Giving Books & Talking Books

This year I tried something new for Halloween. Well, technically these somethings were old to me, but new to everyone who took them home: TRICK OR TREAT BOOKS!

I’m a huge candy fan, so yes, there was still candy to go with the books, but as I handed the candy out, I told the kids that if they saw a book they liked, they could take it!

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Some of my favorite reactions:

  • The 3yo Supergirl who promptly handed her candy basket to her dad, sat on my front steps, and started reading Elmo’s Christmas.
  • The girl with cat whiskers who squealed when she grabbed The Seventh Wish.
  • The boy who slyly nabbed a book with a bunny on the cover and stuffed it into his bucket after his friends left.
  • The teens who didn’t take books, but surprised me by telling me what they were reading: Rick Riordan, Harry Potter, and The Color Purple, among others.

On the subject of talking books, Counting Thyme is on a podcast! The Power of Story is a great new book podcast by Caitlin Lore. Be sure to check out all of her episodes!

What to Read Next?

Over the summer I had a conversation with some of my favorite educators on Twitter about contemporary middle grade stories that pair well with Counting Thyme. I’m a huge fan of many of the books they suggested, so I’m sharing them here today. If you or your students loved THYME, your next favorite read could be one of these great books!

Rules by Cynthia Lord

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The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

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Out of my Mind by Sharon M. Draper

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So B It by Sarah Weeks

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Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

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The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop

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The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

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A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

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The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

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Thanks to my wonderful Twitter peeps for helping me put this list together (shout-out to the #bookjourney crew)! I love read-alikes, which give us such a great opportunity to make connections across characters and stories. Feel free to share your faves and recommendations in the comments below. And if you’ve read THYME, don’t miss the reader participation campaign that launched this week!

Read on!

:)

Mel

Goodbye, Summer

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This summer offered up a surprise for me. I experienced the joy of seeing Counting Thyme on summer reading lists around the country–something I hadn’t really anticipated in the way that all authors fail to anticipate their books’ lives beyond the manuscript phase. It’s been a truly incredible thing, and I was fortunate to write about the experience on The Booklist Reader, which you can read here.

We Do It for the Kids

Last week, something brand new and astounding happened: I received my first fan letter from a  student. Now, I know I wrote a middle grade novel, and that it’s full of awkward moments and first crush flutters and bathroom humor, but seriously, I wasn’t prepared for letters from kids!

Side note: physical letters are AWESOME. I’m one of those moms who makes her kids write thank-you’s (just like the mom in Counting Thyme), so I really appreciate the effort that it takes to get a letter in the mail these days. But letters are special. They are worth it.

This experience has got me thinking about why we are so passionate about books, outside of our own identity as readers. I think we do it for the kids. There is nothing greater than watching this happen:

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Or this:

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Although this is pretty great, too:

But seriously, as I schedule my first school visits (including Skypes on WRAD!), I am so grateful for the opportunity to talk books with kids. Some of those kids are already book nerds; the rest of them just don’t know it yet. But one day, there will come that magical moment when they lose themselves inside of a book. It’s a moment fueled by the passion of teachers, librarians, and parents–it’s the faith that unites us: Our belief that our lives are enriched by story.

Stories created civilization. Stories bind us together through our common experiences as human beings. It is story that builds knowledge and grows empathy, so that we can all evolve together. We who write and share and love books are doing the work of the ages. What could be more exciting?

The books shown above include: THE RIVERMAN from Aaron Starmer. My older son is obsessed with this magical trilogy about a world where stories are born. Then there’s I CAN’T WAIT, by Amy Schwartz, a funny picture book about waiting for something amazing to happen, and BLACK CAT, WHITE CAT by Silvia Borando, about finding friendship by expanding your comfort zone.

Books for Boys

I can’t tell you how often I hear friends looking for book recommendations for their middle grade aged boys on the Facebook, or on the blacktop after school. It’s hard to find books for this age set if you’re not tuned in to reading blogs and Newbery lists.

To be clear, by middle grade I mean grades 3 through 7, age 8 to 12 (roughly). Anyone can enjoy a middle grade read, but in terms of content as appropriate to age of reader, this is the rough guideline for the designation. For example, if you’re not ready for your child to read THE HUNGER GAMES because of the overall concept of kids fighting kids to the death, then middle grade is where you want to go for some great books.

Now, as far as the gender thing goes, I firmly believe that anyone can enjoy any book, if it’s the right book for them. Middle grade is a great source for books that appeal to both genders, with the acknowledgement that individual readers will have their own tastes, and that’s okay!

With no further blabbery from me, here’s a list of some FABULOUS middle grade reads, ones that offer plenty of action, humor, and heart:

The Riverman (The Riverman Trilogy, #1)
THE RIVERMAN by Aaron Starmer
The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire, #1)
THE DRAGONET PROPHECY by Tui T. Sutherland
The Great Greene Heist
THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson
The Fourteenth Goldfish
THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer L. Holm
Steering Toward Normal
STEERING TOWARD NORMAL by Rebecca Petruck
By the Grace of Todd
BY THE GRACE OF TODD by Louise Galveston
The Wednesday Wars
THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary Schmidt
Frindle
FRINDLE by Andrew Clements

 

The Why

My younger son and I, reading MY TRUCK IS STUCK to his class

It can be easy to forget why we do this work, what with deadlines and doubts and all of the things we do in our own little writerly vacuums. The good news: All it takes is reading a book to a class of eager young readers to remember the why.

A Few Great Reads

Here are my latest five star YA reads! Plus, a great MG author to discover and a captivating adult noir read from my book club. I also read quite a few other strong books in the last month or two, so you can always find me on GoodReads for more recommendations.

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1)Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A captivating story with a unique world and compelling characters that will steal your heart and keep you turning pages through the night!

All Our Yesterdays (All Our Yesterdays #1)All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a unique concept, and so very well executed. From the lovely, clear prose to the quiet, wrenching moments, All Our Yesterday’s has everything you could ever want in a YA read. Highly recommended.

Two Boys KissingTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not just a story, but all of our stories–such a close examination of what it is to live and love, unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It took me a few pages to relax into the narrative style, but once I did I could not read quickly enough nor slowly enough, and often found myself stopping to read again, and again, as the meaning and phrases built momentum, propelling the story forward, and taking me with it. I loved following the many different characters, as they took their separate yet entwined journeys. I loved the effortless sense of place and self Levithan develops with his beautiful yet understated imagery. And I loved the bare honesty he put upon the page, something I aspire to in my own writing. While this is not a light everyday read, it is a worthy read, and one that will take up a place in your heart.

Thanks to a recommendation from my lovely agent, I’ve recently discovered Cynthia Kadohata’s work, and I recommend it to anyone who loves deep, character-driven middle grade!

The Thing About LuckThe Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I fell in love with the writing and characters here, and am eager to read Kira-Kira now.

I don’t fit in a ton of adult fiction these days, but this book was well worth my time:

The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book with my book club in November, and it was unlike much I’d read before. Fans of Gone Girl will surely enjoy this story.

View all my reviews

For the Love of Contemporary

I’ve read some great YA contemporaries of late. Aristotle & Dante was my favorite–perhaps my favorite book of the year. As I enter into revisions on my MG novel, I’m on to MG contemporaries for a while (and a little YA fantasy for fun), but if you’re looking for a great read, check these titles out!

The Tragedy PaperThe Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very skillful exploration of tragedy as a theme, with an interesting cast of characters and a hook that draws you in right at the beginning. Our present day MC is Duncan, who arrives at his boarding school to discover that the boy who had the room before him left him a pile of CDs. On the CDs are hours of recordings, recordings that hold the secret to what happened to that boy, Tim, the year before–a mystery that plays out in a heartfelt way that kept me turning pages.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book contains some of the loveliest writing I have encountered in a novel of late. I think that speaks to the author’s background in poetry–absolutely gorgeous, uncluttered prose. And paired with such a wonderful and touching story. I loved every single page. Ten out of five stars!

OCD Love StoryOCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful YA voice and a fascinating topic.

View all my reviews

Confession: I Don’t Always Finish a Read

*waits for boos*

Yep. That’s right. I don’t always finish reading a book. You may be thinking, and this is news why? Well, because that’s not always been the case. Up until about a year ago, I ALWAYS finished reading. Sometimes it took weeks, months–but eventually, I’d finish reading every single book I started.

Not anymore.

Part of me feels liberated, but another part sad. Even before I’d ever considered writing, I studied literature. I appreciated the toil behind every single word on the page. My fingers couldn’t get enough of the paper–that crisp snap of turning a page over in a split second as my eyes devoured the inky words. I still feel that way about reading. But now that I’m writing, well, I only have so much “word time” in my eyeballs for each day. I consider myself a pretty quick reader, but I  honestly don’t know how agents and editors read as much as they do. I mean, they read MOUNTAINS of words. More words than my poor eyeballs could ever take in.

So I’ve given myself permission to stop reading if a book doesn’t work for me, even though I still feel rotten about it. I like to keep those books in a “maybe later” pile. Seems nicer that way. But as much as I can regret not finishing a book that doesn’t work for me, I love that saving the time paves the way for even more AWESOME reads. On that note, here are a few of the best YA books I’ve read lately!

The 5th Wave (The Fifth Wave, #1)The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best paced YA novel I’ve ever read. Swept me off my feet. Loved the world, and the characters even more so. A chillingly rational answer to a familiar hypothesis: when the aliens arrive, what will happen to us?

The Sea of TranquilityThe Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lovely, eloquent story of survival in the face of grief. Millay has a talent for letting the reader into her character’s souls. I enjoyed every word.

Legend (Legend, #1)Legend by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonderful characters and an interesting world construct make this series stand out in the field of dystopian YAs. If you haven’t read Legend, go for it, because the whole series is out this year! No waiting! :)

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat FriendThe DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great read, with such honest, complicated emotions and incredible chemistry–I couldn’t put it down.

View all my reviews

A Newbery First!

This was the first year I waited with true excitement to find out who won the Newbery Medal. Sure, I’ve read a TON of Newbery and Caldecott books over the years, but this was the first year I felt a personal connection to the awards. Because I’m writing these kind of books now (MG, not Newbery winners. Puh-leaze.).

And I can imagine everything it took for these books to make it onto the page, into print, onto the shelves, and into readers’ hands. Wow. What an astounding accomplishment. I offer my sincere congratulations to all of the winners today, and to every writer out there walking the path, putting words to paper every day.

2013 John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

 

2013 Newbery Honors go to:

 

  • Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
  • Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
  • Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

 

2013 Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:

This Is Not My Hat illustrated and written by Jon Klassen
2013 Caldecott Honors go to:

 

  • Creepy Carrots! illustrated by Peter Brown, written by Aaron Reynolds
  • Extra Yarn illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett
  • Green illustrated and written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
  • One Cool Friend illustrated by David Small, written by Toni Buzzeo
  • Sleep Like a Tiger illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Mary Logue

2013 Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults:

 

In Darkness by Nick Lake

 

2013 Printz Honors go to:

 

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  • Dodger by Terry Pratchett
  • The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna

 

2013 Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences:

 

  • Caring is Creepy by David Zimmerman
  • Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
  • Juvenile in Justice by Richard Ross
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
  • One Shot at Forever by Chris Ballard
  • Pure by Julianna Baggott
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

 

2013 Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States:

The Fault in Our Stars produced by Brilliance Audio.  The book is written by John Green and narrated by Kate Rudd.

2013 Odyssey Honors go to:

 

  • Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian produced by Listening Library, written by Eoin Colfer and narrated by Nathaniel Parker;
  • Ghost Knight produced by Listening Library, written by Cornelia Funke and narrated by Elliot Hill; and
  • Monstrous Beauty produced by Macmillian Audio, written by Elizabeth Fama and narrated by Katherine Kellgren.
 
2013 Pura Belpré (Author) Award:

 


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
2013 Pura Belpre’ Honors go to:

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano
2013 Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award:

Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert  illustrated by David Diaz, written by Gary D. Schmidt

 

2013 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children:
Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
2013  Sibert Honors go to:

 

  • Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin written and illustrated by Robert Byrd
  • Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip M. Hoose
  • Titanic: Voices from the Disaster written by Deborah Hopkinson

2013 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book:
Up, Tall and High! written and illustrated by Ethan Long
2013 Geisel Honors go to:

 

  • Let’s Go for a Drive! written and illustrated by Mo Willems
  • Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin, created and illustrated by James Dean
  • Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover written and illustrated by Cece Bell

 

2013 William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens:
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman