Review by Annie Cronin Romano
MEL FELL (Balzer & Bray, 2021) is a delightful picture book about a baby kingfisher who takes a leap—much to the chagrin of her brother and sister—and learns how to fly...by falling. It’s a story about trying new things and trusting the process, and young readers take the leap with Mel as she falls down, down, down, all the while letting her instincts be her guide. Mel’s nature neighbors all try to help, but Mel can sense this is what she needs to do, and her intuition does not steer her wrong. Cheerful, engaging illustrations heighten the upbeat energy of this story.
Tabor incorporates light visual humor and tightly written text (the word count is under 300 words including speech bubbles/asides) to convey a message about trusting your instincts and learning to spread your wings. He avoids the trap of explaining or naming the message of his story. Rather, he allows Mel’s adventure to do the heavy lifting and trusts his young readers to glean their own take-away from the young bird’s experience. This picture book is a strong example of conveying a message in a completely non-didactic manner. A true mentor text for concise, subtle writing.
To learn more about Corey R. Tabor, visit his website at www.coreyrtabor.com.
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON (Katherine Tegen Books, 2020) is a delightful mix of mystery and cupcakes! When Zoe, who dreams of becoming a famous baker, receives a letter from her incarcerated father on her 12th birthday, she finds herself determined to prove the innocence of this man she's never met. Her mother, however, wants Zoe to have nothing to do with her dad, so Zoe must sneak around in her efforts to correspond with her father and uncover the truth. A novel about the power of hope, forgiveness, and believing in others.
Janae Marks takes a difficult subject (isolation from a parent) and makes it accessible to young readers in a gentle yet direct manner. Her handling of the father’s incarceration is presented thoughtfully, and the novel address faults and injustices in the legal system using an approach middle grade readers will understand. FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is a solid mentor text for presenting social issues in an accessible, skillful way. The parallel plot of Zoe’s love of baking is seamlessly woven in with her pursuit to prove her father’s innocence, making this novel a prime example of how two strong parallel plots can work together to add dimension to the novel while simultaneously moving the main character’s story forward.
To learn more about Janae Marks’ work, visit her website at www.janaemarks.com.
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
Who wants to go swimming inside a shipwreck in the middle of winter with a sea monster that lays a glowing ruby egg that can grant wishes? I do! I do! Sign me up! This book is a delight and swept me up from page one! With zingy humor and a fanciful cast of characters, MALAMANDER (Candlewick/Walker Books 2019) is a mystery/fantasy about two young orphans: one a worker at a hotel's "lost & foundery," the other a newcomer to town searching for the truth about what happened to her parents. Together, the go on a fantastically daring adventure, discovering along the way that all people are not as they seem and that some creatures are best left alone. Quick-moving, funny, engaging read!
Thomas Taylor creates a strong, atmospheric setting with his creation of the ocean side town of Eerie-on-Sea. The reader shudders at the whip of the icy wind off the water and tastes the salty fog hanging in the air. Taylor also excels at creating a sense of whimsy and magic that isn’t forced but rather is interwoven seamlessly into the plot. The pacing of this middle grade would keep even an antsy reader engaged, as Taylor hooks the reader from the get-go with questions of how and why a young boy, Herbert Lemon, would be employed in the “lost and foundery” of a hotel, then efficiently and smoothly slides into the appearance of a mysterious character, Violet Parma, outside the boy's window. Strong setting, intriguing charaters, curious unknowns...and you're off on an imaginative adventure!
To learn more about Thomas Taylor, visit his website at http://www.thomastaylor-author.com/. And check out the second in the Eerie-On-Sea series, Gargantis, released in paperback on April 6, 2021.
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA (Tor Books, 2020) is a delightful story about 40 year old Linus Baker, a simple, straightforward fellow employed as a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. Things go along rather routinely for Linus, until one day he is summoned to the Office of Extremely Upper Management and given a mysterious assignment: go to the orphanage on Marsyas Island and report back on the welfare of the six children there. With very little to go on, and with the knowledge that he will be given information only as it is warranted, Linus heads off. What he finds on the island challenges every notion he holds of the “magical” children he has previously encountered in his work. With each passing day, he finds it increasingly difficult to remain objective to the charms of the orphans—and their caretakers—all the while growing more suspicious of his employer’s true motives behind his visit.
Part magical adventure, part social equality piece, part romance, THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA is a charming, emotional, thoughtful novel that takes the reader on a journey to a beautiful island inhabited by unique, intriguing characters, all the while reminding us that not everything is as it seems—or, more importantly, as it should be. Read this story, and you’ll be dreaming of eating cherry ice cream with Linus and Arthur, gardening with Talia, listening to records with Lucy, and writing poetry with Sal! TJ Klune’s novel is an example of a beautifully written story laced with humor and infused with the themes of compassion and acceptance.
So, why did I chose an adult book for my book pick when our blog’s focus is kidlit? Because sometimes the most valuable books to use as mentor texts are not always within your writing genre, and THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA is one such example. And it’s interesting to note that this book does not fit neatly into any genre. Most libraries and bookstores have it in their adult fiction section. A few have chosen to place it on their Young Adult shelves. Others have it in Science Fiction. Regardless of where you find it, the story is the same: a delightful adult fiction story with a childlike whimsy. But more importantly for writers, this novel is a solid example of developing strong characters and allowing them to unfold and develop as the story moves along. In particular, the six magical orphans in this novel seem at first glance to be somewhat unlikeable and not fully in focus, but as the story progresses and the layers of each child are pulled back, what is revealed is truly magical and illustrates how characters must be given the space to grow and develop depth within a story’s arc. Rather than rushing to dump too much information at once, Klune patiently and expertly discloses his characters, allowing the reader to connect with them in a “real time” sort of way. THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA is also a strong example of straddling the magical world and the realistic one in terms of setting and character-building. The reader is able to understand the underlying themes of social justice and kindness through this unique approach to world-building, all the while keeping the emotional aspect relatable, relevant, and appealing.
To learn more about TJ Klune, visit his website at http://www.tjklunebooks.com.
A review by Francine Puckly
Goals are vitally important. They steer behaviors, work plans, and creative journeys. In light of this, I’ve chosen to showcase The Magic of Thinking Big, by David J. Schwartz. Originally published in 1959, Schwartz’s book remains in print, guiding those of us who dare to go after our dreams.
Let me start with an example of the impact this book has had. In 1966, Lou Holtz was hired by Marvin Bass to coach with him at the University of South Carolina. Holtz and his wife spent every last penny they had on a down payment for a house and moved to South Carolina with two kids and a third on its way. One month later Marvin Bass resigned to coach an expansion team for Canada’s Continental League and at 28 years of age, Holtz was unemployed. He recalls that it was the lowest point in his life. His wife, Beth, gave him a copy of this book. And that was the day Lou Holtz began making history. After reading it cover to cover, he made a list of 107 life goals. It provided the guiding force his life needed. To date, Holtz has achieved 102 of the 107 goals, including having dinner at the White House, being on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, coaching a team to a National Championship, and becoming coach of the year. Big goals. Big achievements. Inspired by one little book.
The Magic of Thinking Big delivers three hundred pages of life-changing advice. While some people might say Schwartz’s advice is cliché, he zooms in on thinking and how it colors our future—either for better or worse. His talk is heavy on attitude and how negative attitudes will block our goals and positive attitudes foster actions to accomplish them. He walks us through how to stop making excuses, how to develop confidence, as well as how to generate ideas and create a life environment that will make us successful. He emphasizes that we should be doers (and how to get into the “Action Habit”) and guides us to set up 30-Day Improvement Guides for immediate action as we march toward ten-year goals.
Although the language is dated and there are references and analogies that aren’t considered politically correct today (which is to be expected in any 57-year-old book), Schwartz offers timeless advice on making the most of our lives and our dreams.
I’m a firm believer that autumn is a new beginning and the perfect time to establish goals. Why not pick up a copy of The Magic of Thinking Big this August and use Schwartz’s guidance to help build your long-term goals. Oh! And don’t forget to look back at last summer’s planning blogs for help with establishing specific tasks!
Dreaming Big: anything-but-ordinary.html
The Five-Year Plan: planning-part-two-charting-your-5-year-plan.html
The One-Year Plan: planning-part-three-your-one-year-roadmap.html
Charting Tasks: planning-part-four-setting-a-realistic-measurable-quarterly-plan.html
Aim high! Work hard! Your goals are just a few actions away.
Reviewed by Francine Puckly
I ’m veering off the road of discussing actual children’s books for our Book Pick this month to talk about the books that keep us company during the writing process—our trusty how-to guides. My bookshelves are littered with craft books, the books I use to assist my manuscript constructions. Martha Alderson’s Plot Whisperer is my companion for first drafts and Cheryl Klein’s Second Sight accompanies me on my revisions. But these last few months I’ve been in the trenches, knee deep in submission preparation for my completed YA manuscript. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, written by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (a.k.a. The Book Doctors), has become my go-to strategy book.
Divided into three major sections, I am immersed in Part I—honing my pitch and synopsis, researching agents, and updating my social media platform. While I’ve perused Part II (contracts, rights, working with publishers, and revision under deadline) and Part III (publicity, book launches and the like), those two sections will become more helpful once my manuscript has landed into the hands of someone interested in taking the manuscript to the next chapter of its life.
There are dozens of books to help with publishing and I own quite a few of them. So why does this book stand out as a resource?
Beyond the publishing advice, what can a writer learn from reading and using this book as a resource?
For more information on The Book Doctors, visit http://www.thebookdoctors.com.
Do you think you're ready to pitch your book? Don't miss the Book Doctors and Pitchapalooza at the 2016 NESCBWI Spring Conference. Registration opens February 9, 2016. http://newengland.scbwi.org/category/regional-conference/
Our favorite mentor texts to guide your writing and revisions.