Category Archives: Class of 2k9

Shrinking Violet

violet3In her debut YA novel, Shrinking Violet, Class of 2k9er Danielle Joseph introduces us to Teresa Adams, an ordinary girl who hides a lot behind her super-shy exterior. Tere may be the shyest girl in her school, but she’s also an aspiring DJ who dreams of finding her place at the microphone of Miami’s hottest radio station, The SLAM. Tere’s stepfather just happens to own the station, so when a slot opens up at SLAM, Tere finds her way from mock broadcasting in her bedroom, into the spotlight at a real radio station. Soon Tere is leading a double life; shy-girl by day and sexy Sweet T radio hostess at night. It looks like she’s going to be able to keep the secret going until a SLAM songwriting contest gets launched, and the prize is a prom date with the mysterious Sweet T. Will Tere step away from her shrinking violet status and showcase the talent she’s been hiding all along? Hmmm… not telling! Grab a copy of this sweet story and find out for yourself.

There’s a lot of appeal in this book. First, I was attracted by the premise. I always like reading about a teen who wants to do something a little bit different with her life. I imagine that Tere’s passion for radio might inspire readers to consider that career path too. It was fun to grab a glimpse inside the workings of a radio station. Danielle Joseph worked as an intern at a bunch of radio stations in Boston, so she knows of what she writes. Tere is a lovely, ordinary girl, who worries a bit about her appearance, doesn’t get along so well with her hyper-critical mother, and struggles tremendously with shyness. It’s refreshing to read about such a realistic character. She isn’t in love with a vampire. She isn’t able to communicate with dead people. Her parents don’t own half of Manhattan. She’s a girl that so many teen readers will relate to immediately. That Tere is interesting and ordinary, speaks to Joseph’s strength with characterization. I believed completely in Tere, and felt invested in her journey towards greater confidence.

Shrinking Violet comes with a set of discussion questions, and I think the book will lead to great chat about finding what makes you happy, stepping out of your comfort zone and discovering confidence. I’m imagining a book party with a lot of good tunes and girl talk. This one is fun and real and it gets inside your head, like a good song you listen to over and over.

Shrinking Violet is published by MTV Books.

Class of 2k9 Author Interview: S. Terrell French

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Spring is obviously the season for debut authors. I’ve been lucky to host several of Class of 2k9 members recently here at the blog. Today, S. Terrell French, author of Operation Redwood, is here to tell us lots about her passion for writing, and for environmental activism. Her novel is the perfect book to celebrate Earth Day. Welcome!

What inspires you? (In addition to redwood forests, of course!)

In writing Operation Redwood, I was inspired by the voices of my own kids and their friends – their humor and curiosity and one-upsmanship. As I did more research on redwoods for the book, I was also inspired by the young people who put so much on the line in defending the old-growth redwoods during the battle over the Headwaters Forest in the 1990s.

Tell us a bit about your process for writing Operation Redwood. What came first, the story or the characters?

Operation Redwood began with an image in my mind of a boy who finds himself alone in an office and discovers an e-mail from a faraway girl, an e-mail that takes him into a new, unfamiliar world. The scene where he discovers the e-mail played like a movie in my mind and became the opening chapters of the book. I always saw the main character, Julian Carter-Li, as a rather reserved, watchful boy who is drawn into a series of adventures that he isn’t quite prepared for and doesn’t anticipate. His best friend, Danny Lopez, evolved from listening to my son’s hilarious and good-hearted friends. And I knew Robin, the girl who sends the e-mail that begins Julian’s journey to the redwoods, would be a passionate and smart (and a bit of a know-it-all) and care deeply about the land she’s grown up on.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your first novel?

The most challenging aspect was having the hubris to believe I could write a book that had a chance of being published. Sometimes I’d walk into a book store or library and see all the fabulous new hardcovers and be completely daunted.

Did writing Operation Redwood mean many visits to the redwood forest? What research was involved?

I had been to the redwoods many times over the years, from Santa Cruz up to Redwood National Park in the northernmost corner of California. For background research on Robin’s home, Huckleberry Ranch, my family spent a few days on a wonderful ranch in Mendocino County with a couple who lived off the land and worked to protect and regenerate their redwoods. In addition, I did quite a bit of research on redwood ecology and history, the movement to protect the Headwaters Forest in the late 1990s, and Julia Butterfly Hill, the activist who inspires the kids in the book. Although these non-fiction elements are background for Julian’s adventures, I wanted to make sure they were accurate.

So many kids grow up in urban areas. How do you think they can become inspired to become environmentalists?

San Francisco is very urban, and yet the kids I know here are very knowledgeable about and interested in environmental issues. I do think a chance to experience some wildness helps children connect with nature. Many schools are able to bring kids on field trips to parks, farms, or forests in the area (like Julian, who has visited the redwoods at nearby Muir Woods on a school trip). And of course, city kids can visit recycling plants, study their water system, and visit the dump to see what happens to the trash that’s thrown away. They can also study birds, insects and small animals in their parks or backyards. Continue reading

Operation Redwood

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S. Terrell French’s debut Middle Grade novel, Operation Redwood, is an eco-adventure story that delighted me from start to finish. French combines spunky characters, authentic kid friendships and environmental activism to create a story that is exciting, heart-warming and inspiring.

Julian Carter-Li is living with his high-powered uncle while his photographer mom travels the globe. He doesn’t like this arrangement much, because his aunt and uncle are pretty unpleasant and make it obvious that they don’t really want Julian around. When Julian happens to read a very angry email sent to his Uncle Sibley from a girl who accuses Sibley of planning to destroy a stand of redwoods, he ends up getting pulled into a fight to save the forest. Along the way, Julian learns a lot about the magic of the redwoods, life in the country, friendship and family ties.

I always admire a writer who can create an MG novel that will surely appeal to both boys and girls. S. Terrell French has achieved this in Operation Redwood, as the novel offers well-drawn male and female characters and the adventure element whips along with plenty of risk and duplicity and kid-ingenuity, sure to attract all readers. MG novels with convincing characters and a non-stop story don’t happen everyday. More often it seems that you end up with more of one than the other. Not so here. I guess that’s what produces the feeling you’ve got by the end of Operation Redwood that you’ve read something substantial and lasting, and certainly a book you want to pass on to every kid you know.

I loved this story’s freshness, it felt especially “now” with its environmental emphasis, and I think there is something in the confident, savvy nature of the kids that young readers will recognize. Naturally, the story is packed with potential links for educators, and I imagine that it would make a smashing read aloud in the classroom. Kids need more books that demonstrate how they have the power to change the natural world for the better. For wannabe activists, tree-huggers, and all middle grade readers, Operation Redwood comes very highly recommended.

Operation Redwood is published by Amulet, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams.

Class of 2k9 Interview: Cheryl Renée Herbsman

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Debut novelist and Class of 2k9 member, Cheryl Renée Herbsman joins me today to discuss her YA novel, Breathing. Set on the Carolina coast, it tells the story of Savannah, who longs for romance to find its way to her one summer. It’s about young love and having the courage to embrace life’s adventures.

Welcome Cheryl!

What inspires you? (People / Places / Music / Art …)

…people who live in a soulful way, beautiful places in nature that are calm, quiet, and rich, music that comes from the heart, art that has movement and life hidden within it.

Describe your writing process.

I usually write while my kids are at school. I light candles and sometimes incense to set the time apart from the rest of the day. Then I sit on my bed with my laptop or sometimes pen and paper and listen. I try my best to avoid thinking up what is supposed to happen or what would make sense. Instead, I try to listen to what wants to be written and try to avoid critiquing it. Revisions come later. If I let that part of my brain get its foot in the door, I lose the flow.

What’s your cure for writer’s block?

Getting my inner critic out of the way. Usually if I’m blocked it’s because the thinking/critiquing side is taking too strong a role. If I can get that part to step aside and let me have a little time to be, the writing usually finds its way.

Tell us about the moment you learned you were going to become a published author.

Well, there was a lot of screaming involved. I warned my kids before I started screaming so they wouldn’t think something bad had happened. I was like, “I’m really happy and so I’m going to scream now.” And then proceeded to shriek, while they looked on, amused.

What surprised you most about publishing your first novel?

Lots of things surprised me. I think the most surprising was how long the process takes and how many people are involved. It’s really a major undertaking for a publishing house.

What was the most challenging thing to get right in Breathing?

The timeline was most difficult. The story takes place in one summer and it was challenging to make sure the timing of everything made sense. In particular, the issue was the program in the mountains that Savannah applies for. In the first draft, she didn’t find out about it until much later in the story, which made the steps she had to go through to apply too compressed. So pulling back the initial idea of it to right at the beginning of the story, and then spreading the steps through the story, worked better.

How are you and Savannah similar?

Well, we are both hopeful romantics and dreamers. I also did very well in school and tried too hard to be responsible as a kid.

Speaking of romance… here’s a picture Cheryl sent that shows her as a teen on the beach with her first love, Oded, who turned out to be her true love. She and her husband are celebrating 20 years of marriage.

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Savannah is quite the bookworm. What books did you read as a teen?

I read a lot. As a teen I particularly liked long books, the kind of sagas that went across generations. I liked reading romance and also Marion Zimmer Bradley, Paulo Coelho, and the spiritual fiction of Richard Bach. But I would read almost anything.

If you could be an invisible observer in a room full of teen readers, what are some of the things you hope they might say in their conversation about your book?

I hope they would like the story and the characters and that they would get why I included the dialect. But mostly I hope they’d feel inspired by the idea that love can be real and dreams can come true.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a story that takes place at summer camp that is about friendship and self-discovery, and of course, romance :)

Thanks so much Cheryl for taking the time to answer these questions!

(Breathing is published by Viking)

Breathing

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Cheryl Renée Herbsman’s debut YA novel, Breathing, is a seriously romantic summer story, that I think is bound to appeal to many lovestruck teens. Savannah Georgina Brown lives with her mama and her brother Dog (Dogwood for long) in a super small house in an “itty bitty town” on the Carolina coast. Her daddy off and disappeared soon after Savannah’s birth and from the day he left, Savannah has struggled with serious asthma attacks and her mama has had to work twice as hard to keep the family running right and to pay for Savannah’s medical care. Savannah is a really good girl. She’s smart. She loves to read. She keeps an eye on her brother without much complaining, even though he is completely annoying and she must be the only teenage girl in the country who has to share a bedroom with her younger brother. Life becomes a whole lot less ordinary when she meets the gorgeous and charming Jackson Channing, who makes Savannah feel something she hasn’t experienced before. Suddenly a true romance springs to life beyond the pages of Savannah’s beloved romance novels, and when the young couple faces separation, Savannah wonders how she will stand losing the one person who seems to help her breathe easier.

I like what Cheryl Herbsman’s book says about the delicate balance between family responsibility and following your own dreams. It takes Savannah quite a while to become sure enough in herself to take the first big step away from home and the safety of what she knows best. This inner-journey was conveyed believably and I imagine that readers will find much to connect with in the way Savannah grows into herself throughout the novel. I found the strong Southern dialect that Herbsman was working with took some getting used to, especially for somebody like me who has absolutely no experience hearing or reading that way of speaking. It was a bit jarring at first, but I did find it less so as I moved through the story, once I had read enough of it for it to seem more normal. The intensity of young love comes through well. You really get a sense of how Savannah and Jackson feel so much in such a short time, in a way that is difficult for adults to understand. I thought this was an interesting theme to highlight in the book. As a side note, Cheryl Renée Herbsman reveals in her author bio that she experienced falling in love as a teen and the subsequent challenge of a long-distance relationship. Her then boyfriend is now her husband of 20 years. Clearly, this is territory that she remembers, which helps her to communicate her characters’ feelings convincingly.

Visit Cheryl’s lovely website for lots more on her writing. She’ll be here tomorrow for an interview too!

Breathing is available April 16th from Viking.

Class of 2k9 Author Interview: Sydney Salter

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Debut author and Class of 2k9 member, Sydney Salter, is my guest today at Shelf Elf. She’s here to talk about big noses, beauty, and living the adventure of writing her first novel: My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters. Welcome Sydney!

Tell us about your journey to publication.

Well, I think it started with the day Thane Fisher said “hi” to me during high school registration, and that exciting encounter inspired me to start keeping a daily dairy. Eventually, years later, I attempted to write short stories and filled spiral notebooks with practice writing. I wrote my first novel for my daughters to teach them about Mayan culture before a family vacation to Mexico (Jungle Crossing, HM Harcourt, September 2009). They weren’t old enough to read the story, but I was hooked.

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I loved writing! I learned how to become a professional by joining SCBWI and networking through conferences. I wrote two more manuscripts before writing My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters during National Novel Writing Month. Oh, the rush of writing 50,000 words in November! Recognizing that it was my most commercial novel, I only submitted it to agents. I’m lucky that Ted Malawer at Firebrand Literary found me in the slush pile—and then he matched me with the brilliant Julie Tibbott at Harcourt.

Sometimes I think I should dedicate a book to Thane Fisher, even though he still doesn’t know I’m alive!

What was the first thing you did when you found out your book was going to be published?

My agent and I accepted Harcourt’s offer to publish My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters while I was in the airport on my way to the SCBWI LA conference. I loved celebrating with fellow writers! My husband flew in for the weekend and met me in the hotel bar with champagne.

Describe your writing routine, or writing process. Do you have rituals? Are you an outliner?

As a busy mom, I’ve learned to avoid writing rituals. I write when and where I find a minute. Last summer I completed most of a first draft by bribing my daughters with frappuccinos and the promise not to talk to me for an hour while they perused the children’s section and I wrote in the bookstore café. I also took them swimming several days a week so I could write. I enjoy the long work days I have during the school year.

I do like to outline, loosely. My characters always surprise me, but I like to have a little bit of direction before facing that blank page. Continue reading

My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters

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Doesn’t Class of 2k9 author Sydney Salter’s debut YA novel (My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters) have a fantastically quirky title? (Why yes Shelf Elf… yes it does!) Lucky for readers there’s charm between the covers too. Salter’s first novel is a humorous look at one teen’s search for acceptance, a boyfriend, and ideally, a new and improved nose.

Jory Michaels comes from a family where perfection, and the quest for perfection, is the norm. Her brother is swoon-worthy and smart and her parents fit in pretty well with the country club crowd. Jory’s mom is always on some crazy diet, and she drags the fam along with her from fad to fad, hoping to shed a few pounds along the way. Jory, on the other hand, is stuck being ordinary. She’s not much of a student. She’s not particularly sporty. She doesn’t have a “passion” (aside from longing for the very cute Tyler Briggs). There is one thing about Jory that is exceptional, however, just not in a good way: her nose. It’s lumpy and extra large and everyone likes to point out that it reminds them of Great-Grandpa Lessinger’s schnoz. Fabulous. So Jory decides that she’ll save the money from her summer job delivering wedding cakes to finance a nose job, without telling mom and dad, of course. As it turns out, the road to perfect nosedom is not as straight as Jory had hoped. Will she get there, or will she find that some things change and others stay the same?

Sydney Salter is good at capturing what it’s like for a girl to be totally consumed by her desire to have a boyfriend. For most of the novel, Jory cares about one thing: getting boys to notice her. She feels like in order for that to happen, she has to change something about herself. I was convinced entirely by Jory’s sense of her own ordinariness, and I think teens will relate to this. There were moments when I just wanted to reach into the book and give Jory a good shake, “Be happy the way you are! Stop torturing yourself!” Seeing this character grapple with being her own worst critic was painful, but true. For this reason, I think that My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters would make a good book club choice for teen girls. I’d like to listen in on their reaction to Jory’s intense self-criticism, to hear what they would do in her place. Salter also succeeds in writing some wonderfully funny scenes in her novel. Some of the funniest centre around the mini-disasters Jory experiences in her delivery job.

I’d recommend reading this title alongside Madeline George’s Looks, or Justina Chen Headley’s North Of Beautiful, both of which also explore how appearance shapes identity. My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters is a candid and humorous look at life on the imperfect side of perfect. It is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Stayed tuned for an interview with Sydney in the next couple of days.

Class of 2k9 Author Interview: Ellen Jensen Abbott

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Class of 2k9 author Ellen Jensen Abbott is here for an interview today to discuss the inspiration behind her debut fantasy, Watersmeet, and to tell us about her journey towards publication. Welcome to Shelf Elf Ellen!

What inspires you? (People / Places / Art / Food / Ideas…)

There are lots of ways I could answer this question: myth and folklore inspire me, good fantasy novels that pull me into a different world inspire me, my characters inspire me. When I first began this story, it felt like the story chose me. I think it was Abisina, the main character, who spoke to me first—only she wasn’t Abisina then, and the quest she followed was quite different than it is now. She got a hold of me and I had to tell her story. But inspiration only got me so far. More days I had to make myself sit down and write. After the first fifteen minutes, or half an hour, or sometimes even longer—and truth be told, sometimes not at all—the process takes over. There is a joy in invention, in exploring your imagination and unearthing ideas and scenes and characters, watching them all emerge into three-dimensional people with motivations and psychologies and flaws, and into places with geography and history and religion. It actually is a bit like the endorphin high you get when running. It can be elusive, but when it’s working, oh my! And then these places and people stay with you, so when you are in the shower or driving to work or swimming your laps, you are still working out how the story will play out. That’s the inspiration that keeps me showing up at the computer.

Describe your path to publication.

I am not one of these people who always wanted to be a writer. So while I was always a good and devoted academic writer, it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I actually thought I might have a story to tell. I started writing non-fiction. Like a lot of new mothers, I wrote about my children. But I don’t read non-fiction or parenting articles, so it didn’t take me long to start writing what I love: fantasy. Then I heard about the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature Conference, the One-on-One Plus Conference. At the conference, they pair up every new writer with an experienced writer, agent or editor. It’s networking like you can’t believe. I was accepted to this conference for three years and was paired up with Gail Carson Levine, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and Clara Gillow Clark—three gifted, generous authors who were great teachers. I also met both the publisher of my book and my agent at Rutgers, though it took several years before all this came about. I submitted my first novel to Margery Cuyler at Marshall Cavendish and it was rejected—very kindly. (Only writers get this whole “I got a good rejection” thing.) That was actually the fourth book in the series that begins with Watersmeet. Margery spent a lot of time talking to me about how to proceed with my work, noticing that this book felt more like a sequel than a first book. I had already started the first book, so instead of shopping the original book around, I wrote the book that became Watersmeet and submitted it to Margery again. She was no longer an editor but the publisher, so she passed it to Robin Benjamin, senior editor, and they bought it!

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author? How does the fantasy compare to the reality?

I was really not prepared for how much marketing I have to do myself. I understood this, I thought, going in. I’d attended enough conferences to know that, no matter how big or little the house you are with, the author is the one who sells the book. But the reality of actually doing it has caught me off guard. As you know, I’m writing a sequel, but so much of my time is spent marketing, I am struggling to squeeze in the writing. I need those endorphins! Continue reading

Class of 2k9 Author Interview: Deborah Lytton

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Today Deborah Lytton, author of Jane in Bloom, and Class of 2k9 member, is here to tell us more about life as a debut  author. Welcome Deborah!

Please describe the inspiration for Jane in Bloom. Was there one moment where you just knew you had to write this story, or did it sneak up on you over time?

I was first inspired to write this story when I saw a segment on the news about forgotten siblings—these were people who had grown up in a family where everything revolved around one child who had a legitimate problem. The family was so concerned about the problem child that the forgotten one was rendered invisible. I wanted to give the forgotten ones a voice—I wanted to tell their story.

What was the biggest challenge, and the greatest surprise, in the process of writing your first novel?

The biggest challenge, I think, is the part I am going through right now, being at peace with the book being out in the public to be judged. And reading reviews. I never thought about this when I was writing and re-writing. I only ever imagined that one girl might read my book and find hope there. The greatest surprise, for me, was the editing process, which was a wonderful experience thanks to my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel. For years, I have heard stories about how difficult the editing process can be, but my journey of re-writes was a completely positive process that only enhanced the manuscript. I always felt supported and understood—and I think that is rare in this business. I think my experience is a testament to Julie and the way she communicates with a writer.

How has your past work as an actress / singer / attorney / photographer prepared you for writing, and influenced your writing?

I think my background has made me a better writer because I have so much experience to draw from when I write. I use my training as an actress when creating characters. I also see everything like a film, and I hear the dialogue as if I were performing. As a singer and actress, I am comfortable speaking to people, and that helps when you have to promote your work. And as a songwriter, I have learned to tell a story with a minimum of words. You only have a few lines in a song to convey a whole range of emotions. Being a photographer helps me to see the work visually—it has enhanced my skills with color and detail which I use liberally in my writing. And being a lawyer has given me confidence and professionalism. It’s a lot of experience packed into one background, but I think it serves me well. Most of all, it gives me the perspective to appreciate the journey.

Speaking of preparation, how did you prepare yourself, emotionally and in terms of research, for writing a novel that features a character with a fatal eating disorder?

I read a number of books on eating disorders, some were written from a clinical perspective and others were first-hand accounts. It was painful research, but the more I read, the more I was certain that I wanted to tell this story. I did research on the process of grief, and I drew from my own experiences of grief. Emotionally, the book was draining to write, but I could not figure out a way to write this story without embracing the experience along with Jane.

In Jane in Bloom, Jane discovers her talent for photography. For Jane, photography has healing and transformative power, as it helps her to move through her grief and discover her strength. Why did you choose photography as Jane’s creative outlet and why do you think it helped her to grow into herself?

I wanted Jane to have a creative outlet, and I am the world’s worst artist. Even my children know this. I needed to be able to experience Jane’s creativity with her, and I was afraid art would be beyond my abilities and this would ring untrue. I wanted something visual so that the reader could see it in their mind. And I love photography. I have been shooting photographs since I was eight, so I went out and shot the photographs that Jane shoots in the book. I had never photographed flowers before, and it’s not easy. I think photography is a medium that allows you to disappear behind the lens but also share your emotions through the work. That worked for Jane and her journey of self-discovery. By standing behind the camera, you can shape the photograph. You have control over a little piece of the world for that moment. I wanted Jane to see that she could shape her own destiny. By using the camera, she was learning to trust her own vision. Continue reading

Watersmeet

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If I was a debut author, I’d be edge-of-my-seat nervous to see the final cover design for my first novel. I’d be terrified that it would turn out to be nothing like what I’d hoped for, completely bland or at the very worst, horribly ugly. I’m guessing that Ellen Jensen Abbott breathed a big sigh of relief, or perhaps even let out a giant whoop of happiness when she first laid eyes on the cover of Watersmeet. Isn’t it wonderfully dark and a shade spooky and don’t you just feel like the girl is staring right at you? Love it. This book is practically going to leap into teen’s hands, I think. Ellen is a member of the fab group of debut authors, The Class of 2k9, and Watersmeet is heading into stores in April. Here’s a sneak peek at what is sure to be a hit read among Fantasy-loving teens.

Abisina is an outcast in her village because of her unusual hair, eyes and skin, and because she has never known her father. She is not the only outcast in Vranille. In fact, her community turns against anyone who is different, calling them freaks, treating those who are different with cruelty. Abisina is spared some of this because her mother is the village healer and the residents depend upon her skills everyday. All of this changes, however, when a strangely powerful leader comes to Vranille and the villagers turn into a crazed mob, hunting down the outcasts and forcing Abisina to flee for her life into the wild northern landscape. So begins her journey to find her father and Watersmeet, the legendary place known to Abisina only through her mother’s stories. She imagines it will be the home she has always dreamed of, but nothing has prepared her for the secrets she will find there.

Ellen Jensen Abbott’s story is a satisfying, well-crafted fantasy yarn. You’ll recognize many mythic creatures throughout the adventure: dwarves, fauns, centuars, hags, trolls and fairies. At its simplest, this is a quest tale, and so if you’re at all familiar with the fantasy genre, you will settle quickly into this story and world that Ellen Jensen Abbott creates. I felt straight away that there was something old-fashioned about the tone and the characters – and I’m talking old-fashioned in a good way. About a chapter in, I was thinking, “Oh good, this is exactly what I was hoping for.” Perhaps it’s the way that Ellen has so convincingly drawn for the reader the societies she has imagined. Vranille is a miserable place, and you know it from the start. Watersmeet is full of magic and wonder. There is always enough attention to setting and environment to allow you to be right there with Abisina as she moves from one new experience to the next. In addition, Ellen makes clear the social and cultural differences among the various creatures and communities, from their different rituals to their unique types of music and stories and legends. This differentiation helped to make the whole reading experience that much richer, and made Watersmeet feel all the more exotic and real.

It’s certainly a coming-of-age story, as Abisina faces challenges on the way to discovering her family and her future path. She’s a tough cookie, and although hers is a world full of magic and violence and strange creatures, I don’t think that will prevent readers from connecting to the way she struggles to discover who she is, and what she is meant to do. I can see Watersmeet working beautifully in the classroom, because it offers complex exploration of many discussion-worthy themes: unity and conflict, prejudice and power, evil and forgiveness and family. Just in case you can’t figure out exactly how to take it into the classroom, have no fear! Ellen Jensen Abbott provides some of the best looking Teachers’ Guides I’ve ever seen. Honest. If you don’t find her suggestions inspiring, you’re in the wrong job. You don’t have to do a thing (other than buy the books and hand them to your students). Can you tell Ellen is an English teacher? Lucky kids.

From what I can see, Ii’s looking like there might be a sequel, which will make many readers happy indeed. Grab Watersmeet in April 2009. It is published by Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books. Tune in soon for an interview with Ellen!