Monday, April 16, 2018

Two Sisters + Two Debut Picture Books = Two Great Giveaways!

When I read in the SCBWI-Carolinas Facebook Pal Group that Tara Cattie Luebbe's debut picture book was coming out in March, I asked if she wanted to share her path to publication. She not only agreed, but offered to give away a copy of each book! Details on how to enter the giveaways are below.

Author Interview


CAROL: Can you share the backstory for each of these books? How did you got your ideas and how did the stories develop?

TARA: I AM FAMOUS is about a little girl who believes she is a famous actress, singer, and dancer. Because she is famous, she’s always being photographed by the paparazzi (her parents). When she messes up her biggest gig ever, she realizes her fans are the best kind—loyal. 

Albert Whitman, March 2018

The idea for I AM FAMOUS came from listening to Weird Al. He has a parody of Taylor Swift’s song You Belong to Me called TMZ, which is about the paparazzi stalking celebrities. It reminded me of today’s parents, social media and their children. 

SHARK NATE-O is about a shark-obsessed boy who pretends he is a shark, but who can’t swim. He takes swimming lessons and uses shark facts along the way to help overcome his fear. There is also a nonfiction shark fact section in the back. 

Little Bee Books, April 2018


The idea for SHARK NATE-O came from a boy in my second-grade class who always pretended to be a shark and would chomp us at recess. But that wasn’t enough for a picture book. It wasn’t until my own son, Nate, went through a shark phase while also taking swimming lessons that I began to envision the story. My brother called him “Shark Nate-O” and that was the lightening rod, and title, I needed.

CAROL: Both books are co-written with your sister, Becky Cattie. Can you share your collaborative process?

Tara and Becky

TARA: It was never the plan to co-author with my sister. When I began writing, I sent her my first story and she sent it back half-changed for the better. So, I asked her if she wanted to do this together! We live in different states, so we do a lot on email and phone calls. We just go back and forth until it’s right. 

CAROL: Was there any interaction between the two of you and your illustrators? 

TARA: We had no contact with the illustrators during the process. Any art changes we wanted to suggest were made through the editors. 

CAROL: Are you agented? What was your path to finding the publishers?

TARA: I am represented by Tracy Marchini of Bookends Literary. Both of my debut books were post-conference submissions from the SCBWI Illinois Prairie Writers and Illustrators Day. We heard from both publishers soon afterwards and were able to get Tracy on board to help us from there. 

CAROL: What role did SCBWI Carolinas have in publication of these books?

TARA: I joined SCBWI-C shortly after beginning my writing journey. Through the organization I met valuable critique partners which has been a huge part of my success. I enjoy the conference every year and love connecting with other writers from our great region. 

Support Authors!

I've talked about how you can support authors by pre-ordering their books. Another way is to request your local library to purchase a copy. It only takes a few minutes to fill out a request form and authors really appreciate it!

Giveaway

Tara and Becky are giving away a copy of I AM FAMOUS and SHARK NATE-O. Please leave me your name AND email address (if you are new to my blog). The top two names selected by Random.org will win books on April 20th. 


Tara Luebbe is an ex-retailer turned picture book author. She co-writes with her sister Becky Cattie. They are the authors of I AM FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff, (Albert Whitman 2018); SHARK NATE-O, illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (little bee books 2018); I USED TO BE FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff (Albert Whitman Spring 2019); and CONAN THE LIBRARIAN (Roaring Brook Press Spring 2020). She is also the founder of Writing with the Stars, a free mentorship program for aspiring picture book writers. You can learn more at beckytarabooks.com and you can find her on Twitter @t_luebbe.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A is for Astronaut: A Picture Book Review and Author Interview



To celebrate the International Day of Human Space Flight, I am pleased to give you a peak into a new book by retired astronaut, Clayton Anderson (Sleeping Bear Press, May 2018). 



A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet, will appeal to readers of many ages. Like other books in Sleeping Bear's ABC list, each letter of the alphabet is anchored by a short poem for readers ages 5-8 and a longer exposition for 9-11 year-olds. 

Illustrated by the talented Scott Brundage, each picture amplifies the text as in, B is for Blastoff.

Amazing illustration!

Here is the poem for N which stands for...NASAWhat else?
The world loves outer space; it's a grand destination,  
And NASA's the group representing our nation.  
The N stands for National, and it gives us such pride  
when a rocket is launched with our flag on its side! 


Don't you love the young astronomer's t-shirt?



I liked the R page because of the accessible description of Rendezvous. Here's the second paragraph:

Consider the much-simplifed example of a football game where the coach has called for a pass play. In order for the pass play to be successful, the quarterback must throw the football (spaceship one) to the pass receiver (spaceship two) who will catch the ball. The quarterback throws the ball to where the receiver is going to be--not where he is at the instant he makes the throw. When the ball finally arrives and the receiver makes the catch, the play is a success! This is similar to the way spaceships will dock, or meet, in space.


That's an explanation I will remember!


BEHIND THE SCENES


“Astro Clay”–Astronaut Clayton Anderson's story is one of perseverance. He applied 15 times before NASA selected him as an astronaut in 1998; and he spent 30 years working for NASA, 15 as an engineer and 15 as an astronaut. He is the first and ONLY Astronaut selected from the State of Nebraska. 

This STEAM book will be a great addition to any school or home library. Here's a brief interview about how this book came to life.

CAROL: What prompted you to write A Is For Astronaut?

CLAY: I was in Omaha, NE at the West Town Barnes and Noble, preparing for a book signing with my first book, The Ordinary Spaceman.  The store manager kept pulling me over to the nearby children’s section.  “You should write a children’s book,” she said.  

Hesitant, I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “Yeah… maybe one day.” 

She pointed out specific publishers, continually mentioning Sleeping Bear Press (SBP).  “They don’t have ‘A is for Astronaut’,” was her firm “suggestion.”  Shrugging my shoulders once again, and feigning only brief interest, I was overjoyed when the actual book signing began and turned my focus onto something I actually understood!  

A few months later, during some idle time at home, I did a Google search on SBP.  It was then that I finally woke up and saw their tremendous success with their alphabet book series.  Electronically investigating “A is for Airplane,” and a couple other titles on their highly populated series list, I thought to myself, "I can do this!”

Immediately I began to formulate the words I would use for each letter of the alphabet.  A was easy… astronaut.  B followed suit with Blastoff.  I was cruising until I got to letters like F and K and I.  Some more research via the internet gave me all 26 letters and a corresponding space term.  Then came the poems. I actually finished the entire book in about 1.5 weeks! 

CAROL: What was the most difficult part to write—the poems or the expository text? Why? 

CLAY: The expository text was the most difficult for me, although difficult is a relative term.  The poems simply “flew” from my brain (do you like that space reference?!)  Writing them was a tremendously fun process. With the text however, a different challenge was presented.  I was seeking to entertain, educate, and inform, while at the same time creating interesting reading material that was technically correct and had the ability to “stretch” the young reader’s vocabulary. 

Certain space concepts (e.g., rendezvous) forced me to dig a bit deeper as a writer.  Often speaking to young children in schools, I use visual demonstrations to communicate some of the more technical aspects of flying in space.  It became a simple matter of putting those demonstrations down on paper.  A second part of the challenge was technical accuracy.  I don’t claim to be an expert on “all things space.”  Heck, I’m just an astronaut.  Finding adequate reference material to ensure that what I wrote was valid and correct, required a bit more digging than I thought would be necessary.  In the end I think we succeeded masterfully, but I’m partial!


When speaking to kids and young adults around the nation, I constantly implore them to remember that “…they are just like me.”  They can be anything they chose to be.  It will take hard work, a lot of help, and a little bit of luck, but the future is theirs.  They must dare to make it extraordinary. 

VIDEO

Check out this fun video starring Clayton Anderson--as himself! 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them: An Audio Book Review

As most of you know, I generally review books for children or teens. But every once in awhile I share books for adults. This time, I'm tackling a serious topic in a book by psychologist, Dr. Susan ForwardMen Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them.



Before listening to this book, I had never heard the word misogynistic and had no idea that it meant "reflecting a distrust, hatred, or mistreatment of women." Nor did I have any idea how prevalent this syndrome is today.

Originally published in 1986, it was re-released as a paper back in 2002 and is now available in audio format through Tantor Media. The narration by Randye Kaye was clear and easy to follow. 

REVIEW

In Part I, Dr. Forward describes the symptoms of a misogynist relationship through family histories of her patients as well as stories she heard time and again as a talk show host. The women find themselves the recipients of ridicule, are always seen at fault if conflicts arise (and what marriage doesn't have conflict?), and are frequently afraid of the men in their lives because they are threatened either verbally or physically. As a result, these women walk on eggs; not wanting to upset their partner, and often give up important relationships, activities or even their jobs in order to not rock the boat.


Many women ignore early warnings that their relationship has serious problems and fantasize about how they can make things better. Not wanting to ruin romantic dreams, the reality of the trouble these women experience frequently gets shoved into the background. It takes great courage and strength to face these problems--or if the problems go on long enough, the woman becomes desperate to receive help. 

The second part of the book is devoted to advice to women who are in these types of relationships. This comprehensive section includes
clarifying relationships to remove oneself from self-blame, recognizing when a man is emotionally unstable and wanting a woman to be dependent on him (and why), understanding how a woman can't change a man's basic personality but how she can set limits and respond to his threats. It also included reflections on what leads a man to becoming a misogynist. Questionnaires and visualization exercises give the reader opportunities to examine herself, her relationship, and how to create new responses to the man in her life. Dr. Forward handles many tough topics, including how to handle physical threats to the woman or her children.

As a Christian, I thought Dr. Forward made many valid points about setting boundaries and parameters. Her advice to women not to try to fix the other person but instead to acknowledge her own emotions, negative thoughts, and behaviors, frees a woman to take responsibility for herself. I disagreed with Forward's negative use of the word submissive. Although the concept can easily be misused, within the contest of a Biblical and loving marriage submission takes on a positive meaning and direction. 

A NOTE TO WRITERS

As I was listening to the book, I thought how it would be a great resource for writers who are exploring the effects of abuse on men and women. As I have mentioned before, One Stop for Writers, the brainchild of Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman, is a collection of helps for writers including all of their thesauri. I thought particularly of The Emotional Wound Thesaurus, and how it digs deep into many wounds related to destructive female/male relationships. If you are writing a book that includes a misogynistic relationship, I would encourage you to read this book to deepen your understanding of what your characters have experienced.

RECOMMENDATION 

This is a must read for anyone who is involved in a relationship with a man who is very controlling and threatening. No giveaway this time; my copy went to a friend.


AUDIO SNIPPET

To hear a snippet from the book, click here.








Monday, April 2, 2018

Picture Book Bonanza!

As a book reviewer and blogger, I'm now in the happy position of receiving packages of books in the mail. How cool is that? Here's some of the books I received recently as well as two I won from Kathy Temean's blog. 


W is for Welcome: A Celebration of America's Diversity
(Sleeping Bear Press, April 2018)

From, 
A is for America, A dreamer's destination, made up of people who are here due to immigration.
To, 
Z is for Zeal On Independence Day, we all can celebrate how people of all stripes (and stars) have made this country great.
Author Brad Herzog, along with over 15 different artists, has created a sweeping mural celebrating America's diversity. Each letter of the alphabet includes a short poem for young readers and a longer exposition of the topic for older students. Every page teaches readers about famous as well as not so famous immigrants, why people emigrate from their homelands, and how immigrants built (and continue to build) America. This is a great classroom resource which Joyce Hostetter and I will give away in the spring issue of Talking Story on Prejudice.


Don't Forget Dexter
(Two Lions, 2018)

In this fun book by author-illustrator Lindsay Ward, Dexter, a stuffed dinosaur, has lost his best friend, Jack.  Dexter looks all over the place for Jack and tries his best to get him back. Asking the lady at the front desk doesn't help--she's busy talking on the phone. Singing loudly, swishing his dangerous tail, chopping with his big teeth--nothing works! His worries of being abandoned are only relieved when Jack finally finds him. Young children may not realize it--but their subtle fears of abandonment are playfully and sweetly addressed. This is the first book in Ward's new series about Dexter. The next one, It's Show and Tell, Dexter looks equally fun!

Roof Octopus
(Sleeping Bear Press, March 2018)
This is a book that you have to read and see to believe. Lucy Branam's debut picture book is a fanciful combination of a story that young children will be immersed in along with vivid and imaginative illustrations by Roge´rio Coelho. I read this book to a 3-year-old and she totally understood that an octopus could live on the top of an apartment building. No mistake about it, an octopus can help deliver mail, be a swing for three friends, or help walk a dog. This would make a great baby shower gift or simply a beautiful book to add to your family's collection. 

Sterling Children's Books
(2017)

Every child wants to be the star of the show. In fact, first-born children usually ARE the stars that are photographed, cuddled, and made to feel famous by relatives, grocery store attendants, and even ordinary people walking down the street. Everything was perfect for Phoebe until a co-star is born. Life suddenly goes downhill when Phoebe is more like a personal assistant, than a star. Until...Phoebe gets her big break, steals the show, and gets her baby sister to laugh for the first time. This delightful book by Lori Alexander, is a perfect present for a first child dealing with the birth of a sibling. That's why I'm saving it for my granddaughter when her baby brother is born!


GIVEAWAY

If you are interested in receiving W is for Welcome, leave me a comment and I'll add your name to the giveaway list. The drawing will occur at the end of April in conjunction with the next issue of Talking Story. PLEASE leave me your email address if you are new to my blog so I can contact you if you win!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Who Can? by Charles Ghigna

Charles Ghigna, also known as Father Goose, brings a winning concept to the world of board books. WHO CAN?  (Orca Book Publishers, March  2018) incorporates simple rhyme and bright, colorful illustrations by Vlasta Van Kampen that will capture the young reader's attention. 



This book will engage and entertain the parent, caregiver, or older sibling who reads the book aloud. Books that become favorites demand to be read over and over again. A toddler will be charmed by the bright pictures; the older reader won't tire of reading the word game puzzles.

Each spread features a sound-it-out riddle with an animal hiding on the next page. Here are two of my favorites:




This is Charles' third board book with Orca Publishers. Click here for the entire list that includes two picture books. Like First Times and many of his other books, his granddaughter, Charlotte Rose, helped inspire this clever book. Charles got the idea when they were playing word games and creating riddles. 

Sorry! No giveaway this time. I'm saving this one for my next grand baby--and for his three-year-old sister to "read" to him!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Run to the Light by Laura King Edwards: Cover Reveal and Giveaway

Congratulations to Donna Earnhardt who won a copy of OOPHAR THE BLUE from last week's blog.

Run to the Light 
“I cried all the time back in 2006, when we learned Taylor has infantile Batten disease. Somewhere along the way, my life before Batten disease dropped out of sight in the rear-view mirror. I cried less and less. Mostly, I stayed angry. I’m still angry, which is good in a way, because it makes me want to fight like hell. Sadness doesn’t get me anywhere. Lately, I’m feeling worn down, so the sadness is back. When I feel it creep into the corners of my eyes, I run if possible. I love to run for many reasons, one of which is that it makes me feel powerful. Each time my ruined feet and ankles pound against the pavement, I beat back the tide. Mostly, it’s working. I cry very little, but when I do—it’s epic.”
Laura King Edwards
2017

SYNOPSIS

After graduating from college, Laura King Edwards has it all: a great job in marketing, a loving family, a new husband, and a house in her hometown of Charlotte, where she can watch her seven-year- old sister Taylor grow up. But one month after her wedding, Edwards and her family receive shocking news: Taylor has Batten disease. A rare, fatal, genetic disease that will cause Taylor to go blind, suffer seizures, and lose the ability to walk and talk. There is no cure. Edwards thought she’d get to watch her baby sister grow up, but instead she’ll get to watch her die.
Unwilling to take “there is no cure” for an answer, Edwards founds a charity with family and friends, Taylor’s Tale, to save children with the disease. Meanwhile, Taylor starts running with Girls on the Run, completing her first 5K race blind with the help of a sighted guide. Inspired, Edwards, a lifelong runner, begins running in half marathons to raise money and awareness. And to run away from the pain. 
Taylor’s Tale becomes the world leader in the fight against Taylor’s form of Batten disease, but the charity can’t work quickly enough to save Taylor. Stripped of her faith, Edwards falls into a dark despair. But Taylor’s unwavering courage in the face of certain death gives Edwards a renewed sense of purpose to turn her family’s tragedy into an opportunity—to ensure others won’t have to suffer, as her sister has suffered.  

Run to the Light is Edwards’s inspiring account of how she found the courage to face indescribable loss, and of what it means to really believe. 

INTERVIEW

Can you please share a little about Taylor and your journey?

I was 16 when Taylor was born. I already had an 11-year-old brother and didn’t want anything to do with a baby sister. But the moment I met Taylor, I fell in love. 
2006

My sister was beautiful, energetic, smart and healthy — perfect in every way. When I was in college, I used to come home from Chapel Hill on the weekends to spend time with her. But when she was about 7, she started losing her vision and struggling in school. When Taylor was diagnosed with infantile Batten disease my world was shattered. But for the next decade-plus, Taylor’s resiliency inspired me to fight like a bulldog to save her life and those of others like her. 

2007

2016


Tell us about your memoir, Run to the Light

I wrote hundreds of short stories before I studied fiction writing in college, but I never planned to write a memoir. In 2006, I was a recent graduate working on a young adult novel when Taylor was diagnosed with Batten disease. My once-healthy sister lost her vision, and her ability to walk, talk, and swallow food. She suffers from seizures and will lose her life at a young age. Yet Taylor always showed the rest of us how to be brave.

Not long after the diagnosis, Taylor’s Tale become the world’s leading charity in the fight against infantile Batten disease, championing historic legislation and groundbreaking, potentially lifesaving research. Despite our success, I’ve struggled at times to accept the fact that I still have to watch my little sister die. 

I wrote Run to the Light after going through a particularly rough time. In 2013, as Taylor fell deeper into the rabbit hole, I lost my will to move forward or my ability to believe in anything good. Then one day, I realized that to survive, I had to learn to “see” the world like Taylor, who never faced her illness with anything less than courage. 

For five months, I trained to become a “blind” runner. That fall, I returned to the same course where my sister ran her first race and completed the half marathon – blindfolded. 

Run to the Light isn’t about Batten disease. It isn’t even about running. Instead, Run to the Light is about how to believe, even if “believe” doesn’t mean what you once thought. It’s about turning a loss into a legacy. 

I wrote this book as a love letter to my little sister and to raise awareness of Batten disease. But I hope it also serves as a testament to the strength of the human spirit. I hope it helps readers find the courage to face whatever they’re fighting in their own lives.

How did running blindfolded help you write the book? 

Before I ran blindfolded, I was at such a low point that I wasn’t just worried about my sister’s survival — I was also worried about my own. It was difficult to wake up each day and find joy or even interest in anything when I knew my once vibrant, healthy sister was dying. 

When I ran “blind,” I had to rely much more on all of my other senses — hearing, touch, smell and even taste (when I ran blindfolded, I could tell a storm was coming by the taste of the breeze). This new perspective helped me recognize the good in a bad situation, too. 

Running blindfolded gave me the will to survive and energized me to capture and share my sister’s amazing story beyond blog posts, social media and public talks. Not long after the race ended, I knew I wanted to write this book. 

Do you have any recommendations to other writers who think about writing a story that is close to their heart? 

If you feel called to share your personal story, don’t hesitate. Focus on getting the words on paper rather than worrying about where the project is headed or if other people will want to read it. True stories have a life of their own, sometimes even more than fictional ones. Let go of all of your inhibitions, and just write.  

Laura and Taylor at their brother's wedding, 2017


*********
Now for the drum roll.... here is the cover!

Photo by Rusty Williams.
Rusty took the picture on a side street
in Myers Park off Queens Road West, the site of one of the last scenes in the book.

GIVEAWAY

Run to the Light is coming out November, 2018. I'll be reviewing Laura's book on my blog in the fall. Leave your name and email address and I'll start a giveaway list now. Leave it again when I review the book and your name will be entered twice. 

TED TALK



Monday, March 12, 2018

You Heard it Here First: OOTHAR THE BLUE by Brandon Reese and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Linda Phillips who won the ebook copy of Rebecca Petruck's new book, BOY BITES BUG.
********

You know how I love sharing fellow writers good news--particularly for those who are debut authors. When I read on the SCBWI-Carolinas Pals group that Brandon Reese's first picture book was coming out in May (Lion Forge) I knew this was a story I wanted to share here. Since Brandon is the author/illustrator--you get to hear about his publishing journey AND see some of his great illustrations!

CAROL: What was the inspiration for OOTHAR THE BLUE? I love his name! How did you come up with it?

BRANDON: As with most of my stories, Oothar started out with a sketch. I keep a sketchbook and try to draw in it everyday. If I’m lucky, those drawings become the seeds of a story. 



To be honest, I’m not really sure how the name Oothar came about! I wanted something fantastical and Scandinavian sounding and Oothar just popped into my head.

CAROL: This is your debut picture book, but you have illustrated others. Can you share about how you went from illustrator to illustrator/writer? 

BRANDON: Being an illustrator/writer has always been the goal. I knew I needed to strengthen my writing. So I worked on it by regularly attending SCBWI conferences and just making myself work through a story. 


CAROL: Tell us more about your path to publication. 

BRANDON: I drew constantly as a kid. My mom read somewhere that if you wanted to foster creativity in your child you shouldn’t give them coloring books. Instead you should give them blank pieces of paper to draw and color on. So, blank sheets of paper were never in short supply!

I went to the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale where I took some art classes but not a lot. The focus was on graphic design. After graduating I eventually got a job art directing and designing a small children’s magazine. I would assign myself illustration jobs for the magazine. It’s there where I honed my illustration skills... or at least started to. 

OOTHAR with Fettle the Wizard
CAROL: What role did SCBWI have in your life?

BRANDON: SCBWI is a great organization. I wish I had joined years ago! It wasn’t until after attending my first conference that I started to get some traction in the publishing world. 


CAROL: What role has your critique group played in your development as an author/illustrator?

BRANDON: The most beneficial thing I’ve done to help my writing is join a critique group. You know right away if something is working by the reactions. Nothing is better than hearing a critique partner giggle their way through your manuscript. Well, a humorous book, that is! I suppose it would be a bit of a nightmare if a reader is laughing their way through a serious project. Illustrating and writing are mostly solitary endeavors. It gets lonely. It’s great to have a group of artists who understand your struggles and cheer your successes. 



Brandon created his artwork using digital painting in Adobe Photoshop
CAROL: What was the process of getting your publisher?

BRANDON: Connecting with Lion Forge and ultimately selling Oothar to them was a bit of a surprise. I had some down time and I was looking for comic book illustration work. I worked up a mock Oothar cover and sent it to a list of publishers I found online. Andrea Colvin, the executive editor at Lion Forge, wrote back right away and said that unfortunately she didn’t have any illustration work at the moment but wanted to know if I had any manuscripts she could read. 

I’m still thinking she wants comic book or graphic novel stuff, so I sent her three stories I thought would translate well to that format (Oothar being one). It wasn’t until she wrote back to say she loved Oothar and wanted to take it to an acquisitions meeting that I found out she was looking for picture books. So I quickly sketched up some extra sample art for her to take to the meeting.
 
The poster Brandon sent to publishers.

CAROL: When did you get your agent? Did you query several before signing?

BRANDON: I signed with Jennifer Mattson from Andrea Brown Literary in February. I still have that new client smell! I queried maybe 15 other agents. I had other offers but I ultimately felt Jennifer was the best fit for me.

CAROL: What are you hoping your young readers will take away from OOTHAR?

BRANDON: Feeling blue or depressed is a normal emotion. It is an indicator of something askew in our lives. If something isn’t bringing you happiness anymore, you can make a change!




Remember what I said last week? One way we support authors is by preordering their books. Click on over to Amazon and preorder OOTHAR now!

To enter the giveaway for your copy of OOTHAR, please leave a comment along with your email address if you are new to my blog. Share this on social media (please tell me what you do) or become a new follower of my blog and I'll enter your name twice. Winner will be chosen on March 16.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Boy Bites Bug: A Review and an E-Book Giveaway!

Congratulations to Rosi Hollinbeck who won BACKFIELD BOYS from last week's blog. Rosi is my California counterpoint since she reviews and gives away books too. You might want to follow her blog!

Many of my faithful blog followers have read about how Rebecca Petruck has mentored me while I've written Half-Truths. She's guided me through countless revisions with an amazing talent to see the forest and tell me which trees need to be felled.

Rebeca can do this, because she's a gifted author. (Here's my review of her first middle grade book,  Steering Toward Normal.)

Now I have the privilege of introducing her second book, BOY BITES BUG (Abrams, May, 2018)



Although you might look at this amazing cover and fun title and think this is simply a humorous book for boys. But I can assure you that the story takes the reader on a much deeper journey than that.  And of course, girls will enjoy it too!

REVIEW

Seventh grader Will Nolan has a problem. In fact, he has more than one. Stinkbugs have invaded the school library "bobbling like weather-worn boats on a calm sea." (p. 5) His best friend, Darryl, decides to squash them using Will's copy of Wrestling for Dummies. 

Knowing the stench that would produce, the new kid, Eloy, intervenes with, 
"Are you crazy?!" 
"No one asked you, cholo," Darryl snapped back.
Will inhaled sharply. It felt like the world went into slo-mo. (p.6)

Will is caught off guard. There are other Hispanics in their Minnesota school, but Darryl's attitude makes Will uncomfortable. Things go from bad to worse when the boys start daring each other to eat a stinkbug. When Darryl responds with,  
"Me? No way. Dare the Mexican. I've seen stuff on TV--they eat bugs all the time." 
"Dude, I'm from Rochester," Eloy said. 
Will didn't say anything. His tongue was frozen in shock at hearing the friend he'd known since kindergarten talk like that. The Mexican?... He knew better than to talk trash about people because of where they came from. (pp. 9-10)
Will takes the heat in order not to look like a prejudiced redneck, tosses the stinkbug into his mouth, and "Bug Boy" is born.

But not without serious fall-out.

Rebecca skillfully portrays Will's journey of self-discovery and figuring out who his friends are in the events that follow like falling dominoes. This serious theme is against the backdrop of Will's development as a wrestler and the humorous interplay and drama of boy vs. boy. 

In this snippet, you'll glimpse how Rebecca accurately captures the boy's voices and Will's internalization. This scene takes place after Simon, one of Will's friends, anonymously sends him 1000 crickets.
Back at school Monday morning, Will unloaded books from his backpack. 
And freed half a dozen crickets.
He banged his forehead on a locker door, repeatedly.
"Bug Boy strikes again!" Simon said. He nudged a cricket that hadn't taken off yet and hooted when it arced through the air. He poked into Will's backpack. "What are you doing with the others?"
Will froze, head still pressed against the metal lockers, cold seeping into his brain. He turned slowly. "So it was you?"
 "A thousand crickets? Of course it was me! So what will you do with them?"
Will imagined "nudging" Simon and watching him arc through the air. "Why didn't you warn me?"
"Are you kidding? I wish I could have seen your face. A thousand crickets are funny!"
"Not when they escaped in my house and I had to kill them!" 
.........
"What did you do now, losers?" Darryl leaned against a locker, acting extra casual.
Will darted an instinctive glance toward Eloy's locker, but he wasn't around, which was strange but for the moment kind of OK.
Ever since Darryl had stomped off to the library last week, he and Will had been weird together but trying to act normal until they got back to normal. Calling one another losers was an ordinary thing, a razz just because.
But after killing all those crickets, Will felt like a loser for real. He tried to shrug it off. (p.116-118) 
As I mentioned, Rebecca has helped me dig deeper into Half-Truths. As I read BUG, I realized that Will's journey into discovering his own subtle prejudices was similar to what Rebecca encouraged me to probe about Kate Dinsmore, my protagonist.

With the risk of including a spoiler, towards the end of the book, Will has the following "Aha!" moment:

Eating grasshoppers wasn't exactly part of Eloy's day-to-day life, but it wasn't weird, either. It was even ordinary when he visited his family in Mexico. But Will had treated it like it was weird and worse than weird, a trick to get back at someone. 
Eloy had put up with Will a lot longer than Will would have if the situation was reversed. The only person who had done anyone a favor was Eloy. He'd given Will the benefit of the doubt, trying to make him see. (p.198-9)

As I teach my writing students, figurative language, or Muscle Words, are the engines that drive good writing. Here are three of my favorites. Can you guess what the first one describes?

Brown-and-beige banded antennae twitched at Will from a too-small head resting on extra-wide shoulders. It looked like a miniature football player in pads. Speckles like dimples on a golf ball dotted its brown body and thick outer wings. (p.9)
The day had started so normal. But it had gotten chased around the mat and pinned like a lightweight taken down by a heavyweight. (p. 30)  (Note: I love how Rebecca used the wrestling theme to highlight what Will was feeling.)
When Mr. Taylor took attendance, Will felt as if someone were pulling his belly button through his back. (p.136) 
There are tons more examples in the book--you'll just have to get a copy to discover them yourself!

For fans of STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, the ending of BUG ties neatly back into Rebecca's first book. And since a book on entomophagy would be incomplete without recipes, Rebecca has included three that are from The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook  by David George Gordon.


A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR

I asked Rebecca why she chose wrestling as the boys' sport. She responded: "I fell into wrestling simply because I wanted to do something I don't see as often as other sports in books, and then it ended up being perfect for the story. Wrestling is all about the mindabout committing to those six minutesYou can lose a match before ever stepping on the mat if you don't believe in your skills or yourself. It's a wonderful metaphor for Will's journey because he's made a commitment to not only Eloy but also to himself and the kind of person he wants to be, and he has to see it through. On one hand, it is him alone on the mat, but he also has the support of his coaches and teammates so he's never alone, and that's true for Will off the mat, too."


PRE-ORDER BOY BITES BUG


One way we support authors is by pre-ordering their books. You can find BOY BITES BUG on Amazon or on Bulk Book Store if you want to order it for your classroom. It would make a great classroom resource to open up conversations about prejudice as well as ways to feed the planet in the future!

GIVEAWAY

I can't give away my arc because the book is "on tour" and goes to the next reader. 
Rebecca encouraged all readers to write
comments in the arc. What a great idea!

But, Rebecca is giving away an e-copy. Leave a comment by March 9 and I'll enter your name. Share this on social media (and tell me what you did) and I'll enter your name twice. If you are new to my blog--welcome!--and please leave your email address.


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