Childrens book reviews by StorySnoops, judge a book by more than its cover, serving fresh scoops of new books for you every day
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Archive for the ‘Children’s Book Week’ Category

A Snoops Retrospective

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Wow!! Looking back on our first two full years in business as the StorySnoops, we have a great deal to reflect on and to be thankful for.

We have read many memorable, extraordinary and powerful books, ranging from fun and funny and light to very heavy and serious and moving. We have met characters we will never forget, enjoyed wild and fantastical plots, and expanded our literary genres. We have especially enjoyed recommending the right book to the right reader at the right time, and we cherish our collective role as “book matchmaker.”

It has been so much fun for our children to be able to ask the authors themselves specific questions about the books they have read, and meeting some of the authors in person…well, it doesn’t get much better than that!

We have had some truly thrilling moments when we have seen replies from some big time authors in our inbox, and have absolutely loved getting the opportunity to ask them questions about some beloved books. Banned Books Week, Teen Read Week, Children’s Book Week – all of these literary events have provided fantastic opportunities to celebrate books and writing and authors – all things that are near and dear to our hearts!

So, as we celebrate two years of StorySnoops, we would like to extend a very special thank you to the authors that have so graciously granted us interviews, and we look forward to many more in the future!

Stephanie Barden

Dave Barry

Josh Berk

Judy Blume

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Jennifer Brown

Meg Cabot

Cassandra Clare

Emma Clayton

Chris Crutcher

Sarah Dessen

Ellen Hopkins

Ryan Jacobson

Kimberley Griffiths Little

Cynthia Lord

Lois Lowry

Wendy Mass

Sarah Mlynowski

Walter Dean Myers

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Richard Newsome

Kiersten White

Clare Vanderpool

Or to see the entire group together, visit our author interview archive page. Thanks!

-The Snoops

Children’s Book Week, Day 4–meet Rebecca Stead here at StorySnoops!

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

In celebration of Children’s Book Week, StorySnoops is once again hosting interviews with some of our friends in the literary world. Children’s Book Week is the national celebration of books and reading for youth. We hope you enjoy our special posts this week.

Today we are joined by one of our favorite authors for middle-graders, Rebecca Stead. Rebecca’s most recent book, When You Reach Me, is the winner of several prestigious awards, including the 2010 Newbery Medal, the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, and more. Destined to become a beloved modern classic, When You Reach Me is a must-read for middle graders of both genders.

Hi Rebecca! We are so happy to be featuring you today! We read that while you have always been passionate about writing, you were actually a public defender at one time. What is it about writing for children that appeals to you?

Writing for children is pretty incredible: First of all, I’m free to write about things that interest me, to dive into big questions about how life works, and more importantly, why. When the story is going well, writing is more satisfying than any other work I’ve done. Second, the community of people in this field – readers, writers, editors, publishing staff, booksellers, teachers, librarians – is unfailingly warm and wonderful.  It’s always a privilege to write for a living, I believe. But to write for children is a privilege and a joy.

Judging by the homage you pay to her in When You Reach Me, you are obviously a huge Madeleine L’Engle fan. Which other authors did you enjoy reading as a child?

So many!  To name a handful: Judy Blume, Louise Fitzhugh, Norma Klein, James Herriot, Louise Meriwether, Robert Heinlein, Paula Danziger, and Sydney Taylor. I read all kinds of books, and was, as you can probably tell, a child of the 70′s.

How has winning the Newbery Award changed your life?

The Newbery has changed my life both irrevocably and not at all. It’s higher praise than I’d ever dared to dream about, and has brought me a lot of readers and invitations to travel, both of which are incredibly wonderful. Again, the word privilege comes to mind. But an award doesn’t change the experience of writing at all (or if it does change the experience, it certainly doesn’t make it easier!).

Have your children read any of your work?

Both of my sons have read my books, including Liar & Spy, which will be out in August. They have favorites (and unfavorites), but I’m not going to disclose them.  They’re 11 and 13, and have high privacy needs.

You have many young fans out there. Do you have any advice for budding young writers?

I’m afraid I have the usual advice, because it is the truth at the deep, deep bottom of my writing life: READ.  Also, don’t question your instinct to write, and don’t ask yourself whether your writing is any good.  Raw material is raw material -protect it, treasure it, and, when you have enough of it, use it to craft your story.  (Do not expect a gorgeous, well-crafted story to simply spill out of you – that happens for no one I know, and this comforts me.)

We are excited about your new book, Liar & Spy, coming out August 2012!  Can you tell us about it?

Liar & Spy is about Georges (pronounced “George”), a seventh-grader in Brooklyn who’s having a tough year: his best friend has ditched him, his dad got laid off, and his family had to sell their beloved house and move into a neighborhood apartment building. There, he meets a kid named Safer who quickly drafts Georges to help him spy on “Mr. X” in the apartment upstairs. At the bottom of all this is a not-so-simple question: what can Georges do to live the life he wants, instead of the one he has?

Thanks for joining us today, Rebecca! If you’d like to keep up with Rebecca and her books, visit her at her website. And don’t miss Liar & Spy, coming out in August. Join us tomorrow for a special StorySnoops retrospective :-)

What makes a reluctant reader so…reluctant?

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

In honor of Children’s Book Week, StorySnoops is hosting interviews with some of our friends in the literary world, as well as some of our own fun blogs celebrating this special week. Children’s Book Week is the national celebration of books and reading for youth. We hope you enjoy our special posts this week.

Today, we are featuring an interview with a reluctant reader to see what makes him tick.  This son of a StorySnoop volunteered himself for the job when we did a poll of our kids’ favorite reads and he scornfully said, “Mom, I don’t like to read.”  Duh.  So here’s a look inside the mind of one thirteen-year-old reluctant reader and what he is willing to read.  We hope it will give you some insights about your own reluctant reader.

What do you think makes you a reluctant reader?

If I feel like if there’s no suspense in a story or something I can relate to, I get immediately bored, which makes me want to read less.

I know you don’t enjoy reading but you do have to read for school.  So what do you look for in a book when you have to choose one?

The only books I like are books with suspense, books about surviving in the wilderness, and biographies or autobiographies.

What is it you like about each of these genres?

Suspense keeps me interested enough to keep reading.  With a story about survival, I can put myself in that position and see what it would be like.  I always read biographies or autobiographies about people I can relate to because I like to understand what they go through.

Is there something that a book has to do from the beginning to catch your attention?

Not necessarily.  What helps is if I’ve heard from others that don’t like to read very much that a book is good.

And it doesn’t help if your mom says it’s a good book?

Not at all because it’s usually not. (Ugh!)

What about graphic novels?  Do they appeal to you at all?

Not really because they usually don’t have the kind of plot that intensifies and keeps you hooked.

Do you care if a book is about a boy or a girl?

No.

If you had three books in front of you that you’ve heard nothing about, how do you choose between them?

I would first look at the title.  Then I would look at the blurb.  If the description matches what I look for in terms of the genre or topics, I flip it open to see how many pages it is and how big the lettering is.

So you wouldn’t just choose the shortest one?

No.  That’s just one factor in my decision.  I don’t really like it when there is a long exposition because the climax gets too long and then it gets boring.  It might enrich the story but the action and the telling of the main events is what holds my attention.

Since you say that you like to get recommendations from readers like you, what books would you recommend to other reluctant readers?

For people who enjoy suspense, I recommend The Hunger Games.  If you like survival stories, my favorite is My Side of the Mountain.  And if you’re into skateboarding, Dropping in with Andy Mac: The Life of a Pro Skateboarder is really good.

Thanks for joining us today! Come back tomorrow to read our interview with award-winning author Rebecca Stead, author of When You Reach Me.

Children’s Book Week, Day 2–meet Anne Ursu here at StorySnoops!

Monday, May 7th, 2012

In celebration of Children’s Book Week, StorySnoops is once again hosting interviews with some of our friends in the literary world. Children’s Book Week is the national celebration of books and reading for youth. We hope you enjoy our special posts this week.

Anne Ursu is the award-winning author of Breadcrumbs, a contemporary retelling of  The Snow Queen, and the three books in The Cronus Chronicles series—The Shadow Thieves, The Siren Song, and The Immortal Fire. She has also written two books for adult readers. Anne teaches at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children, and lives in Minneapolis with her young son.

Hi Anne, and thanks for joining us today.

We have heard a critic call your Breadcrumbs “hypnotizing”, and we can’t think of a better adjective to describe it. Did growing up in Minnesota help you paint such a dream-like and magical snowy world?

Thank you! I certainly did call on my childhood memories writing this book. I remember the feeling of waiting for the school bus standing in snow that rose above your boots. There’s so much character to winter in Minnesota—sometimes you have big fairy flakes, sometimes it’s ice pellets that assault your skin. I vividly remember walking around with my family after an ice storm and it was like the entire world had been encased in ice—perfectly frozen, perfectly still, like it was always going to be that way. So the whole book really is filled with the texture of those memories.

Of all the fairy tales written, what was it about The Snow Queen that made you want to write an updated version of it?

As soon as I read The Snow Queen I was struck by the story of the friendship that was torn apart overnight. It seemed to me to be about how growing up changes and ends friendships, and I immediately wanted to write about that, using contemporary kids but keeping the skeleton and flavor of the fairy tale.

Many characters in this story are attempting to avoid pain by escaping reality –  but they can’t feel happiness either. What inspired/prompted you to write about this theme?

That’s a very interesting question. At first, the story was about Hazel and her escapes—in her games with Jack, in her books. She’s struggling with reality and retreats into fantasy. And as she got into the woods, I found the people she encountered were all doing something similar—they choose escape, but suffer greatly as a result. I think it was important for Hazel to see that, to learn how to live in the world she has—and also for her to understand she can make a choice: numbness or reality and the joy and pain that comes with it. She figures out the real world is better—then it becomes her job to convince Jack.

Sometimes, you figure out what a book is about by writing it. I didn’t really set out to write about this theme; it just kept happening, and eventually I figured out how important it was to the story. So these ideas were ones I tried to bring out in revision.

This is a coming of age story about the inevitable pains that accompany growing up. What message do you want to convey about growing up?

I think as adults we have a tendency to want to protect our kids from any pain, to keep hard things from them, to pretend everything is always going to work out. Except growing up is tough, and part of growing up is becoming aware of the world and how hard it can be. And if we are so busy protecting our kids that we forget to keep them company in the pain and the hardship, we’re leaving them to go through it alone. And I think for Hazel, the book is about realizing how hard growing up can be, but also realizing that she’s up to it, and that these pains bring joys with them as well.

What do you have in the works? What can we look forward to reading from you next?

I have a short story coming out in the next Guys Read collection—Guys Read: The Sports Pages—and I’m just working on beginning a new book now. I’ve found that, after writing a book, it takes me a long time to get over it—I have the world and story and characters so much in my head I can’t even conceive of writing something else.

And from the girls of StorySnoops’ resident book club, the Green Oompa Loompas:

Hi Ms. Ursu! We thought your book was fantastic! It was suspenseful. We’re sure a lot of boys AND girls can relate to this book. We loved how you wrote realistic fiction at the beginning, and then put a whole bunch of fantasy the rest of the way. You described everything really well. We could seriously imagine everything you wrote about. This book is a work of art and we hope to read a lot more of your writing! Thank you for this story!

Thank you! I’m so happy you guys liked it.

We are exactly Hazel’s age and can relate to the changing and growing apart of friends, especially between boys and girls. Do you remember this happening to you when you were our age?

I do. My two best friends for much of elementary school were from the neighborhood, and one was a boy. But by fifth grade, I’d grown apart from both of them. It wasn’t something that happened overnight, like in the book, but so slowly you don’t really even notice until it’s happened. From fifth grade all through middle school my friendships shifted a lot—some of them did end overnight. And some of them were really painful.

In addition to The Snow Queen, we counted many other stories that are referenced in this book such as A Wrinkle In Time, The Little Match Girl, Harry Potter, When You Reach Me, The Golden Compass and many more.  Was this meant as a special treat for those of us who love children’s books?

Yes, that was certainly part of it. I really wanted kids who’d read these books to have that fun moment of recognition when they ran across the references, and I also wanted them to have that moment of connection with Hazel. But it was also really important to me that Hazel was a reader, especially of fantasy—that that’s really how she’d connect to and understand the world. Fantasy means escape for her—until she finds herself in one, that is.

Did the wolves symbolize anything? They kept popping up. Were they watching over Hazel? (We are dying to know!!)

Oh, the wolves! In the first draft of the book, they were there as menacing creatures, threats to Hazel, just like in a fairy tale. But as I rewrote the book, they changed, and became a watchful, even protective presence. Hazel goes into the woods thinking she can trust woodsmen and has to fear wolves, and learns that it’s quite the opposite. So they really symbolized the wildness and lawlessness of the world Hazel found herself in, that you can’t take anything at face value or believe anything you’ve told. I like to think that the wolves try to protect the kids who find themselves in there—they keep Hazel from the woodsman, try to keep her out of the village, and guide her to the Little Match Girl.

Once a young reader told me she thought the wolves were sent by Adelaide and Uncle Martin to watch over Hazel. I loved that.

Thank you so much for your time Ms. Ursu!  If you’d like to keep up with Anne and her latest work, you can visit her on her website. Tomorrow, please join us at StorySnoops.com for an exposé with every literary-minded adult’s favorite challenge: The Reluctant Reader!

It’s Children’s Book Week–we kick it off with our kids’ favorite reads

Monday, May 7th, 2012

In honor of Children’s Book Week, StorySnoops is hosting interviews with some of our friends in the literary world, as well as some of our own fun blogs celebrating this special week. Children’s Book Week is the national celebration of books and reading for youth. We hope you enjoy our special posts this week.

We come up with lists of our favorite books all the time, but we thought we’d switch it up this time and ask the kids. As our regular readers may know, the StorySnoops gang has nine kids between us, ranging in age from 9-16, all of whom fall at different places on the “love to read (or not!)” spectrum. It was a fun exercise, and we got several different types of responses, along with the obligatory eye rolls required of any good teenager. As expected, some answered quickly, no pondering or debating required. Others had trouble narrowing it down, and had to be encouraged to just pick two. Best answer? “I don’t like books.” Ha! Come back on Wednesday to hear more from that Reluctant Reader :-)

But moving right along, here are the books that rate the highest with our gang. In the case of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, the kids who picked those liked the entire series. What about your gang? What are their favorites?

Thanks for joining us today. Hope you’ll come back this week for interviews with two authors we love, Anne Ursu and Rebecca Stead, as well as a grand exposé on that not-so-rare creature we all know: The Reluctant Reader!

-The Snoops

It’s Children’s Book Week–Meet Richard Newsome!

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

In celebration of Children’s Book Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world. Children’s Book Week is the national celebration of books and reading for youth. We hope you enjoy reading about some of our favorite authors. We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is Richard Newsome, award-winning Australian author of The Billionaire’s Curse and The Emerald Casket, the first two titles in The Archer Legacy trilogy about a teen boy who not only inherits $30 billion from his long-lost great aunt, but also an accompanying murder mystery with a pack of villains ready to do him in.

Thank you for joining us Richard!

It sounds like as a child, you were a fan of the fantasy genre, reading The Hobbit (and the presumably the rest of The Lord of the Rings too?) and the Narnia books.  What brought you in the direction of adventure mysteries?

I’ve never really been conscious of reading to a specific genre. As a child, I just loved being swept away by a great story. I read across a huge variety of categories without really falling in love with one. But I do recall a few Christmas holidays at my grandparent’s place in New Zealand where the only thing on the bookshelves that attracted me was the faded Agatha Christie murder mysteries. So I do have a soft spot for a good whodunit. I think the blustering Major Pilkington in The Billionaire’s Curse owes more than a little to a few crusty Christie characters.

You’ve said The Billionaire’s Curse started out as a bedtime story for your children.  How much of that original bedtime story remains?  Are any of the characters based on your children?

The story started out as a simple diamond heist from the British Museum. I started making it up one night to keep the kids entertained and it snowballed from there. I think it’s fair to say almost none of the original version made it to the final draft, apart from two characters: Sam and Ruby. That’s my two eldest kids and I had to put their names in to hold their attention and maintain domestic harmony. From that first night of story-telling to seeing the finished book on a bookstore shelf took 10 years.

You’ve had a few careers, some more exciting than others—does the adventure aspect of your books perhaps reflect a career you haven’t tried yet, but have been secretly thinking about for a while?

I’ve worked as a shopping trolley collector (not exciting), as a newspaper and TV reporter (quite exciting), as a strategy consultant (who was I kidding?) and as a corporate spin doctor (at which I was scarily proficient). In terms of adventure though, to me it represents complete freedom. If you’re in the middle of a hair-raising adventure, you’re not worrying about an English assignment due on Wednesday or whether you remembered to take out the trash. You are wholly focused on escape and survival. And that is what a good adventure book should do: transport you from the humdrum of everyday life and drop you in the middle of an all-consuming romp that makes everything else just fade away.

How much on-site research do you do for your books?

In short, heaps. It’s my old newspaper training coming through. For me to adequately describe a scene, I really need to have been there. I need to know what the late afternoon light looks like, what aromas float in the air, is the beach sand fine or gritty? For The Billionaire’s Curse I flew to England and checked out a half dozen sites that played important parts in the story. For The Emerald Casket, I knew the story was going to take place mostly in India so I packed the notebook and pencil and flew to New Delhi. The final book in the series, The Mask of Destiny, had me exploring France and Italy. Writing can be a lonely occupation, so you’ve got to spice things up where you can.

We American fans want to know why the lag between the Australian publication date and American publication date on your books?

I think it has something to do with the international date line and the fact Australia is a 14-hour flight from the west coast of the US. There is about a nine-month lag between the publication of my books in Australia and when they are published in the US. That just reflects the publishers’ schedules and the fact the first book was well advanced in the production process down here before it was sold to the great folks at Walden Pond Books in the USA. I haven’t quite reached the stage where there’s a global release date a la Harry Potter, but who knows, maybe one day.

We’ve heard that you just wrapped up some writing—was it The Mask of Destiny? Can you give us a “StorySnoops Exclusive” sneak preview of what we have to look forward to?

You bet. There’s this major twist at the very end. It turns out that the villain is actually the teen boy hero’s father! No one’s going to expect that. It’ll blow people’s minds. You promise not to tell? (StorySnoops: Our lips are sealed!)

Look for The Emerald Casket in bookstores in the U.S. this month. For more information about Richard and the rest of The Archer Legacy, visit his website.  We’ve had a great time putting together these Children’s Book Week interviews.  If you’ve missed any, we hope you’ll check out the entire series here, and let us know what you think!

It’s Children’s Book Week–Meet Wendy Mass!

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

In celebration of Children’s Book Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world.Children’s Book Week is the national celebration of books and reading for youth. We hope you enjoy reading about some of our favorite authors.  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Today’s post is a guest interview, conducted by StorySnoops’ favorite book club, the Green Oompa Loompas.

Hi! We’re a group of  fifth grade girls that are in a book club called the Green Oompa Loompas. Our names are: Holly, Hailey Anne, Julia, Avery, Hayley Kay, Gabby, Eva, and Maddy. We like to read books by different authors and all kinds of genres and talk about random things. This month, we read 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. We have also read another book of hers called The Candymakers. We love this author, so we decided to interview her to get to know her a little better.

Where did you come up with the idea for 11 Birthdays?

I wanted to write a lighthearted book about friendship and forgiveness and second chances. Somehow second chances turned into eleven chances! I was also really interested in writing a time travel book, but there seemed to be a bunch of those out, so instead I made them stuck in time. The same—but different. :o

What were you like when you were eleven, and if you could, what would you go back and say to the eleven year old you?

I was pretty fearless back then. I remember riding down a hill on my skateboard as though nothing was wrong with that idea. Of course I wound up bloody and bruised at the bottom! I think I worried a lot too, though. That year (5th grade) was hard because none of my friends were in my class and I had to make all new ones. If I could talk to 11 year old me, I’d tell myself to pay more attention in class, wear a helmet when skateboarding, and not to care when no one picked me to be on their team in gym class! :o

We know that your book Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is being made into a movie. Do you have plans to make any of your other books into movies?

Jeremy Fink is supposed to be out this summer, which is very exciting. I can’t wait to see it! None of the other books are headed to the screen any time soon, but hopefully in the future. I’d love to see 11 Birthdays made into a film, or The Candymakers.

What inspires the characters you write about? Where do you come up with them?

To create characters, I sit down and interview them. I ask a list of 20 questions and then the person comes to life through their answers. Things like, “What do you look like, what is your family like, your personality, strengths, weaknesses, etc.” That way each character is unique because I’ll pick different answers up front for them. I try to create people that the reader will care about, whether or not they completely identify with them.

Which character in all of your books is most like you?

Hmm…well, maybe Mia from my first novel, A Mango-Shaped Space. I think I put more of myself and my own experiences in the earlier books. But in a sense, every character (even the boys) has a part of me in them. I think that’s how it is with every writer, even when we try to avoid it.

How long does it take you to write a book?

That depends on how much research is involved. With real fact-based ones like A Mango-Shaped Space, or Every Soul a Star, which is about astronomy, or even The Candymakers, it took about a year or two. With the ones like 11 Birthdays or Finally, which require much less time reading other books or teaching myself new subjects, it’s closer to 8 months.

J.K. Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was rejected by publishers eleven times before it was finally accepted. How many times was your first book rejected, if any?

Hey, J.K. Rowling and I have something in common! Eleven sounds about right. I had many more than that (50!!)  if you include other attempts both before and after the first novel came out. The whole process really taught me about the importance of perseverance, and about not giving up on something if it’s really important to you.

What book are you working on right now, and when is your next book coming out?

My next book, 13 Gifts, is coming out in September, followed by a fairy tale series called Twice Upon a Time that will be out the following spring/summer, followed by my first attempt at science fiction, which I’m really excited about. Then I get to rest for like, a week, and then it starts back up again. :o

Thank you for your time, Ms. Mass! We love you!

I love you guys, too!! Keep reading!!

-wm

For more information on Wendy and her books, visit her website. Check back tomorrow to hear from award-winning Australian author Richard Newsome. We’ve had a great time putting together these Children’s Book Week interviews and hope you’ll check out the entire series here, and let us know what you think!

It’s Children’s Book Week–Meet Dave Barry!

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

In celebration of Children’s Book Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world. Children’s Book Week is the national celebration of books and reading for youth. We hope you enjoy reading about some of our favorite authors.  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is Dave Barry, humor columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winner for commentary who, in his spare time, has written thirty books.  These include the hilarious Science Fair and one of our favorite series, Peter and the Starcatchers, all of which were written with co-author (and co-rock band member!) Ridley Pearson.

Has anything changed about your approach to writing since you won the Pulitzer Prize?

Nothing major, that I can think of. I still mainly try to be amusing, and I still worry a lot that I am failing.

Have you done a single interview since winning the Pulitzer Prize that has not included a question about winning the Pulitzer Prize?

Probably not. If the interviewer fails to mention it, I bring it up via some subtle statement such as, “By the way, I won a Pulitzer Prize.”

Your columns explore everything from politics to exploding toilets.  How did you decide to write books for children?

Ridley Pearson suggested it. He and I are in a terrible all-author rock band, and one year when we were playing in Miami he stayed at my house. We were having breakfast, and he said he’d been thinking about writing a prequel to Peter Pan, and asked if I’d be interested, and I said yes. And then I said, “By the way, I won a Pulitzer Prize.”

How is the process of writing with a partner different from writing on your own?

The main difference is you have to know ahead of time what you’re going to write. When I’m writing alone, I rarely know this. Sometimes I don’t even know it AFTER I’ve written.

How does one begin the task of creating the backstory for J. M. Barrie’s legendary character Peter Pan?

One spends a lot of time arguing with Ridley Pearson.

How do you feel about the impact of the internet on journalism and newspapers?  Has it changed your job as a columnist in any way?

The Internet has badly hurt newspapers financially — there aren’t as many of them, and they have much less space, which means they publish fewer columns.

Can we look forward to a fifth book in the Peter and the Starcatchers series?

Yes you can, though it’s going to be quite different from the others — almost a whole new series. He said mysteriously.

For more of Dave Barry’s distinctive humor, check out his column in the Miami Herald and his website. Check back tomorrow to hear from Wendy Mass, award-winning author of  several children’s books, including Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life and A Mango-Shaped Space.  We’ve had a great time putting together these Children’s Book Week interviews and hope you’ll check out the entire series here, and let us know what you think!

It’s Children’s Book Week–Meet Stephanie Barden!

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

In celebration of Children’s Book Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world. Children’s Book Week is the national celebration of books and reading for youth. We hope you enjoy reading about some of our favorite authors.  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is Stephanie Barden, a first time author from Seattle, who just recently released the first book in a new series for elementary aged girls called Cinderella Smith.

Thank you for joining us Stephanie!

Thank you for having me ~ it’s such an honor!

You got into writing on the sage advice of your then three-year-old son Joe! What was the journey from story-telling mom to published author like?

It was full of fits and starts, like so many things for a parent. In Joe’s elementary years I took several writing classes, started tons of stories, but never finished a one. During his middle school years I worked on completing what I started and learned the importance of revise~revise~revise. When Joe started high school I set a writing schedule for myself and tried to be more serious! Finally, somewhere between his sophomore and junior year, I decided I had something worth sharing. I sent Cinderella Smith off to 20 agents and got 18 “no thank you’s”, 1 “maybe” and 1 “yes”. (And luckily you only need one!) My agent found two publishers who were interested and I chose to work with Barbara Lalicki at HarperCollins. She’s Beverly Cleary’s editor too, so I knew Cinderella and I were in good hands.

As a first time author, you could choose any demographic as your audience.  What drew you to the elementary set?

I teach classes to school groups at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, so I spend lots of time with the elementary age group. Their enthusiasm and interest in the world around them is contagious. I love too their combination of sophistication and naivety. (While visiting a school today for example, I got both of these questions: 1) Do you like to use first- or third-person voice best? And 2) Do you think a bird could steal Cinderella’s shoe in the next book and drop it in a dumpster so she would have to dumpster-dive and get all gross?)

You have a high school aged son—about as opposite from Cinderella Smith as can be.  Where do you get your little girl insight?  Do you have a muse?

My first muses were my three nieces.  One of them left one of her shoes in my car when I was visiting and that gave me the idea for Cinderella Smith. They live in California though, and I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, so I always keep my ears open for snippets of conversation and eyes open for funny interactions that I can use in my writing. (Airports and grocery stores are terrific places to “spy”.) And although it’s been quite a while, I do tap in to my own memories of my elementary years.

Do you have a plan in place for direction of the Cinderella Smith series, or do you take on each title as it comes?

I have a very loose plan for the series, but I’m quite willing to let the writing take me where it will. That’s one of my favorite things about the writing process ~ handing the story over to my characters and letting them do what feels right to them.

Which other children’s lit character do you think Cinderella Smith would enjoy hanging out with?

What a fun question! Let’s see… Fern in Charlotte’s Web, Claudia in From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird and, of course, Ramona!

Can you give us StorySnoops-exclusive preview of what Cinderella Smith and the More the Merrier will be about?

Certainly ~ it’s in my illustrator, Diane Goode’s hands now, so I think the editing is finally finished and the story is set! In The More the Merrier, Cinderella’s aunt and her crazy cat are staying with the girls while their parents are away. The Rosemarys continue to create problems for Cinderella and Erin, especially in regards to the up-coming spelling bee. There are more escaped pets, lost shoes and tap dancing too. And I think Cinderella learns a little bit more about standing up for herself this time around.

Cinderella Smith is in stores now.  To learn more about Stephanie visit her website. Check back tomorrow to hear from columnist/author/funny guy Dave Barry! If you’ve missed any of our author interviews this week, check out the entire series here, and let us know what you think!

It’s Children’s Book Week–Meet Clare Vanderpool!

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

In celebration of Children’s Book Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world.Children’s Book Week is the national celebration of books and reading for youth. We hope you enjoy reading about some of our favorite authors.  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our first guest is Clare Vanderpool, author of the 2011 Newbery Award for Moon Over Manifest.  Although Clare has wanted to be a writer since she was in fifth grade, she decided to get serious about it after her first child was born. She wrote Moon Over Manifest over the course of six years while raising four children.  It is set during the Great Depression in Kansas, where Clare was raised and still currently resides.

In Moon Over Manifest, The main character, Abilene, spends the summer away from her father searching for answers about his past.  Why did you choose a historical setting for Abilene’s story?

I am a very nostalgic person and have always been a big fan of historical fiction.  For me historical novels are the closest thing to time travel which, if that were possible, I would definitely want to try!  I love imagining what life was like in a time other than now.  Also, I think some of the experiences Abilene had and the freedom she and her friends had to roam all over town was better suited for the 1930’s.

There is a little something in Abilene that almost every young reader can relate to or admire.  How did you go about creating such an authentic character and voice?

I almost hate to say this because it might sound like I was sitting down on the job (which I was, actually), but I feel like Abilene showed up on the scene very clear and well-formed from the beginning.  My job was to allow her to act and speak in a way that was real and authentic to who she is.  She is a strong and straight-forward character but does not have a lot of flash about her.  That’s what I really liked about Abilene.  She has a distinct voice and view of the world around her and I enjoyed letting her be herself.  It might have been easy to overplay her, to make her act cute or funny or spunky in ways that are not true to her.  I think part of Abilene’s strength is in just being herself and my job as a writer was to not get in the way of that.   I remember one time early on in the book when I started to go down the wrong path with Abilene.  It was during the schoolroom scene when she’s first meeting the other kids in town.  I typed out something kind of showy or flippant that Abilene said and immediately knew it was wrong.  I deleted that line and didn’t get too far off track after that.

You wrote this book while raising four small children. How did you juggle it all?

You know, looking back on it, I don’t know how I did it either.  But at the time, it was just part of what I did, just like folding laundry or changing diapers.  I would carve out small increments of time to write during naptimes, early morning hours, long stop lights, etc.  And there were times, when I just had to set the writing aside for a while because I just couldn’t do it.  But the story stayed in my head and even when I wasn’t writing, the story was still simmering.  In hindsight, I’m grateful for all that time of mulling over the story, which I think added layers and texture that wouldn’t have been there if I’d had a more concentrated period of time to write the story more quickly.

How has winning the Newbery Award changed your life?

My home life is very much the same.  We tell the kids, you still have jobs on Saturday morning, we still shop at Target.  The goal is to keep life normal.  But my life as an author has definitely changed.  I have received many invitations to speak at schools and book festivals around the country.  Probably the best part about winning the Newbery has been the way my local communities in Wichita and in Kansas, have embraced the book and this wonderful honor of winning the Newbery Medal.  Everyone is very excited about it.  I say it’s like there’s this big Newbery train and everyone feels free to jump on!

Moon Over Manifest reads like a classic.  Which classic children’s books are on the “must read” list for your own children?

There are some of the old classics like Anne of Green Gables, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, and The Scarlet Pimpernel (I always have to think twice before saying that last title because of the famous Looney Tunes version of “The Scarlet Pumpernickel” starring Daffy Duck).

Then there are the modern day classics of Island of the Blue Dolphins, A Wrinkle in Time, Lily’s Crossing, A Long Way from Chicago, and A Year Down Yonder.

So many great books to choose from!

We recommend Moon Over Manifest on our website as an excellent choice for book clubs.  What question would you use to kick off a discussion about this book at a tween book club meeting?

I always like to know who a reader’s favorite character is and why.  And also, what their favorite scene is in the book and why.  Kids must like to know that too because I get asked both of those questions a lot.

What can we look forward to next from you? Are you currently working on another book?

I am working on another middle grade novel that I am very excited about.  This one is about a Kansas boy who gets uprooted from his home in Abilene, Kansas (I must be stuck on Abilene), and put in a boys’ boarding school in Maine.  The story is set in the mid 1940’s just after World War II and involves a quest of sorts in the woods of Maine.  It will come out either in the fall of 2012 or spring of 2013.

We’re excited to read your upcoming novel, Clare! Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. For more information about Clare, please check out her website. Check back tomorrow to hear from Stephanie Barden. We have had a great time putting these Children’s Book Week interviews together and hope you’ll check out the entire series here, and let us know what you think!