5 More Great Reads from the CYBILS Young Adult Speculative Fiction Nominees

Rebecca J Allen, CYBILS, YA speculative fictionMy last post shone a spotlight on Five Must-Read books from the CYBILS 2017 Young Adult Speculative Fiction nominees. But there was too much awesome to fit in just one post. If you love fantasy, science fiction and magical realism as much as I do, you’ll love these books too!

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell – In the present day, magic is all but extinct and magicians are trapped in a Manhattan by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that strips them of their powers and often their lives, if they try to leave the city. Magicians are hunted by the Order, the group that created the Brink and is trying to rid the world of magicians. To find out how to defeat the Order and free her kind, Esta must use her unique ability to manipulate time to travel back to 1902 and steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order before it is destroyed, dooming modern-day magicians to a hopeless future. But when the Order closes in, Esta risks losing not only her magic but also her way back to her own time.
I loved the world – early 1900’s plus magic!, the action, and the fight for magic played out through time.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo – One of our favorite superheroes gets a new origin story. A ship is bombed just past the border hiding her home, the secret island of the Amazons, from the human world. Diana rescues a survivor, breaking the prohibition against bringing mortals to the island and risking her own exile. The survivor Aila is the Warbringer, a descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about a world war. Diana and Aila are determined to keep that from happening. They battle enemies – both mortal and divine – as they try to stem the tide of war. I loved Diana as a female, kickass superhero, intense action scenes, surprising bad guys and the twisty plot.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle. Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.
– Amazon
The Sorias are the saints of Bicho Raro, a family who can bring darkness out of the pilgrims that come to them for help. But it takes more than just one miracle for pilgrims to overcome their darkness, and therein lies the challenge. The Sorias are a fascinating cast: a girl without feelings, a pirate radio D.J., and the saint who can perform miracles for everyone but himself. The pilgrims are equally fascinating, each struggling to overcome the surprising symptoms of the thing that haunts them. When a saint is forced to confront his own darkness, his life as well as the lives of his family are all suddenly on the line. I loved the strange and interesting cast of characters, the glimpses of pilgrims wrestling inner demons – struggles anyone can all relate to, and the author’s understated and dry humor .
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

Shadowhouse Falls by Daniel Jose Older – *This is Book 2 Shadowshaper series and contains spoilers for Book 1.* Graffiti comes to life,  animated by magic and the spirits of the dead in Shadowshaper, book 1 of the series. Shadowhouse Falls, takes the art-turned-magic up a notch by expanding the magical weapons to chalk drawings – if the bad guys are on your trail and there’s no time to paint – and rap music – if the bad guys arrive while there’s a mic in your hand and a good base guitar backing you up. Will someone please make this series into a movie? Sierra found her powers in Shadowshaper. But with ancient enemies trying to recruit Sierra or take her down if they can’t, and the police keeping a close eye on her and her friends, not the bad guys, the conflict is goes up a notch. Sierra needs to build the strength of her own magic as well as that of her team to meet the forces aligning against them.  I loved the art brought to life to do battle, the vivid portrayal of Sierra’s Brooklyn community and the fiercely loyal group of friends that teams up with the Sierra.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy – Strange gravity fluctuations in space near Earth have NASA searching for new teen members of their Interworlds Agency (IA) program. Candidates are tested not only on advanced math and astrophysics, but also on their reactions to behavioral problems where the “right” solutions are anything but clear. The competition for spots in the program is intense and some candidates are willing to play dirty.

The story follows Rosa, an astrophysics prodigy, and Eddie, a brilliant boy with a troubled past, as they undergo the rigors of the selection process and finally find out why the IA needs new recruits. I loved how these two very different teens approached NASA’s strange tests, the bond that developed between them, and the speculation about types of threats Earth could face in the future.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

I’m still reading CYBILS speculative fiction nominees as speedily as I can and may hope to have one more post of recommendations. But until then, I wish you an magical, inter-galactic, revolutionary, adventure-filled holiday season! May the biggest challenges you face be those on the printed page, and may the tugs on your heart be the most genuine of the real world.

If you missed it, check out my first post on must-read CYBILS YA spec fic nominees.

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She reviews young adult books, is a judge for the CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction book award and fangirls all things bookish. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, or on her website, writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

What Can We Learn About Character Arc and Pacing from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY II? (Spoiler free)

Photo courtesy of Marvel.com

Months ago, my fourteen-year-old son saw the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy II, and insisted we see it in the theater. We all liked the original movie and the trailer looked good, so on a cloudy, not-too-promising Saturday morning, we planned it as a family outing. By the time we arrived at the theater, my son, my daughter and I were still excited, but my husband looked up at the now-clear sky and said, “If I’d known, I’d have planned a hike.” This was prescient of further differences of opinion.

The movie started out strong, with well-loved characters fighting off an enormous and seemingly invincible alien. The plot moved swiftly, with all the dashing, diving and blasting you’d expect from a science fiction blockbuster. And then, after the first plot point in the story structure was hit, things slowed down for character development. This slowdown was the source of the diverging opinions.

The first movie in franchise, fans among you know, had five beloved characters: Peter, an adventurer who lost his mother to cancer when he was young and has never known his father, Gamora, raised to be the perfect weapon by the antagonist of the first movie, Drax, who lost his entire family to that antagonist, Rocket, a genetically engineered racoon who has never known any more family than Groot, the sentient tree who is his constant companion. To these characters, GOTG II adds Gamora’s sister, Nebula, and Yondu, bandit and father-figure to Peter.

If you are not a GOTG fan, you may have found yourself skimming through that long list of characters, so imagine what happens when the script writers slow down the sci fi special effects and bad-guy bashing to explore the wounds of each of these characters. All seven. In most cases, the characters are paired off so that their wounds could be explored in duos as opposed to seven separate scenes. Still, by the second of these scenes, I leaned over to my husband to whisper, “and now we will pause for character development so that at the end of the movie, we’re satisfied everyone’s issue has been resolved.”

One interesting question is, was this the wrong thing to do? The story structure in the movie was right on target. These scenes highlighting the characters’ wounds and the ones later where they were seen to struggle with the wounds are right out of a lesson on how to build a character arc. They were “correct,” and if we fast forward to the end of the movie, my fourteen-year-old son said the movie was awesome and that he shed a tear at the climax. (If you have a fourteen-year-old son, you know this is some serious praise!) My daughter loved the movie. I thought it was good, though I’d say the character development slowed the movie down too much and was a bit too “on the nose.” My husband thought the movie was lousy. On IMDB, the rating for GOTG II was 8.1, quite high, and tied with the rating of the first movie in the series.

So what lessons should we, as storytellers, should draw from Guardians of the Galaxy II?

Well, as you can see from my title, I left this as a question and welcome discussion in the comments below. I’ll probably rewatch after the movie is out on DVD and think about it some more. But one take-away is that opinions will differ. One person’s response to a movie, like a manuscript sent to an agent or editor, is subjective. My son, daughter and I love these characters, so it would have taken worse script-writing or direction for us to dislike the movie. My husband, on the other hand, was much more swayed by the folly of being in a dark theater on a perfect Spring day.

My second take-away is that character development and character arcs are harder to do well when you have seven characters you’re trying to get an audience to care about. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but it makes the job of the screenwriters and director much more difficult. This could be a warning about making your story-telling job harder with multiple point-of-view characters.

My third take-away is for my own writing. I’m in the final stage of revisions for a science fiction action story, luckily one with only two main characters. I’ve gotten feedback on a couple scenes that the flashbacks are too long and not connected to the main story. I keep saying, “but that’s the source of my main character’s wound” and trimming the offending scenes a little. So for me, this movie was really timely – the chance to see ponderous character development from the audience’s point of view. I’m going to be taking another close look at those flashbacks.

What do you think?

Share your thoughts on the character development in Guardians of the Galaxy II!  It might be fun to compare GOTG II to the character development in another blockbuster action film, Suicide Squad. Let me know what you think in the comments!

And if you ‘re interested in other Winged Pen posts on recent movies, check out Michelle Leonard’s thoughts on Everything, Everything!

Subscribe to The Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. Click to SUBSCRIBE!

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.

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EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING Movie vs. Book (no spoilers!)

My 13yo daughter and I arrived at a movie theatre Tuesday night as excited as two people could possibly be about getting a sneak preview of the EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING movie based on Nicola Yoon’s book by the same name. But excitement wasn’t the only thing coursing through my veins as I stood in line to take my seat…

Anyone who knows me well, knows that EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING is one of my all-time favorite books. I mean, it’s got EVERYTHING going for it. It’s a love story (swoon) about a mixed-race relationship, but it also has a dramatic twist. It’s full of feels, yet light on words making it a quick read, perfect for reluctant readers. The illustrations in the book were drawn by Nicola Yoon’s very talented husband, David Yoon, making it a love story mixed into a love story.  So yeah, I LOVE THIS BOOK!

AND I had the pleasure of riding next to Nicola Yoon on an airplane on my way to a writing workshop she was co-teaching about Writing Cross-Culturally back in March. Like me, she’s a scientist and a writer, and the word “worship” comes closest to describing my feelings for her.

BUT here’s the problem.

I normally dislike movies based on books I adore. That something else coursing through my veins was ANXIETY. I didn’t want to hate this movie.😧

 

 

 

 

BUT THE MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I LOVED it! ❤️😍❤️😍❤️😍❤️😍❤️😍❤️😍❤️

 

 

Unlike many adaptions, the movie is very close to the book. The acting is top-notch. Amandla Stenberg play the lead-role of Maddy, and she is STUNNING to watch. Her smile is like sunshine. She melted me over and over and over… The chemistry between Amandla and her co-star Nick Robinson (Olly) was excellent. The sweet, sweet love story plays out well on the big screen, and the twist is handled well. (There were many gasps in the audience!) Some of David Yoon’s illustrations were included in the movie too, which was definitely like a cherry on top. And the soundtrack is as swoon-worthy as the movie!

My Daughter’s Verdict: “I’m going to go see this with each of my friends individually so I can see it a bunch more times.” She’s talked about this movie nearly every day for months, and she was not disappointed. She loved the movie and book equally. Her favorite thing about the movie: “I really enjoyed seeing Rue (from Hunger Games) playing Maddy’s role.” Her least favorite thing: “I wish they had done the scene when Maddy and Olly first touch in the movie the same way it was in the book.”

My Verdict: I still love the book more, but I love the movie too. The only negative I have to report is the movie is too short. (I wanted MORE!) EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING is a great movie to see with your daughters and a great date movie for teens! (Yes, all romance should be this sweet!)

If you haven’t read the book and you like love stories, you will probably enjoy the movie. (I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that you will want to read the book too).

If you have read the book and loved it, you will be PLEASED!

Select showings begin on May 18th and the full release is May 19th! Go see it! Here’s a handy link to Fandango so you can find it in a theatre near you! Want to know more? Here’s the EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING movie website and Twitter.

What are your favorite movie/TV adaptions of favorite books? Feel free to share in the comments!

Subscribe to The Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. Click to SUBSCRIBE!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

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Cover Reveal, Interview, and Giveaway with Oddity Author Sarah Cannon

Photo of Author Sarah Cannon

The Winged Pen is thrilled to reveal the cover for Oddity, by debut author and pal Sarah Cannon. Read to the end, because there is a giveaway, too!

JA: So Sarah, tell us about Oddity.

SC: I can’t wait for everyone to read Oddity! It’s a Welcome to Night Vale-inspired adventure, so it’s both life-or-death and very tongue-in-cheek. It’s a love letter to geeky fan-children of all ages (and a lot of fun to read aloud!)

JA: The cover is gorgeous. How did it feel when you finally saw it?

SC: I love this cover with the fire of a thousand suns.

I’m so grateful to Katlego Kgabale for her wonderful work, which gives me actual chills. You should definitely follow her on twitter, and keep an eye out for more of her art.

JA: Tell me more about the cover design!

SC: One thing I specifically asked for was to have Ada Roundtree, the main character, featured front and center. Too often, children of color on middle grade fantasy covers are positioned to the left or right of (and behind) a white main character, and over time this communicates a clear message about who gets to have the adventure, and who gets to support the adventure. Oddity‘s cover is one small move toward countering that narrative.

Now for the reveal…

 

 

Do you want to see it? 

 

 

Are you sure? 

 

OK, here it is:

Full Book Jacket for Oddity

JA: I can tell you’re passionate about this topic (as am I). Can you talk about how this book fits in the ongoing conversation about diversity in children’s literature?

SC: Well, obviously, I’m a white lady, so the first thing I’ll say is that while this is a pluralistically-cast book, I’d stop short of calling it a diverse one.

Around three out of every ten Americans are non-white.  Two of ten are disabled. At least one in twenty identifies as LGBTQIA+. Obviously, these groups overlap, but as a general rule of thumb, if more than half of my characters are white, non-disabled, and cisgender/straight, I’m not representing the demographics of my community. Full stop.

As someone who has worked with children since I was old enough to work at all, it’s important to me write for all readers, and to provide a book in which every student I’ve taught can find a reflection of self. I’ve worked hard to get as many sets of eyes on this book as possible, through betas and sensitivity readers. I’ve done my very best to provide quality representation, and I welcome feedback from readers on areas where I could improve. But Oddity doesn’t belong on lists of diverse books, books by marginalized writers do— and let’s be honest— the publication of Oddity does nothing to put more books by diverse authors on the shelves.

JA: Which leads into this giveaway…

Exactly! As an author and a reader,  I actively support #ownvoices writers in a variety of ways, and so I wanted to do a cover reveal that furthers that goal. One of the reasons that children’s books lack diverse representation is because the staff at many publishing houses doesn’t reflect America’s diversity. One organization that has tackled this problem is We Need Diverse Books. Through their Internship Grant program, they make it possible for diverse applicants to accept publishing internships, which are often unpaid and favor candidates who are financially privileged. That’s where I’m focusing my energy today.

JA: Thanks for sharing your story, Sarah. And now for the fun part: FREE BOOKS!!!!!

In support of WNDB’s program, Sarah’s giving away copies of five middle-grade books by #ownvoices authors to readers who make a donation to We Need Diverse BooksThe Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste (sequel out in September 2017!), The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi, Cilla-Lee Jenkins, Future Author Extraordinaire, by Susan Tan, Flying Lessons and Other Stories (a short story collection edited by the inimitable Ellen Oh), and last but not least, she has a signed copy of Ghost by Jason Reynolds! Enter to win by posting in the comments below, then emailing proof of your WNDB donation to hellosarahcannon @ gmail.com. Entries will remain open through May 23rd. Good luck!

Oddity book jacketSarah Cannon, author of Oddity, has lived all over the U.S., but right now she calls Indiana home. She has a husband, three kids and a misguided dog. Sarah holds a B.S. in Education. She’s a nerdy knitting gardener who drinks a lot of coffee, and eats a lot of raspberries. She is probably human.

Connect with Sarah on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram, and check out
Oddity on Goodreads, IndieBound, and Amazon.

Behind the Scenes: My Experience as a Cybils Judge

This winter, I was able to serve as a judge for the Cybils, an award for children’s and young adult authors and illustrators. Established by bloggers, the Cybils recognize work that combines literary merit with popular appeal.

I’d been following the Cybils for a few years, and knew that it was a well-respected award. I’m a book blogger, too, at Kid Book List, and when I saw the call for judges, I thought I’d give it a try. I hoped it would be a good opportunity to discover some great books and meet new people in the kid lit community.

It was both of those in spades. I was chosen to be a second-round judge in the Poetry category. Lucky me! I am a big fan of novels in verse and kid poetry anthologies.

Anyone can nominate books for consideration in any of the categories; the only requirements are that they have been published in the United States or Canada in the year under consideration. Each Cybils category has first round readers who go through all of the nominated books. They narrow the nominations to a group of five to seven finalists for the second-round readers, who then choose a winner.

That’s where the fun began for me. We had a fantastic and incredibly diverse set of finalists in the Poetry category, which made our task both exciting and difficult. Our finalists were:

BOOKED by Newbery Award winner Kwame Alexander, a middle grade novel in verse about a soccer-obsessed boy whose parents are separating;

FRESH DELICIOUS, written by Irene Latham and illustrated by Mique Moriuchi, an upbeat and colorful poetry anthology for the preschool and early elementary set, celebrating the joys of the farmer’s market;

GARVEY’S CHOICE by Nikki Grimes, a spare and lovely middle grade novel in verse told from the perspective of an overweight boy who struggles to win his athletic father’s approval;

GUESS WHO, HAIKU, written by Deanna Caswell and illustrated by Bob Shea, an adorable picture book in poem form centered on a barnyard;

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY by Laura Shovan, a middle grade novel in verse told from a remarkable eighteen perspectives and in an array of poetic forms, about the last year of a school that will be torn down;

TO STAY ALIVE: MARY ANN GRAVES AND THE TRAGIC STORY OF THE DONNER PARTY by Skila Brown, a young adult historical in gorgeous and unflinching verse;

WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES: POEMS FOR ALL SEASONS, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Julie Morstad, a beautiful anthology for early elementary readers that celebrates the garden through the seasons.

Once the finalists were in, we got to work. First we gathered the books from the library (or our bookshelves!), and a few that we couldn’t get in time were sent from the publisher. Our reading load was lighter than the first round’s, and I was able to get it done in the time we needed without too much trouble.

The great sweep of books in this category made it challenging to compare them, but after some email discussion, we decided that Laura Shovan’s THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY was “the most appealing in its diversity, its capturing of the emotional lives of children on the brink of adolescence, and its poetic acrobatics.” See here for our write-up about why we chose it, and to read about the winners in all of the categories.

You can find out more about the Cybils here. If you’re interested in nominating a book, the deadline is generally in October. And if you want to apply to be a judge, the application is due in September. Follow the Cybils account on Twitter to make sure not to miss any announcements.

I’m so glad I was able to participate in the Cybils process. I discovered some fantastic books, analyzed what makes for a successful book of poetry for children, and met other dedicated readers of poetry and novels in verse.

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who spends her lunch hours reading poetry. She blogs here and at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. You can also find her on her websiteTwitter, and Instagram