November LILbooKtalk: “Neurodiversity in Children and Children’s Literature” with Sally J. Pla and Monica Tesler

Hi guys! I am really excited to share with y’all this month’s LILbooKtalk about “Neurodiversity in Children and Children’s Literature” with Sally J. Pla and Monica Tesler, two amazing people and highly talented authors. I am such a huge fan of Monica’s Bounders series, which has a very special place in my heart, and I am looking forward to reading Sally’s Stanley Will Probably Be Just Fine one day. A common thing that unites both Sally’s and Monica’s books is that they feature main characters that are neurodivergent, which means that their brains operate outside of the norm. I am very glad to have both of them here to talk about neurodiversity in children and in children’s literature. I hope you enjoy!


About Stanley Will Probably Be Just FineStanley Will Probably Be Fine

This novel features comic trivia, a safety superhero, and a super-cool scavenger hunt all over downtown San Diego, as our young hero Stanley Fortinbras grapples with his anxiety—and learns what, exactly, it means to be brave.

Nobody knows comics trivia like Stanley knows comics trivia.

It’s what he takes comfort in when the world around him gets to be too much. And after he faints during a safety assembly, Stanley takes his love of comics up a level by inventing his own imaginary superhero, named John Lockdown, to help him through.

Help is what he needs, because Stanley’s entered Trivia Quest—a giant comics-trivia treasure hunt—to prove he can tackle his worries, score VIP passes to Comic Fest, and win back his ex-best friend. Partnered with his fearless new neighbor Liberty, Stanley faces his most epic, overwhelming, challenging day ever.

What would John Lockdown do?

Stanley’s about to find out.

Goodreads

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About Earth Force RisingEarth Force Rising

Bounders have always known they were different, but they never suspected they were the key to saving Earth.

Jasper Adams is excited to join the Earth Force military agency as part of its first class of Bounders, a team of kids training to be elite astronauts. He can’t wait to connect with others like him and learn to pilot spaceships that can travel across the galaxy in an instant.

But when Jasper arrives at the space station, nothing is as it seems. Security is sky-high, and Jasper and his new friends soon realize that Earth Force has been keeping secrets—one of the biggest being a powerful, highly-classified technology that allows the Bounders to teleport through space without a ship. Only Bounders can use this tech, which leads Jasper to a sinister truth—humanity is facing a threat greater than any they’ve ever known, and Bounders are the ones standing between their planet and destruction.

Will Jasper and his friends rebel against Earth Force for hiding the truth or fulfill their duty and fight for their planet? The fate of Earth may rest on their choice.

Goodreads

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LILbooKtalk November 2018.png

(Questions are in bold)

Kester: The first author we have today is the awesome Sally J. Pla, award-winning author of The Someday Birds, Stanley Will Probably Be Fine, and Benji, the Bad Day, and Me. Would you like to tell us a few things about you and your novels?

Benji, the Bad Day, and MeSally: Hi you guys! I suppose you could say that my mission in a sense is to populate children’s literature with as many characters as I can whose brains just operate a little bit differently than the norm. This is my mission because I am from a neurodivergent family and MY brain operates just a bit differently. Rates of autism these days are one in 59 kids, and with other types of neurodivergence such as ADD, ADHD, etc., there are so many kids out there who need heroes and characters that reflect their reality.

Kester: I definitely agree!! I’m very glad to have you here with us today, Sally, to help you on your mission! Alongside Sally is the amazing Monica Tesler, author of the MG sci-fi Bounders series, which is personally my favorite series of all-time. I had the opportunity to meet her in person at the SE-YA Book Fest! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your books?

Earth Force RisingMonica: Thanks, Kester, for inviting us to chat with you today. You know how excited I am that you’re a fan of the Bounders series! Bounders is a science fiction adventure series for tweens and teens. The stories are about the first class of cadets at the EarthBound Academy, kids who always knew they were different but never suspected they held the key to saving Earth. Similar to what Sally mentioned, I set out to write the Bounders series with the hope that some kids who may not often see themselves in books would see themselves as heroes in these stories. I also come from a family with lots of brain difference, so it’s something that is very close to home.

Kester: I’m very glad to have you, too, Monica, with us today! And I’m very glad to have been able to read your amazing series! (I know I need to read Sally’s books, too!) The characters in the Bounders series, The Someday Birds, and Stanley Will Probably Be Fine are all neurodivergent. For those who may not be familiar with that term, would you mind explaining what neurodiversity is in your viewpoint? Why do you believe it is important to accept neurological differences such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia?

Sally: I would start by defining terms. In accord with autism advocate Nick Walker’s terms—neurodiversity refers to the broad panoply of brain differences across the human spectrum. Neurodivergence refers to those (including myself) whose brains operate differently due to autism, ADD, ADHD, etc. Differently brained folks add to and enhance the human experience! We are all stars shining with different lights.

Monica: I was typing something… but Sally’s answer more eloquently captures the definition neurodiversity. I do tend to think of it quite broadly as anything not neurotypical. And like Sally mentioned, there is a broad spectrum when it comes to brains.

Stanley Will Probably Be FineSally: That is not to say that there are not certain challenges, and it is these challenges that my books hopefully will help to address. I think Monica must feel similarly. I was recently at a conference called “Love and Autism,” and I met the most amazing, talented, incredible young autistic writers and thinkers and artists and designers and surfers! It made me realize again how much people that society considers “potentially disabled” are actually incredible and full of abilities. They are different, not less. I want to keep writing stories featuring such characters so that we can expand our notion of what being human really means in all of its challenges and joys. Sorry, I am blabbing; I will stop now!

Monica: I love what you’re saying, Sally. I’m trying to figure out the format over here! I’ve written and deleted a dozen times! I’ll get faster, I promise!

Continue reading “November LILbooKtalk: “Neurodiversity in Children and Children’s Literature” with Sally J. Pla and Monica Tesler”

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October LILbooKtalk: “Using the Power of Storytelling to Promote STEM to Students” with Jarrett Lerner and Mary Fan

Hi guys! I am really excited to share with y’all this month’s LILbooKtalk! I have two of my favorite authors ever–Jarrett Lerner and Mary Fan–back on the blog to discuss “Using the Power of Storytelling to Promote STEM to Students.” Since personally I am very STEM-mind and will be pursuing computer engineering in college, this is definitely a topic that I had a lot of fun learning more about. I hope you enjoy!


About EngiNerdsEnginerds

The battle between boys and bots is on in this funny, fast-paced novel.

Ken is an EngiNerd: one of a super-smart group of friends—all nerds—who have been close since kindergarten.

They may be brainiacs, but they’re just like everyone else: they fight with one another, watch too much TV, eat Chinese food, and hate walking their dogs. Well, maybe not just like everyone because Ken’s best friend Dan has been building robots. He then secretly sent one to each of the EngiNerds, never letting them know he’s the mastermind.

At first Ken is awed and delighted: what kid hasn’t dreamed of having a robot all their own? Someone who can be their friend, clean their room, walk the dog, answer homework questions…how amazing is that?

But be careful what you wish for: Dan’s robot, Greeeg, may look innocent, but his ravenous consumption of food—comestibles—turns him into a butt-blasting bot. And once the other robots ‘come alive’ it’s up to the motley crew of EngiNerds to not only save the day, but save the planet!

Goodreads

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About Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines who HackBrave New Girls 3

Welcome to the sci-fi worlds of brainy teen heroines who hack not just computers, but whatever puzzles come their way. A scrappy mechanic on an oppressed planet builds a device she hopes will be her ticket to a better future. A fledgling chemist uses her skills to catch a murderer. A teen inventor creates a weapon to battle the mysterious beasts attacking her city. A superhero-in-training puts her skills to the test when attackers strike her compound. A self-styled detective hacks an augmented reality game to solve a dastardly crime. Girls who code, explore, fix robots, pilot starships, invent gadgets, build high-tech treehouses, and more. With tales ranging from space adventures to steampunk to cyberpunk and more this 23-story collection will delight, thrill, and enthrall.

Proceeds from sales of this anthology will be donated to a scholarship fund through the Society of Women Engineers. Let’s show today’s girls that they, too, can be tomorrow’s inventors, programmers, scientists, and more.

STORIES BY: Lyssa Chiavari, Jennifer Chow, Russ and Abby Colchamiro, MLD Curelas, Paige Daniels, Kay Dominguez, Mary Fan, Halli Gomez, Valerie Hunter, AA Jankiewicz, Nicholas Jennings, Jamie Krakover, Tash McAdam, MJ Moores, Jelani Akin Parham, Selenia Paz, Josh Pritchett, Jeremy Rodden, Aaron Rosenberg, Jenifer Purcell Rosenberg, Jennifer Lee Rossman, JR Rustrian, and Joanna Schnurman.

Featuring illustrations by Jacob Atom, Brandon Bell, Jo Belle, Lyssa Chiavari, Sharon Emmitt, Ben Falco, Fauzy Zulvikar Firmansyah, Christopher Godsoe, Liana Kangas, John Kovalic, MunkyWrench, Josh Pritchett, Emily Smith, Jennifer Stolzer, and Ronald Suh.

Goodreads

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LILbooKtalk September 2018.png

(Questions are in bold.)

Kester:The first author we have today is Jarrett Lerner, author of the EngiNerds series and an advocate for children’s literature with #KidsNeedBooks, #KidsNeedMentors, and the MG Book Village. Could you describe to us a little bit about yourself and your novels?

EnginerdsJarrett: Sure! I write stories that I hope all kids (and kids at heart) can enjoy, but often write with the so-called “reluctant” or “striving” or “undiscovered” reader in mind — educators have all sorts of terms for these kids who have yet to find books they love. Reading and books changed my life, and continue to improve my life every day. I want every kid to have that experience, and seek to make that happen through my writing, my outreach, and the various projects I work on.

Kester: Thank you so much for everything you do in the kidlit community, Jarrett! Certainly you and your books have changed the lives of readers across the nation. 🙂

Jarrett: That’s very kind of you to say, Kester!

Kester: Thank you! The second author we have today is Mary Fan, co-editor of the Brave New Girls anthologies, in which all proceeds are donated to the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund. Would you also like to tell us a little about you and your books?

Brave New Girls 3Mary: Absolutely! I’ve been a nerd for as long as I can remember, and so naturally, I ended up writing nerdy stories :-). Pretty much all of them are about intrepid heroines in far-off worlds. With the Brave New Girls anthologies, fellow sci-fi author Paige Daniels and I are hoping to encourage more girls to explore STEM careers. Women are still woefully underrepresented in STEM, and even though there’s definitely been more of a push to show girls that they can do anything, we still have a long way to go. Thing is, it’s all cultural. There’s no reason why girls shouldn’t end up choosing math or science or engineering if they want, but years of cultural expectations have created this notion that girls in tech are uncool sidekicks. We’re hoping to change that by releasing these books full of stories about girls who are both into the geeky stuff and the heroines of their own stories.

Jarrett: Hear, hear! And can I just say, Mary, that if you haven’t read the books of Katie Slivensky, you MUST! The Countdown Conspiracy and The Seismic Seven–you would LOVE!

Mary: Thank you! Will definitely check them out! 😀

Kester: I know I need to check out Katie’s books, too! Here’s my first question: In today’s increasingly technological world, there is a huge need for students pursuing careers in the sciences, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Why do you believe it is important to use the power of storytelling to instill a passion for STEM in young students? How do your books accomplish this task?

Brave New Girls 2Mary: Much of who we become is influenced by what the world around us tells us we can be – whether we realize it or not. If every book you read shows people in science and tech as uncool, it’s easy to start believing that’s true in real life too. That’s why it’s important to tell stories where the geeky kid gets to save the day and be the main character. With Brave New Girls, we aim to publish a variety of these kinds of stories so girls (and really, everyone — just because the protagonists are girls doesn’t mean the readers have to be!) can imagine that it’s possible. And once you imagine it, it starts to feel normal in real life too.

Jarrett: I think school tends to instill this idea in kids’ minds (I know it did in mine) that there are these rigid boundaries between subjects–that science is separate from art, which is separate from history, etc., etc. Skills that are used in the STEM fields are directly applicable in the “humanities.” The lessons and truths I rely on as a writer and illustrator are the same ones that guide scientists and mathematicians and engineers. These things are much more linked than we are regularly taught, and by using, say, fiction to explore and celebrate engineering (or “tinkering,” which is the term I use most when discussing my EngiNerds), I am, I hope, breaking down those artificial and unhelpful barriers a bit.

Scientists and engineers are some of the most creative people ever, and there is an art to their work. Plenty of artists approach their work with the mind of a mathematician. The more we break down these barriers and explore these other sides of these subjects, the easier it will be for kids to find their “place” and express their passions in these fields.

Mary: Jarrett–that is so true! There’s this false dichotomy between art and science that we need to break down.

Jarrett: Yes! And I think the more it’s done, the more kids will maybe say, “I’m super creative–I could be an engineer!” (Instead of assuming they have to be, I don’t know, a painter!)

Kester: And you can still do both!! I’m hoping to study computer engineering in college but I still plan on doing as much music, both orchestral and choral, as I can!

Jarrett: There you go! Exactly! I was just at a book launch for Josh Funk, who’s a programmer and a brilliant, brilliant picture book writer!

Mary: That’s awesome, Kester!! One of my best friends is currently a physics post doc… and a classically trained soprano in her local choir. 🙂

Continue reading “October LILbooKtalk: “Using the Power of Storytelling to Promote STEM to Students” with Jarrett Lerner and Mary Fan”

September LILbooKtalk: “One Series, Two Authors: Collaborating on Legends of the Lost Causes” with Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester

Hi guys! I am really really excited to share with y’all this month’s LILbooKtalk! Last semester, I had the amazing opportunity to read Legends of the Lost Causes, which was an epic MG western novel full of magic, action, and adventure! Today, the authors of the series, Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, are here on the blog to talk about what it was like collaborating on their books. I hope you enjoy it!


About Legends of the Lost CausesLegends of the Lost Causes

A band of orphan avengers. A cursed stone. A horde of zombie outlaws.

This is Keech Blackwood’s new life after Bad Whiskey Nelson descends upon the Home for Lost Causes and burns it to the ground.

With his home destroyed and his family lost, Keech will have to use the lessons he learned from Pa Abner to hunt down the powerful Char Stone. Luckily, he has the help of a ragtag team of orphans. Together, they’ll travel through treacherous forests, fight off the risen dead, and discover that they share mysterious bonds as they search for the legendary stone. Now it’s a race against the clock, because if Bad Whiskey finds the stone first…all is lost.

But Keech and the other orphans won’t hesitate. Because they’re more than just heroes.
They’re Lost Causes.

Legends of the Lost Causes marks the thrilling start to an action-packed middle grade series by debut authors Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester.

Goodreads

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About The Fang of Bonfire CrossingThe Fang of Bonfire Crossing

The Brotherband Chronicles meets the Wild West in this rip-roaring middle-grade adventure series filled with dark magic, scrappy heroes, and diabolical villains.

Keech Blackwood and his band of fellow orphans demand justice for their fallen families. But the road to retribution is a long and hard-fought journey.

After defeating Bad Whiskey Nelson, the man who burned Keech’s home to the ground, the Lost Causes have a new mission: find Bonfire Crossing, the mysterious land that holds clues to the whereabouts of the all-powerful Char Stone. Along the way they’ll have to fend off a shapeshifting beast, a swarm of river monsters, and a fearsome desperado named Big Ben Loving who conjures tornadoes out of thin air. It’s an epic standoff between the Lost Causes and the outlaw Reverend Rose, a powerful sorcerer who would be unstoppable with the Stone in his possession.

With the world—and vengeance—hanging in the balance, the Lost Causes are ready for battle.

The Fang of Bonfire Crossing releases on February 19th, 2019, from Henry Holt! Pre-order it today!

Goodreads

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September LILbooKtalk.png

Questions are in bold

Legends of the Lost CausesKester: Today, we have Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, the two talented authors of Legends of the Lost Causes, an MG fantasy adventure novel set in the Wild West and of which released earlier this year. Would both of you like to tell us a little bit about each of yourselves and your novel?

Brad: Sure thing! Well, I’m an Arkansas native, but I moved to Oklahoma in 2008 to attend grad school at Oklahoma State University — where I met Louis in a creative writing program. I’ve been in OK ever since, and now I have a wonderful wife, Alisha, and an 8-year-old stepdaughter, Chloe.

Louis: I’m an English professor at Lewis-Clark State College in northern Idaho. I earned my PhD at Oklahoma State University where I met Brad. I also have a wife and two dogs. The dogs are named Cake and Muse.

Brad McLelland
Brad McLelland

Brad: Louis and I got to know each other through casual hangouts, really. A mutual friend of ours would host fun get-togethers, where we would all play Werewolf and other games, and mine and Louis’s friendship just naturally occurred at these get-togethers. And of course, I saw Louis from time to time in the halls of the OSU English Department. But he was WAY too popular for me to hang out with there. 😉

Louis: Right before I left for Idaho, we decided to write a book series together.

Brad: Yep, we started outlining the series in–what was it, Louis?–Spring of 2010, I believe.

Louis: Yep. We planned out the basic plot points and then I left town.

Brad: Yes you did! I was devastated. (Kidding.)

Louis: From then on, we had to work with each other online or by phone.

Brad: By that time, we already had a pretty good amount of work done on Book 1–which at that time was this kind of monstrosity of a YA Western. In other words, we didn’t quite know what sort of book we wanted to write at the time.

Kester: So what inspired you to write Legends of the Lost Causes together?

Brad: Well, I really loved my discussions with Louis at these get-togethers. I knew he enjoyed reading (and writing) genre books, as did I, so those discussions turned into deeper conversations about collaborating on an old idea I had.

Louis Sylvester
Louis Sylvester

Louis: As I recall, we were at a birthday party, chatting about writing and our future goals. Brad and I both declared our desire to write a rip-roaring adventure.

Brad: Yep! It was June 3, 2010. Our friend’s birthday. That was the “birth” of Keech Blackwood.

Louis: As we got into our ideas, we realized that we could come up with an exciting tale that would surprise us both if we worked together. And I moved at the end of July.

Brad: After Louis took his professorship in Idaho, we talked on the phone extensively, and just agreed to keep going. As I mentioned before, we had a lot on the page for Book 1 and a lot already outlined for the whole series, we just needed to continue on.

Louis: That’s true. We had a massive outline built by the time I split.

Brad: Yes we did! Eventually, in September 2011, as I recall, we finished the draft of Book 1.

Louis: Yep. For that first draft, we would pass the book back and forth through email. We would write a chapter, then pass it back.

Brad: I’ve always liked to call our process a “perpetual motion machine” of drafting and redrafting — because we never really stop the process between the two of us. We’re constantly honing sentences.

And then came the LONNNNNNG haul of getting it in front of an agent.

Louis: Once we were happy with the story, Brad started the work of finding our agent. He deserves full credit for that.

Brad: Thanks, L.

Continue reading “September LILbooKtalk: “One Series, Two Authors: Collaborating on Legends of the Lost Causes” with Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester”

August LILbooKtalk: “Back to School: Instilling a Love of Reading in Students” with Rebecca Donnelly and Jake Burt + Two GIVEAWAYS!

Hi guys! By this time, most schools should be starting school, which inspired the theme for this month’s LILbooKtalk about instilling a love of reading in students. Today’s guests include a middle school teacher and a librarian who not only frequently work with children but also write for them! Please welcome the amazing Rebecca Donnelly and Jake Burt as we discuss turning students into big readers!


About How to Stage a CatastropheHow to Stage a Catastrophe

Sidney plans to be the director of the Juicebox Theater when he grows up. For now, he handles the props, his best friend Folly works the concession stand, and his sister May hangs out in the spotlight. But the theater is in danger of closing, and the kids know they need a plan to save it and fast. When they join a local commerce club to earn money, Sid and Folly uncover some immoral business practices, and it gives them a great idea for saving the theater. That is, if you can call extortion a great idea. Hilarious and heartwarming, the mission to save a failing community theater unites a riotous cast of characters in this offbeat middle-grade novel.

Goodreads

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About The Right Hook of Devin VelmaThe Right Hook of Devin Velma

From the author of Greetings from Witness Protection! comes another unforgettable middle-grade novel about friendship and family.

Devin wants to hit it big on the internet by pulling a stunt at an NBA game–one the entire nation will be watching. Addison can’t turn Devin down, but he can barely manage talking to his teachers without freezing up. How’s he supposed to handle the possibility of being a viral sensation?

Addi’s not sure why Devin is bent on pulling off this almost-impossible feat. Maybe it has something to do with Devin’s dad’s hospital bills. Maybe it all goes back to the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. No matter what, though, it’s risky for both of them, and when the big day finally comes, Devin’s plan threatens more than just their friendship.

With memorable protagonists and a wonderful supporting cast, The Right Hook of Devin Velma is a one-of-kind knockout in middle-grade fiction.

The Right Hook of Devin Velma releases from Feiwel & Friends on September 25th! Pre-order it today!

Goodreads

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August LILbooKtalk

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is Rebecca Donnelly, author of the MG contemporary novel How to Stage a Catastrophe and her upcoming book The Friendship Lie. She also works at a public library in northern New York. Could you describe to us a little about you and your books?

How to Stage a CatastropheRebecca: Sure! I’ve worked in public libraries for about 12 years now in different roles, but being a children’s librarian is my favorite. It’s been great training for being a writer, since reading in your field is such an important part of both jobs. How to Stage a Catastrophe published in April 2017, and it was inspired by the time I spent as a middle schooler doing community theater. It’s about a group of kids who try, fail, and try again to save their community theater from closing down, going to great and scheming lengths to do so. The Friendship Lie is a quieter story about fifth grade friends who have fallen out with each other and are trying to find their way back to friendship, with the help of an old diary one of them finds. The Friendship Lie is set to publish August 2019. Both are with Capstone.

Kester: Both of your books sound awesome!!! I hope I’ll be able to read them one day! 🙂

Alongside Rebecca, we have Jake Burt, author of MG contemporary debut Greetings from Witness Protection! and The Right Hook of Devin Velma, which will release in just a few weeks. He is a fifth-grade teacher from Connecticut. Would you also like to tell us a bit about yourself and your novels?

The Right Hook of Devin VelmaJake: Absolutely, Kester, and thanks for having us! Greetings From Witness Protection! debuted last October. It’s the story of Nicki Demere, a 13-year-old girl in foster care who gets recruited by the US marshals to join witness protection; their notion is that she’ll help hide a family by changing up their dynamic. The Right Hook of Devin Velma, out on September 4th, is about one boy’s quest to find out why his best friend punched him in the face. Both are MG contemporary, both are set in middle schools, and there are no vampires in either one. I’ve been told that’s an important distinction to make.

Kester: Thank you, Jake! It’s definitely my pleasure! And haha, that’s good to know about the vampires, especially since I’m about to start on Devin Velma soon!

Jake: Awesome. Can’t wait to hear what you think!

Kester: Thank you! Here’s my first question: Since both of you work frequently with young children and books, how do you promote reading and writing among your students? What do you when you encounter reluctant readers, and how do you turn them into avid bibliophiles?

Jake: Want me to take a swipe at this one first, Rebecca?

Rebecca: Sure, since our roles are a little different!

Jake: Cool. On it! I’ve found that the key to developing confident, invested readers is empowerment. Kids most frequently encounter books (at least, in the school setting) via gatekeepers, whether that’s me, our fantastic school librarians, or someone similar. While that can be a great way to introduce new books to a kid, there’s not a lot of efficacy on the part of the reader there, so students often come to me without a strong sense of how to find and, more importantly, enjoy their own books. So early in the year we work on developing an understanding of how to read for pleasure…it seems strange, but that’s actually a modelable and learnable skill. We talk about being able to quit a book if it’s not grabbing you, about comparing books, about discussing books with friends, and about the value of rereading old favorites. We talk about skipping ahead and watching the movie first and reading more than one book at a time – all the ways adults who have learned to love reading come at their TBR piles.

Rebecca Donnelly
Rebecca Donnelly

Rebecca: I love everything you’re saying here, Jake! I work in a public library, not in a school, so my work with kids is almost entirely around helping them find things they want to read. The piece I’m missing is having the ability to work with them in depth, the way a classroom teacher or school librarian is able to. When I visit schools, or when classes visit me in the library, I try to emphasize the importance of choice, and that browsing is a skill–modelable and learnable, as you say. It’s great to get recommendations from friends, but I love seeing a kid who has the time to browse the shelves and find something new on their own. That’s genuine empowerment! One of my goals is to work with my local school to help them build their community of readers, too!

Jake: That’s vital – the teamwork component. A network of adults, all of whom love books and reading, surrounding a child can do wonders, particularly as far as access is concerned. That’s often one of the first hurdles to developing a love for reading: just not having enough books to promote true choice. It helps so much when librarians can work with teachers and families to fill in gaps and expand availability.

Rebecca: Yes! I got a massive donation from Scholastic this last spring (1300 books) that I gave out to every kid 3-6 grade in three different local schools. I scoured my giveaway books to get enough to be able to give something to every kid pre-k to 2nd grade, as well. One thing we really strive for in public libraries is giving kids access to books over the summer, since their regular school library visits aren’t happening. I give away books as prizes for playing my summer reading Bingo game, when I do outreach visits, and every time I visit the local Head Start. Simply getting books to kids is a huge part of developing readers.

Kester: That’s so awesome to hear!!  The work you’ve done is definitely commendable!!

I’m very curious about this, so what’s your stance on Accelerated Reader? I personally did not like it as an elementary student, but I would love to know your thoughts.

Rebecca: I’ve worked in a library where the local school district used AR, and it was incredibly frustrating to have to help kids find a book at “their level” that a) we owned and b) they were interested in. It seemed to be difficult for everyone, parents and children included.

Jake Burt
Jake Burt

Jake: We don’t use it in our classrooms, but I’ve taught at schools that did. Personally, I’ve never found much use for the data it provides…and that’s what it is, a data aggregation tool. It’s not designed to deepen understanding or enjoyment of reading. If a teacher or school was considering adopting it, I’d challenge them to ask themselves what they’re truly hoping to learn by collecting that data. Is it something they couldn’t get by having a meaningful 5-10 minute reader’s conference with a student?

Rebecca: Jake, you might know this better than I do, but isn’t there a quote from Fountas & Pinnell, who developed another leveling system, saying that reading levels have no place in reading assignments, book choice, or kids’ expectations of themselves?

Jake: Yes; we use the Fountas and Pinnell continuum for literacy instruction in our Lower School. They stress a genre-based approach (heavy on mentor texts and book discussions) rather than levels. It strikes me as a more authentic system, moreso now that I’ve seen things from the author side, too. I don’t write novels with any notion of what “level” it might be. If my character is the type of girl who would use the word “runcible,” she’s gonna say “runcible.” I’m not changing it to “spoon” so that it can fit cozily into a level. And I’ve certainly never gone to the library or bookstore as an adult thinking, “I’m fixing to snag me something at my level.”

Rebecca: Ha! Good point–we put all kinds of pressure & restrictions on kids that we would never put on ourselves, including what makes a “good” book.

Kester: I remember as an elementary student I felt very forced to read at a level higher than my grade… which knocked out many novels that I would have loved. There were so few books I could read that I eventually stopped reading a lot in middle school.

Rebecca: I’m so sorry! But obviously you were able to be a reader on your own terms, which gives every kid hope!

Jake: Yes, so glad you came back around to reading, Kester!

Kester: Thank you!

Rebecca: I was just tweeting with a couple of writer friends today about we all read comics (comic strips, even, not graphic novels) well into middle school. Whatever makes you a reader, makes you a reader!
Continue reading “August LILbooKtalk: “Back to School: Instilling a Love of Reading in Students” with Rebecca Donnelly and Jake Burt + Two GIVEAWAYS!”

July LILbooKtalk: “Finding Your Narnia: Transporting Readers to Magical Worlds” with Christina Soontornvat and K. E. Ormsbee

Hi guys! I am super excited to be sharing with you all this month’s LILbooKtalk! As a fantasy lover, I am always in search of magical and mystical worlds to become lost and entrapped in, away from the harsh life of reality. Thus, I was inspired to revolve this month’s LILbooKtalk theme around the magic of fantasy and the pursuit of Narnia with two wonderful MG authors, Christina Soontornvat and K. E. Ormsbee, both of whom I met in real life. I hope you enjoy this amazing and wonderful discussion!


About The ChangelingsThe Changelings

Izzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange things start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door.

Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

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About The Water and the WildThe Water and the Wild

For as long as Lottie Fiske can remember, the only people who seem to care about her have been her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter-writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things and people are arriving on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless.

And then a door opens in the apple tree.

Follow Lottie down through the apple roots to another world—a world of magic both treacherous and beautiful—in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.
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LILbooKtalk July 2018

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is Christina Soontornvat, author of the middle grade series The Changelings. I had the amazing pleasure of meeting Christina at the SE-YA Book Fest back in March! Could you describe to us a bit about your books and your background?

The ChangelingsChristina: Hi! I’m super excited to chat with you. My Changelings series is a middle grade fantasy duology that plays with the Changeling. That myth says that wicked fairies steal human babies and swap them out with shapeshifters. In my books, the main character’s little sister has been snatched away, but there is no Changeling to take her place. So her big sister must both rescue her and solve the mystery of what’s up with the Changelings.

My background is in…mechanical engineering. You know, pretty standard fare for children’s book authors. The Changelings was my first book (2016), but I have always, always been enchanted with fantasy and fairytales. And I have been telling stories to anyone who would listen all my life. And the engineering does come in handy – revising a novel isn’t that different from re-designing a mechanical prototype. Just lots of dedication and elbow grease!

K. E.: I love that, Christina! I was an English major, which I’ve always felt is ye ol’ boring, stereotypical author background. Ha! Also, your books sound so amazing. I was fascinated by the concept of changelings as a kid (and still am!).

Christina: Yes, I get the sense that you also love all things creepy, Kathryn!

K. E.: Haha, I do indeed! I’ve always been a macabre soul.

Kester: By the way, Christina, I’m actually planning on entering as a computer engineering major in college.

Christina: Kester, that’s awesome! The world needs more book-loving engineers.

Kester: It does! I’ll try my best to find the time to continue reading and blogging then!

K. E.: Also, agreed that book-loving engineers are the best! My father is another one of them, and he’s one of the people who first instilled in me a love for reading & writing.

Kester: The second author we have with us today is K. E. Ormsbee, a fellow Tennessean and author of The Water and the Wild trilogy. I also had the lovely opportunity to meet K. E. at last year’s SE-YA! Would you like to share with us a little about your novels and your background?

The Water and the WildK. E.: Sure thing, Kester! I began writing young and got my very first book deal out of college, with that aforementioned English degree. That book was The Water & the Wild, the first in a MG fantasy trilogy, which was inspired by my favorite childhood books and fairy tales, including Alice in Wonderland and The Gammage Cup. TW&TW was followed by The Doorway & the Deep. The final installment, The Current & the Cure, comes out in June. I first wrote The Water & the Wild in 2009, so it’s really wild to be coming up on the decade mark for this book series. Lottie Fiske’s story will always be my first love. This fall, Chronicle Books will be publishing my MG standalone, The House in Poplar Wood—my tribute to all things spooky and autumnal, AND set in Tennessee!

Christina: Oh, The Changelings gets started in Tennessee too! The first chapter is set in “The Jiggly Goat” (basically a Piggly Wiggly).

K. E.: I love that! Clearly, TN is inspiring.

Kester: Kathryn, I actually just got an ARC of The House in Poplar Wood a few weeks ago and I’m super excited to read it!

Kathryn: That’s fantastic to hear, Kester! I hope you enjoy the read.

I also write Young Adult contemporary novels with Simon & Schuster. My first YA novel, Lucky Few, is a Harold & Maude-inspired story set in my favorite city, Austin, Texas. My next YA, The Great Unknowable End, is a dual-POV story of two teenagers living in Kansas in 1977. It’s my homage to my favorite TV series, The Twilight Zone.

Christina: It so is. It’s magical. Especially when you’re a girl from Texas where there are hardly any trees! I feel like we have so many things in common. I live in Austin! I need to read your YA novel now.

K. E.: Wait! Christina, I had no idea you lived in Austin! I just moved here from Nashville back in August. I couldn’t stay away. But yes, I do miss all trees, and the bluegrass from my hometown in Kentucky. There’s no true proper autumn here, alas.

Christina: Crazy! We need to get together and write! Kester, this is supposed to be an interview, but it’s turning into a writing meet-up matchmaking service!

K. E.: It really is! Haha. I’d absolutely love that, Christina. Hurray for connections!

Continue reading “July LILbooKtalk: “Finding Your Narnia: Transporting Readers to Magical Worlds” with Christina Soontornvat and K. E. Ormsbee”

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”

A Special Mer-May LILbooKtalk Edition: “Mermaid Tales and Fairy Tales” with D. G. Driver and Tobie Easton

Hi guys! Today I am taking the third of my AP exams, AP Biology, and I am ready for them to be over! Also, I am having the end-of-school blues, especially since many of the seniors — who I’ve gotten acquainted to over this past year — are going to leave. I’m very sad about that. On the bright side, next week I am off to the TN Boys’ State, which is going to be tiring but worthwhile. During that time, I will be offline for the whole week, but in the meantime, here is the LILbooKtalk for the month of Mer-May: “Mermaid Tales and Fairy Tales” with D. G. Driver and Tobie Easton!


About Cry of the SeaCry of the Sea

Juniper Sawfeather is choosing which college to attend after graduation from West Olympia High School next year. She wants to go to San Diego to be far away from her environmental activist parents. They expect her to think the way they do, but having to be constantly fighting causes makes it difficult to be an average 17-year-old high school student. Why do her parents have to be so out there?

Everything changes when she and her father rush to the beach after a reported oil spill. As they document the damage, June discovers three humans washed up on the beach, struggling to breathe through the oil coating their skin. At first she thinks they must be surfers, but as she gets closer, she realizes these aren’t human at all. They’re mermaids!

Now begins a complex story of intrigue, conspiracy and manipulation as June, her parents, a marine biologist and his handsome young intern, her best friend, the popular clique at school and the oil company fight over the fate of the mermaids.

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About EmergeEmerge

Lia Nautilus may be a Mermaid but she’s never lived in the ocean. Ever since the infamous Little Mermaid unleashed a curse that stripped Mer of their immortality, war has ravaged the Seven Seas. Now Lia lives in a secret community of land-dwelling Mer hidden among Malibu’s seaside mansions and attends high school with humans. To protect everyone around her, she must limit her contact with non-Mer. No exceptions. But when the new girl sets her sights on Lia’s crush, she will risk exposing her deadly secret to stop Clay from falling in love with the wrong girl.

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LILbooKtalk May 2018

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is the wonderful Tobie Easton, who I met last year at the SE-YA Book Fest! I loved the first two books in The Mer Chronicles and I cannot wait for the third installment in the series! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your novels?Emerge

Tobie: Hi! It was so wonderful meeting you, too, Kester!  Your enthusiasm for the series has really meant a lot to me.  The Mer Chronicles series follows the descendants of the Little Mermaid and offers a peek into a world where Mermaids aren’t just real but live among us on land.

As for me, I like to think I write modern fairy tales.  I like books that feel magical whether that means they actually feature magic or just really immersive world- building. And, I’m a sucker for romance. 😉

Kester: That’s so awesome, Tobie!!! Thanks so much!

Today we also have the amazing D.G. Driver, who is a local Tennessee author living in Nashville! I devoured her Juniper Sawfeather series and loved the books! Would you like to share with us a bit about yourself and your books?

Cry of the SeaD. G.: Hi, Thank you for inviting me to be part of this chat. My series The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy is about a teen environmentalist who discovers mythical creatures tied to her American Indian heritage. In book one, Cry of the Sea, she finds real mermaids caught up in an oil spill. I mostly write young adult and middle grade. I tend to favor contemporary fantasy stories.

Tobie: That sounds so cool, Donna!

D. G.: Thanks. Yours sound great too.

Kester: Here’s my first question for both of y’all: The Mer Chronicles and the Juniper Sawfeather series paint two very different images of mermaids, along with their characteristics and their culture. What inspired you to display mermaids the way you presented them in your book? Could you describe your process as you created your own “spin” on a beloved mythical creature?

D. G.: In Cry of the Sea, I wanted to make the mermaids come across as real creatures that would exist in the ocean today. They are more like fish than the fairy tale creatures in other mermaid stories. It was important to the story, because June and her family feel like people would help their fight against oil pollution if they found out mermaids lived in the ocean.

Tobie: I used the original Hans Christian Andersen version of the Little Mermaid as a jumping off point, but was also very influenced by the Malibu, California setting I chose for the story.

D. G.: I used to live in L.A. Very familiar with Malibu.

Tobie: So, my series has a sparkling, sunlit, ocean mansion-y feel but also addresses some of the darker, more haunting aspects of the original story.  With a healthy dose of siren mythology.  ‘Cause you gotta have mythology.

D. G.: Mythology is key. My books take place in Washington State, and they use American Indian mythology from the Pacific Northwest.

Kester: I loved the mythology in yours, D. G.. It was all so mesmerizing!

Tobie: That sounds really fascinating!

D. G.: Thanks. The mythology becomes more involved in books 2 and 3. No mermaids in book two, though.Whisper of the Woods

Tobie: Can you share which creatures will be in book 2, or is that hush-hush for now?

D. G.: No secret. The books are out. There’s and ancient tree spirit in book 2 that traps Juniper 170 feet up in an old growth tree. In book 3 the mermaids are back, along with shapeshifting orcas, and a monster made of stone.

Tobie: I love the idea of a tree spirit! So cool!

Continue reading “A Special Mer-May LILbooKtalk Edition: “Mermaid Tales and Fairy Tales” with D. G. Driver and Tobie Easton”

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s Assassination with April’s LILbooKtalk: “Portraying Pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement for Young Readers” with Alice Faye Duncan and Andrew Maraniss

Hi guys! Today is the 50th commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, which took place in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was one of the greatest figures in American history, and to honor his legacy, this month’s LILbooKtalk is dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement. Alice Faye Duncan and Andrew Maraniss, two local Tennessee authors, are here today to discuss “Portraying Pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement.” I hope you find this panel insightful.


About Memphis, Martin, and the MountaintopMemphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop

This historical fiction picture book for children ages 9-12 presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.

In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.

Martin, Memphis, and the Mountaintop releases on August 28, 2018!

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About Strong Inside: Young Reader’s EditionStrong Inside

The inspirational true story of the first African American to play college basketball in the deeply segregated Southeastern Conference–a powerful moment in Black history.

Perry Wallace was born at an historic crossroads in U.S. history. He entered kindergarten the year that the Brown v. Board of Education decision led to integrated schools, allowing blacks and whites to learn side by side. A week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Wallace enrolled in high school and his sensational jumping, dunking, and rebounding abilities quickly earned him the attention of college basketball recruiters from top schools across the nation. In his senior year his Pearl High School basketball team won Tennessee’s first racially-integrated state tournament.

The world seemed to be opening up at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt University recruited Wallace to play basketball, he courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the Southeastern Conference. The hateful experiences he would endure on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be the stuff of nightmares. Yet Wallace persisted, endured, and met this unthinkable challenge head on. This insightful biography digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a complicated, profound, and inspiring story of an athlete turned civil rights trailblazer.

Strong Inside: Young Reader’s Edition just released a paperback edition!

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LILbooKtalk 5

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is Alice Faye Duncan, a Memphis-based author whose upcoming children’s picture book Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is releasing in August! Would you like to describe a bit about your book and yourself?

Memphis, Martin, and the MountaintopAlice: I am a school librarian who writes books for young readers. Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is the story of the 1968 Sanitation Strike that is told through the eyes of a 9 year old girl, Lorraine Jackson. It is also the story of Dr. King’s last stand for justice and his assassination.

Kester: I’m super excited to read your book, Alice! I can’t wait until it comes out! Alongside Alice, we have Andrew Maraniss, a Nashville-based author whose New York Times bestselling biography Strong Inside has been adapted into a Young Reader’s Edition just last year! Could you tell us a bit about your latest biography and your background?

Andrew: Thanks, Kester! I am really excited for Alice’s book, too. I was just in Memphis a few weeks ago and visited the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated. It’s a very important topic for young readers, not just the assassination but the circumstances of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike. As for Strong Inside, it’s a biography of Perry Wallace, who was the first African American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. He is someone I first wrote about when I was a sophomore at Vanderbilt way back in 1989! I did a paper about him for a Black History class and his story stuck in my mind. Finally I decided to write a book about him. He is so much more than just a basketball player. He was a high school valedictorian, engineering major at Vandy, Columbia University law graduate, National Guard veteran, US Justice Department attorney, and law school professor. He is the most impressive person I ever met.Strong Inside

Alice: Awesome! I now must learn more about Perry Wallace. Great Work, Andrew! By the way, I am a big Lusia Harris Stewart fan. I am working on her biography for children. She is the first woman officially drafted into the NBA.

Andrew: Fantastic! I don’t know much about her. When was she drafted?

Alice: She was drafted in 1977 by the New Orleans Jazz! But she had the Mississippi Blues! She was from the Delta!

Andrew: That’s really cool. I am sitting outside my daughter’s first grade basketball team practice right now. Maybe she’ll be drafted someday, too!

Alice: I am writing my book for your daughter.

Kester: That’s so awesome to hear from the both of you! Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop revolves around the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s role in it while Strong Inside: Young Reader’s Edition follows Perry Wallace, the first African American athlete to play in the SEC, as he overcomes racism and prejudice throughout his life and his collegiate career. Alice and Andrew, how did you both discover, respectively, the strikes and Perry Wallace? What prompted you to write a book about these people and events?

Andrew: I first learned about Perry Wallace when I was a student at Vanderbilt. A student a year ahead of me wrote an article for a campus magazine about the time Perry first played a game in the state of Mississippi, at Mississippi State University in 1967. He was concerned that he might be shot out on the basketball court, just for being African American. I was a kid who was interested in sports and history and I was taking a Black History class. I asked my professor, Dr. Yollette Jones, if it was OK to write about sports in college. I thought she might say no, that it wasn’t a serious enough topic. Thankfully she said yes! So I called Perry and interviewed him for my paper. It remained the most interesting thing I had ever done. I couldn’t get Perry off my mind. So, 17 years later, I decided I wanted to write a book about him. I emailed him to see if he remembered me and my paper. He did! And he said he thought it would be great if I wrote about him. I didn’t need his permission, but I was happy to have his support.

Alice: Many of the participants in the 1968 strike lived on my street or attended my church, when I was a young child. It is a story that I grew up knowing all of my life.  As a school librarian, I found it odd that there were no picture books about the subject.  So, I set out to write the book, myself. This is my same reason for writing about Lusia Harris.  Not one picture book or adult book addresses her legendary place in American sports.

Andrew: There are so many “hidden figures” who did amazing things who simply haven’t had their stories told yet. Whenever I visit a classroom, I tell the students they can be the ones to uncover those stories.

Alice: Andrew, as I writer, I believe that the story I am seeking is also seeking me.  Perry Wallace was waiting on a “you.”

Andrew: We became very, very close friends and I always felt like it was a special,
“meant to be” kind of relationship. I was born a week before he played his last game in college. Our birthdays were 5 days apart. We both went to Vanderbilt. I arrived when he was first invited back to be honored. He ended up living in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is where I went to elementary school!

Alice: Uncanny, Andrew!

Kester: I definitely agree that there are so many “hidden figures” history that we need to uncover. When I read your book, Andrew, I found myself relating so much to Perry Wallace and loved both him and his story. He’s definitely inspiring and I wish more people knew about him.

Andrew: And your stories seem so tailor made for you too, Alice. I think the passion for your subject always shines through.

Kester: Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop is going to be awesome, I know that for sure!

Alice: Thank you, both. We shall see.  It required 10 years from writing it to publishing it.

Andrew: So glad you stuck with it! Strong Inside took me 8 years — I can relate!

Alice: Here is the new discovery that I made.  I have been researching and writing about the Civil Rights Movement as it took place in Memphis since 1993.  Never, once, did I ask thoughtful questions about Coretta Scott King and her specific role in the movement.  Then, two months ago, I picked up her autobiography.  I now suggest that academics and students spend the next 50 years studying her life and activism.  She was astute and able to build coalitions that have given us the Dr. King that children know and love today.

Kester: So what is it like writing for children and younger readers? What are some of the challenges of writing a picture book (for Alice) or adapting a larger biography into a middle school edition (for Andrew)?

Andrew MaranissAndrew: The biggest challenge for me was literally the editing — taking a nearly 200,000 word book and converting it to around 40,000 words. It was important to me that it not lose anything in the process, that the story not be “whitewashed” for young readers. I felt it only did justice to Perry if they learned the same story as adults and felt what Perry felt. That meant confronting young readers with the racism Perry encountered. Thankfully the publisher agreed.

I have loved visiting students and my next book will be for young readers, not adults. I want to try to write the kids of books I would have read as a middle and high schooler!

Alice: Writing picture books is like writing a song lyric. You have to pack a lot of information and emotion in a few words.  It is not a task that comes easily.

My greatest challenge with writing about Lusia Harris and Coretta Scott King is presenting the salient points in a way that is accessible and inviting to the young reader.  The challenge keeps me fighting and engaged.

Andrew: I think people underestimate that about children’s books, Alice! I’ve thought about doing a picture book about Perry and have had a hard time figuring out how to tell the story in so few words!

Alice: Toni Morrison says that she writes the kind of books that she wishes to read.

Andrew: Well, if she says it, then I think it’s a good idea!

Kester: Back in February, I posted a discussion post on why I believe MG has so much power, and that can be attributed to children’s books, too. There’s so much potential children’s and MG books have to change people’s lives, and that power should not be underestimated.

Andrew: I think that’s true, Kester. There is great power in books. I also think students already possess great power and possibilities, as we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks in Florida. Sometimes books can remind them of that and encourage them to act.

Kester: I definitely agree! The best books are the ones that make a tremendous impact on you to where you’re driven to do something or change something.

Alice: Middle Grade books are also still in keeping with classic literature–books of old.  Nothing is really new fangled. For example, there is no foul language and no sex, and the focus is primarily emotional exploration and personal change.  That’s everything found in the classics!

Andrew: That’s a really interesting point and I hadn’t really thought of MG books in those terms before but you are so right!

Kester: My next question is this: Which pioneers and events of the Civil Rights Movement inspire you the most, and how do they impact you in your everyday lives?

Alice: If you had asked me this question two months ago, I would have answered, Rev. Henry Logan Starks, Fannie Lou Hamer or Dr. King.   As of today, they must take a seat behind my new hero–Coretta Scott King from Heiberger, Alabama.

Andrew: As for your question, Kester, Perry Wallace used to say that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Sometimes we think of civil rights figures as these larger than life heroes, but they were just regular people who stepped up in courageous ways. We all have that capability. We can choose to be bystanders or upstanders, standing up for what we believe in or people who are being treated unfairly. In terms of specific people, of course Perry Wallace is the person I have come to admire most, but I will also bring up a name that applies to both Alice’s book and mind: the Reverend James Lawson, who was one of the leading theorists on non-violence. He inspired Perry and the sanitation strike!Alice Faye Duncan

Alice: It was Mrs. King who said, “Struggle is a never ending process.  Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.”  In other words, no generation will escape the need to press for equality and fairness.  For always, a struggle will continue.

Andrew: Perry Wallace had a chance to meet Fannie Lou Hamer when she came to speak at Vanderbilt while he was a student and he told me how inspired he was by her. A small woman (in comparison to him at 6′ 5″) who blew him away with her presence!

Alice: Speaking of Mrs. Hamer, it was Coretta Scott King who said, “Women, if the soul of this nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.” Mrs. Hamer carried the soul of her people in every fiber of her being.  She was mighty.

Andrew:  We are seeing that again today.

Kester: Here’s the next question! Since the focus of your books hits very close to home here in Tennessee, why do you believe it is important for children to learn more about their local history?Alice Faye Duncan

Alice: As for young people and activism, since 1964, African Americans and other minorities have leaned on the laurels of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  As a entire nation, those of us who love freedom and justice for all, are understanding that we must continue to be vigilant and work toward justice.  The struggle continues.

A child is bolstered and self-esteem is healthy when that child understands she comes from a legacy of resilience and goodness. Thus, it is necessary to know local history and family history, too.

Andrew: Well, I think the best stories have universal themes and can be enjoyed by readers anywhere, but it IS important for young people to understand their own local history. That’s where change begins, for one thing. For another, I think students simply just find it more interesting when they recognize certain names or places in a book they are reading. And if that sparks a greater interest in reading and studying history, then that can stick with them the rest of their lives.

Kester: Certainly! My AP US History teacher (who’s also our county historian) is always incorporating how things or people we’ve learned about relates to my hometown of Paris. There’s so much hidden history that it’s fascinating!

Alice: My book 12 Days of Christmas in Tennessee will be released in October 2018.  It is a travelogue/Christmas book that takes children on a journey to Tennessee historical sites and land formations.  Some of the places visited are the Lost Sea in Sweet Water and Tina Turner’s Flagg Grove School in West Tennessee.

Andrew: That sounds like a really fun book, and a great Christmas present!

Alice: Thank you. I bring it up because it addresses TN History. Like, Andrew Jackson and the Hermitage. We have to take the ugly with the good.

Kester: Both of you chose very different formats to write your stories. Could you describe to us the thought process as you decided to write a children’s picture book or a middle grade biography?

Andrew: Writing narrative non-fiction is the kind of writing I think I can do best. It’s my favorite way to tell a story. I love every part of it, from the interviews and library research to the outlining and writing. And at the most important parts of Perry’s life, he was a teenager. Whether someone cares about basketball or not is irrelevant — he was encountering challenges and trying to overcome them, something all middle schoolers can relate to.

Alice: I don’t really consider myself a poet, but I write in a lyrical style that is conducive to picture books.

My great ambition this year is to write a longer text.  I was excited about writing a YA Novel this year.  And then, I stumbled across the harrowing and courageous life of Coretta Scott King.  She has impeded my progress.  I am presently wrestling with a picture book text about her life.  OH. WELL.  Picture books have chosen me as my favorite genre.

Kester: Before we end this LILbooKtalk, would you both like to share any advice to young readers and writers who are viewing this discussion?

Andrew: Keep reading! And keep writing! My dad used to say there’s no excuse for being bored – you can always read a book.

Alice: After researching the American Civil Rights Movement for 20 years, I have learned 4 important things from the life of Dr. King. In actualizing your hopes and dreams,

  1. Make a plan with the end in view
  2. With your plans, leave yourself open to miracles and chance encounters
  3. Add effective people to your team and cut team members, who hinder you.
  4. And finally, when you do succeed, be sure to help someone else.

Andrew: Great advice! Thank you Kester and Alice, this was a lot of fun! Kester, you are doing amazing work, I admire all that you do to encourage reading. Alice, it was a pleasure joining you for this chat. Hope to see you someday soon!

Alice: Andrew and Kester, this was fantastic! Keep shining your light! Write ON! Write ON! Until we meet in the Real World!!!

Kester: Thanks so much, both of you, for coming back onto the blog! It’s been my honor and pleasure to host this chat!


About AliceAlice Faye Duncan

Alice Faye Duncan writes books for young readers and adults. Her most popular picture book for infants is HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD. It is a mother’s love song to her baby. The lyrical text sings and swings just like music. One must read it aloud with LOVE, JOY and SOUL!

Alice’s book, MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP (The 1968 Sanitation Strike) will debut August 2018. It is a poetic paean for school age students that explores Dr. King’s assassination and his last stand for economic justice in the city of Memphis. The illustrator is Caldecott Honor recipient, Gregory Christie.

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN TENNESSEE is a child’s travel guide across the Volunteer State (GO VOLS!). Two cousins in ugly holiday sweaters visit important landmarks throughout the state, while traveling in a clunky mini-van called the “Reindeer Express.” This book will debut in October–2018. The illustrator is Mary Uhles.

Finally, in celebration of words, the splendor of alliteration and the power of a poetic life–A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS will debut in January 2019. This picture book biography is the life and times of Chicago poet–Gwendolyn Brooks. Miss Brooks was the very first African American writer to receive a Pulitzer Prize in 1950.

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About AndrewAndrew Maraniss

A New York Times bestseller, Strong Inside is the first book by Andrew Maraniss. Andrew studied history at Vanderbilt University as a recipient of the Fred Russell – Grantland Rice sportswriting scholarship, earning the school’s Alexander Award for excellence in journalism and graduating in 1992. He then worked for five years in Vanderbilt’s athletic department as the associate director of media relations, dealing primarily with the men’s basketball team. In 1998, he served as the media relations manager for the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays during the team’s inaugural season, and then returned to Nashville to join MP&F Public Relations. He is now a Visiting Author and Visiting Innovator at Vanderbilt and a contributor to ESPN’s TheUndefeated.com. The son of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and best-selling author David Maraniss and trailblazing environmentalist Linda Maraniss, Andrew was born in Madison, Wis., grew up in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas and now lives in Brentwood, Tenn., with his wife Alison, and their two young children. Follow Andrew on Twitter @trublu24 and visit his website at andrewmaraniss.com.

Strong Inside was the recipient of the 2015 Lillian Smith Book Award and the lone Special Recognition honor at the 2015 RFK Book Awards. The Young Reader edition was named one of the Top 10 Biographies and Top 10 Sports Books of 2017 by the American Library Association.

Andrew has appeared on several national media programs, including NPR’s All Things Considered and Only A Game, NBC’s Meet The Press, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, ESPN’s Keith Olbermann Show, ESPN Radio’s The Sporting Life, and the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show.

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Have you read any of Andrew’s or Alice’s books? What are some of your favorite books that revolve around the Civil Rights Movement?

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

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This Month’s LILbooKtalk!: “From Film to Fiction to Film Again” with Brittany Goodwin and Jennifer Brody

Hi guys! I am super excited to present to you all this month’s LILbooKtalk! Two of my favorite authors are here on the blog to talk about their backgrounds in the film industry and how their books are in the process of being adapted into movies! I had my heart being wrenched out in Brittany Goodwin’s YA debut If You’re Gone and in Jennifer Brody’s The Continuum Trilogy, and I cannot wait to see their film adaptations when they come out! I hope you enjoy this LILbooKtalk!


About If You’re GoneIf You're Gone

Lillian White was planning for the perfect summer- spending every waking minute at the lake with her heartthrob boyfriend, Brad Lee. But her world is shattered when Brad mysteriously disappears the night of his graduation ceremony- the same night he tells her he loves her for the first time. After law enforcement dismisses the case, classifying Brad as voluntarily missing, Lillian becomes desperate to prove that he couldn’t have just walked away. Not from his family. Not from his friends. Not from her.

Heartbroken but determined to find answers, Lillian begins to uncover secrets from Brad’s past that force her to question everything she thought she knew about him and their relationship. Will the truth lead her to him? Or are Brad’s lies just the beginning of the mystery?

Goodreads


About The 13th ContinuumThe 13th Continuum

One thousand years after a cataclysmic event leaves humanity on the brink of extinction, the survivors take refuge in continuums designed to sustain the human race until repopulation of Earth becomes possible. Against this backdrop, a group of young friends in the underwater Thirteenth Continuum dream about life outside their totalitarian existence, an idea that has been outlawed for centuries. When a shocking discovery turns the dream into a reality, they must decide if they will risk their own extinction to experience something no one has for generations, the Surface.

Goodreads


LILbooKtalk 4

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is the amazing Brittany Goodwin, who is actually a local author from my home state of Tennessee! I loved her YA debut If You’re Gone, and I had the opportunity to meet her at SE-YA last year! Could you describe to us a bit about yourself and your book?If You're Gone

Brittany: Yes, and it was so fun to meet you last year! I grew up in Tennessee and lived here until I was 18, then started traveling around the country following my passion for acting and worked at different regional theaters, on a cruise ship, and eventually ended up in Los Angeles where I worked in some independent films. The whole time I was working on my novel If You’re Gone here and there but was more focused on the film side of things, and when I moved to North Carolina in 2010 I decided to write and direct my first feature film Secrets in the Snow. It was followed by the sequel, Secrets in the Fall, and once the second film released in 2014 I decided I was finally ready to focus on “If You’re Gone. So I spent a year writing the novel, which is a missing persons story about a teenage boy who goes missing, told from his girlfriend’s perspective. It released in June of 2016!

Kester: Your background is so awesome! Thanks so much, Brittany! Alongside her, we have the awesome Jennifer Brody, whose action-packed, post-apocalyptic The Continuum Trilogy is my favorite series of all-time! I had the pleasure of creating the questions for the Q&A that is featured in the back of the epic conclusion The United Continuums! Would you also like to share with us a few things about yourself and your novels?

Jennifer: Of course, and so fun to chat with you! I’m still sad we haven’t had a chance to meet IRL yet.

Kester: I know!!! Hopefully some day though!

The 13th ContinuumJennifer: I’m the author of author of the award-winning Continuum Trilogy. The first book The 13th Continuum sold in a 3-book deal and is being packaged into a feature film. Translation rights to my books have sold in multiple territories, most notably Russia and China. I also began my career in Hollywood. Highlights include working on The Lord of the Rings films, The Golden Compass, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I live and write in LA (so howdy from the West Coast). Though I grew up in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. So I also do both book and film projects. Several of my short stories are also being put together as films. They’re in various stages of the packaging process.

Kester: That’s so rad!!! Thanks, Jen!!! This next question is for both of you! I know you might have already mentioned it, but could you describe to us your backgrounds in the film industry? What inspired you to shift from producing movies to writing stories, and what was the transition like?

Brittany: I was focused only on acting for the early part of my film career, but as I started working on independent films I became fascinated with what went on behind the camera and wanted to tell stories of my own through film. I definitely felt like writing screenplays came easier to me than writing novels, because I knew I would be able to SHOW the audience instead of TELL. So If You’re Gone was a really big challenge for me but it was always in my head and I just knew I had to get it on paper. Then turning it into the screenplay was even more challenging because it had to be cut back a lot, which was tough to go from author to screenwriter. But it was fun. And worth it.

Jennifer Brody
Jennifer Brod

Jennifer: I wanted to take a shot at telling my own stories, not just giving them away to screenwriters we hired. And since I think it’s important right now to be really honest about it, one of the biggest reasons I shifted from Hollywood is related to the #metoo movement. I’ve worked for or with most of the big names in the news. And I got really tired of the bad practices toward women in the business and not being taken seriously for my talent and hard work. But I think there is a rare opportunity right now to have more control and come back into the process with the goal of putting strong content together with female and POC directors.

Brittany: Totally agree with Jennifer on how women and their work are viewed in the industry!

Jennifer: Yes, Brittany! And also that’s why I’m so impressed you directed films. I can’t emphasize how important it is to get more women behind the camera. I always worked as an executive or producer. I’ve never directed, but I’m thinking about it now finally. I’m sure we could trade industry stories.

Brittany: You definitely should! It is one of the most rewarding experiences. And I hope to keep including more and more women on my film crews.

Jennifer: Yes, that’s also so important! I was so excited the female cinematographer from MudBound got a nomination. If I direct, it will be a horror movie. I‘m going to get a few of my projects going with others first and then maybe go for it!

Brittany: Yes!! The first screenplay I ever wrote was a horror film. That’s so awesome. Remember you know a fellow author/actress!

Brittany: Sounds amazing! 🙂

Jennifer: Let’s go make something fun and scary! You’ll have to send me your films to check out or tell me where I can watch them. 

Brittany: Definitely, would love to trade work.

Jennifer: Let’s do it! Look Kester, isn’t that cool?

Kester: It is!! I love this so much! It would be great to have you both collaborate on a project — you’d rock at it! Next question: How did your experiences in the film industry affect the creation of your stories? Did you write your books with a movie adaptation in mind?  How is writing a novel different from writing a script?

Jennifer: Great question! I think I got two big things from working in development and producing—how to structure a story and also my writing has a very visual component to it. And yes, I always think about the film adaptation, partially because I love movies so much. And it would be a great to make the Continuum books into films. Fingers crossed—the big pitch is going out next week I think!

Brittany: That’s so exciting, Jennifer

Kester: Ahh, that is so awesome Jen!!! I wish you all the best with it!!

Jennifer: Thank you! We have a great screenwriter attached who is getting a lot of traction lately. And producers. So we shall see…

Brittany Goodwin
Brittany Goodwin

Brittany: I could always picture If You’re Gone as a film as I was writing the novel, and before I really cracked down on the novel I went back and forth between writing it as a screenplay and as a book. And even though I wrote both the screenplay and the novel, they are different in many ways because they translate differently on the page and on the screen.

Whenever I read any book I am ALWAYS thinking about it as a film! I love to read books that aren’t really in the main stream with the thought of turning them into a film myself. I have a stack of books I’ve had for YEARS that I would love to option as films at some point (if I ever run out of my own stories to tell lol).

Jennifer: That’s really cool Brittany! I do that too!

Kester: How do you think of your “dream cast” with your books? I know it’s popular for book bloggers to make them (I don’t have that talent though haha), but I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Jennifer: For The 13th Continuum, we plan to break new talent on the teen leads. My only hard ask is that we cast the roles with diverse actors (which is how they’re written in the books). Especially Myra—she has to be POC or biracial. I picture Octavia Spencer as Maude and Kevin Klein at Professor Divinus.

Brittany: That’s a really good question… honestly I can’t remember if I had a dream cast in mind before I actually started casting the film! Coming from the Indie side of things, I always have realistic expectations of budgets, etc, so I don’t think I ever thought Jennifer Lawrence would star in If You’re Gone or anything haha. But I do know when I saw the actors I ended up casting in If You’re Gone I knew immediately that they were right for the roles!

Jennifer: I’d love to work with Tessa Thompson again. My short story “200” is being adapted and directed by a really cool female screenwriter. I think Tessa could be perfect!

Jennifer: Yes, I can’t say who the writer is yet. But I can say that she’s one of the top writers in the industry right now. And she wants to direct, so she will make this her debut. It’s Philip K. Dick style SF.

Brittany: I will say, for the new screenplay (and novel) I am working on I definitely picture Shay Mitchell from Pretty Little Liars as the lead female! Maybe it could happen! 🙂

Jennifer: Oh nice choice! Netflix wants to do a lot of films and teen stuff right now. And they have a low budget division and lots of money. My old boss just produced #realityhigh for them.

brittanygoodwin-8133-2Brittany: That’s awesome! I’m sitting here racking my brain on who your writer could be… heheh.

Jennifer: Well, she’s usually the only women in a lot of male writing rooms on big studio films lately. They just announced the one she’s writing now two weeks ago and it trended on Twitter. 😉

Brittany: I’ve been dying to leak the trailer for If You’re Gone and my producer says I can’t. So I’ve been good! Easier said than done though hehe.

Kester: It must be tough! I’m still happy for you, though, Jen! The movies are going to be epic!

Jennifer: Thanks and excited for the trailer Brittany!

Brittany: Thanks! Hopefully soon!

Kester: Brittany, what was the biggest challenge of turning a character-driven novel into a film, and how did you overcome it?

Brittany: The novel was all told from Lillian’s perspective, so the reader always knew exactly what she was thinking and because it is a faith-based novel there are several instances where she is silently praying. That was one of the trickiest things for me to figure out how to convey on screen without having a cheesy narration going on throughout the film. I had to choose the most important moments and figure out which silent thoughts needed to become dialogue and what could be told visually.

Overall, the film is a little darker than the book because of the style choices we made, but the story still comes through and I’m SO happy with how it is turning out in the editing room. So I think it worked!

Kester: That’s so great to hear, Brittany!!! I am super excited to hopefully see the movie come out in the future!

Brittany: Thank you!

Kester: Jennifer, what is it like writing a trilogy, and what are some of the challenges you faced?The United Continuums

Jennifer: The best part of a trilogy is getting to tell such an epic story and watch the characters grow and change. The hardest part was the third book The United Continuums. I was writing on deadline, and had so many POVs. I had to pay everything off and raise the stakes. I really didn’t want to write a bad third book. I’ve personally been disappointed by so many series as a reader. I didn’t want to deliver that experience.

You were one of my first readers, and that’s why it meant so much that you loved the book. It was so fun to have you do the Q&A. When my editor suggested adding one, you were my first thought.

Kester: Aww, thank you, Jen! I’m so happy that I got to read it and do your Q&A! It was so fun, and certainly it was both my pleasure and honor to do so!

Jennifer: You asked great questions and made it easy.

Brittany: Kester you are making quite a name for yourself!

Jennifer: He sure is.

Kester: It’s all thanks to all the love and support from authors like you! Before we end this LILbooKtalk, would you both like to share any advice to young readers and writers or even screenwriters and filmmakers who are viewing this discussion?

Brittany: For all the young people who want to write or get involved in film… just go for it! Write a short story and film it on your smart phone, do whatever you can just to make it happen! It can be a little scary to get started, especially if you’re self-taught like I am, but there are some amazing books out there you can read to learn about screenwriting, directing, etc. And never think you’re too young to try!

Jennifer: This probably sounds cliche, but don’t give up on your dreams. You will hear NO a lot, but believe in yourself and tell the stories you want to tell. Read a lot and watch a lot of films. Seek out other people with similar interests and classes and workshops so you can learn from the best. Don’t give up.

Kester: Brittany, Jennifer, thank you so much for taking part of this LILbooKtalk!!! I really appreciate everything you have done, and I definitely had such a fun time chatting with you both!

Brittany: Thank you for thinking of us, Kester!

Jennifer: Thanks Kester! This was a lot of fun.


About BrittanyBrittany Goodwin

As a screenwriter and author based in Nashville, TN, I am proud to have written the screenplays for two nationally-distributed films, Secrets in the Snow and Secrets in the Fall, both of which have been awarded five (out of five) Doves from the Dove Foundation.

I love to read and create stories with elements of faith and friendship, particularly ones with realistic female protagonists. At a young age I was drawn to the work of writers who added a slightly glamorized twist to the day-to-day lives of teens- Francine Pascal, John Hughes, and Ann M. Martin to name a few. I always found elements of myself in the characters these writers created and felt inspired by them. If Andi could fall in love with a boy from the other side of the tracks, I could find a prom date. And if the Babysitters Club could solve mysteries, so could I! The characters in my stories are meant to emulate the same emotions from readers. Even the most average protagonist can accomplish something extraordinary.

I live on a mini-farm with my  wonderful husband, John, and our ever growing plethora of house pets (current count: 3 canine, 5 feline). With a cat on my lap and a dog at my side, I enjoy watching anything on Investigation Discovery Channel, web sleuthing via missing persons websites, DIY projects, and movie trivia.

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Buy If You’re Gone here today!

Edge of 22 Publishing | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords


About JenniferJennifer Brody

Jennifer Brody is the award-winning author of the The 13th Continuum. Her book sold in a 3-book deal and is being packaged into a feature film. The book is a Gold Medal Winner (Young Adult – Sci-Fi/Fantasy) from the Independent Publisher‘s Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards. Return of the Continuums and The United Continuums complete this epic trilogy. Translation rights to her books have sold in multiple territories, most notably Russia and China. Her short fiction appears in the From the Stars anthology and Common Deer Press’ Short Tails. She is a graduate of Harvard University (magna cum laude), a creative writing instructor at the Writing Pad, and a volunteer mentor for the Young Storytellers Foundation. She’s also a board member for the non-profit writing competitions the Roswell Award and the Tomorrow Prize. After studying film at Harvard University, Jennifer began her career in Hollywood. Highlights include working for Platinum Dunes and New Line Cinema, most notably on The Lord of the Rings films, The Golden Compass, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. She also produced the feature film Make It Happen starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Tessa Thompson. She lives and writes in LA, where she’s hard at work on her next book.

She is represented by Deborah Schneider (Gelfman Schneider/ICM Partners), Josie Friedman (ICM) for TV/Film, and Curtis Brown for UK and foreign rights.

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Buy The 13th Continuum here today!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Book Depository | iTunes


Thanks so much again to Jennifer Brody and Brittany Goodwin for agreeing to do this LILbooKtalk! I hope you all enjoyed this online discussion panel, and if you’d like to talk about any aspect or question of the discussion, please comment below!

Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

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

Email | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Bloglovin

This Month’s LILbooKtalk: “Healing through Stories: Two Novels of Uniting Families” with Corabel Shofner and Leslie Hauser

Hi guys! I am super excited for this month’s LILbooKtalk! I had the amazing opportunity to read both of these excellent debuts, and they share so many similar themes and conflicts that I had to invite both of the authors in our February panel. Today, we have Corabel Shofner, author of Almost Paradise, and Leslie Hauser, author of Chasing Eveline, on the blog today to talk about “Healing through Stories: Two Novels of Uniting Families.” It was definitely a fun chat to moderate, and I hope you enjoy it!


About Almost ParadiseAlmost Paradise

Twelve-year-old Ruby Clyde Henderson’s life turns upside down the day her mother’s boyfriend holds up a convenience store, and her mother is wrongly imprisoned for assisting with the crime. Ruby and her pet pig, Bunny, find their way to her estranged Aunt Eleanor’s home. Aunt Eleanor is a nun who lives on a peach orchard called Paradise, and had turned away from their family long ago. With a little patience, she and Ruby begin to get along―but Eleanor has secrets of her own, secrets that might mean more hard times for Ruby.

Ruby believes that she’s the only one who can find a way to help heal her loved ones, save her mother, and bring her family back together again. But being in a family means that everyone has to work together to support each other, and being home doesn’t always mean going back to where you came from.

Goodreads


About Chasing EvelineChasing Eveline

Sixteen-year-old Ivy Higgins is the only student at Carmel Heights High School who listens to cassettes. And her binder is the only one decorated with album artwork by 80s band Chasing Eveline. Despite being broken-up since 1989, this rock band out of Ireland means everything to Ivy. They’re a reminder of her mom, who abandoned Ivy and her dad two years ago. Now the music of her mom’s favorite band is the only connection she has left.

Even though Ivy wavers between anger and a yearning to reconnect, she’s one-hundred percent certain she’s not ready to lose her mom forever. But the only surefire way to locate her would be at a Chasing Eveline concert. So with help from her lone friend Matt—an equally abandoned soul and indie music enthusiast—Ivy hatches a plan to reunite the band.

The road to Ireland won’t be easy, though. And not just because there is no road. Along the way they’ll have to win over their Lady Gaga-loving peers, tangle with some frisky meerkats, and oh yeah, somehow find and persuade the four members to play a reunion gig. It’s a near-impossible task, but Ivy has to try. If she can’t let go of the past, she’ll never be able to find joy in the present.

Goodreads


LILbooKtalk 3

Questions are in bold

Kester: The first author we have today is the wonderful Corabel Shofner, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Southern Festival of Books last October. Her Middle Grade debut novel Almost Paradise released last summer, and I enjoyed it so much that I finished it in a day! Could you describe to us a bit about your book and yourself?Almost Paradise

Corabel: ALMOST PARADISE is a Middle Grade contemporary novel with lots of whimsy, humor and heartbreak. In some ways it is a reverse coming of age story, since Ruby Clyde had taken on the adult role in her family and needs to reclaim her childhood. I am a wife and mother who lives in Nashville, TN. I had a very colorful life before I settled in the suburbs and I love it out here. ALMOST PARADISE is my debut novel although I have written law, short stories, essays and such.

Kester: Thank you, Corabel! It’s so great to be having a local Tennessee author here on the blog! We also have the amazing Leslie Hauser, who I was able to interview on my blog last summer. I loved her Young Adult contemporary debut Chasing Eveline, which I also devoured in a single day! Would you also like to share with us a bit about your novel and your background?

Leslie: Hi! Thanks for having me here. CHASING EVELINE is about 16-year-old Ivy HIggins and her desire to reunite her mom’s favorite 80s band. She thinks it may be the only way to find her mom who left Ivy and her dad several years prior, but also the music is a way to keep her mom present in her life. It also has some humor and heartbreak–sounds like a good companion to ALMOST PARADISE! I am a middle school English and history teacher in California and CHASING EVELINE is my debut novel.

Kester: Chasing Eveline and Almost Paradise are definitely great companions! (And you provided the perfect segue for my next question, Leslie!) That’s why as I read both of your novels, I noticed that each of your main characters share the common goal of healing their broken families. How do you want readers to be impacted by Ivy’s attempts at finding her long-lost mother or Ruby Clyde’s actions to help her mother avoid being imprisoned? How do your characters learn what it means to love those around you?

Chasing EvelineLeslie: Losing someone is difficult. I realized after my aunt passed away that every year, the memories became dimmer. It’s to the point now where I can’t even see parts of these memories (like the picture in Back to the Future! If you’re familiar with that movie.) Ivy’s quest to reunite Chasing Eveline is her way of dealing with loss and trying to keep her mom present. I wanted to write a story that shows that there are productive outlets for grief. I would hope readers would see that as a takeaway.

Corabel: Hi Leslie, I haven’t written anything with music as an element but I love the way Ivy seeks her mother through her mother’s favorite 80’s band. Reminds me a bit of Guardians of the Galaxy where he’s stomping through puddles listening to his mother’s old music, on an old player. Ruby Clyde is a self possessed little thing. She willingly steps up to care for her fragile mother but when the Catfish (mother’s rascal boyfriend) launches off on a cross country trip and gets them both arrested, Ruby Clyde is consumed with a longing for home and a growing realization that she might not be able to single handedly save her mother from prison. I want my readers to feel brave. Bravery is contagious.

Leslie: Sounds like Ivy and Ruby both have to step up in their families. Ivy feels compelled to take care of her dad in her mother’s absence. Bravery is definitely important when dealing with these struggles.

Corabel: Everybody loves the precocious child, the ‘little mother’ or the one who takes care of everything because a parent is damaged. People should realized that these children pay a price by losing their childhood. My sister did that in our family and it did not end well. I’ve since seen other children try to play this role and it breaks my heart. But their old personalities in the miniature bodies is often hilarious.
Continue reading “This Month’s LILbooKtalk: “Healing through Stories: Two Novels of Uniting Families” with Corabel Shofner and Leslie Hauser”