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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Book Recommendation: The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding

I am a huge fan of creepy. Books, movies, decaying abandoned houses. So when The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken became available on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. This book is the whole package of eerie while still having the humor middle grade readers love.

Goodreads

“I would say it’s a pleasure to meet thee, Prosperity Oceanus Redding, but truly, I only anticipate the delights of destroying thy happiness .”
Prosper is the only unexceptional Redding in his old and storied family history-that is, until he discovers the demon living inside him. Turns out Prosper’s great-great-great-great-great-something grandfather made-and then broke-a contract with a malefactor, a demon who exchanges fortune for eternal servitude. And, weirdly enough, four-thousand-year-old Alastor isn’t exactly the forgiving type. The fiend has reawakened with one purpose–to destroy the family whose success he ensured and who then betrayed him. With only days to break the curse and banish Alastor back to the demon realm, Prosper is playing unwilling host to the fiend, who delights in tormenting him with nasty insults and constant attempts to trick him into a contract. Yeah, Prosper will take his afterlife without a side of eternal servitude, thanks. But with the help of his long-lost uncle, Barnabas, and his daughter, Nell, a witch-in-training, it seems like Prosper has at least a fighting chance of ridding himself of Alastor before the demon escapes and wreaks havoc on his family.
Little does Prosper know, the malefactor’s control over his body grows stronger with each passing night and there’s a lot Alastor isn’t telling his dim-witted (but admittedly strong-willed) human host.

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Alexandra Bracken comes a tale of betrayal and revenge, of old hurts passed down from generation to generation. Can you ever fully right a wrong, ever truly escape your history? Or will Prosper and Alastor be doomed to repeat it? (NetGalley)

We meet Prosper on the first page and that’s where I fell in love with his voice.  He’s not the best student or the most popular, but he has a personality you can’t help but root for. Especially when we’re introduced to an ominous stranger who spies on Prosper, an angry and sadistic grandmother, a basement he’s forced into, and a ritual that involves a knife. (We haven’t even gotten to the haunted house yet!)

The fantastic characters don’t stop with Prosper. All are well-developed and have such strong motivations, it is easy to cheer them on, including the demon, Alastor, trying to possess him. It’s because of the strength of the characters that we don’t see the plot twists, and at one point, you have no idea who is good or evil.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding is not just a tale to send chills down your spine or give you goosebumps. It’s not just about a boy who may or may not escape (no spoilers!) a centuries old pact with a demon. This story is about an underdog who puts others first and learns his own self worth.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding is now available! You can find it at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and IndiBound. And don’t forget to check out author Alexandra Bracken’s website 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. You can find her on Twitter.

Book Recommendation: The Girl with the Red Balloon

Goodreads

I am immediately drawn to any book involving World War II and how it changed the world. When I read a good one, I feel the need to shout it from the rooftops . The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke is one of those stories.

The story is told in three points of view: a Jewish teen living the horrors of World War II, a contemporary teen girl who travels in time, and a boy living in East Berlin during the Cold War. Each character brings us so deeply into their world, the horrific realities are impossible to ignore. But a touch of magic in the form a red balloon helps us find hope.

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process. Goodreads

There are so many wonderful things about this book. Overall, the story of survival and the dedication of those willing to help people trapped in dangerous and oppressive conditions is heartwarming. The story flows like a balloon floating in the sky. The plot is clear and well written and pulls readers in as we fight along with the characters to get Ellie Baum home. We are quickly introduced to the six main and secondary characters whose relationships with each other are subtle yet complex. They are well developed with strengths, weaknesses, and strong motivations. You can’t help but root for them all, and even those with questionable methods have commendable goals.

In my travels, I spent some time in Berlin, after the wall fell, and was astonished at the stark contrast between the east and west that remained. Locke describes the dismal and depressing East Berlin with such clarity, as I read, the images in my mind were gray.

Yet there are the red balloons. The balloons and the magic written on them float in and out of the past joining the stories. They bring color and hope for the characters to the very last sentence.

The Girl with the Red Balloon, Book #1 in the Balloonmakers series, comes out September 1, 2017, and can be found at bookstores and libraries including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

For more information about this book and the author, please visit her website at Katherine Locke.

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. You can find her on Twitter.

Book Recommendation: NYXIA by Scott Reintgen

Nyxia, Scott Reintgen, young adult booksEvery life has a price in this sci-fi thriller that has the nonstop action of The Maze Runner and the high-stakes space setting of Illuminae. This is the first in a new three-book series that will take a group of broken teens to the far reaches of the universe and force them to decide what they’re willing to risk for a lifetime of fortune.

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.
Excerpt taken from Netgalley.com

Could you turn down an offer of immense wealth and free healthcare for your mother with cancer? What if that offer would send you to the far end of the universe? Emmett and nine other teens are given the opportunity to join a team to mine Nyxia from a far planet. The reader accompanies Emmett as he fights for a spot on the team, faces the bait-and-switch tactics of the company running the mining operation, and strives to find friendship amidst the cut-throat competition he’s been thrown into.

Nyxia is action-packed and fast paced. I enjoyed the creative competitions the teens had to fight their way through for spots on the team and well as the fabulous properties of Nyxia, the valuable substance they’ll be mining. I found myself rooting for Emmett and even sympathizing with some of his less ethical competitors as the grueling contest drew to a close and the stakes got higher. Each character had something to lose if they didn’t make the team. I also found myself wondering exactly what the young miners would find when they reach their Eden, the destination planet. Nyxia is a fun read, great for lovers of sci fi and action-adventure.

I requested an advanced reader copy of Nyxia  in exchange for an unbiased review.

Nyxia will be release on September 12th.
Check out Nyxia on Goodreads.
Pre-order Nyxia from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indiebound.

Need more book suggestions? If Nyxia sounds good to you, you might also like these recent young adult science fiction releases:
The Takedown by Corrie Wang
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Genius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout

Rebecca J Allen, Young adult author
Photo by Pam Vaughan

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 on Twitter at @RebeccaJ_Allen and her website is writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.