Author Guest Post!: Sue Duff, Author of Fade to Black and Masks and Mirrors


 fade to black Book Cover - Masks and Mirrors

Fade to Black and Masks and Mirrors, Books One and Two from the Weir Chronicles series
Author: Sue Duff
Release Date: April 2, 2015

Masks and Mirrors Summary:  Ian Black’s commitment to safeguarding Earth has come at a price. His career as an illusionist is at a standstill and attending to the planet’s needs has distanced him from his best friend, his guardians, and the woman he loves. When presented with an opportunity to perform, Ian seizes the chance. But moments before he takes the stage, Ian encounters the mysterious Jaered and a rebel force fighting to protect Earth alongside the Weir.

Jaered is determined to stop a malevolent Weir from releasing a drug capable of wiping out the last vestiges of their race and plunging Earth into self-destruction. But when Jaered is willing to sacrifice an innocent child to obtain the drug for himself, Ian risks everything to uncover the secrets of the rebel forces and their true intentions for Earth’s survival.

Cross-Curricular Activity: This book is purely fictional, but the author has based the Weir powers on earth and space physics. The ability to “shyft” comes from the parallax effect, healing from complex matrix, etc. Vortexes are real and found scattered across our planet. The energy from the sun nourishes us, much like it does the core of the Weir Sars.

Class Activities:  

1. Discuss this premise from the novel: “What is science if not the knowledge to see magical things in a different way? The only aspect that separates the two—is time.”

a. What do you think the author means by that?

b. Do you agree that science will eventually explain all of the mysteries in the universe?

c. Name something that was thought of as “magic” centuries earlier, but has scientific basis today?

d. What is a mystery of our universe that still exists today? Where would you begin to find a scientific explanation?

2. The overall premise of the novel is that magical beings exist, but as their race de-evolves, they turn to modern science to find a way to combat it in order to perpetuate their existence.

a. What are ways that humans fight to survive? Animals? Plants and vegetation?

b. What scientific discoveries have helped mankind to survive? Animals? Plants and vegetation?

c. Do you agree with the premise that all that roams the surface of the planet is interconnected? If so, what does it mean to live in harmony?

3. The Weir believe that what happens below the surface of Earth affects what happens above it.

a. Name the different energies that come from the “inner workings” of our planet.

b. What energies do we derive from the solar system?

c. Do you believe that humans can effect change to weather? Control earthquakes? Hurricanes? If not now, in the future? If so, debate the good and harm that could come from that.

4. The protagonist, Ian Black, didn’t develop the combined Weir powers as the Weir prophesy predicted, so he turned to illusions as a way to cope.

a. Name a power you wish you had. Why? How would you use it?

b. What special talent or gift do you have? How and when do you use it?

c. If you could control something in the natural world (animal behavior, various forms of weather, plants, etc.) what would it be? Why? How would you use it?

Book Passage: 

“Did you know about the experiments going on at QualSton?” Ian asked.

Galen’s steps slowed. “I’ve suspected. Not just there but at other Weir facilities around the world.”

“What they did to those creatures, all in the name of science. That’s not the Weir way.”

“Our race is dying, Ian. It’s a bitter pill for powerful men to face extinction. When your powers turned out less than predicted you became a living symbol of the Weir’s mortality,” Galen said. “They’re counting on science to give them a second chance.”

“DNA strands for Channeling. The Weir aren’t so magical after all,” Ian said.

“What is science if not the knowledge to see magical things in a different way? The only aspect that separates the two—is time.” Galen opened Ian’s bedroom door and it swung wide into the room. “There will always be magic as long as we believe in what we don’t understand.”

“I shot energy out of my hand.” Nauseous, Ian stopped short at sharing what it did to the back of a man’s head. He swallowed hard, but the horror at taking a life lodged in his throat.

“In modern day, it’s called a Core Blast but known a few centuries ago as the Dragon’s Breath,” Galen said, sliding into a lecture like a pair of slippers. “Its source is the central core of the earth.”

“It felt like getting shot with a lava mud pie,” Ian said and grabbed the jamb of his bedroom door to steady himself.

“The moment it hits, if not fatal, it absorbs some of the victim’s own core energy and renders them temporarily powerless. In medieval times, Dragon Breath Sars were quite coveted for battle.”

Ian stepped into the room and leaned against the dresser, unwilling to return to his bed any sooner than he had to. It felt good to be on his feet in spite of the unsteady gait.

Sue Duff

About the Author: Sue has been writing since high school but never became serious about it until a skiing accident laid her up for an entire summer and she turned on the word processor to combat the boredom. A couple years later, her first urban fantasy novel, Fade to Black, was a finalist in the RMFW Colorado Gold Writing Contest. By day, she’s a dedicated speech-language therapist in an inner city school district to pay the bills but her life as a writer is her true passion and the creative outlet keeps her sane.

Sue is a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and The Pikes Peak Writers. Her creativity extends into her garden and the culinary arts. She is the second oldest of six girls with an avid reader mom and her dad, the family’s single drop of testosterone in a sea of estrogen. Fate thought it hilarious to give her a son but maternal instincts swing both ways and she didn’t break the little bugger. She lives in Colorado with her miniature dachshund, Snickers and hears from her son, Jonathan whenever he needs something.

To get the latest news, updates on events or the scoop on future novels in The Weir Chronicles series, subscribe to her email list.

You can find Sue online through the following links:

Author WebsiteFacebook (Author Page), Facebook (for the Series), TwitterGoodreadsVirtual Tour Page

**Thank you to Sue Duff for this guest post, and thank you to Samantha Lien for connecting us!**

RickiSig andSignature

Review and Author’s Guest Post!: “Josh, Harrison & Dad’s Excellent Adventure” by Henry L. Herz, Author of Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes


monster goose

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes
Authors: Henry, Josh, and Harrison Herz
Illustrator: Abigail Larson
Published February 7th, 2015 by Pelican Publishing Company

Goodreads Summary: Enter an enchanted land of mythical creatures where manticores reign and ogres roar-a land of mystery and fright. A unique twist on traditional rhymes of everyone’s youth, “Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes” presents a more sinister approach to these childhood classics, and yet the sing-song nature of the poems renders them playful and jovial at the same time. Little Witch Muffet is not frightened by a silly, little spider; she simply adds him to her stew!

Rotten zombies, giants, dwarves, and goblins mingle with werewolves, centaurs, and fauns. Follow along the skeleton stepping stones, scale up a palisade, claw at the window of a tasty child and bake him into a pumpkin shell. Monsters cook up delicious elvish pie, too! Every kid who has an eensy weensy bit of sense wants a pet with feathers white as snow, who flies like an eagle and bleats like a goat-a hippogriff, of course!

Six forest sprites with four times as many pixies escape from a loaf of bread atop the elaborate table of the fey queen; her feast has flown away! If you enjoy mischief and have a penchant for the morbidly hilarious, the Herzs’ rhymes will satisfy your mythological curiosities.

Larson’s illustrations give new life to these ancient figures, and her artistic style employs the bold lines and colorful movement of an action-packed comic book. The author also includes a “bestiary” with information about the book’s legendary creatures, which hail from Scotland, Germany, Italy, Persia, Haiti, and Scandinavia.

Kellee’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Really like the creativity of mashing monster/mythology and nursery rhymes. A great intro to all things traditional lit and fantasy in a rhyming, fun way. I especially liked that the creatures hail from a variety of places and that the author included an appendix that includes information about each of them. I think this book would be a great way to introduce mythology as well as give students an opportunity to make their own parody of a nursery rhyme using a creature.

One thing that makes this book special is that Henry Herz wrote this book with his two sons. I am happy to share with you a post about their collaboration:

Josh, Harrison, and Dad’s Excellent Adventure

Henry, Josh & Harrison Herz

The astute observer will notice that there are three author credits for Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes. That’s because my young sons were involved in its creation. This is the tale of how two boys became traditionally published authors.

A few years ago (in a galaxy far away), I wanted to share my love of fantasy with my young sons.  They were too little for watching most of the fantasy and sci-fi movie classics, and there are only so many good fantasy books available for that age range.  Struck by inspiration one day, I came up with a way to share the joy of entering the magical realms of fantasy. I would write a fantasy book for them.

What I did not anticipate was that my boys would give me feedback on the story.  They devised some of the character (Nimpentoad) and creature (Neebel) names and made plot line suggestions.  And who better to help make the story appealing to kids than other kids?  So, the goal of interesting my sons in fantasy transformed into also encouraging them to write.

Originally, I only shared the story of Nimpentoad with family, for their own enjoyment.  I had no thoughts of having the book published.  But one day, my sister-in-law suggested that I consider publication because she felt the story was much better than many of the books she was seeing for her similarly-aged kids.  I thought about it for a while, and decided to give it a try.

The first step was to find the right artist. Once again, my sons were involved, this time in providing art direction.  We would explain in words what each illustration should contain.  Collaborating remotely via email and DropBox, our artist would give us a rough sketch, and we would provide feedback on details and color palette.  Nimpentoad came to life, while my boys added another dimension to their experience.

Given the amount of time that had passed, as well as the anticipated challenges with finding an agent or publisher willing to take a chance on an unproven writer, we decided to indie-publish.  The response to Nimpentoad was encouraging, and we subsequently indie-published Twignibble (an easy reader about a mechanically-inclined sloth, who travels the world helping his endangered animal friends), and How the Rhino Got His Skin (an updated picture book version of Rudyard Kipling’s classic).

We’ve done book readings and signings at schools, libraries, museums, farmer’s markets, book fairs, and bookstores. My boys are now experienced sales professionals! They know how to handle themselves with new people, and easily sell more books than I do.

Like any good author, I am committed to honing my craft. I belong to critique groups, participate in Tara Lazar’s annual Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) event, and took a picture book writing class at UCSD. Part of the class curriculum was to draft some picture book manuscripts. Kids love monsters and I love monsters (being a big kid myself), and so the idea for Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes was born.

As with our other collaborations, I drafted the book, and then had my sons review it. Then it went through my critique group and more revisions. I subsequently attended the Orange County Editor’s Day event hosted by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes won best picture book. After that, it was time to query agents and editors. Happily, several editors expressed interest. We chose Pelican Publishing, and the rest is history.

Writing rhyming picture books is very challenging (see why at I jokingly encourage newbie writers to visit (not a real website). The irony is not lost on me that my debut traditionally published picture book is in rhyme. My only excuse is that I didn’t have to invent the meter, I just had to twist the words to fit the existing meter.

If you want to interest your kids in mythological creatures, or fantasy literature in general, give Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes a look. Just take care – Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes is a gateway book to The Lightning Thief and, eventually, to The Lord of the Rings.

Learn more about Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes at

Recommended For: 

readaloudbuttonsmall closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


**Thank you to Henry L. Herz for providing a copy for review and for the guest post!**

Author Guest Post!: “A Love for Reading Begets Passionate Writing” by Jake Marcionette, Author of Just Jake


Jake Marcionette was 12-years-old, he decided he wanted to write middle grade fiction for kids, by a kid, from a kid’s perspective. It’s been over two years since he signed with a literary agent, landed a book deal with Grosset and Dunlap (Penguin USA) and then saw Just Jake #1 make the New York Times Best Sellers list.


Today, he does a lot of motivational speaking to elementary and middle school kids.


His message is simple: He’s no different than you but, success, in anything, is predicated on hard work, relentless determination and doing what you love. Here are a few video clips of him speaking:

Jake Headshot for JustJake #2

Today, we have Jake here at Unleashing Readers to share how he got to where he is now.

A Love for Reading Begets Passionate Writing

You can say I’m a big proponent of literacy. But I think a lot of people forget there are two components to the literacy equation: reading AND writing. I’m passionate about the latter but understand the critical importance of the former.

Let’s face it; reading is the glory boy of literacy. Reading is fawned over, hyped…it even has its own catch phrase “Reading is FUNdamental.” How do you compete with that? The answer is you don’t. Because reading is the cornerstone on which all learning and education rests and without it, future Shakespeares are unlikely to emerge.

As kids, we all have stories that need to be told. Our crazy thoughts, wild dreams, and creative interpretations reflect our individualism and personal journeys. I know there’s an inner author inside every kid but without first discovering the love of reading, the joys of putting pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard) will be elusive.

So what about those students who have yet to discover the limitless world of reading? Are they precluded from becoming the next Patterson? Most likely YES but it doesn’t have to be that way. Perhaps all they’re looking for is the FUNNY!

As shocking as it may sound, I was once “that kid” who didn’t enjoy reading. Although I was indeed writing a lot at a young age, my writing didn’t turn the corner to “Passion Town” until I found books I didn’t want to put down. Thank you, Mr. Kinney!

I can personally attest that not every kid wants to read about gossiping mean girls, vampires, or books that encompass serious, teachable moments recommended by well-intentioned adults. A lot of kids just want to laugh.

When I discovered the not so nice Greg Heffley, his abusive older brother Rodrick, and gullible Rowley I went from a reluctant reader to a voracious consumer of books overnight. It was the spark that ignited the creative fire that had eluded me. I knew immediately that was the kind of real story I wanted to tell. And considering there weren’t many books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid (still aren’t) my focus became to put forth a comical, middle grade fiction series about school and life from a kid’s perspective.

Today, as the published author of the Just Jake series and a New York Times Bestseller, I’m provided with an incredibly rewarding platform. Being a firm believer that every kid can achieve greatness, I love visiting schools and getting everyone psyched up about life, finding your passion and putting in the hard work that it takes to be better every day. But the best part is when I hear from another kid that they now want to write their own book.

It being March and National Reading Month, I think it’s appropriate to keep in mind all the “reluctant readers” in your life and try to find the right spark to ignite their interest in the printed word. I’m no different than many other kids out there but without opportunity, potential is rarely discovered.

And if you’re looking for that one series that accurately (and hilariously) captures elementary/middle school life in a highly relatable context, perfect for grades 3rd-8th, Just Jake #1 might by the ticket. Forgive me! March is also the month of my shameless self-promotion as Just Jake #2: Dog Eat Dog‘s publication date is March 31st. Oh man…sorry! There I go again.

Cover Dog Eat Dog Just Jake

For all the teachers out there, you’ll be interested to know we’ve partnered with to create some awesome (and free) interactive learning lessons based on Just Jake #1 in the form of spelling and vocabulary lists and quizzes found here:

And, a very cool reading comprehension quiz with built-in game rewards found here:

Thank you Unleashing Readers (Kellee and Ricki) for this incredible opportunity. You guys rock! And if you’re interested in more information about me please visit . Lastly, I hope everyone can follow me on Twitter @Jake Marcionette!!!!!

Thank you Jake! You are such an inspiration!

Signature andRickiSig

Author Guest Post!: “Three Bowls of Porridge…” by Lisa Heathfield, Author of Seed


“Three Bowls of Porridge…” by Lisa Heathfield, Author of Seed

When I write, I have a ‘writing spirit’ that takes over. I sit for hours at the kitchen table, pen in hand and time sort-of stops. I don’t really know what I’ve written until I read back over my words. So I was surprised when reading a day’s work on my book, Seed, to see the line: ‘There are three bowls on the table, the porridge still warm.’ It seemed lifted straight out of the fairytale ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’.

A few days later, it happened again. When I read how Bobby was making a tiny house out of sticks, it made me think of the tale of ‘Three Little Pigs’. I then realised who Nana Willow reminded me of – tucked up in her bed, with blankets pulled up to her chin, she was the image of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. And outside, the wolf, in the guise of Papa S, was waiting.

In so many fairytales, there’s a wicked character that the protagonist must overcome – could this be Papa S? A handsome prince swoops in to save the day – is Ellis inadvertently walking in these shoes? Am I clutching at straws to say that Pearl leaving her slippers in Papa S’ chamber is reminiscent of ‘Cinderella’? I don’t think I am. Because since seeing references to fairytales scattered amongst the lines of SEED, I can see their influence everywhere. I wonder if the roots of fairytales are in every book we read?

The writer and child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, said that fairytales were ‘consoling’ to children, yet having re-read many of them recently, I think I sit more squarely in Angela Carter’s camp, seeing fairytales as violent and menacing. Many fairytales have true horror at their core. Take ‘The Juniper Tree’ – in it, a woman cuts off the head of her step-son, attempts to hide her crime by tying his head back onto his neck, before chopping him up into a stew which she feeds to his father. I could hardly bear to read it, yet it began its life as a story for children! Perhaps it’s a natural progression then, that teenagers go on to devour so-called ‘dark’ books. Is any theme ‘off-limits’, when they’ve been fed a literary diet of kidnapping, murder and corruption from such a young age?

With the memory of fairytales unintentionally at SEED’s core, it’s perhaps unsurprising that parts of it are dark. Unsettling themes weave in and out of the pages. It appears that my ‘writing spirit’ was definitely paying attention and taking notes all those years ago. However, she seems to have missed out something crucial – the ‘happily ever after’ part. Maybe she can sort it out in SEED’s sequel…

About Lisa: 

Lisa Heathfield

Lisa always dreamed of being a writer. She wrote her first book when she was nine – set in a haunted house, in the middle of a dark wood! And she’d sit for hours at her typewriter, creating stories to send off to magazine competitions (none of which got close to winning, but it didn’t put her off trying).

She was always reading. Lying in the grass, on her bed, up a tree, there was always a book in her hand. It was only natural that she would study English at university and go on to become an English teacher in a secondary school. An early fascination with Helen Keller followed her to the classroom and she began teaching hearing-impaired children.

Lisa and her husband settled in Brighton, on the south coast of England, where she concentrated on raising their three wonderful boys. After an ill-advised stint running a cafe, the need to write became too difficult to ignore. And her debut novel, Seed, was born.

About Seed:


Fifteen-year old Pearl has lived her whole life protected within the small community at Seed, where they worship Nature and idolize their leader, Papa S. When some outsiders join, everything changes. Pearl is forced to question everything she’s ever known and all she’s ever believed in. As she prepares to become Papa S’s Companion for the first time, she begins to realize that there’s darkness at the heart of Seed, a darkness that she must escape, before it’s too late.

Excerpt from Seed:

I look at Elizabeth. In the candlelight her cheeks look sunken, her eyes hollow. Is there fear hidden within her?
      “I’ve seen it now,” I say quietly. My voice sounds flat as it catches in the earth. “Can I go?”
      “We have all done this, Pearl. Every woman at Seed. I promise you will be all right.”
      “What do you mean?”
      “When you get your first Blessing, when you first start to bleed, you must stay with Nature so that she may give you the gift of a healthy womb,” she says.
       I don’t understand. I just stare at her in the flickering light.
       “You must stay deep in her womb, so your own womb may become fertile.”
       “What do you mean, fertile?”
       “So that when it is your time, you will be able to have children.”
       “I don’t want to be here, Elizabeth.” My voice cracks as I start to cry. I look at the earth circling me and I’m suddenly filled with terror. Does she want me to stay here?
      She puts the lamp down and wraps her arms around me, her face hidden in the shadows. “You know that you must not cry. Your life spirit will leave you and without it, you are nothing.”
      I can smell the sweetness of her vanilla scent. It masks the smell of the blood and the damp earth that is blocking the air.
      “It won’t be for long.”
      “So you’ll shut the trapdoor?” The words fall from my mouth.
      Elizabeth steps back and nods. She’s trying to smile.
      “But how will I breathe?”
      Elizabeth picks up the lantern and shines it on the bottom of the curved earth walls. Tiny black pipes stick out all around. “I have been here, Pearl. It’s all right.”
      “It’s not,” I say and I start to cry again. “I don’t want to stay.” My voice is getting louder and Elizabeth looks up the steps toward the light above.
      “Shh, now. Papa S must not hear you cry. And Nature is hearing every word.” Then she puts down the lantern once again and turns to go up the steps.
      I can’t move. Something holds me to the ground. I want to run after Elizabeth, pull her back, to escape, but I just watch as she goes up towards the air. The last thing I see is her blonde hair as she quickly lowers the trapdoor. It shuts with a muffled thud.

Thank you so much to Lisa for being our special guest this Sunday!

RickiSig andSignature

Author Guest Post!: “Beyond Setting: A Couple of Thoughts and Some Fun Writing Prompts” by Tricia Springstubb, Author of Moonpenny Island


Beyond Setting: A Couple of Thoughts and Some Fun Writing Prompts

Setting: the time and place where the story happens. Yawn. Compared to characters and plot, setting can be a snoozefest. What happens next? That’s what most readers, young or old, want to know.

But here’s what genius writer Katherine Paterson has to say on the subject: “Setting for me is not a background against which a story is played out, but the very stuff with which the story is woven. The characters will not determine the setting, but the setting to a great extent will determine both what they will be like and how they will act.”

Think of “Bridge to Terabithia” and you’ll immediately understand what she means. Could that miraculous, heart-wrenching story be set anywhere but the kingdom Jess and Leslie create together?  Not only is that place enchanted, it’s secret, a spot where they feel all-powerful and safe from the real world–which of course makes the book’s tragedy all the more devastating.

Setting can be a catalyst. It can make things happen. Stanley Yelnats gets sent to Camp Green Lake where, instead of a lovely lake, he finds a desert full of strange holes, and the die is cast. (“Holes”, by Louis Sachar). Ditto what happens when Brian Robeson’s plane goes down not on the edge of a corn field, but in the middle of the Canadian wilderness (“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen).

Full confession: sense of place is all important in my work. “What Happened on Fox Street” pivots on how much Mo Wren loves her home. Everything she treasures is there–her friends, her secret hide-out, her fox-quest and her memories of her mother. The discovery that her adored father means to move away makes her furious and sets the rest of the story in motion.

In “Mo Wren Lost and Found”, Mo has had to move away after all. Here the setting reflects and enhances her feelings of confusion and lonesomeness. “East 213th . Their new street didn’t even have a name. Just a number. That was only the beginning of how different it was. Being a dead end, where Fox Street began and where it stopped were perfectly clear. Once Upon a Time and The End. But if East 213th was a story, it’d say To be continued…with those three dots that mean anything might happen.”

My newest book, “Moonpenny Island”, is about how living on a small lump of limestone surrounded by water is paradise for some, prison for others. The very stuff of the story!

I always encourage young writers to think about setting. Think, I tell them, how important place is to “Harry Potter”, “Percy Jackson” or “The Giver”.  Think how much you love stepping into a story’s new, amazing and compelling world. Experiencing a great setting is the closest we can come to teleportation. When you’re a writer, you have the power to build a world!

Below are some writing exercises to help kids understand the power of setting–and have fun too!

  • Take a familiar story and set it in another place or time. What if Little Red Riding Hood lived in New York City?  How would the plot change if Cinderella was set in the present day?
  • Without naming it, describe some place you know as fully as you can. Use all five senses. Trade descriptions with someone else, and use each other’s place as the setting for a new story.
  • Draw a map of an imaginary place. Go wild! Use it as the setting for a story.
  • Describe the room you’re in right now. Just the facts please. Messy classroom desks, windows onto the street, one kid asleep in the corner.
    Now describe the room through the eyes of a fictional character. A shy, nervous new kid entering for the first time. An ant on the floor. A girl with a crush on the boy sitting next to her. An alien whose saucer has just landed outside. (It’s up to you. Remember, when you’re a writer, you’re the boss of your story!) Will they all see the same setting? How will past experiences and present feelings influence the way each of them perceives the room?

Tricia Springstubb is a frequent speaker in schools and libraries. When she can’t get there in person, she enjoys doing Skype visits. Her new middle grade novel, “Moonpenny Island”, publishes with HarperCollins on February 10. “Cody and the Fountain of Happiness”, the first book in her new series for readers ages 7-10, publishes with Candlewick in April.

Tricia lives and writes in good old Cleveland. You can learn more about her and her books at

Moonpenny Island Summary: Moonpenny is a tiny island in a great lake. When the summer people leave and the ferries stop running, just the tried-and-true islanders are left behind. Flor and her best, her perfect friend, Sylvie, are the only eleven-year-olds for miles and miles—and Flor couldn’t be happier.

But come the end of summer, unthinkable things begin to happen. Sylvie is suddenly, mysteriously whisked away to school on the mainland. Flor’s mother leaves to take care of Flor’s sick grandmother and doesn’t come back. Her big sister has a secret, and Flor fears it’s a dangerous one.

Meanwhile, a geologist and his peculiar daughter arrive to excavate prehistoric trilobites, one of the first creatures to develop sight. Soon Flor is helping them. As her own ability to see her life on this little lump of limestone evolves, she faces truths about those she loves—and about herself—she never imagined.

Tricia Springstubb tells a warm and deeply affecting story about what it means to see, and why the biggest feat of all may be seeing through someone else’s eyes.

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness Summary: For whimsical Cody, many things are beautiful, especially ants who say hello by rubbing feelers. But nothing is as beautiful as the first day of summer vacation, and Cody doesn’t want to waste one minute of it. Meanwhile, teenage brother Wyatt is moping over a girl, Mom is stressed about her new job as Head of Shoes, Dad is off hauling chairs in his long-distance truck, and even camp has been closed for the summer. What to do? Just when all seems lost, Cody bumps into a neighborhood boy named Spencer who is looking for a runaway cat. With a new friend and a soon-to-be-found cat, Cody is on her way to the fountain of happiness.


Thank you so much to Tricia for being our special guest this Sunday!
Signature andRickiSig

Author Guest Post and Giveaway!: The Shadow Lantern, Book 3 of The Blackhope Enigma Trilogy by Teresa Flavin



The Shadow Lantern
Author: Teresa Flavin
Published July 22nd, 2014 by Candlewick Press

Publisher’s Summary: It’s Halloween at the Blackhope Tower and the spirits are rising… When a mysterious oil lantern and a box of painted slides appear at Blackhope Tower, Sunni and Blaise are drawn back to the place where their adventures first began. When they discover that the slides conceal secrets about artist-magician Fausto Corvo, the pair find themselves once again caught up in a deadly pursuit. An old enemy is still tracking Corvo and will stop at nothing to find him. Sunni and Blaise must fight to protect Corvo’s secrets and rid themselves of Soranzo’s evil threat once and for all.

Sunni and Blaise face their most dangerous challenge yet in their third and final adventure.

The Shadow Lantern is the third book in The Blackhope Enigma trilogy.

Book 1’s Publisher’s Summary: For centuries, Blackhope Tower has been shrouded in intrigue, centering on a labyrinth and painting in the Mariner’s Chamber. When fourteen-year-old Sunni Forrest visits the tower and sees her stepbrother, Dean, disappear, seemingly into the painting itself, she must find him and risk being drawn into the heart of the Blackhope enigma. This action-packed debut follows Dean, Sunni, and her friend Blaise on a journey to the heart of an age-old mystery.

An ancient painting, a magical labyrinth, and skeletons found in a locked room.

Book Trailer: 

Scribd Chapter Sampler:

About the Author: Teresa Flavin was born in New York and studied art in Boston and at Syracuse University. After moving to Glasgow, Scotland, she was awarded the Scottish Arts Council New Writers Bursary. She has illustrated a number of picture books. Her first novel, The Blackhope Enigma, was nominated for a Cybil Award. Teresa Flavin lives in Scotland.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Tumblr

Today we are lucky enough to have Teresa here at Unleashing Readers to talk to us about her process:

I’m a planner, pure and simple. Once an idea for a story has taken hold in my head, I make notes, create mind maps and get the bones of it down on paper. At the same time, I don’t want to have every scene mapped out so tightly the story can’t breathe and evolve in an unexpected and interesting way – which it inevitably does!

I look forward to previously unplanned characters showing up on the page wanting a piece of the action. And because I find so much inspiration in history, and do a fair amount of research, I often stumble on a nugget of information that can move my story in exciting and serendipitous ways. For example, when I learned that the development of some artists’ paint pigments was tied up with alchemy, I saw what a great element it could bring to the second story in the trilogy, The Crimson Shard.

Before I get too far with a new story I share a short synopsis with my agent because she’s great at asking tough questions that test the bones of my idea. I revise that synopsis until we both consider it viable, knowing that the story will change a lot. When I look back over old versions of my synopses I am astonished at how much the stories evolved before I even started writing them.

Once I know roughly where a story is going, I write it from start to finish. I am not good at skipping around and writing scenes out of order. That would feel like fast-forwarding the film and missing important links in the middle. I admire authors who can work in a non-linear way but I prefer my own method. I like how a story unfolds, how one scene influences the next.

If I’m on a deadline, I write to a daily word count, breaking the story down into manageable chunks. Some days are definitely more productive than others! I revise my finished manuscript at least two or three times on the recommendations of my editors. I am infinitely grateful to all of them because they read with clarity when I am too close to the story. Though I am the writer, I see my books as team efforts, with my editors inspiring me to make the best story I can.

People often ask me whether I read other children’s books while I’m writing my own and what books influenced my trilogy. I tend to avoid reading children’s fiction while I am creating my own, but I do read adult non-fiction such as history books. If I read any fiction, it’s for grown-ups and generally quite different from the kind of fantasy books I write.

Before I started writing for young people, I read very little children’s or young adult fiction. I think that my writing is probably influenced most by the books I enjoyed as a kid, from The Chronicles of Narnia to Sherlock Holmes to Ray Bradbury stories like The Illustrated Man. If it was a colorful, atmospheric adventure, I was hooked. If my own trilogy can intrigue young readers as fully as any of the books I loved, my mission is accomplished.

Many thanks to Unleashing Readers for hosting me!

And thank you Teresa! We loved hearing about your process!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you so much to Teresa Flavin and Candlewick Press for the guest post and giveaway!


Author Guest Post!: Five Ways to Bring MG into the Classroom by F.T. Bradley, author of the Double Vision series


Double Vision front coverCode Name 711--coverDouble Vision The Alias Men hi-res cover

Today, F.T. Bradley, author of the Double Vision trilogy, joins us with a wonderful post for middle grade teachers. Last year, Ricki reviewed (and loved) the second book in the series, Double Vision: Code Name 711We strongly encourage you to check out the entire series and are excited to announce that the third book, Double Vision: The Alias Men, went on sale this week! Please join us in welcoming F.T. Bradley to the blog today. 

   F.T. Bradley--photo

Five Ways to Bring MG into the Classroom

By F.T. Bradley

Reading is good for kids—we all know this. But trying to find ways to bring books into an already over-tasked classroom can be more than a challenge. Every year, I visit several school and library conventions, where I talk about ways to reach reluctant readers. Let’s face it: every classroom has a good portion of kids who would anything to avoid opening another book. So how do you bring middle-grade books into the classroom without boring your students? Here are a few ways to keep reading fresh in the classroom:

1. Find a Theme

Is your class or grade covering a certain period in history? Chances are, there are a host of MG titles that cover it. Math, science, art—authors love to use curriculum as a jumping off point in their fiction. When looking for titles, start by casting a wide net, including non-fiction (reluctant readers are easier to hook with those books), and graphic novels, too. For middle-school teachers, this can be an opportunity to collaborate with other teachers across subjects. A library visit, or a simple Google search can be a good start to find titles, but also look at book review sites like Goodreads, where reviewers often have top-ten lists of like-themed books. Author websites (like mine) sometimes have links and resources too, so don’t forget to browse the web.

2. Host a Book Club

You don’t have to be Oprah to host a book club. It can be small scale, like a class-wide joint read, or an after school club or even an elective for middle-schoolers. One school librarian told me she hosted a book club during lunch once a week—what a great idea! If you’re looking for a more challenging approach to group reading, try reading a non-fiction and fiction title on the same topic or historical period at the same time. How is the fiction title holding up against reality? Another fun challenge: reading a classic title like A Wrinkle in Time, and comparing it to its graphic novel counterpart. Or comparing the book with the movie—a great way to show that books connect to popular entertainment. To start your book club, look for more accessible options (so all kids will be interested, even those who read less), and increase the challenge as you go. 

3. Host a Review Blog or Website

Kids are already expected to write book reports—why not have them write reviews, too? This can be a school or classroom blog, where you post reviews written by kids. You can even post them to other review sites, or on your local bookstore website (if they’re interested—could be a great start to collaboration). Publishers (and sometimes authors) may even be willing to donate a copy of a book in exchange for a review, especially if you post reviews regularly. Just be sure to protect kids’ privacy as you post the reviews.

4. Rewrite the Story

Have you ever read a book with the class, only to be disappointed with the ending? Or maybe it wasn’t the ending you expected—or maybe it was too cliché? Rewrite the end with the class! This can be a great writing assignment—not only does this teach writing and editing skills, it shows kids that stories aren’t set in stone. (Note: this was not my idea, but shared by a Mississippi teacher and her class, who loved this exercise). Other ideas: writing short stories, like fan fiction, featuring the other characters in a book. How does the story change if written from a different perspective? Or: write letters as two characters in conflict with each other. If you’re working with a non-fiction title, consider having kids write fictional stories featuring some of the facts in the book. Or vice-versa: research any facts in the fiction title you’re reading—did the author stay close to the truth?

5. Host a (Virtual) Author Visit

Nothing makes a book, and the profession of writing, come to life more than a visit from a real author. Kids will never forget that day. To find available authors in your area, look at professional organizations’ websites, like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. You can also ask your local library, or your independent bookstore—staff often know who lives locally, and who does great presentations. Don’t have access to local authors or funds to bring authors to your school? Try a Skype visit instead! These virtual visits are often free, and require nothing more than a computer/tablet with a webcam and a (free) Skype account. To find authors who Skype for free (like me), visit author Kate Messner’s website for a list. For non-fiction tie-ins, Skype in the Classroom offers lessons that run the gamut when it comes to curriculum, and even connects classrooms across the globe.   When I host the session on reaching reluctant readers (using these ideas and more) at library and teacher conventions, I get my best tips, book recommendations, and out-of-the-box ideas from teachers and librarians themselves.

How about you? Do you have any ideas or tips to share?

Follow along with the Double Vision: The Alias Men blog tour:

Oct. 6-10: The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow features Double Vision: The Alias Men with a review, author interview, plus a GIVEAWAY..!

Oct. 13: Linc hangs out at the great Erik’s blog, This Kid Reviews Books. Linc talks about spy techniques he picked up on his Pandora missions. And there’s another GIVEAWAY

Oct. 14: Double Vision: The Alias Men is released! Have a virtual party at the YA Sleuth blog…! And follow F.T. on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor for more kid spy fun.

Oct. 16: F.T. Bradley gives you Five Ways to Bring MG into The Classroom at the Unleashing Readers blog, plus a GIVEAWAY.

Oct. 17: Linc is interviewed by Lizzy, Fairday and Marcus over at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow blog. A fun post!

Oct. 20: Buried in Books lets F.T. Bradley talk about the Double Vision trilogy…

Oct. 20: Also this day, the fabulous Ms. Yingling reviews Double Vision: The Alias Men on her blog for Marvelous MG Monday…

Oct. 21: Another favorite blog, YA Book Nerd, hosts F.T. Bradley and the Double Vision trilogy, plus a GIVEAWAY

Oct. 21: F.T. Bradley hangs out at Sleuths, Spies and Alibis

Oct. 24: F.T. Bradley gives tips for parents of reluctant readers, Seven Ways to Get Your Kid to Read, at Pragmatic Mom’s blog, plus a GIVEAWAY!

Oct. 25: At the Nerdy Book Club, find F.T. Bradley’s top 10 books for reluctant readers…