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On March 5th, Neal Shusterman came to visit my school!

My amazing principal set a goal for an author to visit our school each year and she started this tradition with Jennifer Nielsen visiting in December, 2018. Neal Shusterman continued the tradition and hopefuly in April, 2021 Nathan Hale will be visiting us. This tradition shows how important literacy is to my principal!

We were so excited for the visit, and we wanted our school to reflect our excitement:

Our library and school decorations were made by so many different students: everyone in an art class, 6th and 7th grade intensive reading students (Ms. DeLuca and Ms. Chacon’s classes), 7th grade language arts students (Ms. Rokaw’s classes), Advanced Academics students (Ms. Perez’s classes), my book club, my Student Literacy Leaders, and my library student assistants. My libray clark, Ms. Armstrong, and I made the Neal Shusterman unwound pieces signs.

You can see a tour of my library on Neal’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tv/B97d71tgQsr/?hl=en!

 

Neal did a whole-grade presentation with each grade level. He did a Q&A format and students were so engaged as they drove the conversation. We learned about his upcoming books, movies, and TV shows as well as his inspirations, start as an author, and more!

At lunch, students who had read 3 or more of his novels were invited to a special event where Neal read a couple of chapters from an upcoming novel and then he hosted a writer’s workshop which was truly engaging!

Our AMAZING day ended with a signing line for any student, faculty/staff, or community member that wanted a book signed by Neal.

It was a perfect day! I am so lucky to have school and admin support in endeavors like this and the friendship and brilliance of authors like Neal Shusterman!

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Favorite Book Quotes from Duda V. and Angelina D., 8th grade

Duda

  1. “The heart is an arrow. It demands aim to land true.”– Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows
  2. “Better terrible truths than kind lies.”  – Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows
  3. “The way Gansey saw it was this: if you had a special knack for finding things, it meant you owed the world to look.”- Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys
  4. “Like calls to like.” – Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone
  5. “What we perceive as art, the universe perceives as directions.” – Neal Shusterman, Challenger Deep
  6. “You may be born into a family, but you walk into friendships. Some you’ll discover you should put behind you. Others are worth every risk.” – Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End
  7. “There has to be more to life than just imagining a future for yourself. I can’t just wish for the future; I have to take risks to create it.” – Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End
  8. Either way, we are going to bring beautiful things into the universe.” – Alice Oseman, Radio Silence
  9. “Everyone has a different way of escaping the dark stillness of their mind.” – Marie Lu, Warcoss
  10.  One must always be careful of books,” said Tessa, “and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel
  11. “Life is a book, and there are a thousand pages I have not read.” -Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Princess
  12. “I’m used to a world that sells me a lie and pretends it’s the truth.” Scott Reintgen, Nyxia Unleashed
  13. “To be all right implies an impossible phase. We hope for mostly right on the best of our days.” Marissa Meyer, Heartless
  14. “It is a dangerous thing to unbelieve something only because it frightens you.” Marissa Meyer, Heartless
  15. “Soft hearts make the universe worth living in.” Veronica Roth, Carve the Mark

Angelina:

  1. “Break my heart. Break it a thousand times if you like. It was only ever yours to break anyway.” ~Kiera Cass, The One
  2. “I’ll love you until my very last breath. Every beat of my heart is yours. I don’t want to die without you knowing that.” ~Kiera Cass, The One
  3. “There’s always room for love. Even if it’s as small as a crack in the door.” ~Kiera Cass, The Siren
  4. “The truth is what I make it. I could set this world on fire and call it rain.” ~Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen
  5. “Beauty can only fight the truth for so long…” ~Soman Chainani, The School for Good and Evil
  6. “You gave me a dead frog for my birthday! To remind you we all die and end up rotting underground eaten by maggots so we should enjoy our birthdays while we have them. I found it thoughtful.” ~Soman Chainani, The School for Good and Evil
  7. “Every locked door has a key. Every problem has a solution.” ~Marie Lu, Warcross
  8. “You mean people don’t like to see hypocrisy in their leadership? Shocking.” ~Marissa Meyer, Renegades
  9. “Even in the Future the Story Begins with Once Upon a Time.” ~Marissa Meyer, Cinder
  10. “A villain is a victim whose story hasn’t been told.” ~Chris Colfer, The Land of Stories
  11. “’I might be in love with you.’ He smiles a little. ‘I’m waiting until I’m sure to tell you, though.’” ~Veronica Roth, Divergent
  12. “I want to cry because something terrible happened, and I saw it, and I could not see a way to mend it.” ~Veronica Roth, Divergent
  13.  “Remember, we’re madly in love, so it’s alright to kiss me anytime you feel like it.” ~Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
  14. “I’ll never leave you. Love will keep us together. Or glue. Glue works too.” ~Rick Riordan, The Burning Maze
  15. “I give you my heart. I mean metaphorically. Put away that knife.” ~Rick Riordan, The Burning Maze

Thank you, Duda and Angelina, for these amazing quotes!

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Don’t Stop, song lyrics by Christine McVie, illustrations by Nusha Ashjaee
Good Vibrations, song lyrics by Mike Love and Brian Wilson, illustrations by Paul Hoppe
We’re Not Gonna Take It, song lyrics by Dee Snider, illustrations by Margaret McCartney
African, song lyrics by Peter Tosh, illustrations by Rachel MossAuthor:

Published June 2, 2020 by Akashic Books

LyricPop Summary: LyricPop presents your favorite song lyrics by renowned songwriters as illustrated picture books, instilling a love of music and song among young readers.

“LyricPop represents two things I’m passionate about—music, and books for children,” said Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books. “As both a musician and a publisher, I hope LyricPop will inspire parents, grandparents, and others to read (and even sing!) these books aloud with the children in their lives.”

After these four initial books are released, October 6th We Got the Beat, Respect, and Move the Crowd will be published. Then March 2, 2021 will bring us (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, Humble and Kind, and These Boots are Made for Walkin’.

Don’t Stop Summary: Don’t Stop is a beautifully illustrated picture book based on Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac’s enduring anthem to optimism and patience. The song was one of the singles on Fleetwood Mac’s megahit album Rumours, which spent thirty-one weeks at number one on the Billboard charts and went on to sell over forty million copies worldwide.

With lyrics by Christine McVie and illustrations by Nusha Ashjaee, this touching picture book imagines a rabbit willing her hibernating friends out of a long and dark winter and into joyous spring. Don’t Stop is a great opportunity for fans of Christine McVie and Fleetwood Mac to introduce their favorite band to their young children, and for parents looking to share a bright message in song.

• Debuting in 1977, this song is one of the most identifiable of that decade
• A classic rock radio staple
• A top-five single in the US, and one of the band’s most enduring hits
• Written by band keyboardist and vocalist Christine McVie
• Sung as duet between Christine McVie and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham
• Appears on the Grammy-winning album Rumours, which as of 2019 is the RIAA-certified tenth all-time best-selling album in the US
• It was the theme song for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign

Good Vibrations Summary: Good Vibrations is a lively picture book based on Mike Love and Brian Wilson’s number one hit about absorbing positive energy from the people around them. Often praised as one of the most important compositions in rock, the Beach Boys’ original version of this song was their third number one Billboard hit. With lyrics by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and illustrations by Paul Hoppe, this picture book follows a girl and her dog as they make their way down to the beach, sharing good vibrations all along the way. Parents and children alike can share and enjoy one of rock’s greatest hits through the colorful pages of Good Vibrations.

• Released in 1966, this is one of the defining and iconic songs of the era
• The recording involved the then-revolutionary process of tape-splicing, cutting up and editing pieces of the master tape together
• The musicians used in the recording of the song included members of the Wrecking Crew, the legendary set of Los Angeles session studio players
• Beach Boys publicist Derek Taylor described the song as a “pocket symphony” (Derek was the former press officer for the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and worked with the Byrds and the Mamas & the Papas, among others)
• The unusual sound featured in the song’s chorus was produced by an electrotheremin
• The song was a transatlantic number one, reaching the top spot in both the US and the UK
• The song was the last US number one the Beach Boys achieved in the 1960s
• Inducted into both the GRAMMY and Rock & Roll Halls of Fame
• Rolling Stone ranked the song at number six on its 2010 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
• In 2001, the RIAA and the National Endowment for the Arts published their Songs of the Century list, with “Good Vibrations” at number 24
• The song is part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s permanent exhibition, 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

We’re Not Gonna Take It Summary: We’re Not Gonna Take It is a playful picture book echoing 1980s hair band Twisted Sister’s most popular antiestablishment anthem. As part of their triple-platinum album Stay Hungry, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” spent fifteen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, reaching number twenty-one. With lyrics by Dee Snider and illustrations by Margaret McCartney, this picture book follows three toddlers on a mission to defy their parents, whether it be lunchtime, bath  time, or bedtime. We’re Not Gonna Take It is a story both parents and children can relate to, and a song they can enjoy together.

• Released in 1984, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is a signature rock anthem of the 1980s
• The song was a Hot 100 top forty hit and reached the top ten on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart
• The album it appeared on, Stay Hungry, was the band’s breakthrough and a US top twenty hit
• Its anthemic quality has propelled the song to become a US pop culture touchstone
• The song has an iconic music video

African Summary: African is a children’s book featuring lyrics by Peter Tosh and illustrations by Jamaican artist Rachel Moss. The song “African” by Peter Tosh was originally released in 1977 on his second solo record, Equal Rights. He wrote the song during a time of civil unrest in Jamaica as a reminder to all black people that they were part of the same community.
The album is considered one of the most influential reggae works of all time.

• A key song from the classic 1970s era of reggae
• Peter Tosh was one of the founding members of the iconic reggae group the Wailers

Review: All four of these classic songs are ones that as soon as you hear the title you start humming the melody or reciting the lyrics and LyricPop books is a great way to introduce these to a new generation of kids. All four are very different songs and illustrations which shows the extension of this new picture book series.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In the classroom, I would have so much fun with these. I would love to group my students in four different groups (or more if it is after more LyricPop books have come out), have them listen to the songs these books are based on, and create their own picture book. Then, after they do so, they can read the LyricPop books and compare and contrast. This would be a great way to discuss interpretation, figurative language, illustrator choices, etc.

There’s another option too: Have students read the lyrics first without listening to the song and create a book. Then, after listening to the song, ask how they would change their book.

When done with the songs from LyricPop, students could then pick their own songs and make their own books!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think the illustrator interpreted the lyrics the way they did?
  • Do you think of the lyrics the same or different?
  • What is the main theme of the song?
  • (Before hearing the song) How do you imagine the song is going to sound?
  • (After hearing the song) Does the book fit the sound of the song?

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Read This If You Love: Music

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**Thank you to Akashic Books for providing copies for review**

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Legends from Mom’s Closet
Author: Sasha Olsen
Published May 19th, 2020

Summary: In Legends from Mom’s Closet, 10-year-old Sasha Olsen documents how she spent a rainy summer indoors using her creativity and imagination. After reading a stack of books about women like Frida Kahlo, Audrey Hepburn and Billie Holiday, Sasha’s imagination ran wild and she ended up in her mom’s closet picking through her clothes and her grandmother’s vintage pieces to dress up like all the female legends she had been reading about. Complete with photos of the looks she created and tips for other young girls on how they, too, can emulate these iconic women, Legends from Mom’s Closet will inspire readers to delve into the lives of truly remarkable women from the past to learn a thing or two about what it means to be legendary in today’s world.

About the Author: Sasha Olsen is a 10-year-old author, environmental activist, ballroom dancer, bookworm, pianist, and enjoys anything artistic. She always finds new hobbies and things to do, which usually ends up in her trying to juggle everything. She lives with her family in Bal Harbour, Florida, where she also spearheads the conservation movement “I Want My Ocean Back.” Legends From Mom’s Closet is her first book.

Q&A with Sasha: 

In your book, Legends from Mom’s Closet, you share tidbits about and dress up like legendary women you read about during a rainy summer spent indoors. A lot of kids your age would spend a rainy summer watching TV or playing video games. What made you decide to start reading books about famous women?

Well, I actually love to read, especially biographies. I don’t usually spend a lot of time using any devices. I didn’t specifically start reading books about famous women, but I started looking around for books to learn more about legendary people. I just happened to meet these iconic women through their amazing stories and spending a day in their shoes! 

Who was your favorite female legend to read about?

My favorite legend to read about was probably Frida Kahlo! I felt like she had a very inspiring story. She had a lot of difficult times in her life, but no matter what, she worked hard to achieve her dreams and become an artist. 

What is the biggest lesson you learned from getting to know all of these female legends?

I learned many lessons! Most of all though, I learned that women are super strong. Women work very hard and can get through anything that might stand in their way of achieving their goals. Women are so inspiring!

What inspired you to use your mom’s clothes and your grandmother’s vintage pieces to recreate all of their iconic looks?

Actually, I just went into my mom’s closet and started trying on her shoes and dresses. This was after I read about Frida Kahlo. So, I just got the idea to try and dress up as her! I thought my mom might be really upset with me for playing with her things, but she loved the idea. If the legend was wearing something like I really couldn’t figure out where to get, I would call my grandma for advice. Most of the time, she had exactly what I needed!

Who was your favorite legend to dress up as and why?

My favorite legend to dress up as was definitely Yayoi Kusama. I love her bright artwork, and I was able to get even more creative to dress up as her!

How did you decide which legends to include in Legends from Mom’s Closet?

I didn’t choose them before. I just started to read about people who I didn’t know much about yet and it ended up being all women! After, I just decided to share them in this book.

Your other passion is the environment. Tell us what you learned about vintage fashion versus fast fashion.

When I was started my movement Iwantmyoceanback and this project, I was doing a lot of research during that time. I wanted to know more about what are the biggest things that pollute our oceans and cause problems for our planet. I found out like clothing is one of the biggest ocean pollutants and some fabrics, like polyester, have plastic in them so it breaks down and hurts our sea animals. After finding this out, I realized that it’s very harmful to buy fast fashion because people just buy the clothes and throw them away soon after. It inspired me to learn more about vintage and how we can buy secondhand instead, and just reuse clothing! 

Ultimately, what do you hope your readers take away from your book?

I hope readers learn how important it is to let your creativity run wild! I want other kids to know that we can get inspired and have fun while also learning new things and growing our knowledge. It’s also very important that we learn more about how fast fashion affects our oceans and that we stop it! We need to win the war against fast fashion to help save the planet.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the book or what you learned while writing it?

I just want to share that this book project is super special to me! It means a lot to me, and I worked very hard on it. I hope that everyone enjoys my stories and experiences dressing up as these legendary women. Most of all, I hope readers try it themselves and that it inspires them to think outside the box! I learned a lot from reading and getting to know these women, especially that we can do anything if we believe in ourselves.

For additional details, visit www.legendsfrommomscloset.com.

Visit the other blog tour stops: 

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**Thank you to Nicole at PR by the Book for providing the blog tour materials**

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One Last Shot
Author: John David Anderson
Published May 5th, 2020 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: For as long as he can remember, Malcolm has never felt like he was good enough. Not for his parents, who have always seemed at odds with each other, with Malcolm caught in between. And especially not for his dad, whose competitive drive and love for sports Malcolm has never shared.

That is, until Malcolm discovers miniature golf, the one sport he actually enjoys. Maybe it’s the way in which every hole is a puzzle to be solved. Or the whimsy of the windmills and waterfalls that decorate the course. Or maybe it’s the slushies at the snack bar. But whatever the reason, something about mini golf just clicks for Malcolm. And best of all, it’s a sport his dad can’t possibly obsess over.

Or so Malcolm thinks.

Soon he is signed up for lessons and entered in tournaments. And yet, even as he becomes a better golfer and finds unexpected friends at the local course, be wonders if he might not always be a disappointment. But as the final match of the year draws closer, the tension between Malcolm’s parents reaches a breaking point, and it’s up to him to put the puzzle of his family back together again.

About the Author: John David Anderson is the author of some of the most beloved and highly acclaimed books for kids in recent memory, including the New York Times Notable Book Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Granted, Sidekicked, and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wonderful wife and two frawsome kids in Indianapolis, Indiana. He’s never eaten seven scoops of ice cream in a single sitting, but he thinks it sounds like a terrific idea. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.

Q&A: Thank you so much to John David Anderson for answering these questions for us!

What was your inspiration for writing this novel?

One Last Shot is somewhat autobiographical in nature. As an adolescent once myself (so many eons ago) I can empathize with Malcolm’s (the protagonist’s) conflicts and concerns: the desire (or is it burden?) to please others, the need to find something you’re good at, anxiety over a potential parent split, the ache for a friend that just gets you—these are all feelings I struggled with as well. So think the emotional core of the book is definitely informed by my childhood.

At the same time, I literally just sat down one day and said, “I’m going to write a sports novel. Hold up…I don’t play sports! But I do play miniature golf. Wouldn’t it be cool if somebody—i.e. me–wrote a book about miniature golf and made it exactly eighteen chapters?” I think a lot of my stories start this way, as artistic challenges or experiments, though the real challenge is turning these exercises into full-fledged narratives.

Why mini golf?

Um…because it’s awesome! Honestly I picked mini-golf because it worked well as a metaphor for the coming-of-age story I was telling. On the one hand it’s so whimsical and random—windmills, barns, pirate ships—but at the same time its so methodical and predictable. It’s basic geometry. For Malcolm that’s appealing because it’s something he can control; it’s a problem with an easily discernable solution—the cup is right there. It’s also individualistic. Nobody is counting on him to catch the fly ball or safely get on base. His successes and failures are entirely his own—though that comes with its own pressures, of course.

Could you tell us some about your writing process?

Anyone who knows me already knows that chocolate is involved. Beyond that, though, it’s 6-8 weeks of pure writing fury followed by 6-8 months of torturous revision. My initial drafts are explorations—my editor says they are me laying out miles and miles of track hoping that it leads somewhere (it doesn’t always)— but the most important thing for me is to maintain momentum so I can push through the difficult middles to get to the rewarding ends. I just have to trust myself that the exhaustive revision process will bang all the pieces firmly into place, fashioning my mess of a first draft into something presentable.

I also have come to realize that the process never really stops. Even if I’m not in front of the laptop, I’m still writing. When I’m working on a novel my brain never fully steps out of that world. So much of the process happens in the ongoing dialogue I have with the characters inside my head (much like the voices Malcolm hears in his).

Of course this particular book afforded me the chance to do some fun hands-on research: I’ve visited my fair share of mini-golf courses in the last couple of years.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from ONE LAST SHOT?

The world is unpredictable. It throws obstacles at you right and left. You don’t get to make the course, you just have to play it.

But you also have more than one shot. Not everything is going to be a hole-in-one. You are going to doink off the rock or stick yourself in the corner or even hit it way too hard, somehow jump the wall and end up in the parking lot. But that’s okay. I want my readers to know its okay. You learn from your mistakes, and you take a better shot next time.

Readers’ Guide:

Blog Tour:

May 4   Nerdy Book Club
May 7   Teachers Who Read
May 8    A Library Mama
Kirsti Call
May 10 Bluestocking Thinking
May 12 Unleashing Readers
Maria’s Mélange
May 14 The Book Monsters

Giveaway!:

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing the Q&A and a copy for giveaway!**

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Abby in Oz
Whatever After #13.5 (Special Edition #2)
Author: Sarah Mlynowski
Published April 7th, 2020 by Scholastic
(Series debuted May 1st, 2012)

Series Summary: Siblings Abby and Jonah have a magic mirror that leads them into different fairy tales, from Snow White to Rapunzel to the Little Mermaid. In each fairy tale, Abby and Jonah accidentally mess up the story — and hilarity and hijinks ensue!

Abby in Oz Summary: In this second Special Edition of the New York Times bestselling Whatever After series, Abby and her friends enter the magical Land of Oz . . . with hilarious and empowering results!

Follow the yellow brick road . . . I’m with my best friends Robin and Frankie (and my sometimes friend, Penny) when a TORNADO scoops us up and whisks us away. As soon as we land, I can tell we’re not in Smithville anymore — we’ve been transported into The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

We’re excited to meet Dorothy and Toto . . . but the story isn’t going as planned. The Wicked Witch of the East locks us in her dungeon, so we have no way of getting the magic slippers that will take Dorothy home. Plus, the Emerald City is under attack, and the Wizard himself may be in danger!

Now we have to:
– Befriend the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow
– Flee the flying monkeys
– Learn to steer a hot-air balloon
– Find the courage, heart, and smarts to save the day

. . . or we’ll never escape — and everyone knows there’s no place like home!

Praise for Abby in Oz:

“Hilarious…with unexpected plot twists and plenty of girl power.” –Booklist

“My daughter loved the young, sassy girl on the cover and I loved the premise of the book…The best part is that they mess up the story and the lead female character has to learn how to stand on her own. The feminist in me adored it, and the mother in me loved how my daughter would long to cuddle in close as we read together.” –The Washington Post

“An uproariously funny read.” –Kirkus Reviews

About the Author: Sarah Mlynowski is the New York Times bestselling author of the Whatever After series, the Magic in Manhattan series, Gimme a Call, and a bunch of other books for tweens and teens, including the Upside-Down Magic series, which she is cowriting with Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins. Originally from Montreal, Sarah now lives in the kingdom of Manhattan with her very own prince charming and their fairy-tale-loving daughters.

Review of Abby of OzI am a huge fan of this series. I already love fairy tale retellings, but this is such a unique way of telling them, and I love how each are different and do not follow a predictable pattern. 

This newest installment is a special edition of the series and is a bit different. While Abby and Jonah normally go through a magic mirror, the special editions find Abby and her friends entering books because an evil fairy is trying to trap Abby in the story. The addition of Abby’s friends’ personalities definitely makes for an interesting story and more conflict throughout the book.

Lastly, I could not review any book in this series without celebrating the audiobooks–they are phenomenal!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation (series): Immediately, when reading this series, I thought of a creative writing activity for students to take part in and would be a great introduction to the series: Have students take parts of fairy tales that they feel are wrong, unjust, dated, they didn’t like, or even something that would be fun to change; come up with a plan on how they would fix it if they were in the fairy tale; and have them rewrite the fairy tale.

Then, I would read parts of some of the books out loud where Abby does just that: she changes fairy tales for the better! (Even if it is a bit of a mess along the way…)

Discussion Questions (series): 

  • What did Abby change in the fairy tale/story? Do you think this is a good change or not? Explain.
  • What did Abby do to make the change happen?
  • Do you think it is okay ethically for Abby/Jonah/Abby’s friends to change things in the story?
  • Do you think Abby would be as successful as she is without the help of Jonah/her friends?
  • Why do you think the magic mirror allows Abby and Jonah to go through the mirror?
  • What fairy tale would you want to go into if you were being transported into one? What would you want to change? Make sure stays the same?

Flagged Passages: Visit the Scholastic website for the series to view the series trailer. I also highly recommend listening to an audiobook sample!

Read This If You Love: Fairy Tale Retellings

Recommended For: 

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“Anatomy of a Middle Grade Manuscript”

Lightning Strikes!

Inspiration has a funny way of creeping up on you when you least expect it. If you’re a writer, you’ve probably experienced that moment when you’re involved is some unrelated task and your suddenly overwhelmed by an idea with nothing to write on! I was sitting in a movie theatre watching the opening credits of a film- where these playing cards filled the screen. I was hypnotized by the faces of the King and Queen of Hearts. I felt them calling me. The next morning, I opened my laptop and began writing a story about a boy who discovers an animated deck of cards in his father’s old desk.

Best Laid Plans

I hadn’t planned on writing a middle grade book. I started out writing what I thought was a picture book. I even worked on a number of illustrations. But once the first draft was completed, a dear friend, who was a librarian at a middle school read it and suggested I consider revising for a middle grade audience. I knew very little about the genre and was grateful for her guidance. She suggested I read what has become one of my all-time favorite books: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, by Kate DiCamillo.

Read, Read, Read!

I immediately began reading as many books in the genre as I could get my hands on—Kate DiCamillo, Neil Gaiman, Richard Peck, Jennifer L. Holm. I was moved by their heartfelt novels—each one so beautifully crafted. The more I read, the more I began to understand the age group. Their thirst for humor, adventure and authenticity, freed me to become more expressive in my own writing. And, so it began—I would craft a middle grade novel from my picture book draft.

Research

When I began writing MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON, I knew right away certain aspects of my main character Alex would be similar to mine. He questions everything and can get lost in his own thoughts. We both lost a parent at a young age and both of us were bullied. I felt comfortable tapping into my own journey as an awkward 12-year-old to build his world. But Alex, who reluctantly follows in his father’s footsteps, is also a talented magician. On the subject of magic tricks, I knew very little, and needed to do some serious research.

While the internet offered helpful information, I felt strongly that I needed a one-on-one experience. Enter Joel, a young magician I spent quite a bit of time with. Pen in hand, I asked countless questions while he enthusiastically shuffled his cards, did flourishes and made them fly from one hand to the other. He described each maneuver while I scribbled notes and took plenty of photographs. I also shot video that I watched over and over which helped me translate the card tricks onto the written page.

As the novel progressed, I visited Joel on several occasions loaded with more and more questions. “Could Alex do this? What about a trick like this?” After a while, I realized what I was doing was basically asking permission. Joel helped me realize, when it came to magic, anything was possible!  This was a huge turning point for me. I had permission to take the story where it wanted to go.

Pulling It All Together

I had just completed a writing workshop at Media Bistro in NYC when I discovered they also offered a YA/MG writing-critique workshop. I immediately signed up! Led by a remarkable agent/author Kate McKean, the group of eight was filled with talented writers, screenwriters, playwrights and me! This was the real deal and quite honestly, I was a bit intimidated. But they were all so supportive and the feedback was spot-on. I learned how to build tension, flesh out characters and move the story forward. It still remains one of the best experiences I’ve ever unknowingly put myself into!

Edit, Edit, Edit.

By the time the critique workshop had come to an end, I had received written feedback from each member of the group on my entire manuscript–chapter by chapter–which I organized in separate folders. With the understanding that I needed to get the word count up around 35,000-40,000, I began another draft.

I found this stage to be the most cathartic. Deleting blocks of text for a concise sentence. Elaborating on an emotional moment. Heightening suspense by using short quick sentences. I was molding and reshaping the story like clay on armature.

Step Away.

This is some of the best advice I can share. After a few months of focusing on another project, I came back and was able to review what I had written with a fresh perspective.

Edit some more!

After another round of edits, a few minor changes were made and I was ready for submission.

MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON became a personal adventure from picture book to middle grade novel that will be released by Blue Whale Press on April 1st 2020.

About the Book: Misadventures of a Magician’s Son tells the story of 12-year-old Alexander Finn’s personal journey dealing with the death of his father, a celebrated magician, and the extraordinary gift he left behind. Uprooted from his childhood home for the seemingly hokey town of Orchard, Maine, Alex refuses to unpack and wants nothing to do with his new surroundings. But when he discovers an unusual deck of animated cards tucked in the back of his father’s old desk, things begin to unravel and Alex’s true adventure begins.

About the Author: Author/illustrator, Laurie Smollett Kutscera grew up in NYC’s Greenwich Village. She studied fine art and children’s book illustration at Queens College with Caldecott medalist Marvin Bileck. She is a published children’s book illustrator, an award-winning graphic designer and toy designer.

Her passion for writing began 14 years ago while cruising the eastern seaboard from Nantucket to the Virgin Islands. She is an active member of the SCBWI, 12×12 Picture Book Challenge and StoryStorm.

Laurie lives on the north shore of Long Island with her husband Nick and rescue doggie, Cody. She and her husband own and operate an 85ft classic yacht for charter in NYC and Long Island Sound.

www.LSKillustration.com
https://www.facebook.com/laurie.kutscera
twitter:@lkutscera

Thank you, Laurie, for taking us through your process in the creation of your novel!

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