Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Early Peek: The Marvels by Brian Selznick

The Marvels
by Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press
640 pages
ISBN: 9780545448680

Available September 15, 2015

From the publisher:

"Caldecott Award winner and bookmaking trailblazer Brian Selznick once again plays with the form he invented and takes readers on an awe-inspiring voyage!

Two seemingly unrelated stories-one in words, the other in pictures-come together with spellbinding synergy! The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle's puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries. How the picture and word stories intersect will leave readers marveling over Selznick's storytelling prowess.Filled with mystery, vibrant characters, surprise twists, and heartrending beauty, and featuring Selznick's most arresting art to date, The Marvels is a moving tribute to the power of story. "

My Thoughts:

I got the first peek with a mailing of the "Sneak Peek" in March 2015. A smidgeon of the much larger tome arrived and I was mesmerized by the beauty of the illustrations! Just 18 pages of illustrations and I got the feel of the story. The publisher will send the ARCs out in May and I honestly can't wait until it arrives. It's pretty tricky to send a small taste of something so wonderful, so otherworldly, so broadly beautiful and so anticipated.

"Innovative storytelling" with first Selznick's fantastic art and then the prose story which seems at first not related to the first story. In 1766 a young boy is shipwrecked and later rescued. Billy ends up in London and grows up in a theatre. Many years later, another young outsider arrives at the theater and begins to discover its mysteries.

An animated book trailer is in the works and the publisher will feature a classroom guide and a special "World of Brian Selznick" area on its website.

This book is sure to cause a frenzy in the middle grades market and is likely to win even more fans for Selznick. If your readers loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret, they are bound to love The Marvels.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I did not receive monetary compensation for the review of this first peek.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

YA Pick: Mosquitoland

by David Arnold
342 pages
ISBN: 9780451470775


Kids' Indie Next List "Top Ten" Pick (Spring 2015)

ABA Indies Introduce Debut Authors and New Voices title

A Junior Library Guild selection

"In Mosquitoland, David Arnold has created one of the most unique narrative voices to show up in the world of young adult fiction. I don't remember life before Mim, and I don't want to. Mosquitoland is equal parts sharp, sad, and surreal.  This book is genius, war paint and all."

—John Corey Whaley, National Book Award Finalist and Printz-winning author of Where Things Come Back and Noggin

“David Arnold’s writing is both heartfelt and hilarious. You will fall in love with Mim, even as her grand journey will keep you guessing. Mosquitoland reminds us that sometimes imperfect is just perfect.”

—Ruta Sepetys, New York Times bestselling author of Between Shades of Gray

"Wholly enjoyable... There is no shortage of humor in Mim’s musings, interspersed with tender scenes and a few heart-pounding surprises. Mim’s triumphant evolution is well worth the journey. "
-- Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

"Arnold pens a stunning debut, showcasing a cast of dynamic characters... Mesmerizing." -- Kirkus, STARRED review

"Arnold boldly tackles mental illness and despair, and sexual assault and sexual identity, without ever once losing the bigheartedness of the story. . . In the words of one of Mim's Greyhound seatmates, Mosquitoland has pizzazz--lots and lots of it." -- Booklist, STARRED review

It's a breath of fresh air when a novel like David Arnold's Mosquitoland bucks the usual classifications and stands defiantly alone. . . like any odyssey worth embarking on, what the heroine—and the reader—finds along the way is far more interesting than we ever could have expected.” —Entertainment Weekly (full review)

“A YA road trip novel that takes you across the country, with a protagonist on her way to visit her hospitalized mother. And can we talk about that gorgeous cover for a second? My goodness. Get me a poster, right now.” —The Huffington Post

“A wacky road trip... [Mim's] voice is so singular and full of heart.” —The Horn Book

“This book makes me wish I were a school librarian, just so I could buy ten copies for my collection.” —Barnes & Noble Teen Blog

Mosquitoland is that one road trip book that will change your thinking! Mim Malone is at a crossroads in every facet of her life. Uprooted from her mother, taken to live in rural Mississippi, aka, Mosquitoland, Mim hates living with her father and her newly acquired and newly pregnant step-mother. Something bad has happened to her mother in Ohio. The adults won't tell Mim what is going on, but Mim is going to find out. Having made the decision to split Mosquitoland, Mim "steals" money from her stepmother's hidden coffee can cache and buys a bus ticket.

Everything that can go wrong does. As the story unravels, so does Mim, literally. Fighting off mental illness is no joke, but Mim doesn't want to take any more drugs for her "condition." Her parents have tried to get her help in the past. She liked her first doctor but doesn't trust the next one. He just wants to medicate the problem, not cure it. The beauty of this story is in its telling. Mim is one unforgettable character; her voice is strong and true, albeit sometimes off kilter and sometimes wonderfully warped.

The passengers of the bus are laughable. Mim is at her poetic best when describing her traveling counterparts. Several near death experiences, rotten con men, a scary rapist, a maybe, someday hero, a special homeless kid with a knack for the Rubik's cube  and a meeting with her mother will cause Mim to come to terms with her own illness. Readers will root for Mim, a not-so-strong, not-so-brainiac, not-so-wonderful, not-so-normal Everygirl. Mim may not be the normal heroine, but she's got moxie and spunk! There should be more Mims in YA fiction. David Arnold, you are a character genius!

You will love this book for its every quirky turn.

Highly, highly recommended grade 9-up. Mature content, language, rape, but laughter, lots of laughter.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Picture Book Pick: Glamourpuss

by Sarah Weeks
illustrations by David Small
Scholastic Press
40 pages
ISBN: 9780545609548

This beautiful cover will glitter off of the shelf. Glamourpuss has arrived and in high fashion, too!

Glamourpuss is a spoiled, coddled cat who lives in the lap of luxury with her millionaire "parents" in a huge mansion. She has her own diva-licious room complete with canopy bed. She eats at the dinner table off of china and crystal. Glamourpuss is much too fabulous to chase mice and instead of saying "Meow" like every other run of the mill cat, she says "ME!" She hasn't a care in the world...that is, until her owner's sister comes to visit from Houston with her spoiled little Chihuahua.

Bluebelle has a wardrobe! Imagine! A dog with a wardrobe. Not only that, she does tricks which the humans applaud. While Bluebelle is getting all the human affection, Glamourpuss begins to sulk, to slink, to become depressed and even begins to doubt herself. A funny turn of events causes the cat and dog to become friends and Glamourpuss learns to adapt.

Vocabulary is introduced with humor. Young readers will learn new words: "precious, dislike, haughty, disdain, luxury, descended, reclined, and extended" among many others.  Glamourpuss is one over-the-top diva who is all about her exterior and may remind even young readers of recent media celebrities.

Highly, highly recommended. Glamourpuss is one character you simply cannot miss and you will never forget! Age 3-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the F & G from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Poetry Pick: Changes: A Child's First Poetry Collection

Changes: A Child's First Poetry Collection
Poems by Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrations by Tiphanie Beeke
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
40 pages
ISBN: 978149260168

Available April 1, 2015
(originally published in 1967)

Changes: A Child's First Poetry Collection celebrates the changing of the seasons through the eyes of a child. A child experiences: wonder at the first snowflake, the silence of that first night snowfall, the cold, clean bite of the snow or the first crocus peeking out or picking violets or  a Japanese beetle up close and marveling at his rainbow of colors. A fly lands on the page of a book and instead of swatting it away, the reader watches as the fly stays on just one word.

Some of the poems are remarkably short in length but what they lack in length they make up in strength.  The poem "Crocus" is only three lines long yet contains a simile and personification in just ten words! The book begins with spring and closes with a poem reminiscing on a grandfather's love and the passage of time. The seasons cycle each year yet each year brings the same: the same warm summer breezes, the same wildflowers and birds, the sky brings the same stars, the moon still shines as brightly, and we--all of us--both children and adults remember the seasons and the passage of time.

Beautiful artwork by Tiphanie Beeke celebrate each poem and evoke strong memories of happiness, family and home. Even a child who has never experienced snow can experience the cold bite of it from the winter poems. A child who has never been to the beach can experience it from the beach-y illustrations.

Charlotte Zolotow's 100th birthday would have been in 2015, so it is profoundly fitting that her book of poetry for children will celebrate this important milestone. She influenced children's publishing as both a publisher and a writer.

Highly, highly recommended for young readers and poetry buffs. This book could easily be used to teach several elements of figurative language. Poetry need not be bombastic and grandiloquent. Sometimes less is more; in this case, much, much more. In this "simple" book of children's poetry, truth lives. This is a book I love!

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reveal: Beware the Sheep

Beware the Sheep
by M. Lewis-Lerman


Enter the world of Eaux: it's a land of flying Arks and Jarred Flummox, of underground societies and evil underlings. Individuality wins over conformity here, originality over sameness. 

But when illness strikes and a maniacal underground ruler threatens to destroy all that is ‘different,’ 16 year old Livi Dixon must lead a group of unlikely allies -- not because of her bravery or abilities -- but out of necessity and fear. 

With the hope of a cure, Livi makes a reckless gamble that just may save her best friend's life -- but at what cost? 

With her new friends (a strange and sundry group of outsiders including a handsome escaped prisoner and a kind but secretive old man), Livi sets off on a race against time, looking deep within herself in order to defeat a faceless enemy and (just maybe) manage to save her best friend in the process. 

Livi's strength is tested, her character revealed, as an attempt to save one life turns into a quest to protect thousands. But is she enough to stop the shapeless evil sinking its teeth into the ones she loves? And in the end, will it even matter?
Guest post: For Young Adult Books-What We're Reading Now by M. Lewis Lerman
Why a female protagonist?
As a woman, writing from the female perspective comes very naturally for me.  While I’m intrigued by the prospect of taking on the male voice in future projects,
I used Livi Dixon and Beware the Sheep as a platform to highlight the many elements that make up strong girls and women. 
How did you come up with the idea of the world Livi lives in?
My ideas come from absolutely everywhere, but in world-building especially, it was critical to use the world around me for inspiration.  There are endless things that go into a culture – just look at our own.  And that’s exactly how I started:
Art, religion, education, government – how does it function here in America?  What is most important – what stands out?  When I was able to answer these and other questions about my own world, it became a lot easier to craft another world.
The best way for me to see how things in a story fit together is to draw it all out, like a web.  This is especially true during world-building.  As I built up Livi’s world, every time I added a new element I had to stop and think about how that fit into the world-at-large:
What is the culture like in Eaux like?  What about the politics?  What is the geography like in Eaux? And what natural resources are available? 
I have notebook after notebook filled with seemingly nonsensical doodles, arrows, and line drawings – all of which allowed me to take my smaller ideas about the way Livi’s world functioned, and map them out, creating something bigger.  Eventually, I was left with the world of Eaux, all mapped out and ready for my characters to inhabit and explore!
M. Lewis Lerman is the author of the new YA book “Beware the Sheep,” making its debut on March 11, 2015.




A farm girl born and raised, M. Lewis-Lerman loves books (the dusty ones), land (the wild kind), and anything on four legs.

Before she wrote, she read, learning on Dick and Jane, going over the Big Hill with Betsy and Tacy, and growing up alongside Scarlet O'hara & the March sisters.

M. Lewis-Lerman attended Fordham University where she studied psychology.  She lives in Upstate New York with her three dogs and her many teetering bookshelves.

Friday, February 20, 2015

LGBT Pick: This Book Is Gay

This Book Is Gay
by James Dawson
Sourcebooks Fire
272 pages
ISBN: 978149617822

Available June 2015

This Book Is Gay  is aimed at the YA audience and questioning teens but it should be required reading in high school--and not just in sex education classes. Dawson addresses the obvious: the definitions of gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, straight and asexual. Perhaps because he identifies as a gay man, he spends more of his time discussing the male homosexual and much less time on the female homosexual. He briefly mentions asexual persons.

Reading more like a memoir  or a personal diary, This Book Is Gay is an enjoyable read. Using actual quotes from people he  interviewed  helps the reader identify with these persons as having a story and being human--not just being identified solely  for their sexual orientation.

I am overjoyed Dawson addresses the fact that kids always say, "Oh, that's so gay!" meaning something derogatory. As an educator I've heard all kinds of labels used in a derogatory way and used to bully others. Kids are killing themselves because they are afraid to go to school. Kids are cutting themselves or hurting themselves in other ways. The homophobia has to stop. And adults who see it must step in and address it. Dawson offers a "QUIFF" system. When you hear homophobic language, think "QUIFF." These are the terms he uses:
Q-Question it. Ask, 'What do you mean by that?"
U-Understanding-Say, "Do you know what gay actually means?"
I-Institution-Say, "This school is a tolerant place; you can't say that"
F-Feel, State how it makes you feel. "I consider that offensive and homophobic"
F-Funny, make a funny comment.

and he cautions, do not to stand up to someone when it's obvious they are on a rampage. Keep your safety in mind first.

Lively, comic illustrations by Spike Gerrell  lighten the mood and text. Many of those people interviewed said they wished they had had a book like this one when they were in their tweens/ teens. Did you know 21% of people question their sexuality or gender between the ages of 6-10, and 57% do so ages 11-15?

The book also contains a chapter for parents of a teen who has come out and a list of helpful contact sites, URLs and phone numbers--not to mention a glossary of terms used in the text. One thing U.S. teens may embrace is the fact that so many British terms are used. Anglophiles will be pleased to learn some new terms to pepper their Twitter feeds with.

Highly Recommended for grade 9-up. Mature subject matter, facts about sex, gender issues, body image. Someone really needs to write a similar book for grades 6-8.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Thursday, February 19, 2015

YA Paranormal Pick: Powerless

(The Hero Agenda, book 1)
by Tera Lynn Childs & Tracy Deebs
304 pages
ISBN: 9781492616573
Available June 2, 2015

Edge of the seat thrilling, full of plot twists, conspiracy theories, good guys who are bad and bad guys who might turn out to be good, a tough as nails in-your-face-fierce, fearless and fantastic female protagonist, a darkly brooding male love interest, a tech nerd ex-boyfriend with an addiction to chocolate milk,  high stakes, live or die situations, a race against time, a few bombshells, and one MAJOR bombshell, what more could any reader want?

Powerless is that rare YA novel that stretches the boundaries of where YA fiction ends and comic book adventure begins. Reading like a Marvel comic book, Powerless has a fabulous femme fatale who is no shrinking violet. Move over Bella Swan and Katniss Everdeen. Kenna Swift is the next supergirl! Hollywood get ready to take notes; everyone will be looking for this movie next.

Kenna Swift is the daughter of two elite scientists working for the League's Elite Super Hero Lab. Kenna's father died when she was four. She remembers it...her dad obliterated by a  ball of flame thrown by a villain. Now her mother--THE world's top scientist, has developed the answer for fighting these baddies. Her heroes all have special powers, everyone except Kenna, that is. But Kenna is smart, not powerless. She has a brain and the ability to catch these super-villains off their game. She can still best them.

When Kenna happens upon a break-in at her mother's lab, she's toast ( pun intended). Nitro throws a ball of fire at her, and if not for Draven (another villain), Kenna would be dead. Draven grabs her, throwing her to the ground and taking the fire for her, saving her life. The criminals make a break for it, leaving Kenna wondering why a villain would want to save her.

Kenna has a few secrets of her own; it appears her mother does, too. Just what is Dr. Swift hiding about the League? Kenna decides to get answers for herself. Using her mother's security badge and her mad skills of outsmarting security cameras and guards, Kenna sneaks back  into the lab. She's searching for a secret underground level that only exists in some conspiracy theorists' minds. What she finds jolts her into reality. Everything Kenna believed about heroes and villains is changed. Now that she has the terrifying truth, what can she do to change the world? She's going to need a lot of help, and she's going to have to make alliances with enemies in order to stay alive.

Thrilling and chilling, Powerless is everything an action/adventure/thriller/mystery should be. The team of writers Childs and Deebs is a real dream team. The plot is a bit Maximum Ride, a bit Alex Rider, a bit James Bond, a bit "Conspiracy Theory" and all exhilarating excitement. The ending leaves an exciting segue for the next book in the installment. The problem with any trilogy or series is the waiting period for the next  book to be published. I can hardly wait.

Highly, highly recommended grade 7-up. A pretty gross torture scene, some pretty good hero vs. villain fights.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit
by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
272 pages
ISBN: 9781442459502

Poignant and heartbreaking yet warm and hopeful, The Boy in the Black Suit is a story of one boy's struggle to understand the meaning of life and let go the grief of his beloved  mother's untimely death. Seventeen year old Matthew (Matt) Miller just wants life to be normal again and have people treat him like everything is normal. After his mother's funeral, the kids at school ignore him, their eyes downcast when he walks by, or worse, they whisper about him. He knows he makes them uncomfortable, but he just wants someone to say "hello." Trying to keep busy and act normal, Matt decides to get a job after school.

While filling out an application at the local fast food chicken shack, Cluck Bucket, Matt runs into Mr. Ray, the local mortician. Mr. Ray offers Matt a job in the funeral home. He promises Matt won't have to touch dead people. Mostly Matt will set up chairs and flowers, clean up, and generally help out. The pay is good, so Matt takes the job. Matt's best friend Chris comes around and they have a few words about Matt's mom, clearing the air and taking away the awkward silence. Chris tells Matt he saw his father outside the local bar getting really wasted with neighborhood no-goodnik and drunkard Robbie Ray.

Matt's worst suspicions come true. His father has hit the bottle after over 20 years sober. Instead of reaching out  for his son or even trying to strengthen the family bond, his weak father continues to fuel his grief with alcohol.  One night, Matt's father is hit by a car and has to spend time in the hospital and in the rehabilitation hospital. Trying to keep it normal, Matt keeps going to school and helping at the parlor. One day, Matt sees a funeral speech given by a young girl. In her speech to her grandma, Love is brave and strong. Matt is moved by the beauty of it and by the girl's conviction. He wants to know what she knows; he wants to be as strong as she is. So he stays after the funeral, hoping to meet the girl--he's seen her before, running the counter at Cluck Bucket.

When Matt meets Love, all is right with the world. First love (pun, intended)  is always special and it's no different for Matt. He's smitten instantly and walks on air. He even appreciates Chris's good natured ribbing about his "girlfriend." Love introduces Matt to a world he's never even thought about, a world that he's happy to be a part of again.

Author Jason Reynolds gets it right. This feels like a book about a teen growing up in the streets of New York. The dialog is true and spot on. Matt's relationships with Love and Chris and with elders Mr. Ray, the Candy Man and his father also ring true.

Highly, highly recommended for grade 7-up. Some mature content: alcoholism, death, murder, violence, drug use by minor characters. Some mild profanity.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the arc from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Book Giveaway and Q & A with Jon and Pamela Voelkel

I have one copy of each book in The Jaguar Stones series up for grabs! For your chance to win: post a comment to the blog. Please include first name, city, state and comments. Deadline for posts is February 23 at noon MST. The winner will be chosen randomly by Randomizer. The winner will be contacted on Feb. 23 shortly after 12:00 noon MST. Please check your email at that time. The winner has 25 hours to respond to my email. Books will ship from New York. Good luck and start posting!

About The Jaguar Stones, Book Four: The Lost City
Ages 10 and up
The epic conclusion to the exciting Jaguar Stones series and a rip-roaring adventure into the heart of America!

With his parents in jail and the Maya Death Lords in possession of all five Jaguar Stones, fourteen-year-old Max Murphy is pretty sure that he'll never get to leave the


But the Lords of Death have a problem--a new king calling himself Great Sun claims to have the Jaguar Stones, too. And they want Max to prove the guy's a fraud. Or else.

Now, Max, and Lola, the mysterious girl who befriends him, are off on another wild adventure that will take them from Central America to New Orleans and up the Mississippi to the lost city at the heart of America's past.

But one thing Max should have learned after all of this dealings with the Death Lords -- they never keep their promises.
Praise for the book:

"Suspense and intrigue, human sacrifice, smuggling, and secret doors and escape routes through pyramids ensure that the novel, the first in a projected trilogy, is likely to win legions of fans."School Library Journal, starred review of The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middle World


"This fast-paced action-adventure novel surpasses its prequel, and is filled with Mayan folklore and entertaining humor that will keep teen readers highly entertained. The End of the World Club is an easily recommended novel to pique the interests of adolescent readers in history and mythology."—The ALAN Review review of The Jaguar Stones, Book Two: The End of the World Book Club
 Authors' Interview: Pamela T. asks Jon and Pamela V. interview questions:

 PT:  You both have lived, worked and traveled to many places. What is the scariest thing that you have experienced and where did it occur?

Jon's scariest moment was either getting lost in a pitch black labyrinth under a Maya pyramid at Yaxchilan in Guatemala, or being in the top carriage of a ferris wheel in Colombia when it started to fall apart; Pamela's was either opening a hotel room door to be confronted by a wall of flames, or being interviewed by Al Roker on the Today show.



PT:  Where is the ONE place you still would like to visit and why?


Pamela would choose the ancient Maya site of Copan in Honduras, to see the famous ceremonial stairway.


Jon would choose King Pakal's tomb deep in the Temple of the Inscriptions in Palenque, Mexico. We've been to Palenque many times, but the tomb is permanently closed to visitors.



PT:  After the Jaguar Stones, what is your next book or books?

We'd love to tell you about it because we're really excited, but we don't want to jinx it by talking about it!



PT:  What books are your favorites from childhood? From your teens?


Pamela's are A Little Princess, the Ballet Shoes books, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Owl Service, Wuthering Heights and (a bit nerdy for a teenager she admits) Ulysses by James Joyce.


Jon's favourites were Where The Wild Things Are, the Narnia books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.



PT:  If you could meet and have coffee or dinner with any other writer who would it be and why?


Pamela: "I had the huge honor of meeting Judy Blume once and I was so starstruck, I couldn't say one word to her. So I think I'd give up on civilized conversation and choose Frances Hodgson Burnett, just so I could tie her up and force her to add a handwritten paragraph to my copy of A Little Princess, saying that Captain Crewe did in fact come home safely a few weeks later."


Jon: "I can imagine the scene exactly. I would have dinner in a seafront restaurant in old Cartagena with my hero, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I'd like to know what was real and what was imaginary in A Thousand Years Of Solitude. Like him, I grew up in Colombia. It's such a mysterious, magical place that I suspect a lot of the so-called magic realism is actually based on day to day life."



PT:  What is THE best thing about writing for middle grades?

Neither of us can imagine writing for a different age group. Middle grade readers are an author's dream. They're young enough to suspend disbelief and come with you on fantastical adventures; but they're old enough to follow relatively complex plots.



PT: You've met thousands of readers in person and on your website; what are some lessons you've learned from young people?

First of all, it has to be said that our Jaguar Stones readers are AMAZING! They write to us all the time with questions and plot ideas and artwork. Sometimes they send us their own manuscripts. One thirteen-year-old girl we met on a school visit has already written three full length novels. So I think it's important never to talk down to kids - writing is equal parts frustrating and exhilarating at any age. We learned early on never to try and fudge the details. Middle schoolers spot every mistake, every inaccuracy, every implausible plot point and it spoils the whole book for them. If it's not authentic, they won't buy into it. We're very aware that our readers have a lot of competing demands on their time. It's our job to keep them riveted from the moment they pick up our book. If we lose their attention, that's our fault not theirs. When we're plotting out chapters, we like to imagine kids wearing headlamps to read under the covers after lights out because they just HAVE to know what happens next.



PT:  How did advertising prepare you for your writing career?

Advertising is all about focusing on the consumer. And writing for middle grades is all about focusing on your readers, keeping them always in your head while you're working, thinking about the words they use, imagining their reactions. From Pamela's point of view, as a former copywriter and creative director, writing ads taught her about meeting deadlines, writing to length, ruthless self-editing, and taking feedback. Jon was the Planning Director in the agency, so he's a whizz at marketing strategies. These days, of course, he's illustrating and his mixed media techniques owe a lot to design tips and skills he picked up in the agency. A common saying in advertising is "Give me the freedom of a tight brief," meaning that the more tightly defined your objective, the more creative you can be in meeting it. An open brief might sound more fun but it's actually because your brain has nothing to grab hold of. In the same way, writing fantasy books within a framework of historical fact, in our case Maya archaeology, sparks off so many "What if..." ideas for plots and characters.




PT:  If you could have any other job besides writing and advertising, what would it be and why?

Pamela: Writing is my dream job, I've wanted to be a writer ever since I was little. When I'm writing, I watch the action in my mind and try to describe what I see. It's like being a film director in my own head. So I'd like to try being an actual film director.

Jon: Lead guitarist in a rock n roll band. (Which was my actual job for two heady years.)



PT:  What lessons did your parents teach you that you have instilled in your own children?

Pamela: We had no books in our house - so I've made sure that my own children have grown up surrounded by them!

Jon: My parents taught me all the important things like the joy of reading, the value of education, a love of travel, the best recipe for ebelskivers (my mom's family is Danish) - all of which I intend to pass on.
About J&P Voelkel
Jon Voelkel grew up in Peru, Costa Rica, and Colombia, all the while dreaming of a boring life in suburbia. Eventually, having survived monkey stew, an attack by giant rats, and a plane crash in the jungle, he rolled up his hammock and decamped to Europe. Meanwhile, growing up in a sedate seaside town in northern England, Pamela Craik Voelkel was dreaming of travel and adventure. The pair met in London, where they both worked in advertising. They went on to help found an award-winning agency, for which Jon was named one of the fifty most creative minds in Britain by the Financial Times. The authors' first book in the Jaguar Stones series, Middleworld, was an Al Roker Book Club pick. The Voelkels now live in Vermont with their three children. You can visit them online at