Wednesday, September 26, 2018

High School Pick: Here To Stay

Here To Stay
by Sara Farizan
Algonquin Young Readers
204 pages
ISBN: 9781616208721

Shy teen Bijan Mijadi  loves basketball and plays on his school's JV squad. When he's called up to the varsity squad and sinks  with the winning basket, he's his school's new  hero. Students congratulate him and the coach even asks Bijan to join the varsity squad for the rest of the season. Not everyone is happy to see Bijan join the team. Some people want him to fail.

When a photo of Bijan is photoshopped  to make him look like a terrorist, the school administrator is outraged and vows to find the culprit and punish him or her. Some students rally  together to champion Bijan, but he just wants the incident to go away. Islamophobia and hate speech does not just "go away" his mother insists. She and other parents meet and pass out flyers to rally the community. Bijan is now poster boy for a movement he wants no part of. Can't he just play basketball and crush on cute girl Elle in peace?

Play by play announcers,real-life basketball announcers Kevin and Reggie (Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller),  provide narration for some of Bijan's inner thoughts and epic fails. Their tongue-in-cheek banter makes this novel special. Basketball terminology and the mention of game legends like Bill Laimbeer (legendary bad boy player fans loved to hate) make Here To Stay a smart addition to sports fiction. It's obvious that Farizan knows a thing or two about the sport.

This timely topic will resonate with readers of all backgrounds. Bijan is a character they'll fall in love with. Here To Stay will be on the top of all awards lists this season! Can you say TAYSHAS?

Highly, highly recommended grade 8-up. A MUST READ.

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

Monday, September 24, 2018

Lower Middle Grade Pick: If This Were a Story

If This Were a Story
by Beth Turley
Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
256 pages
ISBN: 9781534420618

This sweet and soaring debut by Beth Turley introduces readers to nine-year old Hannah. Hannah is in fifth grade. She wishes her parents would stop their fighting. When they fight, she turns to her stuffed elephant, Ambrose. One night, Ambrose comes to life and has a conversation with Hannah. He tells her that he'll always be there for her as long as she needs him.

Bullies at school are bothering Hannah. Someone even wrote a note and left it where she'd find it. It said: Nobody likes Hannah. Her teacher demands to see the note and warns the class they will be punished for their behavior. Hannah is sent to her counselor for a "talk." Hannah parents are called and they pull together to help Hannah  feel better. Hannah is happy to see her parents stop their fighting. 

Hannah's best friend Courtney seems to be distancing herself from Hannah. There is trouble on all fronts, so  Hannah puts her energy into  practicing for the spelling bee. An avid speller and lover of vocabulary words, Hannah is in her element when learning new words and using them. She daydreams frequently and is creative and imaginative. She imagines how scenes would turn out, "if this were a story," but then she counters by saying, "...but this is real life, so..." Ambrose the elephant  becomes her constant source of comfort as things spiral down. Hannah can't wait until she meets upper grade pen pal Ashley, but when she does, Ashley isn't as "cool" or fun as Hannah had envisioned. 

Readers will be surprised by the twist in the ending which will  lead to spirited classroom discussions about bullying and its effect on everyone involved.

Not to be missed for its timely topic and masterful storytelling, If This Were a Story is likely to earn many state awards. Can you say Texas Bluebonnet? You heard it here first.

Highly recommended grade 3-6.  Bullying.

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

Friday, September 21, 2018

YA Pick: Heartless

by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends
449 pages
ISBN: 9781250044655

Heartless is a richly imagined, breathtakingly told story prequel of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Evocative of Carroll's mad romp and "Wicked," Heartless delivers this story to this generation of readers. All the principal characters appear: the Cheshire Cat, Cath (who becomes the Queen of Hearts), the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and with Meyer's deft ability to tell a tale, live again in this book.

Catherine  wants to open a bakery and sell the best tarts and pastries in all of Hearts, but her mother has other ideas. No high born woman should work in business. The king has his eye on Cath as a wife, but Cath meets and falls under the spell of Jest, a new court jester. There's magic and monsters in this kingdom and enough trouble to keep the young couple apart.

There is no happy ending in this book. We all know Cath turns into the Queen of Hearts, so we are prepared for her wicked behavior. It's interesting to see a villain as a young and innocent teen before life and love wreaks their heart and mind.

For fans of Meyer's The Lunar Chronicles, this is a must read. This is not simply a retelling of Alice in Wonderland; it's a prequel  which means Meyer can imagine anything for young Catherine.

Recommended grade 7-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my library.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

High School Pick: Fat Girl on a Plane

Fat Girl on a Plane
by Kelly DeVos
Harlequin Teen
376 pages
ISBN: 9780373212538

Fat Girl on a Plane is an important book for teen readers tackling issues of self-esteem, body shaming, body image, self acceptance, overcoming obstacles, and rising to challenges. Cookie Von is an aspiring fashion designer with a keen eye and a knack for pattern, proportion, and color. She makes much of her own wardrobe and writes a fashion blog. Fat Cookie is forced to buy two seats on a plane and she vows that she's done being "the fat girl on a plane."

The story jumps back and forth from fat Cookie (in high school) to skinny Cookie in a fashion design program at ASU. Some readers may become disconnected with the way the story is told, but it's a strong story nonetheless.

Cookie has self-doubt and a good bit of self-loathing brought on by stares and comments from complete strangers and most biting of all: rude comments from her super-model mother. One lesson Cookie learns is that fat or skinny, things don't change that much. Sure, men give her approving looks. People take her designs more seriously, but designing for plus-size women isn't considered a real design business.

Through it all, Cookie sticks to her guns and creates plus-size fashionable pieces because she believes that fat people deserve fashion. A woman should not have to wear tents or caftans because she is bigger than runway models. Fashionable pieces can be created and worn by all sizes of women. Fat Girl on a Plane forces readers to view fashion from the eyes of women who have been under served and unrepresented by designers, publishers, fashion editors, models, and media. The plus-size market is a gold mine if someone like Cookie makes it their own. 

Once skinny, Cookie attracts a much older, more worldly boyfriend. This is where this YA novel veers off path. With profanity and sexual references, this book cannot be placed in a middle school library. Cookie is in her first year of college and if there were still a recognized genre as New Adult, that's where this title would be placed.

Recommended grades 9 and up. Profanity, sex.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Picture Book Pick: The Wall in the Middle of the Book

The Wall in the Middle of the Book
by Jon Agee
Illustrations by the author
Dial Books for Young Readers
48 pages
ISBN: 9780525555452

Available October 2, 2018

A story that could only come from the imaginative mind of Jon Agee, The Wall in the Middle of the Book will entertain and captivate young readers. As a read aloud or bedtime story, parents and readers will want to encourage youngsters to see EVERYTHING happening on both sides of the wall at the same time. Children will point out what they see on both sides. The poor knight, however, cannot see over the wall and assumes the worst. 

The tiny knight is safe on his side of the wall; the left side of the book is safe he explains. The wall protects him from the right side where there is danger lurking. Wild animals: a rhino, a tiger and a gorilla are on the right. When a mouse appears, the larger animals run!

The knight climbs a ladder not at all worried about the rising waters at his feet. Several pages later,  the safe side, the left side, doesn't seem so safe after all. An ogre that eats people is on the right side. The knight is torn. What should he do?

Careful readers will spot clues on each page that tell more of the story. Children are apt to tell YOU the story of the knight and what he will do.

A MUST HAVE for every young reader. Buy this for your favorite toddler and toddler parents.

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

@Cybils2018 Announces Judges!

The judges for @Cybilsawards @Cybils2018 were announced September 18 on the Cybils page.
You can see the lists here 

I am a 2018 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction Judge. The Cybils Awards recognize the best books in Children's and YA for the year. This year is the tenth anniversary of the Cybils Awards. Cybils judges are children's and YA bloggers who review books on their blogs and champion literacy in young readers. I am thrilled to represent this blog!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Series Pick: Nate Expectations

Nate Expectations
by Time Federle
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
256 pages
ISBN: 9781481404129

The third book in the Nate series does not disappoint. Nate Expectations finds Nate Foster in high school and living back in his small hometown in Pennsylvania. After his Broadway show closes, Nate goes home. He's able to get through each day with the help of his friend and sidekick Libby. This theater kid cannot go home and forget about theater. That would be like forgetting to breathe.

Nate takes over the production of Great Expectations for his drama department in true Nate style. Even though he misses his new boyfriend and he's "out" to his friends, he's still not "out" to his parents.

Lighthearted, funny, and heart-warming, the Nate series is a series of books for every reader--whether they are into musical theater or not. It doesn't matter their gender or their preferences, Nate is such a winning character, everyone will love him. Rarely does an author capture the voice of a middle grade boy. Even though in the this book Nate is in high school, the book is great for middle school readers and up.

Highly, highly recommended for readers of the earlier books, and if you haven't read the Nate series, what are you waiting for. This series is a MUST READ.

Grade 7-up.

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

Friday, August 31, 2018

What I Learned About Writing from Pitch Wars!

Pitch Wars is an online writing experience and contest where writers submit a never before published manuscript in the hopes of gaining an author/mentor who will take their manuscript and help them make it the best version of their story before the agent round. I entered Pitch Wars last year with my YA manuscript which I thought was Pitch Wars ready. Boy, was I wrong.

There are online Facebook pages for hopefuls and forums where people share their pages. The more places you visit, the more you will learn. I gained insight and CPs. A CP is a critique partner who will read your pages and give you as much or as little critique as you ask. I wanted my CPs to be brutal. I wanted them to tell me everything right and everything wrong with my pages. When I read my CPs' pages I was blown away. There are some TALENTED writers in the pool that submit to Pitch Wars. Last year, my pages didn't stack up.

What you need for Pitch Wars: You will need a one-page query, a one-page synopsis, a FINISHED manuscript and a coat of armor. You can read about the query, synopsis, story arc, pacing, character and other elements. The more you study and LEARN, the better your manuscript will be.

When I wrote my first manuscript, I was a pantser. I didn't know the ending of the story. I didn't have an outline. I knew who my characters were and what the premise was, but that was it. I didn't yet know who the antagonist was. I didn't know the problems my protagonist would face. That manuscript took my three long years (I have a full time job and family).

My second manuscript was hugely different. Now I'm a planner. I had the idea, characters, outline and ending. I wrote that manuscript in three months and it's leaps and bounds better than the YA manuscript I submitted last year. What's the difference? How did my writing get so much better?

TWITTER. I follow the tags #writingcommunity #writetip #writers #amwriting #amediting #ontheporch and #writing. There are so many great links shared on Twitter by writers, editors, agents, mentors. If you're not active on Twitter, you're limiting your knowledge of upcoming contests, events, freebies, internships and friends for life.

Before the Pitch Wars window opens, many mentors offer giveaways for your first pages, your query and/or your synopsis. You should retweet, follow and comment to all of these. I won several free eyes on my pages both years.

Before you query anything, you should have CPs and beta readers. I am lucky that my best friend for life has a writer brain. She was writing her manuscript as I wrote mine. We traded chapters from the beginning. She is now close to signing with an agent. Currently she has four full asks out to agents. I suspect she'll snag one soon  and her book will follow.

If I don't find a mentor in Pitch Wars this year, I've made so many contacts, learned tons, commented on others' writing and posts, shared information and links, and gained skills to push my book baby into the world. I will query this manuscript until I find that unicorn agent. I know you're out there! 

Monday, August 20, 2018

YA Pick: Bad Romance

Bad Romance
by Heather Demetrios
Square Fish
369 pages
ISBN: 9781250158772

Bad Romance is a cautionary tale for girls (and boys) who find themselves in love and in over their heads. It's hard to love someone you hate, and even harder to hate someone you love. It's her junior year and theater nerd Grace sees Gavin. Her life is now played out in the theater of her mind. Gavin is the male lead and he is oh, so special and charming.

What Grace learns is that Gavin is a manipulating, lying sociopath. After dating Summer, Gavin fails at a suicide attempt. Grace is drawn to this boy, the one who tried to die. Soon she is the center of his world. As Gavin closes in on her and challenges her friendships and free time, Grace doesn't seem to mind until it's almost too late.

The author includes a list of resources for teen readers who are in abusive relationships. The staggering fact is that one in three teens have experienced dating abuse.

This is not a feel good romance novel. It is, however, and important one that will result in thoughtful discussions about love and relationships.

Highly recommended for grade 9 and up.

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Picture Book Pick: Try a Little Kindness

Try a Little Kindness
by Henry Cole
Scholastic Press
32 pages
ISBN: 978133825643

Available October 9, 2018

This sweet read will help the younger set learn manners and practice being helpful. Cute animals teach littles to read to a friend, to send thank you notes, to  visit someone who is lonely, and to  give up your seat to someone else.

Heartfelt and much needed, Try a Little Kindness is sure to bring a smile to the reader as well as the child it's read to.

Highly recommended for young readers.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

#Boost My Bio: @Pitchwars

Hi, I'm (Pamela) Thompson McLeod, long-time high school teacher and middle school librarian. I am entering Pitch Wars this year for the second time. Although I did not get a mentor last year (with my YA manuscript), I learned so much about writing and made so many FRIENDS in the writing community. Twitter is a great place to find like-minded writers and people who love reading and writing. I stay away from rants and politics and love the #writing community #amwriting #5AM writingclub #writetip #writer #writers

This year, the manuscript I am entering is middle grade #MG: FAKING IT: 11yo Kyle enters an online recipe contest with a recipe he never even cooked. He is chosen to be a contestant on a junior chef show. Too bad Kyle is a fake. He can't cook. Not even one little bit. His BFF Addie suggests he learn to cook by watching YouTube videos. Kyle has three days and YouTube. With a little luck and sheer grit, Kyle makes it through early rounds, but it's heating up in the kitchen. Kyle is bundle of nerves when his chef father shows up as a judge. Suddenly, winning isn't enough. Kyle has to prove himself to everyone, including his father.

Like Kyle, I enter recipe contests and even won some big ones. Here is my winning Third Place recipe that gave me the idea for my story! And like Kyle, I create recipes. I don't cook them. At all. Ever. And they win! I won Second Place for an Italian Stallion Maria I entered. It was a double non-cook. I didn't make it, and nothing in it is cooked, yet it won Second Place in a COOKING CONTEST!

So, I'm a recipe junkie, a recipe contest enthusiast, collector of vintage 50's-70's cookbooks (Junior League cookbooks from cities in the South are  my faves), a writer of dreams and a CP to my BFF Leslie Rush who entered Pitch Wars with me last year. Leslie's manuscript was chosen by a mentor for Author Mentor Match and she is waiting for the agent round. Both of us are hopeful our stories will touch the lives of readers.

This is a photo of me with my American bulldog Bowdee (short for Beaudacious)!

I am entering Pitch Wars in August! If you've never heard of Pitch Wars, it's an event where never published manuscripts and hopeful writers enter their first chapter, a query and a synopsis of their manuscript to the site. Mentors will make their picks and announce their mentees. If I'm lucky enough to be chosen, my mentor will go through my story word by word and help me make it shiny and bright. After the story is polished to perfection, there is an agent round! If I am lucky enough to find an agent or if she/he finds me! I have a chance to get my book baby out into the world. Here's hoping the universe is listening. Universe?

Everything Pitchwars 

I review YA for School Library Journal and VOYA and judged YA Fiction for last year's Cybils. I am currently a literary intern and a YA librarian (and writer).

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Battle of the Battle Books: Unconventional Warfare vs. On Blood Road

On Blood Road
by Steve Watkins
Scholastic Press
288 pages
ISBN: 978133819013
Publication Date: October 30, 2018

Special Forces: Unconventional Warfare
by Chris Lynch
Scholastic Press
176 pages
ISBN: 9780545861625
Publication Date: November 27, 2018

Two high-interest war stories by two talented Scholastic writers are coming soon. It is a nice thing to see Scholastic offer other books on war other than World War II and the Holocaust. It appears that the Vietnam era is finally being addressed for younger readers. Scholastic is marketing these titles for age twelve, but both books are gritty, and Unconventional Warfare has an older main character. I think the reading level is okay for younger readers and reluctant readers, but the content and gore may be better suited for high school readers, especially those reluctant readers who need a fast read. Both books are quick reads and few pages.

Special Forces: Unconventional Warfare features main character Danny Manion who is always ready for a fight. When fighting gets him in trouble and ready for sentencing, Danny is given the choice: go to jail or join the military. Danny opts for the military and is assigned to SOG, an elite group of covert fighters which include members from SEAL teams, Green Berets and the CIA. Fast-paced action will keep readers captivated.

On Blood Road is a grittier read. Taylor Sorenson is not a soldier; he's in Vietnam to visit his father who works at the U.S. Embassy. When Taylor sneaks away from a fancy dinner to go see the Tet celebrations, chaos erupts and he is captured by the North Vietnamese Army. Younger readers may find this book too gory for their tastes, but Watkins delivers on details and panic.

Give these reads to readers who have enjoyed Lynch's WWII series and non-fiction fans who read about war and warfare.

Both books are recommended grade 9 and up. In my community, these titles would not be in the middle school library.

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Dystopian Pick: Plague Land

Plague Land
by Alex Scarrow
December 2017
384 pages
ISBN: 9781492652106

In this scary sci-fi dystopian novel, main character Leon watches a news story about  a horrific virus that has broken out in Africa. His mother tells him not to worry; they're so far away in England. Within a week, the deadly sickness has spread to England, and it's terrifying.

Bodies liquify and turn to "juice."Entire cities are wiped out. The strange thing is that the way the plague seems to be moving, as if it's adapting. Humans are on the run, but there is no outrunning whatever this is. It  may be the end of the human race.

The ending leave an opening for a series, and YA fans will not want to wait long to pick up the sequel.

Recommended grade 9-up.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Picture Book Pick: Hedgehog Needs a Hug

Hedgehog Needs a Hug
by Jen Betton 
Illustrations by the author 
G.P. Putnam's Sons 
32 pages
ISBN: 9781524737122

Jen Betton's debut children's book is a true treasure. Captivating art and winsome characters will leave young readers in stitches. 

Poor Hedgehog. He wants a hug in the worst way. He wakes up in a sad state and knows that a hug will make him feel so much better. He approaches forest animals and asks for a hug. No one wants to hug Hedgehog. They are afraid of his prickles, but they give him excuses why they can't hug him. Rabbit, Raccoon and Turtle turn him down, but Fox agrees to hug him. Hedgehog realizes Fox wants to eat him and scurries away. Finally, Hedgehog finds a hug from Skunk and they become fast friends. 

Young readers will love the sound and rhythm of new words not usually present in children's picture books: toddled, scram, scuffle, scoot, scampered, trudged, shuffled, and drawled. 

Each animal has its own way of moving that children will memorize and love to repeat. Rabbit hops away, "hippityy-skippity-scram." Raccoon left Hedgehog  by "scuffle-scoot-scampered." Fox moves by "sly-slide-slinking" and Hedgehog "tip-patter-padded" over to Skunk for a hug. 

This is a fun book to read for read aloud. For children who may not know forest creatures, it's an adventure. Hedgehog Needs a Hug is my favorite picture book this year! 

Highly, highly recommended for every bedtime and story time. You MUST read this book out loud and you MUST read it many times! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Picture Book Pick: The Honeybee

The Honeybee
By Kirsten Hall
Illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
48 pages
ISBN: 9781481469975

This beautiful cover pops and the book's end papers are decked out in the bees' signature colors: yellow and black and will catch your eye, but the happy illustrations and text that follows the production of honey and the bees' lives will keep young readers entertained. The honeybee is one of the world's endangered species and young readers will cheer for the bees after reading all about them. The bees are shown working and on the production line where they, "Chew, chew--we're changing its makeup,/ We're giving the nectar a chemical shake-up." The faces and features of each bee is unique and children will love their personalities.

Did you know that bees can smell fear? The book instructs people to stand still and be calm and the bee or bees will most likely fly away. However, bees are territorial, so it warns not to get too close to the hive.

A page from the author with bee facts and what children (and adults) can do to help the bees and save them is included.

A cute must-read for the budding animal activist, environmental warrior, budding young scientist or beekeeper, or anyone who loves animals and nature.

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