Bookish Event!

This is a librarian thing rather than a writer thing, but it’s book-related, so I’ll post it anyway!

A coworker and I recently planned and presented a library program based on the Series of Unfortunate Events books/show/movie/aesthetic. We had a blast, and so did the kids who came to the party! Here’s what we did:

In preparation for the party, my coworker and I had fun making weird snacks! The Lake Lachrymose Leeches are sour gummy worms in Berry Blue Jell-O. (Fun fact: we had to buy real Jell-O because, while there are knockoffs that are slightly cheaper, we could not find them in any blue flavors. We wanted our lake water to be blue!) Once the Jell-O set, we just stabbed it with a sharp knife and inserted the gummy worms into the holes. The Lemony Cakes are lemon mini cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting, and the Red Herrings are, naturally, Swedish Fish.

gummy worms in blue jell-o
Lake Lachrymose Leeches
“Mendacious” is a word which here means “not strictly true, because these dishes do not really contain leeches or herrings.”

snack table

These decorations were lots of fun to put together. The map is an old one of Raleigh, NC!

map decorated with pins, photos, and strings

cardboard signpost with silly sign labelsOur main, big craft was the felt Incredibly Deadly Vipers. Our volunteers had previously prepared three-foot-long strips of felt, tapered at one end, and little felt snake tongues. We followed the instructions in this video to have each kid (with assistance, if necessary) braid a snake. Both ends were secured with large amounts of hot glue.

Our secondary craft was making Unlikely Hazard Signs. Kids could make signs warning of unusual hazards from the books – giant pincher machine, anyone? – or make up their own.

“Hazard” is a word which here means something worth warning people about. Without signs like these, people might accidentally trip, eat poison, embarrass themselves on CCTV, or get run over by a fork-lift.

We had a Secret Code Scavenger Hunt, though we didn’t really get photos of that. Each kid got a sheet with a series of symbols, and they had to search the library for little cards on which the symbols were translated into letters. Worked well . . . except that we’re pretty sure some little kid walked away with one of the cards, as no one, including us, could find it. Such are the hazards of holding scavenger hunts in public libraries during open hours.

We also had Hook-Handed Double-Dealing, a game in which kids put on two hooks over their hands and then tried to flip over playing cards as fast as possible. They could either compete against each other, or against our awesome coworker who was running that station. They also had the option of playing alone while our coworker timed them, and then trying to beat their own best times. They loved that!

My coworker, looking nefarious

This was all great fun. I want to share the photos and description partly because, when I was planning this program, I really appreciated other people’s posts on Series of Unfortunate Events parties they had put on. So here’s me trying to pay it forward. I hope this might help someone put on their own party!

Fictional People who are #SquadGoals

Romantic ships can be great, but I was delighted recently to see some book bloggers listing their favorite fictional groups of friends. (I think I first saw it on ForeverAndEverly? Can’t find the post now, though, naturally.) So I’m stealing the idea! Here are a few books featuring groups of friends that I love.

The Amateurs series by Sara Shepard — Seneca, Aerin, Maddox, and Madison are brave, complicated people fighting their own demons but also being there for each other. And solving mysteries.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling — Gotta love the Golden Trio! It’s not easy staying best friends when one of you is the Chosen One, one is a slightly neurotic brainiac, and one is just a steadfast pragmatist trying not to get an inferiority complex. Still, these three manage, and save the world at the same time.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan — Elliot, Luke, and Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle are an unlikely but surprisingly well-balanced and accepting trio who weather all kinds of challenges, from cultural misunderstandings to actual warfare to Elliot’s nonstop snark, which could honestly sink some friendships all by itself. And their banter is fantastic.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater — Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah are all rough around the edges. (Except for Gansey, who is polished and shiny around the edges, like everywhere else.) They’re all wonderful in their own ways, but I actually like their friendship even more than I like most of them individually.

Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops manga by Neko Nekobyou — Rika, Keiko, Suguha, and Hiyori (and, by extension, their online avatars, who are the real stars in most of this manga) are sweet and supportive friends. I especially like how they defy stereotypes: they’re girls who game together and are equally likely to strategize over a mission or to squeal over a cute in-game outfit. Guess what? You can do both!

cover of Sword Art Online: Girls' Ops manga
Just some gal pals kicking butt and taking names, and also sometimes logging out and going to class.

This was kind of tough for me! I read a lot of YA, and friendships seem to take a backseat to romances in a lot of them. In some other books, there might be just one best friend (not a whole friend group), or conversely, the group might be too big for me to have a real sense of all the characters and their relationships. But while I didn’t come up with a lot of examples, the ones I did list are ones I love!

What fictional groups of friends do you like?

Edit: I found the post that inspired me to write this one! It’s this post on favorite couples, friendships, and squads in fiction from The Bookish Actress.

A Few Great Books of 2017

As we’re wrapping up 2017, I thought I’d offer a few of my favorite reads that came out this year. I haven’t had as much free time recently as I’d like, so I feel lucky that some of the books I did manage to read were this good!

book cover of Amina's Voice
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan – Realistic fiction is not normally my thing, but this sweet MG novel charmed me while also teaching me a few things about the experiences of some Muslim Americans.

book cover of The Dark Prophecy
The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan – I continue to be impressed by (A) Rick Riordan in general, as an author and a person, and (B) his ability to pull off writing a series from the point of view of the god Apollo.

book cover of Dreadnought
Dreadnought by April Daniels – My favorite of the year! The prose, characters, and world are all excellent in this YA novel about a trans girl who becomes a superhero.

book cover of One Dark Throne
One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake – Sequel to the fascinating fantasy Three Dark Crowns, which is a hard act to follow. I couldn’t put this one down, either. Kendare Blake can write, y’all.

What 2017 books did you love?

Books About Girls: a Clarification

I just saw another post lamenting the silly – but unfortunately common – idea that boys can’t be expected to read books about girls, even though girls commonly read books about boys. (In fact, we’re often required to, for school.) I’ve written about this before. So has the excellent Shannon Hale.

It strikes me that part of the issue may be that people have different notions of what “books about girls” or “girl-centric books” are. When we say “it’s a problem that boys aren’t expected to read books about girls,” I think we usually mean “books with female protagonists.” At other times, though, “books about girls” may be used to mean “books about the experience of being a girl” or “books designed to appeal to girls” (which usually means they are about romance and/or close female friendships, possibly with a side of fashion and gossip).

This affects the conversation a lot! After all, this:

eight books on a pink background, titles listed later in this post

. . . may turn off a lot of boys. It turns off a lot of girls, too. Others love it. Some boys love these books, too, or would if they felt they were allowed to. The boys and girls who do want to read these books should be able to enjoy them without judgement, but I wouldn’t argue for pushing people to read them any more than I would argue for pushing them to read sports books or mysteries. It’s nice to at least try it out, to broaden your horizons, but if you don’t like it, that’s fine.

On the other hand, if you subscribe to a broader idea of “books about girls” that encompasses all books with female protagonists, then you get something more like this:

twenty-five books, titles listed later in this post

These books range from horror to humor, from fantasy to romance. There are mysteries. There is action. There are comics. The settings are different. The tones are different. The protagonists are very different people, with one thing in common: they are female. If that’s enough for a reader to say, “ew, girl book, I won’t read that” – or for a parent to say “my son won’t read that” or a teacher to say “the boys in my class won’t read that” – then society, we have a problem.

In case anyone’s curious, I’ll list the books here. All are books I’ve read and enjoyed. I went with mostly YA (with one or two MG) both because that’s my own reading preference and because kids and teens who are reading these books so often fall victim to this weird genderization of reading preferences.

Graphic One:

1. Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
2. Vanished by E.E. Cooper
3. Ali’s Pretty Little Lies by Sara Shepard
4. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
5. The Selection by Kiera Cass
6. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
7. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
8. Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

Graphic Two (repeats some books from Graphic One):

1. Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
2. George by Alex Gino
3. Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
4. Smile by Raina Telgemeier
5. Ten by Gretchen McNeil
6. This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
7. Sweet by Emmy Laybourne
8. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
9. Endangered by Lamar Giles
10. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
11. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
12. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
13. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
14. Ms. Marvel, vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
15. They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire
16. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
17. In Real Life by Cory Doctorow
18. Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill
19. Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley
20. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
21. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
22. Adaptation by Malinda Lo
23. Huntress by Malinda Lo (ha, I didn’t even realize I had put in two Malinda Lo books – and right next to each other!)
24. The Selection by Kiera Cass
25. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Diverse Books to Add to Your Reading List

Sometimes, when the world seems a little scary, you ask yourself: how can I use my powers for good? We all have powers of one kind or another. In addition to writing, it happens that I am a librarian. So here is one of my powers: book recommendations.

Note: Possibly you have encountered the term “own voices” (often seen as a hashtag, #ownvoices). It’s become popular in the publishing and reading community. This term refers to books about diverse characters (people of color, LGBTQIA people, people with disabilities, and more) that are written by authors who themselves come from those groups. I, like many, think that a sensitively-written book featuring diverse characters is valuable no matter who writes it, but I also recognize that there is value in (A) the authenticity of a book that draws on personal experience, and (B) promoting the voices of marginalized people, who often have a harder time reaching a mainstream audience than white/straight/cis/ablebodied/etc. people do. So the following list is of “own voices” books.

The world benefits, and we benefit, when we see diverse points of view. Here are some books that can help us do that. These are all books I have personally read and can highly recommend, which means that they skew heavily toward books for teens, though I’ve included a few other categories. If you’re holiday shopping, they make excellent presents!

Picture Books

Just in Case by Yuyi Morales – beautiful book that teaches the alphabet as well as having a charming, sweet story

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña – winner of the 2016 Newbery and a Caldecott Honor book

Little Red Riding Hood by Jerry Pinkney – classic story; rich, gorgeous illustrations

Please Puppy Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee – adorable illustrations; cute story that reads aloud well

Middle Grade Books

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander – exciting basketball-centric story written entirely in hip-hop-esque poems

El Deafo by Cece Bell – funny, cute, and surprisingly informative graphic novel memoir

Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle – sweet novel in verse about a boy who, after his mother goes to jail, goes to live with his uncle and bonds with him and his search-and-rescue dog

Young Adult Books

I’ve heard people complain about YA books as a whole being too grim and bleak. Some of these books, I admit, are pretty sad and/or scary – and sometimes that intensity and feeling is what you want! (After all, The Fault in Our Stars became a smash hit for a reason.) But for people who could use an uplifting story, I’m tagging some of these in particular as ***Not a Downer!*** Doesn’t mean nothing bad happens in them, but it means they are ultimately uplifting and leave you with hope, excitement, and/or other positive feelings.

Ash by Malinda Lo – lovely Cinderella retelling
***Not a Downer!***

Brain Camp by Susan Kim and Faith Erin Hicks – this graphic novel is creepy, but fun-creepy
***Not a Downer!***

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina – thrilling historical fiction set during the infamous New York summer of 1977, when power outages and fires swept NYC while the serial killer Son of Sam terrorized the city
***Not a Downer!***

Fake ID by Lamar Giles – smart, fast-paced thriller
***Not a Downer!***

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco – a poetically-written, chilling ghost story based on Japanese folklore

Hero by Perry Moore – clever and thoughtful superhero story packed with fantastical action
***Not a Downer!***

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon – absorbing story that shows the aftermath of an incident when a white man shoots a black teen

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth – clever, quietly-powerful story of a boy struggling with poverty and discrimination who discovers that if you let them, your friends can be exactly what you need
***Not a Downer!***

The Living by Matt de la Peña – taut thriller that follows a boy who is working on a cruise ship when a tsunami wrecks it, and the survivors realize that tsunamis are far from the only disaster hitting their world

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson – witty, exciting, utterly fabulous superhero graphic novel series
***Not a Downer!*** Seriously, like, the least downer-y thing ever written

Otherbound by Corrine Duyvis – fantasy with great worldbuilding, tight pacing, and an original premise
***Not a Downer!***

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee – well-researched, well-plotted, well-written historical fiction set in San Francisco during 1906, the year when a deadly earthquake strikes

Pointe by Brandy Colbert – a teenaged ballerina’s life is shaken when her childhood best friend, who was kidnapped years ago, is returned

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan – a sort of romantic comedy set in high school; fun and unusual; also deals with bullying/harassment in a positive way
***Not a Downer!***

This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp – not for the faint of heart, this powerful story offers the viewpoints of various students during a terrifying school shooting

Adult Books

The Arrival by Shaun Tan – gorgeous, uplifting wordless graphic novel about an immigrant coming to a fantastical new city (great for kids and teens, too!)

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo – I cannot tell you how lyrically beautiful this book, full of Chinese folklore, is, but trust me, it will suck you right into its intricate, fascinating world

House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle – gorgeous storytelling with touches of magical realism

Some resources to check out for further recommendations:

Seven Great Nonfiction Books for Writers that Aren’t About Writing

Writing fiction – even writing fantasy – doesn’t mean you make everything up. Does your book have human characters? Does it have animals, plants, stars, diseases, art, wars, pretty much anything that exists in the real world? Then your book will be stronger if you know something about how those things really work. Research: luckily, it’s more fun than it sounds.

There are fabulous books out there that are specifically about writing. I especially like The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy by Darin Park and Tom Dullemond. Books like that can boost your craft, for sure. But it’s also helpful – and incredibly fascinating – to read other nonfiction that touches on topics relevant to your work. (Bonus: these books make you more interesting to talk to at cocktail parties, and you can recommend them to friends who aren’t writers!) The following seven books have illuminated various topics for me, including . . .

1. FoodWhat the World Eats by Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel
book cover
This book’s creators visited dozens of countries all over the world to photograph families with all the food they eat in a week. There’s a profile of each family, plus a list of all the food they consume in an average week, including brand names and prices in US dollars. Plus, it has features on things like street food – scorpion on a stick, anyone?

2. Plants, and the Domestication ThereofThe Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
book cover
In a breezy, storytelling style, Pollan explores the histories of four plants: apples, tulips, marijuana, and the potato.

3. DiseasesSpillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen
book cover
A zoonosis is a disease that crosses over from a nonhuman animal species to infect humans. This book plots the course of several outbreaks that started in animals before jumping to humans. The author also goes to adventurous lengths to meet and speak with people who are on the front lines of zoonosis research.

4. AnimalsMammals by Juliet Clutton-Brock
book cover
Come for the cool photos, stay for the weird facts. This Smithsonian Handbook might just introduce you to your favorite mammal that you’d never heard of. This was where I first learned about binturongs, and life has never been the same.

5. WarThe Hutchinson Atlas of Battle Plans: Before and After by John Pimlott
book cover
Clear without being condescending, this book explains significant historical battles and shows the movement of troops using before-and-after maps (hence the title). It profiles battles from all over the world and all through history, each one chosen to emphasize a specific factor, e.g. “smart leadership” or “underestimating the enemy.”

6. Nineteenth-Century EnglandWhat Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool
book cover
Theoretically, this book is intended as a desk reference for people who like to read Victorian fiction. It’s a funny, highly readable explanation of the nitty-gritty details of life in England in the 1800s, from the etiquette of fox hunts to the treatment of servants to the currency system.

7. More Things About the Nineteenth Century, and Not Just in EnglandEveryday Life in the 1800s by Marc McCutcheon
book cover
Does this book overlap some with the last one? Yes. Is it still worth reading, if you’re interested in the time period? Absolutely. Interesting and clever, this book has tons of great citations from period documents.

I’m always looking for more great nonfiction books, whether they’re relevant to my writing or not. Any recommendations?

PSA: The Virginia Children’s Book Festival is Fabulous

This past weekend, the third annual Virginia Children’s Book Festival took place on Longwood University campus in Farmville, VA. I’m not affiliated with the festival except as a gleeful, starstruck visitor, but let me tell you: it is the best. They bring in some real rock stars of the writing and illustrating world for panel discussions, presentations, workshops, signings, and more. The local schools know what a great event this is: thousands of schoolkids of all ages are bused in, some from schools more than two hours away.

Oh, and did I mention the part where it’s all free?

A few things I got to do at the festival:

  • Listen to Matt de la Peña talk about how he went from reluctant reader to author and Neal Shusterman explain how he develops book series

author Matt de la Peña

author Neal Shusterman

  • Attend a lively, funny panel discussion wherein Rita Williams-Garcia told the story of how she missed the call announcing her third Coretta Scott King award, then waxed enthusiastic about using money made by her books to finally buy a new refrigerator
  • See author/illustrator John Rocco’s fantastic presentation on how he makes book covers like the ones he did for the Percy Jackson series
  • Listen to Tim Tingle tell the story – accompanied by music! – of his picture book Crossing Bok Chitto

author Tim Tingle

  • Watch a panel of fantastic authors talk about civil rights in children’s literature, with the event being held in the historic R.R. Moton museum

panel of authors

  • Hear Neal Shusterman and Christy Marx – who created the show Jem and wrote for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, and more – discuss writing for TV shows and video games
  • Learn about how one writes a Choose Your Own Adventure book from Anson Montgomery, whose late father was a founder of the series

Despite all the classes of schoolkids who get bused in, there are absolutely opportunities for one-on-one conversations with the authors and illustrators. They’ll sign your book, take a photo with you, answer questions, smile patiently while you fangirl at them . . . it’s great. If you get the chance to check out this festival, go for it. You’ll be glad you did.

Plus, It Gets You Out of the House!

Here’s a cool thing to do: go to author readings. Your public library or your local bookstore might have them, and they’re usually free. It’s heartening for the author, even if you don’t buy their book; it boosts the library’s attendance statistics, if it’s at a library; and you get to be read to like a kid and entertained. And, if you’re a writer who’s aiming at publication, you can snag yourself some interesting and useful information.

(Also, for writers scoping out these events, it’s fun to feel like you’re undercover. Taking notes is a lot cooler when you’re “gathering intel” than when you’re “attending math class”.)

Two days ago, I went to just such an author talk, and I learned all kinds of things! The author, Ralph Hardy, has written a novel that retells the story of The Odyssey from the perspective of Odysseus’ dog, Argos.

cover of the book Argos

(FYI: I had never met this author, and have no connection to him, except that I think he’s a member of the same SCBWI chapter I am. This post isn’t some kind of sneaky advertising, just my observations.)

The audience was almost half kids under fourteen (at my estimate), which is the book’s target audience. (And, incidentally, will be the target audience for MY dog-centric middle-grade book, so I was especially interested to see how this reading would go.) Then there was the author, a person sitting at a table with copies of the book for sale, and a library staff member to help run the program.

First off, I took notes on how the reading was organized. Here they are, along with some conclusions I drew:

  • It started at 4:00 p.m. on a Tuesday. If your target audience is mostly kids, make sure they’ll be out of school when you do your reading!
  • The author started by introducing himself and his book. He quizzed the kids about Greek mythology (they were GOOD, presumably courtesy of Rick Riordan). He then gave a quick, lively summary of the Trojan War. Know your audience, and know how much background to give them about the book.
  • Next up, Mr. Hardy briefly introduced, then read, two short chapters (the first one and a later one). His introduction included general setup facts for the novel, such as “All the animals can talk to each other, but not to humans.” When reading, he would pause to engage the kids in the audience (“Who knows what a ‘stag’ is?”). Consider not reading for too long. Pick short sections with dramatic endings.
  • He showed us a blown-up version of the cover and talked about getting an international call from the illustrator, who asked, “What does the dog look like?” His answer: “Big, and black, and wolfish, with a white shield on his chest.” He was enthusiastic about the cover. (I would be, too!) Visuals are great. So is enthusiasm!
  • He mentioned that the book can potentially tie in with The Odyssey, which kids in North Carolina are required to read in ninth grade. Again, know your target audience.
  • All of this had taken about twenty minutes. He spent the rest of the event – maybe another twenty-five minutes – doing Q&A.

The kids were engaged and interested, if slightly squirmy, which is to be expected for kids that age who just got out of school. But they were very keen on the Q&A. This afforded me another useful learning opportunity: what are some of the questions that middle-school-aged kids might ask an author?

Well, here are the questions they asked. (Unless otherwise noted, these were all asked by kids.)

  1. How long did it take you to write it?
  2. Why did you want to write the book?
  3. Was Argos really a dog in The Odyssey?
  4. Are you going to make a sequel?
  5. What is your writing schedule like? (Asked by an adult – not me!)
  6. What are your other books [that he had mentioned] about? (Also asked by an adult.)
  7. What was your favorite book as a kid?
  8. Do you prefer Greek or Roman mythology?
  9. Have you ever made a comic? (He had mentioned in response to Question 7, that he loved comics.)
  10. [Clarification question about one of the other books he had mentioned]
  11. Do you have any desire to write for adults? (Asked by an adult.)
  12. Have you written books under any other name?

1, 2, 4, and 7 are variations on questions that I’ve heard authors say they get asked all the time. But it was neat to hear some of the author-specific questions, like 3 and 8.

The audience seemed quite interested in concrete details about publishing. Then again, Mr. Hardy had some pretty interesting ones to share (“There were three rounds of edits. The last one was one sentence: ‘Put it in present tense.'”). They also liked fun personal stories, like how the author did a reading at his hometown library, and his ninety-five-year-old kindergarten teacher attended.

A couple of things that interested me perhaps more than the non-writers in the audience:

  • The book is 83,000 words. It’s always been acceptable for fantasy to go longer than other genres, but I still feel like the accepted length for MG has gone up in recent years. Thanks, J.K. Rowling!
  • He writes every weekday morning, aiming for between 500 and 1500 words per day.
  • He regrets publishing an earlier book under the name R.K. Hardy. He did it because people advised him that it was wise to obscure your gender to avoid alienating certain readers. Now, though, he sees it as a mistake because people who search his name don’t find all of his books.

See? Just a few of the fascinating things you can learn at an author talk. If you’ve been to any good ones, I’d love to hear about it!

What I’ve Been Reading in 2015

Well, I have finished buying a ton of books as holiday gifts for friends and family – can I just say thanks to my pals who are having kids for giving me an excuse to buy Mo Willems books?

it's a tiger
And also this piece of silly cuteness.

In other news, I finished my diversity reading list for 2015. Huzzah! I posted the list in a previous entry, with some descriptions of the books, so I won’t rehash it too much now. I’ll just note a few of my favorites.

girl from the well
The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
Creepy and creative ghost story with a fascinating mythological background. Plus, I love that the narrator is the ghost – and that she manages to be sympathetic, righteous, and scary like whoah.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
This beautiful book made me care so hard about its protagonist! I have been recommending it like a broken record.

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Topical, important, and highly readable. You start reading to find out what really happened on the day that a white man shot a black teen boy dead; you keep reading to find out where the boy’s family and community will go from here.

100 sideways miles
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
I hadn’t read any Andrew Smith, and I’ll have to pick up some more. Weird, wacky, clever, and surprisingly good-hearted. Since the protagonist has epilepsy but the author doesn’t, I went looking for reviews by readers with epilepsy. I was happy to find this one at Disability in Kidlit, which offers a mostly-positive reaction to the portrayal of the condition. Nice!

And what the heck, here are some diverse books I read and loved in 2015 that weren’t on my to-read list:

the shadow hero
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
A fascinating reboot of the first Chinese-American superhero. Great plot with doses of hilarious humor (and some tearjerker stuff, too). Some of the original comics are reproduced at the end of the book.

fake id
Fake ID by Lamar Giles
Smart, well-paced thriller about a teen in the Witness Protection Program. He’s trying to stay out of trouble at his new school, but he has to know whether his best friend there really committed suicide or was murdered.

Chains and Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson
I listened to audiobooks of both of these and loved them. Historical fiction with action, drama, and characters you can really root for.

el deafo
El Deafo by CeCe Bell
Incredible graphic novel by a deaf woman about her childhood. Funny, yet informative.

the rest of us just
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
The big, impossible stuff happens to some people. They fall in love with vampires; they get powers; they save the world. The other people, they’re just trying to make the best of their far-more-ordinary existences, even when that supernatural stuff spills over and messes up their plans. After all, they just live here.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
This graphic novel is THE FUNNEST, y’all.

Cover of The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
I saw Kwame Alexander speak at the Virginia Children’s Book Festival this year (which was, by the way, phenomenal). He’s an awesome poet, and that comes through big time in this book. The excitement of the basketball games comes through well, too, and I’m not even a sports person.

carry on
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Did you read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell? If yes, then read Carry On. If no, then still read Carry On, but possibly read Fangirl first. Though if you’re a Harry Potter fan and you like the idea of a novel that’s basically a clever twist on Harry/Draco fanfic, then by all means dive directly into Carry On with no passing of Go or collecting of two hundred dollars.

What did you read and love this year?

Book Expo America!

You guys you guys you guys!

This year, for the first time, I got to attend Book Expo America. This was located in New York City, a place of which I am distinctly nervous*, but I was still beyond psyched to travel there for this magical event.

Book Expo America, for those who may not know, is a giant convention put on by publishers. Attending it are librarians, booksellers, book reviewers and bloggers, and other people with the power to buy and/or promote books. Oh, and authors. Over six hundred of those this year alone! There are panels on various book-related topics, booths run by publishers, and autographing sessions by authors. The entire time, free books – both advance reader copies (ARCs) and finished books – are basically being shoved at you.

(Also, there’s candy.)

BEA 2015 was held in the Javits Center, which is a space so vast that I can only measure it in terms of how many Costcos would fit inside. (Maybe five?) The whole thing, inside and out, was plastered with giant advertisements for books. I appreciated that. It made me feel catered to.

Look at the STAIRS!

I was there for all three days of the conference, and I had an incredible time. A few highlights:

1. Met Todd Strasser. Todd Strasser has written over one hundred books for kids and teens, many of them dealing with tough topics like homelessness and school shootings. I was there to gush over a middle grade book he wrote called Help! I’m Trapped in Obedience School, which is about a boy who accidentally switches bodies with his dog. Which was followed, of course, by the unforgettable classic Help! I’m Trapped in Obedience School Again. I read both of these multiple times as a kid. And now I have a signed copy of his upcoming book, The Beast of Cretacea.

2. Met Louis Sachar, whose Wayside School books I loved as a kid. Got a signed copy of his upcoming book Fuzzy Mud.

3. Met A.S. King and told her how much I (and my mom, and my mom’s book group) loved Everybody Sees the Ants! Also, got a signed copy of her book I Crawl Through It.

4. I got to meet Anne Ursu and congratulate her on the excellent review of her book The Real Boy I’d read on the site Disability in Kidlit. I was touched by how thrilled she was about the review. And I got a signed copy of The Real Boy!

5. Libba Bray and Barry Lyga did a hilarious interview/banter session at the Librarians’ Lounge. Libba Bray answered an interview question in song. This area was librarians-only, and the crowd was really small, so we got up close and personal with these awesome authors. (And, you know, got signed copies of their upcoming books, After the Red Rain and Lair of Dreams.)

I think the woman in the middle was their publicist. She was a good sport.

6. Saw a panel on comedy that included Dave Barry. I LOVED his books as a kid. I still can’t believe this happened:

7. MET KATHERINE FREAKING APPLEGATE YOU GUYS YOU GUYS. Okay, so the Animorphs series was basically my entire life when I was a tween. My friends and I bonded over it and competed over who could get the new book first. I didn’t even know the word “fanart,” but I was drawing Andalites. My dad made me an Animorphs birthday cake, but on the cover it had me morphing into a cat instead of Rachel, and the author said “K.A. Applecake” instead of “Applegate” because it was an apple spice cake and, you know, dad jokes. I had Animorphs dreams. If I was going to wash a bug down the sink or something, even now I might first warn it aloud that if it is an Animorph, this is its last chance to transform and save itself.** And at BEA, I got to MEET KATHERINE APPLEGATE.

I was there so early that I was first in line. That was an achievement. This is the face of a girl whose dreams are coming true.

She was SO NICE, you guys! And she gave me a signed copy of her upcoming book, Crenshaw! Which I’d finished by the end of the day, and it was beautiful!

8. Met author Shannon Hale! And, in case I still have to say it, got an autographed book: The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party, which is lots of fun.

9. Met R.L. Stine, whose Goosebumps books were VERY IMPORTANT to me as a kid. It must be weird to be R.L. Stine at an event like this. It’s all grinning adults coming up to you saying, “You gave me nightmares for years!”

That’s him in the red lanyard.
10. While waiting in line to meet Felicia Day (because life is so much cooler than I’d realized it could be), I spotted a couple of cool-looking ladies. This was nothing extraordinary, as BEA was full of amazing people, which meant a lot of great conversations while waiting in lines. But I’d noticed that one of these ladies had on a shirt that I know is sold by Forever Young Adult, which is my favorite YA book review site. I asked if they were with FYA, and they said yes! I fangirled a bit, telling them that I’ve ordered books for our library (um, and myself) based on their reviews, and that their funny recaps got me watching both Pretty Little Liars and The 100. Confirmed that they will be recapping the Shadowhunters miniseries once it starts. Yay! We exchanged cards, and I had another person in line take our picture. In the green is FYA reviewer Jennie; in the blue, with the shirt I recognized, is reviewer Mandy C.

More coolness: they posted their BEA recap today, and I got a shout-out!

11. Oh yeah, and I did briefly meet Felicia Day. Who was super-nice. Got a preview of her upcoming memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet – Almost. I’ve read the preview already, and it’s witty and fun.

12. And I met Meg Cabot, which was exciting mostly in that she told me she is continuing the Heather Wells series, which I love and had thought was over. But I also got a signed ARC of Royal Wedding.

Whew! I left BEA with forty books. If I’d been indiscriminately grabbing, I could have bagged many more, but all forty of these genuinely interest me. Which is good, because they represent, according to my bathroom scale, thirty-three pounds of books, which is a lot to lug from NYC to Massachusetts. But if amazing memories could be measured in pounds . . . well, it’s a good thing they can’t, actually. A really good thing.

BEA’s in Chicago next year. I’m already like, “Try and stop me from going, world. Just try it!”

(Though next year I may not have a job that’s willing to not only pay me to be at BEA, but cover my travel and hotel costs. I love my library.)




*Because I have this notion that New Yorkers all want to murder you and also spit on you, like some kind of bloodthirsty archerfish.

**This rarely comes up, as I take bugs outside and release them like a huge softy.