Monday, August 29, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Wolf Storm (& a Giveaway!)

Wolf Storm by Dee Garretson hits bookshelves TOMORROW! After receiving an advance reading copy, I'm excited to be promoting this marvelous middle grade read. And not only that -- one signed hardcover copy of Wolf Storm will be given to a commenter on this post! The giveaway is courtesy of Dee Garretson herself who I've been honored to 'meet' via Twitter. Comment by 11:59pm CST on Thursday, September 1, to enter the giveaway!

The premise: Stephan is living a dream - starring in his first movie role and on location in the Carpathian Mountains of Slovakia for the filming of what's sure to be a blockbuster. Trained wolves are characters in the movie, but Stephan is sure wild wolves are hauntingly close to their set. On and off set trouble with already-famous co-star Raine Randolph threatens Stephan's dream. And then......a blizzard strikes.

What keeps readers reading: Action, action, action! This novel is packed with it. Suspense keeps readers turning pages and Dee Garretson takes readers on an intense ride in Wolf Storm, but she also develops characters who captivate readers. You will (literally) cheer these characters through the storm. Prior to the blizzard, most adults on the set headed to a village down the mountain. The storm hits and isolates those left on the mountain - including the trained wolves and some hungry wild ones. When Stephan realizes that Raine, younger co-star Jeremy, and older co-star Cecil are depending on him and his choices for survival, Stephan plunges ahead with bravery, leadership, and courage. His choices determine far more than he ever dreamed when he took this starring role.

Don't forget to check out other MMGMers!
Follow their links in my right sidebar ~~~~~~>

Wolf Storm releases tomorrow. Comment to enter the drawing for a signed copy!
Happy middle grade reading!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Reading Diverse Part II

Back in June, I blogged about reading diverse and challenged my blog readers to do the same. This reading diverse challenge had nothing to do with reading outside the genre in which you write but had everything to do with reading books whose characters differ from you. The reading challenge is found right here and my original post about the challenge is right here.

Although I've read middle grade books for this challenge (which is what I love and what I write), the books' main characters are not Caucasian, thus different than me. Diversity is important. I don't want everyone to be like me. I enjoy a world where ideas, people, strategies, skin colors, and yes - even politics - differ from mine. Diversity makes the world interesting.

The stories take place in diverse times and settings, as well as having diverse characters. So not only did I delve into characters who were diverse, I also traveled to diverse times and to all parts of the world.

By reading these books with diversified characters and times, I was reminded that while authors write in order to share fabulous stories with creative and interesting characters, they also write to share their experiences or make readers aware of the experiences of others. Authors write to share a story but also to teach - if we are willing to be taught.

The characters in these stories experience different things than I because they are, quite simply, different than I. And when I read these stories, I hopped into the skin of the characters.
  • In Breadcrumbs (I read an advance reading copy, it comes out in late Sept), Hazel is adopted (from what I gathered to be India) and although it's not a major part of the story, Anne Ursu did a superb job showing me what it would be like to not look like my parents.
  • In Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus, Manjiro is shipwrecked too far off Japan's coast in 1841 and doesn't know if he can ever return home. When he sails to the U.S., he's the first Japanese person many Americans have ever seen, and I learned to give people chances.
  • In The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap by H.M. Bouwman, I was reminded how the English overtook the Native Americans - without much care or regard for these well-established and often peaceful societies. This part of American history has always torn my heart to pieces.
  • In Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine, I experienced what it is like to have a form of Autism and how frustrating it can be when people don't understand how you think or act.
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan showed me the callousness of misinformation. Many people during the Depression had nothing but still kicked down others simply because they looked different.
  • The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis showed me a culture where females didn't have the rights and privileges I take for granted every day of my life. Things have begun to change for Afghan girls and women, but if we don't look beyond our own cozy little lives, we won't know about the plight of others.
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia taught about the times of the Black Panther movement. A different response than the Civil Rights Movement, but all the same, a reaction to how African Americans had been treated for hundreds of years because of their skin color.
  • In Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes I saw the difference of having money versus having no money and how that drastically affected people's response to Hurricane Katrina. The Ninth Ward was (and maybe still is) mostly African American.
  • Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon showed how an African American 'passing for white' was not accepted in either the Caucasian or African American societies of the past.
My summer of reading diverse entertained me with fantastic stories by gifted writers, but more importantly it taught me what it's like to be someone who isn't like me. And if the world steps into the shoes of others and looks around from that place for awhile, we all learn something.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Minnesota Mondays

All summer on Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays, I've shared books written by my fellow Minnesotans. It's been an adventure, gathering and reading books by talented writers who make their home in the same state I do. Today I'm closing my segment of Marvelous Middle Grade Minnesota Mondays by compiling all the books that were part of this romp. Take time to read each one, for they are all truly marvelous. Follow the label 'Minnesota Mondays' to read all of the past posts.

Please find the links to all other MMGMers in my right sidebar. And thank you for spending some of your summer here on the blog with me as I've shared Minnesota writers with you.

Happy middle grade reading!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade (Minnesota) Monday: The Magician's Elephant

If there is such a thing as queen of Minnesota middle grade writers, I choose Kate DiCamillo. She has written numerous beautifully sculpted books for middle graders, including Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and The Tiger Rising. She is also the author of the Mercy Watson series. I chose to highlight The Magician's Elephant simply because I hadn't read it yet and wanted to.

The premise: While at the market one day, orphan Peter Duchene steps into the fortune teller's tent and asks if his sister is still alive. The fortune teller informs Peter to follow the elephant. He has no idea what this means until the Magician's elephant appears. And even then, he struggles with how an elephant will show or teach or lead him to what he wants to know.

What keeps readers reading: The age old question of "What if?" and following the what if even it seems impossible. Kate DiCamillo dares to ask this question and even more, in The Magician's Elephant she dares ask readers to follow her on this journey of "what if?" She has woven this question together with a boy who needs his sister, an elephant who needs to go home, a magician who needs forgiveness, a beggar who needs understanding, a nun who needs purpose, an old soldier who needs care, a married couple who have never had kids, and a hunch-backed man who needs to carve. After reading this book, you will believe that all "what ifs" can come true. 

Other MMGMers and their choices for this week:
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Happy middle grade reading! 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade (Minnesota) Monday: Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai received a Newbery Honor in 2010 when Margie Prues revealed, in historical fiction style, the story of Manjiro, a Japanese teenager and sailor who helped changed the world. I had the honor of hearing Ms. Preus speak at a Minneapolis bookstore several months ago, and she shared how Manjiro was so genuinely 'nice' while recording his experiences in journals, that she had to invent a human enemy for him. Enhancing this story are sketches drawn by Manjiro himself. Readers are drawn into a world of East meets West, at the time Japan was closed to outsiders.

Premise: Fourteen-year old Manjiro and his fellow sailors are stranded at sea in a storm off Japan's coast in 1841. If they stray too far, Japan won't allow them to return to their homes and families. On a deserted island, the crew waits. An American ship takes them aboard, and Manjiro is ready to learn about whaling, as well as Americans and other people around the world. But as he travels the high seas over the next ten years, one question burns in his mind: Will he ever be able to go home again?

What keeps readers reading: a fascinating blend of history mixed with the humble and genuine character of Manjiro. Margie Prues stitches journeys around the world, people from all corners of the globe - good ones, bad ones, and ugly ones - and adventures on ships and on land, and shows how unselfishness and true inner beauty can win the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Heart of a Samurai, definitely an upper middle grade reading level, teaches about a significant moment in world history, but even more than that, it teaches readers about being a better person.

Make sure you check out other MMGMers and their choices:
Please follow the links in my right sidebar ~~~~~~~>

Happy middle grade reading! 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Blogging Break

Everyone needs a vacation once in awhile, and because summer is waning - and summer is a true love of mine - I'm heading out on a blogging break. Except for Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays. I'll stick my nose back inside the house to type out those. I've highlighted my home state (Minnesota) middle grade authors all summer and have a few left to feature (not that my list is exhaustive).

If you live where winter resides, you know how fleeting summers are in a northern climate. If you live where summer, or something close to it, is a year-round normality, imagine me with green skin staring back at you through my computer screen, arms crossed over my chest.

For the next month, I'll be doing a lot of this. ~~~~~~~>
(Yes, those are my toes).
And a lot less blogging.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I'm a Writer

A teenage boy knocked on my door a few weeks ago and spilled into a spiel about how he wasn't selling anything (first sign that he was) but if I listened, he could gather points. Mmmm.Hmmmm. Points. Right. He began by asking, "What sort of work do you do?" If it was an answer he hadn't received before, he immediately chalked up 500 points. I told him I write books for kids.

Great! He hadn't heard that one yet. He saw that I was a mom as my kids roamed behind me through the open front door and a neighborhood boy ambled up the walk, greeted me, and entered the house. The point-gatherer-but-seller-of-nothing proceeded with questions about my being published to which I said, "I'm working towards that." His face deadpanned. "Oh. You're a housewife. Well, I can still get points for that."

I should have slammed the door. But I was kinda interested in knowing what he was not selling and allowed him to continue. Turns out what he wasn't selling was: "You have the opportunity to provide literacy to kids all over the U.S. by placing high quality kids magazines in places like free clinic waiting rooms."

A good cause? Absolutely. And he probably thought he had a for-sure sale when I told him I wrote for kids. But young man - who still wasn't selling anything - you can't insult a writer to her core and expect her to support you. Not that being a mom and housewife isn't a worthy profession; I've been one for eleven years. BUT I TOLD HIM I WAS A WRITER.

He was also working on speaking skills by raising these 'points' which would help fund his college venture this fall when he plans to major in - get this - Communication. He has progress to make. As for me, although I am a mom, I'm also a writer.

Interesting discussion. When ARE you considered a writer?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade (Minnesota) Monday: Someone Named Eva

Someone named Eva, published in 2007 and written by Joan M. Wolf, enthralls its readers with a glimpse into World War II that is little known and little discussed. My kids and I read this novel aloud together a few years ago during our 'US history tour through the decades.' This highlight continues my summer focus on authors from my home state of Minnesota.

The premise: In 1942, eleven year-old Milada is forcefully taken from her hometown in Czechoslavakia to a school in Poland where she and other blond, blue-eyed children are "trained" to be proper Germans. When they are deemed ready, they are adopted by German families. Torn from her real family and all she calls home, Milada tries to hold on to who she really is. But it becomes harder and harder when she is 'someone named Eva.'

What keeps readers reading: The World War II perspective from a very different lens. Joan M. Wolf pulls readers into Someone Named Eva and the evils of war with a well-woven plot and characters who garner sympathy, even those on the Nazi side. Readers glance into this historical period with fresh eyes, see and experience parts of the war that are not well-known, and realize just how hard it is to remove 'home' from someone's soul.

Other MMGMers and their choices:
Please follow the links listed in my right sidebar. ~~~~~~~~~>
Also, Natalie Aguirre has a special feature at Literary Rambles!

Happy middle grade reading!