Tuesday, November 29, 2011


BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE, written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Henry Holt 2011)(ages 9-12).  Ten-year-old Sasha idolizes his father, whom Comrade Stalin himself awarded the Red Banner, for his work with State Security.  And tomorrow, when Sasha will finally be allowed to join the Young Pioneers, his father will tie his red scarf around his neck.

But that night, Sasha's father is arrested as an enemy of the people, which means Sasha is an enemy, too.  He will never be allowed to become a Young Pioneer and the safe world he thought he knew is gone forever.

BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE exquisitely portrays Sasha's awakening to the corruption and oppression in Stalinist Russia while retaining a convincing child-centric point-of-view.  Chilling, fascinating, and at times horrifying.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


STRAW HOUSE, WOOD HOUSE, BRICK HOUSE, BLOW, by Daniel Nayeri (Candlewick 2011)(ages 14+), offers a quirky, compelling, and often funny quartet of novellas, across a disparate range of genres and voices.

In Toy Farm, Sunny, a young straw man, must defend his home -- a toy farm where the toys grow from the ground -- against an interloper bent on disassembling them to determine how the Farmer gave them sentience.

In Our Lady of Villains, a girl must save the world from a corporation's impending release of nanotechnology that would turn the entire world into a "nano hotspot," where everywhere is wifi.  Only it all plugs into your brain.

Wish Police presents a world in which wishes manifest as reality and it is the job of the Imaginary Crimes Unit to prevent the worst from coming to fruition.  Saul, his partner Ari, and their new colleague Mack must stop a spoiled boy's wish on a star for the death of his family from coming true.

Finally, Doom with a View is a dryly funny tale told from the point of view of an oddly preppy Death about his interactions with and on behalf of a pair of star-crossed lovers.

I keep thinking of this book as "Stephen King's Different Seasons meets The Three Little Pigs." :-).  On the whole, it's a collection of page-turning, fascinating, finely wrought, and occasionally thought-provoking reads that will leave readers wanting more.

Go check out the videos for each of the stories.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

CHRONAL ENGINE research, Paradise, Zombies, and More

A post I did for the ALSC Blog on research for CHRONAL ENGINE, titled "It Started with a Picture Book," is now online!

A couple weeks ago, Publishing Perspectives had a nice article about the Austin YA scene, titled "Is Austin, Texas Paradise for YA Authors?"  Check it out here.

Author K.A. Holt (BRAINS FOR LUNCH and MIKE STELLAR) has a "how to dress up as a zombie" post here.

Author Bethany Hegedus (TRUTH WITH A CAPITAL T) has a post on meeting Gandhi's grandson, and author Liz Garton Scanlon (ALL THE WORLD) has a post about being the author of a Caldecott Honor Book.

Holiday Tree Lighting and Author Signing at LBJ State Park! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith for the tree lighting ceremony at LBJ State Park from 4:30 p.m. Dec. 18. Cynthia will be signing Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010). Lucy Johnson will be speaking briefly at the event, and Santa may make an appearance, too. See more information.

Writers and Dinosaurs: Chris Eboch

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include THE EYES OF THE PHARAOH, a mystery in ancient Egypt; THE WELL OF SACRIFICE, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with THE GHOST ON THE STAIRS. She is also the author of ADVANCED PLOTTING, a guide for helping writers fine-tune their plots.

The picture above was taken while she was fossil hunting with friends in New Mexico.  Embedded in the rock is what is believed to be a fossilized dinosaur bone.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinosaurs!

Turkey, from Wikipedia
Happy Day-After Thanksgiving, everyone!

This year, Cynthia and I hosted a bunch of writers and illustrators for Thanksgiving dinner.

What does that have to do with dinosaurs?  Well, birds are dinosaurs (check out this nifty page at the University of California Paleo Museum), which means that our main course (Meleagris gallopavo) is, as well.  In particular, it is a saurisichian, theropodan, tetanuran, maniraptoran dinosaur.  Check out this graphic for even more Thanksgiving turkey paleo-geekiness.

Chris Barton (THE DAY GLO BROTHERS, SHARK VS. TRAIN, and CAN I SEE YOUR ID?) and I joined Don Tate (dinosaur post)(DUKE ELLINGTON'S NUTCRACKER SUITE, IT JES HAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW, and many more) for the annual Turkey Trot.  Now, I'd never done the Turkey Trot before, but I usually sneak in a three-mile run the morning of Thanksgiving, just because it makes me feel better :-).

All in all, it was an enormously fun event -- well organized and a picturesque route up and around downtown and near west Austin.  I discovered, however, that I am woefully out of shape :-).  

After the race, it was time to stuff the turkey! 

I do a traditional giblet and bread stuffing and cook the thing in the oven.  On occasion, I've been tempted to try frying it or even grilling it, but we're still under a burn ban.  And, besides, this way I get stuffing, which is almost my favorite part of the meal.

The bird was from Whole Foods and the bread was from Randall's.
So here's the rest of the menu:  to accompany the traditional turkey and stuffing, I made potato salad (this is my mother's recipe and I haven't made it in years), spinach dip (for pre-dinner vegetable snacking), and cheese spread (an approximation of the Win Schuler's Bar Scheeze (alas, without the stone crock)).  Once the turkey came out of the oven, Cyn made green bean casserole, and I made cauliflower mashed potatoes.  We also had frozen sweet corn (off the cob).  Traditionally, Cyn likes shoepeg white corn, but you apparently can't get that here. 

In addition, folks brought the following:

Chris Barton brought corn bread.

Author-illustrator Salima Alikham (THE PIED PIPER OF AUSTIN) and her husband Sam brought some thin sweet potatoes.  We never had these when I was growing up, so I never make them, but I like them and they're a nice tradition.  They also brought a decadent pumpkin cheesecake. 

Author Jenny Moss (WINNIE'S WAR, TAKING OFF) brought a vegetable platter to go with my spinach dip. 

Author-illustrator Divya Srinivasan (LITTLE OWL'S NIGHT) brought oatmeal cookies.

Author Anne Bustard (BUDDY: THE STORY OF BUDDY HOLLY) came with her family's traditional and also awesomely-decadent macadamia nut pie (which is like pecan pie, but with macadamia nuts). In honor of her providing the dessert, here's a link to a great article about the Great Bustard (also an avian dinosaur).

Inasmuch as birds I dinosaurs, I was going to post a few pics of our intrepid guests and our dinner.  Unfortunately, those pics did not turn out.  Sigh.

So here's a shot of a dromaeosaurid and some birds at the Houston Museum of Natural Science:


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Remember that Book: CAPTAIN OF THE QUEENS


What I remember: Harry Grattidge was one of the last captains of the RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth, once the premier ocean liners in the world and the pride of Britain's Cunard Line.  CAPTAIN OF THE QUEENS tells Grattidge's story from his days as a lowly cabin boy aboard a sailing ship, his coming of age at sea, and his rise to the highest rank at Cunard.

The rest of the recollection:  I read this in a volume of Readers' Digest Condensed Books and recall being completely captivated.  I don't remember exactly when I read it, but it would probably have been around 7th or 8th grade.  I was fascinated by ships and airplanes and spacecraft and really cool acts of engineering in general.

Queen Mary in 1945, in troopship livery
 A couple details stood out, though, that had nothing to do with the engineering itself.  The first was an anecdote about how the captain of a ship has to be on top of every detail, even those that seem the least important.  To illustrate this, Grattidge related a story of how he had to change the chaplain's Sunday hymn selection when the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were traveling aboard Queen Mary.  The hymn that got axed?  Crown Him with Many Crowns.

The other was on the order of "don't get cocky kid:"  On his first voyage as captain of Queen Mary, he ran her aground in harbor...

And now:  Still a fascinating and captivating read of a bygone era, telling Grattidge's life story wrapped around an account of his last voyage in 1953 as captain of Queen Elizabeth.  Although written for adults, I think it would still appeal to young adults who enjoy history or historical fantasy of the steam and diesel eras.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Writers and Illustrators and Dinosaurs: K.M. Walton

K.M. Walton is the author of TEACHING NUMERACY: 9 CRITICAL HABITS TO IGNITE MATHEMATICAL THINKING and her fiction debut, the forthcoming CRACKED (Simon Pulse, January 3, 2012).

An elementary and middle school teacher for more than ten years, she now writes full time, is married to her college sweetheart, and has two sons.

Below, she poses with her three year old nephew Alex, who is "crazy about dinosaurs."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Writing Community and Bastrop

You'll recall the wildfires that devastated Bastrop in early September.  Here are a couple pics along US 71 from when Cyn and I drove through later that month.

If anything, the photos understate the damage. That time of year, all the trees should be fairly lush and green.

It turns out that the Bastrop Public Library was hard hit: while the building itself didn't burn, many books were checked out and in children's homes which did burn down.  So, the Friends of the Bastrop Public Library and the Austin Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators are planning an outreach. 

During the Bastrop Public Library Open House, to be held December 10, the Friends will be giving each child who attends two books, tied with a ribbon.  In addition, the FRIENDS will be accepting monetary donations in pursuit of its mission to promote and advocate for the Bastrop Public Library. 

To assist, the Austin SCBWI is collecting money and book donations for the giveaway, through December 8.  Books can be anything from picture books to young adult novels. 

Details here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The AIRBORN trilogy

The AIRBORN trilogy, by Kenneth Oppel, comprising: AIRBORN (HarperCollins 2004); SKYBREAKER (HarperCollins 2006); STARCLIMBER (HarperCollins 2009)(ages 12+).

At fifteen, Matt Cruse is the youngest, smallest cabin boy aboard the airship Aurora.  Beyond anything else, it is his dream to someday captain a vessel like the Aurora.

On one fateful trans-Pacificus crossing, the airship rescues an off-course balloonist, who babbles about seeing beautiful creatures in the sky, before he dies.

Some months later, Kate DeVries, the balloonist's beautiful and wealthy granddaughter, embarks on the Aurora, to see if she can track down the mysterious creatures and prove to the world her grandfather was not a madman.

Matt is more than willing to lend a hand, and the two begin to develop a tentative friendship, when the Aurora is attacked by a dirigible belonging to the notorious and murderous pirate Vikram Szpirglas...

AIRBORN is a rousing, swashbuckling adventure  and coming-of-age story.  The alternate steampunkish Earth, where dirigibles are the basis for air transportation and airplanes don't exist, is convincing and richly detailed.  Matt and Kate are believable and their relationship is complex and compelling.

Their tale continues in the equally terrific SKYBREAKER and STARCLIMBER.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chicago Dinosaurs: Field Museum of Natural History

In honor of NCTE/ALAN being in Chicago this year, I thought I'd toss in a post about Chicago dinosaurs. :-).  If you have the time, check out the Field Museum:

Tyrannosaurus rex (background) with (unidentified) Homo sapiens.

The Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago): My hometown museum, still one of the best in the world. The Field Museum is part of a lakefront museum campus that includes the Shedd Aquarium and Oceanarium and the Adler Planetarium. Just up Lake Shore Drive is the Lincoln Park Zoo, and a short drive south is the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Field is home to Sue, one of the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever found, as well as a Daspletosaurus and a host of other, less carnivorous dinosaurs (like Parasaurolophus and Diplodocus).

Sue is prominently placed in the Stanley Field Hall (the main hall), with the elephant diorama and the big totem poles. On the balcony above the skeleton is the actual skull (the real one being too big to mount) and a mural depicting what Sue would've looked like in real life.

Sue close-up
Upstairs is the Evolving Planet exhibit, which takes you chronologically through the eras of life on earth. Dinosaurs on display include Triceratops, dromaeosaurs, stegosaurs, sauropods (including a juvenile Rapetosaurus), and hadrosaurs, such as Parasaurolophus. The classic Charles M. Knight murals still adorn the walls.

Triceratops and T.rex  face off
And sometimes in Chicago, you see dinosaurs in the oddest places: be sure to check out the brachiosaur at the United Terminal at O'Hare Airport (a duplicate of the one outside the Field).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Writers and Illustrators and Dinosaurs: Lita Judge

Lita at age 15 on a dig for the Royal Tyrell Museum
Lita Judge was born in Alaska, spent summers as a child in Wisconsin, and has a degree in geology.  She volunteered for two summers on a dinosaur dig in Canada (above) and is the author/illustrator of, among other books, BORN TO BE GIANTS: HOW BABY DINOSAURS GREW TO RULE THE WORLD.   

Lita sketches at the American Museum of Natural History
Lita's latest release is RED SLED.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Comic Con Austin recap

A few months ago, Cyn received an invitation for a complimentary table at Artists' Alley at Austin Comic Con.  This past weekend, Cyn and I manned the table...

Of course, we weren't the only members of Austin's youth literature community with a presence.  Jeff Crosby and C.S. Jennings also had tables in Artists' Alley.

In the exhibitors area, the Writing Ninjas of Texas had a booth, did some cosplay, and sold their books through The Book Spot.

Clockwise from top right: Madeline Smoot; Jessica Lee Anderson; P.J. Hoover; Joy Preble; Cory Putnam Oates; Mari Mancusi; P.J. Hoover; K.A. Holt; Joy Preble; and Jo Whittemore.

On the whole, there seemed to be quite a bit of steampunk, as well as a lot of DC and Marvel comics, and the occasional Star Trek and Star Wars among the costumes.

And, we sat across from Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca of Star Wars)!

Check out Cyn's report here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


ONE COOL FRIEND, by Toni Buzzeo, ill. by David Small (Dial, January 10, 2012).  On a trip to the aquarium, Elliott, a very polite and proper young man, asks his father if he can have a penguin.  His father says "yes," not realizing Elliott was talking about a real bird.  So Elliott arranges for the smallest penguin at the aquarium to pop into his backpack and make it home with them...

ONE COOL FRIEND is great fun, with wry and witty dialogue, and text and illustrations that hilariously juxtapose Elliott's politeness with penguin-inspired chaos.  Perhaps the most entertaining use of flightless waterfowl in a children's book since Mr. Popper's Penguins.     

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


THE THIRD GIFT, by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Clarion 2011)(ages 6+).  This elegant picture book tells the story of a boy learning his father's trade, of gathering an aromatic oleoresin called myrrh.  On one outing, he harvests an particularly fine sample, which is then sold at market to three men from the east.  They are, it seems, gathering gifts for a baby and already have gold and frankincense...

THE THIRD GIFT combines exceptional text and art to present a story of an ordinary boy's association with the third gift to the Christ child.  An author's note provides additional context and background.  A perfect Christmas gift and story for the ages.

Monday, November 07, 2011

2012 Books by Austinites [updated]

Updated 17 November 2011.Updated 27 January 2012. Updated 6 March 2012. Updated September 17, 2012.

The Austin children's writing community will be having another good showing for 2012.  Here are some of the highlights (and go here for my updated Austinites' Books 2011 post):   

Picture Books
IT JES' HAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW, by Don Tate, ill. by R. Gregory Christie (Lee & Low, Spring 2012).

I LIKE OLD CLOTHES, by Mary Ann Hoberman, ill. by Patrice Barton (Knopf, August 2012).
JUST AS GOOD: HOW LARRY DOBY CHANGED AMERICA'S GAME, by Chris Crowe, ill. by Mike Benny (Candlewick 2012).
THINK BIG, by Liz Garton Scanlon, ill. by Vanessa Newton (Bloomsbury, June 2012).
 A PIRATE'S 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, by Philip Yates, ill. by Sebastian Serra (Sterling, October 2012).

HOPE'S GIFT, by Kelly Starling, ill. by Don Tate (Putnam 2012).

Middle Grade/Tween

CHRONAL ENGINE, by Greg Leitich Smith, ill. by Blake Henry (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012).

WE'VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN'S MARCH, by Cynthia Levinson (Peachtree, February 1, 2012).
RETURN TO THE WILLOWS, by Jacqueline Kelly, ill. by Clint G. Young (Henry Holt, November 2012).
LAUGH WITH THE MOON, by Shana Burg (Delacorte 2012).
D IS FOR DRAMA, by Jo Whittemore (Aladdin MIX, August 2012).
JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE, by Nathan Bransford, ill. by C.S. Jennings (Dial 2012).

SUMMER AND BIRD, by Katherine Catmull (Dutton, October 2013).

Young Adult

DIABOLICAL, by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, January 2012).
DEAR TEEN ME, ed. by Miranda Kenneally and E. Kristin Anderson (Zest Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012).
SOUL BOUND (BLOOD COVEN VAMPIRES #7), by Mari Mancusi (Berkley Trade, March 2012).

BLOOD FOREVER (BLOOD COVEN VAMPIRES #8), by Mari Mancusi (Berkley Trade, September 2012).


"Mooning over Broken Stars," by Cynthia Leitich Smith, in GIRL MEETS BOY, ed. by Kelly Milner Halls (Chronicle, January 2012).

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