Saturday, May 28, 2011


THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING, by Uma Krishnaswami (Atheneum 2011)(ages 8-12)(illustrations by Abigail Halpin).  Eleven-year-old Dini and her best friend Maggie, both of Takoma Park, Maryland, are tremendous fans of Bollywood movies and, particularly, of the greatest movie star of all time: Dolly Singh.

When Dini's parents announce that they're moving to Swapnagiri, India, for two whole years, Dini and Maggie are devastated.  The only good thing the two friends can see is that maybe, just maybe, Dini will get a chance to meet the great Dolly Singh herself.

So when her family finally arrives in the remote mountain town, Dini sets her plan into motion...

THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING offers a vibrant voice and a funny, almost cinematic glimpse into Dini's quest.  With larger than life characters and a dose of kismet, in THE GRAND PLAN, Dini encounters monkeys, strangers, representatives of the India Post, and maybe, even, a movie star.

In short, THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING is a whimsically engaging tale of friendship and family.  And chocolate curry puffs which, of course, can fix anything.        

Friday, May 27, 2011

Writers and Dinosaurs: Jennifer Ziegler

Jennifer Ziegler walks Picotyrannus, a small, plush relative of Tyrannosaurus rex.
Jennifer Ziegler is the author of ALPHA DOG and HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR, a 2009 Texas Lone Star book.  Her newest novel, SASS AND SERENDIPITY, available in July 2011, is a story of sisterhood and sibling rivalry, with a bit of Jane Austen.

Jennifer was born in Temple, Texas and spent most of her early childhood in Anchorage, Alaska.  She came to Austin to attend the University of Texas and never left.

For the 2011-2012 school year, Jennifer and Cynthia Leitich Smith (author of the Tantalize series) are offering a joint presentation titled "From Classics to Contemporary."

The authors will discuss how they were inspired by Jane Austen and Bram Stoker, respectively; how Stoker's and Austen's themes are still relevant to teens/YAs today; the ongoing conversation of books over the generations; and much more.

Contact Dayton Bookings for more information and to schedule.

International Reading Association

Today, Cyn and I are interviewed on the "Engage: Teacher to Teacher" blog of the International Reading Association.

Starting next month, we'll be having a quarterly column, interviewing authors who also teach writing!  Our first interview will be next week - be sure to check it out!

UPDATE:  You must be a member of IRA to see the complete interview.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Ever since I read SECRET UNDER THE SEA, by Gordon R. Dickson, I've thought it would be amazing to live in an undersea house.  In the book that's the subject of this post, scientists do just that.  Of course, conditions are a little more spartan than I'd prefer...

ADVENTURE BENEATH THE SEA, by Kenneth Mallory, photos by Brian Skerry (Boyds Mills 2010)(ages 8+).  This 48-page picture book chronicles the week the author and photographer spent on board the Aquarius Reef Base, the world's only undersea research station.  Their mission?  To track the movements of fish in and around the coral reefs off Key Largo.

In fascinating detail, Mallory recounts the hazards and thrills of training and living sixty feet beneath the waves, offering a fine glimpse into a final frontier here on earth.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Whininess is the kiss of death.

In his essay "Go Big or Go Home," reprinted in A FAMILY OF READERS: THE BOOK LOVER'S GUIDE TO CHILDREN'S AND YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE (Candlewick 2010), Roger Sutton opines that "what reluctant [boy] readers don't want are books filled with interpersonal emotional drama...It's not that boy readers are afraid of emotions, exactly, it's that they want to feel them in service to high stakes...Boys like to think Big."

I was thinking about this in context of Robins I, II, and III.

Robin I, you will recall, was Dick Grayson.  Robin III was Tim Drake.

Both Dick Grayson Robin and Tim Drake Robin are much loved by the fandom and are among the most popular characters in the DC Universe.

Robin II was Jason Todd, whom the fandom voted to kill off.


Let me address this in context of Tim Drake-Robin and Jason Todd-Robin -- both started off having to fill the shoes of Dick Grayson, but one is liked and the other, really, really not.

I think most of it goes back to Roger's statement above.  Tim Drake-Robin is not insensitive -- he is concerned about his girlfriend's safety and is sometimes miffed by Batman's treatment of him and others.  He, like all the Robins, is an orphan.  But his emotions serve higher stakes -- the fight against evil and his ambition to become the next Batman.

Even better, he is smart, funny, likeable, can use computers, and can kick butt when necessary.  He came to be Robin by figuring out that Bruce Wayne is Batman and is the leader of his generation of superheroes, a position that no one questions. 

In contrast, Jason Todd's tenure as Robin was filled with overwrought emoting and Sturm und Drang. Granted, when Bruce Wayne is your "father," a certain amount of this is justified (Dick Grayson Robin rebelled rather memorably on several occasions), but there are limits.

Now, even boy readers want a character to have emotional depth, but at some point "interpersonal emotional drama" becomes off-putting melodrama and self-indulgent navel-gazing.  As exemplified in A Death in the Family, Jason Todd-Robin was pointlessly reckless, and endlessly and annoyingly self-absorbed and whiny.

To me, this is the kiss of death for any protagonist but particularly for a boy protagonist who is supposed to appeal to boy readers.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Writers and Dinosaurs: Caroline Arnold

Caroline with mosasaur, Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles County

Caroline Arnold is the author of more than 100 books for young readers.  She grew up in Minneapolis, MN, and has degrees in art from Grinnell College and the University of Iowa.  She now lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Her most recent books featuring Mesozoic critters are GLOBAL WARMING AND THE DINOSAURS (Clarion 2009) and GIANT SEA REPTILES OF THE DINOSAUR AGE (Clarion 2007).

Caroline with Pteranodon, Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles County
And, no, mosasaurs and pterosaurs are not dinosaurs :-).  The former are (probably) varanids related to Komodo dragons and the latter are flying archosaurs.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gender in the World of Children's Books

Uma Krishnaswami, author of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING (Atheneum 2011), has an essay on gender in the world of children's books -- including some of my own views -- over at the Women Doing Literary Things blog.

Also, take a look at the interview Cyn posted yesterday of Elizabeth Law and Allen Zadoff.  Of particular note are extensive discussions of revising a manuscript and selecting a cover with boy appeal.

Also, Elizabeth Law is giving away a 30 page manuscript critique.  Go check it out!  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Save the Dinosaur Tracks! [Updated]

A couple weeks ago, I ran a post about Massachusetts schoolboy Pliny Moody, who dug up dinosaur tracks on his family farm and is credited with the first authenticated dinosaur track discovery in North America.

Closer to home, though, dinosaur trackways are known from at least fifty locations throughout Texas.  Among the most famous are the trackways in Glen Rose, on a portion of the Paluxy River now part of Dinosaur Valley State Park.  The trackways extend over a large area of what was once a coastal plain, on the shores of the Western Interior Seaway.

In 1938, Roland T. Bird excavated portions of the tracks, taking them back to the American Museum of Natural History, where they are still on display.

Another portion of the trackways is currently housed at the Texas Memorial Museum, where they have been on display in a building outside the museum since 1941.  The tracks include those of a sauropod (probably Paluxysaurus, but possibly Sauroposeidon) and a theropod (probably Acrocanthosaurus).

The problem is that the building is non-climate-controlled and, apparently, is built on a slab of non-reinforced concrete.  This has led to a degradation of the stone the trackways are formed in, which could eventually lead to the complete loss of slab.

But plans are afoot to move the trackways indoors, into the Hall of Geology and Paleontology.  The museum and the Texas Natural Sciences Center have begun a fundraising campaign to preserve and move the trackways.  Go here to check out information on donating to Save the Dinosaur Tracks!  

Update:  Take a look at an article in the July 4, 2011 American-Statesman about the tracks here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

National Museum of Natural History

Homo sapiens (foreground) and Tyrannosaurus rex
This year is the 100th anniversary of the opening of the present building of the National Museum of Natural History (Washington, DC)!  (The museum itself officially opened in 1910).

Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of Natural History has an extensive array of dinosaurs, arranged as part of a chronology of life, from Paleozoic to Cenozoic times.

In addition to tyrannosaurs, the National Museum of Natural History features stegosaurs, diplodocids, ceratopsians, hadrosaurs, as well as a full complement of aquatic reptiles, pterosaurs, and Mesozoic birds. And it's all just down the ramp from the Hope Diamond.

Maiasaura juvenile

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I, Mercury, would like to present another feline-themed picture book for your edification.  The book in question concerns an orange tabby (not properly silver, but one can't have everything) and is based on a tale that is some centuries old.

I refer, of course, to PUSS IN BOOTS, by Charles Perrault, translated by Malcolm Arthur, and exquisitely illustrated by Fred Marcellino.  Originally published in 1990, the book won a Caldecott Honor medal in 1991, and is now available in paperback from Square Fish.

The story concerns the third son of a recently-deceased miller who is at first disappointed that his share of the inheritance is the eponymous cat.  Indeed, the miller's son at first wants to eat the cat and make a muff out of his fur.  


The son, however, is wise enough to listen to Puss and buys him a pair of boots.  I, Mercury, confess I do not understand this.  Human garments are useful to cats only as makeshift bedding (See above photo), and their footwear not at all.  But I digress.

Through the ingenuity of Puss, the miller's son eventually comes to marry a princess and inherit a vast estate.  Oh, there are also ogres and much feasting and other hijinks.

Enjoy.  And, remember, cats are not to be trifled with.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Something to holler about!

HOLLER LOUDLY has been named a selection for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library

Congrats and YEE-HAA!

Writers and Dinosaurs: Brian Yansky

Apatosaurus with author Brian Yansky (shadow, left) a the Hill Country Pasta House.

Brian Yansky is the acclaimed author of WONDERS OF THE WORLD, MY ROAD TRIP TO THE PRETTY GIRL CAPITAL OF THE WORLD, and ALIEN INVASION AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES.   His newest novel, FIGHTING ALIEN NATION, a sequel to ALIEN INVASION, is forthcoming from Candlewick Press.

Born in Iowa, Brian now lives in Austin with his wife, author-illustrator Frances Hill-Yansky.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Writers and Dinosaurs: Heather Hepler

Heather Hepler and pachycephalosaur, American Museum of Natural History

Heather Hepler is the author of several books for teens and tweens including, most recently, THE CUPCAKE QUEEN, a Fall 2009 Indie Pick.

Her other books, co-written with Brad Barkley, include SCRAMBLED EGGS AT MIDNIGHT, DREAM FACTORY, and JAR OF AIR.

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, she went to high school in Texas and college in Alaska. She now lives in Tyler, Texas.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Big giant news! And turtles!

Down by Padre Island, Galveston, and on the Gulf Coast, in general, we have just begun the nesting season of the Kemp's ridley sea turtle.

Below is a picture of Archelon, a Cretaceous turtle that hung around the Western Interior Seaway back in the day (It's substantially larger than Kemps ridley).

Archelon, from the Yale Peabody Museum
And congratulations to Austinites Nikki Loftin and Brian Yansky on sales of new books!

Per Publishers Lunch:

Nikki Loftin’s debut novel THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY, pitched as Coraline meets Hansel and Gretel, about a young girl whose seemingly delightful new school hides frightening secrets, to Laura Arnold at Razorbill, in a two-book deal, for publication in Summer 2012, by Suzie Townsend at Fineprint Literary Management (World).

Brian Yansky's FIGHTING ALIEN NATION, the sequel to ALIEN INVASION AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES, which continues the story of the survivors of an alien invasion, again to Candlewick, with Kaylan Adair to edit, by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger (world English).

And, no, neither has anything to do with turtles.  That I know of...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...