The American Library Association (ALA)’s mid-winter meeting begins this weekend in Dallas, Texas. On Monday, January 23, the winners of the various big awards will be announced. Last year I watched the ceremony live on my computer with my school librarian and a couple people who wandered into the library. The year before I had the winners texted to my phone while I waited for a friend at an appointment.

This year I have a meeting that begins right about the same time as the awards. I may have to follow the awards on twitter and try to contain my enthusiasm for the winners. I would prefer watching with other book-loving friends and being able to cheer as winners are announced.

The two awards I’m the most interested in are the Newbery and the Printz.

Last year the Newbery went to:

   Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

with honors to


Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm   

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

Dark Emporer and other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia


The Printz went to:

    Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

with honors to



Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Nothing by Janne Teller

I haven’t read all the winners. I enjoyed Turtle in Paradise and One Crazy Summer a lot. Turtle is about a girl sent to live with relatives in the Florida Keys in the 1930’s, and One Crazy Summer is about three sisters who spend a summer across the country in California with their unknown mother during the 1960’s. Two books grounded in events of the times where characters learn about their families. I’m looking forward to the sequel to One Crazy Summer!

Ship Breaker takes place in a bleak future where people survive by collecting scrap metal and wire from ships and other places and selling/trading to try to stay alive. It has adventure and survival themes, plus bio-engineered “monsters”, rich girls who appear dead but aren’t, and hurricanes. The companion novel, The Drowned Cities, will be out in May. I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy. Although it doesn’t have many of the same characters, it is another great adventure in this world.

I also enjoyed Vera Dietz which has an interesting format—even some of the buildings have chapters telling what’s going on from their point of view. The Revolver is about a boy whose father has just frozen to death. While he waits for help to arrive, a man shows up saying the boy’s father cheated him during the Alaskan Gold Rush. Good tense mystery!

Next week when the awards are announced, I’ll have lots of books to add to my reading piles! I can’t wait!

Sara Zarr

I have several authors whose work I anxiously await. Sara Zarr is one of them. Her books are all excellent and highly recommended.

Story of a Girl   

   Once Was Lost


And the newest: How to Save a Life


I finished How to Save a Life this week—staying up way too late because I couldn’t stop reading. This is the story of Jill who’s a senior in high school and whose dad died eight months before. When Jill’s mother decides to adopt a baby, pregnant teen Mandy moves into their household to wait to deliver and give up her baby.

Can you imagine having a pregnant girl your age living in your house? Can you imagine that this girl’s baby is going to be YOUR sister?

This story is told in alternating chapters between Jill and Mandy. Read it!

 And then you’ll find that you’re anxiously waiting for the next book Sara Zarr writes!

Novels in Verse

Most novels in verse annoy me because I’m not sure why they’re not in prose. They’re more interrupted lines rather than poetry. A few are works of poetry (see Sonya Sones—especially Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy) and a few need to be brief because of topic (see Patricia McCormick’s Sold), but often they’re just…short.


Of course, sometimes I like to read something short, something I can sit down and read in an afternoon or evening. And, truthfully, after a few pages when I get caught up in the characters and the story, I don’t notice the form that much anymore.


My first book read for 2012 was the verse novel, Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards. This is a historical novel that takes place in 1889 when the Johnstown Flood wiped out several towns in Pennsylvania. The flood was caused when a dam for a fishing pond at a wealthy resort dumped 20 million tons of water on the valley below.

The story is told in verse, alternating between wealthy Celestia, the hired boy from the village she falls in love with Peter, a nurse, Celestia’s father, and others. Class consciousness, which has partially caused this flood, is evident in the love story between Celestia and Peter. I was so caught up in the story, I didn’t notice how late it was until I finished. Read this one!


Other novels in verse you might enjoy:

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (about living in the Dust Bowl)

Exposed by Kim Marcus (about an abusive relationship with a best friend’s brother)

Ringside, 1925 by Jen Bryant (about the Scopes monkey trial)

Day of Tears by Julius Lester (about a slave auction)

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

Holiday Shopping

It’s no surprise that I buy a lot of books for holiday presents. My local, independent bookstore knows me well. Here are a few of the books I’m gifting along with very brief description. Put these books on your list of books to read! I highly recommend all of them!


Pearl discovers much about her family and friends after her grandfather’s death.

Students in a school for kids who have been kicked out of regular school discover their behavior problems might be caused by special abilities.

It’s not easy being the son of the mob boss—especially when Vince dates the daughter of the FBI agent investigating his dad.

Two great characters, wonderful writing, and a surprising mystery make a perfect book.

The history of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary told like a Dickensian novel.

Plucky character and fun shenanigans!

When Zara moves to a small town in Maine, she finds something not-human in the sleepy town.

In a world where everyone must wear gloves to protect themselves from the slightest touch of Curse Workers, Cassel deals with being the only member of his family who is not a Worker.

What books do you have on your Holiday Wish List?

Ally Carter


I finally opened Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter last night, and was immediately thrilled to be back in Kat and Hale’s world and find out what Kat needs to steal next. This is book 2 in the Heist Society novels (book 1 is called Heist Society), and follows the teen children of professional thieves who are themselves thieves. Global travel, love interests, danger, and smart characters make these books fun and fast.

Ally’s other series is the Gallagher Girls books about a very private school for girls where they learn to spy. Cammie and her friends are great fun to follow. The first book is I’d Tell You I Love You, But then I’d Have to Kill You. Book 5 in the series comes out March 20, 2012.

Ally Carter’s website has loads of information about her books. Her blog is great fun to follow. If you’re a fan of the Heist Society or the Gallagher Girls, this is the place to find out what she’s working on and when the next book in the series comes out. I’ll have my copy of Out of Sight, Out of Time on order at my bookstore this March! 

What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) finishes on Wednesday. I participated for the first time this year along with my former teaching partner and a dozen students. We made goals and we tried to write every day and reach our goals. We met on Wednesday afternoons, and a few of us met on Saturday mornings at Panera to write. It looks like all but two of the fourteen who started will complete their goals.

I bet all of us learned different things about writing and about ourselves as writers this month, but I bet we learned many of the same things as well.

Here’s my list:

  • I can write 200 words a day every day no matter how busy the day is. It’s a small enough goal that it’s always possible. When I know I’m going to write 200 words, I keep my eye (and ear) out for inspiration.
  • 200 words add up. At 6000 words, I have discovered characters and problems and storylines. I have something to work with.
  • There are lots of blogs on the web that help when you’re stuck writing. The pep talks from different authors on the NaNoWriMo site were excellent. I really enjoyed reading Maureen Johnson’s blog. During the month of November she wrote a post answering questions about writing a novel so fast. They’re worth looking up!
  • It’s more fun to make goals with other people and check in on how everyone’s doing.

Congratulations to everyone who attempted NaNoWriMo!  No matter how far you got towards your goal, you’re amazing for trying.  I hope some of you will add more to my list.  Leave a comment!

Choosing a Book, Part 3

Friends are probably the most used resource when it comes to choosing books. If your friend tells you to read a particular book, you’re likely to do so—and to enjoy it. I keep a running list of books friends recommend to me.  Tell other people about books you particularly like!

Librarians and booksellers are great resources for finding books also. Most libraries and bookstores have staff recommendations in a newsletter or posted on the shelves. If you can tell them titles and authors of books you’ve enjoyed in the past, they can often suggest other books you might like.

I’m happy to come up with titles for you. Write a comment or send me an email. Be sure to tell me some books and authors you have enjoyed in the past or what type of book you are looking for.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving–and lots of reading time over the long weekend!

Choosing a Book, Part 2

Lists are a great way to find more books to read—especially if you can find annotated lists that give you a sentence or two about the books on the list.

One of my favorite places to look at lists is the ALA (American Library Association) website. Each year the ALA produces many lists for teen readers. You can find the ALA lists here.

The 2010 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list has many good books.  Try Ship Breaker, Trash, Bamboo People, or Revolver. 

Or try Unwind, Tantalize, or Leviathan from the Top Ten Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults.

Quick Picks, the Alex Awards, the Printz, and the Newbery are all listed on the site.  Check them out.

Writing Every Day

My goal for NaNoWriMo is 200 words a day. It’s not a very large goal, but it’s one that allows me to keep thinking about my story and keep discovering what it’s about and who my characters are. It’s a goal that’s possible no matter how busy I am with other things. And by the end of November, I’ll have plot elements and characters to work with and begin shaping into a real novel.

 When I know I’m going to write every day, I find that I am always thinking about my story and characters. I see things during the day that influence and inform what I’m writing. I write notes to myself to remind me to write a particular scene. My notebook right now has this list:

kennel—where dog is—what are you going to get?
cow pound
video—there is a house

Each day when I sit down to write my 200 words, I choose one of these and write to describe my character in this place. Every day as I go through the day, I add to my list.

Prompts are another way to get into a story. I use prompts to discover action or to find out more about my character. Here are some prompts that I use over and over. Sometimes I use them as starters for the next section of a story. Sometimes I write them from the point of view of a character as though he/she is saying or writing it. Try these when you’re stuck and see if you can write 200 words!

I love the smell of…
It always seemed so far away…
You can’t be serious…
I wish I never…
I knew I could…
I could never forget…
When the house was quiet…

Don’t worry about how this section will fit into your story. As you keep working and keep thinking, you will figure that out.

I’m ahead of my NaNoWriMo goals. How are you doing?