Top 10 Books of 2018 — The Year of Middle Grade

Hi guys!! It’s been quite a while since you’ve last heard me talk about books here, so Happy New Year!! I’m going to try my best to get some blogging in during my FINAL semester of high school. Man, I’m surprised I’m at this point already! Before I go on, I want to wish each and every one of you a wonderful 2019 full of many blessings and joys. 2018 was definitely a crazy year for me, but it was full of so many life-changing and amazing books! Here are my Top 10 Books of 2018! I think it was a great year for kidlit–I have nine Middle Grade novels and one picture book in the list below, and I am very happy to share which 10 they are! Please do check these books out–you will NOT regret it! (This list is excluding rereads, and I will only include one book per series.)


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10. Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske

Kat Greene Comes Clean

Goodreads

I’m starting off this list with a beautiful gem of a book! Kat Greene Comes Clean is one of the funniest novels I’ve read this year, and it’s one of the few books that you just want to give a great big hug. I couldn’t help from smiling all throughout this story! This MG realistic fiction debut offers such a vivid glimpse into some of the struggles that many children, especially those who have to parent themselves, go through. The lessons are heartwarming, the humor is belly-filling, and the story itself is life-changing.

9. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a Tree

Goodreads

I loved Fish in a Tree so much that I read it twice this year. The first time I read it, I literally could not put it down–I finished it within a single day. It’s a lot like Wonder (which I’ve yet to read but I’ve watched and loved the movie)–a bright and talented girl with dyslexia has to overcome her disability, her bullies, and even herself as she discovers new friends and her true potential. Fish in a Tree has taught me how to never underestimate people who are neurodivergent, for they may be some of the brightest and smartest people I would ever meet. Certainly, I’ve also connected with Ally’s story as I knew how it feels not to fit in with everybody else, but both she and I found the friends that love us regardless of our quirks.

8. Open If You Dare by Dana Middleton

Open If You Dare

Goodreads

When I can connect with a book, my reading experience is transformed so much because I can see myself in the characters. I share so many of Birdie’s feelings as she has to face an uncertain future regarding her friends moving away–it’s very similar to what I’m facing right now as I’m about to go off to college. I read this back in junior year, I know I probably need to reread it sometime during this semester. Truly this novel made me cherish the few yet true friendships I possess, and it has moved me so much to tears.

Continue reading “Top 10 Books of 2018 — The Year of Middle Grade”

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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

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


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

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


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(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”

October Reading Recap

Hi guys! October has been a very crazy month for me, and November is going to be even busier! I have a choral festival, scholarship applications, auditions, and a whole bunch of other things to prepare and complete. Somehow, in the midst of my senior year craziness, I’ve managed to read quite a few books–averaging a book or two a week! However, the books I’ve read this past month are sorted into two main categories: those I really enjoyed and those that failed to astound me. I hope you enjoy!

By the way, I’ve recently updated the way I rate and review books. Now, four stars means that I enjoyed a book while three stars is reserved for books that “are not bad but they’re not good.” If I did not like a book, I would rate it two stars. It sounds very similar to my past review scale, but I’m not judging books a bit more harshly since I have been too lenient regarding books that don’t impress me. I would instantly recommend books four stars and above. Three star books I’m more hesitant with. This new system helps me distinguish books that were “okay” versus books that I truly enjoyed and thus books that blew me away.


5 Stars

Earth Force Rising by Monica Tesler (Yes, I Re-Read This a Month after I Finished It!)

Earth Force Rising
Goodreads

The Dollmaker of Krakow by R. M. Romero

The Dollmaker of Kraków

Goodreads

Continue reading “October Reading Recap”

September Reading Recap

Hi guys! I usually post my reading recap on the first Sunday of the month, but because I was so busy the week Fall Break ended, I didn’t have time to get this post up before I left for San Francisco for my vacation. I’ve finished 12 books this past month–yes, TWELVE! I’ve had such a busy and crazy month yet somehow I’ve squeezed in 12 stories from YA post-apocalyptic to MG contemporary. And it has been a great month for books for me–I’ve read 5 books that are 5 stars for me (though 2 are re-reads of my favorite books). I hope you enjoy!


5 Stars

Return of the Continuums by Jennifer Brody (Re-read)

Return of the Continuums

Goodreads

The United Continuums by Jennifer Brody (Re-read)

The United Continuums

Goodreads

Earth Force Rising by Monica Tesler

Earth Force Rising

Goodreads

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan

Goodreads

The Tundra Trials by Monica Tesler

The Tundra Trials

Goodreads


4 Stars

A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar

A Stitch in Time

Goodreads

The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt

The Right Hook of Devin Velma

Goodreads

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

Orphan Island

Goodreads

The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan by Gia Cribbs

The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan

Goodreads


3 Stars

Finchosaurus by Gail Donovan

Finchosaurus

 

Goodreads

Night Witches by Kathryn Lasky

Night Witches

Goodreads


2 Stars

The High Climber of Dark Water Bay by Caroline Arden

The High Climber of Dark Water Bay
Goodreads


In Case You Missed It: This Month’s Posts

Author Interviews

Ann Braden, author of The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Kendare Blake, author of Two Dark Reigns

Lauren Gibaldi, author of Autofocus

Author Guest Posts

Katya de Becerra, author of What the Woods Keep, on “Exploring the Subconscious with What the Woods Keep”

LILbooKtalks

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

Book Reviews

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop by Alice Faye Duncan (5)

The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth (4)

The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee (3)

The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt (4)

Blog Tours

Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake: Author Interview

What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra: Author Guest Post on “Exploring the Subconscious with What the Woods Keep

Cover Reveals

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Reading Recaps

August Reading Recap


Happy Reading!

+ J.M.J.

~ Kester

“Cast all your worries upon Him because He cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7 (NAB)

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

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Exclusive Guest Post with Monica Tesler on “Building Fantastical Worlds in Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction” & COVER REVEAL

Hi guys! A few months ago, I went to the Southeastern Young Adult Festival (or SE-YA for short) and I met some amazing Middle Grade authors there! I had the lovely opportunity to chat with Monica Tesler, author of the Bounders series, which looks very epic! I currently have a copy at home waiting to be read, and I can’t wait! Today, Monica and I are celebrating the COVER REVEAL of the FOURTH book in her series, The Heroes Return, with a special guest post. I hope you enjoy!


About Earth Force Rising (Bounders #1)Earth 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

 

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

Buy a signed & personalized copy at Buttonwood Books & Toys


Monica Tesler Guest Post.png

Building Fantastical Worlds in Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction

I recently had the privilege of being on the faculty for the New England Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (NESCBWI) Annual Spring Conference. I love this conference. I’ve gone every year since 2012 when I was a new writer with no agent and definitely no publishing deal. This year, in addition to teaching a session on the business side of publishing, I taught a class on writing commercial series in middle grade and young adult literature.

As I was preparing my materials for the class and engaging with my enthusiastic students, I was reminded how much I love writing science and speculative fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. And one of the very best parts is creating the fictional worlds in which my characters live, dream, interact, and often get into huge heaps of trouble.

Why do I love building these worlds?

Earth Force RisingThe first and easiest answer is that it’s fun. I love escapist fiction, both as a reader and a writer, and there’s nothing better than creating my own fictional worlds in which to escape. In the Bounders series, for example, there are several dystopian, not-so-great aspects of the fictional, future world, but those are balanced out by a lot of cool stuff. Suction chutes to travel between buildings at the space station? Check. Jet packs to fly? Check. Super cool alien technology that lets you bound through space without a ship? Check. I had the best time coming up with all that stuff. If you’re writing middle grade or young adult sci-fi and fantasy, I think the cool and fun factors are a must, even if your worlds have a dark underbelly. Readers want to imagine themselves in the worlds you create, so it can’t be all doom and gloom.

Continue reading “Exclusive Guest Post with Monica Tesler on “Building Fantastical Worlds in Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction” & COVER REVEAL”