Posts Tagged ‘Book Thoughts’

I am behind on everything.

Even though I’ve been swamped with work, writing, and life, I somehow made time to read 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma. Mmm-hmmm. It’s that good. Gorgeously written in a hypnotic don’t-go-anywhere kind of way.

One problem with reading a lot – and writing -and talking about writing – and thinking and talking about plot – is that it’s really hard to be surprised by a book.

This one surprised me.

From goodreads:

17 and GoneSeventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And… is she next? As Lauren searches for clues, everything begins to unravel, and when a brush with death lands her in the hospital, a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.

With complexity and richness, Nova Ren Suma serves up a beautiful, visual, fresh interpretation of what it means to be lost.

It’s not what you think. It’s better.

The writing is amazing and magical. The story is captivating, compelling, and surprising. The things that it made me think of  and realize, the reminder of the real world beyond the book, that made my heart ache.

Head and heart literature, my favorite kind.

Highly recommended.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I would share two fabulous picture books: Lovabye Dragon(Candlewick, 2012) by Barbara Joosse  and Randy Cecil and Plant a Kiss (Harper Collins, 2011) by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Peter H. Reynolds.

Lovabye Dragon  by Barbara Joosse  and Randy Cecil 


Book Description:

In her bed in her room in her castle, a girl longs for a dragon.
In his nest in his cave in his mountain, a dragon dreams of a girl.

When a lonely dragon follows a trail of princess tears, a beautiful friendship is born. They march and sing, roar and whisper, hide and seek, then settle into snug companionship at bedtime. Barbara Joosse’s fiercely protective and gently loving dragon cavorts across the pages, endearingly illustrated by Randy Cecil. At the end of the day, who can resist curling up in the embrace of a lovabye dragon?


Book Thoughts:

Nothing says Valentine’s Day like a book about a dragon. Actually, dragons aside, the theme for this story is love and friendship and if that doesn’t say Valentine’s Day, I don’t know what does.

  • The language is playful and poetic.
  • Great for a read aloud.
  • The illustrations are a perfect complement to the text.
Plant a Kiss Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Peter H. Reynolds
9780061986758Book Description:

Little Miss planted a kiss . . .

One small act of love blooms into something bigger and more dazzling than Little Miss could have ever imagined in this epic journey about life, kindness, and giving.

Book thoughts: 

  • Spare thoughtful prose with a sweet message.
  • Adorable illustrations.
  • A quick, short, read with lots of heart.

So sit down with your favorite valentine and enjoy these treats.

Happy Reading,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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I finally read Ask the Passengers by A.S. King. I’ll be honest, I resisted this one for a while. Despite the buzz, the praises, the raves, the Love with a capital L, the fact that I loved her other books (Please Ignore Vera Dietz and Everybody Sees the Ants), I just wasn’t picking it up.

Then my friend Tam reviewed Ask the Passengers for Bookbrowse and I caved.

I’m so glad I did.

The official description:

Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother’s pushiness and her father’s lack of interest tell her they’re the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn’t know the passengers inside, but they’re the only people who won’t judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she’s falling in love with a girl.

As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can’t share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don’t even know she’s there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers’ lives–and her own–for the better.

In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to questioneverything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love.

My thoughts:

  • As someone who was transplanted to a small town in 7th grade and went to another small town for college, the small town setting felt real. It’s hard to be “different” anywhere, but it seems to me it’s especially hard to hide in a small town. I wasn’t especially different in any glaring way, but I sure felt watched. And I saw others suffer the burden of their different-ness. 
  • I ached for Astrid as she struggled with the idea of falling in love. First loves are tricky and confusing and exhilarating – regardless of the who or what gender. It’s not easy to know what to do, how to act, who to tell ~ and then throw in the fact that some people will hate you for who you love, well, that’s tough stuff. Personally, I loved how her falling in love felt so familiar.
  • And, I loved how we are reminded that love is separate from physicality. Even though Astrid realizes she’s in love – she’s not ready for sexual intimacy. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with the fact that those explorations are nerve-wracking and awkward. Those moments are huge and kind of scary. That’s what is captured here so beautifully.
  • Astrid has a habit of sending her love out into the world. Specifically, to the airplanes that fly overhead. This idea sounded kind of hokey to me and, quite honestly, was one of the reasons for my resistance towards this book. Figures it became one of my favorite parts of the book. After Astrid sends her love and questions out to the universe, we read a short interlude in the perspective of the person in the airplane – who “received” her message. These vignettes serve  as peeks into other lives and other kinds of love. They are amazing, trust me.
  • I also loved how we see so much of Astrid’s life – beyond falling in love. We get to know her (kind of messed up) family, her best friend, her work place and co-workers, her school – it’s a wide wide lens, yet lots of close-ups. The world is so real.

Okay. Now go read a fantastic interview with A.S. King (do you see how her name spells “asking” – ? !) on Tam and Sharry’s blog, Kissing the Earth.

And for those who are working on the craft of writing books for young people – I find this very very interesting. As read on Bookbrowse’s Beyond the Book exploration, A.S. King did not go to school for writing. Instead (edited for length):

She began writing after she spent six straight months reading a book a day. … Fifteen years and seven novels after she sat down at that typewriter, she got her first book published.”


Sarah Wones Tomp


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A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham starts with a prologue:

Abandonded. The bus appeared one morning from a sea of traffic — right outside Stella’s house, where no bus should be. 

Tired, old, and sick, it had a hand-painted sign on it, held down with packing tape.

The sign said, Heaven.

How many picture books have prologues? Not many, I’d guess. Not sure I’ve ever seen a written one.

And then the first line within the book is,

The bus brought change to Stella’s street.

Although stories are supposed to be about change, how many say so from the start?

It’s true. Stella, along with her parents and neighbors, claim the broken down bus. They transform the rust and the dirt and the brokenness into something wonderful. Something beautiful. They create a place of community, a place to connect and create and just be.  Stella  and the bus even manage to touch the heart of a junkyard boss.

It’s magical. Poignant. Awww-provoking. So very satisfying. And with rich, exactly right language throughout.

Stella fascinates me. She changes in some ways – she makes new friends and tries new things – but she also doesn’t.

Early on she’s described this way, Stella, the color of moonlight… The illustrations show her as washed out, lacking the same color palette as the rest of the world. I expected her to absorb colors as the story went along. I was sure it would be a Pleasantville sort of transformation.

But (spoiler alert), no. She is still as pale and washed out at the end as she started.

This is brilliant. So, naturally, it confused me at first.

The thing is, as I see it… Stella doesn’t have to change that integral part of herself – whatever it means – because this book is about acceptance and individuals appreciating each others’ differences as well as their commonalities.

It’s okay to be the color of moonlight.

What color are you?

Sarah Wones Tomp


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When I think of books by Pete Hautman, I think edgy and surprising. The diabetic girl dabbling in chatrooms with vampire-wannabes in Sweetblood, the new religion created in Godless, the way things are not the way they seem in Invisible

And then there is The Big Crunch. This is a sweet old-fashioned love story. The most surprising aspect of the novel is how simple and straight-forward the story is about how Wes and June meet and get to know each other.

From the book jacket:

June and Wes do not “meet cute.” They do not fall in love at first sight. They do not swoon with scorching desire. They do not believe that they are instant soul mates destined to be together forever.

This is not that kind of love story.

It’s two regular kids meeting, hovering around each other with paths crossing, trying to figure things out. And yet, it is so compelling.

The story is written in third person point of view, alternating between June and Wes. This has to be one of the smoothest transitions between multiple viewpoints that I have ever read. Rather than switching each chapter, the viewpoint shifts throughout the entire story – sometimes paragraph by paragraph, more often scene by scene. Each character gets equal page time and weight – and each switch gives us more understanding of both characters. So very smooth and effective – very masterfully done.

And then, there is the end. It’s perfect. Oh so satisfying.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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I love twisted fairy tales. There is something fun about taking a well known story and turning it on it’s ear. I also enjoy when an author adds a fun or quirky twist to their story, and on a recent trip to the book store I found a new book to add to my list of favorites. The Princess and the Pig written by Jonathan Emmett, illustrated by Poly Bernatene (Walker & Company, 2011) is a delightful tale that is not your usual princess story.

Here is the book description:

There’s been a terrible mix-up in the royal nursery. Priscilla the princess has accidentally switched places with Pigmella, the farmer’s new piglet. The kindly farmer and his wife believe it’s the work of a good witch, while the ill-tempered king and queen blame the bad witch-after all, this happens in fairy tales all the time! While Priscilla grows up on the farm, poor yet very happy, things don’t turn out quite so well for Pigmella. Kissing a frog has done wonders before, but will it work for a pig?

Book thoughts:

  • I love that the author references traditional fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Princess, and Thumbelina in the book, but does not actually use them in the plot.
  • Unlike most princess books, this book dares to show some of the not so nice parts of being a princess/pig which is a refreshing change.
  • This book does have a happily ever after for some of the characters, others do not have a happily ever after, which is an unusual twist.
  • The bright, fun, illustrations perfectly compliment the story.
  • The refrain used throughout the book “the sort of thing that happens all the time in books” made me smile each time it was used.

The Princess and The Pig is a delightful tale that would be a great addition to any home or school library. There are some great lessons about honesty that can used in the classroom as well.

Happy Reading,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk


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Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson is a thorough guide for authors ready to dive into novel writing for young readers. Most of the information and tips could be used in writing either young adult or middle grade fiction.

From the get go, Halverson makes a few assumptions about her readers: They want to be published, they have a story to tell, they want to be better writers, and they want to enlighten and entertain young people between the ages of 9 and 17.

If this fits you, then this book is worth a look.

This clearly and succinctly written book is organized into five large topic areas:

  1. Getting ready to write young adult fiction. General information on young adult literature and its audience as well as the actual how to find space and time to write.
  2. Writing riveting young adult fiction. The crucial story elements are explored here–I definitely sense that Halverson knows even more than she could include in this format; but she briefly explores writing the almighty hook, character development, plot with teen-driven action, setting, and creating an authentic voice. She even suggests places to find inspiration for captivating and relevant stories.
  3. Editing and Revising with Confidence. She provides a comprehensive self-editing checklist and also discusses the how-to of being in a critique group, along with a critique checklist too. She then moves on to formatting and polishing.
  4. Getting Published. The nitty-gritty details of submitting are explained here as well as consideration of self-publishing to help make an informed decision regarding that choice. She goes on to discuss marketing strategies as well.
  5. Common pitfall in writing young adult fiction. This is brief but helpful list of things to check for and to consider in writing your story – I’d suggest checking this chapter as soon as you have a story idea to prevent writing yourself into a sort of fatal hole.

My favorite part of this how-to book are the personal thoughts, tips, and anecdotes from authors, editors and agents.

  • Darcy Pattison on marketing and book trailers.
  • Cynthia Leitich Smith on paranormal fiction.
  • Mary E. Pearson on beating writer’s block.
  • Deborah Wiles on the use of dialect in dialogue.
  • Jennifer Donnelly about setting and place.
  • Gary Soto on developing plot, complication by complication.
  • Kathi Appelt on raising the stakes and making the reader worry.
  • Erin Murphy on making quiet books loud.
  • Karen Cushman on character.

Obviously, Halverson tackles a wide range of topics and issues to consider – and does so in an easy to read, easy to follow style. Perfect for beginners, but worthwhile for more experienced writers as well. I think it would make an excellent textbook in writing courses.

Don’t forget to check out her “Free First 20 Pages Critique Giveaway!

You don’t even have to be a dummy…

Sarah Wones Tomp



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Yesterday Son #2 and I decided to take a break from the heat and visit a local book store. I found several books that were similar to the exercise I shared with you on my Wednesday post regarding unlocking your imagination, I decided to share them with you.

Pig Kahuna by Jennifer Sattler

Fergus and his little brother, Dink find an abandoned surfboard. When no one comes to claim it, they name it “Dave.” But when Dave accidentally (on purpose?) gets cast back into the ocean, can Fergus find the courage to rescue.

Cute illustrations and a fun story. Everyone will fall in love with “Dave.” 

My Name is Not Alexander by Jennifer Fosberry illustrated by Mike Litwin

Through his imaginative journey, Alexander discovers how great men become heroes: the roughest rider can be surprisingly gentle, a strong leader is also the most peaceful, and sometimes, being brave about what makes you different will not only help you break records, but inspire others.

My Name is Not Alexander by Jennifer Fosberry illustrated by Mike Litwin

Who Is Your Hero? Isabella’s include U.S. Astronaut Sally Ride, activist Rosa Parks, and sharpshooter Annie Oakley—but there’s no bigger hero than Isabella’s own mommy!

Join Isabella on an adventure of discovery—and find out how imagining to be these extraordinary women teaches her the importance of being her extraordinary self.

These charming stories are big on imagination and big on fun. The colorful illustrations compliment the text to make these books a great addition to any home or classroom library.

The Woods by Paul Hoppe

Being afraid of the dark doesn’t mean being afraid alone. When a boy can’t find his favorite stuffed bunny, he bravely heads into the woods to look for it. Instead, he finds a big, scary brown bear! But the bear is just lonely, so the boy shares his night light and forges ahead with his new companion, until…they run into two frightening giants! As the boy continues on, he comes across other seemingly menacing creatures, but finds that—like him—they’re just looking for some comfort and security before bedtime. Simple text and classic European style meet a fresh, modern twist in this delightful picture book.
The Sendak-style illustrations make this a great book to help those little ones who are afraid of the dark. Loved the twist at the end.

These were only a few of the books that I found that played on the imagination of the main character, can you think of any more?

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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I read the ARC of  Shine by Lauren Myracle this weekend.

Phew! I survived it. And absolutely loved it. But whoa, it was a roller coaster ride of a book.

From goodreads:

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice.

Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author.

This story is beautifully crafted. But it is also gritty and dark as well as nerve-wracking. I spent the first half of the book incredibly nervous. Shine opens with a news account of a gruesome hate crime – readers should take warning that this will not be a gentle story. Cat is fighting for survival with incredible odds against her. She has to deal with constant reminders of bigotry,  sexual abuse, meth addiction, as well as plain and painful poverty.

The voice is incredible – just the right amount of dialect and sensory details to set you firmly in the rough mountains of North Carolina. The writing is flawless and clear – I’d even say hypnotically beautiful – but with an edge of darkness creeping and poking in around the edges of every scene. Somehow David Lynch came to mind…

I seriously think I forgot to breathe in some places. At one point it occurred to me that Cat was probably going to survive, but I also realized there were worse things to worry about than death.

Myracle manages to bring all the many threads together in the end – but not with clean and simple answers – it’s the kind of ending that will lend itself to discussions. I won’t ruin it with spoilers here. I’m not sure I’m completely happy with the ending, but I also think part of my dis-satisfaction stems from a personal ache and yearning that was stirred inside me. I hate that life can be so hard. What I know for sure is that by the time I reached the end, I  would have followed Cat anywhere.

A tough, thought-provoking, and incredible story – look for it in April.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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Veteran author Judith Viorst (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayThe Tenth Good Thing About Barney, The Good-bye Book) teams up with veteran illustrator Lane Smith (The Stinky Cheese ManJames and the Giant PeachThe True Story of the Three Little Pigs) for this fun romp of a book.

Here is a description from the dust jacket:

Lulu always gets what she wants. Even if it takes screeching till the lightbulbs burst, throwing herself on the floor, kicking her heels, and waving her arms in the air. Until now. For when she asks her parents to give her a brontosaurus for her birthday, they say- for  maybe the first time ever- “No!”

So Lulu takes matters into her own hands and finds herself the perfect brontosaurus for a pet. Or is he? I’m not telling.

Here are my book thoughts:

  • This is a story with attitude with a capital “tude.” If you aren’t convinced by the warning at the front of the book you should be convinced by the first sentence in the story:

“There once was a girl named Lulu, and she was a pain. She wasn’t a pain in the elbow. She wasn’t a pain in the knee. She was a pain—a very big pain—in the butt.”

  • I like the way the author inserts her thoughts into the story. For an example during a scene where the Lulu is having a discussion with a snake the author reminds us

“Okay, so snakes don’t talk. But in my story they do.”

  • Ms. Viorst manages to insert a message in the story without beating it over your head and Lulu does change as the story progresses.
  • The quirky illustrations are a perfect enhancement to the story.  The eye catching cover with the matte finish makes this a true standout.

This would be a great book for reluctant early readers just embarking on chapter books. The humor and Lulu’s antics would appeal to those looking for a fun read. This would be a great book to use to discuss spoiled behavior and how to treat pets.

Happy Reading,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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