28 January 2013

Oh, happy day! The 2013 Printz Award Winner and Honor Books are here!

YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association) has announced its Michael L. Printz award winners for 2013! If you're looking for the next great book to read, you can't go wrong here. I've loved every Printz book I've ever read: SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson, THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION by Nancy Farmer, THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS by Carolyn Mackler, LOOKING FOR ALASKA and AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by John Green, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zuzak, GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray, SHIPBREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi and THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater to name a few. (Phew!)

So, march on over to your favorite book store or library and check out the latest literary lovelies.

This year's Printz winner is:

IN DARKNESS by Nick Lake

"In darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two." In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake a boy is trapped beneath the rubble of a ruined hospital: thirsty, terrified and alone. 

This year's Printz honor books are:


Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. After meeting at a swimming pool, they discover a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. 

CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

DODGER by Terry Pratchett

A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he's...Dodger.

THE WHITE BICYCLE by Beverley Brenna

The third stand-alone title in the Wild Orchid series about a young woman with Asperger's Syndrome, THE WHITE BICYCLE chronicles Taylor Jane's travels to the south of France where she spends a summer babysitting for the Phoenix family. 

Congratulations to the award recipients, and to those who will have the pleasure of reading these books. To see the full list of award recipients since 2000, go here.

21 January 2013

Author/Librarian Megan Frazer Blakemore on writing, reviews, and how kids choose books

First interview of 2013! Say hello to Megan Frazer Blakemore, author of the Young Adult novel SECRETS OF TRUTH & BEAUTY (Disney-Hyperion, July 2009) and a new Middle Grade novel, THE WATER CASTLE (Walker Books for Young Readers, January 2013). Megan lives in Maine where she's a school librarian by day and writer by night. You can learn more about her on her website or Facebook page. 

Q: Hi, Megan! Can you briefly tell us about your path to publishing? How long were you writing before your debut in 2009, and how did you find your agent and/or publisher?

Megan Frazer Blakemore
A: This is a complicated to answer. I knew I wanted to be a writer in 6th grade, and I pursued it diligently through college. Interestingly, I started the writing program at my college wanting to write YA, but was subtly discouraged. So, I was writing for adults, but nearly every story or novel had teenage characters. I was at the stage of getting a lot of positive rejections from magazines for my stories, and agents for a novel. Someone in the business suggested I try writing YA, and I started by trying to rework part of a long, messy manuscript that included flashbacks to the teen years -- essentially pulling out the past and restructuring it into a standalone novel. While doing that, I had the idea for Secrets of Truth & Beauty. Here's where things pick up in pace (this is about 8 years post college). I wrote and revised that novel quickly, and then started sending it to agents (within a year!). I always tell people the best way to make it through an agent search is to simultaneously be planning a wedding. It kept me from checking my email every five minutes. I used AgentQuery to find suitable matches. I sent out five query letters at a time. If I got a rejection, I sent a new one. My agent, Sara Crowe, was in that first set of five, and she actually called the Thursday before my wedding. We revised together, and she sent it out to publishers. This was in late 2007, so before things went really sour in the economy. It sold quickly and I was on my way. Like a lot of writers, I thought that meant things would be easy from then on out, but I really struggled to find a second successful project. That project is a middle grade, The Water Castle, which came out earlier this month from Walker Books.

Q: You also work as a high school librarian, which I imagine gives you some helpful insights into how teens choose and read books. For instance, how much are teens influenced by their peers? How important is a book's cover? Librarian recommendation? Other factors we may find surprising?

A: I worked as a high school librarian for seven years, and now I am in a middle school. For both groups, you've hit upon the biggies: peer recommendations (or perceived popularity of a book), cover, and librarian and teacher recommendations. Actually the other day I had a group of kids looking for books, and one boy said, "Don't judge a book by it's cover!" And a girl responded, "Why not? That's what it's there for. They design it to tell you what the book is about." So, yes, cover matters. Kids tend to pick up based on cover, then they read the description on back. Honestly, if I know one student has read a book, and I'm trying to recommend it to a second, I ask the first to describe the book to the second because I think peer to peer recommendations carry more weight. Another interesting piece is book trailers. My fifth graders love, love, love making them, and if I show them a trailer for a book, it gets them excited to read it, but I haven't yet seen them seek out the trailers on their own. So, if you make a trailer, you need to think about how you're going to get it in front of your audience.

Q: How has your work as a librarian informed your own writing?

A: The biggest benefit of working with kids and teens is that when I am writing about them, I can't underestimate them. Plus, I see their multitudes, as it were. The Water Castle tackles some fairly complex topics in terms of science and big life questions like, if you could live forever, would you? I never doubted that kids could handle this material because every day I go to work with smart kids who are looking to grapple with just this sort of thing.

Q: You write both YA and MG. How does your approach to the two differ?

A: The Water Castle actually started out as a YA with sort of magical elements, but I couldn't make it work. As I kept pecking at it, I realized the characters needed to be younger, and that opened it up to me. The initial writing process is probably the same -- I don't outline, I know where I want to end up and a vague idea of how I want to get there, and then I just write, write, write. I find revising MG easier than YA and that, for me, mostly has to do with length. When I'm revising my YA novels -- as I'm doing right now -- I feel like Mother Ginger in the Nutcracker trying to get all the kids back under her skirt. It's a lot of work to bring all the strands together. I use Srivener, and the outlining feature has saved me on more than one occasion.

Q: THE WATER CASTLE received a starred review from Kirkus. I've always wondered how that coveted star affects a book's success. Does it help in marketing and sales efforts? How important are favorable advance reviews?

A: I am so grateful for the starred review from Kirkus. I also was able to do an interview with Vicky Smith, children's book editor. That kind of support is really helpful, especially in the library community. The star went straight onto the back of the book, so certainly it helps with marketing. As for advance reviews, maybe that depends on the kind of book, but I think books can still build a slow buzz. It doesn't need to be a big splash.

Q: What are you working on now/next?

A: My next MG will be published in 2014, also by Walker. It doesn't have a title yet. It's set during the height of the Red Scare and it's about a girl, Hazel Kaplansky, whose family runs the town graveyard. She becomes convinced that the new gravedigger is a Soviet spy, and enlists Samuel, the new boy in town with his own secret history, to help her to prove it. As I mentioned above, I'm also revising a YA that I hope to send to my agent for feedback in the next week or two.

Thank you, Megan! The historical aspects of your MG novels sound fascinating... can't wait to check them out and I know my kids will love them, too. (And I'm very curious to see what the new YA is about... keep me posted!)

10 January 2013

Discovering a new favorite author

I don't have any interviews scheduled at the moment, so I hope you won't mind if I blather on about a new favorite author I've discovered: Patricia McCormick. (She's not new... but new to me.) 

I just finished reading her verse novel, SOLD, and have been sitting here in a bit of a daze. It left me feeling like I might hyperventilate, to be honest, that I'd been sucker-punched. It occurred to me that I was experiencing the true meaning of "gut-wrenching." 

SOLD is the story of a 13-year-old Nepali girl who is sold into prostitution. It is beautifully written but at times very difficult to read, as the horrible story unfolds and you realize how many girls have suffered a similar fate. (Patricia notes that nearly 12,000 Nepali girls are sold into sexual slavery in the brothels of India each year.) 

If you haven't read it, SOLD was published in 2007, and was a National Book Award finalist. So, too, is her latest novel: NEVER FALL DOWN. It is based on the true story of an 11-year-old boy who survived the Khmer Rouge by playing music in the Killing Fields. 

I love that Patricia is both journalist and novelist, that the two come together in her books in such a powerful way to educate her readers about issues they may never learn of otherwise. If you visit her website, you'll also find links to a number of organizations that are working on issues like child trafficking. 

What new favorite authors have you discovered recently? 

01 January 2013

The Best of Best of YA 2012

Here it is, New Year's Day... 2012 is over, the world did not end, and I'm surrounded by ever-growing piles of YA books waiting to be read. I discovered over the holidays that my teenage niece is a speed-reader, and I'm quite jealous. (She devoured four novels in less than twelve hours.) I've always been a slow-poke reader, lingering over every word and sentence as if it's being spoken to me aloud. (Which is quite enjoyable, but prevents me from enjoying as many books as I'd like.) 

Even so, I did read many fantastic YA novels over the past twelve months, including:

CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein
BITTERBLUE by Kristin Cashore
THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray
SHINE by Lauren Myracle
MIRACLE by Elizabeth Scot
A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness
DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver
THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater
HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr 
PURE by Julianna Baggott

There were many others, but that's my Top 12 list of favorites. 'Tis the season of "Best of" lists, isn't it? The YA community is no exception. I've been gathering up book recommendations from authors, bloggers, libraries... wherever the "Best of YA" lists appear. I decided to compile them here so they'll be easy to find when I'm deciding which book to read next. It's interesting to see which books show up on multiple lists, and which make single appearances (those, to be honest, are the ones I'm most curious about).

I'm pleased to present my Best of Best of YA Books of 2012:

Maggie Steifvater shared "Best Books of 2012," starting with THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tart. 

YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) offers a lengthy list of the Best Fiction for Young Adults. There's a link to their top 10 as well, which is listed in alphabetical order from Rae Carson's THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS to Sara Zarr's HOW TO SAVE A LIFE.

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green topped many lists, including the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012.

YALSA's Michael L. Printz Winner and Honor Books are listed here. The previous years are listed as well, and there are so many here I want to read. Topping the list is the 2012 winner: WHERE THINGS COME BACK by John Corey Whaley. 

Many of my own favorites also appeared on Kiersten White's Favorite Reads of 2012, along with THE PRINCESS ACADEMY: PALACE OF STONE by Shannon Hale, I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga, TIGER LILY by Jodi Lynn Anderson, and EVERY DAY by David Levithan. Must. Read. Soon.

Bookalicious shares its Best Books of 2012 in five YA categories, as well as best short story, best middle grade, and best self-published (LEOPARD MOON by Jeanette Batista).

Huff Post Teen suggested 10 Books You Should Read On Holiday Break, including the graphic novel DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier and NEVER FALL DOWN by Patricia McCormick. (I'm currently reading her 2007 book SOLD, a National Book Award Finalist.)

Lipstick and Literature has a lovely collection of The Best Reads of 2012, organized by genres including contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, sci-fi/dystopian and honorable mentions. Again, many listed are in my TBR pile, including THE MARA DYER SERIES by Michelle Hodgkin. 

Publisher's Weekly's Best Books 2012 starts off with THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachman. Also featured: WONDER by R.J. Palacio, THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen, and LIAR & SPY by Rebecca Stead (among others).

The Atlantic Wire presents its Y.A./Middle-Grade Book Awards for 2012 in categories such as "Best Prose" (THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater), "Most Worthy of Our Tears" (THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green), "Most Lyrical" (SMALL DAMAGES by Beth Kephart) and even the "Most Swoony" (MY LIFE NEXT DOOR by Huntley Fitzpatrick.

The New York Times offers its Notable children's Books of 2012, including YA, MG and picture books. Of the five listed under YA, I'm most curious about JEPP, WHO DEFIED THE STARS by Katherine Marsh. 

The Boston Globe also shared its Best Young Adult Books of 2012, with THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray and THE DISENCHANTMENTS by Nina LaCour.

Kelly Winfrey of Hello Giggles writes about Best YA Books of 2012 (that she read). Number one is WHY WE BROKE UP by Daniel Handler.

Maggie Stiefvater, Libba Bray, John Green and Elizabeth Wein all make appearances again on Forever Young Adult's Best YA Books of 2012, along with THE GIRL WHO FELL BENEATH FAIRYLAND AND LED THE REVELS THERE by Catherynn M. Valente, THE PRINCESSES OF IOWA by M. Molly Backes, and ASK THE PASSENGERS by A.S. King.

The Telegraph (UK) offered its Top 10 YA Books of 2012, which featured the most books I hadn't heard about. I'll have to see how many of them are available in U.S. 
And now over to The Daily Fig, where YA Authors Talk About Their Favorite Books of 2012. "Malinda Lo raved about THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST by Emily M. Danforth." 

Two lists I came across focused solely on favorite book covers of 2012. You'll find the pretty over at Pure Imagination and YALSA.  Appearing on both lists are FINGERPRINTS OF YOU by Kristin-Paige Madonia, THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass, and MEANT TO BE by Lauren Morrill.

Finally, if your voracious appetite for YA still isn't sated... pop on over to NPR for their 100 Best Ever Teen Novels.  

That should keep y'all busy for a while. 

Now, have I missed any? If you blogged a best-of list in 2012 or read a good one, let me know about it in the comments!

Another great "best of" list I missed, "Top Ten of 2012" by Denise Jaden... with GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn, PUSHING THE LIMITS by Katie McGarry, IN HONOR by Jessi Kirby and others.

UPDATED AGAIN: As if I didn't already have too many books on my TBR list, the 2013 Teen Choice Award nominees have been listed. Not easy choosing my five favorite of 2012 from this list!