June LILbooKtalk: “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty” with Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth

Hi guys! I am really excited to share with y’all this month’s LILbooKtalk! The theme is “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty,” a theme that is present is most Middle Grade novels. That is one of the biggest reasons why I love MG because they certainly boost my hope whenever I feel overwhelmed or sad. Today, I have two wonderful authors here to discuss this topic, Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth, and they both provide some amazing insight into the worlds of MG and contemporary. I hope you enjoy!


About Open If You DareOpen If You Dare

Like Birdie Adams didn’t have enough problems this summer. But Birdie’s Birdie. And if a long-buried box has “Open if you dare” written on its lid, then Birdie and her best friends, Ally and Rose, are going to open it.

And now, along with everything else that’s going on–Ally’s pitching slump, Rose’s banishment to Britain, and Birdie’s annoying younger sister being, you know, annoying–the best friends are caught up in solving a mystery planted by a dead girl forty years ago.

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About The Eleventh TradeThe Eleventh Trade

From debut author Alyssa Hollingsworth comes a story about living with fear, being a friend, and finding a new place to call home.

They say you can’t get something for nothing, but nothing is all Sami has. When his grandfather’s most-prized possession―a traditional Afghan instrument called a rebab―is stolen, Sami resolves to get it back. He finds it at a music store, but it costs $700, and Sami doesn’t have even one penny. What he does have is a keychain that has caught the eye of his classmate. If he trades the keychain for something more valuable, could he keep trading until he has $700? Sami is about to find out.

The Eleventh Trade is both a classic middle school story and a story about being a refugee. Like Katherine Applegate, author of Wishtree, Alyssa Hollingsworth tackles a big issue with a light touch.

The Eleventh Trade releases from Roaring Brook Press on September 18th, 2018! Pre-order it today!

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LILbooKtalk August 2018

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is Dana Middleton, MG author of Open If You Dare, which released last year. I was able to meet Dana at the SE-YA Book Festival back in March, also! Could you tell us a bit about your latest book and your background?

Dana: Hi Kester. So great to be here! My latest book is called Open If You Dare. It’s set in Atlanta (in the real neighborhood of my youth). It’s a mystery but it’s mostly about three friends during their last real summer together. I live in LA now but most of my MG fiction takes me back to my childhood in the South.Open If You Dare

Kester: Thank you for joining us today, Dana! I certainly loved Open If You Dare!Alongside Dana, we have Alyssa Hollingsworth, whose MG debut novel The Eleventh Trade is set to release in September of this year. Would you like to share with us a little about your book and yourself?

Alyssa: Sure! Thanks for having me. The Eleventh Trade is a contemporary story set in Boston about an Afghan boy who loses his last heirloom from home and goes on a quest of trades to get it back. I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old, got my master’s in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University, and seem to have accidentally landed in the niche of MG books with fun plots and an underbelly of humanitarian themes.

The Eleventh TradeKester: I am really excited to read The Eleventh Trade! I’m glad that you’re here with us!

Both Birdie in Open If You Dare and Sami in The Eleventh Trade are faced with great challenges, such as dealing with one’s best friends moving away or trying to buy back a prized possession, that require a lot of hope and perseverance to overcome. What is the central message that you want young readers to take away from your novels? How do you want your book to help readers who are going through similar trials?

Alyssa: Great question! Boiled down to its very basic core, The Eleventh Trade is about how loss opens us up to community (friendship/belonging), and how community brings healing. I hope that readers will see the book as an opportunity to be aware of others’ struggle and actively jump in to give help and hope.

Dana: I agree with Alyssa. When a reader can identify and/or become aware of others’ struggles, the world becomes a smaller and kinder place. As an author, I feel like it’s my job to step into the skin of my protagonist. Birdie, in this case, is a lot like me and a lot different, too. She feels deeply about the impending loss of her friends (one is moving away and the other will go to a different school next year) but she also grows to understand that she can stand on her own and that the future can be different and good at the same time.

Alyssa: “Different and good” — I love that!

Dana: Right? I think I still struggle with that as an adult!

Kester: I definitely agree with the both of y’all. It’s very important to foster empathy in readers so they could make the world a better place.

Dana: In all fiction, but perhaps especially in middle grade fiction, it’s all about empathy and showing readers a variety of experiences. I’m excited to read The Eleventh Trade, partially for that reason. And also because it sound really good!

Alyssa: 🙂

Continue reading “June LILbooKtalk: “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty” with Dana Middleton and Alyssa Hollingsworth”

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Exclusive Guest Post with Wendy McLeod MacKnight, Author of The Frame-Up, on “The World Behind the Frame”

Hi guys! Today I am at the Tennessee American Legion Boys’ State, where I will be marching and learning more about the inner workings about the government for the entire week. It is an honor to be representing my community this year! Today, I have a special guest post by Wendy McLeod MacKnight, the author of It’s a Mystery, Pig Faceand the upcoming release The Frame-Up, which looks so fascinating! Can you imagine traveling to the worlds inside paintings?


About the BookThe Frame-Up

Don’t let anyone know the paintings are alive. Thirteen-year-old Mona Dunn has adhered to that rule for almost one hundred years, ever since her portrait was hung on the walls of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. So when the gallery director’s son, Sargent Singer discovers the truth, she’s sure she’d just exposed the gallery’s biggest secret. But Sargent, an aspiring artist himself, just wants to know more about the vast and intriguing world beyond the frames. With devious plots, shady characters, and grand art heists, this inventive mystery adventure celebrates art and artists.

Featuring sixteen pages of full glossy pictures of the masterpieces who are characters in the book, this book is a must-read and a useful tool for teachers and parents who want to introduce children to art and artists in a fun, accessible way.

The Frame-Up will release from Greenwillow Books on June 5th, 2018!

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Don’t miss her pre-order giveaway!


Wendy McLeod MacKnight Guest Post.png

The World Behind the Frame: The Frame-Up

I’ve always loved art.

From an early age, I was inspired by art, although I didn’t show a particular aptitude to make it myself (though I admit to the odd dabbling).

I remember visiting my grandmother as a little girl and seeing the portrait of my mother as a teenager on the wall.

Patsy Rider
Photo Courtesy of Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Yes, my mother is Patsy Ryder, the visitor in the story!

The girl in the painting was flat. I wondered what she was looking at. I wondered if she found the grownups conversations boring, as I sometimes did.

What was it like to be in there, behind the frame?

Creating the world behind the frame before I began to write the book was time-consuming.

The world of the art gallery was easy; I had only to wander around the Beaverbrook Art Gallery take notes.

For the world behind, there had to be rules.

First of all, there was the whole travelling between paintings business. I don’t explicitly spell it out in the book, because I want the reader to imagine how it works for themselves, but in my mind’s eye, there is a magical rabbit’s warren of hallways connecting the paintings to one another. Usually, the residents take their time going between the paintings, often times not entering another painting as they go, but other times, they simply walk from painting to painting, especially if the painting is a landscape.

And then there is the whole issue of what exactly is IN any particular painting.

Since the artist’s vision is supreme and what brings the painting to life, I decided early on that the only thing that existed in any given painting was entirely dependents upon what the artists was thinking about while he or she painted.

So Helena Rubinstein gets to have a few rooms at the back of her portrait, as well some cookies, because artist Graham Sutherland thought of them at the time he painted her.

Not so fortunate is a sketch of Somerset Maugham’s head. Since Sutherland was so focused on getting Maugham’s features right for the final portrait, he only thought of the head. The Maugham in the sketch will be forever dependent on the kindness of other residents to get him where he wants to be.

Depending on the imagination of the artist, the painting can go on far into the distance. For example, Mona Dunn ends up in the painting MerryMaking, and ends up travelling for miles on a bitterly cold winter day, thanks to Krieghoff’s imagination.  This is mostly true of all the paintings, though sometimes to almost comical lengths. In Dan Vigilio Lake Garda, John Singer Sargent doesn’t stock the café with chocolate gelato because the proprietor ran out of it on the day Singer visited!

Mona’s painting is very bare: a small throw, a stool, and a shadowy room. It is not wonder that she adores visiting paintings like San Vigilio, Lake Garda!

There are other rules in the world outside the frame: a resident should not go into another residents’ painting when they are not there without their permission.


About the AuthorWendy McLeod MacKnight

Wendy grew up in St. Stephen and wrote her first novel at age nine. She worked for the Government of New Brunswick for twenty-five years, ending her career as the Deputy Minister of Education when the siren call of writing became impossible to ignore. Wendy is represented by Lauren Galit of the LKG Agency in New York City. Her debut middle grade novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! was published by Sky Pony Press in 2017. Her second book, The Frame-Up, a fantasy set at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, was sold at auction to Greenwillow Books in a two-book deal and will be published June 5th 2018.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Frame-Up? Do you like MG Fantasy?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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Review: Bumbling Bea by Deborah Baldwin

Hi guys! Today is the first day of school for all of us here on LILbooKlovers, and I’m actually pretty excited about my junior year. Today, I’m posting another review here on the blog, and today I’m reviewing Bumbling Bea by Deborah Baldwin!Bumbling Bea


About the Book

Beatrice thinks she has no talent, but that doesn’t stop her from auditioning for the annual middle school play.  Easy!  Except Michiko, a new girl from Japan, shows up and ruins everything. So begins Beatrice’s humorous and diabolical plan to scare away Michiko.  But Michiko has goals of her own with no plans to leave soon.  Then there’s that “other” girl, Bumbling Bea, who is such a blabbermouth.  What’s a girl to do?  Plenty.



Disclaimer: I received a free signed copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way.

Overall Thoughts: A long time ago (like a few months actually) I read a short story called “The Nose” in English. One of the weirdest stories I have read. Even though it was 30 pages, I couldn’t get through even 2 without stopping! I had the same experience with Bumbling Bea, and I did not like it. This is probably the first 1 star review I’m giving a book in a long time, and that means something. Bumbling Bea just wasn’t the best book I have read, especially compared to the books I read before and after it. I did like the premise, though, and I was expecting a comical, light read, but that’s not what I got. I know that some people will enjoy this book, and I have no doubt about that, but for me, it’s one that I didn’t like at all. I just don’t like it at all, and even though I reserve 1-stars for DNFs, I can only give it 1 star.

Writing Style: The writing style is what bugged me the most about this book. There was just too must telling and too much unnecessary detail/backstory. One of the biggest “make or break” parts of a novel is the voice of the narrator, and I learned from my creative writing that in writing fiction you must show the details and only include those that are necessary. Pardon if I start going into “mini-lesson” mode; that’s how I convey my feelings sometimes.

First, regarding showing, I was told what happened. I wasn’t shown what was happening. Anton Chekhov, a famous Russian playwright, once wrote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” As a reader, I want to see what is going on. I want to be transported into the story. I want to feel the wind caressing my body as it provides me relief from the heat of the glaring sun, not just being told that the wind was blowing. I was told what happened during the day, which did not contribute to the plot (I’ll talk about that in a minute). I didn’t feel like I wanted to keep on going. In fact, I set it down for a while and finished both The One Memory of Flora Banks and The Bakersville Dozen before I picked it up again.

Second, regarding unnecessary details, I would sometimes encounter a page that is full of unnecessary backstory and details, and it honestly stalled the plot. It’s good to insert some flashbacks and backstory in some spots, and I love them, but they weren’t used in the best way in this book. I just kept going, “Do I really need to know this?” as I continued the novella.

Also, the voice didn’t exactly match a middle school student’s voice. When I read The One Memory of Flora Banks, I loved how the childlike narration matched Flora’s personality. As I read Bumbling Bea on the other hand, it didn’t really match how a MG child would speak. I’ve read my fair share of Middle Grade books and I’ve been in middle school just two years ago to know what is the right voice for a younger protagonist. I’ve read MG books such as 14 Hollow Road, Be Light Like a Bird, and How to Steal a Dog that truly capture the child/MG voice, but Bumbling Bea did not match what an MG reader would read. I don’t think it fits exactly with it’s intended audience (10 – 15). I know the narrator is in 8th grade (I was 13 in 8th grade) and Bea didn’t capture the simplicity and innocence that I love to see in MG characters.

Antihero: So the author took a gamble with using an antihero as the protagonist. By the way, an antihero is a protagonist who lacks heroic virtues, which I think is different from a flawed protagonist. Beatrice has an “alternate ego” called “Bumbling Bea,” a snarky, sarcastic version of herself that’s disrespectful to those around her. Did the main character annoy me? Yes, at points. Personally, antiheroes are huge gambles when writing a book because not everyone is a fan of them. Now me, did I like Beatrice? No, not until the end. Now are there books where you just love the antihero? Yes, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (which I want to read a lot) is one example where many people who did not like them loved the main character. But it just didn’t work for me.

Concluding Thoughts: I wish I could say why I think you should read this book, but I honestly can’t say. If you want to try out this book, go ahead! You might like it much better than I did. But those were my reasons why it did not click with me. It had a lot of potential, but it wasn’t well executed. I wish I could say more good things about this book, but sadly, I cannot. It just doesn’t feel like a middle grade book.


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Do you have any thoughts or questions?

Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!

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