Cover Reveal *Just Like Rube Goldberg*


Storymamas are big fans of Sarah Aronson‘s work!  Check out our blog post with her from last year as she talks all about her Wish List Series.

We were so thrilled that she is allowing us to do the cover reveal for her latest project, Just Like Rube Goldberg – The Incredible True Story of The Man Behind the Machines. When we chatted with Sarah last week she was so giddy talking about this book. She spoke with passion in her voice and you could feel that this book is a labor of love. Before we reveal the cover we asked Sarah to tell us the story about the story…

The story behind the story is a story I’ve been telling a lot over the last four years. Just like Rube Goldberg, the story of this book is a story of play and re-invention.

To be honest, I never thought I would write a picture book.

My original writing goals were strictly YA.

But when a book I had poured my heart into (for many years) failed to find an editor, I decided it was time to change the way I was doing things.

I gave myself a challenge.

Six months of play. Six months of writing without expectations. For six months, I would write for myself. For fun. I challenged myself to write everything I never thought I could write.

Even though it now seems fun to write this way, I was pretty stressed out when I started. Daring myself to write a new way felt risky. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wanted to live a creative life, but I didn’t want to suffer. Or be sad. I wanted to enjoy the process of writing.

So as they say, “Reader, I went for it!”

I wrote lots of picture books. I wrote an essay that someday, I want to do on The Moth. I wrote the beginning of an adult novel (which someday I will finish), as well as the first of what would become The Wish List books.

And then, like magic, there was Rube.

The idea of writing about Rube Goldberg came after hearing my friend, Tami Lewis Brown, read a book she was writing about Keith Haring. Her words made my brain swirl. I wondered if I could write a picture book biography.

This is the part where a lot of my friends shake their heads and ask, “What took you so long?”

You see, I had always been a huge fan of Rube’s work. My father had introduced me to Rube Goldberg contraptions and comics when I was a kid. (He actually compared the tax code to a Rube Goldberg machine in a text about Economics.) As a writer, I am interested in writing about Jewish people and experiences.

Also: I’m really good friends with a lot of great writers of non-fiction. (Looking at you, Tanya Lee Stone!)

Bottom line, like the most complicated Rube Goldberg machines, I don’t do anything the easy way.  (Check my bio! I have had a lot of jobs!)

So I did it!

I read everything I could find. I talked to cartoonists. I thought about creativity. I went to the Rube Goldberg machine contest and heard Jennifer George speak about her grandfather.

And just like Rube, I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote.

And then I got really lucky. Allyn Johnston (Beach Lane Books) loved the manuscript! Robert Neubecker agreed to take my words and create a work of art!

I literally can’t look at this book without smiling and laughing and crying!

Here’s my favorite Rube Goldberg quote.


Creating this book has been so much fun! Seeing it come to life has been magical and humbling and absolutely thrilling! I can’t wait to introduce readers to Rube and all the ways they can explore creativity!

And without further ado…………..

This gem of a book releases in March. Be sure to preorder it now from your local bookstore.

Thank you so much, Sarah, for this amazing opportunity to share such a wonderful book with a powerful and inspiring message!

Also, feel free to visit https://www.rubegoldberg.com/ to learn more about Rube, enter contests, and other fun stuff!

I Hope You Meet The Dollar Kids Soon! (And Author Interview)

In my head this is how I met Jennifer Richard Jacobson… Courtney and I were eating lunch in the common area of Nerdcamp. I had brought some delicious Costco cookies from home and shared one with Courtney. I took one and then I had 2 cookies left. I looked over and asked the 2 women next to me if they’d like a cookie. Each agreed and we started chatting. Very quickly I learned that these sweet-toothed women were Jacqueline Davies of The Lemonade Wars Series and Jennifer Richard Jacobson of the popular series Andy Shane. After talking about our group and mission Jennifer handed us an Arc of The Dollar Kids.

I must admit I hadn’t heard anything about the book (which in a way I like sometimes, but from a publicity stand point I hope this post allows it to be put on more people’s TBR lists!) I was intrigued by the cover. And another thing I will admit is that I didn’t read the back of the book until after I had started it. The story starts with a short comic that sets up a major problem for our main character, Lowen. By page 4 we’ve found out Lowen’s friend was shot and killed and this sets the stage for the rest of the book. Lowen is ridden with guilt over his friend’s death and when an opportunity comes along to bid on a house costing a dollar in a small town where they can explore new opportunities as a family, the family agrees it’s worth a shot.  

This book is intense, heartfelt, frustrating and touching all at the same time. I think that with such heavy topics and a total of almost 400 pages, the target audience would be 5th grade and up. I think the characters were so enduring in their own ways and I loved meeting and getting to know each one of them. Jennifer does a wonderful job of allowing you to grow with each character. Also, besides the comic that starts the book, there are others scattered through that puts you inside Lowen’s thoughts. I thought this was a clever way to portray some of his feelings. When I finished the book I felt a sense of fulfillment that I had gotten to know the Dollar Kids and part sad that I was leaving them. But it will be a book I recommend to many. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Thank you Jennifer for taking the time to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about you!

3 Questions about The Dollar Kids

What are three words you’d use to describe your book?

Thought-provoking, entertaining, uplifting

How did you come up with the idea for the dollar houses storyline?

My husband’s hometown is a former mill town and each time we visited, we observed more decline. We’d brainstorm ways the town might stimulate growth.  I’d heard about dollar programs happening in other parts of the country and began to wonder what would happen if this little town decided to sell homes for one dollar. That “What if . . .” turned into this story.

All the characters are all very complex.  Which one was the easiest to create, which was the hardest?  

Thank you for saying that all of the characters are complex!  I work hard to create characters who, like real people, have contradictions.  Mum was probably the easiest to create because her persistence and determination are similar to mine.  We are not easily dissuaded.

Lowen was no doubt the hardest character to develop. All of my protagonists concerns tap into my deepest fears. In this story, Lowen is trying to cope with his guilt over a friend’s death.  While writing the story, I was wracked with guilt for having decided to have my beloved dog put down. I hated knowing that I was the one who determined when her life would end.

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

A teacher.  And actually, I am!  I no longer have my own classroom, but I travel around the country providing instruction and support on Writer’s Workshop.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson.  Renée does such an incredible job of showing us how blind (and shallow) “good intentions” can be.  I was trying to do something similar with The Dollar Kids.

What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

Champagne.  Though my books tackle difficult issues, I do believe that life — and people– give us so much to celebrate!

To Learn more about Jennifer Richard Jacobson visit her website or you can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Meet Yasmin…and Author Interview

Meet Yasmin! is a new early chapter book by Saadia Faruqi.  We were generously given a copy to read and review, and all opinions are our own.

Yasmin is a Pakistani American second-grader who is a problem solver, and throughout all of the stories, is a child that never gave up.  Meet Yasmin! is comprised of four mini-books, whose colorful illustrations by Hatem Aly are an engaging addition to the text.  All four books deal with real-life situations children Yasmin’s age typically face each day .  She is a character that is easy to relate to, and throughout the book you learn a lot about her parents and culture.  Books should be windows and mirrors*, and Meet Yasmin is that for many children around the world.  We think every  classroom should have a copy of this book in their library.

We had the opportunity to interview Saadia Faruqi, here are three questions about the book & 3 questions about the her

3 Questions about Meet Yasmin

What are three words you’d use to describe your book?

Relevant. Fun. Timely.

What literary character would Yasmin be friends with and why?

In contemporary characters, Yasmin would probably be friends with Katie Woo, from the Katie Woo series by Fran Manushkin. Going back a bit, she’d probably have much in common with Meg from A Wrinkle in Time. These are all girls who aren’t superheroes, and they often struggle with what life throws at them, but they don’t give up.

What was your motivation for making Yasmin into an early chapter book vs. wanting it to be a middle grade book or even a picture book?

Actually this book started out as a picture book, and then somehow evolved into an early reader series. So it’s gone through some iterations before it found the skin it was comfortable in. I feel that the age group of K-2 is perfect for what Yasmin stands for. It’s the time when kids are just learning about their identities and the world around them, and this age is the perfect age to learn about Yasmin and her family.

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

Is that even possible? I’m a writer forever! But if I wasn’t a writer I’d be working in some sort of marketing job because I really enjoy the promotion aspect of book publishing as well. And then I’d write a book about how to do that!

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

I recently read Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart and was really shook by it. I think books that handle death and loss in a way children can handle it are so important, and I can’t stop telling everyone about this book!

What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

There is a lot of Diet Coke in there, which is only for me and nobody else is allowed to drink! It’s my go-to source of caffeine since I don’t drink tea or coffee, and it helps me think when I’m trying to relax.

Thank you Saadia for taking the time to chat with us!

To learn more about Saadia Faruqi please visit her website or you can follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook

* Credit given to: Rudine Sims Bishop for the term

Join The Unicorn Rescue Society!

We were lucky enough to be chosen to join The Unicorn Rescue Society-The Basque Dragon blog tour!  Thank you Penguin Publishing for sending us a free ARC.  We have enjoyed this series and know it will be loved by all readers.

If you haven’t read the first book, you should start there…you’re in for a real treat!  In the first book, The Creature of the Pines, you meet the entertaining and adventurous characters.  And of course, learn about The Unicorn Rescue Society.

After you read this series, we’re pretty sure you will be wanting to join The Rescue Society yourself!  Afraid to go at it alone?  We’re here to help!  We’ve written a letter for you to give to a friend that might need a little convincing.  After all, secret societies are more fun with a pal!  Check it out below:

If our letter doesn’t help you convince your friend, here’s what Penguin has to say about The Unicorn Rescue Society. 

A fully illustrated, globe-trotting new middle grade fantasy-adventure series about mythical creatures and their cultures of origin, from the Newbery Honor-winning author of The Inquisitor’s Tale.

Elliot and Uchenna have barely recovered from their first adventure with the Unicorn Rescue Society when the mysterious Professor Fauna approaches them with an all-new quest. And this time, they’re going to have to cross the Atlantic Ocean to the Basque Country. Elliot and Uchenna, with Jersey in tow, soon wonder whether their newest, fire-breathing rescue might be more than they can handle. And why do the evil-doing Schmoke Brothers seem to be involved yet again?

This is the second book in Unicorn Rescue Society, an exciting and hilarious new series about friendship, adventure, and mythical creatures from around the world by Newbery Honor-winning author Adam Gidwitz teamed up with Mixtape Club founders Jesse Casey and Chris Smith, and Hatem Aly, illustrator of The Inquisitor’s Tale.”

The Unicorn Rescue Society: The Basque Dragon is out July 10th!  And be sure to check out www.unicornrescuesociety.com to learn more about the characters, the books, and the authors & illustrators.

Calling All Grumpy Readers…

Thank you for the free advanced copy of Grump for the Storymamas to read. It publishes today, so be sure to get your copy! Between the three of the Storymamas, we’ve heard Liesl Shurtliff speak at our schools on two different occasions.  She’s entertaining and engaging, so it’s no wonder her books are, as well!

I read Liesl’s first book, Rump, when it was published, and have been leading a 3rd grade fairy tale book club with the book for the past three years.  I’ve noticed that as soon as my book club ends, the copies of her other books fly off my shelves.  One of my students discovered my copy of Grump on my desk, and now the only time I see it is when it passes hands!

Grump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves tells the story of Borlen, a grumpy dwarf that decides to do exactly what he’s been told not to; emerge from the underground and go to the surface.  Enticed with as many gems and rubies to eat as he wants, Borlen is befriended by the evil Queen, becoming magically bound to her after misunderstanding her words.  When Borlen accidentally gets taken by the beard by her step-daughter, Snow White, he finds himself obligated to her wishes as well, and his world gets turned even more upside down.

Grump kept me entertained from start to finish!  Liesl Shurtliff’s talented writing and creative ability to tie in the elements of the known fairy tales, while making them her own, is one of a kind. The Storymamas were thrilled to be given the opportunity to interview her for our blog, and we hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as we did!  Be sure to grab your own copy of Grump today!

Three Questions About Grump

What are three words you would use to describe Grump?

Unexpected, Humorous, Adventure

What was your process for writing Grump and your other fractured fairy tales?  There were so many times when I was reading Grump that I had those “aha” moments of how the story and plot related to what I know about Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.  Where do you start in order for it all to tie in and relate to the actual fairy tales?

My process is very organic. I rarely “plan” anything, but rather ideas, characters, and storylines pop up as I work on other things, and then I have to figure out how to make it all work together. It can be very messy, but exciting too.  A story could start anywhere, any moment, with a simple concept, a character, an object, or a line. My first book, Rump, didn’t even start with Rumpelstiltskin. (Crazy, right?!) My initial idea was about a world where names are your destiny, and that led me to Rumpelstiltskin, which led me to tell it from his point of view in this unique setting. Jack and Red both developed in similar ways as I was writing Rump.

I never considered writing a Snow White retelling. To be perfectly honest, I have a love-hate relationship with princess tales. Maybe that’s why when Borlen the dwarf shows up in my last book Red, almost out of nowhere he calls Snow White a spoiled brat. It felt like it came out of nowhere, but it also felt like it came directly from Borlen himself, and that he was somehow leaving a little clue for me to follow. Why would a dwarf call Snow White a spoiled brat? And then I thought about how the dwarves are so marginalized in the original tale. Forget Disney for a moment. In the Grimms’ version they don’t even have names or distinct personalities! But really, the dwarves are some of the most interesting and mysterious characters. Lots to mine there (pun intended), but I feel like sometimes we throw the diamonds out with the dirt. What would the Snow White tale look like if the dwarves were put front and center, and one dwarf in particular? This was a very exciting idea, but also quite difficult to execute. It required me to recast all the events in Snow White, not only from Borlen’s point of view, but also with him as the one driving the action. It required a lot of creative acrobatics, even contortionism! When you retell an old story in a new way, you really have to make it bend and flip. Grump is probably the retelling that required this a little more than the others, with maybe Rump as a close second.

I also get very into my world building, because that can inform so much of the story for me, in terms of character development and plot. I grew up in Salt Lake City, and then right after I graduated from college I moved to Chicago and have lived here for the past fourteen years. The two places couldn’t be more different in almost every way, but both cities have played a major role in who I am, and I’ve since realized that we’re all products of our environments and cultures, so it seems logical to me that if I want to develop interesting and unique characters and stories, I need to build interesting and unique worlds.

Grump is your fourth fractured fairy tale!  When you originally wrote Rump, did you have more than one book in mind?  Is there a book five?

When I wrote Rump I was just hoping I could get that book published, though in the back of my mind I did hope that I might be able to write more. I knew I wanted to write a book for Red, though she ended up taking a longer time to figure out. When I committed to writing Jack and Red I thought that would be it. Three fairytales. A nice little trio, but then Borlen came onto the scene in Red and I knew we weren’t done. I don’t currently have plans for a 5th, I’m working on some other projects right now, but I don’t think I can definitively say Grump is my last. There’s just so much to mine in these tales, I can’t possibly predict when a character is going to come knocking and say, “Hello. It’s time to tell my story.” When that happens, I’ll listen and write.

Three Questions About Liesl Shurtliff

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be and why?

This is a surprisingly difficult question for me to answer in a short paragraph! Before I became a writer, I was pursuing musical theater as a career. That was my major in college, and though I was pretty determined to “make it” (whatever that means), I took a break in order to be at home with my kids, and it was during this time that I turned to writing. I thought it would be my creative outlet until I could go back to the stage. But when my writing career took off in such a wonderful way I never looked back. So the question is, if the writing hadn’t worked out, would I go back to theater? I think I might dabble in directing or choreographing in some local theater, but I’ve sort of lost my love for being on the stage. I’d rather create material for others to perform.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. I recommend it to everyone. The writing is superb, it has a fairytale-like quality that I absolutely adored, and the ending leaves you with a sense of openness and possibility that is breathtaking.

What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

Oh dear, this feels almost as personal as opening my underwear drawer. Avert your eyes! Okay, so in my fridge I have a giant jar of homemade date syrup. It’s basically dates soaked in hot water and then blended. We use it as a whole food sweetener in everything from oatmeal to smoothies to cookies. This tells you that we are pretty health conscious, but I also have a major sweet tooth.

 

 

Kid Review: Lou Lou & Pea and The Bicentennial Bonanza

Thank you Jill Diamond for sending Marley, our kid reviewer,  the free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of your latest friendship adventure- Lou Lou & Pea and the Bicentennial Bonanza.

Marley is a voracious 5th grade reader and couldn’t wait to get her hands on this book! Here is her summary and review!

Lulu and Pea is a story about two friends who have different hobbies but cherish their friendship. In the story, Lulu and Pea’s neighborhood is hosting the party for the town’s 200th birthday and everyone is preparing. Then the mayor leaves the town and the party is in the hands of the vice mayor. Soon, the town’s preparation and excitement goes down the drain when the party is moved to another neighborhood and, coincidently enough, it is the vice mayor’s neighborhood. Can Lulu and Pea save their town’s preparations and party, or will their bonanza turn into a disappointment?

 I would recommend this book for young readers who want a challenge and older readers who just want a great story. I rate this book with 5 stars because of the way it draws you in and you don’t want to stop reading.

All in all, this was a wonderful book and I give a big thanks to Storymamas for letting me review it.

This book was released a few weeks ago, so feel free to run to a bookstore and buy a copy today!

Marley is finishing up the school year and will soon be off to middle school in the fall. She loves reading, and spends hours before bed getting lost in books! She enjoys soccer, theater, being with friends, is a wonderful niece to Storymama Kim, and loves to read to her cousins any chance she gets! 

 

To learn more about Jill Diamond checkout her website or follow her on twitter.

Secondhand Heroes

We were contacted by Justin LaRocca Hansen, author of the graphic novel series, Secondhand Heroes, back in January.  The storymamas were eager to read his books and he generously sent us the trilogy, including his newest book that came out yesterday.  My students LOVE graphic novels, so I have spent this school year trying to add more of them to my #tbr pile.  The Secondhand Heroes books have so many elements that appeal to middle grade readers-fantasy, time travel, and good vs. evil.  Combine that with the graphic novel format, and you have a series that kids will love to read.  The storymamas enjoyed reading Justin’s stories, and were even more impressed with his artwork.  If only our umbrellas did more than protect us from the rain…

Justin was kind enough to answer a few questions for our blog.

Three Questions About the Secondhand Heroes Series

What are three words you would use to describe your series?

Adventure, Fun, Heart.

Where did you get the idea for your books?  Is there any significance to Hudson and Tuck’s superpower items?  

A lot of my ideas come from my actual life and then magic, superpowers or monsters are thrown in. I think that the idea for yard sale items becoming magical objects came from the fact that my family always had a healthy amount of junk in our basement. As a kid I loved going through all that glorious old junk acquired from my parents and grandparents past. There is a deep history and magic there. It was easy for me to believe, back then and now, that there could be real magic in those old discarded things.

Hudson’s umbrella I think came about when my brother once found an old umbrella at the bottom of a sand dune. He picked up the umbrella, ran to the top of the sand dune, leapt off and opened the umbrella as he fell. I assume he thought the umbrella would catch the wind and he would gently float to the ground. He didn’t of course. He fell and twisted his ankle however for a moment I imagined him taking off into the sky. Now I had forgotten about that moment until well after I painted a panel of Hudson taking off with his umbrella. I remembered it later and realized that that’s where the idea may have come from. Ideas and stories are like that. They get planted in your brain and then can come out later.

For Tucker’s scarves I just love the action of swinging and gliding. Scarves that could move, slingshot and stretch fit that perfectly.

Did you always set out to write a trilogy?  Do you write your books first and then illustrate?  What is your process?

I didn’t set out to make a trilogy but as I wrote the story I realized it was much larger than one book. I think of it as one story split up into three parts. I knew that it would take me a really long time to finish illustrating. I pencil, ink and then watercolor each page so it is super time consuming…but also super fun!

I generally come up with images first and sketch those out. I have these moments fully fleshed out in my mind and then I might sketch or paint some of these scenes. Then I start the process of writing and connecting these moments together and seeing where else the story goes. And that part is so fun because as a writer you’re discovering things about these characters and their journey that perhaps you didn’t initially plan on.

Three Questions About Justin LaRocca Hansen

You’ve mentioned that you also teach preschool.  What inspired you create a book and how do you balance your time doing both?

I absolutely love storytelling in all its forms whether it’s music, comics, books, movies or someone you meet on the street talking about their life. I knew from a young age that that is what I wanted to do. My favorite stories are the ones that I heard as a young person and those are the stories I enjoy telling most. Working with children I get to see the impact that stories have on us at a young age and I always wanted to be a part of that. So I feel extremely lucky and appreciative that I actually get to do share stories with people. Balancing the time between teaching and writing/illustrating can be tough, especially when you’re on a deadline. The school I teach at was kind enough to let me cut my days back to 3 a week so that I could work on the books on my free days. But it was a slog, I’d work afternoons after school, weekends, and super late into the evening. A slog I am super happy for, but a slog nonetheless. I will say to anyone that finds themselves on a deadline and with a seemingly insurmountable mountain of work in front of you, take some time for yourself. Spend time with friends and loved ones even if it’s just for a little bit. I have an incredible wife and friends and family that gave me tremendous support for those great big slogs. Also has anyone used the word “slog” that many times in one interview? I’m calling Guinness, that has to be a record.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Oh boy. Let’s go with There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer. I have been in love with monsters since that book. My first book was a picture book called Monster Hunter and there are plenty of monsters in Secondhand Heroes as well. It’s possible that the reason for that lies with Mr. Mayer and perhaps Maurice Sendak author of Where the Wild Things Are as was well.

What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

This might be cheating but these three items kind of combine into one glorious topping. Horseradish, cocktail sauce, and lemons. You put a little bit of the first two and a squeeze of lemon on top of an oyster, slurp that down and you are having yourself a good day. I almost always have those things stocked in the fridge for when I feel the urge to hit the fish market and get some fresh oysters. I grew up on the ocean so that urge happens often. Tastes like home.

Thanks again to Justin for sharing his books and thoughts with us.  Be sure to checkout his trilogy, which can be found at your favorite local bookstores or online retailers.

 

The Storymamas review board books, picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels. The majority of the books we review on our site and social media are purchased from a bookstore or checked out from the library. However, at times when we receive Advanced Readers Copies of books from authors, illustrators, publishers, or publicists we will note that in our review of a book. We are not and have not been compensated for our reviews. For every review, all opinions are our own regardless of how we received the book.

Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort

 

I don’t know about you but building forts was something I loved doing as a child and quite honestly still love doing with my own kids (especially when I can fit in them). We came across the title of this book via Twitter and instantly contacted author Will Taylor to see if we could get an ARC. Thankfully Will agreed and we got to read this wonderfully magical book. Two best friends who were separated all summer in both distance and experiences come together to discover an entire world of pillow forts. Through their own forts they realize they can enter into other kid’s pillow forts. They travel through the pillow forts and meet new friends and have experiences full of danger and excitement. If you have couch cushions and blankets in disarray all over your house you and your child will love this book! This book is the first in the series so watch out for book two coming early summer 2019!

Will was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book & 3 questions about himself!

3 ?s about Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Ooo! Okay: Tangled. Awesome. Friendships.

How did you come up with this magical idea and at what point in writing did the good deeds rule for entry evolve?

The idea was based on an image from Dan Simmons’ sci-fi novel “Hyperion”, in which rich people have houses with rooms on different planets, linked together through portal doors called farcasters to look and feel like one house. I got to wondering what would happen if their kids started building pillow forts in that setup, and the idea just came to life.

The good deeds rule for entry was one of those pieces that fell into place on its own. The story was in need of a ticking clock, and getting into NAFAFA had to be difficult somehow, so I went with a classic fairytale-style challenge. It was super fun exploring what Maggie and Abby could come up with using the resources and opportunities of their immediate world, guided by their differing characters.

Why/how did you decide on adding in history tidbits?

As a kid I was obsessed with palaces and old buildings and the idea of grand, theatrical history, (my family watched a lot of Masterpiece Theater) so I wanted to tap into that in the book. So much of this book is me geeking out on the page about things I loved when I was around ten. Like Uncle Joe, my bedroom was once plastered in pictures of whales! Getting to invent new historical details like le Petit Salon let me basically become Maggie, making up secret rooms and hidden doors and ancient mysteries that need solving. Basically, I was just having fun.

3 ?s about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

A garden designer/landscaper. I grew up with garden-happy parents, and I volunteered at the Seattle Arboretum in high school and worked at a nursery through college. I’m pretty obsessed with plants, especially trees, and I think garden design would be almost as a good a place to explore magic and emotion and storytelling as writing is.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Oh, “Listen, Slowly”, by Thanhha Lai! Absolutely one of my top five books ever. The gorgeous writing, the humor, the family love, the heartache, the relationship between the main character and her grandmother, the food, all of it. It is one of the most perfect middle grade books I’ve ever encountered. And due to a particular turn of phrase near the end, I think about it every time I feel a breeze. Every single time. Recommended for everyone, forever!

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Hahah! Oh wow, I’m not sure. I live near a grocery store, and I’m one of those people who doesn’t tend to keep much food around. Honestly I think it might be my compost bucket. I keep it in the fridge because it completely prevents smells and fruit flies, which are always a problem otherwise, even with airtight tubs. The actual tub is left over from the chocolate shop I work at, and in its previous life held five pounds of incredibly high quality Venezuelan chocolate shavings. I feel like that juxtaposition is sort of a good representative of me. I like things with history behind them 🙂

Thanks for chatting with Storymamas! We loved you answers! 

To learn more about Will and his work. Please visit Will’s website and Twitter.

The Way to Bea

When you open a book and then find yourself ignoring the world, and before you know it you have finished the book, you know you’ve experienced something special. That’s how it was from the moment we met Bea and we thank Little Brown School & Library for sending us an advance copy of the book.

In the The Way To Bea by Kat Yeh, the main character, Bea is a girl in middle school, navigating everything that is hard about life..family, friends, school, and trying to figure out who she really is. Bea has a hard time adjusting to middle school, as she’s had a falling out with her best friend over the summer. When starting school she becomes quiet and reserved as she adjusts to the changes that come with middle school, as well as the big changes that are happening at home. Bea finds comfort in writing notes and poems with invisible ink, and hides them in what she thinks is a secret spot in the woods. Her secret pen-pal, combined with new friends Bea has made, help her truly understand herself and what it means to be true friends.

Kat paints a wonderful picture and shows readers how our talents and creativity can be outlets when dealing with life’s troubles. For example, Bea is a talented poet and Bea’s mom is also a well respected artist. Kat’s characters are memorable, her story is engaging and we hope you will take the time to read, meet and fall in love with Bea!

Kat was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book & 3 questions about herself!

3 ?s about The Way To Bea

What are three words you use to describe your book?

Poetic

Adventurous

Hopeful

Tell us more about the inspiration for the characters. Were they based on anyone from your own life?

The Way to Bea is about Beatrix Lee, a twelve year old girl who loses her friend group at the start of 7th grade. Something similar happened to me in 9th grade. My best friends and I began to grow apart. We started hanging out with different crowds and just didn’t have the same kind of time together that we’d always had before.

When I started writing this book, I thought a lot about how different that experience would have been if i had been 12 and in 7th grade (like Bea) instead of 14 and in 9th grade. And what if…instead of a gradual growing apart, there had been a dramatic incident that forced the breaking up of the friendship. What would that have been like? While Bea’s story isn’t quite mine, she is very much like me. Thinking about poems, drawing and scribbling and making up stories and day-dreaming all the time.

When my daughter read the book, she thought that Bea’s parents were very much like me and my real life husband, Peter — she laughed and thought it was hilarious how lovey-dovey they were. So I guess that’s a good thing 🙂 Though when I was writing, I pictured Bea’s father as a combination of my brother in law, who is a very fun and goofy guy and Gene Yuen Lang, who is a wonderful author and graphic novelist (just like Bea’s dad!). I did add some physical elements to some characters based on friends. But mostly, the other characters came out of my imagination with just little hints of people I know.

What was the the original pitch that led to this book? How did it evolve over the drafts?

I was nervous when I pitched this book. I had loved writing my first novel, The Truth About Twinkie Pie. The story and the characters came so naturally to me. And i just didn’t know how to begin this next book. So, I started with the idea that If I had an emotional connection to the story, I would fall back into that wonderful place where the words just flowed. I thought back to my 9th grade year and the changing of friend groups. But I knew I needed something more. Here is the pitch that I sent my editor.

“For 13 year old Dandy, the start of her freshman year in high school feels like she’s on a ride she has no control over. Everything around her is changing and shifting faster than she can handle: her best friends start hanging with a different crowd and she just can’t figure out who she is and how she fits in anywhere — for now, all she wants is to just blend in and disappear. But nothing about Dandy blends into a crowd. She’s different. From being a year younger than everyone in her grade — to the way she looks — to her famous and infamous family — to her talent in the arts which she considers squashing to prevent drawing even more attention to herself. And if that wasn’t enough, in her confusing search for a place to fit in, she finds the person she is spending the most time with is new student David – a boy with Asperger’s who is obsessed with drawing mazes. When Dandy starts leaving torn pieces of paper with her feelings written on them tucked into secret places around campus, she is surprised when she starts receiving responses. LITTLE GIRL IN THE MIDDLE is a story about navigating the painful twists and turns of changing friendships, figuring out how to accept the things that make you You, and then finding the bravery to let the world see.”

As you can see, the initial pitch a little different from the final book. I actually knew nothing of the plot when I wrote this. I liked the idea of hiding pieces of paper with messages on them and receiving answers, but I didn’t know who was sending the messages to her yet. And I remember that I just kinda threw in that David was “obsessed with drawing mazes.” I always liked mazes and thought that would be an interesting thing to write about. Plus I just felt like I needed more detail in this proposal. I wanted to sound like i knew what I was talking about! I had no idea that mazes and labyrinths would become a central theme to the book.

As I worked with my editor, we decided to make Dandy younger and I set her at 12 and in 7th grade. I also changed her name several times! She was Dandy for a long time. Then Tomie. I played with a few other names and then realized that she was definitely a Bea. A Bea trying to figure out how to Be. And that led me to realizing that David was actually Will. Someone who was making small changes – and determined to be a better friend. I liked the future promise of the word Will (I will, you will, he will) and it just had to be his name. After their friendship started shaping for me, I knew that this story would be about life as a maze. And being brave enough to work your way through.

3 ?s about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

I’d love to be an artist. I haven’t had a lot of time to paint and draw since I’ve started writing novels and picture books and I really miss that part of my life. I have a beautiful studio that I’ve never set up because we moved into this house just as I started writing my first novel. My easel and flat files and all my art supplies are all just lying there, waiting for me to have time again.

When I think about art and the creation of art, I feel the same way I do when I think about writing. It’s all about finding deep truths, expressing them, and (hopefully) connecting. Both writing and art are such very personal things. I hope to always create in a very honest way because I truly believe this is how you find your people. And how they find you.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

There are so many books that could fit into this answer. I think I’ll say WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams. I read it in 6th grade and it was my first really BIG novel. I remember thinking about how fat the paperback was and how tiny the type was. It looked like a grown-up book with a serious cover. But the second I started reading, I was transported.

WATERSHIP DOWN is the story of rabbits in search of a new home when their warren is destroyed by humans. I still love and reread this book often. The rabbits have their own language and history. They have legends and stories. They love and take care of each other and argue and fight. And through their story and adventure, they show us that strength is not just about size. That bravery shows up in the smallest of us. And that you can be little and different and strange and still be someone who can make a true difference for the ones you care about. Oh, I love this book. And now I want to go and read it again.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Right now, it’s a fruit drawer overflowing with Ruby Red Grapefruit – though, that will be changing soon. Which tells you that I become obsessed — completely and utterly obsessed—with whatever is seasonal and delicious. And then I eat and eat and eat it until the next seasonal thing pops up. I can’t wait for Spring veggies. Baby artichokes and spring peas and asparagus.. The funny thing is that 99% of the time, it’s fruit and veggies that I become excited about EXCEPT for one thing that comes into season late Fall. Mallomars. This always cracks me up. Mallomars are seasonal, because their delicate chocolate coating would melt in the summer 🙂 so it’s always exciting when the first boxes show up in the Fall.

Thanks for chatting with Storymamas! We loved you answers! 

To learn more about Kat and her work. Please visit Kat’s website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

The Science of Breakable Things – An Author Interview with Tae Keller

After discovering The Science of Breakable Things on the Electric Eighteens website, I couldn’t wait to read it.  I love books that have a story; one about life, or family, or hope, or friendship.  Or in this case, all of the above.

Written as a science lab notebook, with different sections following the different parts of a scientific method, The Science of Breakable Things tells the story of Natalie, a young girl whose mother is suffering from depression.  She’s convinced that she can bring her mother back from the dark depths of her bedroom to the mother that she knows and loves, and also misses.  When her science teacher introduces her to the idea of an egg drop competition, Natalie enters with a team of her best friend and an unlikely partner.  Her plan is to use the prize money to get her hands on a rare flower that has special meaning to her and her mother, and thus showing her mother that her life is worth living.

Tae Keller has an amazing way with words and Natalie’s story is filled with emotion, sadness, and triumph.  Tae was kind enough to send us an ARC, and answer some questions about The Science of Breakable Things and herself below.

 Three Questions About The Science of Breakable Things

What are three words you would use to describe your book?  

Hopeful, honest, and…egg-cellent (…sorry, I can’t resist a bad pun).

You’re characters were so complex and well-developed.  Which did you have the idea for first? The characters and their personalities, or the plot of the story?  

Thank you! I knew I wanted to format the book as a middle school lab notebook, so I knew the story would revolve around science in some way, but besides that, the characters came first. I always prefer to start with characters because their motivations, fears, and desires determine the plot.

What was the inspiration for your story?  Was Natalie’s story based off of your own experiences in life?  

When I started writing the story, I had just found out that someone very close to me was suffering from depression. It was such a scary time; I didn’t know how to help or what to do and I wrote the story as a way to process my own fear. Natalie’s situation with her mom was different enough from my own that I could still keep some distance, but close enough that I could work through what I was feeling at the time. I actually wrote more about that process here.

Three Questions About Tae Keller

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be and why?

Even if I weren’t a writer I’d do something with books. I love them and I can’t escape them. I’d like to work in publishing again, or be an English teacher, or a bookseller. A life full of stories is a happy life.

What is one book that you have read that has stuck with you?

HOLES by Louis Sachar! It’s one of my favorite books ever, and it’s brilliantly crafted. I loved it as a child reader, and I love it even more as an adult writer. I still reread it, and every time I do I learn something new about writing.

What is one thing in your refrigerator that tells us about you?

Not so much in my refrigerator as on it, but I love my word magnets. I was in a creative rut a few months ago, feeling completely uninspired, and on a whim, I pulled the magnets off my refrigerator and made a poem out of them. It was such a jolt to my creative system, and it was pure fun. I do this often now and post the little poems on Instagram when I need a break from writing books.

 

The Storymamas review board books, picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. The majority of the books we review on our site and social media are purchased from a bookstore or checked out from the library. However, at times when we receive Advanced Readers Copies of books from authors, illustrators, publishers, or publicists we will note that in our review of a book. We are not and have not been compensated for our reviews. For every review, all opinions are our own regardless of how we received the book.