marty Wiggins suddenly drops dead in the middle of a high school football game, it's the beginning of a strange series of events that will disrupt quiet Pemberwick Island just at the end of the tourist season. The backup tailback, freshman Tucker Pierce, and his best friend Quinn are among the only witnesses to a strange shadow that explodes off the coast of the island. Then the island is invaded by a mysterious U.S. military unit known only as SYLO, who take control of the island and quarantine it from the mainland, to stop the spread of the mysterious virus.
But Tucker and Quinn, whose parents are doctors at the island's hospital, suspect that SYLO isn't telling the whole story. Before long the two friends, along with another island teen, Tori Sleeper, are caught up in events. As the situation on the island spirals from bad to worse, the three teens find themselves on the run, carriers of information that they can't share with anyone. But what can three teens hope to do against the might of an occupying military force?Characters
- Tucker Pierce. Tucker is not native to Pemberwick, having moved there several years earlier. Tucker is an average guy: his grades are not exceptional, and neither is his football playing. He likes life on Pemberwick Island, and has no plans to leave it when he grows up, unlike his friend Quinn. Sometimes he acts too old to be a high school freshman, although that's not completely unbelievable for an only child who is close to his parents.
- Quinn Carr. Quinn is smart and inquisitive. He and Tucker are opposites in many ways. Quinn can't wait to leave the island and do something important.
- Tori Sleeper. Tori is badass. She's the daughter of a lobsterman, and helps her father on his boat. She's fearless and competent, whether she's piloting a boat or defending her home. She's also a bit standoffish, and doesn't suffer fools gladly, but as she and Tucker get to know each other, they become friends.
- Pemberwick Island is a fictional place, but it's based on Martha's Vinyard. Island life and the island residents are portrayed vividly, giving the book a strong sense of place.
- SYLO is a good read: well-paced and exciting without being frenetic. It builds slowly; MacHale takes time to develop the characters and setting as the suspense and mystery grows, but by halfway through the book you'll be turning pages at a rapid rate.
- Tucker is a likeable character, and it's refreshing that he's pretty average. When he has the chance to take over as the team's tailback after Marty dies, it could have been a wish fulfillment situation, where Tucker saves the day, but instead his playing is bad enough that he gets considerable ridicule from the town.
- Tori is awesome, and easily the most interesting character in the book.
- The book ends on a cliffhanger; not only are not all questions answered, but more are raised. Some people will enjoy the cliffhanger ending, but others may be annoyed by it.
- With a first person male narrator and a story that drives along pretty well, this is a book that should have strong appeal to many boys. However, it also has a strong female secondary character and other elements that give it plenty of girl appeal as well.