Monday, August 12, 2019

The End of the World and Beyond by Avi: A Review and Audiobook Giveaway

Congratulations to Susan Rice who won One Red Sock on last week's blog. 


I'm a pretty big Avi fan, so when I found The End of the World and Beyond in the Recorded Books catalog, I knew it was a book I'd want to pass along. (I heard Avi speak at the SC Reading Association conference and still quote his thoughts on revision.)

This story of twelve-year-old Oliver Cromwell Pitts takes place in 1725. When the book opens, he is a prisoner on board an English ship taking him to the colonies. Instead of being hung for thievery, Oliver has been sold into slavery. The book is told in first person, uses the language of the times, and is aptly narrated by James LangtonHere is a brief link to the recording so you can get a taste of the book. 

Before boarding the ship, "Goodwill," he and his beloved older sister, Charity, are separated. Finding her is Oliver's driving goal throughout the story.

While on board, Oliver is padlocked to six other prisoners. Their ordeal to survive with chains around their necks, is described in detail. At one point Oliver observes, “Truth is always held up as a shining ideal. ...truth can also be horrific." He develops new empathy for Negroes who are slaves for life. Although his future is dismal, he hopes he'll be able to be freed after his years of service.

The boat docks in Annapolis where the captain proceeds to sell the prisoners. As much as it is an anathema to him, he realizes he must sell himself or become the property of the city. Since he is young, he is passed over and feels shame over being sold for a lot less than the other felons. Locked up for a time because no one purchases him, he concludes that London jails and American jails are both awfulMisery has no geography, and he "remains a tethered bird in a locked cage."

Eventually, he his bought by a cruel master, Mr. Fitzhugh, an alcoholic tobacco planter. Oliver is released from jail and into an unknown, dreadful world. Even on the way to the tobacco farm, escape was always in his mind. "But fear overwhelmed me. My iron collar showed I was an enslaved felon." When he realizes that many people were attempting to running from their masters he observes that this doesn’t speak well of America. 

Oliver's antagonist, Mr. Fitzhugh, is shown vividly through his dialogue and actions. He threatens Oliver, “You are my property... I only do what I want, when I want. If you try to stop me, I’ll kill you." Fitzhugh's ever-present loaded pistol and knife in his belt demonstrate how he is the epitome of being a malicious bully.  

When Oliver gets to his master's house he feels as if he is at the end of the world. There he meets the other servant, a Negro teenager named Bara. Fitzhugh says to Oliver, "Consider yourself lucky. Bara will never get free."

Oliver observes that Bara "is self-contained. It was if most of what he had was within and he had little desire of letting anything out." Bara shows Oliver how to survive Fitzhugh's cruelty and advises him not to resist. "He becomes enraged at resistance. He wants you to fight back." He also suggests that the master will make someone helpless so that he becomes even more helpless as he believes the lies.

Oliver's discovers that his sister Charity is in Philadelphia and his desire to find her leads him to several reckless decisions. Bara is frustrated with him, but together they make a difficult and harrowing escape. When the two part, Oliver feels as if he is saying goodbye to his brother. In fact, Bara was the best friend and mentor Oliver needed. The book chronicles Oliver's physical and psychological maturation.

The ending will surprise you. But, take my word for it, this is a terrific book and classroom resource. It will open middle grade and young adult readers' eyes to slavery and indentured servitude before the Revolution. 


Leave me a comment by August 15 and leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. Start following this blog or share it on social media and you will earn an extra chance to win. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Two Socks, One Giveaway

Congratulations to Gwen Porter who won "A Boy Like You" and to Linda Townsend who won "A Fist for Joe Louis and Me."


If you didn't win last week, here's another chance at winning an adorable picture book, also courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press. 

Little Sock

This debut picture book by Kia Heise and Chrispher D. Park, is one that children (and their parents or caregivers) will enjoy reading. 

Little Sock is bored. Every day it's the same old thing. He gets worn, gets dirty, and gets washed. "All the other Socks seem happy, but Little Sock dreams of something different." He's heard of a place called Sock City where every day is a new adventure and he is determined to find it--even though it means going through a scary, dark tunnel in the back of the dryer. 

On the other end of the tunnel Little Sock finds Sock City and lots of different Socks,

and determines to go back again. 

Only next time, he'll bring a friend. 

One Red Sock

This is the second book I've reviewed by author-illustrator Jennifer Sattler. Like BULLY, ONE RED SOCK also is light on text but full of bold, larger-than-life illustrations which will amuse young readers.

How many purple hippos do you know who live in a room full of colorful dots? And how many can't seem to find a red sock to match the one she already has on? Young readers will enjoy meeting this unique hippo, identifying colors, and learning the rhymes.

In the end, after trying out a rainbow of colored socks, Ms. Hippo decides to wear one that has polka dots to match her room.

Jennifer was featured last week on Kathy Temean's blog. Check out the link to see more of Jennifer's illustrations and her entire process!


Since my youngest grandson is turning one this week, LITTLE SOCK is on its way to his house. I think his older sister will enjoy reading it to him. 

Four-year-old Eleanor, "reading" Five Little Ladybugs
to her brother, Luke. According to my daughter,
Luke listens the best when she reads to him.
ONE RED SOCK is up for grabs though! Leave me a comment by August 8 and I'll enter your name in the giveaway. Just make sure you leave me your email address if I don't have it.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Two "Boy" Picture Books--for Boys and Girls + Two Giveaways!

Not so long ago, writers were encouraged to write "boy books"--books that would appeal to young males who were less likely to be readers than girls. Many authors have taken up the challenge to create books that would engage boys. Here are two picture books that boys will like, as well as girls. 

A Boy Like You

Frank Murphy, the author of A Boy like You (Sleeping Bear Press, 2019), has a message he wants to share with boys (both young and old):

"The world needs a boy--a strong and brave and kind boy--now more than ever."

This sentiment pervades every page of this picture book that will be a great curriculum resource for the preschool-second grade crowd. 

The opening spread shows boys enthusiastically playing a variety of sports but ends with the admonition that a strong boy will,  "Play hard, but play fair. Be a great teammate. Say 'Nice goal!' and 'Good try!' Don't say 'You throw like a girl.' Ever. And, remember, there's so much more than sports..."

The pages which follow show a Black boy (with a White father and Black mother) working in the garden, baking, reading, and playing music which are all wonderful activities in addition to sports. This character is encouraged to discover other people's stories from a diverse cast which are skillfully and artistically portrayed by illustrator Kayla Harren

My favorite pages are when Murphy uses a play on words and instructs the reader to,  "Oh boy, be curious." And, "Oh boy, be thoughtful." I also really enjoyed the page of the little boy being scared to jump off the diving board. The text reads, "Here's a secret that not many people know. Fear and bravery are partners. You can't be brave without first being afraid."

Although the text may seem a tad didactic to adult readers, boys and girls will get the message loud and clear: 

"You are original. And that's a wonderful thing."

A Fist for Joe Louis and Me

In the author's note Trinka Hakes Noble writes that she first saw Joe Lewis's bronzed boxing glove in plexiglass in Cobo Center in Detroit. It inspired her to write this book, just as Joe Louis's knock out fight with Max Schmeling gave hope "during the dark days of the Great Depression and the coming of World War II with Nazi Germany." This book is coming out soon from Sleeping Bear Press and beautifully illustrated by Nicole Tadgell.

This sweet story highlights an unlikely friendship between the young Black boy Gordy Williams, and his Jewish friend, Ira Rubenstein. Gordy's father has been teaching him how to box and afterwards they listen to radio broadcasts of boxing fights--especially when Joe Louis is fighting. 

The Depression hits Detroit hard and his father--along with many others--loses his job at a car manufacturing plant. But Gordy thinks, "But we still had Joe Louis in our corner." 

Gordy meets Ira who's family just immigrated from Germany and they bond over boxing matches and Gordy teaches Ira how to "put up his dukes". They come up with boxing names  and become "Gordy Steel" and "Iron Ira" and joke how they are iron and steel--tough and strong, just like Detroit. 

Their friendship is solidified when Gordy sticks up for Ira against a bully, and their father's friendship is solidified when they discover their joint interest in boxing. In a conversation about Joe's upcoming fight against German Max Schmeling, Mr. Rubinstein says,

"My people and your people, we have much in common, Mr. Williams. This fight is for us too."
I didn't know what Mr. Rubinstien was talking about, but my father did.
"It's for all of us," he said as he stood and reached out his big hand. Mr. Rubenstien reached out his hand, too.
I wasn't sure why, but their handshake felt important, like reaching across something far greater than our kitchen table.


I am giving book picture books away so please tell me which one you want in the comments. Make sure you leave me your email address if you are new to my blog! Giveaway ends August 1. Follow my blog or share this on social media for an extra chance to win. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Multi Racial Reads #20 and #21

It's been awhile since I've shared the books that I read while writing Half-Truths. Here are two more books that have helped me understand one of my characters, Lillian Harris. 

If you aren't familiar with Half-Truths, this is the pitch for my book:

In the heavily segregated South, fifteen-year-old Kate Dinsmore's world is shaken when she realizes she's related to her grandmother's Black housemaid. This knowledge leads Kate to truths that threaten to destroy her family.   

Ever since I saw the pictures of the principals in the hallway of the former Rosenwald School in Charlotte, NC and saw a man who appeared White but was Black, I knew that my book would revolve around two girls--Kate Dinsmore and Lillian Harris--who were related but belonged to two different races.

What I didn't know was what Lillian looked like. 

Have you heard of these African American leaders?

Ms. Jackson's book showcases twenty-five light-skinned African Americans who had the opportunity to cross the color line, but chose not to. Many of these men and women from the 18th century to the present, fought for the civil liberties of African Americans, women, and other minorities. Under the American "one-drop rule," these individuals had some African ancestry. But due to race-mixing many of them had Caucasian features. They could easily have passed as white -- but did not.

You may have heard of some of them. Adam Clayton Powell (1908-1972), for example, was described by a reporter as a child who was "white to all appearances, having blue eyes, an aquiline nose, and light, almost blond hair, yet he became a bold effective black leader." (Roi Ottley, p. 64) Powell was an influential representative for almost 30 years and was well-known to several presidents. 

You probably haven't heard of the other leaders. Charles Chesnutt (1858-1932) was a literary artist and civil rights activist. "His works candy revealed the cruelty of slavery, societal prejudice, and social injustice... Despite having primarily Caucasian features, Chesnutt knew that his chances for success in the South were minimal... Even as a child, he lamented over the forced estrangement by fellow blacks and spoke frankly about his plight as a Negro who looked white." (p. 114)

Harriet Ann Jacobs (pen name Linda Brent) (1813-1897), was an author, reformer, feminist, abolitionist and relief worker.  Harriet was born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina in 1813. In her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet described her owner's horrific sexual harassment. After escaping from his clutches she hid for almost seven years under her grandmother's porch. During that time a $100 reward was offered for the return of a "light mulatto." She used the Underground Railway to escape to the North; a condensed version of her autobiography was published shortly before the Civil War. 

The lives of these brave men and women who could have passed for white, embraced their African American ethnicity. They helped me see Lillian Harris, my important secondary character, in an entirely new light. 

From Half-Truths:

This is how Kate reacts when she first sees Lillian at her grandparents' home, "Why does Grandmother have a white girl working for her and why isn’t Auntie Esther taking care of the washing?" 


But what about the Blacks who chose to pass? What was their life like? 

Allyson Hobbs' book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, pointedly showed me the pain and difficulties associating with passing. 

Jim Crow and Passing

In a section that reminded me of Mothers of Massive Resistance, the author talks about Walter Plecker who worked tirelessly to enforce the one drop rule:
Doctors and midwives received missives cautioning them that it was illegal to classify any child as white without clear evident that neither parent had a drop of black blood. (p. 131)
 Passing, sometimes compelled by the kinds of traumatic confrontations that were recounted in African American autobiographies, provided an unusual yet effective means of authoring one's own life. The practice allowed those who could pass a means of clandestinely navigating the Jim Crow order. Passing offered much, but it could not mend splintered relationships with ones family; it could not ease a deep-rooted sense of alienation and longing for ones people. Passing was unfit for the task, borrowing from Du Bois, of merging two selves "into a better and true self." This curious phenomenon granted economic privileges and societal courtesies, even transformational opportunities for self-fashioning, but often at a terrible cost. (p. 133)
"Crossing over" was a proven strategy for navigating "chilly water"; at the same time, it raised concerns about how black families would remain whole when nearly white relatives moved away, formed new families, and started new lives. The 1926 article in Opportunity hinted at this dilemma framing "this subtle migration" as the "most ambitious offensive ever launched by the sons of Ham," but worrying about "the deliberate annihilation of ethnic affiliation when physical appearance does not proclaim it. (p. 142)

From Half-Truths:

Towards the end of the book, Lillian's father confronts Kate. Kate had thought that if Lillian passed she'd have a ticket into a better life:
Do you have any idea what happens to a Negro who tries to pass? Lillian’s Aunt Dorothy left Charlotte so she could blend into life in New York City.” Mr. Harris scoffs. “She was barely twenty years old and broke her momma’s heart. Sure, she got herself a fancy radio job and married a white man—but she left her history. Her mother, her sister, all her relations—they don’t exist for her no more. They’re as good as dead.”  

I am indebted to Ms. Jackson and Ms. Hobbs for their hard work in writing and publishing these books. As a White woman writing a novel with a main character who is Black, these books are invaluable windows into Lillian Harris's world. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

What's New with Write2Ignite 2019

Congratulations to Jana Leah Burkhardt who won The Perfect Candidate and Sandra Warren who won The Next to the Last Mistake from recent blog giveaways.

After presenting at Write2Ignite 2018, I decided to volunteer my services to this South Carolina based organization dedicated to training Christian writers to provide quality literature for children and young adults. Since then, I've become their official blogmeister and am presenting three teen workshops at the annual conference on September 20-21 at North Greenville University. I'm turning this blog over to my fellow team members who have created several informational videos. Feel free to share this blog with a friend or teen who aspires to be a writer! The Early Bird discount ends August 31.  

Teen/Tween Writing Contest

In this video, Director Deborah DiCiantis, talks about a GREAT contest for teens and tweens. The winner will receive a scholarship to the conference! Check this out for more details.

Make the Most of Your Conference Meeting

Here is Diane Buie on making the most of your 15 minute meeting at a writer's conference:

A Good Critique Experience is Precious

Brenda Covert talks about the critique opportunities at the conference:

Other Conference Benefits

Jasmine Covert, Brenda's daughter, shares some of the benefits teens receive from attending:

Linda Phillips Helps Announce our Bring a Friend Discount!

This discount has been extended through the entire registration period. You and your friend will each receive $15.00 off when you register

And Some Writing Tips From Yours Truly 

Of course, I had to add my own video to the Write2Ignite collection. Here I am sharing five writing tips particularly for new writers. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Projekt 1065: A Review And TALKING STORY Giveaways

Congratulations to Janet Davis-Castro who won HER FEARLESS RUN on last week's blog. 

No giveaway this week, but I hope you'll check out one of Alan Gratz's wonderful books. 

From the Author's Note:
Project 1065 is a work of fiction set against the very real backdrop of Nazi Germany in World War II. Kristallnacht, the Gestapo, the SRD, the concentration camps, the Hitler Youth, the Edelweiss Pirates, the "Aryan" education in German schools--all of this real. Everything Adolf Hitler says to Michael and the other boys in this book is an actual quote from Hitler; I gathered them together from various speeches and interviews so that I wasn't putting words in Hitler's mouth. Adolf Hitler said enough crazy, awful things that I didn't need to make up anything new for him. p.307
I have the privilege of knowing Alan Gratz, the North Carolina author of this middle grade book for boys and girls. That last sentence is pure Gratz--I can hear his earnest voice saying those exact words.

As readers of my blog know, this isn't my first review of one of Alan's well-researched and well-written pieces of historical fiction. Here is my review of Prisoner B-3087 and one of Refugee. Since Alan's latest book, Grenade takes place in Okinawa in World War II, you can see the connection. Hands down, Alan knows how to connect young readers to the facts and realities of war.


"It's hard to smile when you're having dinner with Nazis." (p.1) This attention-grabbing opening line says a lot. The speaker, thirteen-year-old Michael O'Shaunessey lives a life of pretend. The son of the Irish ambassador to Germany, he is in a precarious position: his parents are spies for the Allies and his uncanny ability to memorize words, numbers, and diagrams is one of their secret tools.

Michael's spy work is under the cover of being a member of the SRD, the junior group that will eventually join the Hitler Youth. It's a role he despises but one that grants him opportunities to access information which he passes along to his parents. He is in class with forty other members of the junior Hitler Youth; much of their time is taken up in learning Nazi propaganda and training to die for Germany.


Fritz Bendler, a new scrawny boy at school who Michael befriends; Michael's teacher, Herr Professor Doktor Major Melcher; and Simon Cohen, a Jewish airman who the O'Shaunessey's hide in the Irish embassy, are all important secondary characters. Although Simon teaches Michael important lessons about facing his fears and being willing to make sacrifices, I'm going to share some excerpts about Fritz and Melcher which help define Michael's journey.

Early in the book Michael provides an observation that is as much about himself, as it is about his teacher:

Even though I wasn't his biggest fan, I had a soft spot for the old codger. I'd gotten the impression he didn't love the Nazis. It was nothing Melcher had said or done--anything that explicit would have gotten him hauled off to a concentration camp or reenlisted in the army, even though he was too old to fight again. it was just the way he talked so lovingly about the way things used to be. I felt he was a kindred spirit. A fellow faker. (p. 29)

Later on, his classmates are taken aback when Doktor Melcher points out that Hitler, and the other Nazi leaders do not fit the blonde, blue-eyed, straight-nosed Aryan ideal.

You could almost hear the classroom gasp. Was Herr Professor Doktor Major Melcher joking? It had to be a joke. It was no secret that the Führer didn't match the Aryan ideal that he'd gone to war to defend, but no one talked about it. To speak of it in public was like saying the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes. It just wasn't done. But Melcher wasn't joking. I could tell, and so could the other boys. I felt as though I could hear the heartbeats of every boy in the room but mine slow to a cool, calculated thrum. They were trained to be on the lookout for dissenters, people who didn't agree with the Nazi party, tuned in like the special radios that Nazis sold that only picked up German radio stations.
.....If he wasn't careful he was going to end up in a concentration camp. (pp. 103-104)

Meanwhile, Fritz is frequently picked on because of his short stature. Michael decides to teach Fritz how to defend himself and the other boys set up a boxing match between the two friends. To his surprise, Fritz doesn't hold back and tries to clobber him. The scene graphically shows Michael's inner turmoil as well as the brutality of the fight. 

I savaged him, fueling each new punch with some new hatred. I hated Hitler for starting this war. I hated the Hitler Youth for their constant bullying. I hated Fritz for making me hit him again. I hated myself for hitting him. 
When at last I stopped, Fritz lay motionless on the ground, completely and totally beaten. All around us was utter silence. I looked up, eyes afire, chest heaving, arms tensed for another fight. Horst took a step back in fear. I had managed to scare even the monsters, and when you can scare monsters, you can be sure you've become one yourself (p. 128).

As the story progresses, the SRD boys--led by Fritz--torture and capture Doktor Melcher while the police stand by. Michael realizes that the police were scared of a group of 13-year-olds who could turn them over to the Gestapo. He is in agony--but chooses not to say anything in order to carry out his vital plan: steal the plans for Projekt 1065 from Fritz's house.
In a moment of painful analysis, Michael finally realizes why Fritz has become cruel and calculating.

Fritz stood over me, a look of fierce cruelty in his knitted eye-brows and suddenly I understood. Why Fritz had wanted me to teach him how to fight. Why he'd been so desperate to join the SRD. All his life, Fritz had been the boy with the bloody nose sitting here on the ground, looking up at the bully who'd beaten him. 
He'd joined the SRD so he could become the bully himself. Just like little Hitler. (p. 236-7)


If you haven't already realized it, I believe this book is a must-read for middle school students, teenagers, and adults. It is suspenseful, full of tension and page-turning action. At many points Michael is forced to make difficult choices, to sacrifice beliefs and people he loves, and to conquer his own fears. Although it is a frightening book because of the subject matter, the material is not gratuitously graphic for the sake of displaying violence. It is unfortunately, an accurate description of what life was like for these young boys who were brainwashed and forced to assume responsibilities that even adult solders would abhor.

My father was forced to flee Germany in 1939. He remembered the Hitler Youth rallying outside his parents' apartment in Nuremberg and that one boy betrayed his parents. "Either you were in the Hitler Youth--or else," he told me. 



The summer issue of Talking Story, Celebrating Young Adults is now live. Our expert and illustrators are young adults and we're giving away four wonderful books: The Perfect Candidate, The Next to the Last Mistake, When Worlds Collide and Don't Blame the Reckless.  Giveaway ends July 11th and don't forget to leave your email address if you are new to my blog. Also, please let me know which book you're interested in too. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Her Fearless Run: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won Gayle Krause's Once Upon a Twisted Tale on last week's blog. As she's found out, it pays to enter twice!!

Not only do I give away books, but I enter giveaway contests myself. Recently I won Her Fearless Run (Page Books, 2019) by Kim Chafee and illustrated by Ellen Rooney from Kathy Temean's blog. (By the way, if you're interested in writing or illustrating for children, this is a blog you want to follow!) I'm pleased to share this book with you and the young runners in your life. 


Ever since she was a young girl, Kathrine Switzer loved to run. As a twelve-year-old, she would mark her laps with a piece of chalk on a tree along her route. 

The mailman stared. The milkman asked if she was okay. Because in 1959, it was strange to see a girl running.
Girls weren't supposed to sweat. Girls weren't supposed to compete. They were too weak, too fragile, for sports. That's what most people thought.
But not Kathrine.

Kathrine loved running so much that when she went to college and didn't find a women's running team, she joined the men's team. She learned about the Boston Marathon and decided she wanted to train for it. When she told the volunteer team manager and her coach, Arnie Briggs, her dream he replied, "Women can't do that kind of distance. They can't run that long."

"But I run six or even ten miles with you every night!" Kathrine shot back.

Determined to prove that she could complete the marathon, Kathrine ran despite bitter cold, snowbanks, and swollen toes. She even had to cut triangle wedges out of her sneakers to get them on her feet.

On April 19, 1967, 741 runners registered (a record!) and Kathrine was the only woman with an official number. Even though a race official attempted to push her out of the race, Kathrine ran on. 

For a moment, Kathrine wondered if she should quit. She still had twenty-four miles to go.
Suddenly, finishing wasn't just about her. If she quit now, no one would believe that a woman could run a marathon. People would still say women weren't supposed to sweat. Women weren't supposed to complete. They were too weak too fragile. They shouldn't be allowed to run.
When she rounded the final corner and crossed the finish line, reporters surrounded her and asked what made her run the Boston Marathon.

Her answer was simple. "I like to run. Women deserve to run too."


I am giving away this inspirational picture book to one fortunate individual. Share this blog on social media or become a new follower of my blog and I'll enter your name twice. Make sure you tell me what you have done in the comments and leave me your email address if you are new to my blog.

Teachers: You can download a classroom guide for use in grades 1-6. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Once Upon a Twisted Tale- A Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Deborah Allmand who won Among the Imposters from last week's blog.

This week I bring you a new book from Gayle Krause, no stranger to my blog. This time, her creativity explodes in wacky, poetic, fractured fairy tales. Ever think of combining Jack and the Beanstalk with The Emperor's New Clothes? Or, what would happen if a princess was turned into a frog as a part of the Pied Piper's march through the streets? How about imagining the Big Bad Wolf falling into Little Hen's kitchen? Gayle Krause has thought of all of these and more as characters from one fairy tale end up in something silly, fun, and unexpected. 


I think the best way to review this collection is to provide teasers from three different tales. 

The Emperor's Bodyguard

Jack fled down the beanstalk
and crashed into the King,
whose royal backside was exposed.
He didn’t wear a thing.

The naked King was trembling.
He only wore his crown.
“Turn back,” yelled Jack. “I need to hack
the giant’s beanstalk down.”

“I need the big guy’s help,” he cried.
“I’ll give him a reward
to catch the thieves who hoodwinked me.
This cannot be ignored.

FracturedA Story-time Pantoum

What makes this a fractured tale of “fairy?”
Spouting poetry, free verse, and rhyme.
Eavesdropping children must be wary,
as I weave these tales at story-time.

Spouting poetry, free verse and, rhyme.
Frogs are Kings, and a princess seeks a quest.
As I weave these tales at story time.
Answers to riddles must be guessed….

A Rat’s Life   

A piper with a flute
led the pesky
rats through town,
down to the river,
where all but
one would drown.
The rat that
survived the deadly
rat parade
was turned into a coachman

for a pretty cinder maid….

Gayle used different types of poems in this collection -- from hip hop to free verse to pantoum-- and readers will be exposed to a variety of poetry forms. With lively illustrations by Caroline O' Neal, this book will delight young readers and the parents or caretakers who read it aloud. Middle school language arts teachers could compare these tales with the original fairy tales and encourage their students to come up with their own fractured fairy tale. 


To enter this giveaway for an autographed copy of Once Upon a Twisted Tale (Clear Fork Publishing, 2019), please leave me a comment by June 27. Make sure you leave me your email address if you are new to this blog. If you want two chances, leave your idea for a twisted fairy tale in the comment box. If Cinderella met the Big Bad Wolf what would the outcome be? Gayle will send an autographed copy of the book to the winner and we promise not to steal your idea. (But I can't vouch for the Gingerbread Man. You never know what he might do!)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Among the Imposters: An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Among the Imposters is the second book in the Shadow Children series by Margaret Haddix. Although I hadn't read the first book, Among the Hidden, Ms. Haddix's reputation is legendary and when this book was available through Recorded Books, I was glad for the opportunity to review it. 

As expected from an award-winning author, the reader is quickly acquainted with Luke Garner's history and enough information to make this second book understandable and enjoyable. Although classified as young adult, upper level middle grade readers will also enjoy this dystopian novel.


The only link Luke Garner has to his parents or his brothers, Matthew and Mark, or to his best friend Jen who recently died, is his real name. But it is no longer safe to be Luke. It is only safe to be Lee Grant.

Luke is a shadow child. Just like all third children, his parents hid him from the Population Police so that he would survive. (The population laws came about because of a famine and not enough food for everyone.) His goal in coming out of hiding is to help other third children although it is unclear to him how he will accomplish this. 

Now, at twelve-years-old, Jen's father risked his own career to obtain an identity for him and bring Luke to Hendrix School for boys. Never having been off his family's farm, Luke feels out of place and is frightened that the teachers or the other boys will discover he is not who he is pretending to be and that he is an imposter.

Inside the school he is the victim of bullying but also experiences a great deal of anonymity as the teachers pay little attention to him. Gradually he realizes that many of the boys are autistic or agoraphobic and he wonders what Hendrix School is really about--which he figures out by the end.

An accidental encounter with a door leads him outdoors. Remembering the woods and how his parents grew food, he decides to plant a garden. The garden is a great source of pleasure and gives him unexpected confidence.

Eventually, Luke recognizes that, everyone at the school is a chess piece and most of the boys are pawns. Life gets complicated when he meets other third children and he wonders if Hendrix is a place for all of them to hide. His antagonist tries to befriend him but then Luke discovers he is a traitor. Power shifts and double crossing throughout the novel keeps readers guessing--who are the imposters?

Hendrix writes in a close third person POV and Luke's "What if?" questions lead the narrative. In a world where nothing is as it seems, Luke gains voice and agency throughout the book. He determines, "He was not a pawn to be moved across a chess board according to other people's plan. " In a satisfactory manner, the ending allows Luke to reach his goal of helping other third children and makes readers want to read the sequel. What happens next? 

The book raises important questions about population control, the role of the government, loyalty, friendships, and dishonesty. I checked on Goodreads and there are many reviewers (both teens and adults) who loved the book. One reviewer found that the Shadow Children series became more and more violent as the books progressed. Therefore, I recommend reading/or listening to it yourself before passing it along to a young reader. In my judgement, this particular novel was not violent.

The book is ably narrated by John Kroft. Here is a link to the audio snippet. 


Please leave me a comment by June 21 along with your email address (if you are new to my blog) to enter this contest.  

Friday, June 14, 2019

Two Free Writing Workshops!

If you're in the Greenville, SC area and you want to find out how to take your ideas for stories or articles from brainstorming to publication, then join me at the Mauldin library on June 29.  

Turning Your Ideas into Publishable Works will meet from 10:30-12. From Finished Work to Publication will meet from 1:30-3:00. 
Registration is limited but there are still slots available. We will brainstorm, write, and have fun. No publishing experience is necessary. 

Come for one or come for both!

Please share on social media or with your friends in the Greenville area. Thank you!

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Next to the Last Mistake: Review and ARC Giveaway

For a second week in a row I'm happy to bring you another clean, contemporary YA novel. I requested The Next to Last Mistake by North Carolina author Amalie Jahn from the publisher, Light Messages, because of the racial themes. It was interesting to see how Jahn handled interracial friendships since that is a theme in my WIP, Half-Truths


Tess Goodwin's peaceful, uncomplicated life in rural Iowa changes the moment her father announces he has reenlisted in the Army. The family moves to an army base in Fayetteville, NC  and Tess is forced to say goodbye to her not-quite-a-boyfriend, Zander, and her beloved cow, Daisy. 

Conflicts navigating her huge new high school mirrors her conflicts over making new friends. When Leonetta, a black girl, is assigned to be her mentor, Tess is surprised by what they have in common as well as how their friendship develops despite racial differences. 

Tess's eyes are opened when Leonetta receives prejudicial treatment, and when she herself is the recipient of cynical comments because she's Leonetta's friend. Tess is enraged by the way her friend is treated and Leonetta explains the rules about being black. Throughout the book Leonetta guides Tess into a greater awareness of Tess's own hidden biases:
"You said it because you have your own biases you carry around with you. We all do. We can't help it. We're human. But that doesn't give us a free pass. You gotta check your privilege, keep an open mind, and consider other people's feelings before you open your mouth. If you do that you'll be okay." (p. 141)
Jahn based this book on interracial friendships she had when she moved to Fort Bragg and her husband was deployed. Good fiction often comes out of her own life experiences. I appreciate Jahn wanting to honor these relationships by showing what her black co-workers taught her about friendship across racial barriers. But some of the dialogue was heavy with lessons and doesn't sound like teenagers bantering back and forth. 

Despite that concern with the novel, there are scenes that are teen-age authentic. When the girls confront the school bully at the prom; when Tess's father announces that he is being deployed to Syria and he gives a "weary, splintered sort of smile that nearly breaks my heart (p. 227); when Zander and Tess begin to figure out their relationship going forward; and when Tess sees Daisy again and breaks down and sobs. 

The motif of chess threads naturally throughout the book. Tess, who played with her father and Zander, begins a chess club at her new school which does surprisingly well. In one conversation with her father over who will win the war in Syria, we find the reason behind the book's title:
"There's this saying in chess: 'Victory goes to the player who makes the next to last mistake.' It basically means during a game of chess you can make mistakes a long the way and still come out ahead as long as you learn from those missteps and adjust accordingly. You don't need to do things perfectly from the beginning to eventually get it right in the end. I've found over the years the theory applies to life as well. And I'm pretty sure it will be the same for war." (p. 253)

Some readers might find that there is too much backstory in the beginning about Tess's life in Iowa as well as a lot of flashbacks about Zander. But overall, I would recommend this book to teen girls who are interested in exploring interracial relationships. Kudos to Amalie Jahn for sensitively tackling a difficult subject as a white author--and keeping it clean. 


To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment and your email address if you are new to my blog. I'll also be giving this away in conjunction with the summer issue of Talking Story, Celebrate Teens. Please leave a comment by June 14. 

The End of the World and Beyond by Avi: A Review and Audiobook Giveaway

Congratulations to Susan Rice who won One Red Sock on last week's blog.  REVIEW I'm a pretty big Avi fan, so when I fo...