Friday, November 28, 2008


ANTSY DOES TIME, by Neal Shusterman (Dutton 2008). Antsy Bonano, the hero of THE SCHWA WAS HERE, is back (and now a freshman in high school). After witnessing an accidental death at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, his friend Gunnar Umlaut announces that he has mere months to live. In a fit of exasperation (as the pair work on a project about Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath), Antsy "bequeaths" one month of his life to Gunnar. Soon, other kids and teachers are likewise bequeathing periods of their own lives, as Antsy's act of (perceived) compassion becomes public and a sort of market develops, with Antsy becoming the arbitrage "Master of Time."

As the situation threatens to explode out of control, Antsy knows he must take it down a notch as (while dating Gunnar's older sister and working in his father's restaurant) he realizes that all is not well in the Umlaut household (or his own, for that matter).

With an utterly engaging narrator (and narrative voice), ANTSY DOES TIME is an altogether funny, thoughtful, and thought-provoking novel about life, death, friendship, and family. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


You know how at the end of the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she only has enough energy to say, after killing the mayor, "Tree, pretty"? That's exactly how I feel now.

We just got back from a terrific five days in San Antonio, where we attended the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolsecents of NCTE). The program for ALAN is available in PDF here. Cyn also did the San Antonio Express-News Children's Book Workshop on Saturday, with M.T. Anderson, Kathi Appelt, and Pam Munoz Ryan.

Thanks to Candlewick Press and Little Brown Books for Young Readers for sponsoring our stay! Thanks also to all the organizers (especially David Gill, who spoke to us about this way back when...), sponsors, and other indefatigable types who made the conference(s) a great success.

Friday, we arrived at the Fairmount about mid-afternoon; checking in, we were greeted by Luke, the hotel dog concierge. That evening, we attended a reception for the Express-News workshop at a private home, where I had the chance to chat with a number of the organizers, as well as Pam Munoz Ryan, and Ken and Kathi Appelt, where we got the details on their trip to New York for the National Book Award gala. Thanks to Nancy, our escort and to our hostess whose name I can't remember right now (sorry!).

Saturday was the Express-News workshop itself, which Cyn attended while I scoped out the exhibits on the floor at NCTE (after moving hotels to the Westin Riverwalk). At NCTE, I happened upon and then went to lunch with the lovely Rita Williams Garcia. Other folks I was glad to have the chance to chat with included Judy O'Malley and Elaine Scott at Charlesbridge, Jeanette Larson (in a variety of locations), Helen Hemphill, John Green, M.T. Anderson, Tanya Lee Stone, Marc Aronson, Patty Campbell, and Linda Sue Park. Also, we found out that Cynthia's cousin Stacy, in her incarnation as an instructional coach/education doctoral student, was in town when she appeared at the signing for ETERNAL. Later that afternoon, Cyn and I had a drink at the hotel with Marc Aronson, discussing, among other things, boys reading nonfiction.

(Walter and Rita)

That evening, Cyn went to the Candlewick-YA librarian dinner while I stayed at the hotel, ordered room service, and read David Gill's SOUL ENCHILADA (I'll have a more complete review closer to publication date but suffice it to say for now that it is absolutely terrific).

Sunday, we had breakfast with Stacy and then lunch with my editor Alvina Ling (They had copies of Geektastic!) at Las Canarias. Afterwards, we decided to take it easy and went back to the hotel room, where I worked on my WIP for a bit. That night was the joint publisher reception, where I had the pleasure of meeting David Yoo in person for the first time; other notables I had the chance to talk with included Gail Giles, Jim Blasingame (former ALAN review editor and current ALAN president-elect), Bonnie Kunzel (panel moderator par excellence), Walter Mayes (aka, Walter the Giant), Stephanie Lurie, and a host of other luminaries I am too fried to remember right now.

Later that evening I attended a champagne social organized by Sonya Soanes and her husband (thanks guys!) for all the authors. Also there were Walter Mayes, David Lubar, Marilyn Reynolds, Laurie Halse Anderson, Varian Johnson, Margo Rabb, Rita Williams-Garcia, Kathleen Duey (I was delighted to find out that the sequel to Skin Hunger is scheduled for next year!) and another host of luminaries I'm too fried to remember right now (Cyn stayed back at our hotel, since her broken toe was giving her grief and she ran out of vicodin a couple weeks ago).

Monday, the ALAN workshop itself kicked off with Teri Lesesne delivering a terrific and rousing keynote and M.T. Anderson with thoughtful opening remarks (also terrific). We didn't see all the panels, but made it to "Shift Happens: Reading Material that Switches Teens from the Internet to Books," with Walter Mayes, Lauren Myracle, and Shana Norris. After lunch in the restaurant at the Marriott Rivercenter, the afternoon kicked off with an insightful speech by Joan Bauer, and a panel on "sports stories" with Matt de la Pena and Catherine Gilbert Murdock. This was followed by Cyn's panel with Melissa Marr and Rick Riordan, titled "Gods, Foods, and Tattoos: The Mixed Mythos of Urban Fantasy." (Cyn, as always, was excellent, and talked about literary influences on Tantalize and Eternal).

Later that afternoon was a panel called "Fear and Loathing in Young Adult Books," with Nancy Werlin, Gail Giles, and Sheri Sinykin. The workshop broke that evening with a hilarious monologue by David Lubar. Other highlights included chatting with C.J. Bott and Don Gallo (this apparently, is the tenth anniversary of his heart attack at NCTE Nashville), and E. Lockhart, who had her new baby there, as well.

(Me and David Yoo)

The second day of ALAN began with a speech titled "Speaking the twisted Truth to Power," by Laurie Halse Anderson (she blogs ALAN here). My panel on Tuesday was with Dave Yoo and Cory Doctorow, and was called "Let's Hear It for the Boys: Writing for the Teen Male." We did a well-received Q&A (thanks Bonnie!) and then signed.

(Me and Bonnie)

Lunch was again at the Marriott Rivercenter, this time with Walter Mayes and Helen Hemphill. That afternoon, we heard Sharon Flake talk about "Ten Years of Living in the Skin I'm In," and a panel called "War is..." with Marc Aronson, Patty Campbell, and Rita Williams-Garcia. After a break where we had a chance to talk with Patty Campbell, we returned for the last panels of the day, which were "When Love Produces a New Negotiation," with Marilyn Reynolds, Neal Shusterman, and Joan Kaywell; and "New Voices in Young Adult Literature," with Donna Freitas, Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, and Suzanne Crowley.

By then, of course, we were completely fried, and went over to Luca for a drink and dinner with David Gill and Walter Mayes.

(David Gill, snarling).

NCTE/ALAN is one (or two) of the most fun, exhausting, and exhilarating of all the writing/reading/teaching conferences. I'm going back to bed...


ME HUNGRY!, by Jeremy Tankard (Candlewick Press, 2008). "Me hungry!" complains Edwin the caveboy. But his parents are too busy to make him dinner, so he decides to go hunting himself. This involves a hilarious sequence of encounters with Pleistocene dangers until, eventually, he encounters a woolly mammoth...ME HUNGRY! features terrifically fun illustrations and sparse "caveboy" style prose. ME HUNGRY! is a great, fun read-aloud and offers a unique take on an age-old and universal dynamic. ME LIKE!

Oh. And Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

MASTERPIECE, by Elise Broach

MASTERPIECE (Henry Holt, 2008), by Elise Broach. Marvin is a beetle. James is an eleven year old boy. When James receives a a pen-and-ink set for his birthday from his artist father, Marvin discovers he has a talent for drawing. When he presents his first piece as a birthday present to James, the miniature is mistakenly attributed to the boy. Which leads to James (Marvin) copying a Durer so as to foil an art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of art...

MASTERPIECE is full of charm and intrigue, and, in short, is a heartwarming novel of mystery and friendship and Albrecht Durer.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

SWORDS: An Artst's Devotion

SWORDS: AN ARTIST'S DEVOTION, by Ben Boos (Candlewick Press, 2008). In this nonfiction picture book, Ben Boos provides extensive descriptions and detailed illustrations of various (most?) swords throughout history.

A long-time afficonado of swords, Boos describes the blades themselves, the manner of their making, and their historical contexts. Readers will find themselves poring over both text and images of this fascinating book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


NATHAN FOX: DANGEROUS TIMES, by L. Brittney (Feiwel & Friends 2008). Thirteen year old Nathan Fox is an acrobat/actor in the same theatre company as young Will Shakespeare. Unbeknownst to him, Will and Nathan's sister, Marie, are employed by Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen's spymaster, who also wants to recruit Nathan. After a period of training, soon Nathan, his sister, and one Sir John Pearce are off to Venice to try to forge an alliance with the Doge against the Spanish.

There they encounter the famous general Othello, his new wife Desdemona, and his sinister ensign, Iago. Forced to accompany the general to Crete, the three are soon caught up in treachery and mayhem.

DANGEROUS TIMES is terrifically fun, clever, and accessible. Nathan himself is well-developed and the use of Shakespeare's Othello is fascinating. Full of, but not burdened by, period details, DANGEROUS TIMES should appeal to fans of both historical and spy fiction (and, of course, Shakespeare!).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


KEEPER OF THE GRAIL (The Youngest Templar, Book 1), by Michael Spradlin (Putnam, 2008). Fifteen year old Tristan is an orphan abandoned as a baby at a Cistercian monastery in England. Having no other prospects, when a noble Knight Templar named Sir Thomas offers to take him into service, he accepts. But Sir Thomas is on his way to the Holy Land with Richard the Lionheart, where the Templars are to defend the stronghold of Acre.

As the city is about to fall, Sir Thomas reveals to Tristan that the Templars are the keepers of the greatest artifact in Christendom -- the Holy Grail. And he, Tristan must now spirit it out of the city to England and keep it out of the hands of the Saracens.

Together with the archer Robard and the mysterious Maryam, Tristan escapes treachery and death, but perhaps not the high seas...

A rousing adventure, KEEPER OF THE GRAIL is a fast-paced tale that provides a new take on the stuff of legends.

Monday, November 17, 2008


LINCOLN SHOT: A PRESIDENT'S LIFE REMEMBERED, by Barry Denenberg, ill. by Christopher Bing (Feiwel & Friends 2008). This handsome biography of Abraham Lincoln takes the form of a volume of antique broadsheet newspapers including articles, advertisements, and headlines ripped from, well, yesterday's news. Told in engaging prose, with photos interspersed with graphics, LINCOLN SHOT offers a fascinating glimpse into the trials of Lincoln's life and presidency. LINCOLN SHOT is accessible, surprisingly thorough (given the format :-)), and highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Literary goings on...

Well, we're approaching the mid-point in November, which means you should be aware of some great upcoming author-type stuff here in central Texas.

First up is the Austin SCBWI holiday meet and greet from 6:30 to 9:30 PM on Thursday, November 13, at Book People at Sixth and Lamar. Open to the public, the event will include panels on picture books, middle grade novels, and YA novels, as well as typical party stuff and door prizes, including school visits from assorted Austin SCBWI authors. In addition, Phil Yates is going to be dressing as a pirate and presenting his new book, A Pirate's Night Before Christmas.

This weekend, Cyn and I are doing a brief stopover in College Station, where Cyn is speaking at the Brazos Valley SCBWI chapter's fall meeting, and we're both critiquing manuscripts.

The following weekend, Cyn and I are down in San Antonio for the annual NCTE/ALAN conference. (We spoke at the conference two years ago in Nashville and it was a blast). Cyn is speaking on a panel about fantasy and I'm on a panel with Dave Yoo and Cory Doctorow about "writing for the teen male."

Finally, y'all should take a look at this article from Good Life magazine (warning: it's in PDF format), by Austin's own Lindsey Lane.

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