Monday, January 22, 2018

Three Funny Books You Need to Know About


Happy New Year!


(I know I'm late, but never mind!)

I don't know about you, but I did a lot of reading over the holidays. And whenever I finish a particularly good book I'm always hopping around dying to rave about it to anyone who will listen.

And I particularly love a book that makes me laugh out loud.

That's not as easy as it sounds.

Sure, I love to laugh.




But to make me laugh out loud while I'm reading? Not common. Make me float up to the ceiling? Not as much as I would like!

So I thought I'd start 2018 year off by recommending three middle grade books that will tickle your funny bones, even as they're thrilling you or inspiring you.

I'm already thinking about re-reading them!

These are in no particular order, but I promise that you'll giggle. Heck, you might even chortle. Or you may find yourself on the ceiling, floating on all those laughter bubbles!

1) ODDITY





I knew this book was for me when I read the following line on the first page:

Why not prepare him a little before setting angry leopards loose in the gym, instead of letting him drag down our class' score?

This adventure/mystery book has the best world-building ever. Carnivorous dumpsters. Zombie rabbits. Evil alien puppets. Rashes that turn out to be spider nests.

This is funny? Nope - this is hysterical. And just when you think Sarah Cannon can't come up with something even more bizarre or funny, she tops herself.

One of the most original books I have read in years, I still smile when I think of the images  and some of the lines in this book.

Buy it or borrow it and thank me later!

2) SVEN CARTER AND THE TRASHMOUTH EFFECT




Trashmouth Effect?

Sven's not your usual protagonist, what with his propensity for eating disgusting things - licking the top of his school desk, eating a handful of dirt from a potted plant, munching on used cotton balls at the dentist's office.

Trust me - this all makes sense pretty quickly!

At first you squirm, but then you laugh. A lot. Because Rob Vlock has written a witty, ironic novel that kids are going to swallow hook, line and sinker. (and really - wouldn't you rather they ate this book than used cotton balls?)

Another mystery/adventure novel, we root for Sven as he comes to grips with who he is and what his place is in the universe.

With his sidekick Alicia - who is like Lara Croft for middle graders - Sven needs to save the world. And luckily for us, we get to take the thrilling, hysterical ride along the way!


3) ENGINERDS





You know you are in for a ride when the robot eats ALL the food and starts shooting cubes out of his butt.

Which is when I could hear the cheers of middle graders everywhere in my head.

This books has it all:


  • enterprising kids
  • Self-building robots that don't like radishes and want to take over the world
  • Dogs named Kitty
  • Characters with the funniest and at times, most deadpan reactions. 


I laughed my way through this book, enjoying the clever plot. But was careful not to stand behind any of the robots...


So those are my recent favourite funny reads. Would love to hear about some funny books you've read lately!




Monday, January 15, 2018

Reframing Your Thinking

Over the weekend I was at a meet with the all-girls robotics team I mentor. After winning the first match, the robot was riddled with small problems, connectivity issues, and just generally not functioning in the way it had in the past. Most the girls were disappointed but taking it in stride. One individual however, began to get upset, focusing on the fact that the coed team at their school was beating them. This was a full stop for me. I realized that this individual was focusing on the wrong things. Winning and losing had become more important than the main reason this team started, which was to build confidence in young women, get them excited about STEM, teach them to code and use tools, and help them learn to problem solve. And that is what this team has done time and time again. Sure winning is great, but it's a corollary to all the other things this team does so successfully--help girls grow, develop, be confident, and get engaged in STEM.

So what does all this have to do with writing?

Great question!

Quite a lot actually. I think as writers we often get so hung up on the fact that we aren't published, don't have an agent, didn't make this list, didn't get nominated for that award, aren't selling books and on and on and on. We see other writers doing exactly what we can't and wonder why, wonder if we're any good, wonder if we can compete with that. We compare ourselves to others rather than thinking about what we're really trying to accomplish.

We need to reframe our thinking. I mean sure we all want to get agents and get published and make all our writing dreams come true. That said, we really need to take a step back and understand why we write what we do and what we are trying to accomplish by doing so. And realize that there a lot of roads to getting there. Just because something worked for someone else doesn't necessarily mean it's the right path for you.
But reframing thinking is just the first step. Going back to the robotics team for a minute, once we were focusing on what the team was really about, the team still had issues to work through. We had to get to the root of the problem. After this particular match that didn't go well, the cable to the phone had come loose and the phone was no longer connected to the robot. This meant the robot couldn't receive any commands from the controls. We looked at the root of the problem which was we had a bad connection and needed a new cable. Once we fixed that, the robot stayed connected in the next match, and the team won again.

So once again what does this have to do with writing? Sometimes we get so focused on the details and that the overall goal that isn't getting accomplished, we end up in a fog and can't get anything done because we can't see what the real problem is anymore. In writing when we aren't able to meet our goals, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves, "What am I really trying to accomplish here and what is preventing me from doing that?" Sometimes the answer is really simple, you can correct it and be on your way. Other times it's not so simple and the issue requires some extra thought and work. But again by reframing where your focus is, you can often see things in a new light.
As we start a new year, I encourage everyone to take a step back in 2018. Think about what's really important in your writing, why you do it, and if you aren't succeeding, what is the real root of the problem. Then get to work and start fixing it! 2018 can be a great year, you just have to reframe your thinking a little and start with something fresh.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Middle Grade Movies to Entice Reluctant Readers

Just about everyone loves movies. They’re big, exciting, and capture our ever-shifting attention. But they can’t compete with books for stimulating thought and imagination. 

Both books and movies have an important place in our culture and in our learning. But with all the hype and fun surrounding movies, how do we persuade reluctant readers to give reading (and their imaginations) a chance?

THE PERKS OF READING

  • Novels spark readers’ creativity, they prompt us to ponder life and to consider new and different places and situations. 
  • When we take the time to read a novel, we are investing in it. This investment pays off. 
  • Novels provide hours of entertainment. The stories stick with us, even years later. 
  • There’s also a payoff of increased knowledge, thought, and mental development. 


MOVIE VERSIONS OF BOOKS CAN MOTIVATE READING

Despite the awesome perks of reading, sometimes it’s tough to convince kids to crack open a book. But if they know the book has been made into a movie, sometimes that can be just the motivation they need. Especially if Mom or Dad require the reading before the movie watching. 

This has worked wonders in my family. The kids not only read the books, but sometimes develop a fascination for a series that grows into an appetite for reading in general. 

They also start to realize films must gloss over detail to fit into a couple hours. They start to recognize the richness of the reading experience, both in the added detail and in the room for imagination.

With this in mind, here’s some great middle grade books that have been made into movies. Enjoy!

MIDDLE GRADE AT THE MOVIES


Harry Potter (series)


Percy Jackson (series)


Chronicles of Narnia (series)


The Hobbit (series)


Wonder

Goosebumps (series)

A Wrinkle in Time (series)

Hugo


Alice in Wonderland


The Golden Compass



What are some of your favorite middle grade books that have been made into movies? What do you love about the film version and the book version?

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Ostrich and Other Lost Things, by Beth Hautala

The world needs this book.


The Ostrich and Other Lost Things, by Beth Hautala, was a story I could not put down. Seriously. I read it in two days.  

Eleven-year-old Olivia wishes things could go back to the way they were before her brother Jacob lost his toy ostrich. Ever since he lost it, his autism has seemed much worse. Olivia loves Jacob, but is frustrated with his meltdowns. She wishes she had a more “normal” family, where they don’t have to do things in any particular way, don’t have to worry about crowds or driving slowly on back roads, and don’t have a bunch of doctors and therapists coming over to the house to “observe”. Maybe, if Olivia can find the toy ostrich, things will go back to how they were before.

When the local community theater holds auditions for a children’s production of Olivia’s favorite play, Peter Pan, Olivia jumps at the chance to do something for herself. She auditions and gets the part of Peter, which is great except that her parents push Jacob to audition too. With Jacob in the play, Olivia knows something will go wrong. It always does.

Of course, things go crazy onstage and off. What’s crazier than a real, live ostrich that keeps escaping from the local traveling zoo and showing up in Olivia’s backyard? Is he trying to send her a message about things that are lost? About the power of Jacob’s toy ostrich to return things to normal?

As Olivia befriends Charlie, a blind boy who lives with his mom in a trailer behind the traveling zoo, she discovers that “normal” doesn’t mean what she thinks it does. Olivia loves Charlie’s positive spirit and willingness to help search for Jacob’s toy. But when Olivia opens up about her frustrations with her brother, Charlie questions her. He says, “So, just to be sure I’m getting this straight, you want the kind of family where everyone is healthy? And where you can do stuff together, and go places together, and everyone behaves themselves, and no one gets too worked up? So, not like the kind of family that lives at a zoo, and where someone is blind or anything? Normal like that?”

Instantly, Olivia is sorry. When she’s around Charlie, it isn’t awkward or scary or weird at all. But understandably, Charlie doesn’t want to be her friend right now. Olivia feels all alone. Jacob’s meltdowns are turning physical, he has an outburst during Peter Pan, and then he destroys her beloved costume.

And then the worst thing of all happens. Jacob goes missing. He runs away from home and Olivia knows it’s because of a mean thing she said to him.

Without giving away too many spoilers, I will leave you with this quote from Charlie, a good friend who teaches Olivia a few things about love and forgiveness:

“Look, people who are hurting say and do hurtful things,” he went on. “…when you hurt someone you love, either by accident or on purpose, you can always go back and work on the broken places. They might not look exactly like they did before, but they can be even better in the end. Stronger.”

 And here’s a closing thought from Olivia:

“Charlie and my brother and an ostrich had shown me how to look inside people, where they were the most real, the most lost, and to love them anyway.”

As Olivia says, learning to love is hard. 

But there’s nothing more important.

My rating: Five stars. Heartfelt, lyrical writing. A story that will open your heart to the power of unconditional love.

The Ostrich and Other Lost Things is coming February, 2018 from Philomel Books.

Here’s where you can preorder this amazing book:
https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780399546068
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/537792/the-ostrich-and-other-lost-things-by-beth-hautala/