Holiday Gift Ideas: The Winged Pen’s Favorite Books

Halloween is over. Thanksgiving is in ten days. That means the gift-giving season is right around the corner! For most of us, it’s panic time. But the Pennies at The Winged Pen are going to make this holiday season easier for you. Below are some of our favorite books. They are great choices for the readers in your life (including yourself!)

Gita 

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie Anderson This fast-paced thriller, set in Kenya and Congo, follows Congolese refugee Tina, who joins a street gang in order to avenge her mother’s murder. I loved the deftly drawn characters, the high stakes, the nail-biting tension, and the window the author opened onto this part of the world. She spent a decade working for NGOs in Africa. (YA)

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy This novel is so many things at once: a heart-breaking family saga; a story of a childhood spent in Kerala, India; a political awakening; a commentary on India’s caste system, its mythology, and history—as well as a fantastically beautiful meditation on the nature of time itself. John Updike said of it, “A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does.” (Adult, 16+)

Laurel

The Inquisitor’s Tale (or Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog) by Adam Gidwitz Three children race through France in the middle ages to the final showdown at Mont-Saint-Michel where all question if the children can perform the miracles of saints. This warm, funny, heartbreaking, and inspiring story of adventure effortlessly brings the middle ages to life. The dialogue made me laugh out loud. Adam Gidwitz makes thought-provoking topics like miracles, racism, antisemitism, and Chaucer amazingly accessible. (MG)

Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booream Conor O’Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee, a harbinger of death shows up in his bedroom. The banshee insists on going to middle school and as Conor attempts to hide her identity and keep his family safe, he realizes he’s going to have to visit to the underworld. It is a zany story of a boy whose normal, middle school life gets a mixed-up shot of Greek and Irish mythology that makes him into the hero he never thought he could be. It is a laugh-out-loud excellent adventure story for reluctant readers. (YA)

Kate

To Stay Alive by Skila Brown An American history story of the wagon train journey west by Mary Ann Graves, her family, and the Donner and Reed parties. Amid the pain of loss and the constant threat of death from starvation or cold, Mary Ann’s narrative, told in verse, is of a girl learning what it means to be part of a family, to make sacrifices for those we love, and above all to persevere. This book blew me away with its gorgeous language. I was riveted from page one, and Brown handles the difficult subject unflinchingly, but without veering into the grotesque.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman Thrilling adventures of Lyra and Will, two ordinary children on a perilous journey through shimmering haunted otherworlds, where they meet witches and armored bears, fallen angels and soul-eating specters. And in the end, the fate of both the living—and the dead—will rely on them. I listened to the full-cast audio recording of these, which was so well done. I loved the epic scope of it, the interrogation of religion, and the stunning imagination of it.

Richelle

Homegoing by Yaa Gayasi This is a breath-taking novel built from a series of interlocking stories about the descendants of two Ghanian sisters — one sold into slavery and one raised free in Ghana. It was one of those reading experiences that made me feel changed when I put it down. (Adult)

You May Already Be A Winner by Ann Dee Ellis I loved this compassionate and hope-filled look at a child trapped in poverty. The main character’s fantasies of winning contests reminded me so vividly of the feeling of being a kid powerless to fix what’s wrong, but desperate to find a way to do it anyway. (MG)

Julie

Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill Xan, the witch from the Forest, accidently feeds baby Luna moonlight, filling her with extraordinary magic. As Luna’s magic begins to emerge–with dangerous consequences–a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Luna must protect those who have protected her — even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known. This was one of those books I read slowly at the end to make it last longer. Barnhill’s world building is amazing and her storytelling shines in this magical tale. It is a 2017 Newbery Medal winner and NY Times bestseller. (MG) Check out our interview with Kelly Barnhill here.

Girl From Everywhere/Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig If there is a map, Nix’s father, a time traveler, can sail his ship across the globe and through centuries. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. If her father changes the past, it could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures, and her connection with the charming Persian thief. These two gorgeous historical fantasies are full of heart and magic. I flew threw them and can’t wait for the third. The first of two books, blends fantasy, history, and a modern sensibility. Its sparkling wit, breathless adventure, multicultural cast, and enchanting romance will dazzle readers of Sabaa Tahir and Leigh Bardugo. (YA)

Halli

The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via a red balloon to 1988 East Berlin and meets an underground group who uses these magic balloons to help people escape over the Wall. As they try to get Ellie back to her time, it becomes clear someone is using dark magic to change history. There are so many wonderful things about this book. The stories of survival and dedication of those willing to help people trapped in dangerous and oppressive conditions are heartwarming. The characters 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. (YA)

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry Calliope June has Tourette syndrome and makes faces or noises that she doesn’t mean to make. When she moves to a new school, she tries to hide her TS, but the kids laugh and tease her. Only Calliope’s neighbor, the popular student body president, sees her as she truly is—an interesting person and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public?  This is a beautifully written story of fitting in and finding courage. It is a dual point of view story told in verse and prose. This was my first time reading a story told in both formats and I loved it! The author’s writing is amazing, especially her descriptions of emotions that utilize all the senses. Readers of any age will love this book of growth and acceptance. They will also have the ability to learn about a misunderstood disorder and realize how a little knowledge can result in a new friend. (MG)

Michelle

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder Nine children live alone on an isolated island with no memories of their past. Every year, a mysterious green boat appears bringing a new young child to the island and sailing the eldest away. With vivid characters that feel like our dearest friends and a lushly detailed setting, this heartfelt story beautifully captures the emotional ups and downs of saying goodbye to childhood and moving toward adolescence. For ages 8+, this book is on the 2017 National Book Award Longlist. (MG)

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez Julia isn’t the perfect daughter. That was her obedient sister Olga, who got run over by a semi. Julia wants to go to college to become a writer instead of living in agony, both grief stricken by her sister’s death and stuck with her undocumented and unbearably old-fashioned parents. A stunning and beautifully relatable story about family, cultural expectations, growing up, and mental illness. A Finalist for the National Book Award. Due to mature themes, I recommend this one to 15+.

Rebecca J. Allen

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor If you’ve read Laini’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series (if you haven’t, you should), this is more of the same type of awesome. There are mortals and monsters; sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. The setting ranges from a re-imagined Library of Alexandria to barren deserts to a palace floating in the sky. Fully crafted characters and charged actions scenes, as well as the author’s lush writing, make it a book to read and reread. This is the first book in a duology. (YA)

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab is the third and final installment in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series. The Darker Shades series is set in four Londons. Red London, bright with magic; White London, starved of magic and desperate for it; Gray London, magicless; and Black London, dead, overrun by dark magic and cut off to protect the other Londons. The dangerous magic of Black London escapes the barriers and is drawn feed on the rich magical of Red London. There, Kell, prince and Antari, must battle to protect his home from the danger he inadvertently unleashed. At his side are Lyla, a thief; Alucard Emory a pirate; Rys, first in line for the throne; and his enemy from Gray London. It is action-packed with rich characters and world-building. (YA)

Rebecca Petruck

Peak by Anders Ericsson After studying chess champions, violin virtuosos, star athletes, and memory mavens, the author provides powerful learning strategies that are fundamentally different from the way people traditionally think about acquiring new abilities. This book inspires me with the reminder that “genius” likely doesn’t exist. Nearly anyone can become very good, even expert, at a variety of skills with deliberate practice.

Dear Ijeawele, a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The author received a letter from a friend asking her how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. This book, fifteen invaluable suggestions, is the author’s response on how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. This book not only inspires me, but also fills me with hope for girls and young women today. It’s a book I wish all women and men would read.

Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to his brother, Theo, during his lifetime, the author weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the extraordinary love of the Van Gogh brothers. This book inspires me because Vincent Van Gogh worked and worked and worked at his art, and it all could have been fruitless but for the faith and support of his brother Theo. I’m so grateful for the support I have from my family and friends. These are the books I think about when I’m feeling low and questioning choices I’ve made about my work. I hope they encourage other readers, too!

There are so many great books, we couldn’t pick just one favorite. Or two. Below is a list of more books we love.

 

Picture Books

Windows by Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale

Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

Baabwaa and Wooliam: A Tale of Literacy, Dental Hygiene, and Friendship by David Elliott, illus. by Melissa Sweet

Middle Grade

Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Patina by Jason Reynolds

This is Our Constitution by Khizr Khan

OCDaniel by Wesley King

Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan

Young Adult

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Steifvater

These books can be found at your local independent bookstores, along with Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

More information on the loves and preferences of The Winged Pen writers, check them out on the Bio Page.

 

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November Four on 400 Contest Window is Now Open!

Q: What is Four on 400? 

A monthly contest that provides ONE LUCKY MG or YA WRITER with feedback on their opening 400 WORDS! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a MG or YA writer feedback on their work from four of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 4pm (EST) on the 5th of November, one winner will be randomly drawn from the Triwizard Cup. The winner will be notified and given 24 hours to submit his or her opening 400 WORDS. On the 14th of the month, the winner’s words, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from four of our members. Still have questions? See our Four on 400 page for additional details.

If you’re not sure how to leave a comment, check our FAQ page!

*Please check your email SPAM filter to make sure it will allow an email from info@thewingedpen.com

Want a chance to win an extra entry? Go to our Facebook page and find our post about the November Four on 400 contest. Then like and/or share our post. While you’re there, like our Facebook page if you haven’t already!

Remember, the contest window is only open until 4pm EST on November 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

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Interview with Melissa Roske Author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN

Melissa Roske is the author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN She completely embodies the MG writing community because she’s about the friendliest and most supportive person you will meet. Before I talk to Melissa, here’s more about her book: 

Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the school play, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle—at least, without a little help from her friends.

I’m so excited about this book, Melissa! I recently finished OCDaniel and it’s definitely one of those books that has stuck with me. You also tackle OCD in your book and it’s both personal to you and underrepresented in MG lit. 

Would you like to let us know how OCD has played a part in your life and how it inspired Kat’s story?

This may sound strange, but OCD played a huge part in my life while I was growing up, but I didn’t know it. Let me explain. My dad used to check the locks on the front door, as well as the gas jets on the stove, over and over, especially before he went to sleep at night. I figured he was just being careful, but I now know he had OCD. Even stranger, it wasn’t until I was done writing the book that I realized that the mom in the story, who has a cleaning compulsion, is actually based on my dad. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me, at least not on a conscious level. My dad, however, in addition to being a “checker,” is the opposite of Kat’s mom. He is extremely messy and keeps everything. I actually found an expired credit card in his wallet from 1998! I have some OCD symptoms too, like the need to have my window shades fixed at a certain level, and feeling uncomfortable if a drawer is left open or a cabinet door is ajar. Still, I wouldn’t say my OCD adversely affects my life. It’s just annoying, and disconcerting at times. To my family, and to myself.

You’ve had a pretty prolific career from an advice columnist to a life coach. What was it that made you choose writing as your next career?

I’d always been interested in writing, especially creative writing, but it wasn’t until I was working as a life coach, helping my clients achieve their goals, that I realized I wasn’t achieving my goal: to write a novel. So I hired my own life coach, the amazing Sara Lewis Murre, and got down to work. Sara helped me to stay on track by holding me accountable for my writing goals. She suggested, for instance, that I establish a regular writing routine, using a timer for each session. I wasn’t allowed to leave my chair until the timer dinged! I also tried to adhere to a daily word count, which helped. Little by little, the words added up until I had an 80,000-word novel. It was chick-lit novel that ended up in my drawer, but that’s beside the point, isn’t it? 

How long did it take you to complete KAT?

As above, KAT was not my first book. My first book was a chick-lit novel called Good Girls Don’t Go Commando. I suspect the title was better than the book, because I was unable to obtain literary representation. Several agents actually liked the premise and requested pages, but apparently chick lit was “dead” and nobody thought the book would sell. Keeping that in mind, I decided to try my hand at another genre: middle-grade fiction. I wrote the first draft back in 2011. It was only 100 pages long, but I knew I had something I could work with, so I did another draft. And another. And then another. A billion drafts later (!), I started querying agents. Within a year I had representation, but the manuscript didn’t sell and my agent and I parted ways. I then rewrote the novel from top to bottom, changed the title, and started querying all over again. This time I found an agent who was able to sell the manuscript. I signed the contract with Charlesbridge in 2015.

What’s been the most surprising (or maybe frustrating) thing about the process of getting published?

How long everything takes. There’s a lot of waiting involved, which can be very, very frustrating. Still, I remind myself that waiting is part of the process, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Unfortunately, patience isn’t one of my strong points, so I need a lot of reminding!

I hear ya! And I think everyone in the query trenches can attest to this too. Thanks for joining us and all the best with KAT now out in the world!

If you want to know more about Melissa or her book, check her out here:
WebsiteFacebook / TwitterGoodreads

and her book here:

Amazon/ Barnes & Noble/ IndieBound/ Goodreads  

 

 

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE.

Summer Road Trip Read Alouds

road trip

It’s summer road trip season, and in our family, that means I’m on the lookout for great books for reading out loud. That’s our favorite way to while away the hours speeding down the highways and back roads.

Not all books are great for reading aloud. To me, the key is that the plot has to be relatively straightforward (in case someone zones out for a bit, looking for the world’s largest ball of twine) and it has to move at a good clip (to keep the interest of those who might otherwise start kicking their sisters). Bonus points if it’s exciting, funny, and has silly names.

Here are some we’ve loved recently.

princess bride

The Princess Bride: If you’ve seen the movie, the book, which reads almost verbatim, will crack you right up. Everyone has his or her own favorite lines. In our family, the surest way to make someone laugh is to say, “Anybody want a peanut?” This is one of the rare instances in which I would recommend seeing the movie first, because the fantastic actors and settings make the book come to life as you’re reading.

snow treasure

Snow Treasure: This was one of my wife’s favorite books as a kid, but I’d never heard of it. It’s the fascinating true story of Norwegian children who smuggled $12 million in gold out of their country on sleds after the Nazi occupation in WWII began. We were all on the edges of our seats to find out what happened, and I especially love the kid power message here.

tumtum

TumTum and Nutmeg: These are fantastic for younger kids, who may not be able to follow a longer plot yet. It’s a series of long-ish short stories starring a fussy husband and doting wife mouse couple and their trouble-causing, pompous best friend, General Marchmouse. The stories are entertaining, but not too scary, and everyone is polite and trying to be good. It definitely has fun-to-say names.

hp

Harry Potter: To me, these are the quintessential read alouds. My wife and I actually read these to each other before we had kids, even over the phone when we were long distance. The stories are gripping, and get better as the series progresses. It has the best names of any books out there. Hufflepuff! Dumbledore! Rowena Ravenclaw! Plus you get to try out fun British-isms like “snogging” and “bloody.” You really can’t get better than this.

wizard of oz

The Wizard of Oz: Another one where the fantastic book gets overshadowed by the movie, I like this for a road trip because it’s the story of a journey and trying to get home. The books (there are five of them) read more like a series of connected short stories, so it’s also nice for bedtime stories, or where you can’t read it all at once.

fortunately the milk

Fortunately, the Milk: So silly and funny. A dad goes out for milk, takes too long getting home, and comes back to tell the kids the fantastic tale of where he’s been. It’s a quick read, and will have you all howling with laughter.

Okay, your turn! I’ve got a looong road trip coming up at the end of this month. What do you recommend? What have you loved?

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who is working on her British accent. You can see more of her middle grade book recommendations at Kid Book List. You can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter

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Book Buying Advice from the Kiddos

Today I’ve teamed up with my eldest daughter, Sylvia , because it’s her 11th birthday. And anyone who knows me knows if it’s your birthday (or any holiday) you’re getting a book from me.

In her earlier days, Sylvia was an easy girl to buy books for. She loved whatever I picked out. Now…. Well, it’s much more difficult. I seriously think it’s easier to buy her clothes than it is to pick out a book that she’ll actually read.

Sylvia nods her head vigorously here. 

So, I’ve decided to interview her and find out what she looks for in a book and how she decides what to read. And because we did this interview at home, one of her sisters, Surjee (9), joined in the conversation.

I’ll give her a chance to describe the books I’ve selected for her in her own words:

Surjee jumping in straight away: Boring.

Sylvia: Boooring! I don’t care. I just act like, “oh wow”, but I never read it. Then when you say, “I read this when I was your age,” I’m like “Yeah right, I’m not reading it now.”

How do you choose a book at the library or bookstore?

Surjee: I judge a book by its cover.

Sylvia: Yes, the cover is important, but it’s mostly the colors I look at.

Surjee: Like Falling In, boring. I mean come on—it’s boots. I never read past the 1st page.

Sylvia: Be glad you didn’t. It didn’t get any better. I read 3 pages.

So what makes you want to read a book?

Sylvia: If a lot of people have read it.

Surjee: If my friends like it.

Sylvia: The size of the words—if it’s too big it looks like a baby book, if it’s too little it just looks like you have to read the whole thing and it’ll take forever.

Surjee: I’ll only read it if it’s medium-sized words AND thickness.

Sylvia: And the last 3 pages better be interesting or I don’t read them. I’m just like, “Oh, I finished reading this.”

But if you’re in the bookstore or the library, how do you know you want to get that book?

Sylvia: I read the 1st page.

Surjee: Sometimes the 1st chapter.

Sylvia: It has to be funny. That’s most important. But also colorful, but not like pink. Not many kids like pink. And it should have an interesting title. Something cool like Dork Diaries because it sounds funny.

What about KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE? Is that a good title? (that’s my book btw…)

Sylvia: It sounds okaaaay…. Mustaches are getting old. People will be like that’s so two years ago. Maybe Karma Khullar’s Instagram Account might be better.

Would you read a book your:

Teacher suggested: NO! (both girls in unison)

Mom suggested: NO! (both girls in unison)

Sylvia: The only thing you suggested that was good was Wonder.

Surjee: Harry Potter is the only book I liked you told me to read.

Yia yia suggested: Depends

Aunts suggested:

Sylvia: Might be weird because our cousins like some weird books… I would just look at the cover and decide. Usually if I don’t like it I just read while they’re there and then hide it on bookshelf like I did when Auntie Erica gave me Anne of Green Gables.

I’m going to email this blog post to the family I hope you know…

What’s your advice to adults buying books for a kid?

Sylvia: -The cover should match the personality of the kids.

-Read the 1st page- shouldn’t sound too formal. Diaries are more interesting.

-What’s going to happen must not be like these fairies are on a mission to find something.

-It can be outrageous or real, as long as it’s funny and interesting.

Surjee: Stick to graphic novels only.

You girls have definitely given me a lot to think about. I’m not sure you’ve really made my shopping any easier, but my take aways from this are:

  1. Before you buy a “classic” (Sylvia deems this any book you read as a kid and are trying to get your own child to read), ask yourself: Have I reread the book in the last 2 years? (you might be surprised how much of the book you didn’t really remember or even like any more.)
  1. The best sellers list is an excellent benchmark, but not the books with awards—those are liken to teacher/parent chosen books. Yes, New York Times Bestseller is MUCH more meaningful to your reader than a Caldecott Medal or Printz Award or a Newbery.
  1. Get the child in your life a gift card from the bookstore and save yourself the stress!

FullSizeRenderSylvia is flawless and can be found reading Dork Diaries when not taking selfies or eating tacos or taking selfies while eating tacos.

IMG_1099 Surjee never leaves home without her wand. When she’s not reading or watching Harry Potter she can be found reading Amulet or Zita the Spacegirl.

Photo on 3-19-15 at 1.23 PM #2 (1)

Kristi, their mom, endures the tireless mission of putting good books into their hands.