Author Interview with Melissa Sarno, MG Realistic Fiction Author of “Just Under the Clouds”

Hi guys! I am starting off the first full week of my last semester of high school. It’s pretty crazy to think about that. I mean, I’m graduating this year!!! It’s almost a real reality. The journey leading up to this moment feels very surreal. Today on the blog, Melissa Sarno and I are having a conversation over her MG realistic fiction debut novel Just Under the Clouds. It’s high up on my TBR, so I can’t wait to read it! Enjoy!


About the BookJust Under the Clouds

Can you still have a home if you don’t have a house?

Always think in threes and you’ll never fall, Cora’s father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who’s just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

Goodreads

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Melissa Sarno Interview.png

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

I love writing because I love getting in a character’s head and living there. I love listening to a voice and following it to understand the heart of the story. And I love exploring themes so I can make sense of my own life. I also like finding just the right rhythm for a sentence. And, the challenge of puzzling through a story and unlocking mysteries and connections.

I started writing when I was around eight years old. My father brought a home-computer in the early 1980s. There was only one game on the computer, PacMan, and, I got bored with it so I turned to the only other thing I could actually do on the computer and that was to play around on a word-processing program. There was just the cursor and the keyboard, and I started fooling around with words and stories. Soon, I started writing by hand in lined marble notebooks whenever I could.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

I love reading fiction. I prefer realistic fiction but I also like quirk, some absurdity, a hint of magic, or surrealism. I guess you could say literary fiction is my favorite genre. Some of my favorite children’s authors are: Kate DiCamillo, Sharon Creech, Rebecca Stead, Ali Benjamin, Jaqueline Woodson, Beth Kephart, and Rita Williams Garcia. On the adult fiction side, I love George Saunders, Haruki Murakami, Jhumpa Lahiri, Paul Yoon, Aimee Bender, and Elizabeth Strout. I think they’ve all impacted me in different ways. Many of these authors have very lyrical, rhythmic prose, and I am attracted to that as a reader and writer.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

Writing fiction is something I have to fit into the tiny cracks and openings in my day. There are many days when I do not fit it in. I have a one year old and four year old who keep me very busy. I am also a freelance writer for many children’s media companies where I write content for toys, games, magazines, learning software, podcasts and more.Just Under the Clouds

4. Your debut MG realistic fiction novel Just Under the Clouds follows the story of Cora and her family as they try to navigate homelessness after her father’s death. Since homelessness affects nearly half a million individuals in America–including almost 60,000 families–how does your novel explore the harsh reality of homelessness for young readers, and what do you hope to achieve when a child picks up your novel?

Just Under the Clouds focuses on the instability of homelessness, as Cora and her family seek permanence in their housing situation. I tried to be realistic about the unsafe conditions of many shelters and the emotional stress of not having a permanent home. But, ultimately, this is a hopeful story about the true meaning of home; how it can be more than a place, and shift and change as we do. I hope the story will encourage readers to think about what home means to them. And I hope they will find compassion for themselves and others in Cora’s situation.
Continue reading “Author Interview with Melissa Sarno, MG Realistic Fiction Author of “Just Under the Clouds””

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Everlasting Nora by Marie Cruz Blog Tour: Book Review — An Authentic and Gripping Portrayal of the Poverty Millions of Filipinos Face Today that is Blossoming with Hope and Resilience

Hi guys! Today (or tomorrow) is my last day of school, and I am so relieved to finally be on Christmas Break. I’m going to use these next two-and-a-half weeks to rest, bond with my family, and catch up on a bunch of school/college-related stuff. I am also very glad to be a part of the Everlasting Nora Blog Tour, hosted by the wonderful Kate at The Backwards Bookshelf. I really enjoyed and loved Marie Miranda Cruz’s (a Filipino author writing a book set in the Philippines!) debut novel, and I hope you enjoy my review.

Everlasting Nora Blog Tour.png


About the BookEverlasting Nora

An uplifting middle-grade debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz’s debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shanty town inside the Philippines’ North Manila Cemetery.

After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shanty town of its kind in the Philippines today.

When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.

With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.

Trigger Warnings: violence, child abuse, classism, extreme poverty / hunger, kidnapping, descriptions of blood and other serious injuries.

Goodreads

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Everlasting Nora Review

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

To be honest, I have not read very many books that feature Filipino main characters. In fact, I could probably even count them on a single hand if I tried. When I first heard of the opportunity to join the blog tour for Everlasting Nora and have the opportunity to read and review this wonderful debut novel, I jumped at the chance. As a Filipino-American who was born in the Philippines, moved to the United States when I was three, and visits the Philippines every two years, I knew that I had to read this book. Combine that with my love for Middle Grade, and Everlasting Nora was the book for me.

Continue reading “Everlasting Nora by Marie Cruz Blog Tour: Book Review — An Authentic and Gripping Portrayal of the Poverty Millions of Filipinos Face Today that is Blossoming with Hope and Resilience”

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.

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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”

Finchosaurus by Gail Donovan Blog Tour: Author Guest Post on “Getting Inside the Mind and Heart of a Fifth Grader” + GIVEAWAY

Hi guys!! I remember as a kid my favorite picture book was Rainbow Fish & Friends: The Great Treasure Hunt. I still have it on my book shelf today, even though it’s very worn out and many of the flaps are missing. It was the only book that I saved when I donated a whole box of children’s picture books to my FBLA chapter’s book drive, and I’m happy I did. It’s a little treasure from my childhood. Today, I am very glad to have the author of the Rainbow Fish and Friends series Gail Donovan on the blog today to talk about her latest MG contemporary novel Finchosaurus. I hope you enjoy!

Finchosaurus Blog Tour


About the BookFinchosaurus

How do you help others if you can’t help yourself?

Finch has trouble paying attention in school. He’s just too busy dreaming about uncovering a dinosaur fossil and naming a new species after himself—until he digs up a note in the fifth-grade class garden with the word HELP on it. He is determined to come to the aid of the mystery note-writer. But when the quest turns out to be harder than expected, Finch risks losing two things that he really wants —his best friend Noah, and a field trip to Dinosaur State Park. Acclaimed author Gail Donovan gets inside the hearts and minds of fifth graders on this journey told with unexpected humor and impressive insight.

Finchosaurus releases from Islandport Press on October 23rd! Pre-order it today!

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Gail Donovan Guest Post

Getting Inside the Mind and Heart of a Fifth Grader

I have a confession: I’m a children’s writer who doesn’t remember my childhood in great detail. So how do I get inside the heart and mind of a fifth grader?

I once heard Lincoln Peirce give a wonderful answer to the question of how he gets inside the head of somebody like Big Nate, with his big, irrepressible ego. Peirce said, “I’m already there!” He said there was a part of him that goes to bed at night thinking, I bet tomorrow the Red Sox are gonna call me up!

When it comes to fifth graders, “I’m already there,” too.

Fifth grade is an in-between place. You’re not a baby. You’re not a grown-up. You’re in-between.

Picture a toddler, crying at the top of their lungs. If they aren’t happy they will let you know it! Now try to picture a grown-up doing that. It’s hard to imagine. It’s not something we see in real life, for two reasons. One, grown-ups have (hopefully) learned how to navigate their world so that it doesn’t hurt so much. And two, even when it does hurt, they’ve learned not to show their feelings so much.

What do you do in that in-between place, when you still feel things deeply but don’t yet have the ability to control your world? Instead, you have teachers and parents and grown-ups all telling you what to do. But you need to figure it out yourself. Fifth graders trying to figure things out—how to live in the world and still be true to themselves—is what I write about, because I remember how that feels.

But to write for children, is it enough to remember how it feels to be a child, without recalling historical details of your own childhood? I think so. And I take solace in knowing Maurice Sendak thought so, too. In World of Childhood, The Art and Craft of Writing for Children, Sendak said, “People think I have some magic link to my childhood. If there is such a link, it’s a process that bypasses my conscious mind, because I have very little real recollection. I couldn’t stop and tell you why I’m writing and drawing certain episodes; they’re coming from some inner source that does recollect.”

Me, too! So, thank you, Maurice Sendak. Thanks, Lincoln Peirce. And thanks to fifth graders everywhere.


About the Author

Gail Donovan
Photo by Tom Bell

Gail Donovan is the author of the middle-grade novels The Waffler, What’s Bugging Bailey Blecker?, and In Memory of Gorfman T. Frog, which was named a New York Public Library Best Books for Children. She is also an author for the Rainbow Fish & Friends picture book series based on the bestselling books of Marcus Pfister. Donovan, who was born and raised in Connecticut, lives in Maine with her husband and two daughters, where, in addition to writing children’s books, she is a library assistant at the Portland Public Library.


Did Someone Say… Giveaway?

Finchosaurus Giveaway10 Winners will receive a copy of Finchosaurus by Gail Donovan

Ends November 5th, 2018

Open to International.

Must be 13+ to enter

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Follow the Rest of the Tour Here!

Link to Tour Schedule

WEEK ONE
OCTOBER 15th MONDAY JeanBookNerd INTERVIEW
OCTOBER 15th MONDAY Movies, Shows, & Books TENS LIST & EXCERPT
OCTOBER 16th TUESDAY Casia’s Corner REVIEW
OCTOBER 17th WEDNESDAY BookHounds YA REVIEW & INTERVIEW
OCTOBER 18th THURSDAY J.R.’s Book Reviews REVIEW
OCTOBER 19th FRIDAY LILbooKlovers GUEST POST
WEEK TWO
OCTOBER 22nd MONDAY A Dream Within a Dream TENS LIST & EXCERPT
OCTOBER 23rd TUESDAY RhythmicBooktrovert REVIEW
OCTOBER 24th WEDNESDAY Cover2CoverBlog REVIEW
OCTOBER 24th WEDNESDAY Crossroad Reviews REVIEW
OCTOBER 25th THURSDAY Sabrina’s Paranormal Palace REVIEW & EXCERPT
OCTOBER 26th FRIDAY Wishful Endings REVIEW & INTERVIEW

Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“For it is in giving that we receive.” — St. Francis of Assisi

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

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Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito by Shelley Johannes Blog Tour — Spotlight Post

Hi guys! Happy October!! Today is the first day of October, and that means Fall is in the air! Woo hoo! Today I am kicking off the blog tour for Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito, an MG contemporary novel about a 3rd grader who loves all things spy-related. I’ve seen a lot of great things about it in the MG community, so I am very excited to share with y’all this a little more about the book!

Beatrice Zinker Incognito Blog Tour.jpg


About the BookBeatrice Zinker Incognito

Title: Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito

Author: Shelley Johannes

Pub. Date: September 18, 2018

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, audiobook

Pages: 224

Synopsis: In book two of the Beatrice Zinker series, Operation Upside is finally in full swing! But when Beatrice’s over-enthusiasm lands Mrs. Tamarack with a Strictest Certificate, the team has to scale back a bit.

Lying low is not exactly Beatrice’s strong suit, especially when she sees someone who desperately needs to be recognized. But when the certificate meant for him falls into the wrong hands, Beatrice and Lenny have to find a way to widen their circle once again to save Operation Upside, and themselves, from trouble.

Goodreads

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About the AuthorShelley Johannes

Before becoming an author-illustrator, Shelley began her creative career with ten years in architecture—where she fell in love with felt-tip pens, tracing paper, and the greatness of black turtlenecks. She currently lives in Metro Detroit, Michigan with her husband and two sons.

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is the first book she’s written. She looks forward to more upside down adventures with Beatrice.

Website |  Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads


Did Someone Say… Giveaway?

3 winners will win a finished copy of BEATRICE ZINKER, UPSIDE DOWN THINKER: INCOGNITO, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Follow the Rest of the Tour Here!

Link to Tour Schedule

Week One:

10/1/2018- LILbooKloversSpotlight Post (Excerpt will be added once I receive it)

10/2/2018- A Fictional Bookworm– Review

10/3/2018- Beagles & Books– Review

10/4/2018- Oh Hey! Books.– Excerpt

10/5/2018- Patriotic Bookaholic– Review

Week Two:

10/8/2018- Rhythmicbooktrovert– Review

10/9/2018- Christen Krumm Review

10/10/2018- For the Love of KidLit– Spotlight

10/11/2018- BookHounds YA– Review

10/12/2018- Two Points of Interest– Review


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” — St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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

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ARC Review: The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt — A Charming Story about Fame and Friendship that Felt Real and Relatable

Hi guys! Today’s review is on The Right Hook of Devin Velma, the long-awaited sophomore standalone novel of Jake Burt, who wrote the heartwarming debut Greetings from Witness Protection! I definitely enjoyed his first novel, so I was really excited to be able to have the opportunity to read his next one! If you had missed it, Jake was recently on my blog with Rebecca Donnelly in August’s LILbooKtalk on “Back to School: Instilling a Love of Reading in Students.” Don’t miss it–it was an amazing discussion! I hope you enjoy this review!


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 October 2nd! Pre-order it today!

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4 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This will not affect my review in any way. Please note that this review is based off an uncorrected galley, so changes could have been made in the published draft.

When I first started The Right Hook of Devin Velma, the story did not click with me at first, and I had to set it down since I wanted to read another book at the time. Weeks later, I decided to restart and pick it back up, and I did not ever want to put it down. I finished most of it in one sitting. The Right Hook of Devin Velma is a charming story about two young boys attempting to preserve their friendship and their families as they formulate a plan to gain fame and fortune. Throughout the story, I laughed and I cried. I cringed and I celebrated. I loved and I understood. Ultimately, it made me feel grateful that I have a tremendous outpouring of support from my three best friends and my caring family.

Continue reading “ARC Review: The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt — A Charming Story about Fame and Friendship that Felt Real and Relatable”

ARC Review: The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth — A Highly Relevant Story that Will Melt, Break, and Re-Piece Your Heart Over and Over Again

Hi guys! One of the biggest reasons I love Middle Grade is that it tackles such big issues in such simple yet beautiful ways. The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth is one of the books. I had the awesome pleasure to host Alyssa on the blog a few months ago as part of the June LILbooKtalk on “Never Losing Hope in a Future of Uncertainty,” and I was able to get an ARC of her debut novel and read it. It definitely did not disappoint! The Eleventh Trade just released a few days, and you definitely need to go get it!


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.

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4 Stars

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

From the very first chapter—in fact, page—of The Eleventh Trade, I knew I was in for something very special. It’s very rare for me to have that feeling super early on in the story, and my hunch was right. The Eleventh Trade is one of the most heart-warming and inspirational books I have ever read. The ending made me tear up, and I have not cried from reading a story in such a long time. I can’t even remember the last time I ever did that from a book. The Eleventh Trade will break and re-piece your heart over and over again. Readers will rejoice with Sami during his triumphs and become saddened by his failures.

Alyssa Hollingsworth’s debut novel helped changed my perspective on the refugee crisis today. It is a vivid and real portrayal of the struggles that Afghan refugees endure as they adjust to life in the United States. Sami had to face so many trials during his quest to gain back his grandfather’s rebab, such as raising money from virtually nothing, dealing with an impending deadline, being forced to lie to his only remaining relative, enduring vile racism from one of his classmates, and coping with trauma from a horrific experience in Afghanistan. You don’t really think about the struggles that these people have and had to go through during their search for a better life. It’s shocking to think how many refugees such as Sami are being labeled as terrorists out of racism and prejudice in their new countries while terrorist groups oppressed them and their family members out of pure evil in their home countries. It’s very rattling to think about this. This is the reason why I love contemporary Middle Grade so much—novels such as The Eleventh Trade cover such important issues in a way that wrenches your heart, changes your viewpoint, and makes you love the goodness in humanity even more.

Sami’s story of perseverance is truly inspiring. His quest to raise $700 to buy back his grandfather’s rebab is full of new friends, moments of triumph, bouts of trouble, and ultimately love and sacrifice. I fell in love with Sami from the very first page, and I rooted for him to succeed every step of the way. His deep affection for his grandfather and for the music of his mother nation is very contagious—I truly could feel the passion he had for soccer, for his family and friends, and for the rebab. I loved how this tragedy turned out to be a blessing in disguise: He not only found new friends but also a newfound hope for a better future.

The Eleventh Trade is truly one of the most memorable and touching novels I have ever read. From having his grandfather’s rebab stolen to dealing with trauma and racism on his quest to regain it back, Sami is a character that readers will fall in love with and cheer on. Alyssa Hollingsworth’s debut will melt, break, and wrench your heart over and over and over again. Her writing truly emanates the pains, joys, sufferings, and trials of being a refugee from a war-torn nation. I would definitely recommend this book to students, teachers, parents—virtually everyone—in a heartbeat. The Eleventh Trade is a much needed and relevant story in today’s world full of uncertainty, grief, hate, and hope.


About AlyssaAlyssa Hollingsworth

Alyssa was born in small-town Milton, Florida, but life as a roving military kid soon mellowed her (unintelligibly strong) Southern accent. Wanderlust is in her blood, and she’s always waiting for the wind to change. Stories remain her constant. Alyssa received her BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Berry College and her MA with honors in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. In 2013, she won a prize from the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity for her creative non-fiction essay, Naan in the Afghan Village. She is represented by Amber Caraveo at Skylark Literary. Her debut THE ELEVENTH TRADE will launch Fall 2018 with Macmillan (U.S.) and HotKey (U.K.).

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Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

Are you excited for The Eleventh Trade? What are some of your favorite books that tackle the refugee crisis?

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

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Author Interview: Ann Braden, MG Contemporary Author of The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Hi guys! Tomorrow, one of the BEST books I’ve read this year–The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden–is releasing from Sky Pony Press, and to celebrate, I have Ann, the author of this wonderful novel, here on the blog to talk about her latest novel. A few weeks ago I shared my really really personal review of The Benefits of Being an Octopus. You definitely NEED to read this book. I urge you to pick it up. If I could buy a whole shipment of copies to just hand out to kids and random people, I would do it. This is a book that you do NOT want to miss.


About the BookThe Benefits of Being an Octopus

Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they’ve got to do.

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus will release from Sky Pony tomorrow! Pre-order it today!

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Ann Braden Interview.png

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

I love writing because stories shape us and change us in inexorable ways (both as the author and as the reader) AND because of the way it uses all parts of my brain!

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

I love realistic fiction. My favorite authors are the ones who make me feel like it’s all real. I still remember reading Sara Zarr’s HOW TO SAVE A LIFE and being so struck by one simple scene where the girl and her mom are in the kitchen making peanut butter toast because it was so incredibly real. And I thought: How did she do that? I want to write like that! Sara Zarr, along with authors like Gary Schmidt and Jason Reynolds showed me that page-turners can be created with emotional arcs instead of snazzy plots. They freed me up to approach this book, not by trying to tell a great story, but simply trying to be as honest as possible.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

At the moment I’m a part-time writer and a part-time stay-at-home mom. In the past I’ve juggled a variety of different kinds of community organizing work along with my writing. I seem to find the kind of work that takes huge amounts of time, (while paying very little money) – but that feeds my soul and that hopefully helps to get more voices to the table and helps those new voices feel supported.

4. Your MG debut novel The Benefits of Being an Octopus, set to release on September 4th from Sky Pony Press, follows seventh-grader Zoey as she attempts to find her voice while navigating through poverty, loved ones in abusive relationships, and acceptance among her fellow peers. How do you desire for your book to be a bridge between the cultural divides in school? How do you want readers, regardless of financial situation, to be impacted by Zoey’s story?

The Benefits of Being an OctopusI think that too often in our society we discount those who live differently than we do, whether its how much money someone has, what kind of job someone has, or what kind of political views they have. When I was in middle school, I remember being so struck that every person in every car on the road had their own story. And as I got older and got to meet a wide variety of people, I came to believe more strongly that not only do they have their own story, but that nearly every person is trying to do their very best given the circumstances they’re faced with. I hope that readers come away seeing that many of the characters, even the ones they don’t necessarily agree with, are doing the best they can – and that maybe the people around them in real life aren’t so different.

Continue reading “Author Interview: Ann Braden, MG Contemporary Author of The Benefits of Being an Octopus”

Exclusive Interview with Jake Burt, MG Author of Greetings from Witness Protection!

Hi guys! In exactly one month, I am going to be off to Washington, D.C., with my choir, and I am super stoked about it! I have always wanted to visit our nation’s capital, and I am super blessed that I have this opportunity to go there along with my fantastic choir that I have definitely bonded so much with over the last few months. Speaking of the government (haha, Kester, good/cheesy segue), today I am having Jake Burt, author of Greetings from Witness Protection! on the blog in this exclusive interview, and I am so excited to have him because if you had read my review of his debut, you’ll know why I loved it so much. I hope you enjoy this interview!


About Greetings from Witness Protection!Greetings from Witness Protection!

Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. . . .

The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.

Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

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Jake Burt Interview

1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

First off, thanks for hosting me, Kester, and for all you do to support MG and YA literature! To answer your question, I fell in love with stories first. My dad used to read aloud to my brothers and me every night – stuff like The Hobbit and excerpts from Mark Twain’s Roughing It. It was easily the highlight of my day. Then, when I was in grade school, I discovered that I could create my own stories. I had a string of really good teachers who encouraged me (or, rather, at least tolerated my nascent attempts at authorship), and that allowed me to develop a love for the written word.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

Books: The Hobbit. Le Morte D’Arthur. James and the Giant Peach. The Last Unicorn. Charlotte’s Web. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Snow Crash. Are You My Mother? The Golden Compass. Faeries. Tuck Everlasting.

Genres: Fantasy. Sci-Fi. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.

Authors: Tolkien. Malory. Dahl. Pullman. Basically anyone who wrote one of the above books. I’ve also got a special place in my heart for the authors of the books I devoured when I was a kid – sprawling Dungeons and Dragons fantasy novels by R.A. Salvatore; Lone Wolf game books by Joe Dever; sci-fi short stories by Bradbury, Vonnegut, et al. Given all that, you’d think I’d be churning out middle grade fantasy novels, right? I thought so, too. And yet, here I am with MG contemporary…and I couldn’t be happier with the stories I’m telling so far. As far as the writers who had the greatest impact on me and my writing style, though? If I’m being honest with myself, it’s probably TV writers – those behind-the-scenes authors of dialogue I’ve found particularly memorable, of scenes that have stuck with me long after the show is done. It’s often teams of people, so I don’t know precisely who to credit, but I can name characters on shows about whom I think, “I want my MC to talk like that,” far more than passages in books about which I think, “I want to write like that!” (not that I’d turn down having my descriptions compared to E.B. White’s, or anything…)

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

I’m not sure if I’d describe writing as a job. It’s more like a passion. And lest that come across too tritely, I’m talking about the “If I don’t write this story down and get it out of my head, I’m never going to stop obsessing about it” kind of passion, rather than the “The heavens are my muse, inspiring me to the glory that is” sort. Writing IS work, of course, and often times it’s hard work. It just never feels that way to me, because it’s never monotonous. The same goes for my day job – teaching 5th grade. I love both of them, and for similar reasons: they’re nothing like the hardest job I’ve ever had. That dubious honor goes to working a hydraulic press in a gasket factory one summer in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was hard for me because it was repetition. The sameness of it about drove me mad; I have incredible respect for people who can manage it. I couldn’t, so I’ve spent most of my life engaged with careers that allow me to be as intensely creative as I can be. Writing and teaching provide those opportunities.Greetings from Witness Protection!

4. Your debut novel Greetings from Witness Protection!, which released last year, follows Nicki Demere as she joins the Witness Protection Program’s Project Family and adopts a new identity to help protect the Trevor family from those seeking to kill them. How did you research and learn more about WITSEC as you conceived your story? How did you figure out how to portray WITSEC for middle grade readers without sacrificing a thrilling story to avoid anything too “graphic” or “adult?”

I did what research I could on WITSEC, but as you can imagine, there’s not much to go on. It’s not like people in witness protection are lining up to let an author of middle grade fiction interview them about their experiences. I did access the US Marshalls’ website, Google Earth’ed the facility in Glynco, and read whatever accounts I could get my hands on, but much of what I did in portraying WITSEC and the witness protection program was fashioned after how it has been portrayed in other books, movies, and television shows. I figured if I couldn’t get at the truth about WITSEC (and that I couldn’t is decidedly a good thing!), then I could at least portray a version of it that was consistent with the rest of the body of fiction. As far as keeping it kid-friendly? I don’t necessarily know that I did. I hoped that my readers would be able to handle what I put my characters through, and as long as I was honest about the emotions behind it – Nicki’s desire to be part of something, Jackson’s anger, Brit’s trepidation – then it would read true for them. Those are real for kids, and I trusted that they’d relate. This sentiment was explored beautifully by Matt de la Pena in TIME recently, and both his essay and Kate DiCamillo’s response are modern-day required reading for MG authors, as far as I’m concerned. Check them out here: http://time.com/5093669/why-we-shouldnt-shield-children-from-darkness/

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Jake Burt, MG Author of Greetings from Witness Protection!”