Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas & Brand-New Colors

Author: Chris Barton
Illustrator: Tony Persiani
Publisher: Charlesbridge (2009)
Pages: 44
Ages: Grades 2nd to 5th

Chris Barton’s words and Tony Persiani’s sketches bring to vivid life the story Bob and Joe Switzer. You may be wondering who are the Switzer brothers and why should I care?

“You can thank Bob and Joe Switzer for those shocking greens, blazing oranges, and screaming yellows. The brothers invented a whole new kind of color – one that glowed with an extra-special intensity. It took them years of experimenting, but their efforts paid off brilliantly. Day-Glo colors helped win a war, save people’s lives, and brighten everyday life – including this book.” (Taken from the inside flap of the book)

In an effort to increase my awareness of all the great non-fiction picture books out there, I decided to start with reading the ALA Robert F. Sibert Medal winner and honor books. Though Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream is a wonderful book, my personal favorite is one of the Sibert Honor Books which I have decided to review here.

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors is eye-catching. Neon orange, green, and yellow colors jump off of the glossy black cover begging to be read. And read I did. Bob and Joe were born just prior to World War I. During the 1930’s, Joe (the younger brother) began playing with color and spotlights as part of his magic act. At this time, Bob who had planned to become a doctor suffered a serious injury which ended his professional dreams. With Bob recuperating at home, and Joe researching his ideas on fluorescence, a partnership was ignited. The remainder of the story follows the brothers through several decades and many attempts to perfect “Day-Glo” colors. The book also tells the reader the various ways that Day-Glo colors have been instrumental in daily life.

Non-fiction picture books can be a challenge. How do you present accurate information in a fun manner that won’t make the reader think that he or she is reading the encyclopedia? Do you use photographs, paintings, sketches to illustrate the work? Barton and Persiani have found a wonderful balance in The Day-Glo Brothers. The story reads well and has a wonderful balance between fact and humor. Persiani’s illustrations have a vintage cartoon quality to them which fit well with the era of the book and the topic. Additionally, the book begins with primarily shades of white, black, and gray with touches of fluorescent highlights. In following along with the discoveries made by the brothers, the neon colors grow in intensity and size until at one point the two page picture spread pops completely with the rich fluorescent colors.

If you are looking to expand your picture book collection to include non-fiction picture books, I would highly recommend this as part of your personal library. Also, from experience, I also know that children love this book and enjoy the illustrations as the story is being read aloud in class.

Hope your students enjoy this as much as mine did!
- Aly

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Three Viewpoint Thursdays: Eighth Grade Bites

Welcome to a great day on the blog! It's time for a new feature, and what a great way to start us off!

It's Three Viewpoint Thursday, where three of us at YA Lit Review sit down and chat about one book. Sort of like a bookclub meeting online. For the first one, Aly, Renee and I chatted about the first book in Heather Brewer's Chronicles of Vladimir Tod.

Eighth Grade Bites follows Vladimir Tod as he starts to learn about his vampirish past, and we look to the future of the series as he discovers things he might not want to know. It's an amazing series for boys and other reluctant readers, as well as anyone who enjoys a good vampire tale.

Vilate: to start off...

Vilate: Did you like or dislike the book?

Aly: I really liked the story... It was easy to get into and I really liked the characters.

Renee: I liked it, but I didn't LOVE it. I usually prefer a little more focus on romance/teenage hormones, but the plot was very enjoyable!

Vilate: I enjoyed it, myself. I liked that it was short and had action and humor in it. I thought it was all well thought out. Even the ending was good, and I'm usually a little disappointed in endings!

Renee: I thought it was very funny, without being crude or offensive, and the dialogue sounded very realistic.

Aly: I think we need to remember that the first one Vlad is in 8th grade and I expect that as the books proceed you will get more hormones and possible romance.

Renee: I think so too... I think I will continue with the series, even if it is a little outside what I usually go for. I really fell for some of the characters.

Aly: I also liked many of the characters and I liked that the adults weren't all portrayed as terrible. The Aunt, Mr. Otis, etc.

Vilate: So true! I don't like books that portray adults as bad, as much as I dislike books that make them to be all great. Vladimir Tod seems to strike a good balance with all of the characters.

Renee: I also liked that the adults were not just people in the background who kept interfering with the young protagonists, but they helped the cause sometimes and were interesting on their own.

Aly: I also liked the significance of Vlad's parents' death in his life and that he had a good relationship with them. What do you think of how she did with establishing her "world" in the first book... I wasn't sure if I had too many questions I still wanted answered or if it was okay since she (author) had 4 more books planned in her mind???!!!

Vilate: The world felt very realistic. I think there are still lots of questions I have, but I wasn't unsatisfied with the world. I thought it worked to give the story some good ground.

Renee: Same here. It had a kind of "Harry Potter" feel, where I was given what I needed to know for this book, with the promise for more developments and expansion in future novels in the series.

Aly: I think when I heard her speak and realized that she had the idea for all 5 books at once then I felt more "at-ease" about the unanswered questions because I realized that she would likely reveal things as she went and probably didn't want to spoil anything.

Vilate: yes! She even told the audience at the signing here that *all* questions will be answered, so no one will wonder about anything. Having her know all five books at the beginning is great. I think that helped her establish the world and make it feel supported and realistic.

Vilate: okay, so going back to characters for a moment, let's talk about Vlad and Henry's relationship. Henry is popular and Vlad is decidedly not. What works and what doesn't for the two of them in terms of their friendship? Why does Henry still like Vlad?

Aly: It is interesting that Henry is the popular one but in some ways Vlad is the power in that relationship. Also, I think Vlad underestimates his abilities or doesn't quite see himself in the right "light" and that his confidence will grow in time. Henry is just kind of a typical 8th grade popular boy in my mind... adds some humor, you want to at times punch him in the arm, but he is loyal and good to have around.

Renee: I think the nice thing about Henry, is that behind the "good looks and charm," he's just an average boy who sometimes says the wrong thing, but is very loyal (as you said) and just wants to be a friend. He isn't painted as a stereotypical attractive jerk, and with Vlad he can just be himself without all the bluster.

Renee: I like that she didn't make him the obvious good looking mean kid.

Vilate: I second that, Renee. I like the interplay of having an unpopular main character and a popular "sidekick." I think it helps show that not all kids are the same and even "popular" kids can identify and enjoy the story, since they aren't all made out to be mean.

Aly: I liked what Heather said at her SoCal signing about writing about what she knew which was being an unpopular kid and I think she nails it well without making Vlad seem like a wimp or whiny. I think if you saw him as a wimp then that would be annoying. However, when you read about him there is something that you connect with.

Aly: Now about the boy interest in the books...that was amazing to me. More than half the audience at Heather Brewer’s signing in Southern California was male. Mostly 8th to 10th graders. And not just geeky boy readers but some definitely more untypical boys for a book signing... what is up with that?

Renee: I think the book was nice, in that was very action-oriented. A lot of books spend a lot of time pontificating and spending a lot of time considering everyone's feelings and thoughts, and while I do think some guys appreciate "thoughts," I think a lot of males (esp. young ones who are not big readers) prefer to see things actually happening.

Aly: I would tend to agree with Renee, as well as it is a boy main character

Vilate: I think it's definitely easier for boys to identify with a male main character, but I also think it's the shorter length of the book as well as a lack of "romance" that helps. There are several things that all work together to make this such a great read for boys. Like the Percy Jackson series. It's got humor, action, vampires, blood, and mystery. A good combo for reluctant readers of either gender.

Aly: I think boys tend to be reluctant readers and so short is a good start, action is always good. Also what surprised me were the adult males that were obviously big fans. So not just adult females who tend to still read this genre.

Vilate: I loved that, at the signing, the boys were all very eager to ask questions and basically declare themselves fans. It's Percy Jackson and Vladimir Tod that are making it okay for them to do that.

Renee: Also, the boys in the story had a lot of "power" and didn't rely on adults (or females - excluding for Vlad's daily blood needs) so it gives male readers a sense of independence and control.

Vilate: Good point! I also think the theme resonates with them a lot. That it's okay to be yourself and it's okay to be different than other people.

Aly: What did people thing about the underground/or alternate vampire "universe"?

Vilate: I love the idea of Elysia. It also reminded me of Harry Potter, but not so much that I felt like it was a trope. It felt natural for the vamps to have their own little world.

Renee: It did have a very magical feel to it, but it also fit very into the real world. I could imagine a place like that existing that we just have no access to or knowledge of. In many ways, it didn't feel very fantastical.

Aly: I liked that the alternate world Elysia wasn't some weird thing but represented more of a typical power base.

Vilate: Okay, any last thoughts?

Aly: To end things for me... I am eager to read on...

Vilate: Me too!! ^_^

It was a fun chat and we look forward to continuing with this! If you'd like to participate, please send an email to us at for more information.

Until next time, go read something good!

~ Vilate

Heather Brewer @ Blue Willow Bookshop

Heather Brewer came to Houston and I was lucky enough to see her at my favorite bookstore, Blue Willow Bookshop. (Listen to the interview here.)

I made sure to take a few pictures to share with everyone!

Here's a shot of the amazing crowd. Boys made up about half the audience, which was so awesome to see!

Then Heather read an excerpt from the fourth book in the series, Eleventh Grade Burns. Luckily, it didn't give much away since I haven't gotten that far yet!

One of her minions from Texas made her this lovely shirt! She was very happy to show it off to the audience at Blue Willow.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sci-Fi Saturdays: The Last Book in the Universe

The Last Book in the Universe, by Rodman Philbrick

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc
Pages: 223
Reading Level: 12 and up
Enjoyment Level: High

This is one book I picked up for myself a couple years ago. Without any thought of reviewing it until recently! We’re doing Sci-Fi Saturdays now, and as I was perusing my bookshelf, I remembered this one, all ready to go.

No one reads anymore, not even Spaz, who can’t use mindprobes like other people can. The world is a dark place after the Big Shake. “Normals” exist outside of Eden, where the improved population has clean air, water, and growing things. Spaz rarely thinks of his troubles until he gets word that his foster sister is dying. Then he crosses dangerous territories, feral people, and a mindfield to help her live.

As “end-of-the-world” books go, this one’s good. Even though it’s an Armageddon sort, it feels much more like an adventure than a post-apocalyptic tale. The characters have run-ins with dangerous people often enough, and there’s a race against time.
The characters feel fleshed out and the author shows the good and bad of both "normal" and "improved" people. Fear is handled in a non-threatening way, though there are plenty of darker characters. They all work together to support the plot and the adventure.

I can’t even really think of any real criticisms, other than I wish there could be a sequel. There were elements left hanging. Those didn’t ruin the story at all, but I’m curious enough to want the tale to continue.

Teachers, this is a great one for class discussion and activities. The characters and plot are full of interesting details and the ending is left for children to imagine (or hope) what might happen to everyone. Of course, it gets high recommendations from me for anyone, whether they be teachers, students, or just interested readers.

So, until next time, go read something good!

~ Vilate

Monday, February 15, 2010


Author: Jacqueline Houtman
Publisher: Front Street Press
Pages: 192
Grade Level: Ages 9 to 12 years

In selecting books for the 2010 Debut Author Reading Challenge hosted by The Story Siren (Kristi), I discovered Jacqueline Houtman’s THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS. Houtman’s debut novel is about Edison “Eddy” Thomas, a middle school student, who loves to tinker with inventions but struggles to understand innuendos of those around him. From this, I was fortunate enough to receive an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Edison Thomas to review.

The story opens with Eddy, as he prefers to be called, at his school’s science fair. Quickly, the reader learns that Eddy is not your typical middle schooler. He knows the scientific names of what seems like everything as well as recites the elements on the periodic table to calm himself. Each chapter also contains facts from the “Random Access Memory of Edison Thomas” which are unusual facts that connect in some manner with the chapter. The random facts were probably one of my favorite things in the book.

When Eddy comes in third in the Science Fair, he cannot imagine how he did not win first place. Even though his third place win has earned him a spot as an alternate to the Regional Science Fair, he is extremely disappointed. He was hoping to have a more secure spot in competing at the Regionals. Next day at school, Eddy discovers that the crossing guard for the elementary and middle school is losing his job due to budget cuts. This greatly upsets Eddy and he decides to apply his skills as an inventor to coming up with a way to alert cars to slow down thus preventing potential disasters.

As I read through the story of Eddy, I found myself really becoming quite enamored by this quirky student and his friends particularly Justin, an academically gifted student that befriends him. Houtman does a remarkable job at portraying Eddy, who likely has Asperger’s Syndrome though this is never specifically identified in the story. She captures Eddy’s struggle to understand facial expressions, deal with sensory information, and social situations. This is often showcased through both his misunderstanding of the actions of one of the popular students who seems to enjoy ridiculing Eddy, and in his lack of responses to the social initiations of several other students. The story has a satisfying ending as Eddy learns many lessons about friendship, standing up for himself, and even what he may have in common with Thomas Edison.

When I read a book that is intended for middle grade readers (grades 4th to 7th), I attempt to read the story in two ways. First, how will students in these grade levels receive the book. Who is the story geared for and will the specific audience be attracted to it? Next, I think about how the story may or may not be used in a classroom, or be a resource to parents and teachers. On the first point, I believe that students particularly on the upper age range of middle grade readers are the ones who will best relate to Eddy. This is in part due to the vast amount of scientific references and language in the story, and some younger readers may be overwhelmed by the vocabulary. However, since bullying and struggling with friendships is very much part of the school experience for most children, all readers will relate well to this element of the story. Second, as an adult reader and educator, I can see the story being used to discuss issues regarding social struggles, differences, and finding solutions to your problems.

The one thing that I was slightly disappointed in was that despite a beautiful job of describing Eddy’s learning issues, there were never any references to Asperger’s or Autism and that aside from the Coach at the school most of the adults, including his parents, seemed somewhat unaware of his unique learning needs. I recognize that I may be more sensitive to this than the average reader since I have worked for many years in a school where there are students who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (including Asperger’s) and may be comparing Eddy’s parents and school personnel to those that work with me on a regular basis.

All in all, I think this is an enjoyable debut novel by Jacqueline Houtman and I am very thankful for the opportunity to review the story and to become acquainted with Eddy and his friends. I look forward to sharing Eddy’s story with students and teachers as well.


Note: THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS is scheduled for release in March 2010; however, Amazon has it available for order and others are beginning to do the same.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Picture Books on Sunday: Valentine's Day

Fancy Nancy: Heart to Heart, by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser

Publisher: HarperFestival
Pages: 22
Reading Level: 3 and up

I heart Fancy Nancy books! I’ve been meaning to get one up on the blog for quite some time now, so I figured Valentine’s Day would be the perfect time.

In Heart to Heart, Nancy’s making Valentine’s when she discovers that someone has secretly given her a one. She follows the clues to figure out who her secret admirer is.

If you’ve never read a Fancy Nancy picture book, you should! The stories are wonderful, simple and embellished with beautiful (and fancy) art. Nancy is an adorable character that is the ultimate girly-girl, but with some of her adventures, even non-girly girls will like her.

As Valentine’s books go, this is a keeper. It makes a perfect gift for the little girls in your life. It’s an easy read and the illustrations are amazing. Share this with someone and then sit down to create homemade Valentines as fancy as Nancy’s.

Angelina Ballerina: Angelina Loves…, by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap
Pages: 23
Reading Level: 3 and up

I’ve loved Angelina Ballerina since I was a kid (let’s not talk about how long ago that was). This is another great book for Valentine’s Day.

What does Angelina love? Lots of different things. Dancing, skating, her family… Not everything goes her way all the time, but it doesn’t make her love activities and people any less.

Though probably not specifically for Valentine’s Day, this book is a good exploration of love, put in terms kids will understand. Just because Angelina loves something, doesn’t mean there aren’t conflicts. Showing kids that a favorite character can still come out on top and keep her love, helps them do the same.

Grab this book and read it to someone special and then go through all the things they love. It’s the perfect activity for Valentine’s Day.

Now it's your turn to go enjoy the day doing something you love! Happy Valentine's Day from everyone at YA Lit Review.


Thursday, February 11, 2010


“I think SPILLING INK is a great book because it talks directly to you. I like it when the book does that.” – Rene, age 11

This week YA Literature Review has been featuring the book SPILLING INK by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter. Today, we get to know the authors behind the fabulous book. Thanks Anne & Ellen for answering some questions.

What made you decide to write SPILLING INK?

Ellen: Writing SPILLING INK was Anne’s idea (she seems to pluck ideas out of the very air molecules!). When she told me about it, I instantly knew it was brilliant. Why? Because over the years, both Anne and I have received so many e-mails from kids who love to write. They often ask these really great, quite sophisticated questions about things like plotting, creating strong characters, how to begin, how to end . . . all the same questions that adult writers ask. We wanted to write a book for these young writers, as well as for kids who are nervous about writing. We wanted it to be fun, and maybe even funny, but also very practical. We wanted it to be the sort of book that would make kids want to curl up and read it, then jump up and write!

Anne: For years I wanted to write a book about writing. You see, I had the good fortune to grow up with two writers (my parents, the young adult novelists, Harry Mazer and the late Norma Fox Mazer). It was like living in a 24/7 Writer’s Boot Camp. My parents were obsessed with writing – and although I didn’t think I was paying attention, apparently, I was. Later on, I realized how much I had learned - mostly while half-asleep! (It’s very nice when many of your important life skills are learned while unconscious.) I didn’t learn about plot and character and description and mood – I learned about how important it is to write every day, to never give up, and to do what you love. I’ve always wanted to share what I received with others. I had stacks of index cards with thousands of notes for the book I wanted to write, but unlocking this particular dream wasn’t possible until I met Ellen Potter.

Is it difficult to write a book with another person?

Ellen: Before SPILLING INK, I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I’d be able to collaborate on a book. I mean, how do you DO that, right?? However, when Anne asked if I wanted to write a book with her, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I just knew that she would be a dream to
work with.

I think some qualities writers need in order to collaborate successfully are:

1. A massive amount of respect for each other

2. Open minds. Just because you thought up the idea doesn’t mean that
the other person can’t improve it.

3. To be motivated by the same thing. Neither Anne nor I were overly
concerned if SPILLING INK would be a best seller. We weren’t concerned about making a ton of money. That bottom line was that we wanted to share what we’d learned about writing, and we wanted the book to be
warm and fun and unput-downable.

4. To genuinely like each other.

Anne: Depends on who the person is! Writing the book with Ellen was one of the best experiences of my life. It was a partnership with someone who shared my deepest dreams, who completed and enlarged my ideas, and who was just plain fun to work with. To me, the spirit of the book is joy. There was joy in writing it, joy in our partnership, and we want to transmit the joy of writing to our readers.

What was your favorite part of working together?

Ellen: Well, imagine this: Every day you get to call your friend and chat, laugh, be silly, make each other think, and generally brighten each other’s day. Oh and by the way, you are writing a book while you are doing this. That’s as good as it gets.

Anne: I can’t say it any better than that.

Did you have any thoughts about the students’ reaction to SPILLING INK?

Ellen: When I first started using Twitter I thought it was all pretty silly. After awhile, though, I began to “meet” some interesting people, including the extraordinary Alyson. She wrote to me about her impressions of SLOB (it’s always so great for an author to hear directly from her readers. People often think writers don’t care about that stuff, but we do. Of course we do!) Right away I could see that Alyson was a genuine dynamo who was totally dedicated to her students. When she said she’d like to try out some writing ideas from SPILLING INK with her students, Anne and I were overjoyed! The whole time we were writing SPILLING INK, Anne and I kept imagining teachers using it in schools. We imagined kids, inspired by our book, hunkered over their notebooks, creating fictional worlds out of thin air. And then voila! Like magic, Alyson started to send us regular updates and photos of SPILLING INK writing workshops at her elementary school. You can’t imagine what a joy these updates are for us! Now Anne and I feel
forever connected to Alyson and her wonderful students, and we can’t wait to see what these young L.A. writers will do next!

(*blushes – aww shucks* Thanks Ellen for the great compliments…I think you are pretty special too!)


“Anne and Ellen were no longer just names on the cover of a book but real people who had an interest in them…”

When I read this, I was so happy. Yes, it’s true. We feel as if we’re part of your school. There was another reason I felt happy reading this sentence. Often students think of authors as shadowy, remote creatures, possessed of fantastic and mysterious powers. I admit it; I STILL think of some authors this way. But actually, it’s not true. We’re people like you. We don’t want you to think of us – or writing – as out of reach or frightening. There’s a lot of fun, excitement and discovery in writing (although it can be hard work, too) – and we want to transmit that to our readers. If we’re “real people who have an interest in you,” it’s not much of a leap to what Debbie (classroom teacher) said in the classroom post: “My students are beginning to see that they are writers - even the ones that didn’t believe that they were writers.”

If you could choose a fictional character as a BFF who would it be?

Ellen: Calvin O’Keefe from A WRINKLE IN TIME. He just seems like the kind of friend who would really watch your back.

Anne: Pippi Longstocking. Because she’s utterly herself. And she always sticks up for the underdog. And she has such fantastic adventures!

What has been your favorite school visit and why?

Ellen: Honestly, I have so much fun at every single school visit that I couldn’t choose a favorite. I do have some favorite questions from kids though. Such as:

“Do you ever get reader’s block? It’s when you read a book that’s so
good, you can’t write another word.”


“Do you, like, ride around in a limo all day?”

Anne: I love school visits where kids’ art and writing decorate the hallways, where the kids are full of questions, and everyone is excited about books.

And yes, like Ellen, my favorite part of ANY school visit is the Q & A with the kids. I LOVE that.

What was the one book that you wished that you had written?

Ellen: HOLES . Yeah, that was pretty darn spectacular.

Anne: Please! There are way too many of them! Anything written by Katherine Paterson. THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak. And this last weekend I read SKIN HUNGER by Kathleen Duey. It was one of those books I’ll never forget…

If you are interested in learning more about what Anne and Ellen are up to, I encourage you to check out their websites:

Anne Mazer -

Ellen Potter -

I hope everyone has enjoyed our week with Anne and Ellen. Don't forget to enter the SPILLING INK signed ARC contest.


"I think that the book SPILLING INK: A Young Writer's Handbook is a great book for kids like me to get enthusiastic about writing...Thank you Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer for writing this great book." - Karla,age 11

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SPILLING INK: One Classroom's Journey In Writing

"I love this book, Spilling Ink. It makes me laugh." - Cierra, age 11

What do you get when you take one enthusiastic teacher, an involved principal, 31 sixth graders, two authors and a book about writing? A recipe for success.

At the beginning of the school year, I decided to challenge my sixth graders to read more books. My students do not come from homes where there are an abundance of books. Nor do they necessarily even have adults who model reading. Thus began my weekly book chats and read alouds in their classroom. As I shared books that I had read over the past week, I discovered how motivating it is for them to read what the principal is reading. Consequently, my office became a branch of the school library where students began checking out books from my personal collection.

One of our discoveries was Ellen Potter’s book SLOB and I shared with them my correspondence with the author herself. As I got to know Ellen and then her friend and sometime writing partner Anne Mazer (author of the Abby Hayes, Sister Magic Series and my personal fav – Salamander Room), I continued to update my students on my conversations. At the same time, I shared my students’ reactions with Ellen and Anne. I also offered to try some of the writing activities from SPILLING INK with my students.

Naturally, when Ellen and Anne sent me a couple of ARC’s of their new book SPILLING INK, I immediately shared it with my sixth graders. Despite having heard about my emails with the authors, seeing the actual book and knowing that the authors sent it to us transformed Anne and Ellen from just names on the cover of a book. Here were authors that had an interest in them and wanted to know what these students thought about their book. I discussed the possibility of trying out the activities from SPILLING INK with the classroom teacher, Mrs. Debbie, who enthusiastically embraced the challenge. Nearly overnight, the teacher had organized journals for each student. She copied the Official Writer’s Permission Slip (Ch. 1) for everyone and began to introduce lessons to the classroom.

Debbie began by having children write on all types of paper from scraps to napkins to sticky notes to illustrate the point Anne makes about not needing fancy equipment (p.2). She then had them attach the pieces of paper to their journal. In an effort to tie the writing activities into the curriculum, she helped them relate Anne’s comments about “writer’s gold” and dreams in Chapter 3 Inspirations with a lesson they were doing about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” and then write their own dreams. She was amazed at how enthusiastically her students embraced the writing activities. According to Debbie, “My students are beginning to see that they are writers even the ones that didn’t believe that they were writers.”

For both Debbie and I, it has been exciting especially to see our English Language Learners who struggle to write finally overcome their fear of writing. SPILLING INK’s “give yourself permission to write anything” writing activities have given them the freedom to write without the fear of making mistakes or worrying about being graded. In the past, writing caused many of them to become anxious and nervous. Students worried about making mistakes or needing to write to a specific standard. Debbie indicated that they are now interested in writing and even ask when they will be doing more of the writing exercises from the book. Marissa, age 11, recently shared “When I heard my teacher say that we were going to do the activities I was mad but not anymore. Now when she tells us ‘get your journals out’ I take it out like there’s no tomorrow.”

As I have watched Debbie read portions of the book out loud to her students, I notice that there is a sense that the class has a personal connection to the writers. Anne recommends this or Ellen suggests that. Even the classroom teacher has embraced the humor and dramatic style of the book into her presentation of the lessons providing more motivation. Jeniffer, age 11, said “The most enjoyable thing was how my teacher read it. I enjoyed Spilling Ink.”

Tomorrow – An interview with the authors of SPILLING INK and their reactions to the writing workshops at our school.

The Contest
Ellen and Anne have graciously offered up a signed ARC of SPILLING INK as a giveaway. In order to win the signed copy, you need to do the following…

Try out one of the following dares listed below (you are on an honor system here) and tell us about it in the comment section.

Dare #1 Baking Characters From Scratch – Think of six qualities for a character and write a recipe for him or her using the model above. For example, 5 cups of cocky attitude, sifted; 2 cups of loyalty to friends; 2 tablespoons of insecurity about big feet, etc. (Ch. 4, p. 23)

Dare #2 Heart’s Desire – Make a list of all the things you want. Pick one of the items from your list and write a short scene in which you try out one of those ideas. What happens? (Ch. 4. P. 29)

Dare #3 Descriptions: Describe the color yellow to someone who cannot see. Get creative. (Ch. 13, p.134)

Note: All Dares and page references are taken directly from the Advanced Readers' Copy of Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter.

You have until Wednesday, February 17, 2010 to enter. Please leave an email address or your twitter name so that we can notify you if you win.

Have fun and until Thursday,

Monday, February 8, 2010

Middle Grade Mondays: SPILLING INK

Author: Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer
Publisher: Flash Point/Roaring Brook Press
Pages: 288
Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12 years

When I first read Ellen Potter’s book SLOB, I was deeply touched and emailed my reactions to her. She was kind enough to respond back. Once I posted a review of SLOB here a few months ago, I again found myself going back and forth on Twitter and email with her. From there, I found myself connecting with author Anne Mazer. Through our correspondence, I have come to deeply admire both of these fabulous women. Over the months, I shared my thoughts and student examples with them. As a result, Anne and Ellen graciously agreed to share with me their upcoming book Spilling Ink.

When I received my advanced reader’s copy of Spilling Ink, I was excited but also a tad bit nervous. It is one thing to review a book when you have no connection to the author(s) but a totally different situation when it is someone you respect and really like. I decided it was best just to dive into the book and see what I thought.

Remind me though the next time I decide to dive into a book not to do it at 10 p.m. I started reading Spilling Ink and nearly had trouble putting it down. However, I realized that as a non-fiction book I should probably slow down and process the writing advice being shared by Mazer and Potter. The next morning I brought the second ARC to one of my teachers. I asked her to share it with her students. Over the next several weeks, she set up writing journals for her sixth graders. I stopped in to see what the students thought and to watch her use the activities as part of her writing time.

Though this isn’t a book that teaches the grammatical and technical aspects of writing, it does an amazing job with helping students understand the components of a story and how to craft a tale. I watched my students who frequently struggle to write become excited about writing for the first time.

You may be asking what it is about Mazer and Potter’s book that is so special. Through humor, frank dialogue, and practical examples and activities, the authors lead aspiring writers in the process of writing. In the chapter on Characters for example, children are taught how to not only create a character but how to bring their characters to life. I especially enjoyed the activity where Ellen encourages her readers to grab a cookie, a notebook and pen, and to sit down and pretend to have a conversation with their character.

Each chapter is filled with similar kinds of instruction, activities and small “dares” which challenge children to practice what they are learning. Ellen and Anne take turns sharing their own writing practice and lessons learned with their readers. And though the book is written for children, even adults can learn from the activities provided. I have to admit that thanks to the chapter on “Who is telling your story?” I finally understand second person narrative.

Before I even finished the story, I found myself telling booksellers, parents of elementary age children, and school librarians about Spilling Ink. When the book is finally released, I plan on purchasing quite a few copies to give to teachers that I know. I encourage you to pick up your own copy when it is released and enjoy trying out some or all of the writing activities with an aspiring child writer in your life.

On Wednesday, please check back in to Young Adult Literature Review. I will be posting another Spilling Ink related piece which will include comments from Ellen & Anne, as well as some of my students and their teacher. Readers will have a chance to win a signed ARC of Spilling Ink courtesy of Anne, Ellen, and their publisher.

Until then...happy writing,
- Aly

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Seeing Stick (Picture Book)

Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Daniela Terrazzini
Publisher: Running Press Kids (Reprint edition September 22, 2009
Pages: 34
Ages: 4 to 8

Over the years, I have read literally 100’s of picture books. Some are average, some are outstanding, and some are simply exceptional. If I could find a category beyond exceptional, then Jane Yolen’s re-release of her 1977 picture book The Seeing Stick now illustrated by Daniela Terrazzini would be the leader of the pack.

Yolen tells the story of Hwei Min, the only daughter of the Emperor of China. Hwei Min has been blind since birth causing her father to be quite sad. The Emperor decides to offer a reward to anyone who can find a cure for the little girl. The word goes out and a wise old man hears of the request and begins his journey to the palace. At the outer court, the elderly man explains to the guards how with his special stick he can help Hwei Min see. He carves the faces of the guards and other images into the stick. The guards are amazed and they bring him into the inner court where he continues to mesmerize those around him.

Finally, the old man is brought before the Emperor and Hwei Min where he shares his stick with her. As the girl runs her hands over the images on the stick she begins to “see” with her fingers. With delight, she seeks to match the carved images with the faces of the guards and those around her. The Emperor is true to his word and offers great riches to the wise man who graciously gives away his wealth to those needier than he.

Though the story is entertaining and very satisfying in its own right, the illustrations are really what take the book from good to absolutely amazing. The beginning paintings are mutely colored in shades of greys and blues and evolve as the story grows. There are subtle embossing of on the stick and various parts of the page which represent the tactile way of seeing. Additionally, the colors grow and become more complex and brilliant over the course of the book.

During a picture book search at a local bookstore, I came across this book. I sat down with my niece and read the story to her and we oooohed and ahhhed over the illustrations. After purchasing the book, I did impromptu storytimes in several classrooms at my school. It is a wonderful book to use as a read aloud as well as a lovely book to give as a gift. The Seeing Stick by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Daniela Terrazzini should be a part of every teacher’s personal collection. I look forward to seeing further work from illustrator Daniela Terrazzini.

- Aly

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fantasy Fridays: Witch and Wizard

Witch and Wizard, by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Pages: 320
Reading Level: 12 and up
Enjoyment Level: Medium

I participated in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap this year, and my secret santa sent me an advanced copy of Witch and Wizard. Lucky me! I was so excited to finally read a book before everyone else did (lol), that I picked it up almost immediately after I got it.

There is a New Order in the world. It’s an Order full of rules and regulations and normal. It’s powered by The One, and it’s catching all sorts of young people in its harsh regime. Wisty and Whit are two such young people, who get caught and then discover that they are part of a prophecy to save the world.

I haven’t read anything from James Patterson before, but I’d heard that his books are fast-paced. This book definitely follows that trend. So much so, that I’m still not exactly sure what happened in the story. The pace held on to me, but when it spit me back out at the end, I came up dazed and confused. Books for kids are best when the action keeps going, but readers need at least a little room to breathe. Witch and Wizard did not give that to me.

The book alternates between Whit’s point of view and Wisty’s. That, also, got a little confusing, as did the odd prologue which did not get resolved by the end and an epilogue was added that was a continuation of the prologue. The story in between takes place far in advance of the prologue and epilogue, so readers are left wondering what the heck the authors are trying to do.

As much as I saw them, though, I did like the characters. They exist in this quick story and at least I can say I got a decent sense of both of them. Wisty is feisty and a good read for young girls. Whit, the older brother, is the perfect hero. Together, they make a great team, all ready to fight against the very pernicious villain, The One, who is delightfully and deeply evil.

I can’t recommend this book without some reservations. Perhaps I just need to read it again, but I feel like books should be very clear the first time around, with subsequent re-reads that just pick up on different nuances. If you love James Patterson for adults, I’m sure you’ll like him for kids. And maybe there’ll be a sequel to Witch and Wizard where we get more time to absorb the story.

Until next time, go read something good!

~ Vilate

Monday, February 1, 2010

Middle Grade Mondays: Gamer's Quest

Gamer's Quest, by George Ivanoff

Publisher: Ford Street Publishing
Pages: 172
Reading Level: 9-12
Enjoyment Level: Medium

I’m still not sure how I feel about this book, even after writing the review. It was sent to me as a review request and it took me some time to get through it.

The story is about Tark and Zyra, who are thieves in a world of magic, technology, and a very strict caste system. The two embark on a journey to Designer’s Paradise, hoping to get away from their mundane lives, but instead, they get trapped in a chain of events that changes their world.

Although I try not to start off negative in my reviews, I'm going to with this one because it was a major issue with the book... I absolutely hated the way the author wrote the dialogue for Tark and Zyra. It was terribly distracting and made the two characters sound way more ignorant than they really were. The bad grammar was over-the-top and unnecessary. I couldn’t read very much at a time because the dialogue was so frustrating, which is the reason it took so long to get through.

That being said, the story was interesting. I did feel like it was stifled a little, both from the dialogue and from the length of the book. It might’ve been due to the beginning taking so long to lead up to the real adventure. After finishing the book, I think the lead-up too that long because it was supposed to show how Tark and Zyra lived, but the story did drag and I wished that the adventure part could’ve been a bit longer.

Anyone who picks up a copy of the story will know right off that these characters are in a game world. With that, I worried it would leave off like an awful story where we find out at the end that it was all a dream and pretty much pointless. However, the ending of Gamer’s Quest wrapped up the plot without making me want to roll my eyes and curse my wasted reading time. It was definitely one of the positives I got from this.

And despite the horrible dialogue through most of it, Gamer’s Quest is imaginative and some kids may find it fun because it’s set in a game world. I would recommend this with a few reservations just because you might find the characters’ grammar distracting. I would not recommend attempting to read this out loud in a classroom, but, for teachers, this could be a good one to use for students who like to game.

Until next time, go read something good!

~ Vilate