Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site packed with tricks and tips for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting!
Kim Tomsic

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Future of Us: Hagen Daz at Carrot Calories

THE FUTURE OF US: Review by Kim Tomsic         

         It's a book that offers two for the price of one! The Future of Us by Carolyn Mackler and Jay Asher will capture your imagination within nanoseconds. You couldn't possibly expect anything less; Mackler and Asher are two of YA’s best authors. Smoosh together The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things with Thirteen Reasons Why and the result is crafty innovation--The Future of Us.
Jacket flap: It's 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They've been best friends almost as long - at least, up until last November, when Josh did something that changed everything. Things have been weird between them ever since, but when Josh's family gets a free AOL CD in the mail,his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they're automatically logged onto their Facebook pages. But Facebook hasn't been invented yet. And they're looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.

By refreshing their pages, they learn that making different decisions now will affect the outcome of their lives later. And as they grapple with the ups and downs of what their futures hold, they're forced to confront what they're doing right - and wrong - in the present

     Enjoying Mackler and Asher’s combined talent is like paying for an iPad and getting a free iPhone thrown in the mix; it’s like eating Hagen Daz plus crème brulee at the cost of carrot calories; it’s like paying for Ramada, but staying at the Four Seasons. You get my point.

The Future of Us is told in two alternating first person points of view: high school juniors Emma and Josh. Furthermore it’s told in the unusual format of present tense, which makes the stakes feel high. 
Many plot points keep the pages turning in this exciting book--for example there's the nostalgal of life before texting, before caller ID and before Pluto was axed off the list of planets. There's also the thrilling side of the book when readers conjure the heap of possibilities in their own life, possibilities that could be if glimpsing the future was possible.

The Future of Us, written by two award winning SCBWI members,  is a must read and easily earns a five out of five lollipop rating.
Available at:

ISBN-10: 1595144919
ISBN-13: 9781595144911
Published: Razorbill, 11/21/2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is Polly Middle School's Version of Patti Stanger?

Special UPDATE:
A signed copy of this book is available SIGNED COPY FROM AUTHOR !  But only until December 15, 2014            

Tis the season for snow days, cozy baked aromas, and curling up with a good book. Author Lindsay Eland’s Scones and Sensibility won’t bring on the snowflakes, but it will satisfy any middle grade reader with fun entertainment and yummy bonus recipes.  

            Scones and Sensibility (Egmont 2010) stars a delightful yet meddling main character named Polly. Her resume includes (a) daughter to bakery shop owners, (b) Jane Austen’s biggest fan, (c) romance enthusiast (d) 20th century wannabe, and (e) self-appointed town match maker.  Polly sets out with good intentions and wild plans to provide love and romance to the needy citizens of her small shore community. But she ends up creating chaos to the point that the police become involved.  As the back of the book states, “When Polly learns the pitfalls of playing matchmaker, will she be able to patch up relationships while making sure that love can take its course?”  It’s a question to which any reader will have a fun time discovering the answer.

            Scones and Sensibility is packed with a cast of interesting characters including Jack the Nipper, the kite shop owner and Clementine, the older sister. But Polly won my heart with her throw-back ways. She prefers not getting bogged down in the world of iPhones and Wired Magazine, and instead loves the simple life of silk ribbons, doilies and romance books. Polly is no Patti (as in Patti Stanger (the Millionaire Matchmaker), but she’s well on her way!
Available for $6.99 at:

  • Reading level: Ages 8 and up
          Paperback: 320 pages

  • Publisher: EgmontUSA (December 28, 2010)

  • Language: English

  • ISBN-10: 1606841580

  • ISBN-13: 978-1606841587

  • Thursday, November 3, 2011

    NaNoWriMo It's on!

    If you hear people saying NaNoWriMo, it's not the return of Mork from Ork. It's the shortened way to say November is National Novel Writing Month. And the 2011 games have begun!

    The event includes thirty days and thirty nights of abandoned writing. The goal is to succeed at pumping out 50,000 words in one month. Many published authors claim their best work came out of participating in NaNoWriMo. Holly Cupula is one such author. Her YA book DON'T BREATHE A WORD will be published by Harper Teen for release on January 3, 2012.
    Of course you don't whip out a book in one month and then print it the next month. The chapters go through an editing phase (hence Holly writing in November 2010, publishing January 2012). One Twitter participant recommended making December ReviseOhWriMo. An excellent idea.

    If you want in on the excitement, it's not too late for you. Just visit the the NaNoWriMo website. They'll keep track of your word count, keep you motivated, and help you get started with writing the next breakout novel. 

    Please list additional NaNoWriMo success stories in the commet section below.

    Sunday, October 30, 2011

    Daemons in the Mist - A Book Review

    "Seventeen year old Patrick Connolly has been drawn to Nualla ever since he first saw her, but as the years pass she seems to take absolutely no notice of him. Until, that is, he rescues her from a confrontation in the school hallway. Little does he know that he’s about to be thrust into a world of life altering secrets and things that shouldn’t exist, because the fog and mist of San Francisco is concealing more than just buildings."

    DAEMONS IN THE MIST by author/illustrator Alicia Kat Dillmn, is a story that takes you on a journey where human and Daemon worlds collide. The opening scene takes place at a prep school in San Francisco. Think TWILIGHT, but replace vampires with daemons.  The story is packed with plot, adventure, sexual tension, and many clever twists and turns.

    Daemons in the Mist is YA paranormal romance / urban fantasy cleverly presented from two first-person POVs, high school seniors Patrick and Nualla.
    Patrick lives an ordinary life. He has decent grades, a small circle of friends, and parents who neglect him. His crush, Nualla, doesn’t know he exists until a bizarre encounter at school develops and she curiously acknowledges him for the first time.

    Nualla lives an extraordinary life. She is beautiful, wealthy, and a Kalodaemon princess. She presents herself as human, but is truly Kalodaemon through and through. This means she’s a “good daemon, like an angel. [Kaladaemon’s] influence humans to aspire to greatness, but are not unfailingly virtuous.”

    The Positives: Voice, humor, setting, pacing, characters, plot, intrigue.

    The Drawbacks: Gratuitous drinking, gratuitous cussing and a bothersome use of punctuation.

    Drawback: I'll get this out of the way first, because the positive is where I want to leave the focus. The biggest drawback I found in the story is the level of gratuitous drinking. The amount of alcohol consumption in this story doesn’t match the plot or contribute to the storyline. It fit in the opening scene, but afterwards it could have been axed or made as simple background noise. Furthermore, Patrick is a skinny, 5’11” boy without a lot of experience with alcohol. In the opening scene (and possibly at Skye’s club) it’s unbelievable that he could quickly consume at least six shots (and then some) without experiencing alcohol poisoning—the level of oxygenated blood would have depleted to dangerous levels when matched to the rate of the shots they took. It’s irresponsible to let YA readers think otherwise. There are other references to alcohol throughout the book promoting drinking as cool (like you can join us if you drink). I found it surprising toward the end when Patrick uses alcohol in attempt to stop his headaches. It seemed he had moved to full on addict mode, but nothing gets developed on this point. I’m certainly not against exposing the reality of teens and drinking.  It either happens in the background of a story, or it develops as a central theme. When liquor is used as a big point in a story, it fits because it adds to the plot or the character arc. In John Green’s YA fiction LOOKING FOR ALASKA, it worked with the character, plot and set of circumstances.   

    POSITIVES: The positives of this story outshine the few minuses named above. Author Alicia Kat Dillman is a master at painting a beautiful scene. Her words perfectly capture an eerie and magical feel for the San Francisco mists. Furthermore, Dillman does a great job with world building and effortlessly collides the ordinary human world with the daemon world. I found it entertaining that the daemon world is created with a great super-geek genius level of technology, yet they still have an annoying level of bureaucratic red tape to deal with.
    I was easily sucked into the plot since Dillman quickly moves the story forward by piling on the tension and adding riveting chapter endings. Furthermore, she clearly has a great sense of humor and successfully achieves character voice in a way that rings true. Funny one-liners are peppered throughout the story and comic relief balances the building tension. DAEMONS IN THE MIST is packed with great pacing and the right balance of dialogue, introspection and action.

    Not only is Dillman a gifted writer, she is also a talented artist. You should check out her website at Kat Girl Studio.

  • Publisher: Korat Publishing (May 20, 2011) 

  • Language: English 

  • ASIN: B0051XZNAI

  • Available: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Korat (ebook and print formats offered)

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Book Review of IMAGINARY GIRLS

    REVIEW: by Kim Tomsic
    Author Nova Ren Suma has no idea how fantastic she is. I was an instant fan when I read her middle grade debut, Dani Noir . I certainly couldn't  wait to see what she crafted for her first YA novel. When I discovered that Nova Ren Suma would be at the SCBWI summer conference and signing copies of Imaginary Girls,I planned to be first in line. It was a smart strategy, because I landed a signed first-edition copy. Can you believe she only brought ten copies of this highly desired novel to the conference? Imaginary Girls sold out in two-minutes flat, leaving about eleven-hundred disappointed shoppers. Not to worry, four additional printings have gone to press since the conference. I just checked with Tattered Cover Bookstore and they have a couple of copies on hand at each of their store locations.

    My Two-cents:Imaginary Girls is a riveting tale of sisters, Chloe and Ruby. The story opens with a scene of teenage partying followed by a horrific drowning.  Chapter after chapter continue in a gripping and unsettling manner; I turned each page unsure of what was real and what was imaginary. The sisters (especially Ruby) possess the town's attention, and as you read, the characters will capture your unwavering devotion too.

    Jacket Flap Description:
    Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.

    But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.

    With palpable drama and delicious craft, Nova Ren Suma bursts onto the YA scene with the story that everyone will be talking about

    Where to Buy:
    Barnes and Noble (and say hello to Jeff, a great Community Service Representative with the store)
    Boulder Bookstore (copies also on hand here!)

    ISBN-10: 0525423389
    ISBN-13: 9780525423386
    Published: Dutton Juvenile, 06/14/2011
    Pages: 352
    Language: English   

    A Five out of Five lollipop rating!

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    What's a HIGH CONCEPT hook?

    Agents love them, editors want them, so what are  "high concept" books? To know a high concept book, you must first meet the high concept hook.

    Elana Roth of Caren Johnson Literary Agency describes a high concept hook as one where the premise is bigger than the characters and the pitch can be said in one line.

    Liesa Abrams is an executive editor at Aladdin, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children's Books (she acquires and edits tween and middle grade fiction). She describes high concept as something that is easy to say and easy to memorize. Her example is an upcoming title byTodd Hasak-Lowy called 33 Minutes: A countdown to recess when a boy's former bestfriend promises to kick his butt.

    Liesa Abrams says high concept is "something easy to say and easy to memorize."
    Elana Roth describes high concept, "when the premise is bigger than the characters and when the pitch is something you can say in one line."  

    Today, in Publishers Marketplace, there are two great examples of HIGH CONCEPT pitches and high concept books to come:
    (the logline is separate from the high concept pitch)

    NO SAFETY IN NUMBERS is great example of High Concept YA: pitched as Life As We Knew It meets Lord of the Flies to Dial by Faye Bender Lit
    Art sketch by David Deen
    The logline: young adult trilogy, told from the perspective of four teens as the discovery of a biological bomb in the air ducts of a busy suburban mall unfolds, the entire complex is quarantined, people start getting sick, supplies start running low, and there's no way out

    David Lipsky and Darin Strauss's THE UNACCOUNTED. The  high concept pitch: teenage Jason Bourne meets The Prisoner of Zenda,
    logline: a love story and an epic adventure set in both a modern-day American high school and in a glamorous Europe, to Virginia Duncan at Greenwillow, in a three-book deal, for publication in Winter 2013, by ICM/UTA (World English).

    Update: these aren't perfect examples, but they are recent deals reported in Publisher's Marketplace, and now books I want to read simply based on the logline.

    Kate O'Sullivan of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt won a six-publisher auction for Andrea Tsurumi's debut picture book, Accident!, in which Lola the armadillo kicks off a crescendo of calamities in her Richard-Scarry-ish world. Publication is slated for fall 2017; Stephen Barr at Writers House negotiated the two-book deal for world rights.

    Neal Porter of Roaring Brook's Neal Porter Books has acquired world rights to husband-and-wife team Aaron Bagley and Jessixa Bagley's Vincent Comes Home, which they are co-authoring and co-illustrating. The book is about a cat who has lived his entire life at sea and wonders what it would be like to go “home.”

    Heather Howland at Entangled Teen has bought Never Apart by Romily Bernard, about a girl and boy who die repeatedly, falling between parallel worlds, but always being found by the same killer until the fall that unravels everything. Publication is slated for summer 2017; Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary did the deal for world rights.

    Liza Kaplan of Philomel has acquired Emily Barr's YA debut from Camilla Borthwick at Penguin Random House U.K. in a six-figure, two-book deal. The One Memory of Flora Banks is a psychological thriller as well as a coming-of-age novel, starring a protagonist with no short-term memory who must navigate the Arctic landscape of Norway. The book will publish simultaneously in the U.S. and U.K. in January 2017.

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    The Body Expresses What the Voice Won't Utter: STITCHES

    One look at author/illustrator David Small and you know he is a man who has overcome powerful circumstances. You know this not by something that smacks you in the face, but by his energy. It speaks a combination of grief, survival, relief, humor and freedom.  

    STITCHES, a National Book Award nominee, is Small's autobiography presented as a graphic novel.  

    Small takes you on an emotional journey in STITCHES. He grew up in an abusive home. At age fourteen another layer of tragedy was added to his strained existence when a tumor was discovered growing in his neck. Small, who had no real voice in his home, now had a tumor that left him literally speechless for more than a year.

    He eventually gained back his ability to speak, grew up, moved out, got married, and started a career. But the tumor would not be dismissed; it insisted on haunting him again. It was when he was dining with his wife at the Fisher Lake Inn that he discovered the horrible bump in his neck had returned. Psychosomatic or not, he and his wife could visiually see the growth that sprouted over the course of a meal...or a lifetime. It occured to Small that he had dealt with his trauma medically, but he had never dealt with it emotionally...until he wrote STITCHES. He says, "the body expresses what the voice won't utter."

    Small says he received healing through writing and illustrating his graphic memoir.
    The story is literal and figurative: his voicelessness .As an armchair-psychologist, this tumor, which prevented him from speaking, is why he can dramatically express a wealth of emotions in a single sketch.

    "David Small's STITCHES is aptly named. With surgical precision, the author pierces into the past and, with great artistry, seals the wound inflicted on a small child by cruel and unloving parents. STITCHES is as intensely dramatic as a woodcut novel of the silent movie era and as fluid as a contemporary Japanese manga. It breaks new ground for graphic novels. "   
    Francoise Mouly — Art Editor, The New Yorker — Editorial Director, TOON Books

    Stitches was nominated for the National Book Award under the category of young people's literature in 2009.

    • Hardcover: 336 pages
    • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (September 8, 2009)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0393068579
    • ISBN-13: 978-0393068573
    • $15.95 Paperback/ $24.95 Hardcover list price
    Tattered Cover
     Powell's Books 
    Barnes and Noble

    Want to Be a Published Children's Book Author. Contest Announced!

    "MeeGenius is searching for the next great children’s book author, and is extending an invitation to aspiring and published authors to submit a manuscript. Winning manuscripts will be beautifully illustrated, professionally edited, and published online at MeeGenius. It’s as simple as writing, submitting, and having MeeGenius’ online community vote" or having a judge choose your project as their favorite.

    FIRST PRIZE: Publishing Contract + $1,500 + Meegenius library donated to school of your choice.

    THREE RUNNER-UP PRIZES: Publishing Contract with $500 Cash Prize
    Your book will be professionally edited, beautifully illustrated, enhanced with all of MeeGenius’ features, and then published to the iPhone, iPad, Android, Google TV and the Web. In addition to the $500 prize, you’ll continue to rake in cash with royalties on each of your books sold.


    1.Write a great children's book for readers ages 2-8
    2. 10-20 pages max, roughly 75 words per page (450 characters)
    3. submit by November 1, 2011 (winner announced by March 7, 2012)
    4. Follow all the formatting guidelines (see example here) and do not submit illustrations

    Follow this link for guidelines AND please follow formatting instructions to a tee!


    • Make sure to Download the Example Manuscript, which shows how to properly format your entry.
    • Each page should be no more than 450 characters (roughly 75 words per page).
    • Triple-space between pages, and label the page number in the manuscript (please see the example manuscript).
    • No text formatting — all of the type should be the same size and style.
    • Please make sure your entry is free of spelling errors and has been thoroughly edited prior to entry.


    More Questions?

    Saturday, September 3, 2011

    JUNIPER BERRY a book review

    The cover art for M.P. Kozlowsky's debut book JUNIPER BERRY  promises "A tale of terror and temptation." Kozlowsky delivers the trepedation in spades.

    Imagine you're an only child and your parents are comprised of the best parts of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt--loving, kind, famous and beautiful. They are dream parents who adore you until something inexplicable and horrible changes everything. How would you solve what went wrong and what would you trade to get your world back?

    JUNIPER BERRY is a middle grade mystery complete with famous parents, a monocular, a barking Kitty, and the very odd boy next door. But more than that, it's a Tim Burtonesque tale that offers up balloons with fright and whispers distant echos that remind readers of books like Neil Gaiman's Coraline.

    author M.P. Kozlowsky drawings by Erwin Madrid
    Middle Grade Fiction ages 8 and up
    Walden Pond Press (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers) April 26, 2011
    ISBN 10 0061998699
    ISBN 13 978-0061998690
    List Price: $15.99

    RATING: 5 out of 5 lollipop rating

    Buying links:

    TATTERED COVER BOOK STORE (On shelves now)
    Boulder Bookstore
    Barnes and Noble
    The Strand

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011

    What if Your Best Friend Were Blue?

    WHAT IF YOUR BEST FRIEND WERE BLUE? by Vera Kochan, Illustrated by Viviana Garofoli
    PUBLISHER: Marshall Cavendish (September 2011)
    PAGES: 24
    AGES: 4-8
  • ISBN-10: 0761458972 

  • ISBN-13: 978-0761458975

  • A book review by Bookshelf Detective Kim Tomsic
    WHAT IF YOUR BEST FRIEND WERE BLUE? by Vera Kochan offers a delightful way for children to learn colors while at the same time discovering it's what's inside a person that counts. The book features a yellow doctor, an orange babysitter, a blue best friend and more.
    Author Vera Kochan provides sweet and simple big-concept text while iIllustrator Viviana Garofoli makes your eyes stretch wide. Her rich and captivating scenes marry the whimsical atmosphere of color with a powerful theme, "it's what's on the inside that matters."

    WHAT IF YOUR BEST FRIEND WERE BLUE? is a great reading choice for the classroom. Teachers can follow up with coloring projects where their students compose their own "What if" projects (What if my brother were pink; What if my mom were silver?).  The book also makes a lovely bedtime story and opens light opportunities for parents to discuss tolerance.

    Whether at home or in the classroom, the fantastical charm of the cast of characters (including the green policewoman!) will have kids begging for another read of WHAT IF YOUR BEST FRIEND WERE BLUE?

    Boulder Bookstore
    Barnes & Noble
    Tattered Cover Bookstore

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    Mister Lemur Combines Cultural Literacy with Seuss/Silverstein Style

    Mister Lemur’s book, TRAIN OF THOUGHT features short stories in rhyming verse. Many of the tales have clever educational twists. Clever, I say, because while the reader has fun, he/she never feels manipulated into learning. How? The author avoids talking down to children and freely throws in words like ‘phylum’ or ‘symbiotic’. Science words appear in the heart of adventurous and crazy stories with definitions highlighted at the bottom a respective page. While memorable images are conjured up in the midst of a wild story scene, the words stick like superglue right to the child’s mind. Voila, education transpires.  Mister Lemur stories are cute, whacky and wily with learning as an added bonus.
    Although I was a bit bugged by some of the rhyming meter, I easily got over myself. The amusing stories are different from the norm; in fact, I’d categorize them as a hip version of a classical style. It’s easy to see why kids in the twenty-first century love Mr. Lemur.  The tag line on Mister Lemur’s homepage is, “Moving kids forward, taking parents back.” It’s a balance they brilliantly accomplish. Although the stories are modern, they evoke memories from a parent’s childhood.  Old PBS songs come to mind…remember Conjunction Junction, What’s your function? Mister Lemur’s Threeple feels like a shout-out to Norton Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth while 2043 has a lovely Seuss-ish feel. Furthermore the book is structured like a Shel Silverstein work. Some pages feature short poems while others include short stories and sweet black-line illustrations. Although I’ve grown to love my Kindle, the quality of this book felt luxurious in my hands.
    Kudos to the creators of Mister Lemur. Their passion for children, education, science, philanthropy, wordplay and the Mister Lemur project shines. Mister Lemur's caretakers offer school visits (a Stanford, Wharton educated pair) and they provide a kid-friendly web page where children can ask Mister Lemur questions. Mister Lemur also offers writing contests, music, games, and a regular Mister Lemur newsletter. A portion of all proceeds is donated to wildlife.  

    Some of my favorites from Mister Lemur include: Summer Vacations, Den Head, Threeple, Eyeball, Continental Plates, 2043

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    Thirteen Fast Facts With Jay Asher

    After a brief chat with Jay Asher at the SCBWI summer conference, I learned thirteen fast-facts including details on his next project:

    13. We all know THIRTEEN REASONS WHY is being made into a movie, but I didn't know the deal happened because Selena Gomez pursued it;

    12. Although roles for the film have not yet been cast, Gomez will play Hannah;

    11. Asher thinks Gomez is very cool to work with;

    10. Asher did not write the screen play, but he served on the committee to interview screenwriters;

    9. Asher's next project is called THE FUTURE OF US;
    8. He co-wrote THE FUTURE OF US with Carolyn Mackler. Mackler is the author of the Printz award winning book THE EARTH MY BUTT AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS.

    I interrupt this count-down for a brief Interviewer Intrusion:With this dream-team, THE FUTURE OF US has to be amazing!

    7. I asked if the book was written in a similar fashion to DASH AND LILY'S BOOK OF DARES. Asher said that although they took turns writing chapters, they also dug into one another’s work, edited and even revamped chapters;

    6. Asher has been a regular at the SCBWI conference for years. Thirteen Reasons Why is no comedy, but according to Lin Oliver, Jay Asher is one hilarious guy; in fact he was the regular winner of the annual joke contest held during the summer conference. It was during one of these SCBWI conferences prior to Asher getting published when he briefly met Carolyn Mackler (he says he was a big fan). After he was published, Asher blurbed Mackler's name and something regarding TANGLED (Mackler's last novel)...hmmm, I met Asher at a conference...I'm blurbing his book...this must mean that Jay Asher and I have a co-authored book in our future!

    5. After seeing what Asher wrote, Mackler contacted Asher and initiated the idea to co-write a book. Asher agreed and they began sending chapters back and forth to create THE FUTURE OF US;

    4. They met "live" for the first time at the 2010 SCBWI summer conference where they dressed for the theme evening (Along with Rachel Vail) as the ____ Bo Peeps (you'll have to fill in the blank with your imagination);

    3. THE FUTURE OF US is set in 1996. When two teens take their AOL disc and toss it into their computer, the 2011 internet page of Facebook pops up hence releasing a crystal ball into the future;

    2. THE FUTURE OF US releases in November, 2011;

    1. THE FUTURE OF US has already been optioned for a movie deal.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Diversity in YA Fiction

    "Diversity in YA Fiction is a website and book tour founded by two young adult authors, Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, to celebrate diverse stories in YA."

    I came across Diversity in YA Fiction on Twitter (@cindypon). She posted a challenge to take the DiYA reading challenge:
    What to read: You can read whichever diverse books you like! By diverse we mean: (1) main characters or major secondary characters (e.g., a love interest or best friend kind of character) who are of color or are LGBT; or (2) written by a person of color or LGBT author. If you need some suggestions, check out our monthly lists of new books, and these book lists at Black Teens Read."
    My "Diversity" Reading Experience:
    I grew up in a military family. We moved from base to base and diversity was the consistent norm. Although the classroom rosters included a good number of students who were Latino, Korean, Vietnamese, Black, White, etc., I only saw--Hong, the prettiest girl in school;or Addie, oh, so funny, or Nanae, super-good at basketball... I want on her team; or Jason, will he look at me today or is he crushing on Hong. Sure, attention was given to labels like rich and poor, but we never wasted time on color. I honestly thought my school, my world was a microcosm of how all communities functioned. It wasn't until after I graduated college that I discovered my experiences were unique.  By taking the Diversity in YA challenge, I enjoyed getting lost in the texture and color of different worlds now that I live in a white-washed community.   Reading expands teens' horizons and experiences. Just like I thought everyone grew up with diversity, there are those who may have limited exposure to diversity and in turn they believe their world is the norm. Thank goodness for authors like Matt de la Pena and Sherman Alexie (and Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo) who set us straight while entertaining.

    Some recommendations to add to the suggested reading list include:
    We Were Here by Matt de la Peña
    How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen
    A Single Shard by Lin Sue Park
    Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
    Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Peña
    Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Peña
    Paris Pan Takes the Dare by Cynthea Liu
    The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    Same Kind of Different As Me (not technically a YA or MG read, but still recommended) by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

    What are additional titles that should be added to this list?

    Monday, July 25, 2011

    Review and Interview with Matt de la Peña, author of WE WERE HERE

    In author Matt de la Peña's young adult book, WE WERE HERE, three troubled teens believe their crimes and the cost of their damage leave them with nothing left to lose. The boys, Miguel, Rondell and Mong, begin their relationship with spit and fists flying. But somehow this group of teens form an unlikely team and escape their group home to make a daring dash to Mexico. Along their journey of pain, humor, rejection, adventure, love and brutality they find friendship as well as some redeeming value in life.

    WE WERE HERE is packed with crazy violence combined with deep and often bizarre conversations and circumstances. It reminded me of a YA version of the movie Pulp Fiction, both disturbing and hilarious. I laughed, I cried, I Googled the author. I had to know more. This book had such a hold on me after I read the last page that I was reluctant to open my next novel, because I knew that would mean the experience I just invested my heart in with Miguel, Rondell, and Mong would fade.

    Here's what I learned. WE WERE HERE won the following awards:

    *A Junior Library Guild Selection
    *ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults*ALA/YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers
    *2011/2012 Texas TAYSHAS Reading List

    After googling, I tweeted:

    Kim Tomsic
    I had to Google you to see if WE WERE HERE had been nominated for the Printz...it's really amazing!

    the reply that came only made me more curious:

    Matt de la Pena
    Thank you so much. That was a special book for me! Thanks for reading!

    So of course I requested a brief interview. Matt graciously agreed.
    The Interview:

    Kim: Hi, Matt! Thank you so much for agreeing to a brief interview. I was moved by your book WE WERE HERE, so much that when I read the final page, I wanted more and immediately turned to Google for answers. As you know, I sent a tweet to you, singing your praises and wondering if WE WERE HERE had been nominated for the Printz. In your reply you indicated that this “was a special book for you.” Of course that piqued my interest, but I didn’t want a Twitter answer of 140 characters or less, so please give me the Oprah interview answer and tell me why. What made this a special book for you?

    Matt: First of all, thank so much for reading the book. I’m so happy you liked it. WE WERE HERE was special because the voice came so naturally. It was the first novel I wrote in first person, and I really kind of locked in with Miguel right away. I feel like I could’ve written that voice for a long time – I guess that’s why so many authors write series. Also, Miguel’s crime was something inspired by one of my basketball teammates in college. It was such an awful crime, yet the guy was a genuinely good guy. I wanted to explore that complexity, as well as the concept of survivor’s guilt. It kind of breaks my heart just thinking about it. And if something breaks my heart (I was raised as a tough, machismo dude) I know it’s a good place to start a book.

    Kim: Your characters Miguel, Rondell and Mong truly came to life. I feel like I know these boys…I went to school with them, I’ve seen them at the beach, I’ve passed them on the street. How did they get inside your head and how did you get in the mind of a Juvi? Please tell me more about your research.

    Matt: Miguel was the easiest. He sounds a little like I did when I was younger. Rondell ended up resembling a troubled teammate I had, but he was originally inspired by Lenny from OF MICE AND MEN. In fact the Miguel/Rondell relationship is sort of my new-ish, urban version of the George/Lenny relationship. At least that’s how it started. In terms of research, I worked in a group home in San Jose for two years when I graduated college. It was a really rough job. But one of my biggest takeaways was: many of these kids are not what their file says they are. Not exactly.

    Kim:  My next question is based on playing make-believe. Let’s pretend this book is non-fiction and Miguel, Rondell, and Mong exist as real teens; if you had the power to help one, to change only one of their lives, who would you help, how, and why that guy?

    Matt: Hmmm, maybe Mong wants to do what he does. He seems dead set on it actually. I feel like he’s already there in his mind. And that’s hard to flip. I believe Miguel will be able to take care of himself. I’d just tell him to watch out for girls he meets on little league fields. But Rondell. I’d help him. Because he’s got a great heart and he’s soulful and loyal and talented. But he’s never had a chance. He’s never been exposed to basic education. I would teach him to read and blow his mind with the possibilities that exist for him.

    Kim: The fight scenes in WE WERE HERE are pretty intense, graphic, and perfectly messed up (I know Miguel would choose different descriptors, but since this is a PG blog, just go with it). Were you a scrapper or a writer growing up? Please paint a picture of your high school self?

    Matt: I’ve been in four fights in my entire life. I’m 2-2. I’ll never fight again because I don’t want to drop below .500. I was a baller who didn’t find books until college. I knew the only way I was gonna get to college was on a hoop scholarship so I gave everything to that pursuit. Wrote secret poetry. Never went to parties. Had two cool girlfriends in HS, really nice girls who believed I could make it. Luckily I did. In college I felt like I woke up and discovered literature and discovered psychology and discovered myself.

    Kim: WE WERE HERE was an incredible reading experience—there was tension on every page, the adventure was riveting, my laughter and tears flowed freely, but the most captivating element was Miguel’s dynamic voice. It had a pulse. An NPR program I'd once heard featured a radio announcer who read single lines from various unidentified authors’ work. Even though no additional information was provided, some voices were so strong that the listener could guess who the character was simply based on that one line. Miguel’s voice was that solid. Enough gushing…my question: With your experience as a creative writing teacher at NYU, do you believe writers can learn “voice” or do you believe it’s one of those things—you either have it, or you don’t (and please, no teacher-y answers saying, “everybody is special”)? What steps can a writer take to gain an authentic voice? 

    Matt: Great question. Look, there are some writers out there who are brilliant and hilarious and when inspiration hits they can sit down and produce something amazing. I’ve met some here in NY. But I’m not one of them. I’m a working class writer. I clock in early every day and stay late. I revised my first book over a hundred times. Plus my books are all about rhythm. And it takes a lot of tinkering to find the right balance.

    I’m not answering the question am I? No. Okay, here’s what I think. This idea that some people were born to be writers is false. I don’t buy it. There are, however, some people who are born with a slightly different way of seeing the world. And if these people are willing to work hard, they’re going to have an easier time locking in on a unique voice. In terms of writing courses, I think you can learn about 90% of the tools you’ll need in your writer’s toolbox. That other 10% is the magical stuff that I don’t even know how to talk about. Voice sometimes slips into that part.

    Oh, and I think voice is WAY easier if you’re 100% honest.

    Kim: Who is Spencer Figueroa other than the dude to whom you dedicated the book?

    Spence is this punk-ass dude living in LA. He’s been my best friend since high school. He put up with a lot hanging out with me back when I refused to work full time and swore I was gonna make it as a writer and bartered with him to pay lower rent.

    Kim: I see your agent, Steven Malk from Writers House, will be at the SCBWI’s 40th anniversary Summer Conference and teaching a break-out session “No Holds Barred: An Agent and an Author Give Outspoken Advice on Writing, Submitting, Promoting and Everything in Between”. Will you be at the SCBWI Summer Conference and if you were teaching this class with Steven Malk, what key pieces of advice would you give?

    Matt: Sign with Steve Malk. He’s seriously the best move I’ve ever made in publishing. Also, be 100% honest when you sit down to write. Don’t fake it. Don’t chase trends. Be real. If it hurts, it’s gold. If it embarrasses you, it has to go in. If it shames you, it’s the most important ingredient.

    Kim: One of the “Events” listed on your webpage includes a September speaking engagement at the detention facility in San Mateo, East Palo Alto, a high school, boys’camp in La Honda. I don’t have the goods to earn a seat in that gym, but if I did, what would I hear?

    Matt: I do a lot of these. And I always tell them the truth. I was a reluctant reader when I was their age. I was a punk who got in trouble. I chased girls. The only reason I got to college was because I had a goal and my goal kept me moving forward. Oh, and I’ll be completely honest with them.

    Kim:  Last but not least, who would win my fictional b-ball game: the real-life today, 2011 retired Charles Barkley pitted against the back-in-the day, University of the Pacific Matt de la Peña?

    Matt: My college coach called me Matt No D la Peña. I wasn’t a big fan of playing D. So maybe it’d be tough to stop the big guy. But if I got the rock I’d do my best to keep it. And I could shoot it pretty good!

    Bonus Bonus Bonus...Matt's answers were fun and insightful. I would have loved to have asked a million more questions, but here's a bonus free throw:  Matt mentioned that he revised his first book over a hundred times. That book called BALL DON'T LIE was made into a movie with director Brin Hill. Brin Hill and Matt de la Pena wrote the screenplay together (release date September 2011). The all-star cast includes Ludacris, Nick Cannon, Rosanna Arquette, and Grayson Boucher.

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