Saturday, February 28, 2009


THE WAY HE LIVED, by Emily Wing Smith (Flux 2008), is a powerful and subtle novel of grief and loss.

Who was Joel Espen? Kind-hearted, selfless, giving, and more. And his death at age sixteen on a Scout camping trip is a shock to friends and family alike.

Now, weeks, months later, six teens from the same small Utah town whose lives intertwined with Joel's tell their stories, but also his. Each of their narratives illuminates Joel's life, the whole of which was greater than the parts they knew. Or thought they knew...

In today's Statesman

The Austin-American Statesman has an article titled NOT FOR TEEN-AGERS ONLY in today's paper on Austin's "Delacorte Dames and Dude," aka Jennifer Ziegler, Varian Johnson, Shana Burg, April Lurie, and Margo Rabb.

Jeff Salamon does some follow-up blogging about their books here.

Friday, February 27, 2009


BLOODLINE, by Katy Moran (Candlewick 2009)(ages 12+). In this historical fantasy, Moran takes us back to seventh century Britain, where petty kings vie for control over the island.

Caught in the middle is Essa, son of Cai, a wandering scop (and more), who abandoned him to a village that's now in the sights of two warlords. As armies approach, Essa undertakes a journey to save those he loves, unsure who he can really trust, always wondering why his father abandoned him and the truth about his mother and who he really is.

BLOODLINE is a sophisticated and thoroughly enjoyable and thrilling adventure -- a story of warring kingdoms, an epic quest, and a touch of elf-magic. Through elegant prose, Moran compellingly and convincingly draws the reader into Essa's story and the mists of Dark Age Britain.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Monarch of the Sea...and other stuff

Well, Cyn and I had a great time speaking on first drafts at the Writers' League meeting last Thursday. Afterwards, we went out to Doc's Motorworks, just up the street, with a bunch of the children's lit. attendees. The discussion included perspectives from adult nonfiction and romance writers, as well as Cyn and me (Very different perspectives :-)). It's part of a year-long program that goes through the steps of publishing from writing onward...

Then, Saturday, we had great fun hearing Mark Mitchell (honorary admiral of the Texas navy, hence the post title) speak at BookPeople about school visits and his experiences with his book Raising LaBelle, about the LaSalle shipwreck project (some of the artifacts are on display at the Bullock Museum of Texas History) and then another bunch was off to lunch at Waterloo Ice House. Donna Bratton has a post here.

But now back to the writing...

[UPDATE]: See an interview in the Austin American-Statesman with Austin's Varian Johnson about the Brown Bookshelf project (of which Austin's Don Tate is also an organizer)!

Sunday, February 22, 2009


JUMPED, by Rita Williams-Garcia (Harper Teen 2009)(14+). Williams-Garcia presents a day in the life of three girls in an inner city high school: belligerent, basketball jock Dominique; flirtatious, outgoing, and clueless Trina; and cell-phone addict Leticia. When Leticia overhears Dominique swearing to "kick [Trina's] ass" after school that day (a threat to which Trina is oblivious), Leticia must decide whether, and to what extent, to get involved: should she help, warn her, or just stay out of the way?

Told alternatingly by each of the three girls, JUMPED is a compelling and sometimes disturbing novel of choices and randomness; Williams-Garcia brilliantly lays out the potentially chilling consequences of stark differences in outlook and viewpoint.


WINNIE'S WAR, by Jenny Moss (Walker 2009)(ages10-14). In her debut novel, Moss delivers a poignant story of living in a time of and, through, death.

It's the autumn of 1918; the war is almost over, but the town of Coward Creek, Texas, is bracing itself for the Spanish flu that has already killed thousands across the country and in nearby Houston.
With a family that's still living with the effects of the 1900 and 1915 hurricanes, Winnie decides she must do more than merely cope -- as friends, family, and neighbors succumb, she must help, but how?

Told in a compelling first-person voice that successfully captures small-town, early-twentieth century Texas, WINNIE'S WAR is a moving tale of how individuals respond to tragedy and death. Winnie and her friends are complex and likeable. Well-drawn major and minor characters alike mirror and amplify Winnie's conflicts in ways that will resonate with readers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


THE DUST OF 100 DOGS, by A.S. King (Flux 2009)(ages 14+). Teenage pirate queen Emer Morrisey is ready to take her riches and her true love and fade into retirement. But then she's cursed to live the life of 100 dogs before she can become human again...Now, having lived the dogs' lives, and with her dog and human memories intact, she's teenager Saffron Adams, with few friends and a dysfunctional home life. All she wants is to get out of high school and back to Jamaica, to reclaim her treasure...

THE DUST OF 100 DOGS is a fascinating, exciting read. Pulling no punches, King takes us from Cromwell's Ireland to the Spanish Main to contemporary America and Jamaica as Emer/Saffron's lives -- human and dog -- unfold in gripping detail. Definitely among the best of breed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Writing Spaces and Upcoming Events

Go on over to Tony Abbott's blog and check out my writing spaces essay. Cyn's was up a couple months ago...

Cyn and I will be on a panel about "First Drafts" at the February monthly meeting of the Writers' League of Texas at 7:30 this Thursday, Feb. 19 at the League office in Austin (611 S. Congress Avenue). Sometimes getting that first draft down is the biggest hurdle to bringing a great idea to literary life. Find out how several authors approach the first draft. Note: "Before the program, join us at Doc's Motorworks Bar & Grill, 1123 S. Congress (two blocks south of the WLT office for a 'Mix and Mingle Happy Hour.'"

Also, mark your calendars for April 11: Authors Kathi Appelt and Cynthia Leitich Smith invite you to join them at 1 p.m. April 11 at BookPeople (Sixth and Lamar) in Austin. They will be celebrating the success of Kathi's The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008), which was a National Book Award Finalist and newly crowned ALA Newbery Honor Book, and the release of Cynthia's Eternal (Candlewick, 2009). The event will include very brief readings, entertaining commentary, and a signing by both authors. Hope to see you there!

Friday, February 13, 2009


THREE ACROSS: The Great Transatlantic Air Race of 1927, by Norman H. Finkelstein (Calkins Creek/Boyd's Mills 2008).
In the spring of 1927, three teams are gathered with their aircraft to attempt to first non-stop air crossing of the Atlantic Ocean between New York and Paris: the Columbia, owned by millionaire Charles Levine; the America, whose team is led by the famous Arctic explorer Richard Byrd; and, of course, the Spirit of St. Louis team led by the then little-known Charles Lindbergh.

Weaving the narrative among participants on all three teams, Finkelstein engages the reader in the challenges and tribulations of the dangerous venture. Although the outcome is never in doubt, THREE ACROSS provides a gripping and suspenseful account of the epic quest, illuminating, in turn, each of perseverance, heartbreak, competitive zeal, and triumph.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Eternal, by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009).

At last, Miranda is the life of the party: all she had to do was die. Elevated and adopted by none other than the reigning King of the Mantle of Dracul, Miranda goes from high-school theater wannabe to glamorous royal fiend overnight. Meanwhile, her reckless and adoring guardian angel, Zachary, demoted to human guise as the princess’s personal assistant, has his work cut out for him trying to save his girl’s soul and plan the Master’s fast-approaching Death Day gala.

In alternating points of view, Miranda and Zachary navigate a cut-throat eternal aristocracy as they play out a dangerous and darkly hilarious love story for the ages. With diabolical wit, the author of TANATALIZE revisits a deliciously dark world where vampires vie with angels -- and girls just want to have fangs.

Go watch the trailer! Go read about Gene and the Eternal tie-in images!

Go buy the book!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Remember that book ...? [Updated]

So. As a kid, I read. A lot. Many of the books I've completely forgotten about. Some of them, I remember liking and still remember in part. And some of them, I've completely forgotten about and will never remember again unless and until somethings jogs the memory.

Anyway, now, being an author of youth literature, I wanted to see how some of them held up today...

MYSTERY OF THE GREEN CAT, by Phyllis A. Whitney (Westminster Press, 1957)(ages 8-12).

What I remember of the story: A blended family (two sons by the father, two daughters by the mother) come together in contemporary San Francisco where the blending of the family causes angst and a mystery arises involving the house next door.

The rest of the recollection (or what I thought I remembered): This was a library book that I remember really liking. I would've read it sometime in fourth grade or earlier, when I was in my Three Investigators/Hardy Boys phase.

It's one of the first books I remember reading where the kids weren't "perfect" (particularly for a mystery novel) and something about that resonated. Also, one of the few I read as a kid with a Japanese American character.

And now: Hmm. The kids who come together are engaging (mostly), although the emotional arc is a little abrupt and, well, the Japanese American character is a bit annoying, in a Charlie Chan-esque sort of way. I still kind of like it, though. It has a certain charm and the period differences (e.g., jeans not being something you would wear in public) are fascinating.

Random notes: The 1958 Newbery went to Rifles for Watie. Phyllis Whitney was a prolific author of mystery and romance novels. She passed away last year at the age of 104.

SECRET UNDER THE SEA, by Gordon R. Dickson (Holt, Rhinehart and Winston 1960)(image is from the 1960 Scholastic edition)(ages 8-12).

What I remember of the story: This kid lives in an underwater house (there was a nifty internal illustration of it) and has a dolphin friend named Balthazar. Some criminals try to steal the house or kidnap the father, or something.

The rest of the recollection: This book we owned (I think it must've been a hand-me-down from my older cousins). I remember one day going through all the books on one of our bookcases in the basement rec room and pulling out this one because it looked interesting.

This was another one I really liked -- science fiction and dolphins. How cool was that?

I had absolutely no idea what the title was, though, until I googled it and found this LiveJournal blog called What was that Book?

And now: The terrorists, called "vandals," are trying to get at the Martian creatures being held at the station (no, really).

Bottom line: A short, quick read; fun, but no internal arc to speak of and perhaps a bit too self-consciously a "children's book" (by which I mean, among other things, it has too many informational parentheticals and is a bit too concerned with delivering a behavioral lesson). But science fiction and dolphins are still cool.

Random notes: The 1961 Newbery went to Island of the Blue Dolphins. Dickson wrote two sequels (I bought the omnibus edition) and is best known as author of the Dorsai books.

THE FORGOTTEN DOOR, by Alexander Key (Westminster Press, 1965)(ages 8-12).

The story: An alien boy named Jon with telepathic powers and amnesia, falls to earth (literally).

The recollection: I had totally forgotten about this book (ironically). Once my memory was jogged, though, I kind of remembered it but couldn't recall having a strong feeling about it one way or another.

The only reason I remembered the book at all was because of a comment on this post on Stacy Whitman's Grimoire blog that referenced Alexander Key as an author of science fiction, including the Witch Mountain books (I will confess that I liked the Witch Mountain movies as a kid, but never realized they were based on books).

And now: It's rather like ET and The Cat from Outer Space, except he looks human and, instead of middle class California suburbia, Jon ends up in the Smoky Mountains. And he has to escape the prejudiced and narrow-minded, as well as government types who want to do who-knows-what with him.

Upon reading it now, I do vaguely remember some scenes (particularly the last) and that, back in the day, I liked it and wanted more and, really, still do (was Witch Mountain a sequel?). However, it could stand better characterization, less preachiness, and a stronger arc.

Random notes: The 1966 Newbery went to I, Juan de Pareja. (The Black Cauldron was an Honor Book). And, there's going to be another Witch Mountain movie. Unfortunately, while the movie novelizations are in print, the original novels aren't. (THE FORGOTTEN DOOR is the only one of Key's books still in print). Update [9-25-10]: The original Witch Mountain is available again.

The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books has an article about Key here.

THE ENORMOUS EGG, by Oliver Butterworth (Little Brown, 1956)(ages8-12).

What I remember of the story: Nate Twitchell lives on a farm in rural New Hampshire. One of his hens lays the eponymous egg, which hatches into a live triceratops...which Nate now has responsibility for...

The rest of the recollection: This is another that we owned. I thought this one was terrific -- the idea that Nate got to spend a month at the Smithsonian and spend a good part of it walking a live dinosaur on the Washington Mall was really appealing.

And now: This one has held up surprisingly well. The voice is still fresh and un-self-conscious. Okay, I don't quite completely buy the whole plot arc with the Senate, but the senator himself is (still) absolutely hilarious. The drawings are also still pretty accurate (although the idea of triceratops posture has changed somewhat since 1956).

Altogether, a fun, sweet, and surprisingly sophisticated read.

Random Notes: The 1957 Newbery went to Miracle on Maple Hill. (Old Yeller was an honor book).

In honor of Geektastic...

This cannot possibly be right...

What kind of nerd are you? says I'm an Uber Cool Nerd God.  Click to take the Nerd Test, get nerdy images and jokes, and write on the nerd forum!

GEEKTASTIC, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, August 2009). Collection of geeky short stories by Kelly Link, M. T. Anderson, Garth Nix, Liz Brazwell, John Green, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Scott Westerfeld, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, David Levithan, Lisa Yee, Barry Lyga and Sara Zarr with comics written by Cecil and Holly and illustrated by Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


BONES OF FAERIE, by Janni Lee Simner (Random House 2009). The earth has changed since the war between humanity and Faerie. Technology has been lost and plants – particularly the forests -- are angry, mobile, and active. Babies born with the mark of Faerie magic are left out to die of exposure, or worse.

And then, fifteen year old Liza realizes she has the Faerie sight and so must flee her town. She undertakes a journey to discover the truth about her self, her mother, the war, and what it all means for the future of both races.

An intriguing take on post-apocalyptic fiction, BONES OF FAERIE offers an engaging and compelling protagonist in a chillingly sinister world.

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