Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Visit with Author Sam Angus

All the way from England, today I'm welcoming Sam Angus, author of Soldier Dog.  Pour yourself a cup of tea and let's take a "Book Break!" with Ms. Angus! 

Soldier Dog by Sam Angus is on the 2016 NYSRA Charlotte Book Award middle school ballot.    

Be sure to check out Sam's website.

Visit the Soldier Dog website. 

Readers should read my book because . . .  History lovers should read it for the little known side it reveals of the first world war and animal lovers should read it for the story of the dog and all adventure lovers should read it for the adventure of the story and but above all read it for the human story.

I came to write SOLDIER DOG . . .          Soldier Dog was my first book and the idea for this came from something I heard on the radio. When I heard it, I knew instantly that I would write about it, that I would tell it as a story and that it would be for children. At the time I wasn’t a writer, I was in the fashion industry and I was running late for a meeting and just stuck in this endless traffic jam and as I sat there in the car I heard the story of a World War 1 messenger dog called Airedale Jack and the story of Jack’s life was what made me take pen to paper and write my first book.  I spent almost two years researching the book before I came to write it and I do think that this is perhaps the best plotted of my books. Most readers seem not to have a sense of how the story will resolve itself.

Some of the pictures I discovered of World War 1 messenger dogs during my research for Soldier Dog. The first sketch is the image I used on my inboard for the character of Soldier.

My favorite place to read . . .  . In bed. I often start off in the living room on the sofa but end up creeping upstairs to bed. Ideally with a cup of tea. 

Oh golly, there are books everywhere in my house. Below are some pics of the shelves in my study.

A book that has touched my heart . . . 

But more than either of these. Ann Holme’s, I am David. Pure intense, brief, poetic, an ideal story. It think it must have moved me very deeply because it is the one I go back to again and again.

I collect my ideas and inspiration for writing . . . The settings or circumstances for my books tend to come from things I read. For example the book I am about to start will be based in an English stately home during World War II. The home, like many others, has been requisitioned by the government for use as a school for children evacuated from the cities. I just loved the idea of setting a school in a large old English home with the family still living there and I was looking at this book. The plot on the other hand, or what happens to the hero tends to come from something that has happened to someone I know, or that I’ve heard people talking about.

An image of me at my desk in London.

Readers should know . . .I love writing children’s stories because you can have happy endings. Adult fiction tends not to have happy endings and since I have a naturally happy temperament, I like to see the book end happily and as Oscar Wilde said, "the bad end happily," and I like things to happen in a story. I like the strong narrative children of work for children, of stories with beginnings, middles, and happy ends. Sometimes I think these are the hardest kinds of stories to write because you have to create a resolution , an ending that is happy, but that is also possible or plausible - so the plotting takes me a tot of time, sometimes as long s actually writing the novel and it is the bit I like least. Then, once I’m there, I start and if all goes well, and the main characters are fully developed in my mind, then the writing all goes along happily and then there’s a certain point where the characters tend to sort of stand up and take over and write the rest of the book themselves. 

A project that I'm currently working on . . . 
My next book come out in June 16. it marks a slight departure from my previous books about war an animals. It is less historical, and less concerned with war though may of the characters do go off to fight. This book is set in the West Indies and is about a gutsy, feisty young girl who is seedily taken from what she tough of as her family in England and transported to the West Indies where she finds she has inherited a sugar plantation. die The twelve year old Idie Grace finds that she issued by both the white plantation class and the local coloured population because she is neither one thing nor the other and worse there is a mystery in her family. Abandoned by her governess, lonely and alone, Idie Grace fills her beautiful home with monkeys and parakeets and toucans and turtles. She keeps her horse in the hall and her toucans on the drinks trolley and the turtles in the tub. She keeps a mongoose in her pocket and hummingbirds eat from the tips of her fingers and she grows to love the island until she is torn apart by a shattering discovery about herself.

I will tell you no more but do read it,  I think it is one of my best. 

Also, ideally, I would live like Idie, with all sorts of creatures coming in and out of the house. We did have a  lamb once that thought it was a dog and he followed by little white west highland terrier in and out of the house all day and trotted up and down the corridor. When Kevin grew big curly horns my husband evicted him and now he hangs about on the lawn looking rather sadly into the lit windows of the house. Sometimes we bring a pony into the kitchen, just for the fun of it, but on the whole I have found that other people are less keen on eating with horses at their table than I am. I’ve tried to get a pony to climb the stairs and have heard from other people that it’s entirely possible though none of mine seem wildly keen on the idea and then I worry I wouldn’t be able to get them back down again as going down has to be harder than going up for a horse.

Here’s a picture I came across which has inspired a section of the novel I am about to work on.  Here are the American troops practicing maneuvers on a beach in North Devon in the preparations for the d day landings of WW2. 

This happens to be my local beach and below is a snap of me and one of my boys riding on that beach!  So the Americans are going to play a large role in the story which is set in an English country house.

And then me in the country with our prize ram. He’s known as Kevin.

A great big thank you to Sam Angus for taking the time to take a "Book Break" with us!  Make sure you visit your school library to check out Soldier Dog.  And we look forward to the forth coming novel, The House On Hummingbird Island.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Celebrate National Library Week With Author Chris Grabenstien

In honor of National Library Week and School Library Month, I am pleased to welcome Mr. Chris Grabenstein to Mrs. Merrill's Book Break! 
Escape From aMr. Lemoncello's Library is a title on the NYSRA CharlotteBook Award imiddle school ballot. 
For more fun, make sure you visit Chris' website!
Readers should read my book because . . . You’ll have so much fun, laughing and solving puzzles, you won’t even realize that you’re learning something. 
I came to write MR. LEMONCELLO'S LIBRARY  . . . After visiting P.S. 10 in Brooklyn and learning that their brand new, state of the art library had been donated by a very generous benefactor. That got me thinking, what if a very generous and eccentric bazillionaire donated an amazing library to the town where he grew up?

My favorite place to read . . . On a train!  There’s just something about it.  Second favorite is the cushy chair in my office.

Here are a couple photos of my office with books under construction.  The high shelf in the second photo is where I keep one copy of every book of mine that’s been published.  (36 so far).   I also keep stacks of my most recent books that I give away to folks.

A book that has touched my heart . . . My most recent book with James Patterson, JACKY HA HA touched my heart because while writing about a middle child who finds herself in her “theater family” within the middle school drama club, I revisited my own memories of being a middle child who found himself in his theater family.

I collect my ideas and inspiration for writing . . . In a Peppermint Bark tin in my office.  For years, I wrote down all my ideas and inspirations on 3 by 5 index cards.  If it was an idea for a new book, it went into the box.  If it was an inspiration for what I was working on, it went on one of the bulletin boards lining the walls of my office.  These days, I find that I am recording more ideas and notions on my iPhone notes app…which I can talk into while I’m out walking the dog. Ah, technology!

Readers should know . . .The second book in the series, MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY OLYMPICS was inspired by a fifth grader who was a big fan of the first book ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO'S LIBRARY During the Q and A of a school visit, he commented, "I bet Charles Chiltington (the villain of the first book) has the worst Christmas vacation of his life, watching the Lemoncello TV commercials he could've starred in if he'd won the Escape game."  

That made me think that kids all across the country, seeing those same commercials, might wonder why they hadn't been given a chance to compete in the Escape game.  Mr. Lemoncello would receive thousands of letters and millions of emails and decide to host a new series of games, open to the best and brightest bibliophiles from all over the country – his first ever Library Olympics!  Twelve bookish games to find the true champions of the library!
Here is a fun trailer we did for MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY OLYMPICS.

A project that I’m currently working on . . .

Oh, there are several:




Co-authored with James Patterson

Treasure Hunters: Peril At The Top of the World with James Patterson 2016

House of Robots #3 - 2016

I Funny: School of Laughs - 2017

And two other projects not yet announced.
Celebrate libraries, celebrate books, and celebrate reading by visiting your school or public library to check out one or ALL of Chris Grabenstein's books!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Celebrating School Library Month & Poetry Month

Proud member of ALA & AASL!

Not only is April National Poetry Month, it is also School Library Month!  Although, I celebrate both poetry and libraries all year, it's the perfect time to indulge in the reading (and rereading) of this wonderful treasure . . . 

EVERY poem in this anthology should be savored and read aloud often.  If this book was life-sized, I'd have the pages displayed in various parts of my school library ~ the poems would entice readers into its pages.  Until I am able to obtain a life-sized copy, I will read aloud all of its beautiful words and perhaps create poem-poster or two to hang in some of the nooks and crannies of my library!

Check out the amazing, Lee Bennett Hopkin's website for more poetry goodness.  

Joan Bransfield Graham's poem, "Librarian," perfectly sums up one of my favorite roles as a librarian ~ Reader Advisor!  Just the other day, someone said to me, "How do you do that?" when I recommended a book to her.  She went on to the tell me that it was just what she was looking for!  Here is a snippet of her poem . . . 

How did you

Can you read
my mind?

How do you
always find
the perfect

Amy Ludwig Vanderwater's poem, "Book Pillows," perfectly puts into lovely words, the way I feel about libraries!  And the way that I want visitors to feel when they step into my library to find just the right book that they need.  Here is a snippet of Amy's poem  . . . 

With my head on a book
I dream of a place
where a pig loves a spider.

I dream of a face
high in a tower
with ropes of hair falling.

When books become pillows
stories come calling ~
Make sure to stop in to your favorite school library to check out a copy of Jumping Off Library Shelves, collected by Lee Bennet Hopkins, illustrated by Jane Manning (Wordsong 2015). 

This week's "Poetry Friday" roundup is being hosted at Laura Purdie Salas' site, Writing the World for Kids!  Click on over to enjoy the many poetry celebrations. 

Happy reading & browsing in your school library!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Award-Winning Author Jen Bryant Visits With Me!

Today I am welcoming the award-winning author, Jen Bryant to Mrs. Merrill's Book Break!  I'm honored that she has agreed to share some interesting facts about her reading and writing life with us.  Thanks Jen!  

Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet signing books

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is on the 2006 New York State Charlotte Book Award intermediate ballot. 
    I came to write The Right Word . . . quite by accident. I decided at the very last minute to accompany my family on a road trip across the state of Pennsylvania. I had to pack a bag very, VERY quickly, so I threw in what I thought was the novel I’d picked up at a library book sale—but once we were on the road (5-hour trip, no smart phone or laptop with me), I realized I’d packed a Thesaurus!! So—I got to know Dr. Roget’s masterpiece, really REALLY well that day!! Needless to say, I developed a new awareness and respect for this amazing reference book, and began to “poke around” in the author’s life (see my reply above) to see what possessed him to write something so ambitious and all-encompassing.The Right Word answers that question, I hope!!

    Readers should read The Right Word because . . . it’s a true story of a boy who overcame shyness, sadness, and self-doubt by making (and expanding, using, cherishing) word lists. These personal lists later became the first Thesaurus, the only book, aside from the Bible, never to have gone out of print. That’s an UN-believable tale, when you think about it—and yet . . . it’s true. 

     Watch the trailer for The Right Word . . . 

2008 Lupine Award & artwork by Melissa Sweet.for A River of Words.

   My favorite place to read . . . on the deck in my backyard, especially in the Spring, where I can hear the birds singing!

Photo by M. Wirtz

A book that has touched my heart . . . I’m going to cheat and give you Two books:
1. I recently re-read The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo. It’s on my top-ten kids’ books of all time, and I discover new levels of compassion for my fellow man (and my fellow non-human creatures) every time I read it. Life is strange, and messy, and often disappointing, but somehow at the end of this book (and in a NOT too-sentimental way), the author turns us gently back toward love and trust and hope. Given the plot and a few of the characters in this book, that is no small feat!!

2. I recently shared (out loud to a young child) Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon. I am a bird-and owl-watcher myself, and am one of those people who always feels privileged when the natural world lets me in on one of its secrets. I love this book because Yolen uses her exquisite narrative (I mean, it’s poetry, really . . .) to build suspense that leads to the crescendo of a child’s first encounter with a real Great Horned owl. The child is transformed by that experience—and it gives me hope that in our hyper-technical world, there will always be children, and adults!, who stand in awe of natural things.

    I collect my ideas and inspiration for writing  . . . like lint!! I would need a hundred lives of a hundred years each to pursue every interesting idea that’s out there. But one must CHOOSE, alas . . . so I usually poke around (i.e. do some preliminary research) in a few topics that interest me at the same time—and usually, one will peak my interest more than the others and I will just continue to “follow” that topic wherever it may lead. It’s very UN-strategic, very organic, but that’s the only way I can explain it.

    Readers should know . . . that my writing room/office is the messiest room inthe house. I don’t include this tidbit because I’m proud of it (I often wish it were not QUITE so messy), but because writers of all ages frequently as me for “steps” or for “methods” or for “strategies” to apply their own writing process. Maybe these do exist, but the organic, haphazard appearance of my work space reflects, I think, my belief that serendipity, instinct and passionate curiosity play the largest part in fueling good writing. At least for me they do.

    A project I’m currently working on . . .  is a picture book biography of the child-inventor Louis Braille, called SIX DOTS. It’s illustrated by Boris Kulikov and will be published in September by Knopf Books for Young Readers. Told from young Louis’s point of view, it’s the story of how he came to invent, at the age of only fifteen!!, the six dot alphabet that anyone who’s reading this paragraph probably passes by every day on ATM’s, in school hallways, in hotel rooms and restaurants. Sighted folks rarely think about it, but for the blind, it opened up pathways to knowledge and opportunity that had been previously inaccessible to them—and it changed their lives. You can read more here. 

    Be sure to visit Jen's website. 
    Follow her on Facebook.