Monthly Archives: January 2015

Take a Class in Fiction Writing with Rebecca Stead

Advanced Fiction with Rebecca Stead at the 92nd Street Y begins February 17th.

A workshop for writers of fiction for children and young adults.

The writing process is not just putting down one page after another—it’s a lot of writing and then rewriting, restructuring the story, changing the way things come together.

In this class, we discuss published work and student writing, giving particular attention to voice, character, dialogue, interior monologue and world-building.

Manuscript Submission Required


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Guest Post from THE STORY OF OWEN author, E. K. Johnson

As part of a blog tour celebrating this year’s Morris finalists, here is a guest post from E.K. Johnson whose The Story of Owen is not only a Morris finalist, but an SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books contender and the recipient of many other accolades.  And without further ado, here’s E.K. Johnson:

Why does THE STORY OF OWEN appeal to younger readers?

I took a quick poll on Twitter to answer this question, and it was decided that the reason my book is appealing to younger readers is:


There’s one on the cover and everything!

Dragon stories are great. I started reading Anne McCaffery the summer I was ten, and have never looked back. In recent years, largely thanks to Toothless and Hiccup, dragon stories have become easier to access, from board books right through to epic fantasy. It’s a great time to be a dragon-reader.

But there’s something you should probably know about The Story of Owen:

Trap Akbar

It’s a trap because it’s not really a story about dragons. It’s not even really a story about dragon slaying. It’s the story of a dragon slayer, and of the town he has decided will be his home. I wrote The Story of Owen thinking that teenagers would read it, except I didn’t put in any kissing, so all of a sudden it became a book for younger teens, despite all of the politics and history I crammed into it.

There is something else you should know aboutThe Story of Owen:

Trap Parks and Rec

It’s a trap because it looks like it’s going to be the story of a boy. Even before I started to write the book, I had several people tell me, based on the title, that it was a great idea because boys need books about boys, or they…shrivel up, or something, delicate flowers that they are. Honestly by that point in the conversation, I was usually giggling quietly to myself and didn’t hear the end of it. Owen was always the protagonist, more or less, but he was never the main character.

So far, no one has really seemed to mind. I’ve had enthusiastic emails from 10-year-olds and septuagenarians. I’ve done classroom visits where the boys jostled amongst themselves to get into the front row, and writing seminars with girls who add swords to everything for much the same reason I do (because swords are cool).

The dragons help reel them in, I’m sure, but something else keeps them there. I think what it comes down to is that I, like others before me, wrote a book that takes kids seriously, and so kids like it.

Trap Gandalf

Though I am sure the practical tips about how to pass driver’s ed. don’t hurt.


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Thoughts on Newbery: What I’d Like to See Honored a Week from Today

Next Monday morning the ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced. Many wonderful books came into the world this year, some receiving a great deal of attention while others were appreciated more quietly. And as is true for all the hardworking committee members, those charged with selecting the Newbery will have spent an enormous amount of time considering the eligible titles before making their careful decision. (See this post for more about the criteria and their process.)

Because it is fun to see if any of your own favorites get the nod here are eight of mine. While there were many more I loved this year (including some on this list), based on recent conversations, hard thinking, and irrational feelings from the heart these are the ones I’d be preparing for the most if I were on this year’s committee.

  • El Deafo  This is probably a long shot, but I can dream, can’t I? My arguments for this wonderful graphic novel memoir are here.
  • West of the Moon Way back last March I wrote in my review, “Mixing fairy and folktale with harsh historical reality, Preus has created a gorgeous story of migration set in 19th century Norway.”
  • Brown Girl Dreaming  I wrote here that it is “One of the most lyrical and moving books of the year.”
  • The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza  “By the time this final book of the series—as elegantly and propulsively written as the others—draws to a close, you know that no matter what the future holds, Joey’s inner strength and smart, sweet nature will prevail.” is how I concluded my starred Horn Book review.
  • The Madman of Piney Woods  In another starred Horn Book review, I wrote,” Curtis takes his young protagonists — and his readers — on a journey of revelation and insight. Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words.”
  • The Crossover About this powerful verse novel, I wrote here, “The poetry is energetic and the story compelling — a sure-fire hit for a wide range of readers.”
  • The Family Romanov Of this elegant work of nonfiction I noted here, “Balancing the over-the-top lifestyle of the last Russian royals with firsthand accounts of the rest of the populace, Fleming provides a fascinating and highly readable version of this tragic story.”
  • The Fourteenth Goldfish In my New York Times review I wrote, “Youth, old age, life, death, love, possibilities and — oh yes — goldfish all come together in this warm, witty and wise novel.”





Filed under awards, Newbery

This Year’s 90-Second Newbery Film Festival

If you are not familiar with the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival I encourage you to change that situation now. The brainchild of James Kennedy, the competition and festival has been going strong for several years now.  Among the many clever trailers created by children from all over the world and of all ages are:
  • The reimagining 1953 Honor Book Charlotte’s Web as a horror movie. A must-see. These teenagers from the Schaumburg Public Library are on to something: after all, the book’s first line is “Where’s Papa going with that ax?”, the plot hinges around a spider using unnatural powers, at any moment our hero might get butchered/devoured, and it ends with thousands of spiders monstrously spawning . . .
  • A Claymation adaptation of 1939 Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Made by an ambitious girl scout troop from Urbana, IL, this is resourceful and awesome!
  • A special effects extravaganza of 2009 Medal winner The Graveyard Book. All that green screen work! And how many kids did it take to operate that terrifying giant “Sleer” puppet?
  • A stop-motion version of 2013 Honor Book Bomb. Made by a lone teenager Jennings Mergenthal in Tacoma, WA, this is seriously impressive, funny, AND informative.
  • The 1987 Medal winner The Whipping Boy retold in all-question format. High schooler Madison Ross and her friends retell the adventure story in the style of a verbally dextrous, fast-paced theater game:
To see more check out the following screenings. In addition to the trailers themselves, there are games, special guests, and a whole of fun. What’s more, they are free — you just need to reserve a seat.
  • Sunday, January 25, 2015 The CHICAGO screening at Adventure Stage Chicago (Vittum Theater, 1012 N Noble St, Chicago, IL). With co-host Keir Graff (The Other Felix). 3-4:30 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Saturday, February 7, 2015 The OAKLAND, CA screening at the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library (5366 College Ave., Oakland, CA). 12-1 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Saturday, February 7, 2015 The SAN FRANCISCO screening at the San Francisco Public Library main branch (100 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA). With co-host bestselling author Annie Barrows (Ivy and Bean). 4-5:30 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Saturday, February 21, 2015 The TACOMA screening at the Tacoma Public Library (1102 Tacoma Avenue South, Tacoma, WA). 3-5 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Sunday, February 22, 2015 The PORTLAND AREA screening at the Troutdale Library branch (2451 SW Cherry Park Rd, Troutdale, OR). 5-6 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Saturday, February 28, 2015 The MINNEAPOLIS screening at the Minneapolis Central Library (300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN) in Pohlad Hall. With co-host Kelly Barnhill (The Witch’s Boy). 3-4:30 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Saturday, March 7, 2015 The MANHATTAN screening at the New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, New York, NY), in the Bartos Forum. With co-host Ame Dyckman (Boy + Bot, Wolfie the Bunny). 3-5 pm. Reserve a seat.
  • Sunday, March 8, 2015 The BROOKLYN, NY screening at the Central Library of the Brooklyn Public Library (10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY) with co-host Peter Lerangis (The 39 Clues, the Seven Wonders series). In the Dweck Auditorium.2-4 pm.


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Thoughts on Newbery: El Deafo

I don’t usually do single titles for this series, but am making an exception for Cece Bell’s El Deafo, a graphic novel that is getting some serious Newbery buzz. About this affecting and funny childhood memoir, I wrote elsewhere, “While Bell doesn’t shy away from issues dealing with her hearing loss, doing so with wit and a refreshing lack of self-pity, it is the search for a good friend that will resonate most with young readers.” I’ve definitely been part of the buzzing (say over at Heavy Medal where I put it as the first of my 3 votes for their online Mock Newbery), but also have been dubious about its chances due to this part of the criteria that the award committee is required to follow:

2. Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.

However a rereading focusing on the text has changed my mind. First of all, I found it surprisingly easy to do. This is because the text carries the story completely. Those panels where it is necessary to look at the art to make sense of the text are not critical to making sense of the story overall.  I also found in this reading a new appreciation for the voice, one that I realized is very much brought out through the writing. As Nina Lindsay notes here, “Cece’s emotional arc of self-awareness, her coping mechanisms and challenges in navigating friendships, are all delivered in a voice that is as lively in the text as in any non-graphic novel this year.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Something that really struck me on this rereading is Bell’s use of text boxes and speech bubbles. She uses them as a poet does line breaks, building scenes, expressing feelings, and so forth. Take this text from pages 44-45. Look at the way the text builds in the way that lines in a poem would do. (I have taken the liberty of using caps, parentheses, italics, bolding, and line spacing to differentiate as a poet might well do.)

I can hear everything my teacher says and does! In the classroom…


(I will gain the wisdom of the ages!)

…in the hallway….


(I will discover the secrets of my fellow man!)

…in the entire school building….


(I will –wait! Is she using the bathroom again? Ha! Ha!)

…and possibly in the entire world! And no one else can hear what I hear!


(Holy Hearing Aid, Batman—)

(I will amaze everyone –)




So how about looking at El Deafo as one does a work of poetry and considering the textual elements in those terms?

Something else that wowed me on this rereading was the pacing. In the overall story arc, there is such fluidity in the way we move from scenes featuring her hearing loss to those about friendships to the smaller ones –say those with her siblings and mother— that offer texture to the overall book. This is a complex work and Bell elegantly weaves these different threads in and out of each other without ever dropping a single one. Highly distinguished plotting, I say.

Then there is setting, something that you’d think was largely established in the art. But not so, I say. I think there is a great deal that gives you the sense of the time period in the text. Go take a look at Pages 77 – 80 when Cece struggles to make sense of television; the shows that she watches are all of a particular time. In fact, they almost seem like little Easter eggs for adults as kids now are not going to even know what shows like The Waltons are. Not to mention, it is a way of watching television that doesn’t tend to happen for kids today, I suspect.  And just about all of it is text-based. (I grant you the Star Trek panel is definitely funnier with the image, but not critical to the overall story. Also, it will mean more to adult readers than children of today. The rest of them work perfectly just with the text, I’d argue.)

Characters. Beautifully developed through text, especially in terms of friendships. Consider this on pages 48-49:


It’s all kind of sudden, so I think about it for a minute or two…

[writes list of pros and cons]

Frenz with Laura? 

Yes                                                       No

Fritos                                                    kinda pushee 

        duz not mine heerin aid__                       ______             

… and then I say:


What else? Bell communicates vividly through text the ups and downs of childhood. While it is set in her childhood of a few decades past she has managed to beautifully capture certain universals — first crush, the need for a best friend, sleepovers etc. Take this little bit on pages 94-95 from the sleep-over when the other girls want to do her hair and make-up, something Cece hates, but struggles to get out of:



(That’s the dumbest question I ever — wait a minute! Here’s my chance to get out of this!)


I don’t believe we can. Messes up the hearing aids, and stuff.




And so, for the moment I rest my case.(I may update this post when I have more time.)  This book, in my opinion, can absolutely be considered the most distinguished children’s book of the year using the current Newbery criteria.


Filed under graphic novel, Newbery

SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books 2015 Contenders


Last week we announced the contenders for the 2015 BOB (AKA SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books). You can seem them all here but I do encourage you to go to the actual post to see what others have to say about them and add in your own thoughts.

For those unfamiliar with the BoB, it was the Tournament of Books that gave me the idea of doing similar bracket-style event with kid books. Happily, the folks at School Library Journal liked the idea and so here we are, beginning our 7th year. Of course, the Battle Commander (that is Roxanne Feldman, Jonathan Hunt, and myself) have been at it for months in order to put together the final list of contenders. As noted here:

As to which titles finally are included each year – we won’t bore you with the details of the dozens of emails and negotiations between the three of them.  Suffice it to say that they look both objectively and subjectively, considering fan favorites, awards, stars, and their own critical views, keeping in mind that no matter which two books are paired together no single title can be an obvious winner.

Of course, as is inevitable when such a list is made, blood is shed; each of the three has always had to leave behind favorites on this particular battlefield, but they always end up pleased with the range and diversity of the final list.

You can learn more in this article by Shelley Diaz. In addition to our contenders we’ve got a stellar list  of judges who we will begin to reveal, one a day, on February 4th. Hope to see you there!

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Philip Pullman’s “The Collectors” now available at Audible US.

I was a bit peeved a few weeks ago to learn that there was a new short story by Philip Pullman set in the world of The Golden Compass out from Audible in the UK.  Happily, it is available starting today in the US as well.  You can get a taste of it here.

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Time Magazine’s So-Called 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time

Dear Time Magazine,

Among your 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time are a significant number (I found 31) that were written for certifiable children, prepubescents, say seven, eight, nine, and ten year-olds. That is, they are NOT YOUNG ADULT BOOKS. For example, are you aware that Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona (to point to the most mind-boggling mis-categorized book on your list) was written for children and is read by and to children typically aged seven and younger? As is Charlotte’s Web? Little House on the Prairie?  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? These are books for teens? Please.

Of course these books can and are read by those of any age, but please give this audience their due. They exist as a distinctive part of the reading population, an audience that reads more than picture books (the bulk of the titles in your 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time), books that were written and published specifically for them.

I suggest that you rework these lists to make three: 100 Best Picture Books of All Time, 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time, and 100 Young Adult Books of All Time. (That would also give you an opportunity to invite others into the process who could help broaden the diversity of titles, something notably lacking on the current two lists.)


Monica Edinger




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Five Children on the Western Front wins Costa Award

How awesome that days after I read and posted my admiration for Kate Saunders’ Five Children on the Western Front it won the UK Costa Award. More about the award, the author, and the book here.  Also, I’ve just finished the author’s Beswitched and was totally charmed by it. Now off to read more of her books.


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Kate Saunder’s Five Children on the Western Front

I learned about this title when it was shortlisted for the UK Costa Award and immediately ordered it from the UK. I’ve now read it and here is what I wrote on goodreads:

I’m a fan of Nesbit’s original FIVE CHILDREN AND IT, but I’m not sure it is necessary to be familiar with it to enjoy this intriguing and elegantly crafted sequel.

Nine years after their last meeting with the Psammead (a grumpy sandfairy), he suddenly shows up in his old gravelpit. Cyril, Robert, Anthea, and Jane are now young adults, the Lamb an active eleven-year-old, and there is now one more — Edith, age nine. World War I has begun and is the center of this tale. It turns out that their old magical friend has a problematic history that he needs to resolve, most of all to feel some sort of regret. The young people’s involvement with the war twists around the Psammead’s not-so-pleasant behaviors of his far-off past in ways moving, exciting, and sometimes sad. There are references to their earlier experiences, the nature of wishing, and how to consider the past. Beautifully written, this is a tale that I hope sees publication and promotion in the US.




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