Cybils Awards: MG Speculative Fiction

The winners of the Cybils Awards have been announced! If you haven’t heard yet, you must still be busy celebrating Valentine’s Day. The winner for the 2017 Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Category is … WAIT!

First, what are the Cybils Awards? They are awards that recognize children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal.

Second, I had the pleasure of being a round two judge for this category and reading the seven amazing finalists. Let me tell you, choosing a winner was very difficult, but my fellow round two judges and I did. The winner is:

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Amazon

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. Aventurine is a young dragon ready to explore the outside world, but her family thinks she’s too young to fly on her own. She’s determined to prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. The human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, which transforms her into one, but results in her finding her passion. Chocolate! Now all she has to do is find an apprenticeship in a chocolate house in a human city. Easy, right?

This book hooked me by the first sentences. I can’t say I ever wondered what it felt like to be human. But then, my grandfather Grenat always said, “It’s safer not to talk to your food…” I loved the twist in this creative story about passion and what it means to find it: the main character starts as a dragon and turns into a human. It was a wonderful journey to take as Aventurine taught us if you want something, you have to work for it.

As I said, all of the finalists are fantastic. I have to share them with you.

Goodreads

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood. Chantel would much rather focus on magic than curtsying, which is why she often finds herself in trouble. When Miss Ellicott mysteriously disappears along with all the other sorceresses in the city, Chantel’s behavior becomes the least of her problems. Without magic protecting the city, it’s up to Chantel and her friends to save the Kingdom. In doing so, Chantel discovers a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and a new, fiery magic that burns inside her—but can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?

Chantel has a problem with deportment, being shamefast and biddable, and I admit I may have the same problem. But that wasn’t all that hooked me. The characters are unique, the descriptions are detailed without losing the wonderful voice, and their adventure is full of tension. Plus magic and dragons? You can’t go wrong.

Goodreads

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh. Harper doesn’t trust her new home. It’s rumored to be haunted, but she’s not sure she believes it. It gives her a sense of déjà vu, but she can’t remember why. Until her younger brother starts acting strangely. Harper’s blocked out memories can explain her brother’s behavior and the strange happenings in the house. But will she remember it all in time?

Do you like to be scared? Well you’ve come to the right story. The mysteries of the house are just as spine tingling as the mysterious missing memories of Harper. Add to that are the descriptions of the spirit, William. Let’s just say I found myself looking over my shoulder for an evil ghost.

Goodreads

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander. Rosa just moved to Ingot, the only ghost-free town in the world. She doesn’t understand how her mother—a librarian who specializes in ghost-appeasement—could

want to live in a place with no ghosts. She doesn’t understand why anyone would. Jasper has always lived in Ingot. He has never seen a ghost, and can’t imagine his un-haunted town any other way. Until an apparition thunders into the festival grounds and turns the quiet town upside down. Something otherworldly is about to be unleashed. Rosa will need her ghost appeasement tools and help from Jasper to rein in the angry spirits and restore peace to Ingot before it’s too late.

I loved the plot of this book. An unhaunted town is unheard of? Ghosts are normal? Cool! The characters, their jobs, even the setting in a renaissance festival were extremely well developed and fun ways to tell this story.

Goodreads

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. It is Earth year 2213—but there is no Earth anymore. It was burned by the sun, which has mysteriously begun the process of going supernova. Humans fled to Mars, but only as a temporary solution while they planned a one-hundred-fifty-year journey to a permanent home. It’s the last day on Mars and Liam and Phoebe are going to be a few of the last humans to leave. Until they make profound discoveries about the nature of time and space, and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a dangerous struggle for survival.

Normally I’m a feet planted on the Earth kind of reader, but I was intrigued by the humans’ life on Mars. The descriptions were so well done, I could almost feel the planet’s dust. This novel is full of tension, sabotage, and aliens, as well as a reality check on how we treat our planet.

Goodreads

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. The underground city of Caverna has the world’s most skilled craftsmen who create wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer. The people of Caverna are ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are blank. Expressions such as joy, despair, or fear must be learned and only Facesmiths can teach them. For a price. Then comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying, she must wear a mask at all times. Her expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous.

Once again I was struck by the creativity of this story. People not having expressions? Facesmiths having to teach them? All the while telling the story of the wealthy and poor. And at the heart of it all is a naive girl who influences both.

Goodreads

The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky. Miranda can’t believe she was chosen as one of six kids from around the world to train for the first ever mission to Mars. As soon as the official announcement is made, she begins receiving anonymous threatening message, and when the training base is attacked, it looks like Miranda is the intended target. Now the entire mission—and everyone’s lives—are at risk. And Miranda may be the only one who can save them.

This is a winner for science and space lovers. And inventors, people who love strong, independent female thinkers, and those who appreciate the importance of working as a team. Add tension and amazing descriptions and you’ve got it all!

You can find all of the 2017 nominated books here.

2017 Cybils Winners

2017 Cybils Finalists

2017 Cybils Nominations

All of these books can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indi bookstores.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. She’s represented by Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

 

 

Windows & Mirrors: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Welcome to Windows & Mirrors where we feature books that provide us windows to lives outside our own and mirrors to our shared common human experiences.

Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King award winner Rita Williams Garcia’s Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is one of my favorite recent middle grade reads. Full of voice, the musicality and raw emotion of the blues, and complex family relationships, it’s a must read for any kidlit lover.

Clayton Byrd wants to play the blues harp (harmonica) with his grandfather Cool Papa and the Bluesman. But when life intervenes in the most tragic of ways, Clayton goes underground–literally into the New York City subway system–to learn some lessons about life, love, family, and the true meaning of the blues.

Still not convinced? The list of awards Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is as long as the subway trains he rides in:

  • National Book Award Finalist
  • Kirkus Best Books of 2017
  • Horn Book Best Books of 2017
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2017
  • School Library Journal Best Books of 2017
  • NAACP Image Awards Nominee
  • Chicago Public Library Best Books
  • Boston Globe Best Books of 2017

Check out this trailer for Clayton Byrd to hear the author read an excerpt of this stunning book:

To celebrate Black History Month, we curated this list of great fiction by black authors that is available on audiobook through libro.fm. Click the image to check it out!

Libro.fm Audiobooks to Celebrate Black History Month


Also, if you’re going to read any blogs in February, you should check out The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days series. It’s fantastic with daily author interviews and book featuring black authors.

Rita Williams-Garcia  is the New York Times bestselling author of nine novels for young adults and middle grade readers. Her most recent novel, Gone Crazy in Alabama ends the saga of the Gaither Sisters, who appear in One Crazy Summer and PS Be Eleven. Her novels have been recipients of numerous awards, including the Coretta Scott King Award, National Book Award Finalists, Newbery Honor Book, Junior Library Guild, and the Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction. She served on faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children MFA Program and she resides in Queens, New York.

The Literary Couples We Love

Happy Valentine’s Day!

hush-naidoo (Unsplash)

The true origins of Valentine’s Day are unknown – in 496, it signified the start of spring. It was also believed Valentine was a person who gave love to the world. Similar to what we now know as Cupid? Whichever story is true, both represent joy and happiness.

At The Winged Pen, we help spread happiness by talking about our love of books and authors, but today, Valentine’s Day, we are celebrating our love of literary couples.

And a surprise! The authors who created the couples we have fallen in love with are here to share their own favorites. It’s DOUBLE LOVE!

Jessica: Alma and Evan from DREAM THINGS TRUE by Marie Marquardt. One of my favorite couples is Alma and Evan from DREAM THINGS TRUE. They come from different cultures and classes, but forge a meaningful connection while struggling with the very real issues facing undocumented immigrants.

Marie MarquardtMikey and Ellie from YOU AGAINST ME by Jenny Downham. In Young Adult, my favorite literary couple is Mikey & Ellie from the fabulous novel YOU AGAINST ME. Mikey and Ellie are classically star-crossed: when the story opens, we find that her brother, Tom, has been accused by his sister, Karyn, of rape. Needless to say, Mikey and Ellie’s relationship is complicated — but in all of the beautiful ways.

HalliSpencer and Hope from TAXONOMY OF LOVE by Rachael Allen. Spencer and Hope’s meeting was not love at first sight, at least not for Hope, but they did become fast friends. And it was a friendship that could not have happened if it wasn’t for their compassionate personalities. From the very beginning of their story, these friends suffered through bullying, relationships, sibling rivalry, and death. And through it all Spencer and Hope supported and understood each other, even if they did not always show it. What I loved so much about this literary couple was that their relationship was true, painful and joyous, just as most are in real life.

Rachael AllenVirginia and Tourmaline from DONE DIRT CHEAP by Sarah Lemon. I love reading stories with friendships that carry the emotional punch of a love story. I can think of so many favorite female friendship books, but my most recent favorite is DONE DIRT CHEAP. Especially because Virginia and Tourmaline aren’t often the kinds of girls who get to have star-crossed friendships, particularly Virginia, who I could see becoming a trope in a weaker writer’s hands. The fact that these girls are fierce and strong, the fact that they’re on opposite sides and they should be enemies – it only made me root for them that much more. I could talk about them all day, but I’ll leave you with my favorite quote: “We’re friends because when girls – women – are alone in this world, they’re easier to pick off”

Alex Martinez (Unsplash)

Rebecca: Jo and Mary Carlson, Jo and her Dad from GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Jaye Robin Brown. One of my favorite themes in Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit is about how sometimes we hurt the people we love because we love them. So I’m cheating and choosing two couples from Brown’s novel as my favorite: Jo and Mary Carlson as well as Jo and her dad. Both Jo and her dad make decisions, poor though they are, out of love for the other person. Jo, rightly, doesn’t want to hold back Mary Carlson, and Jo’s father (rightly?) fears for his daughter’s safety. But both Jo and her dad vastly underestimate the hurt and betrayal of their choices. Neither shy away from the fallout or their parts in causing it because love means being fear-less and heart-full. This book fills me with hope and inspiration, and the last lines are a love letter to all readers: “I can’t know what the future holds for any of us. But what I do know is I’ll never again let my own fear hurt someone I love. Because love like this, it’s the only thing that really matters.”

Jaye Robin Brown: Grace and Luca from HOW TO MAKE A WISH by Ashley Herring Blake. Though I loved the girl/girl romance in HOW TO MAKE A WISH, it’s the friendship between Grace and Luca I’m going to highlight. In the book, Grace is dealing with a problematic mom. Bouncing between apartments, crazy business ventures, and always a different man, Grace’s mom often leaves Grace in the role of adult instead of child. Mostly Grace handles it, but on occasion things get the best of her. Enter best friend, Luca (and his awesome mom, Emmy). From the time they were children and Grace was left at home alone for a couple of days when her mom was out gallivanting, Luca has had her back. Now, as teens, Luca and Grace work together at LuMac’s, the family diner owned by Luca’s mom. When Grace’s mom secretly moves in with a new man while Grace is out of town, Luca is there to pick up the pieces. He’s the kind of bestie who understands the stress of her home life and just shows up, pizza fries in hand. He doesn’t ask prying questions or make judgements. He’s that kind of friend who’s simply there.  And to quote mutual friend Eva (and Grace’s love interest), “…Luca would commit legit murder for you and you’d do the same for him.” I loved their friendship. It was all the things—funny, biting, caring, loyal, honest— that make a relationship between two people work.

We would love to hear your favorite literary couples! Please put them in the comments below.

I could not write a post about love and romance without wishing my husband an early 25th year anniversary!

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. She’s represented by Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

 

Windows & Mirrors: Grandma’s Purse

Welcome to Windows & Mirrors where we feature books that provide us windows to lives outside our own and mirrors to our shared common human experiences.

 

 

Today we’re featuring Grandma’s Purse authored and illustrated by the amazing Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

I fell in love with Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s art the first time I laid eyes on it. Her illustrations are always bustling with energy and her carefully-chosen color palettes are candy for the eyes. She dreams up evocative characters and images that I want to know more about, making her books irresistible. Here are examples of artwork from her Instagram account:

See what I mean! I’m always torn with wanting to let my eyes linger over the gorgeous details and turning the page to see what other wonders might be in store.

But Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s latest creation spoke to my heart as soon as I read the title, before I’d seen a single brush stroke or inking.

Grandma’s Purse is a delightful story about a young girl who is fascinated by the treasures in her Grandma Mimi’s purse. It immediately brought back memories of my childhood when we’d visit with my grandma every Sunday. She’d always have gum or candy for me as well as other treasures to explore with her permission, of course.

Mimi’s purse is filled with sparkly fashion accessories, an old flip phone, gorgeous lipstick, glamorous sunglass, and more importantly every object has a story, inspiring dreams and memories. The text is charming, and the pictures are even more so, every scene magically speaks about family bonds with whimsy and delight.

Vanessa is also the author of two other books, perfect for black history month:  Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table and Let Freedom Sing. She has illustrated numerous gorgeous picture books:

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

One Love: Based on the Song by Bob Marley

Mary Had a Little Glam

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song

A Night Out with Mama

Every Little Thing: Based on the song ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley

and other picture books and novels such as the Jada Jones series by Kelly Starling Lyons and many, many more!

Check out Vanessa’s inspiring TedX talk about diversity and adversity:

To celebrate Black History Month, we curated this list of great fiction by black authors that is available on audiobook through libro.fm. Click the image to check it out!

Libro.fm Audiobooks to Celebrate Black History Month


Also, if you’re going to read any blogs in February, you should check out The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days series. It’s fantastic with daily author interviews and book featuring black authors.

 

 

Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a self-taught illustrator, doll maker, and crafter who studied fashion illustration at FIT and children’s book illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She is the author and illustrator of Let Freedom Sing and Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table and has illustrated numerous children’s books including Mary Had A Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, One Love and Every Little Thing, words by Bob & Cedella Marley, and Presenting Tallulah by Tori Spelling. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors for her wonderful books and designs.

Vanessa currently makes her nest in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, daughter, and a very rambunctious cat named Stripes. Learn more about Vanessa and her artwork at her website here or here or follower her on Instagram.

Posted by Michelle Leonard.

Windows & Mirrors: Betty Before X

Welcome to Windows & Mirrors where we feature books that provide us windows to lives outside our own and mirrors to our shared common human experiences.

 

 

Today we’re celebrating Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson!

Ilyasah Shabazz is the daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. She’s the author of several books about her revolutionary family, including the critically-acclaimed adult memoir Growing Up X, a beautiful picture book about her father Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up To Become Malcolm X as well as a fictionalized middle-grade biography about him entitled X, a 2016 Coretta Scott King honor book. Now, she’s sharing the story of her mother who is just as inspiring as her father, both icons for the Civil Rights Movement.

Set in Detroit in 1945, Betty Before X is the heart-rendering fictionalized account of Betty Shabazz’s tween years. Betty struggled to understand problems with segregation and racial hostility in her community, and she had a very difficult home life due to her unloving mother. But Betty didn’t let those problems define her. She paid close attention to the positive role models in her community, which helped her develop admirable responses to hardship and injustice––forgiveness, gratitude, and a yearning to work for a better future. Those traits helped Betty bloom into the community leader and civil rights advocate who later married Malcom X.  This story of a girl learning self-acceptance and overcoming the feeling that she didn’t belong is sure to resonate with young readers. The short, vividly-detailed chapters make for fantastic historical fiction for ages 10+. We can’t think of a better story to highlight during Black History Month, and we’re happy to report that, though it just released in January, it’s already in its second printing!

Ilyasah Shabazz is just as fascinating as her iconic and amazing family. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Check out this interview with her to learn more about her and her important work.

To celebrate Black History Month, we curated this list of great fiction by black authors that is available on audiobook through libro.fm. Click the image to check it out!

Libro.fm Audiobooks to Celebrate Black History Month


Also, if you’re going to read any blogs in February, you should check out The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days series. It’s fantastic with daily author interviews and book featuring black authors.

 

Posted by Michelle Leonard.

Introducing Windows & Mirrors

The phrase “windows and mirrors” has become a catch-phrase of the movement for more inclusivity in children’s literature. Borrowed from a scholarly paper written more than twenty-five years ago by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, the words remind us why children need to see themselves, and others who are not like them, in books:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. –Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990, p. ix

And yet, the statistics around who is telling children’s stories are sobering. Even with the ongoing discussion on social media and at bookish conferences and gatherings, the numbers have only slightly budged and are not even close to representing the actual demographics of our country.

Early last month, a few of us at The Winged Pen took a moment to discuss our reading goals for 2018. Several of us had goals specifically around reading more from marginalized voices and in the process of comparing notes, we realized we could share the books we’d found with our readers in hopes that you, too, could read more of these amazing books in the coming year.

We hope that someday, all book lists will represent the beautiful diversity of our world. Until then, we’d like to introduce Windows & Mirrors, a new series of book recommendations from The Winged Pen. Three Fridays per month, we’ll feature a mix of new and upcoming releases, as well as some favorites from the past few years that you might have missed, all written by writers who come from marginalized groups in need of having their voices heard.

 

Although this is a new series, this topic is not new to the bookish community or to this blog.

While you wait for tomorrow’s first recommendation, check out these past posts from The Winged Pen:

And here are some additional recommendations from other groups who are leading the way on this important topic:

To kick things off, we’ve teamed up with Libro.fm to create this list of amazing audiobooks by black authors to celebrate Black History Month! Purchases at Libro.fm support your favorite Indie Bookstore. Please check it out!

Black History Month Audiobook Playlist

Dear Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

I’ve been writing love letters to books that shaped me, as a person and as a writer, and for this month, it’s Karen Foxlee’s Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy. I so enjoyed this book, a dreamy and beautiful retelling of the Snow Queen. What I want to talk about today, though, is how it influenced my writing.

I write contemporary fantasies, and love to come up with sumptuous settings and vast and daring adventures. When writing my first book, though, I kept getting feedback that readers weren’t connecting with the main character. I tried all the tricks for character development. I wrote questionnaires and character sketches galore. I composed backstory that would never see the light of day, and even drew pictures. Nothing.

When I met Ophelia, it finally clicked. The story is just the kind I like, with a heartbreak at its center, and an epic battle to save a beloved driving it on. But this character was so likeable. I devoured it for the story, but I studied it for the technique. How did she do that?

A few things, I decided. Done so quickly that they could easily be missed, but crucial in establishing character immediately. Consider the title of chapter one: “In Which Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard discovers a boy in a locked room and is consequently asked to save the world.” That is followed swiftly by the first line: “Ophelia did not consider herself brave.” Right away we know both that Ophelia is going to have to do something very important, and that she is not going to be thrilled about it. That makes me curious, and it makes her seem self-effacing. I like that.

Ophelia’s reluctant bravery is a characteristic carried throughout the story. Every time that marvelous boy locked in the room asks Ophelia to do something, she says no. Then, grudgingly, she does it anyway, because she can’t just leave him locked in that room. She takes on incredibly scary tasks, but hems and haws and complains the whole time, which certainly seems relatable to me. I wouldn’t want to go walking through rooms of ghosts, either.

Foxlee also gives Ophelia a few idiosyncrasies that help us to see her more clearly, and that show us Ophelia’s fear without her having to remind us. Ophelia makes lists to distract herself. She tugs on her braid when she’s worried, and when she gets really scared, she has to take a puff of her inhaler. Isn’t that perfect?

I began to think anew about other characters I love. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we see the Dursleys’ horrid treatment of Harry, and then one of the first things Harry does is free an unhappy snake from its cage. He is an underdog, and he wants to save other underdogs. In The Golden Compass, we see Lyra hide and eavesdrop, but ultimately come clean and risk punishment to protect her uncle. She is sneaky and has a strong sense of self-preservation, but also a redeeming moral code.

It isn’t merely about fleshing out character, I realized. Lists of their favorite ice cream flavors and the like weren’t helping, because they didn’t reveal what the reader needed to understand about the character for this story. Ophelia’s inhaler sure did, though. I now believe that the key to a good characterization is to understand the character’s defining quality that drives the story, then give a clear early example of it and a few tics or traits that show it throughout. For that understanding, I will always be grateful to Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy.

Favorite quote:

Ophelia had never been prophesied before. It made her feel annoyed.

Kate Hillyer writes stories about brave girls who fight for what they love. She blogs here and at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. She currently serves as a Cybils judge for Poetry and Novels in Verse. You can find her on Twitter and at www.katehillyer.com. 

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Book Birthday: THE UNICORN QUEST by Kamilla Benko

Today we’re celebrating the publication of THE UNICORN QUEST, a middle grade novel that Bloomsbury describes as, “An enchanting, exciting fantasy about a real-world girl searching for her sister in a land full of magic and strange creatures, blending the timeless feel of The Last Unicorn and Wildwood with Frozen‘s powerful themes of identity, enchantment, and sisterhood.”

Those of you who follow me through Pitch Wars know that I have a *bit* of a thing for unicorns. (Shout out to #TeamUnicornMojo!) So the minute I heard about a book that combined three of my favorite story elements (Sisters! Magic! Unicorns!), I requested an advanced reader copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Before I get to my thoughts, here’s the publishers description of the story:

Claire Martinson still worries about her older sister Sophie, who battled a mysterious illness last year. But things are back to normal as they move into Windermere Manor . . . until the sisters climb a strange ladder in a fireplace and enter the magical land of Arden. 

There, they find a world in turmoil. The four guilds of magic no longer trust each other, the beloved unicorns have disappeared, and terrible wraiths roam freely. Scared, the girls return home. But when Sophie vanishes in the night, it will take all of Claire’s courage to climb back up the ladder, find her sister, and uncover the unicorns’ greatest secret.

And now, for my thoughts:

I’m happy to report that THE UNICORN QUEST lived up to my expectations, combining a fun, magical world with interesting characters and a sister relationship that feels very much rooted in real life. The fast-moving plot drove the story forward and I flew through the pages eager for each new development. I especially enjoyed the way Claire’s passion for art shaped the way she filtered the world and tied in to her adventure.

I agree that fans of THE LAST UNICORN and WILDWOOD will enjoy this story.

Copies are available at your local bookstores as well as online. Continue to learn more about the book (and author) by following THE UNICORN QUEST blog tour (dates and sites below).

Kamilla Benko spent most of her childhood climbing into wardrobes, trying to step through mirrors, and plotting to run away to an art museum. Now, she visits other worlds as a children’s book editor. Originally from Indiana, she currently lives in New York with her bookshelves, teapot, and hiking boots.

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production, and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Canada, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

Learning to Love Audiobooks

We do a lot of book recommendations here on The Winged Pen because between the lot of us, we read all. the. books. From MG fantasy modern classics to hot new releases to Native American literature for young readers.

But recently, a fairly intense Mom Taxi schedule left me considering something new: audiobooks. I never got into audiobooks because I mistakenly imagined myself fidgeting while I tried to sit still for HOURS listening to a teetering tower of books on tape. This is probably due to the sheer length of such audiobook favorites as Harry Potter (Stephen Fry’s rendition of these is worth the extreme length!) and The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I listened to while perpetually nursing a baby years ago.

So this winter, I sent out feelers to friends in the bookish community and got a bunch of recommendations. I checked out a half dozen or so from the local library and have been happily binge-listening on every basketball or choir pickup, every run into Seattle for SCBWI activities, or even during drudgery like laundry-folding and dish-washing. Folks, I think I might be hooked.

Here are my favorites so far:

The Crossover and Booked by Kwame Alexander

I am a huge basketball fan, so I read The Crossover quite a while ago. But last month, I listened to the audiobook and fell in love with the story, and basketball, all over again.

When I heard that Booked was narrated by the author, I knew I had to listen to it next.

I’m hoping to listen to more verse novels on audiobook, including revisiting Brown Girl Dreaming, Inside Out and Back Again, and Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

This was one of the titles that bumped way up my TBR list after multiple bookish friends raved about it and now I know why. When two 18th century best friends and an annoying younger sister head to the continent for a year, major hijinks ensues.

A great love story, complicated family dynamics, alchemy, and pirates. How can you go wrong?

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

Listening to fiction is great, but catching up on craft books is an added bonus of my new audiobook habit. Not only is The Art of Memoir a definitive discussion of the form, but it has applications to anyone who writes story arcs.

And Mary Karr is hilarious, so hearing this in her own voice is totally worth it.

 

It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm

This audiobook is a little different because it’s told with an ensemble cast. That’s because the story itself is a fictional history project in which the main character, nicknamed AD, documents her romantic history from kindergarten to senior year of high school.

A deliciously voice-y romp of a book, this one’s enough fun to make me glad that I’m commuting into Seattle four times this week!

Other Recommendations from the Pennies:

I haven’t listened to these yet, but other Pennies also recommended:

  • Sherlock Holmes (Kate)
  • The Book Thief (Kate)
  • His Dark Materials (Kate)
  • Dracula (Michelle)
  • Secret of Nightingale Wood (Michelle)
  • Scorpio Races (Rebecca)
  • The Graveyard Book (Rebecca)
  • Between the World and Me (Richelle)
  • American Ghost (Richelle)

And if you want to try out audiobooks, but also want to support indie booksellers, consider a subscription to Libro.fm or see if your local library has an online subscription program like OverDrive. Mine has a pretty sizable collection that I can listen to right from my phone without dealing with pesky CDs.

Thanks to Libro.fm for making a playlist based on our book recommendations! Find it here.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Which one’s your favorite?

Book Recommendation: Shadow Weaver

The shadows that surround us aren’t always as they seem…

Shadow Weaver, by MarcyKate Connolly, is a middle grade fantasy story of family, friends, belonging, and betrayal – all woven together with beautiful magic.

Goodreads

Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side. Goodreads

This novel is one of the most beautifully written stories I’ve ever read. The author spins and shapes her words as smoothly as Emmeline weaves shadows. Her descriptions make the shadows come alive and leap off the page. The plot is both heartwarming and heartbreaking as it weaves good and evil in unpredictable ways as Emmeline prepares to bring her best friend back to life and find where she belongs.

The story is filled with interesting characters, some with special abilities, who play a part in Emmeline’s growth and the larger plot. It’s an adventure we feel privileged to take.

Shadow Weaver can be found at all major bookstores including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and independent bookstores. For more information on MarcyKate Connolly, check out her website.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. Her middle grade science fiction novel is represented by Kathy Green of Kathryn Green Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.