Keynote Speaker Tami Charles’ Words of Wisdom

Author Tami Charles
Charles delivering her keynote speech at the NJSCBWI18 conference.

Inspiration for Everyone

Tami Charles, whose middle grade novel Like Vanessa debuted in March, delivered a keynote speech at the NJSCBWI18 conference this past weekend.

She talked about the value of hope. “Somewhere between no and yes lies hope.”

She talked about rejections. “The word no has empowered me, broken me, and put me back together again.”

She talked about persistence. “You keep writing. You don’t stop.”

And she said, “Step into your greatness.”

Thanks, Tami, for words of wisdom that ring true for me as a writer and also for anyone trying to reach a seemingly insurmountable goal.

Click here to watch a short video about Charles and Like Vanessa. Take one guess which book I’m buying as gifts for some important tween girls in my life.

In this semi-autobiographical debut novel set in 1983, Vanessa Martin’s real-life reality of living with family in public housing in Newark, New Jersey is a far cry from the glamorous Miss America stage. She struggles with an incarcerated mother she barely remembers, a grandfather dealing with addiction and her own battle with self-confidence. But when a new teacher at school coordinates a beauty pageant and convinces Vanessa to enter, Vanessa’s view of her own world begins to change. Vanessa discovers that her own self-worth is more than the scores of her talent performance and her interview answers, and that she doesn’t need a crown to be comfortable in her own skin and see her own true beauty. Goodreads

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The One and Only Ivan, Book Review

When you read a story, how does it make you feel? 

THE ONE and ONLY IVAN, a middle grade novel written by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao, and named the 2013 winner of the Newbery Medal made me curious (Will Ivan and his friends ever live a different life?), chagrined (“I was born in a place humans call central Africa, in a dense rain forest so beautiful, no crayons could ever do it justice.”), and introspective (“Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.”). The story is layered and poignant. I cried.

“The One and Only Ivan is a work of fiction, but the inspiration for this imagined tale lies with a true story. Ivan, a real gorilla, lived at Zoo Atlanta, but on the way to that happy ending, he spent almost three decades without seeing another of his own kind before being moved to Zoo Atlanta in 1994.” (from The One And Only Ivan website.)

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.   Goodreads.

Have you read this book? How did it make you feel?

Kwame Alexander and the Rebound Bus

Kwame Alexander at Words Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ.

Lucky me! I got to see Kwame Alexander in action.

Words Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ was Kwame’s second stop on The Official Rebound Bus Tour. REBOUND is the follow-up to his, Newbery-medal winning middle grade novel, THE CROSSOVER. It was standing room only to see this celebrity of Kidlit, but we were told his bus hadn’t arrived. Bus? Who takes the bus when the train station is right in town? I didn’t realize this was the bus…

Wow! Before Kwame read from his new book, he talked about what was in his bus–beds, bathroom, kitchen–the whole shebang!

Then he asked if there was a kid in the audience who could beatbox, and he, the musician who travels with him, and the kid performed an excerpt from REBOUND. Awesome! He said, “Sports are the hook, but the books are really about life.”

Before Josh and Jordan Bell were streaking up and down the court, their father was learning his own moves. In this prequel to Newbery Medal winner The Crossover, Chuck Bell takes center stage, as readers get a glimpse of his childhood and how he became the jazz music worshipping, basketball star his sons look up to.   Goodreads.

Not only did Kwame talk about his new book, he spoke about reading, writing, rejection and perseverance. I wanted to cry.

Kwame said,

If you say something twelve times, your heart catches up.

Books are like amusement parks. You have to let kids choose the rides.

The hardest part of writing a book is actually writing the book.

All the kids need all the books.

Words are the great connector. (Love, love, love this!)

Want to see Kwame in action, too? Click here to see a video of him reading excerpts from The Crossover.

Hello Universe, Book Review

Middle Grade Novel for Kids and Adults

Really!

When I finished reading winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal,  Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly, it felt like my heart squeezed in happiness and I said, “That was SUCH a good book!” The more I think about it, the more I recognize how much I cared for the characters, how poignant Virgil and Valencia’s struggles were, and how every detail in the book played a part in the outcome of the characters’ fateful day.

In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his loud and boisterous family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister Gen is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just act normal so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends — at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms. Goodreads.

Quotes from Hello Universe 

“Crying is good for the soul. It means something needs to be released. And if you don’t release the something, it just weighs you down until you can hardly move.”“People don’t want to listen to their thoughts, so they fill the world with noise.”

“Sometimes life calls on you even when you don’t raise your hand.”

“It’s not being brave if you aren’t scared.”

“Bayani, of all the things you ever tell yourself in life, never say, ‘There’s no chance.‘”  (love, love, love this quote!)

While looking up trailers for this wonderful book, I came across a treat–a video by Kelly on how to make a homemade kaleidoscope.

DIY: Homemade Kaleidoscope with Erin Entrada Kelly

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Sources:Goodreads, You Tube

Book Review, The Girl With All The Gifts

Looking for an “emotionally charged and gripping book from beginning to end?” 

A month ago, if you asked me whether I liked post-apocalyptic zombie stories, my answer would have been, “Definitely not!” Then I read The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey (pub. 2014). This adult novel could easily be YA since it’s told mainly from the perspective of the ten-year old main character. The story gets more and more interesting as it progresses, and the ending blew me away.

Not every gift is a blessing. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh. Melanie is a very special girl. Amazon 

Quotes from the book:

“Melanie thinks: when your dreams come true, your true has moved. You’ve already stopped being the person who had the dreams, so it feels more like a weird echo of something that already happened to you a long time ago.”

 

“Growing up and growing old. Playing. Exploring. Like Pooh and Piglet. And then like the Famous Five. And then like Heidi and Anne of Green Gables. And then like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether what’s inside is good or bad. Because it’s both. Everything is always both.
But you have to open it to find that out.”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” she explains to Miss J. “I want to be where you are. And I don’t know the way back to wherever I was before, anyway. I don’t even remember it. All I remember is the block, and you. You’re…” Now it’s Melanie’s turn to hesitate. She doesn’t know the words for this. “You’re my bread,” she says at last. “When I’m hungry. I don’t mean that I want to eat you, Miss Justineau! I really don’t! I’d rather die than do that. I just mean… you fill me up the way the bread does to the man in the song. You make me feel like I don’t need anything else.”

 

“Melanie finds this interesting in spite of herself — that you can use words to hide things, or not to touch them, or to pretend that they’re something different than they are.” Goodreads.

 

Related Info:

Click here to see an interview with M.R.Carey on You Tube. A movie based on the book came out in 2017. A prequel titled, The Boy On The Bridge was published in 2017.

Have you read the book? Seen the movie? What did you think?

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman, Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Covers, One Story

I just finished listening to bestselling author Alice Hoffman’s middle grade novel, Nightbird on Audible. Layers build upon each other as characters are introduced, problems increase, and mysteries must be solved. The story is an easy read, but contains poignant reminders of how the past informs the present and how we have the power to change our path.

Summary from Goodreads:

Twig lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumored to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell.

Quotes from Nightbird:

“I just stored up my hurts, as if they were a tower made of fallen stars, invisible to most people, but brightly burning inside of me.”

“Mean people are meaningless.”

“It was a miracle to live as birds do, except for one thing: anyone seen in flight would surely be captured, perhaps even shot down like a crow flying above a cornfield. It’s always dangerous to be different, to appear as a monster in most people’s eyes, even from a distance.”

Click here to read a preview of the book.

If you’ve read this book, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Happy reading (and listening), hon.

Book Review, The Inquisitor’s Tale Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

Box of books found at The Book Shed.

On a recent visit to my brother and his family, my daughter and I discovered a hidden gem, a great idea, and the reason we’d been receiving random gifts of books…The Book Shed. In Newton, Massachusetts’ Recycling Depot, gently used books organized by genre and author are stored in a shed, and you know what? You can take as many books as you want!

So many stories. So many worlds to explore. Not enough hours in a day!

I didn’t pick up The Inquisitor’s Tale Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog at The Book Shed, but I did listen to it on Audible. This middle grade novel, written by Adam Gidwitz and illustrated by Hatem Aly, is a 2017 Newbery Honor Book and Winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

The story is outrageous, hilarious, fascinating, engrossing, and excellently written. This book may be for 8 – 12 year-olds but, hon, its a must-read for any age. I loved it!

The bestselling author of A Tale Dark and Grimm takes on medieval times in an exciting and hilarious new adventure about history, religion . . . and farting dragons.

1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children: William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead.

As the narrator collects their tales, the story of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Their adventures take them on a chase through France to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned. They’re taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. And as their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.

Beloved bestselling author Adam Gidwitz makes his long awaited return with his first new world since his hilarious and critically acclaimed Grimm series. Featuring manuscript illuminations throughout by illustrator Hatem Aly and filled with Adam’s trademark style and humor, The Inquisitor’s Tale is bold storytelling that’s richly researched and adventure-packed.

Goodreads.

Have you read this book? What did you think?