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Archive for the ‘Author Interviews’ Category

Best of Banned Books Week: Interview with Lois Lowry

Friday, October 5th, 2012

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a retrospective of some of our favorite “frequently-challenged” author interviews and book reviews. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. Check out the ALA timeline, showing significant banned and challenged books over the past 30 years. These are some of our all-time favorites—can you imagine someone denying you access to these books?

Our guest today is Lois Lowry, the award-winning author of more than thirty books for children, including one of the most frequently challenged books for the past decade, The Giver.

Thanks for joining us today Lois.  We’re thrilled to have you!

For anyone who has read The Giver, it is almost impossible to miss the irony.  In the past decade, there have been many attempts to control access to this book that eloquently illustrates the danger of too much control in society.  Were you surprised when The Giver was first challenged?  How has censorship affected you personally?

Yes, I was very surprised the first time I heard of an attempt to censor The Giver.  Now, of course, many years later, it has happened so often that I hardly even notice. But it does make me sad, still.

Does having a book on the frequently banned or challenged list affect your writing in any way?

No. If anything, it has made me aware how important it is to deal with serious issues in books. I don’t shy away from them, for fear of censorship; and my publisher, thankfully, feels the same way.

You have said, “I try, through writing, to convey my passionate awareness that we live intertwined on this planet and that our future depends upon our caring more, and doing more, for one another.”  What is the ultimate impact of censorship on this message?

I stand by that message, even though I said those words many years ago.  I care about today’s kids and worry about their future. So I try in my own way to stand for the things that will guarantee their freedom. Fighting censorship is important. All totalitarian governments restrict freedom of speech. We have to work to guard against that kind of ominous governmental intrusion.

Many of your books, including Newbery Award winner Number the Stars, touch upon this theme.  What experiences in you own life have made human connections the focus of your writing?

I grew up during WW II and have lived, now, through many other conflicts. My son was a military officer killed in a fighter plane. I am unendingly aware of the sacrifices all of us make on behalf of democracy and individual freedoms.

And now some questions from a Junior Snoop, who just read The Giver in middle school.

• The ending of the Giver is unclear. Did Jonas reach Elsewhere, or did you leave it intentionally open for interpretation?

I left it open to interpretation at first but have gone on, now to write three other books to follow The Giver.  The first two are Gathering Blue and Messenger,  The third is written but not yet titled or published. Jonas…and Gabriel…are major characters in it.

• Is there a reason that you ended the Giver with Jonas on the sled? Does it have any relation to the fact that riding on the sled was the first memory Jonas received?

When a writer inserts a strong image…..such as the memory of the sled…..that writer will usually repeat the image later in the book. (Now that I have told you that, you will start to notice it in other books!)

Join us tomorrow for the StorySnoops SuperScoop review of The Giver. And if you’ve missed any of our BBW 2012 posts you can find them right here.

Best of Banned Books Week: Interview with Walter Dean Myers

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a retrospective of some of our favorite “frequently-challenged” author interviews and book reviews. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. Check out the ALA timeline, showing significant banned and challenged books over the past 30 years. These are some of our all-time favorites—can you imagine someone denying you access to these books?

Our guest today is Walter Dean Myers, the highly decorated author of more than fifty books.  His book, Fallen Angels, has been on the list of the top ten most frequently challenged books a few times in the past decade.

Thanks for joining us today Walter.  We’re honored to have you!

Good morning!

Obviously, no author is in favor of restricting access to literature.  What do you feel are the dangers of this practice?  Does the existence of book challenges ever cross your mind when you are writing?

Book challenges are, primarily, generated by the fear that a book will somehow damage a child by changing what is considered to be a valued norm. In my mind when a book touches upon a controversial subject it is precisely because the norm has already been significantly changed, and the author has had the courage to acknowledge this. Many of the challenges to Fallen Angels have dealt with the use of profanity in the book. The execution of war involves, on a very basic level, getting law abiding, and humane people into a mode that allows them to kill other human beings for whom they have no personal animosity. The use of profanity is part of the conversion process as is the dehumanizing effect of referring to an enemy with such terms as ‘gooks’ and ‘slants’. When I write a book that is liable to be challenged it is because I have detected a change in what is advertised as the accepted norm.

Why do you feel it is important for young readers to be exposed to some of the difficult subject matter present in your books?

One of society’s ways of trying to protect young people is by not openly discussing our problems. But many children will one day face the problems and all children will have to deal with them on some level. When I find a subject that is clearly bothersome to me I am drawn to exploring that subject in a book. I did hundreds of pages of interviews in adult prisons before I began Monster. Eventually, I discovered how many of the adult prisoners had children on the outside, and I began to visit juvenile prisons. What disturbed me most in my research was how often children have to make decisions under the pressures of the moment instead of having the benefit of previous discussions in the classroom or around the dinner table.  Literature can, to an extent, replace these discussions.

Do you feel like there is one unifying objective or message woven through your body of work when looked at in its entirety?  If so, how does this affect new projects?

If there is a universal theme in my work it deals with man’s need to identify and celebrate, within a given culture, his own humanity.  This is the ultimate goal of my characters.

Monster is a thought-provoking story about a sixteen-year-old boy on trial for murder.  It raises questions about moral culpability, the consequences of bad choices, and the impact of race and socioeconomic background on the justice system.  How would you recommend kicking off a book club discussion of Monster?

A book club discussion of Monster might begin with the differences between the protagonist’s legal obligations and his moral posture.  I still get dozens of letters from young people (and some teachers) saying that Steve should never have been brought to trial because he didn’t actually pull the trigger.  The lack of understanding of the law here is tragic.  Any participation in a felony exposes the actor to penalties incurred by all the participants.

One of the most important things an author can do to get teens to read his books is to write authentic teen characters, and you do a remarkable job at this.  Where do you get your insight?

I think writers explore the human condition, which everyone recognizes. A teenager in modern day Alabama can recognize the humanity in Shakespeare’s King Lear.

On the same topic, when teen reader Ross Workman contacted you with this same thought, you ended up writing a book with him, Kick. This must have been the experience of a lifetime for Mr. Workman!  Can you tell us more about how the whole thing came about, and how it was working with a novice to create a virtually seamless novel?

It was a pleasure working with Ross Workman. While we differed in age and background we had a common interest in writing in general, and in the particular story we attempted. When Ross contacted me by email I was impressed with the range of his interests.   He played several sports, including soccer, and also played in the school band. He was a doer. I suggested an exercise to him, that we try to put an outline together and see where it led us. He was enthused about the idea and it was his enthusiasm, plus the intelligent way he handled criticism, that kept us going through several drafts, and eventually the book Kick.

What are some contemporary books written by other authors that you think are important for your readers to read?

Two books which I have enjoyed are Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Anyone who has spoken to as many young girls in prisons as I have understands the trauma involved in sexual assault and the difficulties dealing with it in our society.

Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos discusses how one industry has made a huge difference in the way people have moved across our globe and the way that movement has changed not only their lives, but the entire world.

Thank you for joining us Walter! For more information on what Walter is up to, visit his website.

Please join us tomorrow for an interview with award-winning author Lois Lowry. If you’ve missed any of the BBW 2012 series, you can find it all right here.

Best of Banned Books Week: Meet Phyllis Reynolds Naylor!

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a retrospective of some of our favorite “frequently-challenged” author interviews and book reviews. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. Check out this ALA timeline, showing significant banned and challenged books over the past 30 years. These are some of our all-time favorites—can you imagine someone denying you access to these books?

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is a prolific children’s author, well known for her trilogy, Shiloh, a 1992 Newbery Medal winner. She has also won two Edgar Awards in the Best Juvenile Mystery category. Phyllis writes the popular Alice series, for which she receives tons of fan mail from young girls who not only rave about her books, but ask her advice on a wide range of topics.

We are honored to have with us today, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, award-winning author of more than one hundred and thirty five books! Phyllis, your Alice books have been on the frequently banned/challenged book lists. What in these books was most “challenged” and were you surprised?

I believe it’s been “inappropriate language” and “sexual content.” It varies from censor to censor.  I’m amazed, but not surprised, because about the only swearing that takes place is an occasional “O’m'god!” from one of the girls, and though the sexual thoughts and conversations are fairly graphic in nature, they are not pornographic and are definitely honest and realistic. I’ve been especially amazed–awed, really–by the shock over some passages in one of the Alice prequels, Lovingly Alice, in which Alice finds out about sexual intercourse, asking real questions, and getting wholesome, loving answers from her dad (with, in Alice’s case, humorous asides from a teenage brother). This, to me, is the way a child should learn the facts of life– from her family.

Have you ever been cautioned or asked by a publisher to “tone down” anything in your writing?

One of my editors, in discussing censorship issues, suggested that when I had the choice of using a swear word or a less controversial word, to choose the less controversial if it seemed to make no difference to the story. But that if I felt a character would speak or react in a way that made the swear word imperative, I should use it. That’s been my guide. I read my manuscripts aloud, over and over, taking the part of various characters, and if I feel that a teenage boy, for example, in a certain situation would say, “Oh, shit!” then shit it is. When we start substituting words that change a character’s personality, we’re in danger of losing not only our audience but our story.

One of the things we love most about your books is your frank and honest portrayal of puberty. What inspired you to write about this topic?

Not only my own questions about bodies as I was growing up, but the personal questions and problems readers ask me on the Alice website,, some of which I publish (without names) on the fan mail page, others I answer personally by email. High on the list are worries about their own bodies, especially their genitalia, and misconceptions about sexual play with their boyfriends and getting pregnant. I hope I’ve established over the years that I try to answer their questions as honestly as I can, being neither a doctor nor a psychologist, just an enlightened grandmother, and that I do not judge them.

You capture the adolescent angst/embarrassment very well. Did someone inspire you, or do you just have a really good memory?

I have a really good memory for every embarrassing thing that ever happened to me. In fact, I remember each year of grade and middle and high school mostly by some stupid thing that I did, and I must admit that in my later years, when my mother would write that Mr. so-and-so had died, and this was a person who had witnessed one of my ridiculous moments, I would feel a guilty relief that the witness was gone and had taken the memory of my humiliation with him.

We have noticed a recurring theme (in the Alice books and Faith, Hope and Ivy June) of self-discovery and acceptance and not judging people by their outward appearances. Is this something you feel strongly about instilling in young women?

Very much so.  I hear from a lot of girls who are angry that the guys in their class seem most interested in the most physically attractive girls with the most outgoing personalities, ignoring the quieter, plainer girls. I sometimes feel compelled to ask them if they themselves pay attention to some of the more plain and quiet boys at school. All you have to do to see that plain and pretty girls alike get married is to look at the neighbors around you and see the variety of couples. Look at the wedding and engagement photos in the newspaper. Though appearance and intelligence and a sense of humor all matter, it often comes down to whom we feel most comfortable with, what person brings out the best in us and lets us be ourselves. If we want to be judged not only by how we look but how we think and feel, then we have to extend the same courtesy to others.

Thank you for joining us Phyllis.  You can find all of the StorySnoops reviews of Phyllis’ books here.

Come back tomorrow for our Super Scoop review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower , now a major motion picture, and a perennial entry on the ALA’s Frequently Challenged Books list. If you’ve missed any of the Best of Banned Books Week series, you can find it right here.

-The Snoops

Best of Banned Books Week: Judy Blume talks censorship and more!

Monday, October 1st, 2012

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a retrospective of some of our favorite “frequently-challenged” author interviews and book reviews. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. Check out this ALA timeline, showing significant banned and challenged books over the past 30 years. These are some of our all-time favorites—can you imagine someone denying you access to these books?

Our guest today is beloved author Judy Blume.  More than 80 million copies of her books have been sold and her works have been translated into 31 languages.  This highly acclaimed writer is the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Library of Congress Living Legends Award, and the 2004 National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.  Judy is one of the most frequently banned writers in America, having found herself in the middle of an organized book banning campaign in the 1980s.  Since then she has championed intellectual freedom, working with the National Coalition Against Censorship to protect the freedom to read.

Judy asked that we use some of her previously released statements as answers to two of these questions.  However, we are snoopy Snoops and just had to throw a couple of extras in there for her!

What effect does a censorship climate have on a writer?

Chilling. It’s easy to become discouraged, to second-guess everything you write.  I’ve never forgiven myself for caving in to editorial pressure based on fear, for playing into the hands of the censors. I knew then it was all over for me unless I took a stand. So I began to speak out about my experiences. And once I did, I found that I wasn’t as alone as I’d thought.

You must have been surprised when people began to take issue with your themes about real-life adolescent experiences.

I wrote Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret right out of my own experiences and feelings when I was in sixth grade. Controversy wasn’t on my mind. I wanted only to write what I knew to be true. I wanted to write the best, the most honest books I could, the kinds of books I would have liked to read when I was younger. If someone had told me then I would become one of the most banned writers in America, I’d have laughed.

What’s your biggest fear about censorship with regard to young people today?

What I worry about most is the loss to young people.  Some people would like to rate books in schools and libraries the way they rate movies: G, PG, R, X, or even more explicitly. But according to whose standards would the books be rated? I don’t know about you but I don’t want anyone rating my books or the books my children or grandchildren choose to read. We can make our own decisions, thank you. Browsing at the library or in the books on our shelves at home, allowed me to find and read books I can still recall, books I might otherwise never have read.  I’m thankful my parents encouraged me to read.  Reading was a good thing in our family, not something my parents feared.

We have always wondered how you could possibly understand exactly what we all felt and experienced as young girls, both spoken and unspoken.  How do you do this?

I can’t explain it.  It’s just something I can do.  I know that’s not a satisfying answer — maybe it’s that I identify so closely with kids, am able to connect one-on-one with them.  Does it have to do with my ability to remember my own childhood so vividly?  I’m sure that’s part of it.  It’s just such a part of me I don’t question it.

Thanks for taking a few minutes with us, Judy!

Judy continues to write for young adults.  You can keep an eye on what she is up to on her website.

Join us again tomorrow for an interview with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, author of the frequently-banned Alice books. Click here to see all of our interviews in the Best of Banned Books Week series.

-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 :-)

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 for an exposé with every literary-minded adult’s favorite challenge: The Reluctant Reader!

Ryan Jacobson, welcome to StorySnoops!

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Today, we have a special guest blogger–author Ryan Jacobson is stopping by to promote his new book Can You Survive? Jack London’s Call of the Wild (a Choose Your Path book) AND to share some tips to help get kids’ creative story-telling juices flowing.  We found the concept of a “Choose Your Path” book fascinating, and hope that we can help bring it to the attention of more young readers. Have you read the original Call of the Wild? Yes? Know the story of Buck the dog and his trials in the unforgiving Yukon?  Well, in Ryan Jacobson’s version, the story starts out the same, but at various inflection points, you are asked to decide what to do. You turn to different pages, depending on the decision you’ve made. Fans of survival stories will find it fun and interesting to test their instincts in the wild, and hopefully develop a new appreciation for a classic read.

Welcome Ryan!

When Eden told me I could dream up whatever I wanted for this post, I felt like I’d been handed a blank check. But then she applied the pressure: she mentioned that her audience has a large base of teachers and librarians. Yikes! If there’s one group a children’s book author wants to impress, it’s educators.

With that in mind, I’m breaking out my A+ material, the stuff I normally save for a crowded auditorium of rowdy fourth and fifth graders. (Is it redundant to say rowdy?) I’m going to share a really fun way to build a story with a group. Believe me, even those reluctant readers hiding in the back row will be begging to join in.

The way this works: I ask for multiple ideas to each question—usually 3 to 5, since my time with students is limited. I write the ideas on the board, and students vote for their favorite. The answer to each question with the most votes wins. So, without further ado, here’s a story idea in just six questions:

1. What are your characters’ names (one boy and one girl)?

I tell students that I don’t spend much time on character names because I always change them later, when I know the characters better. At this point, I usually pick names just to keep track of whom I’m talking about.

2. What job does the story’s adult helper have?

I like to include an adult helper because we almost always share a laugh later on, when the main characters rescue the adult. Asking about a job is an easy way to get students’ imaginations warmed up for the next questions. Sometimes the adult’s job affects the story; usually it doesn’t.

3. Where does the story take place?

The best ever answer to this question: “Inside your belly button.”

4. What’s something scary we can add to our story?

Now, if you want to avoid zombies, vampires or Chucky (don’t ask me why fourth graders know about Chucky), you can ask for a “problem” instead of “something scary.” Of course, you might miss out on such awesome answers as a homework-crazy math teacher or my mom. (Oh, yes, she’s scary!)

5. What’s something ridiculously silly that can scare away our monster?

If their answers don’t make you laugh out loud, something has gone horribly wrong. I mean, what’s funnier than a man-eating diaper monster being chased away by a kindergarten teacher with a finger puppet? (Man, I wish I could take credit for that storyline!)

6. What shall our characters do for their happy ending?

More often than not, you’ll end up with a birthday party or a trip to Disney World. Be careful, though. If two students named the characters after themselves and if the group chooses a wedding, well, that’s the makings of a fourth-grade scandal. Yep, it’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

And…there you go. The answers to these questions give students their characters, their conflict and their resolution. Granted, there are plenty of blanks left to be filled in (like, how did the characters wind up inside my belly button), but it’s a great starting point and a lot of fun.

Enjoy—and if your students come up with anything especially crazy, be sure to let me know.

P.S. Parents, this also works one on one. Try it on your next road trip.

Thank’s for visiting us, Ryan! For more information on Ryan’s books and what he’s up to, visit his website. And if you haven’t read  Can You Survive? Jack London’s Call of the Wild yet, be sure to check it out.

-The Snoops

It’s Teen Read Week–Kiersten White is here today!

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

To celebrate the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Teen Read Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with YA lit authors and enthusiasts.  Started in 1998, Teen Read Week is YALSA’s annual event encouraging teens to read just for the fun of it.  We hope you enjoy this series as much as we enjoyed putting it together!

Today we are excited to interview Kiersten White, author of the Paranormalcy and Supernaturally, the first two titles in the Paranormalcy trilogy. Paranormalcy has landed a spot on the ALA’s Teen’s Top 10 list this year! (Congratulations Kiersten!)  It is the story of Evie, a sixteen year old girly-girl who also happens to work for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, where her job is to track, tag and relocate harmful paranormals.

Welcome Kiersten! Evie is a great character—perfect blend of sass, girly-girl and action heroine! How did she develop in your imagination?  Is she who you wanted to be as a teen?

Paranormalcy really started with the idea for IPCA, but I knew I wanted it to be YA so I had to figure out why a sixteen-year-old would work for a secret international government group. I got the idea for a girl who could see through glamours and then Evie’s voice popped into my head, fully-formed. That first chapter is almost word-for-word what I wrote that very instant.

So, I can’t claim too much of her because she really just told me about herself. Evie is much perkier and more optimistic than I was as a teenager, and much more open to the color pink… I don’t know that I wanted to be someone like her, but I definitely admire her bravery, which is something I’ve never felt I had. Even when she’s afraid, she’ll still throw her shoulders back and go after what she wants.

We know you started writing seriously after your first child was born, but were you interested in writing before that? Did you ever envision this career when you were a teen? If not, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?

Yes! I actually always wanted to be a writer. I majored in English with an emphasis in editing. I thought I’d write and illustrate children’s books, until I realized I was a really crap artist. Alas. I tried my hand at middle grade first, but really found my passion when I started writing YA.

You’ve said that your books don’t contain mature themes and language out of deference to the younger end of your fan base.  Do you find it difficult to appeal to the older audience, while keeping it clean for the younger set?

I really don’t. I think you only broaden your audience when you make it accessible. Really it comes down to the story—this was a story I could tell without those elements, so I didn’t address them. And I think the story is mature enough to entertain adults without having sex and swearing. I can’t guarantee that all of my future books will be appropriate for younger readers (and even I worry sometimes when ten-year-olds read Paranormalcy, just because some of the concepts of relationships and dating are things I think they aren’t ready for yet), but I’m glad that this series was one I could make so accessible.

We just finished reading Stephanie Perkins’ new release Lola and the Boy Next Door, (loved it by the way!) and noticed that you are the first person she thanks in the acknowledgments. Are you two “author friends”, or were you friends before you were authors?  Is it great to have a confidant who writes for a similar audience?

I actually have no idea who she is, so that section was both flattering and vaguely creepy.

Just kidding. Stephanie is one of my best friends in the world. We met through blogging right after she signed with her agent. We started emailing and the friendship developed from there. She helped me learn to self-edit, and if you enjoy my books you should probably thank her, because I am a far better writer now than I was before I knew her. It’s been an amazing comfort to have someone on nearly the same publishing schedule to share all of the highs and lows with. Plus, she is adorable and hilarious and writes AMAZING books that I get to read first. Best deal EVER.

What draws you to the fantasy genre? Are you interested in writing any other genres, like realistic fiction?

I really love reading realistic fiction, and so admire those who can craft such compelling stories without fantasy elements. But…it’s not for me. Reading was always about losing myself in another world, and writing is much the same. I don’t want to write about something I could really live. I want to write about the world I live in, with real people and real emotions, PLUS MAGIC. Besides which, plotting is much easier when you can say, ‘AND THEN A VAMPIRE JUMPED OUT OF THE TREES AND ATTACKED HER.’ It’s a really convenient plot device.

Can you give us any sneak peek insider information about the plot of the trilogy finale, Endlessly? We promise not to tell ;-)

Yes! I can tell you that it is the third book in the trilogy, which is a series made up of three books! So…don’t tell anyone, but…it’s the last book. I KNOW. THE THIRD BOOK IN THE TRILOGY. WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED IT’D BE THE END?

Seriously though, nah, I’m not going to tell you anything. Except maybe it has a dragon. Maybe.

Thank you Kiersten! To keep up to date with Kiersten, visit her website. And thank you for joining us for our Teen Read Week interview series! If you missed any of the author interviews, you can find them here.

-The Snoops

It’s Teen Read Week–do you know Josh Berk?

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

To celebrate the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Teen Read Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with YA lit authors and enthusiasts.  Started in 1998, Teen Read Week is YALSA’s annual event encouraging teens to read just for the fun of it.  We hope you enjoy this series as much as we enjoyed putting it together!

Today we are thrilled to interview author Josh Berk. Josh is the author of teen novels, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin (a best book for teens 2010 by both Kirkus Reviews and and Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator (to be published in 2012). Josh studied young adult literature in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, which inspired him to start writing his own YA novels. Josh is a librarian living in Bethlehem, PA.

Welcome Josh! Your debut YA novel, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, was a top 5 favorite of 2010 on our website, and a book that we enjoyed and appreciated for the original voice you created in character Will Halpin. You clearly did very thorough research into the world of the hearing-impaired, as everything about Will reads so authentically. How did you create such a convincing deaf character?

Thank you very much! And Will thanks you as well. (Yes, I’m one of those crazies who sort of thinks my characters are real people.)  I did all sorts of different research – reading memoirs by deaf authors, reading non-fiction works about deaf culture, visiting deaf message boards online and spying on conversations there … all sorts of stuff! I also met a deaf librarian near the beginning of the process and she was kind enough to read my early pages and offer suggestions. And then I had some deaf readers later on who also helped me clarify certain things. It really was a world I knew next-to-nothing about going in, so I needed lots and lots of help!

Also, I really was living with Will in my head for quite a while. I’d just walk around and wonder what he’d think about various situations. I’d be like “What would it be like to be deaf in a crowded cafeteria?” and “Isn’t ringing a bell to signal the end of class sort of discrimination against the deaf?” and “What would Will order from this restaurant?” (Like Will, I think about food a lot.)

I think most writers love to try to figure out what it’s like in other people’s heads; empathy is one of our greatest tools. So it was that combination of trying to put myself in his shoes as well as traditional research that (hopefully!) created a convincing character.

Is Will a character that you will revisit? Can we look forward to seeing him in any future books of yours?

It’s so flattering when people ask and it makes me feel great that Will is a character people would like to read more about! (Also, Will himself agrees that he deserves many more books.) But I have no plans for another Hamburger Halpin book. I’m not totally ruling it out as a possibility down the road, but there are no plans to do so. Thanks for asking!

Since you are a writer of mysteries, does that mean that you enjoy reading mysteries as well? What is your favorite mystery of all time?

I read pretty broadly, but definitely enjoy a good mystery. My favorite mysteries tend to be ones where the main character is fascinating and maybe there is some comedy mixed in with the clues. I definitely am a big Sherlock Holmes fan, but I’d have to say my favorite mystery author (note how I’m resisting being pinned down to any one book!) is probably Kinky Friedman. He’s hilarious and weird and was a country singer who ran for governor of Texas. He lost, but his books are good. (They are adult mysteries – not for kids!) My favorite recent teen mystery (probably more of a thriller) is YOU by Charles Benoit.

Since we are celebrating Teen Read Week and you are a librarian, what do you most often recommend to teens looking for a good book? (besides your own, of course!)

Well, just like your site does, librarians try to match the right book to the right reader. There are plenty of books I’d describe as wonderful which just are not going to resonate with some teen readers. So I try to step back and not push my own favorites, but rather listen and ask lots of questions. Typically if I’m working with a teen looking for a book, I ask “What do you like?” not “what do you like to read?” Some kids insist they don’t like reading but I always maintain it’s just that they haven’t found the right books yet and it’s important to match a book to their interests. I really can’t think of the “most often recommended” book because every kid is so different. Man, I keep ducking these questions!

What books were particularly influential or important to you as a teen?

Oddly enough I hardly read any “teen literature” when I was a teen. I went straight from what are generally considered children’s books (mainly fantasy novels like Narnia or anything having to do with baseball) to adult novels. I had a cool English teacher in high school who had us read a Kurt Vonnegut short story and from there I obsessively read all of Vonnegut’s books. His books were definitely the most important books of the teen years for me. Also, in senior year I read On the Road and became obsessed with Jack Kerouac. This led to some pretty disastrous road trips, but I regret nothing.

Tell us a little bit about your new book, Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator, and was it a very different writing experience than Dark Days?

Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator is the story of a kid named Guy who joins his high school’s forensics club to meet a girl he’s crushing on. While there he learns a lot of crime-solving techniques, which he then uses to solve some mysteries in his own life. He uncovers some family secrets and later finds a real dead body on a fake crime scene. That part is based on a true story! There really was a high school forensics group investigating a fake crime scene created by their teacher when they found a dead body. It was too weird of a news story not to write about!

That’s one way the writing experience was rather different – it started with this news story and plot idea, whereas Dark Days was very character-driven. But eventually Guy became just as real and dear to me as Will and I hope readers like him too!

Thank you so much for participating in our interview series Josh! We look forward to reading Guy Langman in 2012! For more information about Josh, be sure to visit his website. And come here again tomorrow to hear from Kiersten White, author of  the Paranormalcy series! And if you’ve missed any of our Teen Read Week interviews, they’ll all be here by the end of the week.

It’s Teen Read Week–meet Sarah Mlynowski!

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

To celebrate the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Teen Read Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with YA lit authors and enthusiasts.  Started in 1998, Teen Read Week is YALSA’s annual event encouraging teens to read just for the fun of it.  We hope you enjoy this series as much as we enjoyed putting it together!

Today we are honored to interview author Sarah Mlynowski. Sarah is the author of Gimme a Call, Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) and the bestselling Magic in Manhattan series, which kicked off with Bras & Broomsticks. She is also the co-author of How to Be Bad and has written several novels for adults. She currently lives in New York City.

Welcome Sarah! All of our daughters are huge fans of yours – they especially love the Magic in Manhattan series, which features teenage witch sisters Miri and Rachel. What about this series do you think struck such a chord with tween and teen girls?

I am SO happy to hear they like my books! Yay! I think girls relate to Rachel’s way of looking at the world. And who hasn’t wished she could cast a dance spell or two?

One of our daughters wants to know who you are most like – Miri or Rachel?

Rachel, definitely. Before writing Bras & Broomsticks I read through all of my high school diaries and a lot of my high school self seeped in. Especially the sarcastic, self-absorbed, hyper-active part. I do have one thing in common with Miri. We both bite our nails…unfortunately.

In Gimme a Call, after dropping her cell phone in a fountain, the only person 17-year old Devi can call is her 14-year old self. How did you come up with such a thought-provoking and discussion-worthy concept?

Well, one day I dropped my cell phone into a fountain while making a wish and then… kidding. I wish.

I’m the type of person who is always worrying about the future. I wondered what it would be like to talk to my future self and what she’d say about how I’m living my life.

You are an author that really connects with your teen girl audience. What authors strongly impacted you as a teen?

Thank you! When I was a teen I loved everything by Judy Blume.  Her books made me realize how meaningful–and how much fun–writing about being a girl could be. I loved Christopher Pike’s thrillers–they kept me up all night. Oh, and I loved Gordon Korman. His books are hilarious and his is plotting is genius. And he actually came to talk to my class when I was in the third grade. (He was a teenager at the time—he wrote his first book when he was twelve!)

Which has been your favorite character you have created?

Devi from Gimme a Call. It was challenging—and fun—to create a character at two different points in her life (fourteen and seventeen) simultaneously.

What has been the most rewarding thing a reader has ever said to you?

Every e-mail I get feels like a reward. But I do especially love hearing from reluctant readers who enjoy my books.

Lastly, what can we expect from you next? And can you please write faster?? : )

I’ll try! I have a toddler running around my apartment so I’m a little slower than I used to be. But  Fairest of All, the first book in my new series “Whatever After” will be out this May. It’s about a girl who falls into fairy tales and changes them. It’s for eight-to-eleven year olds.

Thank you so much, Sarah, for participating in our Teen Read Week interview series!

My pleasure! Thank you for having me on your site.

If you’d like to keep up with Sarah and her work, visit her website. Check back with StorySnoops tomorrow to hear from Josh Berk, author of The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin.  And if you miss any of our Teen Read Week author interviews, you can catch them them all here at the end of the week.