Monthly Archives: September 2009

Class of 2k9 Author Interview: Lauren Bjorkman


Lucky us! Class of 2k9er Lauren Bjorkman is hanging out at Shelf Elf today, celebrating her awesome debut, My Invented Life. Every minute of her book is a romp. Every minute of her book made me happy. Welcome Lauren!

If you had to sell My Invented Life to a potential teen reader in two sentences or less, what would you say?

Ack! I hate selling anything—trauma from trying to unload newspaper subscriptions in middle school. That said, here’s my attempt:

If you have a sister that drives you crazy, if you’ve ever dreamed of being on stage, if you enjoy cursing in Shakespearean, if you’ve ever kept a secret, read this book.

Tell us about your journey to publication and the moment you learned your book would become a book.

The first step was all about overcoming fear. What if I had nothing worthwhile to say? But after I finally dared to write and finish a novel, I was hooked. Still, it took a few years of tapping away on my computer, getting critique, and going to workshops to learn the craft. During that time, I submitted my first (yet unpublished) novel to editors.

Later, after writing a second novel, I moved onto querying agents. In the midst of preparing my submission, a happy event shortened the process. I took a novel writing course taught by an author and MFA instructor. He referred me to his agent based on the piece I brought to his workshop. And his agent wanted to represent me.

A few months later, Henry Holt offered on my book. I think I hyperventilated because the whole memory has a dream-like quality. After I hung up with my agent, I paced around my house, calling family and friends who’d supported me over the years (the ones who kept their questions as to why I kept writing after so many rejections themselves). Thankfully, we live in the era of cordless phones, or I would’ve tied myself up.

Best writing advice for aspiring authors: To thine ownself be true.
Best cure for writer’s block: Sit down and write anything, even if it’s tripe and entrails. Eventually something good will come out of you.
Best snack while writing: Things that go crunch—popcorn, nuts, tortilla chips, even carrots. And large doses of chocolate for when you’re feeling blue. I feel very sorry for writers who don’t like chocolate.

Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline? Are you a post-it person? Do you have any secret writing tricks that are “uniquely Lauren”?

Usually one idea keeps coming back to me—sort of like a haunting—and I go with it. After that, I begin to imagine my main character. I love to people watch, so the spark for my protagonist often starts with an incident I observe. In the case of Roz, the incident happened at a craft fair. A (very tall) young woman crossed the street to join a group. She danced, flung her arms around, talked animatedly, and then bounced away like an overgrown Labrador. After she left, some of her friends shook their heads and whispered, as if to say. “What was that?” Thus Roz—the one girl tornado—was born.

I’ve never successfully used an outline. This translates into beaucoup revising. Not that I haven’t tried outlining, but it sucks all the joy out of writing for me. As I get ideas for character and plot, I scribble them down on bits of paper I happen to have handy. Later, I transcribe my “notes” at the end of the manuscript. Recently, when I sent the second draft of my work-in-progress to my agent, I forgot to delete these notes. She wrote back, very puzzled about my “ending.” Oops. Continue reading


Winter’s Tail – Review & Giveaway


*Thanks to all those who left comments on this post. A winner has been selected and contacted. Happy Reading!*

Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again is a new offering from the authors who brought us Owen & Mzee, Knut and Looking for Miza (Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff and Craig Hatkoff). I’m a sucker for an animal rescue story, and all of the Hatkoffs’ books have inspired such enthusiastic response from my students, so I was happy to see they’ve headed into new, watery territory for their latest work. Here’s the publisher’s teaser text:

“When Winter, an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, was just three months old, she was rescued from a crab trap off the coast of Florida , and her tail was seriously damaged. She was rushed to Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It wasn’t clear that she would survive, but to everyone’s amazement, she did. Eventually though, her tail fell off, which caused Winter to compensate by swimming more like a fish than a dolphin. Over time, it was clear that she was seriously damaging her spine. But, for the last year, Winter has been learning to use a prosthetic tail. The idea came from a company that makes prosthetics for humans. It was challenging, but Winter is thriving and using her new tail with great command.

Winter is an inspiration to everyone, especially to children and adults who face challenges themselves. Many follow her blog and write e-mails to her. Day after day, the crowds come to Clearwater for a close-up look at Winter, the little dolphin that could.”

As with their previous books, the authors focus on the resilience of the animal and the amazing lengths that the human caregivers go to in order to restore and support the animal’s quality of life. The text is engaging, presenting Winter’s story in a highly narrative style, with vocabulary that is totally accessible to a young audience. Photographs take you inside the aquarium at different stages in Winter’s rehabilitation and there is a substantial amount of additional information at the end of the book on the Clearwater Aquarium, dolphins and training and also on the prosthetic company that created Winter’s tail. I’m eager to integrate this text into my unit on Habitats and on animal adaptations. I’d like to get the kids thinking about how nature informs and inspires technology and vice versa.

There’s a great website for teachers and kids and a trailer that you could show your students:

I’m happy to be able to offer one giveaway prize – a lovely package of dolphiny-type-treats:

  • Dolphin Plush
  • Dolphin Key Chain
  • Winter’s Tail game for Nintendo DS
  • Copy of Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again Book

The giveaway is open participants with a United States mailing address only (international readers may enter if they have a friend in the States who can accept their prizes by mail!) It will run for 2 weeks after this post date (to about October 15th) and the winner will be contacted by email. Be sure you include your email someplace so that I can reach you. Just drop off a comment below to enter.

Winter’s Tail is published by Scholastic Press.

My Invented Life

inventedlifePart of the great fun and excitement in reading debut authors is that if you find a really good one, you feel filled up with happiness in thinking of all of the great reading that is in store for you down the road, as this writer keeps on writing. This is exactly my feeling about Lauren Bjorkman. Her first novel, My Invented Life, is a fantastic look at sisterhood, drama geeks, and the far-from-simple subject of sexual identity. Funny with depth = my idea of pure reading delight.

Roz and Eva have always been as close as sisters can be. They share interests and friends and secrets. Sometimes, they’ve shared boyfriends (though not at the same time). In fact, currently, Roz would be more than happy if Eva would hand over her guy, sexy skate god Bryan. Roz hasn’t ever minded much that Eva is the prettier sister, the more talented sister, the more popular sister. She loves Eva like crazy, and that’s why it’s driving her nuts that Eva seems to be shutting her out. When Roz gets the idea that Eva has fallen hard for her friend and cheerleading partner, Carmen, she tries to get Eva to come out, but it isn’t so simple. So Roz comes up with a crazy scheme hoping to inspire her sister to open up. She decides to pretend she’s lesbian, to try coming out just to see what happens and gauge the response of their group of friends. Needless to say, her plan gets a lot of attention, and far from making things easier, just ends up turning everything upside down. Toss into the mix all of the gender-bending action in their school production of As You Like It, and Roz can barely keep up with the general insanity. It turns out that her invented life is no easier to manage than her real life, but it sure makes her think about labels and trust and the course of true love.

There is a wild and crazy energy to this book, and Roz is at the heart of it all. Whether she’s skidding into dangerous territory with the sleazy-but-hot Bryan, or designing a new “femme lesbian” style for her starring role in “The Lesbian of Yolo Bluffs High”, or reading sentimental coming out stories online, she’s always going about 100 miles an hour. She springs off the page. She’s one of the most “alive” characters I’ve come across lately, like a gust of fresh air. You won’t always agree with her choices, but you can’t stop yourself from wishing she was your best friend in high school. Think of all the fun/trouble you’d have had.

Another great pleasure in My Invented Life is the cast of quirky secondary characters. Just when you think you’ve got each one figured out (“Oh yeah, there’s the nice guy love interest…” “OK, here’s the damaged but cool girlfriend…”) Bjorkman twists things around to show you a side of a character that you hadn’t predicted. Nobody is one dimensional (except maybe Bryan, “the sleazeball”). You know you’ve arrived at a whole different level of YA fiction when you find yourself imagining novels following the lives of several secondary characters.

If you’re feeling a little bit uncertain about the playful way in which Roz responds to her sister’s sexuality, I hear ya. At the beginning I was uneasy about Roz “pretending” to be a lesbian, just for the fun of it, treating coming out as a game, or as acting practice. But fear not! Bjorkman takes Roz from her prankish and somewhat disrespectful starting place towards real insights about the complexity of sexual identity. I was happy with the “all’s well that ends well” spirit of the ending, but perhaps there might be readers out there who feel it romanticizes the reality of teens who question their sexual identity. I’m curious to see what others say.

My Invented Life is a romp, but the issues it plays with are certainly worthy of discussion. I’ll be reading whatever Lauren Bjorkman writes next. (I’ll also be playing with the Elizabethan Curse Generator I found linked at her blog. Thanks Lauren!)

My Invented Life is published by Henry Holt tomorrow (September 29/2009).

Authors who are also great bloggers

Some of my favourite blogs in the kidlitosphere are those written by authors of books for kids and young adults. Today’s post is a shout-out to some of my most-visited author-blogs, featuring links to a few of their most impressive posts of late.

First up. Mitali Perkins, who blogs at Mitali’s Fire Escape. Reasons to love Mitali’s blog:

  • She’s always highlighting books and authors of diverse backgrounds, interests and histories. I’ve discovered so many wonderful authors I had never read via her blog.
  • Mitali writes with great insight about issues of multiculturalism, class and ethnicity and how those topics intersect with children’s literature.
  • She is a remarkable tweeter – a gifted and frequent twitterer. Follow her on twitter.
  • I am a big fan of one of her newish additions to her blog, “Twelve Second Questions,” in which she asks a question in… 12 seconds. These are good questions folks. Juicy questions. Then she invites you to share your opinions, because that’s just the kind of gal Mitali is.

Next in line… Lisa Yee! Lisa blogs at The Lisa Yee Blog. (Quel coincidence!) Reasons to love Lisa’s blog:

  • Lisa’s blog has SO many pictures. That may not seem super impressive or interesting, but I find that the photos on her blog are often hilarious, and they offer us such a glimpse into her life, the author’s life. That’s really one of the best aspects of Lisa’s blog. You feel as you read it that you really get an understanding of a writer’s life. There are all sorts of behind-the-scenes moments and industry sneak-peeks. Lisa shows you a lot. I mean, look at all of these pictures.
  • Lisa’s dog. Holy cow her dog is cute. (Sorry – I am such an impossibly enthusiastic dog person that I had to devote a bullet to appreciation of Lisa’s pooch. Look at this photo. Am I right, or what?)
  • Finally, Peepy. There are no words. Peepy must be experienced. Click here.

Another of my regular stops is Beth Kephart Books. Reasons to love Beth’s blog:

  • Gorgeous writing. No surprise, since Beth’s books are gorgeous. But it’s rare to find a blog that reads as if the writer spent a lot of time considering how to say what she wants to say, in just the right way. That’s Beth. Just the right words in just the right way. Here’s a tiny perfect post I could read a whole lot of times. Even the title is rich enough to ponder.
  • She shares what inspires her, like this video of the children of Anapra, giving us a peek into her process of story creation.
  • It’s full of wisdom and opinions and scenes from life. And the photos. Beautiful.

I’m thinking I might make this a feature: Great Author/Bloggers. Thanks to Lisa and Mitali and Beth for writing books and blogs for us too!

Poetry Friday: Things


I have sleep on the brain. Three weeks of days filled with 33 nine-year olds has finally caught up with me. I am exhausted already. They’re the cutest kids imaginable, but gosh, they take a lot out of a girl. This weekend will involve an escape to the north and a lot of time spent dozing in a hammock. Here’s a poem that keeps coming back to sleeping.

Things – by William J. Smith

Trains are for going,
Boats are for rowing,
Seeds are for sowing,
Noses for blowing,
And sleeping’s for bed.

Dogs are for pawing,
Logs are for sawing,
Crows are for cawing,
Rivers for thawing,
And sleeping’s for bed.

Flags are for flying,
Stores are for buying,
Glasses for spying,
Babies for crying,
And sleeping’s for bed.

Cows are for mooing,
Chickens for shooing,
Blue is for bluing,
Things are for doing,
And sleeping’s for bed…

Read the rest at Poetry Foundation.

(And no, this poem has nothing to do with adorable kittens. I just needed a picture of one to keep me awake right now. Thanks to Nathonline’s flickr stream for the kitty pic).

You Are So Undead to Me

you are so undead I started listening to this a few weeks back and it got me through my first cold of the academic year, a mountain of unfolded laundry and yucky housework, and some very early morning dog walks, all with a smile on my face. Gotta love audiobooks for adding a tiny element of self-spoiling to otherwise mundane / unappealing chores. I chose this one because I had a feeling it would blend tongue-in-cheek humour with a fast-paced, don’t-have-to-think-too-much plot. Not having to think too much is essential at the beginning of the school year. Stacy Jay’s You Are So Undead to Me is perfect when you’re after light reading with smart characters, some great humourous scenes, and a whole lot of zombie action. If fun is something that’s required, then look no further.

Megan is a Zombie Settler, descended from a long line of Zombie Settlers, one of the more unusual skills one might inherit. The idea here is that a dead person becomes a zombie when she or he has unresolved issues at the time of death, and in order to rest in peace, the zombie seeks out a settler who listens to the problem, and promises to fix things up. Then the zombie goes away for good. Unlike the zombies in the movies, these zombies are fairly polite and patient and don’t try to eat you. They groan a lot. They stink, but they aren’t in relentless pursuit of human flesh. At 15, Megan’s settling powers are becoming stronger than they ever were before and this means that a whole lot of zombies are seeking her out to solve their problems. This isn’t so great when a girl is trying to maintain a social life, and she must keep her powers secret so that her family won’t be relocated by Settlers’ Affairs. Megan may not like it, but she’s trying to make all of this work, and take her responsibilities as a Settler seriously. Things aren’t so bad until someone at her school starts working some seriously black magic, threatening Megan and all the kids at school with a brutal zombie attack on the night of the homecoming dance. Now it’s Megan’s job to fix everything, to save homecoming and herself before the undead win the day.

Phew! I am kind of a tired Elf tonight, so the rest of my review is presented in point form (as my students say, “Can I just do it in point form?”):

Why I liked it:

  • Funny parts (especially when the zombies showed up on Megan’s doorstep and she would greet them, “Hello, welcome to your after death session.”)
  • There’s a cute Zombie Settler boy (he comes in handy)
  • It reminded me in tone of another favourite funny & adventurous series that doesn’t take itself too seriously: Ally Carter’s I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You (this is a major compliment because I am such a fan of Ally’s books)
  • Awesome zombie attack sequences

What I wish was different:

  • I was having trouble guessing the identity of the villain all the way to the end, but then it was hinted at way too loud and clear for my liking. It killed the suspense that had been so well-sustained for the whole narrative. I think the revelation should have been done all-of-a-sudden, with zero warning, for more impact.
  • Nothing else. It’s just right. It’s fully entertaining as is.
  • That I had an ARC of Jay’s next book, the follow up title, Undead Much?

You have a shot at winning your own ARC of Undead Much? Just take a look at the fan art at Stacy’s blog and then create your own masterpiece to send to Stacy for a chance at one of her ARCs. (I can’t draw, but I can write nice reviews…)

You are So Undead to Me is published by Razorbill.

readergirlz Read Beyond Reality


I am beyond excited about what readergirlz has planned for YALSA Teen Read Week. The theme for this year’s Teen Read Week is Read Beyond Reality (I love all the directions this theme can go!) Here’s an excerpt of the press release explaining how readergirlz is getting involved this year:

In support of this tremendous literary initiative, the readergirlz divas will host nine young-adult authors—eight of whom are nominees for the Teens’ Top Ten—throughout Teen Read Week. By visiting, teens will be able to chat with these author stars, live, to ask burning questions about the authors’ books, find out about their daily lives, and learn about their writing process.

The week’s chats will culminate with an online gala celebration, where Sylvia Engdahl, a pioneer in young-adult science fiction, will be hosted and honored for her contributions to the literary landscape.

Like the monthly chats readergirlz is known for, the five-day series of candid online conversations with authors includes giveaways of signed books and swag from Promising to be a stellar week, the complete line-up is as follows:

* Monday, Oct. 19: Beyond Imagination with authors Justina Chen Headley (NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL), Alyson Noël (EVERMORE) and Zoe Marriott (DAUGHTER OF THE FLAMES)
* Tuesday, Oct. 20: Beyond Hardship with rgz diva Lorie Ann Grover (HOLD ME TIGHT), Elizabeth Scott (LIVING DEAD GIRL) and Lynn Weingarten (WHEREVER NINA LIES)
* Wednesday, Oct. 21: Beyond Daily Life with rgz diva Holly Cupala (TELL ME A SECRET), Lisa McMann (WAKE) and Cynthia Leitich Smith (ETERNAL)
* Thursday, Oct. 22: Beyond Our World with rgz diva Melissa Walker (LOVESTRUCK SUMMER), Cassandra Clare (CITY OF ASHES) and Patrick Ness (THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO)
* Friday, Oct. 23: Into Our Beyond with rgz diva Dia Calhoun (AVIELLE OF RHIA) and pioneering YA sci-fi author Sylvia Engdahl (ENCHANTRESS FROM THE STARS)

It all happens at the rgz forum ( beginning at 6 p.m. Pacific Time (9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time), Oct. 19-23.

Read the full press release by readergirlz publicist Sara Easterly here. Head to the blog for the downloadable rgz Teen Read Week poster, plus the groovy banner in all sorts of sizes designed by diva Holly Cupala (what can’t this gal do?)

Now watch the trailer:

(Holly’s work again!) I plan to read as many of the featured books as I can before next month. Right now, I’m working on Wherever Nina Lies. Review soon!

Can’t wait to Read Beyond Reality! Be sure to join in!

Dani Noir

final-cover-dani-72-2Every so often I’ll read a book written for kids or teens and I will feel sad that it wasn’t around when I was actually a kid or a teen. It might be because the story has an element that I think only kids can fully appreciate, say something particularly silly or wildly imaginative, and I’ll wonder what the 10-year old me would have thought about it. Or it might be, as is the case with Nova Ren Suma’s outstanding debut tween mystery, Dani Noir, that I think the book could have opened me up to something years before I actually ended up experiencing that thing in my life, and here I’m talking about black and white films. If I’d been able to read Dani Noir as a kid, I would have become a film nut at the age of ten, I am convinced of it. Forget the fact that my tiny hometown didn’t even have a video rental place for most of my formative years, let alone an arty movie theatre showing film noir every night of the week. I would have made it happen somehow with my 3 television channels and giant old family TV. This book might have turned me into the film nerd I am today, but twenty years sooner.

It’s the summer before eighth grade and Dani Callanzano has a lot of time on her hands. The last thing in the world she wants to do is go visit her dad, who now lives across the river with his fiancée and her horrid daughter Nichole, but there isn’t much to do in Shanosha either. Good thing she’s got the Little Art, a tiny movie theater that brings some drama to Dani’s otherwise unexciting mountain town. Dani’s on a film noir kick, and her favourite actress of-the-moment is Rita Hayworth. Dani says, “Most kids my age have no clue who she is. When they think of a big movie star they think of someone like Jessica Alba. But if Jessica and Rita Hayworth were in the same scene and the cameras were rolling you’d forget Jessica was even there.” (Aren’t you liking this kid already?) After an awful first visit her her dad’s new place, Dani heads back to Theater 1, taking refuge in front of the movie screen. It isn’t long, however, before her favourite escape becomes the centre of a mystery, revolving around a strange girl in polka dot tights. When Dani’s imagination starts rolling, things only get more complicated and she starts to see how real life can get be whole lot messier than the movies.

I loved how Dani likes to reimagine her world as if she was making a film, in the director’s chair. Chapter One was really brilliant, as Dani narrates her life at the moment as if she was directing a film about it: “The room would be dark and you’d get a close-up of just my face. That’s when I’d do this whole series of expressions with my eyes. You see fear. Joy. Rage. Bliss. Misery. Passion. Plus lots more stuff I don’t even know the words to. Then I’d take a few steps out of the frame and the shadows would swallow me. And no one would be able to find me after that.” The book is full of great passages like that, that reveal Dani’s flair for the dramatic and her vulnerability all at once. She’s a nuanced, complicated character. She wants drama, but doesn’t. She wants drama when it’s on the screen, but not when she’s living it. I think that’s just such a true observation about being a kid. Most kids crave drama but when it shows up, they want normal back: “Sometimes the bad guy is a person you love. A person you can’t just kick out of your life. And when the movie ends, and the curtain goes down, and the audience leaves the theater, you’re stuck in what’s known as real life. That’s where all the lights are on and the flawed people you’re related to are saying lines you don’t want to hear and there’s no one to yell “Cut!” to make it sop.” Any kids of divorced families who can relate to that? Hands up? I thought that Nova Ren Suma portrayed Dani’s confusion and hurt about her family situation perfectly. She’s mad but she doesn’t know if she should be, or who she can blame, or if she should blame anyone. All of it’s there.

I’d read more stories featuring Dani in a heartbeat. Dani’s a star in the making. Visit the book’s website for lots more and take a closer look at the development of the stunning cover art at Marcos Calo’s blog. Please let lots of kids discover Dani.

Other reviews:

Bri Meets Books

Fuse 8

Educating Alice

Reading Rants

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

The critics can’t decide if they want to gobble this movie up, or serve up the leftovers to the pooch. Personally, I think it looks like fun. The book has always been a favourite of mine for its silliness.

I’m going, for sure.

And yes, I get that the movie’s website is ultimately all about selling tickets, but who could resist having a little fun with the monkey in the 3-D food fight game? Not me. So, time for a little flying food-inspired poll:

Skeleton Creek

skeletonTwo years ago I would have rolled my eyes if someone had put Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek in my hands. The “multi-media” content (that is, videos and text combined) would have made me an instant skeptic. I probably would have labeled it as gimmicky and shelved it without a moment’s pause. Now that I am much more technologically enlightened, only a tiny bit of skepticism lurked as I started reading (watching?) this book a few days back. I was actually pretty excited to see how the video / text concept worked out. All it took was one video installment and I was hooked. Kind of made me wonder if even the purest, most traditional bookworm can’t be seduced by a little film.

Privacy is a religion in Skeleton Creek. For Ryan McCray and his best friend Sarah Fincher, it’s always felt like everyone in town had secrets. For instance, why was their town’s name changed to Skeleton Creek and why is there a secret society known as The Crossbones? In the past, the town was connected to the now bankrupt New York Gold and Silver Company and the teens are certain that an abandoned dredge, once used to mine gold, is at the center of the mystery they feel permeating the Creek. So they investigate the dredge one night and an accident leaves Ryan with a serious broken leg and also results in both of their sets of parents forbidding the two to see or communicate with each other for good. But neither of them can forget what they saw, or think they saw, that night. Ryan writes all that he remembers in his journal and Sarah continues to stay in touch with him through vlogs that she sends to him, which include footage of their night at the dredge and other film that she takes as she continues looking for answers. As the friends get closer to some kind of truth, they have to ask themselves, should they return to the dredge and face what they think is inside, or stop asking the questions that might lead to the worst kind of accident imaginable? Continue reading