Featured Five: Illustrated Children’s Books

 Each Wednesday, I’ll feature five books that I’m currently loving. This week, all my picks are illustrated children’s books – perfect gifts for the young book lovers in your life!

Title: Too Much Glue
Author: Jason Lefebvre
Illustrator: Zac Retz
Publisher: Flashlight Press
Age: 5-7 (K-2)
Goodreads

Too Much Glue is too much fun. Young Matty is a glue enthusiast; he firmly believes you can never have too much glue. After finding himself in a sticky situation, literally, things may have gotten a tad out of hand. Great fun!

Title: My Pen Pal, Santa
Author: Melissa Stanton 
Illustrator: Jennifer A. Bell
Publisher: Random House BFYR
Age: 3-7 (P-2)
Goodreads

In this delightful story Ava sends Santa Claus a letter, thanking him for her gifts and inquiring after his New Year plans. Surprised that someone is thinking of him after Christmas, Santa writes back, beginning a year long correspondence with Ava that leads right up until following holiday season. Ava, full of curiosity and questions, asks many of the things children will often ask of their parents, but receives answers directly from Santa himself! I loved that this story addresses the tough questions – How does Santa get into houses without chimneys? How does he even fit down those chimneys? And does Santa know the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? – while encouraging kids who still believe in Santa to hold on to the magic and keep believing, nevermind the older siblings and peers who might say otherwise!

Title: Snatchabook
Author: Helen Docherty
Illustrator: Thomas Docherty
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Age: 3-6
Goodreads

In cozy Burrow Down, the rabbit Eliza Brown and her book-loving neighbors are without books to read at bedtime. Someone, or something, has been stealing books right from under their noses and Eliza is determined to find out who. When Eliza sets a clever trap for the book snatching thief and discovers the culprit is a Snatchabook, an adorable little imp, she quickly comes up with a plan to set things right. A beautifully illustrated story about sharing, forgiveness, and creative thinking, The Snatchabook is a fantastic read aloud story sure to enchant your readers.

Title: I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love
Author: Nancy Tillman
Illustrator: Nancy Tillman
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan
Age: 4-8 (P-3)
Goodreads

Nancy Tillman has done it again! An incredibly touching and moving portrait of the bond between parent and child, I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love belongs in every young reader’s library. Children will love the cadence of the story and the beautiful illustrations featuring children as animals of every shape and size and the parents who will “know them anywhere.” As always, I highly recommend this Tillman offering.

Title: Princess Tales: Once Upon a Time in Rhyme with Seek-and-Find Pictures
Author: Grace Maccarone
Illustrator: Gail de Marcken
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan
Age: 4-6 (P-1)
Goodreads

Perfect for anyone who loves fairy tales, this interactive book is sure to provide entertainment for both parents and children. Ten retellings are featured in Princess Tales, from the well-known story of Cinderella to the lesser known Twelve Dancing Princesses. What I loved most about the stories themselves was the diversity represented throughout the stories, as each takes place in a different part of the world or in an entirely new fantasy landscape. The tales are told via lengthy poems, making it a great book for parents and children to read together. After parents and children will have fun working together as they search for the items hidden within the illustrations.

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Audiobook Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

New York Times  bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

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Sometime in these past few years, David Levithan has become a bit of a rockstar in my head. His books always begin with a simplicity and quiet, but, suddenly, they’ve escalated to a roar. I actually listened to his newest book, Two Boys Kissing, on a road trip to pick up a friend (Katie, of the blog Sophistikatied). Upon arriving at her house, I immediately asked her if she’d read Two Boys Kissing yet, to which she responded no. Of course, I launched into a rant about how amazing I thought it was – after only 2 discs out of 5!
Two Boys Kissing tells many different stories, but all are tied to Harry and Craig, two boys who used to date and are attempting to break the world record for longest kiss. The boys are trying to make statement and are inspired by a friend who was attacked and beat for being gay and alone on a dark street. The stories of other boys are interwoven, including that of two boys who have just met (one of whom is transgender), two boys who have been dating and are dealing with the everyday difficulties of long-term relationships and secrets, and another boy who has yet to come out and struggles with self-loathing. Throughout the novel, a greek chorus composed of gay men who died of AIDS, offers insight into the past, present, and future of gay individuals and the gay community.

The audio of Two Boys Kissing is narrated by Levithan, which I very much enjoyed and appreciated. I always feel that there is something more real about hearing a book in the author’s voice. Levithan in particular has a certain strength in his voice that added to the novel. He knew exactly how his characters were supposed to sound and were feeling, which I think is very important in a novel like this. In fact, it was this short clip from the very beginning of the book that made me decide to listen to Two Boys Kissing rather than simply read the novel.

I will admit that, within the various stories being told, there were some that I was less interested in than others. I just didn’t click with the two boys who had just met and were getting to know one another. In theory, I loved their story: the difficulty of knowing how much to tell when you meet someone new, the rush, the connection, the fear. In reality, I just didn’t connect either boy. I did however, love Craig and Harry and was transfixed by the greek chorus that interjected stories and comments throughout the novel.

I’m very glad that I chose audio for Two Boys Kissing. My drive was, at various times, filled with laughter, happy smiles, and all-out sobbing. I suppose that last one might not be the safest for a road trip, but you can always pull over!

Two Boys Kissing deserves to win awards and is a book that needs to be read. As I listened, I kept thinking, this is life. These boys are living life, messy, difficult, crazy, happy life, just like everyone else – how can anyone argue that there is something wrong with being gay? Two Boys Kissing is about acceptance… life… love. It is incredibly real and utterly unforgettable.

Interview with Alison Cherry, author of Red

Today author Alison Cherry visits The Hiding Spot to chat about her recent release, Red. Read on to learn more about Alison,including the character that gave her the most trouble in Red, her favorite (yet unused) word, and her go to movie choice for dire situations.

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Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write? 

My protagonist, Felicity, was actually the most difficult character for me to write. Somehow, I managed to finish an entire (terrible) first draft without ever really getting inside her head and figuring out what she wanted. Needless to say, that made it pretty hard for my early readers to sympathize with her. But once Felicity and I spent some quality time together, I started to understand where she was coming from, and things began to click into place. Disturbingly, I had the easiest time writing Felicity’s mother, Ginger, who is the least sympathetic character in the book. My own mom is basically Ginger’s opposite, so perhaps I was channeling her throughout the process and writing whatever she wouldn’tdo.

 

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication? 


This book was originally called Seeing Red, but my agent suggested we retitle it before it went on submission. Neither of us could think of anything good, so we sent it out under a placeholder title: Red. You can see how that worked out…

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general? 


I must have read Matildaby Roald Dahl fifty times as a kid. It was just the right mix of hilarious, absurd, intriguing, and horrifying. It also confirmed my belief that being a smart girl who loved to read was something to be proud of. Matilda’s brain is a powerful thing, and I wanted mine to be, too!

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing? 


I spent my first four years out of college working as a lighting designer for theater and dance productions all over the east coast. To pay the bills, I was also a theater electrician (which I was TERRIBLE at, since I’m afraid of heights) and a freelance editor (for which I was much better suited.) Eventually I left the freelance world to take a job as a photographer and archivist for the Metropolitan Opera. The Met was a fabulously bizarre place to work; on a typical day, I might photograph swords in the armory, document some fake severed heads, or film test runs of pyrotechnic effects. Once a ten-foot piece of scenery collapsed under me while I was taking pictures, confirming my belief that heights are terrifying. None of these experiences made it into Red, but I do intend to write a theater book eventually. These days, writing is my only job.

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why? 


My favorite word is “quiddity,” which means “the inherent nature or essence of a thing.” I have never once found the opportunity to use it, but I love that it’s sitting there waiting for me in case I ever do.

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality? 


Books have always been my escape, too, and I’m happy to report that writing professionally has done nothing to change that. Reading is the only thing that’s guaranteed to cheer me up or calm me down. There are certain TV shows that do the job almost as well—I will never get tired of watching The West Wing, Freaks and Geeks, Parks and Recreation, or Buffy. When things get really dire, I watch Pixar movies.
Find out more about Alison and her books here!
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Interview: Swati Avasthi, author of Chasing Shadows

I’m thrilled to welcome, Swati Avasthi, author of Chasing Shadows and Split! Check out the interview to learn more about Swati, which character’s prose she struggled with, the original title of Chasing Shadows, and her favorite type of word!

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The Interview


Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?

What surprised me the most was that storytelling in the visual format, the graphic sections, was the easiest part for me.  I hadn’t written in that form and never really thought of myself as a visual writer. Being so comfortable in the form was a pleasure.

 On the other hand, the prose for Savitri — the PoV that you would think would be the easiest for me since she is probably the character who is most like me both in terms of racial identity and personality — was a real struggle.

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?

BIDDEN was the working title for a few drafts.  As the story developed, it became clear that Holly wasn’t being called to the Shadowlands. Rather she started pursuing the Shadowlands and so a word like “chasing” seemed like a better fit. I named the Land of the Dead “the Shadowlands” because of a biblical association (“though I walk through valley of the shadow of death”).  Since I wasn’t talking about ghosts but about the idea of absence, shadows seemed like the right fit too.

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general?

Oh a ton, of course. For CHASING SHADOWS, there are a few texts that directly influenced the book.  The Hindu legend of “Savitri” is retold and intentionally mistold in the book.  Certainly American superhero comics influenced this book from DC to Marvel to Vertigo (but not really in the same way since I came to them as an adult) and, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman, which is a wonderful story. 

All these texts influenced me as a person – helping to inform my understanding of what it meant to grow up, to stretch loyalty to the breaking point, and to lose people you loved.  Since they influenced me as a person, they ended up influencing me as a writer, too.

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?

Jobs – lots of varied jobs from teacher/grader to paralegal to mom.  Although being a paralegal and coordinating a domestic violence clinic really influenced my first novel, SPLIT, even more than that was working in the theater because it has really shaped my writing.  I think of characters as whole people whose desires drive the action of the story and that comes from the theatrical notions of superobjectives, objectives, tactics, and beats.

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?

Wow, that’s even harder than picking a writer. I love words – the way they sound, the way the feel in your mouth, the way they carry a meaning and associations.  I love words that are nouns and verbs like “stain” or “swallow” or “split” (all titles of my publications) and I picked the titles in part because I loved the word itself.  So today, I’ll say, “grasp” because it has energy, a clear visual picture, and multiple meanings.

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?

In every place I’ve lived I’ve come up with a local spot – watching Lake Michigan break against concrete blocks by myself in the early morning at “the point” in Chicago, up in the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque New Mexico hidden in a copse of Aspens, walking on a shale beach beside Lake Superior. But I can’t easily to get to most of those, living in Minneapolis proper, so I opt for my bedroom. We have light blocking curtains and when I really want to escape, I turn off all the lights in the house, close the door, pull the curtains and breathe.  It’s the closest thing to a sensory deprivation tank that I think I could stand.  I revel in not being able to see my hand and just disappear into the darkness.
Find out more about Swati and her books here! 
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Interview & Giveaway: Peggy Eddleman, author of Sky Jumpers

I’m thrilled to welcome, Peggy Eddleman, author of Sky Jumpers, the first book in a new series by the same name! Check out the interview to learn more about Peggy, including the writer that’s influenced her most (he doesn’t write novels!), why she feels bad for her favorite word, and the long journey to deciding on Sky Jumpers as the title of this first book!

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The Interview


Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?

Action scenes are, by far, the easiest for me to write. They come out so naturally and are so much fun, and it’s so easy to make it chock full of emotion and great pacing. If it wouldn’t make for an awful story, I’d write a book with nothing but action scenes.

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?

The title did change. It was actually a very long and involved process. It began as THROUGH THE BOMB’S BREATH. We had considered changing it several times, but nothing had sounded right. Then, as the cover got closer and closer to being final, we decided that it needed to be different. My editor and I brainstormed more than a hundred titles and narrowed it down to a dozen. Then we polled nearly 500 middle grade-aged kids on what their favorites were. When we took that information to Sales & Marketing, they fell in love with the name SKY JUMPERS. We decided, though, that SKY JUMPERS made a fabulous series name, and that we would keep the book name THROUGH THE BOMB’S BREATH. Ultimately, though, having a strong series name actually split the focus. When people asked the name of the book, it was hard to know whether to say SKY JUMPERS (because it was larger on the cover) or THROUGH THE BOMB’S BREATH (because that’s the book name). So we decided to drop the book name, and have SKY JUMPERS be the name for both the series and for book one.

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general?

My most influential author doesn’t actually write books— he writes movies and tv shows. Joss Whedon. It’s hard not to pick him because I learned so much about writing while watching his commentaries on the episodes he wrote, when I was just barely on the cusp of deciding to be a writer. Hearing the reasons why he made the decisions he made on each plot turn gave me the tools I needed to become a writer and plow ahead, hungry to learn more.

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?

My first job, at age fourteen, was as a newspaper delivery girl. Then I moved on to laundromat cleaner, fast food worker, bank teller, technical support for computer software, technical writer, and most recently, I worked with fourth graders struggling with math and literacy. But the one that most shaped me as a writer is that of being a Mom. Not only does it mean I get to hang out with middle grade -aged kids all the time, but it means I get to read them lots and lots of middle grade books.

 If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?

As a kid, it was antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters long), because my dad told me that it used to be the longest word in the dictionary until supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (34 letters) kicked it out. It didn’t seem fair that a fake word could strip it of it’s title AND get a song made up about it! I kind of felt for the word, you know?

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?

Movies! But only in the theater. (If they leave the theater before I watch them, there’s a .001% chance I’ll ever see it. It’s all about getting distance from my to-do list, and not being able to do anything else while I’m there.) For some odd reason, I crave movies ferociously whenever I’m in edits. There’s an amazing theater a mile from my home that has tickets for $3.50 and popcorn for a buck. No joke.  I’m pretty sure they can guess exactly when I get each edit letter.

Find out more about Peggy and her books here! 
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Review: The Eye of Minds (The Mortality Doctrine #1) by James Dashner

An all-new, edge-of-your seat adventure from James Dashner, the author of the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series, The Eye of Minds is the first book in The Mortality Doctrine, a series set in a world of hyperadvanced technology, cyberterrorists, and gaming beyond your wildest dreams . . . and your worst nightmares.

Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it’s addictive. Thanks to technology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk their life without the chance of death, or just hang around with Virt-friends. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?

But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific—the hostages have all been declared brain-dead. Yet the gamer’s motives are a mystery.

The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker.
And they’ve been watching Michael. They want him on their team.
But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can’t even fathom—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from James Dashner’s The Eye of Minds. After all, I liked The Maze Runner well enough after listening to it on audio, but I was hazy on the details and never felt especially compelled to read the next two books in the trilogy. Now, after getting sucked into and genuinely enjoying this first book in The Morality Doctrine, I’m wondering if his first trilogy doesn’t deserve another try.
The Eye of Minds is set primarily in a virtual world called VirtNet, a world much preferred over the boring reality of most peoples’ normal, everyday lives. Daily, people slog through their necessary jobs and responsibilities with the promise of slipping into their virtual lives at the end of the day. The main character, Michael, is one of these people. He’s one of the best, a talented hacker, and determined to make it the next coveted level in the game. Michael’s normal, laid-back life of exploring and having fun in VirtNet with is best friends, Bryson and Sarah, is thrown off-kilter when Michael witnesses a suicide within the game – a true suicide, not a simple thrown-back-into-reality-to-begin-again death, a normal occurrence. Reports of suicide and other malfunctions are becoming more and more common and the cause of it all seems to be a mysterious and deadly hacker named Kaine. After witnessing the suicide, Michael and his friends are recruited to track down Kaine, before he’s able to strike again. The stakes are high and the lines between the game and reality are becoming dangerously blurred.
The Eye of Minds starts with a bang and never truly slows. From one thrilling situation to the next, the pressure is on for Michael, Bryson, and Sarah and, when I reached the final chapter, I was a bit in awe of how much happened in just over 300 pages. If readers appreciated the action in The Maze Runner, they’ll be happy to see that Dashner doesn’t drop the ball in this new trilogy – in fact, he stepped it up.
I really liked Michael, Bryson, and Sarah as a team. In my opinion, there aren’t enough examples of true, supportive friendships in YA literature, especially between guys and girls. While I could see some type of romantic relationship developing later in the series, there was nothing to hint at it in this first book and I really appreciated that. I liked that the three were just friends with similar interests who trusted and relied upon one another. The banter between them felt genuine and I quickly became invested in their friendship.
I’m by no means a gamer, but I soon became immersed in the world and concept of VirtNet. I could definitely understand how a person could feel the urge to spend large amounts of time in something like VirtNet, where they could look any way they wanted and experience virtually anything. For kids like Michael, who are skilled hackers, it’d be even harder to stay away. Imagine a world you can change in substantial ways at your whim. Being able to eat anything you want and never gaining a pound. Doing crazy and dangerous stunts without any fear of dying. That kind of experience could be addicting and drawing the line between what’s real and not could become increasingly difficult. 
This first installment of The Mortality Doctrine is delightfully twisty. I was never sure what would happen next because the characters were never sure. Normal rules don’t apply within VirtNet, so Dashner was able to throw some crazy twists and turns in and all I could do was try to brace myself for the next surprise.
I’ll definitely be reading the next Mortality Doctrine book, especially after the cliffhanger of an ending in The Eye of Minds. The last few pages of the book left me spinning and anxious to know what happens next.
Delacorte BFYR, October 2013, Hardcover, ISBN:  9780385741392, 320 pgs.

Interview & Giveaway: Elsie Chapman, author of Dualed


Today Elsie Chapman, author of Dualed, one of my absolute favorite dystopian novels, is here at The Hiding Spot! I read Elsie’s debut back in February and immediately fell in love with her writing and the world she’d created, along with many other elements of the novel, which I discussed in my review, here. Check out my interview with Elsie, below, and enter to win a finished copy of Dualed!

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The Interview


Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?


I had lots of fun writing Dualed’s action scenes, and I felt West and Chord from the very start. Some of the minor characters too me a bit longer to figure out, and until I did, some of the scenes with more dialogue gave me some moments.

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?


The original title at submission was The Assignment. Yes, it wasn’t original in the least, and I’m still not very good with titles at all. Even character names don’t typically come easily for me. I’m so grateful for my editor and everyone else at Random House who was involved in coming up with the title Dualed. It plays with the words dualand duel, and I think it’s perfect.

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general?


I’d have to say Stephen King. I grew up reading him, and I just think he’s this amazing storyteller. In particular, his older works and short stories are some of my favourites. He wrote The Long Walk as Richard Bachman, and I think it’s one of the best dystopians ever.

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?


Nothing writing-related—I’ve worked at fast-food restaurants, gas stations, a movie theatre, at a financial company selling life insurance and saving accounts. In university, I did take Children’s Lit, as well as a Linguistics course. But I really do feel that it’s reading—and tons of it—that forms the strongest foundation for writing. I learned so much (and am still learning), just reading how other authors write.

 If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?


Well, the word brouhahajust popped into mind, so I’m going with that! I’m from Vancouver and a Canucks fan, and our local sportscaster Don Taylor makes a point to use it whenever he can while covering game highlights. The word has haha built into it—how can it be a bad choice?

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?


Aside from books, I love movies, and watching them in theatres forces me to get away from my laptop. And I’m addicted to tumblr, so I can easily spend hours there.
Find out more about Elsie and her books here! 
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More about Dualed:
In the city of Kersh, everyone must eliminate their genetic Alternate twin, raised by another family, before their twentieth birthday. West Grayer, 15, has trained as a fighter, and has one month to hunt and kill her Alt. A tragic misstep shakes her confidence. Guilty, grieving, she feels unworthy, runs from her Alt and from love – both can destroy her.

Earn extra entries by following the Fall Festival blogs listed here! 

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