Monthly Archives: May 2009


slobRecently, a very happy-making email popped into my INBOX. Ms. Ellen Potter (she of Olivia Kidney and Pish Posh fame), wrote to offer me an ARC of her soon-to-be released book, SLOB. I said, “YES PLEASE ELLEN!” and she very kindly obliged.

First, automatic bonus points for the fact that SLOB has a cookie on the cover. If I ever write a book, I will press for a cookie on the cover, and preferably, said cookie will have a bite out of it and some crumbs too. Cookies play a key part in the plot in this wonderful, hug-worthy book. Our hero, Owen Birnbaum is 12 years old, and he’s 57% fatter than the average boy his age. This is not all that is exceptional about Owen. He’s smart. Really smart. Not only that, I’d say he’s wise beyond his years too. He’s very much an outsider at school. Kids tease him. His sadistic gym teacher, Mr. Wooly, does all he can to shame Owen at every turn. In spite of this, Owen takes pleasure in small, private things: oreo cookies, inventions, his little sister Jeremy, the sound of his mom’s voice, and his momo-making friend, Nima. Life is ticking along when one day, a minor disaster strikes. Someone starts stealing the 3 Oreo cookies Owen has everyday in his lunch. As easygoing as he is, Owen is not letting this go.

Owen thinks he knows who is responsible: Mason Ragg, the super-nasty new kid with the scarred face and the switchblade in his sock. So Owen starts creating various traps to catch the thief. Meanwhile, he’s working on his most sophisticated invention ever, Nemesis, a machine that will allow him to see TV episodes that aired years before. Nemesis must succeed if Owen is to come to terms with an event that happened in his family two years ago. How all of these things come together is for you to find out. You will be delighted, and touched, by this character’s story.

I can’t think of many authors who meld whimsy and heartbreak and wonderfully realistic kid characters as naturally and confidently as Ellen Potter. Everything is just right. Just enough humor. Just enough tenderness and struggle. I appreciate an MG book that doesn’t strut characters’ issues all over the place, right from page one. I don’t want to reveal too much, but let’s just say that Owen has experienced his fair share of sadness, but you don’t know this until quite a ways into the story. Way to go Ellen Potter for getting that sometimes, it’s better to keep the tragedy in the background, because in fact, it can end up having a far more powerful impact on the reader when it is revealed after we feel that we know the character.

SLOB is about nurturing talent, making family work, doing what is good, and living with loss. There isn’t a single cliché in this short novel. You’ll be glad to have met Owen, and his crazy/wonderful little sister Jeremy (that’s right… I said sister. You’ll love her). This one gets 5 Oreos out of 5.

SLOB is published by Philomel.

Zen Monday: Picture + Poem


Still Life

If I could
step out of me
see into the rooms of my life,
my house, my closet, my corners

All those small things
everyday spaces
lost in time
in the whirl of days and lists and dust
and doing

The afternoon light,
the window left open
my mother’s old rug
the plant with the purple flowers
on the ledge
growing, leaning a little more
each day

Things so much
the same
exactly where I left them
by accident, on purpose
waiting right there
obvious and mysterious
questions and answers
all at once

(Copyright K. Millar 2009. Please do not reprint without permission).

(Photo by Mahalie)

Class of 2k9 Author Interview: Danielle Joseph

Author Photo D. JosephIt is my very great pleasure to host Class of 2k9 debut author, Danielle Joseph, for an interview. Her novel, Shrinking Violet, was released just this week, and you should pick it up, because it’s sweet and funny and romantic. Read my review here.

Welcome Danielle!

Tell us about the moment you found out your book would be published. How did you celebrate?

I was visiting my family in South Africa when I read the email from my agent. I was ecstatic! I celebrated by spending the day on the beach with my family. My two sons made me a cake out of sand. It was a beautiful day! The most wonderful thing was that my grandmother, an avid reader, was there to hear the news. She was sick and passed away several weeks later, but I know she was proud of me.

What was the most challenging part of writing your debut novel, and what did you do to overcome the challenge?

Really the most challenging thing was just laying down the plot and making sure all the key elements were there to tell a good story. I belong to two really great critique groups so I had a lot of great feedback along the way.

Do you outline or do you just hold onto your idea and dive right in?

I formulate an idea in my head, jot down some notes and then plunge right into the first chapter. After I get a few chapters down, I then go back and outline the first half of the book.

Best writing advice you’ve received: Just write! Really, if you only have ten minutes a day, then make those the best ten minutes.

Is your main character, Tere, like you?

I am similar to Tere in some ways. I too was shy growing up but not nearly as shy as Tere. We also share the same love of music, radio and the quest to follow our dreams no matter what obstacles might stand in our way.

In your novel, Tere wonders, “…if it’s ever too late to be somebody.” One way that she finds inspiration to express herself is through learning more about the life of Helen Keller. Who has inspired you?

There are many people that have inspired me over the years. I credit my teachers for helping me foster my love of writing by introducing me to the craft and my parents for encouraging me by listening to my stories. I also think Helen Keller is a great role model because she had to overcome such obstacles to become who she was. She really was a remarkable person that didn’t feel sorry for herself. It’s people like Helen, that make it against all odds, that really make me smile.

Shrinking Violet is about making your mark, being true to yourself and celebrating your own talents. What advice would you give to young people reading your book about how to achieve these things in their own lives?

The most important thing is to believe in yourself. If you have confidence in what you do than that’s all that should matter. Nothing happens overnight and things aren’t always easy but just like Tere you can perservere if you don’t give up. Make small obtainable goals and don’t let anyone stop you from dreaming, from being what you want to be.

What’s your earliest reading memory?

My mom used to read to me every night, a time of the day I used to really cherish. I had a book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes and I never tired of her reading those to me. The first book I read on my own was Go Dog Go by P.D. Eastman when I was four because I had it memorized. I was so proud of myself.

Five favourite books of all time: Wow, this is a hard question because I have enjoyed so many books over the years. Here are five that immediately jump to mind: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Tunes for Bears to Dance to by Robert Cormier, White Oleander by Janet Fitch, Born Blue by Han Nolan and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.

Most listened to song on your iPod: Hey There, Delilah by the Plain White T’s because my boys really enjoy singing it and it was the inspiration behind my next novel, Indigo Blues (Flux, Fall 2010).

Thanks so much Danielle for offering to do the interview!

And thank you for having me!


Happiness must be a box filled to the brim with your very own book!

Meg Cabot Contest: Airhead Giveaway!

FC_BC_0545040549.inddairhead_title It is my pleasure to announce a little contest here at Shelf Elf. I am going to be giving away 5 copies of the newly released paperback of Airhead, by Meg Cabot. Here’s a bit about the book:

Emerson Watts isn’t your average sixteen-year-old girl.  She loves playing video games with her best friend, Christopher, and has made peace with her less-than-supermodel-esque looks. But when she’s involved in a bizarre accident, she wakes up to find she’s now in the body of a supermodel. Who’s behind it? What’s the motive? And how can she get Christopher to realize she’s still the same person inside? From #1 New York Times bestselling author MEG CABOT comes Airhead, now available in paperback! And look for book 2 in the series, Being Nikki, in hardcover in stores now!

Beginning today, and running through to May 31st, all you have to do to enter the Airhead giveaway contest is leave a comment on this post, providing a creative / entertaining (and not-very-long) answer to this question:

If you woke up inside the body of a famous supermodel, would this be a dream-come-true or your worst nightmare?

Only one comment per person please and thank you! Winners will be announced on June 1st, and the paperback copies of Airhead sent out soon after. Sounds like the perfect summer read to me!

Here are a few reviews, to catch your interest:
Em’s Bookshelf
Pop Culture Junkie
A True Reality

The sequel to Airhead, Being Nikki, is out now in stores. Good thing too, because from what I’ve read, the first book ends with a major cliffhanger. Here is a little video clip created by Meg Cabot, showing some of the locations from the books. Love getting behind-the-scenes info! Pretty cool:

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.

readergirlz May: Latina Book Month!

May is shaping up to be a month filled with life-affirming, family-themed reads at readergirlz. The featured title, Laura Resau’s Red Glass, is one of the loveliest books I’ve read this year. It’s part romance, part travel story, part coming-of-age-adventure and it’s so poetic. Read my review for all sorts of reasons why you have to pick this book up. And, I must say the list of recommended reads on the FAMILY theme is so appealing that I’ve already ordered a bunch of the titles from my library. I’m feeling the latina beat already…

Here are lots of links to get this month going:

This month’s issue at the readergirlz website, complete with playlist, Q&A with Laura, discussion questions and party ideas.

The readergirlz blog where EVERYTHING happens — most importantly, the discussions all month long.

The roundtable discussion with me, Little Willow, and readergirlz divas, Lorie Ann and Holly.

Join us at the readergirlz blog on Wednesday May 20th, for the live chat with Laura.

Poetry Friday: Laundry


I do the laundry in our house. Not very well and not very gracefully. I am a grouchy laundry troll. This poem makes me consider the hidden beauty of clean clothes and starting off fresh each day.

by Ruth Moose

All our life
so much laundry;
each day’s doing or not
comes clean,
flows off and away
to blend with other sins
of this world. Each day
begins in new skin,
blessed by the elements
charged to take us
out again to do or undo
what’s been assigned.
From socks to shirts
the selves we shed
lift off the line
as if they own
a life apart
from the one we offer.
There is joy in clean laundry.
All is forgiven in water, sun
and air. We offer our day’s deeds
to the blue-eyed sky, with soap and prayer,
our arms up, then lowered in supplication.

Gorgeous. I cannot resist a poem about an ordinary thing, seen anew. I discovered this poem at Poetry Foundation. I want to find more Ruth Moose poems now (but I still don’t much feel like dealing with that laundry mountain…).

(Lovely laundry picture by clarity).