Author Guest Post!: The Sum of Our Parts by Tracy Holczer, author of The Secret Hum of a Daisy

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“The Sum of Our Parts” by Tracy Holczer

I’ve been thinking a lot lately as to how I became a writer. I used to have it down. I was a writer because I read Little Women and had the run of the library, both at just the right age. But I have come to realize those are just two of many pieces. Once I really reflected, I found so much more, both light and dark. I feel we try so hard to focus on the light, especially those of us who write for kids. But we are who we are because of both. There is no contrast without darkness, and contrast, I believe, is where we find the answers for ourselves. So here is a very incomplete list of the parts of this writer:

  • Loneliness. I was a lonely kid. An only child born at the tail end of the “children should be seen and not heard” era, I had tremendous space to read books and otherwise look to inanimate objects for comfort and camaraderie. I didn’t have any experience with other kids until I went to Kindergarten and was hugely surprised and disappointed when no one wanted me to teach them how to tell time in Roman numerals. I mean, we were there to learn, right? Even the nuns treated me like I was a little off my nut.
  • Sensitivity. I took things hard. Like in second grade when Ms. Parsons got married and would become Mrs. Harrison half way through the year (I abhorred change), or in third grade when Sister Michael Anne read us Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. There were several times over my school career that I thought I would die from sadness.
  • Librarians. After my parents told me I couldn’t read anymore because reading was “anti-social”, we moved across the street from a library when I was twelve. I snuck over there every weekend as though my life depended on it. Because it did. Those librarians took me under their wing and always had books to recommend as well as knew when I needed to be left alone to my imaginings. A piece of the writer I have become was conceived in the smelly bean bag chair in the Cupertino Public Library, most likely while reading The Hobbit.
  • Flightiness – otherwise known as Creativity. I was a flighty kid. If one of my teachers read us a book about plants, maybe talking about photosynthesis, but there was a bug on one of the leaves of the plant, and it had strange spots, I would be that kid asking why the bug had spots. My mind never seemed to travel down the right channels. At least not the ones my teachers wanted it to travel down. Every report card I ever received in elementary school pointed out my flightiness and “if she would only apply herself”. I never quite understood what that meant. I get it now, but I so wish they had pointed out my creativity, too. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken me so long to recognize it in myself.
  • Stubbornness.  Holy tamales but I am stubborn. Because I wasn’t a brilliant student, and didn’t finish college, I never really fell into anyone’s spotlight. Teachers liked me, but no one ever singled me out. I floated down the stream of public school with my mostly B’s, sometimes A’s, not causing any trouble. No one expected very much of me and I didn’t expect very much of myself. It wasn’t until I decided I would teach myself to write that I truly found my stubbornness to be useful.
  • BOOKS. All the books.

As a writer for children, I find myself in the incredible position to be able to possibly, maybe, in my wildest dreams, make a difference. I hope my books will bring both light and dark to kids so they get the whole spectrum of what it feels like to be alive and in charge of their destinies. I hope to be able to share my journey with those children so they really get the fact that they are a work in progress and even the most lonely, sensitive, and flighty of us can do great things if we set our stubborn minds to it. We are the sum of our parts in the best possible way.


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About the Author: At eleven years old, Tracy Holczer read Little Women, and decided she wanted to be a writer. Feathered ball-point pen in hand, she wrote short blood-curdling stories and long, angst-ridden poems through the rest of her childhood. When she was a teen, her family moved to Grass Valley, California where she convinced her mother to get her glasses, even though she didn’t need them, so she would look smart. This is where Tracy decided she would be the next John Steinbeck and write about the glory of trees.

When she grew up, she took a few detours and worked as a sales clerk, a credit analyst, and a waitress in a honky-tonk bar. Somewhere in there, single momhood happened, so she added impersonating Santa Claus and Spider Assassin to her list of jobs. Eventually, she ended up in Southern California, married a General Contractor and lived happily ever after where she doesn’t have to sell ties, crunch numbers or wear a long white beard. Instead, Tracy gets to raise her three daughters from home, plan things like the Halloween Carnival for the PTA, and write stories.

Tracy Holczer is the author of The Secret Hum of a Daisy due out May 1, 2014. Hum was written in praise of both the imperfection of family, the perfection of nature and all that can be found if you’re willing to learn from your detours.

Tracy’s blog: http://tracyholczer.wordpress.com/
Tracy’s website: http://tracyholczer.com/

Exciting News!
The Secret Hum of a Daisy is an ABA 2014 Indies Introduce New Voices pick for Summer/Fall!
“Holczer presents a tender, transformative exploration of family, loss and reconciliation. The phrasing and the images are beautiful and rich.”—Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review —Publisher’s Weekly

This is definitely a MUST READ this summer!

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**Thank you to Tracy Holczer for her amazing guest post!!**

Blog Tour, Review, and Author Guest Post!: Thrive by Meenoo Rami

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Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching
Author: Meenoo Rami
Published March 5th, 2014 by Heinemann Educational Books

Goodreads Summary: As a novice teacher, Meenoo Rami experienced the same anxieties shared by many: the sense of isolation, lack of self-confidence, and fear that her work was having no positive impact on her students. In Thrive, Meenoo shares the five strategies that helped her become a confident, connected teacher. From how to find mentors and build networks, both online and off, to advocating for yourself and empowering your students, Thrive shows new and veteran teachers alike how to overcome the challenges and meet the demands of our profession.

Praise for Thrive:
-“Whether you are entering your first year of teaching or your 40th, Thrive feels as if it were written just for you. At a time in our profession when many of us are feeling stretched thin, Meenoo Rami offers strategies to reignite our passions and rediscover why we chose to teach.” -Christopher Lehman, coauthor of Falling in Love with Close Reading
-“Teaching is a profession that eats its young. Meenoo Rami offers guidelines for surviving the challenges of the classroom as well as the faculty room.” -Carol Jago, author, teacher, and past president of NCTE
-“Thrive includes a mosaic of dynamic teacher voices from many grade levels and content areas. Reading their stories deepened my thinking about the immense untapped potential of our profession. Meenoo Rami’s vision of teaching and learning can sustain us all.”-Penny Kittle, author of Book Love

Join the conversation on Twitter at #edthrive.

About the Author: Meenoo Rami is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches her students English at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. Mixing moments of joy, laughter, risk and encouragement, Meenoo pushes her students to think critically about their connection to the word and the world. Meenoo did her undergraduate work at Bradley University in Illinois in areas of Philosophy and English and completed her Master’s degree in Secondary Education at Temple University.  Meenoo also contributes to the work of school-wide events and professional learning communities at SLA. Meenoo works as a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project. She has shared her classroom practice at various conferences  such as: NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, EduCon, Urban Sites Conference for National Writing Project, and #140edu. Meenoo also runs a weekly twitter chat for English teachers called #engchat which brings together teachers from around the country to discuss ideas related to teaching of English. Her first book, THRIVE  from Heinemann will be out in March 2014. In her free time, Meenoo can be found on her bike, on her yoga mat or in her kitchen tinkering with a vegetarian recipe.

To connect with Meenoo, you can find her on these social media networks:
Thrive
meenoorami.org
Twitter
Facebook
Google Plus

Kellee’s Review: In this modern day of education where CCSS and testing seems to have become the most important priority and we’re being attacked in the media for having an easy job and are failing our students, it is very difficult to stay positive—much less thrive. Meenoo Rami says that there is definitely a way to overcome all of these hardships, and she lies it all out in 5 “steps.” Although some of what you might find in this book may seem like common sense, it may not be to other teachers, specifically new teachers. It is also important to get reminders about how to stay true to ourselves. I think this is a book that each teacher needs to read and own so they can read it whenever they need a reminder that there is a way to thrive in this profession that we love.

Ricki’s Review: Meenoo Rami hits the nail on the head with her suggestions to teachers. With as many as 56% of teachers leaving the profession (Rami 3), we need to make a change. Beginning teachers must be prepared for the difficulties they will encounter on the job. This book is cleverly crafted with a variety of text features that are sure to engage readers (QR codes, tweets, figures, etc.). I teach pre-service teachers and am very particular about the texts I use. Too many professional texts are watered down and chockfull of obvious information, and I don’t want my students to purchase a book that will be a waste of their time. Rami achieves the perfect balance of narratives and information, and I will be ordering this book for my students next year. I love how she emphasizes that we, as educators, must constantly hone our art of teaching. I strongly believe that we need to practice what we preach, and we, too, must be lifelong learners.

 

Guest Post: Meenoo’s Tips for Dealing With Negativity and Other Issues That Keep Many of Us From Staying Positive and Thriving in our Profession

There is a common refrain I often hear when I talk to teachers these days. In hushed tones, they admit that they are tired, weary, and depleted by what they face in the their schools everyday. There are some repeated themes amongst the things they tell me:
 
I am being asked to deliver a prescribed curriculum, not create my own:
If you find yourself in the position where you’re required to use a prepackaged curriculum, consider how to balance it by incorporating the authentic inquiry that your students bring to your classroom, for example:
 
In an Environmental Science class, invite your local government representative to answer questions prepared by your students regarding how local policy is impacting local ecology.
 
The focus on testing has taken the joy out of my classroom:
Try to find the balance between teaching with the inquiry stance and test-prep is you are up against the constant pressures of testing in your school. Can you bring inquiry to this task by having your students actually create the test that they will be asked to take? See my colleague Larissa’s thinking around this here .
 
I have to sit through mind-numbing, inauthentic professional development every week:
What would it look like if you or your colleagues offered to prepare professional development in your school. Our administrators are often at a loss when it comes to finding creative ways to meet teachers’ professional development needs. What if there was a balance between what needs to be on the agenda and what teachers would like to see on the agenda. Perhaps, your faculty can form personal learning communities and take turns providing professional development to the rest of the faculty. Yes, this will be more work but it can meet the actual needs teachers have in terms of professional development. 
 
I am surrounded by negative colleagues:
Try to listen if you can, persistent complaining might be a cry for help and support. If you cannot do that, offer your support to share resources, ideas, and problem-solve. 

 

 Thank you to Jen Vincent for hosting this blog tour, thank you to Meenoo Rami for her amazing guest post, and thank you to Heinemann for proving us copies for review. 

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Make sure to check out the other stops in the Thrive blog tour: 

4/9/14|
Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts
http://www.teachmentortexts.com/

4/10/14
Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading
http://readingyear.blogspot.com/

4/11/14
Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy
http://www.kidlitfrenzy.com/

4/12/14
Kira Baker Doyle at Kira J Baker-Doyle, Ph.D.
http://kbakerdoyle.wordpress.com/blog/

4/13/14
Sarah Mulhern Gross at The Reading Zone
http://thereadingzone.wordpress.com/

4/14/14
Christina Cantrill at Digital Is (National Writing Project)
http://digitalis.nwp.org/

4/15/14
Kate Roberts and Maggie B. Roberts at Indent
http://kateandmaggie.com/

4/16/14
Beth Shaum Use Your Outside Voice
http://useyouroutsidevoice.blogspot.com/

4/17/14
Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
http://www.teacherdance.org/

4/18/14
Troy Hicks at Hickstro
http://hickstro.org/

4/19/14
Joy Kirr at Genius Hour
http://geniushour.blogspot.com/

4/20/14
Tara Smith at The Teaching Life
http://ateachinglifedotcom.wordpress.com/

4/21/14
Antero Garcia at The American Crawl
http://www.theamericancrawl.com/

4/22/2014
John Spencer at Education Rethink
http://www.educationrethink.com/

Blog Tour and Author Guest Post!: Storm Watcher by Maria V. Snyder

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The Storm Watcher Blog Tour

Welcome to the Storm Watcher blog tour!

Feb 19 – Mar 5, 2014

Hosted by readnowsleeplater.com

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Storm Watcher
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Published October 19th, 2013 by Leap Books

Goodreads Summary: Luke Riley is lost. His mother’s recent death has set Luke and his family adrift. Even though his father, twin brothers, and their three Bloodhounds are search and rescue volunteers, they have been unable to rescue themselves and become a family again. The summer after sixth grade looms in Luke’s mind as a long, lonely three months where the only thing he can look forward to is watching The Weather Channel. Luke is fascinated with the weather, but since his mother’s death in a storm, he is also terrified. Even the promised 13th birthday present of a Bloodhound puppy fails to lift Luke’s spirits. He would rather have a different breed – a petite Papillon, but his father insists he get a Bloodhound.

When Luke decides to get the Bloodhound from Willajean, a dog breeder who owns Storm Watcher Kennel, he works out a deal to help at her kennel in exchange for the expensive dog. Thrilled to have a summer with a purpose, Luke befriends Willajean’s daughter, Megan and together they plan how Luke can get a Papillon puppy instead of a Bloodhound. But nothing seems to work as they struggle with stubborn fathers, summer storms, unhelpful siblings, and hidden guilt. Can one little white dog really save both families?

So, how does one come to write a book about weather?

It all begins with a fascination with hydrometeors and a great teacher.
Squish this together with a writing career and VOILA! 

Hydrometeors are Falling on my Head
By Maria V. Snyder

Let me set the scene – sixth grade at Our Lady of Ransom, a Catholic school in the city of Philadelphia – my teacher, Miss Kane is doing a science unit on meteorology.  Meteo…what? At the time (1978), I’d never heard of it, except I had.  “Oh, you mean the weather, why didn’t you say so?” a beat later, “There are people who study the weather? Wow.”  Little did I know it at the time, but that unit was the vital first step to my eventually careers in both meteorology and writing.

I love big storms and loved the idea of studying them.  Not only was it super cool that Miss Kane made it rain in our classroom, but I was able to be a real smart-alecky kid.  You see I soon discovered that the adults in my life had never heard the word meteorology either. So when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d reply, “A meteorologist.”  Their blank look was always followed be a quizzical, “You want to study…meteors? Like from space?” and I chirped, “Not space meteors, hydrometeors.”  No comprehension so I’d explain in a I-can’t-believe-you-don’t-know-this tone that, “hydrometeors are raindrops.”  I did warn you that I was bratty – I was also eleven so I had a good excuse J.

As I continued in my education, the questions about my future remained the same, and so did the answer (except, by now my family was well acquainted with those pesky hydrometeors).  Sure, I loved acting, dancing, painting, and playing the cello, but I wasn’t a stand out in any of them.  However my math and science grades remained strong and nothing else sparked my interest.

Fast forward to my college graduation.  I’d earned my BS in Meteorology from Penn State University.  My forecasting skills were dismal so I ventured in the exciting new profession of environmental meteorology (whew – I think I have to rest my fingers after typing all that!).  Too bad envir meteo wasn’t all that exciting.  My creativity eventually woke from its catatonic state (caused by enduring endless hours of fluid dynamics and differential equations).  I started writing stories ‘cause it would have been awkward if I started practicing the cello in my cubicle at work.

Writing was a blast and, in my stories, I controlled the weather – hydrometeors fell at my whim – muuhhhaaawwwaaahhh!  Er…sorry.  Eventually I switched careers to writing, but I never lost my love for storms.  In fact, I incorporated the weather in many of my books.  However, the one book that brought me back to that snarky sixth grader is Storm Watcher, my debut novel for readers ages 8 to 14 years old.  I was able to geek-out along with the main protagonist, Luke.

While writing the story was fun, I was thrilled when my editor asked me to write an appendix of weather facts for those readers who also have a fascination with storms.  It’s called “Luke’s Weather Notebook.” For the appendix I drew pictures, found quirky weather facts, wrote a quiz, and included safety tips – delighting my inner weather weenie.  We hoped that the teachers who teach that meteorology unit would find the information helpful and maybe hook another student.

I’d like to thank Miss Kane in person – she probably has no idea she set me on this path.  Or…maybe she does.  Maybe she saw that spark in my eyes as she taught me about clouds and precipitation.  In either case, Thank You Miss Kane wherever you are!

Now, I’ve a question for you.  How many of you knew hydrometeors were raindrops?  Come on, be honest! 🙂

Just shows how one great teacher can truly change your life! 

Also, don’t forget to stop by each blog tour stop to learn more about the book.

Tour Schedule

Wed 2/19 – The Book Monsters – review

Thu 2/20 – I Am a Reader – interview

Fri 2/21 – Unleashing Readers – guest post

Mon 2/24 – Bookalicious – review

Tue 2/25 – Kid Lit Frenzy – guest post

Wed 2/26 – Sharpreads – review

Thu 2/27 – The Mod Podge Bookshelf – guest post

Fri 2/28 – The Windy Pages – review, interview

Mon 3/3 – Teenage Reader – review

Tue 3/4 – Read Now Sleep Later – review

Wed 3/5 – The Brain Lair – review

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**Thank you to Alethea and Maria for allowing us to be part of the blog tour**

NCTE/ALAN Throwback: Defending Intellectual Freedom with John Green

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At NCTE in 2011, the very first break out session I planned to go to see John Green and Jimmy Santiago Baca speak about defending intellectual freedom (aka censorship and challenges).  When the masses arrived and had filled the room, we found out that unfortunately Jimmy Santiago Baca could not make it.  Although I was really looking forward to hearing him speak, this did leave 70 minutes or so for John Green to speak.  And it was awesome!
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John began by talking about his writing and why he writes for teens- “The great thrill of writing teen novels is they’re doing things for the 1st time and don’t know how.”  He says the problem comes in because “authors write the porn and educators have to justify it to their audiences” and the audiences aren’t always so accepting.  But what we all do not realize is that the “chilling effect of challenging books is people would rather not go through the trouble.  But then the challengers win and we’re excluding a class of literature very relevant to teens these days.”  The world needs to see “literature as a blanket that covers the world and has comforted us since the beginning of time… Reading can be a way in to not feeling alone but it is also important to read about those not like us.  The better I can imagine being you, the more empathetic I am… Censorship is an argument against empathy.”  He shared that if a book is challenged within your school, don’t give up.  Contact the author, NCTE, others for help and fight it.  He gave us one key piece of advice, but asked us not to say he said it so I am staying mum; however, if you ever meet me, ask me what he said and I will share.
 This session was also a big pep rally for teachers.  Here’s some highlights:
“Public schools exist for the benefit of social order.  An educated society benefits us all.”
“We need to trust teachers and when we don’t we do us all a great disservice.”
“Part of the s#*tty thing of being a teacher is you are never thanked.”
His biggest piece of luck was having teachers who didn’t give up on him.
“Anticensorship = not giving up on beliefs and what is good for your students.”
“A teacher’s passion, attention is never wasted.”
“If you can empower teachers to do their job, they’ll generally do it well.”
Leaving the session you couldn’t help but feel empowered and
I hope that everyone in the room felt the same way as me.
 But then, to keep my John Green high going, I was able to meet him (briefly) at the ALAN cocktail party and he spoke again at ALAN.

His session at ALAN was shorter and took on the topic of social networking and, of course, reading.  He shared how our students are living in the information society and “the information society is about fear- fear of being bored, alone”. Really, most young adults do read, but they read online and “online reading/writing is skimming. It is like the cliffnotes version of consciousness. And it is all terrifyingly wonderfully distracting.”  But that is why reading is so important. “Reading forces you to be quiet in a world that no longer makes a place for that.”  He hopes that as a writer he can find “a seat at the table of the lives of his reader”.
John Green is one of those authors who I could listen to just ramble on because random acts of brilliance always accompany him. I was honored to see him speak twice and if you ever have the chance, you should try to see him as well.
It is times like this one that makes NCTE and ALAN a must-attend for me. It always leaves me with an education high that reminds me why I am doing what I am doing,
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J&P Voelkel Author Visit

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On September 30th, my school was invaded…….. invaded by J&P VOELKEL!
J&P Voelkel are a husband/wife author team who have written
the Jaguar Stone series: 

middleworld endoftheworld riverofno

Meet 14-year-old Max Murphy from Boston, and Lola, the quick-witted Maya girl who teaches him to survive in the perilous rainforest. Together, Max and Lola must find the five legendary Jaguar Stones that gave ancient Maya kings their power – and save the world from the evil, cheating Lords of Death. 

In The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld, Max leaves his comfortable life in Boston far behind and heads for Central America in search of his archaeologist parents who have gone missing on a dig. Set against a backdrop of haunted temples, underground rivers and Maya magic, The New England Booksellers Council called Middleworld “funny, fast paced and entirely original.”

In The Jaguar Stones, Book Two: The End of the World Club, the action moves from Central America to Spain, as Max and Lola set off on the trail of the conquistadors. As the rest of the world panics about the end of the Maya Calendar, only Max and Lola can avert the coming doomsday as they continue their battle against the Maya Lords of Death. Booklist called The End of the World Club  “a fact-packed, thrilling ride. Rick Riordan fans will love it.”

In The Jaguar Stones, Book Three: The River of no Return, Max and Lola are back in the jungles of the Maya and the Death Lords are on the warpath. Can video-gaming, pizza-loving Max Murphy and Lola, his modern Maya sidekick, save the world one more time? Not if they can’t get past the zombie army, the mutant cave spiders, the subterranean hotel, and some very dark family secrets.

This author visit includes everything a teacher and student could want. Yes, you learn about the Jaguar Stone books (which sound amazing! I’d love to read them, but they are always checked out!), but it was so much more:

During the presentation (which entertained more than 400 of my reading students), they taught about the Mayans, their mythology, survival in the jungle (including having one of my teachers eat a mealworm!), blow darts, archaeology, rainforest ecology, monkey sounds, writing AND rock & roll. The presentation was a perfect mix of teaching, entertaining, interactive activities, and book talks keeping the students engaged the entire time.

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If a presentation ever made students want to read a book, this was the presentation! How often can a student say they learned about the Mayan god of death, a teacher ate a bug, they got sprayed by water, an author played guitar standing on a table AND they learned about a book?!?!

And it all doesn’t have to end when the visit does: They also have amazing ways for students to interact with them after the visit is over: The Jaguarstone Club. The club includes many exclusive articles, cartoons, a blog, news, and giveaways. Students can join on their website.

There are also amazing resources for teachers. The Jaguar Stone website has a FOR TEACHERS section that includes all sorts of resources: Lesson plans & Reader Guides, Maya Math, Jaguar Stone inspired school projects, Maya calendar, writing Maya glyphs, What’s your Maya birth sign?, making a Maya King costume, meet the real Indiana Joneses, and a list of Maya books.

We were so lucky to have J&P visit and you could be too!
Right on their FOR TEACHERS section of their website is a link to a school visit waitlist. It is through this waitlist that this amazing visit was able happen. Trust me,  you will not regret having these two come visit your school.

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Blog Tour, Review, Giveaway, and Illustrator Interview!: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, Illustrated by Erin McGuire

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We are so excited to be part of The Real Boy Blog Tour hosted by Walden Pond Press!

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The Real Boy
Author: Anne Ursu
Illustrator: Erin McGuire
Published September 24th, 2013 by Walden Pond Press

Goodreads Summary: On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city that was saved by the magic woven into its walls from a devastating plague that swept through the world over a hundred years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. Oscar spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master’s shop, grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar’s world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.

But it’s been a long time since anyone who could call himself a wizard walked the world, and now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill, and something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room in the cellar, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the trees will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it.

My Review: I love middle grade high fantasy! It is always amazing to me that an author is able to build an entire world that doesn’t exist and then puts these amazing characters and magic and story into this world. This is exactly what Anne Ursu did with The Real Boy. More importantly than my review of raving and raving about this book is the guest post I have to share today.

This is the second book that Erin McGuire and Anne Ursu collaborated on and Erin’s artwork adds an even more magic to an already magical story. Today, we are lucky to have Erin here to answer some questions about her work.

Kellee: I’d love to know about your past: When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator? Did you go to school for art? etc.

Erin McGuire: I’ve always loved drawing, and all throughout high school I kept sketchbooks, and still do to this day. My mother is a sixth grade teacher, so she often recommended new kid lit to me (she still does!) and always encouraged reading in general. 

As for my education- I attended Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida as an illustration major. While I was a student there, I worked as a student librarian for four years. That was where I discovered Lisbeth Zwerger, Shaun Tan, Adam Rex, and all of the other illustrators who would influence my work.

K: I’m very interested in knowing about how illustrators and authors work together. Did you get the entire manuscript before beginning? Did you just get snippets? Do illustrations have to be approved before they go in the book? How do you choose what the characters are going to look like? Do you get character descriptions from the author? etc. 

EM: Each project is a bit different depending on how much I’ll be involved. On books where I only do the covers, sometimes I don’t see the manuscript, just a book summary and a list of character descriptions. For Breadcrumbs and The Real Boy, I read the full manuscripts since I’d be illustrating all the interiors as well. Usually the editor or art director will email me a list of scenes they’d like for the interiors. The artwork always goes through an approval process, being approved by the art director, editor, and (in some cases, but not always) the author. 

I did a lot of sketches for the characters to create the look for this world, how the upper and lower classes look different, what the fashion would be, how the rooms should look, etc. All of that was sent to Anne, who gave me some insights into her thought process for the time period and style of the world.

Rarely do I get to work with the author directly, it’s almost always with the editor and art director as middle men. This is intentional, and helps the illustrator focus on their work and sets some limits on how much one can influence the other. 

K: You worked with Anne on Breadcrumbs as well – how did it come about that you became the illustrator for The Real Boy

EM: Breadcrumbs was a really fun project for me, I felt like I was a good fit for that world, and illustrating Anne’s writing felt very natural to me. I think the team felt that I’d be a good fit for The Real Boy as well since I’d done some other fantasy work. My agent asked me if I was interested and I immediately emailed her back an “Absolutely.” As it turns out, I think The Real Boy is now my favorite project ever. It helps that I like drawing cats!

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K: I noticed that The Real Boy is a mixture of pencil, ink, and possibly water color — How did you choose the style you are going to use for each book? 

EM: The Real Boy felt like a much warmer story than Breadcrumbs. There are so many natural materials, animals, trees, even the magic itself feels natural in the story. I painted all of the Breadcrumbs illustrations digitally, and I didn’t think that same style would make sense for The Real Boy. So for this book, I did all of the illustrations on toned paper in pencil, and a mix of gouache, white chalk, and sometimes ink. All of them were scanned and touched up digitally, but starting out with a more natural drawing felt right for this story.

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K: I also loved Darkbeast which you illustrated! Like The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs it is a middle grade fantasy novel. Many of the novels you have done the covers for or have illustrated are fantasy, but you also illustrated the new Nancy Drew Diaries — do you like illustrating fantasy or realistic fiction books better? 

EM: It’s really hard to pick a favorite genre, but usually I prefer the stories that have a mix of both worlds (along the lines of Breadcrumbs, where the normal world is affected by fantasy elements in some way). Purely fantasy worlds are fun because you get to create how everything looks, how everyone dresses, and there are fewer rules. I spent a lot of time just gathering reference to create the world for The Real Boy. And I’ve always wanted to draw a fantasy map! 

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The more realistic work I’ve done (Nancy Drew) is fun in a different way because you just get to “go shopping” for those characters. I’ll go online to different clothing sites and pick out outfits for Nancy to wear. Every project has something different about it that appeals to me.

K: What are some other projects you’ve worked on? 

EM: Along with Breadcrumbs and The Real Boy, I’ve worked on the Nancy Drew Diaries series, the Saranormal series, the Higher Power of Lucky series, a picture book called French Ducks in Venice, and covers for many other books. (The whole list is on my website http://www.emcguire.net/).

K: Can you share with us what projects you are working on now? 

EM: I’m still working on Nancy Drew, and other projects that I’m not able to talk about yet. I’m also starting to write my own picture books, which is a totally different challenge, but exciting for me!

It is so fascinating how authors and illustrators work together. It really is magical.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: On top of the amazing world building and history building, Anne Ursu also writes beautifully. There are examples of figurative language usage all throughout the book. It would be an amazing piece of mentor text for writing workshop. Oh, and it would obviously be an amazing read aloud!

Discussion Questions: What makes someone human?; Do you think cats sense things that humans cannot?; If there was magic, do you think it’d make the world a better or worse place?

We Flagged: “Oscar and Callie sat in the library awhile longer, Callie scanning the books for more information, Oscar just sitting inside his mind. There were not answers about the children, but they did not even know what the questions were anymore. The world had ruptured once again. Even history could disappear under your feet.” (p. 185)

“There is a way the truth hist you, both hard and gentle at the same time. It punches you in the stomach as it puts it s loving arms around your shoulder.” (p. 206)

Read This If You Loved: The Darkbeast by Morgan Keyes, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Breadcrumbs by Anne UrsuTuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit, Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

Recommended For: 

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Don’t forget to visit the other Real Boy Blog Tour Stops: 

Monday, 9/30 – Maria’s Melange – Maria’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Tuesday, 10/1 – There’s a Book – Danielle’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Wednesday, 10/2 – sharpread – Colby Interviews Anne
Thursday, 10/3 – Novel Sounds – Elena’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Friday, 10/4 – Word Spelunking – Aeicha Interviews Anne
Saturday, 10/5 – The Hiding Spot – Sara’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Sunday, 10/6 – The Brain Lair – Kathy’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Monday, 10/7 – Read, Write, Reflect – Anne Talks Oscar with Katherine
Tuesday, 10/8 – Librarian’s Quest – Margie’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Wednesday, 10/9 – Buried in Books – Heather’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Thursday, 10/10 – The Book Monsters – Kristen’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Friday, 10/11 – Cari’s Book Blog – Cari’s Take on The Real Boy + An Interview with Anne
Saturday, 10/12 – Unleashing Readers – Kellee Interviews Illustrator Erin McGuire + Giveaway
Sunday, 10/13 – Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – Gina’s Take on The Real Boy + Giveaway
Monday, 10/14 – Heise Reads and Recommends – Editor Jordan Brown Interviews Anne
Tuesday, 10/15 – Bulldog Readers Blog – The Bulldog Readers Debut Their Book Trailer
GIVEAWAY

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Thank you to Kellie at Walden Pond Press for a copy of The Real Boy for review and giveaway, for setting up the blog tour and review, and to Erin McGuire for her wonderful interview!
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Blog Tour, Review, and Illustrator Guest Post!: The Snatchabook by Helen and Thomas Docherty

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This is part of the book blog tour for The Snatchabook  by Helen & Thomas Docherty,
organized by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

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The Snatchabook
Author: Helen Docherty
Illustrator: Thomas Docherty
Published October 1st, 2013 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Goodreads Summary: Where have all the bedtime stories gone?

One dark, dark night in Burrow Down, a rabbit named Eliza Brown found a book and settled down…when a Snatchabook flew into town.

It’s bedtime in the woods of Burrow Down, and all the animals are ready for their bedtime story. But books are mysteriously disappearing. Eliza Brown decides to stay awake and catch the book thief. It turns out to be a little creature called the Snatchabook who has no one to read him a bedtime story. All turns out well when the books are returned and the animals take turns reading bedtime stories to the Snatchabook.

My Review: This book has two very magical elements: the rhyming story and the fun illustrations. The story is one I cannot wait to read to my children. As Brian Selznick says, ” So wonderful it demands to be read out loud.” However, I feel that it is the illustrations that make this book really come to life. It is because of how much I loved the illustrations that when I was asked if I wanted to be part of The Snatchabook blog tour with a guest post, I knew I wanted to hear from Thomas. I am so happy to have his post here sharing what it was like to illustrate The Snatchabook:

The Snatchabook was a real pleasure to illustrate, as well as a lot of work. In fact, at the time of illustrating, it was probably the most complicated book I had done, because of having to create Burrow Down as well as all the woodland creatures that lived there.

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I always start with a lot of pencil sketches, and although The Snatchabook came quite quickly, Eliza took a lot longer to develop as a character.  At one point, I thought she was going to be a badger!

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Once I was happy with the characters and where they lived, I started to plan out the story page by page.  I talked through the roughs a lot with Helen and the publishers until everyone was happy and then I started on the final artwork.

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I still work in quite a traditional way. I love the physicality of the tubes of paint, bottles of coloured ink, and thick watercolour paper. First I trace my rough drawings onto watercolour paper with acrylic ink and a dip pen using a light box. Then I stretch the paper and when it is dry, I begin to paint washes of colour using watercolour.

It was a lot of fun getting the feeling of suspense into the pictures, trying to make them edgy but not scary.  I also love dramatic lighting, so I made sure I had plenty of cold moonlight outside the burrows and warm, cozy lamps inside. The windswept clouds and twisty trees were painted with a lot of dry brushwork and the cold blues in the book are some of my favourite colours.

The Snatchabook is a very rich story, full of drama, emotion and warmth and I hope that I manage to get all of those across to the reader in my illustrations.

I truly believe that he has met his goal! I love seeing how an artist gets from the ideas in his/her head to the amazing artwork that is shared with us!

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book is a great read aloud. It has a lot of opportunities for predictions during the mystery part of the story. It also is a great book to use if discussing rhyming. And of course it can start a conversation about how we would feel if our books started disappearing!

Discussion Questions: How would you feel if your books started disappearing?; On pg. 6-7 it shares some of Burrow Downs’s books. What books to you think they are alluding to?; Write a story of your own using the same rhyme scheme as The Snatchabook.

We Flagged:
The little owls, on Mommy’s lap
were quite surprised to hear a tap
against their bedroom window glass.
Tap, tap! The noise came really fast.
Before they’d even looked around,
the book was gone—without a sound. (p. 8-9)

Read This If You Loved: We are in a Book by Mo Willems, Library Lion by Michelle Knudson

Recommended For: 

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