Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Button Girl: An Interview with Author Sally Apokedak and Autographed Giveaway Part II

 Last week I reviewed Sally Apokedak's young adult fantasy, The Button Girl. This week, I'm happy to provide an interview with her about the story behind writing this thought-provoking novel for Christians, non-Christians, young women and adults.


CAROL: How did you come up with the ideas for this book?  

SALLY: I had a hippy friend who had named her children things like: Glory Ofgod, Selah Praise, Faith Alone, and so on and so forth. And then my pastor told me that Naomi's two sons were named Disease and Famine. And that gave me the idea to set up a society where people are named for what God is doing in the lives of the moms. 


My daughter had just become a teenager and I wanted to write a book that would help girls see something I did not know as a girl--there is a big difference between lust and love. Kevin DeYoung said in one of his sermons that men want to see porn and women want to BE porn. But I think that most women don't really want to BE porn. They want to be loved and, when they are young, they don't understand that lust does not equate with love.  


So I painted a very bad villain and a very good hero. They are so black and white that they may seem almost cartoonish. But they were painted that way with intent—to show that lust is selfish and love is selfless. 


But many things are not as black and white as lust and love are. The world is messy. There are a few gray areas and there is a lot of foggy thinking. 


People are complex. So in the book the tutor was rightly opposed to slavery, but for the wrong reasons. The king was not opposed to slavery, but he was a more honorable man than the tutor.  


So I set up a book full of contrasts with a mountain and valley, and with slaves and masters, and with fog and sunshine. I wanted to show the difference between not only lust and love but also to examine contentment and apathy and idealism and integrity. Does civil disobedience mean we are complaining against God? I looked at my own life to find places where I struggled to know how to obey God. In the end, Repentance is very much a picture of my sixteen-year-old self.   



CAROL: How long did it percolate before it became a book?  

SALLY: I started in 2006. Wrote about five chapters and then ran out of story. I didn't write any more on it, because  . . . writing novels is hard work. And I struggle with rough drafts. 


Life happened. My husband died of cancer. I took care of my mother and my father after that. My dad died. 


I finished the book in 2009, so the book took four years to write from conception to completion. But actual writing time was probably five months.  


I burned through three agents and got a few offers from smallish houses, which we turned down. And in the end, I published the book myself in 2017. So eleven years from conception to publication.  


CAROL: How much did your faith affect writing it? 

SALLY: God was uppermost in my mind as I wrote. 


Sober is a type of Christ in his love for Repentance—in the way her sin cost him and in the way he still loved her—and in his substitution of himself for Comfort.  


But I have always wanted to write a character who is a type of God the Father. I’ve wanted to show the sacrifice that the Father made when he ordained that his Son would die. God the Father gave up the One he loved most to save a sinful rebellious people who set themselves up as his enemies, so I had a character make that same sacrifice. 


But mostly, I wanted to write a book that would make girls think about a few things. Is there a God who created us? Is there a God who allows slavery? If God allows slavery—or any sin—without striking the sinner dead, does it follow that he is in favor of the sinners/slaveholders? Is such a God unfair? 


I left up in the air who was saved and who was not. I ended the book with Repentance coming to see Providence was blessing her, whereas in the beginning of the book she felt cursed. But I didn't go farther than that because her world is not our world and people there aren't saved the same way people here are saved. 


Providence was not meant to look too much like our God. The god in the book was a simple metaphor that showed one aspect of our God. He was the provider—and he was more than a clockmaker who wound up the clock and ignored it. He was a god who cared about Repentance and was working things together for her good. But he was not a god who sent his son to die for sinners. This book was not meant to lead people to Christ. It was meant to make them ask: Is there a God? Do the unfair circumstances in this world prove there is no loving God watching over us? And if we wait long enough, will we see that everything will, indeed, come out right in the end?  


Leave a comment if you would like to be entered into the giveaway. If you left a comment last week, then you will be entered twice. A winner will be chosen on July 2. Continental U.S. addresses only. PLEASE leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. 


Sally is an author, agent, and speaker. You can find out more about Apokedak Literary Agency on her website. 

Two years ago I was fortunate to attend a
writer's retreat led by Sally.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Button Girl: A Review and Autographed Giveaway, Part I

Today I'm bringing you another clean-read, young adult fantasy. The Button Girl, by Sally Apokedak is a well-plotted book with thorough world-building and memorable characters. Next week, Sally will answer questions I had about the book including how her Christian faith impacted the story and her publication journey.

Like Ships, Secrets, & Survivors, each chapter is prefaced with a short paragraph. In The Button Girl, quotes from fictional books and the protagonist's own poetry enhance the theme of each chapter. There are also quotes from the book of Providence which is the power controlling people's lives that is referenced throughout the book.  


What happens when you are raised for sixteen years knowing that the overlords will steal your first two sons and make them into slaves after you button (i.e., marry) your betrothed? 

If your name is Repentance Atwater, that is the dilemma you face as you mature into womanhood. It is the dilemma you answer with all of the integrity you can muster: you will risk the shame that will be brought on your family and your own severe punishment of banishment to the city of the overlords.  You will go against... Providence himself, call him a liar, and say that he has not provided as he ought. (p. 7) You will refuse to button. 

With that as the premise, the reader is quickly inside Repentance's point of view as she refuses the one young man who wants to button her and who she detests--Sober Marsh. 

Since they fail at buttoning, Sober and Repentance are taken as slaves to the overlord's city. When faced with the realization that leaving her home was a mistake, Repentance fills with so much regret that she saves the buttons from her blouse--the very buttons that were supposed to unite her to Sober.

At the slave market, the two are bought by different owners. As they separate Repentance looks at Sober: 
Sober lifted his head and Repentance flinched, expecting to see hatred in his eyes. Instead she was met with only sorrow. he held her gaze until she had to look away, as waves of shame and despair crashed over her. (p. 62)
Repentance is relieved to discover he doesn't hate her and perhaps even forgives her for losing their freedom. The book proceeds as she seeks to escape but is hounded by the knowledge that if she disobeys or is caught, her younger sister Comfort will also be enslaved. 

She resigns herself to being one of the prince's concubines, only to be "rescued" by his elderly uncle who wants her for himself. But, "by Providence" he never touches her. His only intent is to save her from his cruel nephew who is next in line to rule after the old man dies.

Repentance's safety is fleeting. The cruel nephew has his sights on the throne and on Repentance. Repentance must use her wits to try and keep herself and her family safe--everyone is in danger because of her own selfish decision not to button Sober. In the middle of it all, she thinks, If Providence wasn't  real, then she had no one to blame for her troubles, maybe(p. 167)

As Providence would have it, Sober works for the farmer who delivers food to the palace where Repentance lives. Even as she rejoices in seeing him and realizes that he has forgiven her, there are many suspenseful obstacles that keep them apart. 

Along the way, Repentance gains much self-knowledge and Sober proves to be true and loyal--exactly what very young woman should desire in her betrothed. 

Repentance shivered. She had never been content. That was her problem. She's always railed against Providence and the unfair treatment he allowed. She hadn't run away form the village for such noble reasons. She wasn't so much loving her future babies as trying to protect her own heart and trying to strike back at the hated overlords... (p. 323).
Sally Apokedak has cleverly brought together romance, fantasy, plot twists, family secret reveals, and thought-provoking material on the nature of providence to keep young adults (and adults!) turning the pages. 

Next week Sally will give you an inside look into why she wrote this book and what she hopes it will accomplish.


Leave a comment this week and I'll enter your name for the giveaway. Leave a comment next week and your name will be entered twice! A winner will be chosen on July 2. Continental U.S. addresses only. PLEASE leave me your email address if you are new to my blog.


Congratulations to Lisa Fowler who won Ships, Secrets, & Survivors from last week's blog.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

SHIPS, SECRETS, and SURVIVORS: A Book Review and Autographed Giveaway

In a departure from my recent run on picture book reviews, today I'm recommending, Ships, Secrets, and Survivors, a YA fantasy debut novel by co-authors Sarah Rodecker and Helena George. 


If you or a teen reader you know, enjoy stories that include a princess who would rather be a sailor; evil pirates who are related to the good guys; assassins--on both the good and bad side of the coin; sea dragons (always evil and scary); and a process to select the next ambassador that rivals the Hunger Games; a sprinkle of magic, PLUS talking ships (my favorite characters)...then this will be a book that you or (your favorite teen reader) will want to read.

Illustrations proceed each chapter are by Mars Evan.

In the first part of the book, the reader meets an elaborate crew of characters who are competing to be the next Ambassadors of the Alliance. This selection process unveils the backstories of the two point of view characters, Princess Avi and assassin Ravin, and ends with the two of them escaping from life-threatening calamities and being on board the same ship--the legendary Red Wind. 

The second part of the book details the Red Wind's crews' adventures in their journey to hunt down the infamous pirate Captain Rev Martin. Along the way they encounter traitors (proving you can never really tell who you can trust), have countless sword fights with pirates, are threatened by sea dragons, suffer shipwreck, and are abandoned on a deserted island. 

In the process, the reader discovers that the Red Wind is truly magical and can feel, speak, and suffer wounds.  Each chapter begins with a short paragraph written by the narrator (whose identity is revealed at the end) about the Red Wind legends. Since I am a fan of stories within stories, I really enjoyed these snippets that made more and more sense as the story progressed.  As I mentioned above, the ship itself is a wonderful character with a mind of her own and fiercely loyal to her captain and crew.

I was curious about how these young authors came up with the idea of talking ships, and Helena said, "When the concept of Jay (the captain) and his ship originally came to me, Red Wind had no sails. When Sarah and I started delving into WHY and HOW, we came up with the "live ships" concept. How ships come alive, and why they move on their own is explored in the other books. 

The next book in the PIRATE HUNTER CHRONICLES was released in May. Click here to read about Sin, Sons, and Siren Songs and the upcoming titles in the series. 

In case you're thinking of collaborating on a book, Helena shares about their co-writing journey on her blog. I asked her how long it took them to co-write this book. She replied: "We brainstormed and wrote about half the book in around a year. It was totally on the backburner. Then I wrote the last half by myself in late 2019 for NaNoWriMo. After that, it took us about half a year to edit, get cover art, and plan for self-publishing. Not counting any pre-writing/brainstorming, I'd say it takes us around half a year to draft, edit, and format everything. 


I have a gently used, autographed (by both authors) copy to give away. PLEASE leave me your email address if you are new to my blog; continental U.S. addresses only. Giveaway ends on June 18. 


Congratulations to Lois Bartholomew who won Dorothea's Eyes  from last week's blog.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

DOROTHEA'S EYES: A Picture Book Biography and Giveaway

 I hope you are enjoying hearing about terrific curriculum resources as much as I am enjoying sharing them. It's a win-win! I learn about how to write an inspirational and informative nonfiction picture book, and you have a chance to win one! Today's selection, Dorothea's Eyes (Calkins Creek, 2016) features iconic photographer, Dorothea Lange, and is written by talented author, Barb Rosenstock with period-perfect illustrations by G√©rard DuBois. In the text and illustrations, see if you notice something a little bit different about how this biography is written. (Note: The quotations in red are the way they appear in the book--that's not the answer!)


Dorothea Lange's grey-green eyes look at the world around her and sees "dimpled shadows scattering an orange peel. Swirled-pattern pricks in a walnut sewing table. Repeating rectangles of New Jersey row homes."

After her parents split up, her mother finds a job in a city library and Dorothea attends a school full of poor immigrants. She is Different and Lonely.

But, she is also Watchful. Curious. So, after school she,
spies into crowded tenements where fathers, home from peddling, read newspapers, and mothers wash dishes, clothes, and babies in rusty sinks--happy and sad mixed together. 
Dorothea pretends she's invisible all the time.


And all the time, Dorothea sees with her eyes and her heart.

As a teenager, she announces she is going to be a photographer. Despite her mother's resistance (" isn't ladylike!") Dorothea gets work at photographer's studios and learns everything she can about cameras and darkrooms. 

She loves faces, but is restless to see places too. She sets off from New Jersey to travel around the world but stays in San Fransisco after her money is stolen. She starts her own portrait studio and becomes successful. She marries and has children. But, she keeps asking herself, 

        Am I using my eyes and my heart?

One day during the Depression she looks outside her window and sees men searching for work. She focuses on one man in particular:


                                Dorothea's heart won't let her stop.

White Angel Breadline, 1933 
Dorothy Lange Collection
Oakland Museum of California

Dorothea leaves her comfortable life and takes her camera on the road. She scans dirt lanes, peers down back paths, and squints up broken steps. Fathers stoop in fields, working for pennies. Mothers nurse sick children, lying thirsty in makeshift tents. Whole families in jalopies--blown out by the dust storms wracking the land.


Migrant Mother, 1936
Nipomo, California

"Of the 160,000 images taken by Lange and other photographers for the
Resettlement Administration, Migrant Mother has become the most iconic picture
of the Depression. Through an intimate portrait of the toll being exacted across the land, Lange 
gave a face to a suffering nation."

Her heart knows all about people the world ignores.

Dorothea doesn't just photograph the people she meets. She understands how ashamed and invisible they feel. For five years despite a leg that always hurts, she photographs people for the world to see. "The jobless. The hungry. The homeless."

Newspapers and magazines publish these pictures. Dorothea's eyes won't let the country look away. Her photographs help convince the government to provide parents with work, children with food, and families with safe, clean homes.

        The truth, seen with love, becomes Dorothea's art. 


As you may expect, the back matter is a rich collection of photographs, information on Lange, bibliography, and timeline. Click on these links for more resources: the Educator Guide and Barb's Pinterest Board.

Although this book is recommended for ages 8-12, I think high school students (and adults!) would also learn not only about a woman who followed her passion and made a difference in this country, but about the effects of the Depression. 


Please leave a comment (with your email address if you are new to my blog) by 6PM June 9. Start following my blog and I'll put your name in twice. Continental U.S. addresses only. 

So, can you tell what is different about this biography? It might be hard from just a few quotes--but this historical picture book is written in present tense. Kudos to Barb Rosenstock for a creative way to write nonfiction!


Congratulations to Dee Romito who won OCEAN SOUP on last week's blog.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

OCEAN SOUP: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

 Beware! Reading this nonfiction picture book written by Meeg Pincus and illustrated by Lucy Semple, may convince you that you are over-using plastic. That's what it did for me!

Do you see those four children walking along the beach on the cover? Those characters illustrate the scenes of Ocean Soup (Sleeping Bear Press, 2021) as they go from playing at the beach, to discovering that what appears to be pure and clean under a microscope is SOUP! And not a very tasty or healthy one either. 


As you can tell, Meeg Pincus wrote a book with a powerful message, in simple and accessible verse. On a few pages she shows how people have been using styrofoam cups, bottled water, synthetic fibers, and plastic containers without thinking about the consequences to our environment. 

The four characters ask an important question:

Do you ever wonder how this produced Ocean Soup? 
How such everyday habits made saltwater goop? 



Here is a fact I didn't know:

Once it's made , any plastic is with us to stay. 
It's on Earth till forever--there's no real "away."

Here are more interesting facts shown on a spread of the world's oceans:

Sad and startling is the fact that Ocean Soup fills the bellies of all types of creatures from dolphins to plankton to crabs. And if plastic is in the bellies of fish then,

The "story" ends with four pages of suggestions of ways in which children can use less plastic. 

End notes include lists of the plastics that pollute the world's seas and a recipe for cleaner oceans. Meeg's author's note reflected how I felt after reading Ocean Soup:

I wrote this book to remind myself about my own impact on my beloved ocean, by the daily choices I make, as much as anyone else. We all need to rethink our use of plastic and speak up to manufactures and lawmakers about the overproduction. It will take a sea change to save our seas--and it starts with each one of us, each day.

This great curriculum resource can be useful in kindergarten through fourth grade. The characters appear to be around eight, but the book's message that is delivered in smooth rhyme, is for all ages.

Here's an interesting note from Meeg about the four children who show up throughout the book. Since they have no speaking lines, I wondered if she created them or suggested them to the illustrator. Here is what she said:

"The four kids were a creation of the art team for the book, actually! I'm not sure who among the illustrator, art director, and editor came up with them, but I was so thrilled when I saw them! I think it's a great example of how "leaving room for the illustrator" can lead to magic when the artist sees their own story within the author's story."


To enter, please leave me a comment by 6 PM on June 4 along with your email address if you are new to my blog. Share it on social media and tell me what you did, and I'll enter your name twice.  Continental U.S. addresses only. 


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