Book Recommendation: A Taxonomy of Love

A Taxonomy of Love is a coming of age novel that spans the teenage years of Spencer and Hope. Rarely, if ever, do we get to see this many years of a character’s life. So many books I’ve read have centered around a single incident or a specific time period. With this novel, I felt as if I’d watched these kids grow up.

The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.
Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful. (NetGalley)

One of the perks of a novel covering so many years is the ability to cover a wide range of topics, then see how they unravel, and what short and long term affects are on each character. The topics in this novel included Tourette syndrome (a neurological disorder), bullying, sibling rivalry, death, multigenerational relationships, young love, first times, and interracial relationships in the south. Whew! That’s a tremendous amount to fit into one story, but Rachael Allen does it seamlessly. The events and characters are woven together just like real life.

The relationships between the characters are what make this story special. They are realistic, not neat and wrapped up in a bow. The kids are faced with hardships and triumphs and it is how they deal with each situation that makes this book so addicting. The voices and characters are so beautifully crafted with strong voices that grow as the kids age, I did not want to let them go.

As an individual with Tourette syndrome, finding a novel with a character living with this disorder was what originally drew me to this book. I was so pleased with Spencer’s character and how Rachael Allen explained and dealt with the issues of his Tourette’s. Again as a novel that spans many years, readers are able to see how this disorder impacts his life at different stages. Like life, this is a disorder that is constantly changing.

You can purchase this book today at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and IndiBound

For more information about author Rachael Allen, you can find her here.

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.

Book Recommendation: THE HAZEL WOOD by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood, Melissa Albert, YA book reviewPublisher’s Description

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away–by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began–and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Rebecca’s Thoughts

The Hazel Wood is as dark and creepy as the Grimm fairy tales its main character Alice has spent her childhood reading. The author’s vivid description pulls you first into Alice’s life in New York City and then into the stranger world of Hazel Wood and beyond. Alice’s thirst for the truth about herself and drive to find her mother propel the story forward, and obstacles at every turn and keep the pages turning quickly. I particularly liked the stories within this story–excerpts from her grandmother’s book provide glimpses of the twisted characters and deeds that lie ahead on Alice’s path. The Hazel Wood is a great pick for fans of Stranger Things and Holly Black’s novels.

I requested an advanced reader copy of The Hazel Wood  in exchange for an unbiased review.

The Hazel Woods will be release on January 30th. You can check it out on Goodreads or pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indiebound.

Need more book suggestions? If The Hazel Wood sounds good, you might also like some of the young adult fantasy and science fiction releases I read while judging nominees for the 2017 CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction award. I wrote short reviews of the best here:

5 Must-Reads from the CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction Award nominees.
– 5 More Great Reads from the CYBILS YA Spec Fic Award 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.

Dear The Phantom Tollbooth

Oh, this strange, wonderful, wise book. Every month, I’m writing a love letter to a book that has shaped me, and this month, it’s The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

For those poor souls who haven’t yet read this classic, it’s the story of Milo, who comes home from school one day to find a tollbooth addressed to him. He drives his toy car through it and enters the magical Kingdom of Reason, where he discovers two warring kings, Azaz the Unabridged, who believes words matter more than numbers, and his brother, the Mathemagician, who is equally certain that numbers are more important than words. Milo embarks on a quest to reunite the kings and save the land by rescuing the twin sisters of the kings, Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason, who have been exiled to the Castle in the Air. Joining him on the journey are Tock, a dog whose belly is a huge watch, and the Humbug, a gruff and self-important beetle.

The language is absurd and delicious. Juster excels at word play and puns, and each sentence can be unpacked for layers of meaning and added delight. Here are a few gems:

“Whether or not you find your own way, you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty.”

“If something is there, you can only see it with your eyes open, but if it isn’t there, you can see it just as well with your eyes closed. That’s why imaginary things are often easier to see than real ones.”

You want to linger over each sentence, but Juster pulls you along with Milo and his crew to the next adventure, which is bound to be even more fantastic and silly than the last.

Hidden in amongst the bizarre and the playful, though, are some real nuggets of wisdom. For instance, Milo learns on his journey that one can easily jump to the island of Conclusions, but the only way out is a long, hard swim through the Sea of Knowledge.

When Milo finally makes it to the princesses, he laments, “[W]e would have been here much sooner if I hadn’t made so many mistakes. I’m afraid it’s all my fault.”

Princess Reason responds, “You must never feel badly about making mistakes…as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

I recently read The Phantom Tollbooth to my nine-year-old. I was pleased to find that as an adult I felt the same delight I had as a child, luxuriating in Juster’s language. My son’s guffaws made clear that this book, now more than fifty years old, holds up well.

More surprising, though, was to realize how much the book had shaped me. The Phantom Tollbooth introduced me, a devoted rule-following kid, to the joys of a journey with lots of side trips and missteps, and to playing around with language just because it is fun to do so. It is a lesson I am still learning.

I also believe that it is due to The Phantom Tollbooth that I view the greatest and most moral of skills to be the fair and peaceful resolution of disputes. As a child, I wanted nothing so much as to be the lovely, kind, just, and intelligent princesses. I think I became a lawyer because of them.

I still feel a catch in my heart at their description: “They were dressed all in white and were beautiful beyond compare. One was grave and quiet, with a look of warm understanding in her eyes, and the other seemed gay and joyful.” Rhyme’s laugh was “as friendly as the mailman’s ring when you know there’s a letter for you.”

Wouldn’t you want to be them? Don’t you?

And while I know that I will never achieve their heights of calm wisdom and lighthearted reassurance, this book taught me that it is worthwhile to strive for those things. It taught me that reason and compassion can save almost anything.

Favorite Quote:

So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

Kate Hillyer loves reading aloud, mostly because of the guffaws. She writes middle grade stories about brave girls who fight for the things they love. She blogs here and at From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. You can find her online at www.katehillyer.com and on Twitter as @SuperKate. She also has a book blog, www.kidbooklist.com, and lucky dog, she gets to be a Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. 

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Dear Skellig

This is the second love letter in the series we’re doing about books that shaped us, as individuals and as writers. Last month, I wrote about a book that formed me as a person. This month, it’s the book that inspired me to write middle grade. I discovered Skellig, by David Almond, as an adult. I fell into it by accident, intrigued by its strange title and lovely cover. I finished it in two days, deciding almost immediately that it was the perfect book.

Skellig tells the story of a boy named Michael who moves into a new house and discovers, in the broken-down barn there, a grumpy, old, arthritic man who maybe has wings, is maybe an angel. Michael also has a baby sister who was born too early, and may not survive. “Sometimes I think she’s never quite left Heaven and never quite made it all the way here to Earth,” Michael’s mother says. “Maybe that’s why she has such trouble staying here.”

It was Skellig that taught me what contemporary fantasy can do in middle grade. It can use magic to illuminate and elucidate hard truths—the things that children know, intuitively, but do not have the language to express. I love middle grade because it is the cusp where magic is still not entirely impossible, but the harder aspects of reality are visible, as well. Middle grade contemporary fantasy mines this fleeting moment in life.

The story is gorgeously spare. I cannot tell you what any of the characters look like, except Skellig, vaguely. I am unsure where it takes place, though the use of “bloody” and “blinking” as curses tells me somewhere in Great Britain. The time period could be anything over about a century, post-automobile and pre-cell phone. There are no literary acrobats, no lingering descriptions or laugh lines. It is as hard to get my hands around as a dream. But, like a dream, the feeling it evokes lingers deep within.

This is the book that inspired me to write. In the comments, if you like, I would love to hear your inspirations.

Favorite Quote

“What are you?” I whispered.
He shrugged again.
“Something,” he said. “Something like you, something like a beast, something like a bird, something like an angel.” He laughed. “Something like that.”

Kate Hillyer continues to search for magic in the everyday. She writes middle grade stories about girls strong enough to save the things they love. You can find her at www.katehillyer.com and on Twitter as @SuperKate. She blogs here and at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, and also has her own book blog at www.kidbooklist.com. 

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Meet Jada Jones! New chapter books by Kelly Starling Lyons

Happy Birthday to Jada Jones! She’s a “rock” star and a good citizen in two new chapter books released September 19th by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodreads: Rock Star                                                           Goodreads: Class Act

“Jada Jones thinks there’s nothing cooler than rocks. So, when her teacher gives the class a group project on rocks and minerals, Jada knows she’s going to rock the assignment. Her only problem is finding a group of friends to work with. For Jada, rocks are easier to find than friends. Or are they?” –back cover of JADA JONES ROCK STAR

These five sentences sum up my entire childhood. I was always the kid who liked things no one else liked—slime mold, rocks, microscopes, math homework. But Jada has skills I didn’t have. Not only does she “rock” science, but in JADA JONES ROCK STAR she figures out how to “rock” friendships too. What I would have done to have a friend like Jada while growing up!

This chapter book wins 5 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 stars from me for being fast-paced and easy-to-read with relatable, interesting characters including BFF to all, Jada Jones❤️. Add to this Jada’s love of science and Vanessa Brantley Newton’s gorgeous illustrations––and BOOM! This becomes a book I’m excited to recommend to all my young friends. I can’t wait to feast my eyes on CLASS ACT because it’s about another topic near and dear to me:  being a good citizen!

But don’t take my word for it! Kirkus and School Library Journal think these are top-notch reads for young readers too!

Hurry to your local bookstore to ask for them.  Indiebound   Barnes & Noble  Amazon

I’m honored to have Kelly Starling Lyons here to talk with us about Jada Jones and writing. Kelly is the award-winning author of many books for young people including ONE MORE DINO ON THE FLOOR, HOPE’S GIFT, ONE MILLION MEN AND ME, ELLEN’S BROOM, and one of my favorite’s TEA CAKES FOR TOSH. She is also a member of The Brown Bookshelf, which you can learn more about in Kelly’s interview at From the Mixed Up Files. What I love most about Kelly’s stories is they’re always about special moments, the perfect antidote for our fast-paced world. Not only do her stories linger with you, but I often find myself reflecting on my own memories after reading one of her books. What a beautiful gift to readers!

Welcome, Kelly! Thank you so much for taking time out to talk with us at The Winged Pen!

You’re the author of several picture books including ONE MORE DINO ON THE FLOOR, ONE MILLION MEN AND ME, and many others including one of my favorites, TEACAKES for TOSH. How was the process for writing a chapter book different from writing a picture book?

Thanks so much for your support, Michelle. You have to write tight with a picture book. You want to create visual scenes that open up illustrative possibilities for the artist who is your storytelling partner. Lyricism and rhythm are important, because picture books are often read aloud.

Writing a chapter book meant I had more space to tell the story. I could include more description and dialogue. Kids would be reading these stories mostly on their own, so I needed to end each chapter with a little hook to keep them turning the page. My first book, NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal, was a chapter book. It was cool returning to that genre.

Jada Jones loves rocks in book one, runs for class representative in book two, and is overall a great role model for citizenship and navigating the friendship woes that most of us have experienced. Do these experiences come from your own childhood?

 Jada is mostly inspired by my daughter and girls I’ve met during school visits. But there’s a bit of me in her too.  I collected rocks as a kid. My favorite was a hunk of quartz I found when visiting an aunt in Eden, NC. Like Jada, I cared a lot about friendships. Her experiences in the books celebrate the bravery and resilience of smart, big-hearted kids I know.

It was important to me to center an African-American girl. We need more chapter books featuring kids of color. I’m proud that Jada will help kids see themselves and their friends.

The illustrations from Vanessa Brantley Newton gives me the same happy, warm feeling that the text does. Have you worked with her before? Did you have any input in the illustrations?

Vanessa is my sister-friend. I’ve always been a big admirer of her art, but I haven’t worked with her before. I feel so blessed that she’s the illustrator for the Jada Jones series. She captured Jada’s joy, brilliance and sensitivity in such a lovely way. The final decisions regarding artwork are up to the art director, illustrator and editor. But my editor did share Vanessa’s wonderful sketches with me and gave me the chance to share thoughts.

Will there be more Jada stories? I hope so. If kids really like the first two books, that could bring the chance for more. Crossing my fingers.

What can you tell us about what you’re working on now? I’m working on a picture book biography of an unsung African-American trailblazer and a forthcoming picture book that celebrates family coming together to honor their heritage and land.

Whoa! Those books sound awesome! Here goes the Lightning Round? Hands Kelly a chocolate bar for strength!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Healing

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden pencil.

Coffee or tea? Tea.

Sweet or salty?  Both. I love chasing something salty with something sweet like popcorn with chocolate.

Dog, cat, or other?  Dog.

Plotter or pantser? Both.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? The best advice I received was years ago at the Highlights Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. Editor Patti Gauch told us to “write the story only you can tell.” Dig deep and find stories that celebrate children and are informed by who you are. Another piece of advice I give to emerging authors is don’t let rejections get you down. All it takes is one yes.

Thank you again, Kelly! Happy book birthday to you and wonderful Jada!

Kelly Starling Lyons is an award-winning author,  a writing mentor active in SCBWI, and a member of The Brown Bookshelf, a group dedicated to spreading “awareness about the myriad of Black voices writing for young readers.” Visit her website to learn more about her. And Jada has a website too! 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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