Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Clean Teen Publishing: Oh Snap! It's Giveaway Time... Again! Huge Awesome...

Clean Teen Publishing: Oh Snap! It's Giveaway Time... Again! Huge Awesome...: It's that time of year again! You don't have to be headed back to school to take advantage of this huge giveaway from Clean Teen ...

BLOG TOUR and GIVEAWAY: God Doesn't Write with a Pen by Christi Lynn Pauline

God-Doesn't-write-with-a-pen_banner

God Doesn't Write with a Pen: Marked for Death, Separated by War; A true Story of Undaunted Faith and Mighty Miracles
ABOUT THE BOOK

Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, is war-torn and chaotic after the election of 1994. Joao Bernardo Vierra is elected president in spite of fierce opposition, magnifying the already tense political situation.

As war ravages the country, pharmacy owner, Blema Fangamou and his wife, Fatoumatou, are separated from their children. For over twelve years, the couple is tested and tried with hardships, all the while wondering whether their children are alive. Through the Lord, Blema and Fatoumatou are strengthened, helping them to maintain love and hope.

This true story of the Fangamou family’s journey through loss, recovery, and miracles helps us recognize the tender mercies given to us by the Lord in our own lives and is an inspiration to everyone who faces adversity.


author_christi_lynn_paulineABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christi Lynn Pauline was born in the humble town of Blackfoot, Idaho, near the Fort Hall Indian reservation. It was here that her interest in other cultures was cultivated at an early age. Her love of God, people, and literature has fueled a desire to write, and her favorite subject is that of ordinary people who possess extraordinary faith. She enjoys reading and writing poetry and has authored a children’s book entitled, “Hullaballoo at the Zoo.”

Christi currently resides in Meridian, Idaho, with her husband, Ernie, where they are both serving as Ward Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They also serve as Ordinance Workers in the Boise, Idaho Temple. As a wife, mother, and grandmother, Christi treasures time spent with her family.


REVIEW

What a powerful story! This sort of story always reminds me how lucky I am to live where I do. The Fangamou family faces a lot of hardship in this story coming as they do from a country torn apart by war. Forced to flee, Blema heads to a refugee camp hoping to find a way to eventually reunite with his family. Meanwhile, his wife and six children are also forced to flee after being robbed of everything they own.  His wife is pregnant and has been savagely attacked.  Forced to deal with everything from the betrayal of friends to severe hunger, thirst, and illness, the Fangamou's hold fast to their faith in God despite it all. A truly inspirational story that truly touched my heart and kept me reading, God Doesn't Write with a Pen left me feeling humbled and appreciative.  A wonderful, if heart-breaking read that I can heartily recommend.


GIVEAWAY

1 e-book of God Doesn't Write with a Pen provided by publisher
Ends 9/9/2013

a Rafflecopter giveaway

BOOK REVIEW: I Remember Mommy's Smile by Dina Wolfman Baker

Grades 1-5

ABOUT THE BOOK

Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to talk with a child about the illness or death of a parent. I Remember Mommy’s Smile offers parents and other caregivers an opportunity to open the door to dialogue. It also shows children that they are not alone or strange; others have gone through this type of sadness and loss, and they have ended up okay. As author Dina Wolfman Baker understands from her own experience, knowing you’re not alone can mean a great deal. These are her memoirs…written from her child self to other children, with the sensitivity, honesty and directness that can only come from having been there.

REVIEW

Death is a very personal, sensitive subject, especially for children.  When I found out about this book, I was interested in seeing how it handled that topic.  I feel like the author did a nice job with a difficult topic, maybe it's because it's from the author's own personal experiences.  It was good for me to read this and get a child's eye view of watching someone you love suffer and die.  While the illustrations aren't my favorite, they do compliment the story nicely.  I admire those who do cut paper collage because it takes great skill and that is manifested here. This picture book is fairly long with lots of words and probably more appropriate for a slightly older group of children. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

NONFICTION MONDAY: Eruption by Elizabeth Rusch


ABOUT THE BOOK

“At 11:35 p.m., as Radio Armero played cheerful music, a towering wave of mud and rocks bulldozed through the village, roaring like a squadron of fighter jets.” Twenty-three thousand people died in the 1985 eruption of Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz. Today, more than one billion people worldwide live in volcanic danger zones. In this riveting nonfiction book—filled with spectacular photographs and sidebars—Rusch reveals the perilous, adrenaline-fueled, life-saving work of an international volcano crisis team (VDAP) and the sleeping giants they study, from Colombia to the Philippines, from Chile to Indonesia.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ELIZABETH RUSCH is an award-winning children's book author and magazine writer. She writes both fiction and nonfiction in the areas of science, art, sports, waves, jokes, crayons, and mud — anything that catches her fancy. 

REVIEW

Scientists in the Field is a science-based series that focuses on the work scientists do out in the world rather than in a lab.  Usually this work is focused on helping people, animals, and/or both. Eruption looks at the work that volcanologists do to predict volcanic eruptions and help people get out of the way. With fascinating accounts of these scientists studying past eruptions as well as trying to predict coming eruptions, the book provides a fabulous look at the important work that these scientists do.  The reader gets a look at the equipment and expertise required to do the job as well as the risks that go with studying volcanoes. Accounts full of tragedy and triumph make the book a compelling read. The author details the eruptions of Nevado del Ruiz in 1985 that resulted in the deaths of 23,000 people, Mt. St. Helen's in 1980, and Mount Pinatubo in 1991.  Each account gives the reader a look into the challenges of predicting something so innately unpredictable. The photographs, sidenotes, and graphs all help in relating the realities of studying volcanoes. Highly recommended for both casual and educational reading.


Be sure to check out the other nonfiction recommendations at Stacking Books.

Monday, August 19, 2013

BLOG TOUR/GIVEAWAY: Heroes of Faith by Marlene Bateman Sullivan


ABOUT THE BOOK

Our fast-paced society loves adventure and it loves a hero—but what about Latter-day Saint heroes? Are there any? There are plenty!

Heroes of Faith, True Stories of Faith and Courage, is a collection of twenty-four riveting stories about people who rose above difficulties and impossible odds to emerge triumphant. You’ll read about stalwart men and women who stood firm and valiant in the gospel in spite of dangerous mobs, flying bullets, physical handicaps, extreme hardships, and dictatorial regimes.

It's fascinating to read about the exploits of real heroes and when that hero is acting in accordance with the principles of the gospel, the adventure is not only thrilling, but inspiring as well. In these days of increasing trials and tribulation, we can all use some worthy role models, especially those that strengthen our faith and increase our testimonies.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marlene Bateman Sullivan was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. She graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She is married to Kelly R. Sullivan and they are the parents of seven children.

Her hobbies are gardening, camping, and reading. Marlene has been published extensively in magazines and newspapers and has written a number of non-fiction books, including: Latter-day Saint Heroes and Heroines, And There Were Angels Among Them, Visit’s From Beyond the Veil, By the Ministering of Angels, and Brigham’s Boys. Marlene also wrote the best-selling novel, Light on Fire Island.

A busy writer, Marlene is set to have three books published this year. Gaze Into Heaven, a fascinating collection of over 50 documented near-death experiences in early church history, was published earlier this year. Next came Motive for Murder, the first in a mystery series featuring the quirky private eye, Erica Coleman. Then, Heroes of Faith, a collection of stories about people who acted heroically in the face of grave trials and handicaps was released by Cedar Fort Inc. 



REVIEW

The world needs more people like those whose stories are told in this book.  The world portrays heroes as people of great visibility and talent, but for me, true heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things under difficult circumstances.  The author does a fabulous job of telling some of these stories.  For me these stories are a reminder that despite the awful things that go on in the world there are still amazing people out there doing amazing things. People facing everything from death to false imprisonment and war find the faith to carry on with God's work despite the challenges. And at least one of those whose story is told in this story actually died  because of his efforts to tell people the truth at the tender age of 16. A truly inspiring and touching book that I can highly recommend.

GIVEAWAY

1 print copy of Heroes of Faith
US/Canada only
Ends  8/26/2013

a Rafflecopter giveaway

BLOG TOUR: Chick-O-Saurus Rex by Lenore & Daniel Jennewein


ABOUT THE BOOK

A bullied little chicken discovers his inner strength along with some surprising dinosaur ancestry in this farmyard tale with huge heart. Little Chick just wants to belong, but the bullies of the barnyard—Little Donkey, Little Pig, and Little Sheep—won’t let him play in their tree house because he is a chicken, and chickens are not strong and brave. Little Chick sees their point: What have chickens done besides invent the chicken dance and cross the road? But when his father shows Little Chick the family photo album, he learns something HUGE: He is related to the gigantic and ferocious Tyrannosaurus rex!

Armed with this new knowledge, Little Chick returns to the tree house just in time to rescue the bullies from a scary wolf—and prove that strength and bravery have nothing to do with size.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR

Daniel Jennewein is the illustrator of several picture books for children, including Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? His wife, Lenore, writes novels for teens, including Level 2, under the name Lenore Appelhans.  They live in Frankfurt, Germany with three feline bullies.  Daniel's ancestors are German and Austrian while Lenore's are Irish, English, and German Russian.  Neither is related to the Tyrannasaurus Rex. Visit Daniel at danieljennewein.com and Lenore at presentinglenore.blogspot.com.

GUEST POST: Creation of a picture book – main steps


Phase 1: The Idea

“What is the closest living relative to the T-Rex?” - a question the daughter of a family friend asked Daniel after coming home from school one day. The answer? The chicken. When I heard this fact, I could totally envision it as a picture book, and “Chick-O-Saurus Rex” was born.


Phase 2: Brainstorming

First we brainstormed storylines, trying many different angles and even storyboarding a few before hitting upon the idea of the bullies and their exclusive treehouse club.


Phase 3: Character Development

Daniel then went to the drawing board to create rough character sketches of our main characters – Little Chick, the bullies, Little Chick’s parents and the hungry wolf. Here is are early sketches of Little Chick and some T-Rex.


Here are the parents in an early mock-up (insert visual #2)


Phase 4: Writing the text

For most picture book writers, this phase would come earlier, but since I work directly with the illustrator, we plot using storyboards. Then I know what I need to say in the text to tell the story and what I can leave to the illustrations.


Phase 5: Revising with an editor/art director

Once we sold the book to Simon & Schuster, it was time to revise for publication. For example, in the dummy (mock-up of sketches and text in book form) we submitted, we have the bullies begging for Little Chick’s forgiveness.  Although this is certainly a hilarious image, we decided it would be more positive to celebrate Little Chick’s bravery rather than dwell on the bullies’ cowardice.


Phase 6: Final artwork

When all story elements and text were in place, Daniel began the process of producing final artwork. He drew everything by hand with a brush-tip pen and then scanned them in for digital coloring.

BOOK TRAILER


REVIEW

A delightful tale of a chicken searching for a mighty and brave ancestor who inspires him to his own mighty and brave act.  With deceptively simple illustrations and plenty of heart Chick-o-saurus Rex leads the reader on a thought-provoking journey of their own.  Even the smallest creature can perform acts of bravery.  I loved the fact that the relationship between the Tyrannasaurus Rex and chickens is real! How awesome is that.  A picture book based on fact with a strong dose of fairy tale and a strong theme makes for a great read-a-loud and a book that I can heartily recommend for sharing.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

MMGM: The Classroom: Student Council Smackdown by Robin Mellom


ABOUT THE BOOK

Libby Gardner and Cindy Applegate are smile-without-teeth friends, but they are fierce rivals when it comes to politics. Cindy owned the student council elections in fourth and sixth grades, while Libby came out on top in fifth. Now, they both hunger for the prestigious title of seventh grade class president.

But middle school elections have their own rules...and pressures. When Trevor Jones is forced to join the presidential race, he devises a plan to make sure his best friend Libby wins. That all changes when he discovers that Libby has oh-so-sneakily gone behind his back by hiring Molly Decker to be her campaign manager. Now, he's in it to win it. And things are going to get ugly.

Join Trevor, Libby, Cindy, and the whole Westside contingency (along with the documentary film crew) as they explore the ugly underbelly of middle school politics.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robin Mellom is the author of DITCHED, her debut teen novel coming January 2012 from Disney-Hyperion. And also THE CLASSROOM, a middle grade series coming from Disney-Hyperion June 2012.

Robin has taught grades 5 through 8 and has a master's degree in education. She lives with her husband and son on the Central Coast of California. Visit her at http://www.robinmellom.com.


INTERVIEW

What's the 'story behind the story'?

I first started writing THE CLASSROOM series about ten years ago. I won awards with it, got an agent with it, but it never sold. I thought it was over for that little book. But when my teen book sold to Disney-Hyperion, my editor asked about other things I'd written. When I mentioned that story, he was elated! They'd been thinking it would be cool to do a book as a mockumentary! So I re-wrote it in third person and used an interview format. Bingo! Never throw away what's in your drawer. :)

What lead you to write about middle school?

I used to be a middle school teacher and my students would constantly ask me to read funny books to them. They were very picky about their humor and the only book that they all adored was SIDEWAYS STORIES FROM WAYSIDE SCHOOL. I read it over and over and over. That was when I made the decision to write funny books for kids.

Whose your favorite character, if you have one? If you don't have a favorite which one do you enjoy writing about the most?

I adore writing about Trevor because he is sort of your typical middle grade student, with some unique quirks. But I find Molly (dark and unimpressed by anything) to be the most fun. She's not like anyone I know and she's a pure kick to write about.

Where do you like to do your writing?

I have an office at home with a lock, which is necessary at times. But when I'm revising, I LOVE to be outdoors--in a park or at the beach. I get my best work done when my feet are stuck in the sand.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you like to do there?

I am strangely drawn to Greece. I imagine myself in a cliffside retreat, wearing a flowing white dress, eating fresh fruit, and enjoying a cocktail the ENTIRE time.

What's your favorite snack?

I have a Pirate's Booty problem. Have you tried those? Puffed something-something with white cheddar. Mmmmmm...

Favorite animal?

I fall in love with every Labrador Retriever I see.

REVIEW

Libby wants more than anything to be the seventh grade class president for Westside Middle School, but thanks to her cousin Luke's advice she despairs of it ever happening, especially with Trevor as her campaign manager.  Trevor loves his new found popularity, achieved after facing off with Corey Long, an 8th grade bully. When Libby tells Trevor that she needs a 'cool' campaign and that one mistake can destroy his popularity things go downhill quickly. After a soda disaster in the cafeteria and a deodorant accident in P.E. which result in the banning of both soda and deodorant, Trevor's popularity plummets.  When Trevor asks Molly to help Libby with her campaign so he can be the third presidential candidate (otherwise the election will never occur) he is shocked to discover that Libby had already asked her.  Hurt feelings, an unidentifiable, mysterious stink that takes over the school, and a perky, glittery rival lead both Trevor and Libby to think that disaster is lurking just around the corner.

An enjoyable second book with fun characters and plenty of humor, Student Council Smackdown uses a documentary format with interviews and photographs and other visuals to help tell the story. A quick, light read great for students who enjoy the Diary of a Wimpy Kid style of book. The humor is sometimes a bit over the top but not surprising for middle school.  It does have the same problem that a lot of this type of book have in that there is a shortage of decent teachers and the assistant principal is an idiot (banning deodorant, seriously?!) But I understand the decision, kids love this kind of book where the kids are front and center. Themes of being yourself, friendship, bullying, and overcoming mistakes are all an important part of this story. And after all, Trevor's and Libby's mothers do play an important part along with Wilson, the not janitor.  Overall a fun read and one I can recommend.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

BRUCE HALE/PLAYING WITH FIRE Twitter Chat

Bruce Hale/Playing With Fire Twitter Chat

Hashtag:


#PlayingWithFire

**All tweets in the chat should include this hashtag**

Date/Time:
Wednesday, August 14
1pm Pacific / 4pm Eastern
Duration: 30 Minutes

Participants:

Bruce Hale - @storyguy1
Disney Hyperion - @DisneyHyperion (Moderator)


Agenda (times in Pacific):

1pm – Writing/Publishing
·         @DisneyHyperion will kick off the chat, introduce participants, congratulate Bruce, and intro the book
·         Bruce, bloggers, and fans will discuss the writing process/publishing in general
·         Fans will be encouraged (by @DisneyHyperion) to ask Bruce specific questions about being an author

1:15 – Playing With Fire
·         @DisneyHyperion will ask Bruce to summarize the book in a single tweet, kicking off the “story” section of the chat
·         Group will discuss favorite scenes, techniques, characters from Playing With Fire and describe what originally drew them to the book (please keep this relatively non-spoilery)
·         @DisneyHyperion will prompt discussion with quotes, questions, etc.

General Thoughts
·         Please feel free to post to your blogs, discuss the chat on twitter, etc.
·         During the chat, everyone’s encouraged to RT/interact with anyone who joins in
·         These chats tend to get pretty crazy J we’ll just go with the flow!

Monday, August 12, 2013

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Dinosaur Kisses by David Ezra Stein


ABOUT THE BOOK

WHOMP! An energetic young dinosaur figures out her own way to give a kiss in the latest from the creator of the Caldecott Honor–winning Interrupting Chicken.

For newly hatched dinosaur Dinah, the world is an exciting place. There is so much to see and do. She tries this — STOMP! And she tries that — CHOMP! Then she sees a kiss and knows just what she wants to try next. Who can she kiss? And after a few disastrous attempts, can she figure out how to give someone a kiss without whomping, chomping, or stomping them first? Young children will chuckle and cheer when Dinah finds just the right creature for her dinosaur kisses in this funny new picture book from David Ezra Stein.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Award-winning children's author and illustrator David Ezra Stein was born in Brooklyn, NY. By the time he was three, he was asking adults, "Wanna come to my room? Read books?" This love of reading grew into a love of telling stories, and then, writing.

David Ezra Stein’s Interrupting Chicken was awarded a 2011 Caldecott Honor, as well as many state awards. His picture book Leaves won the Ezra Jack Keats award and was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, a Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice, and a School Library JournalBest Book. Booklist called his book Monster Hug! “a cousin to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.” Pouch! (Putnam), was a 2010 Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book. His books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, French, and Finnish.

As a young child, David started out drawing on Post-It note pads his mother, an editor, left around the house. An admitted “space cadet,” he showed an early knack for daydreaming and doodling. His parents and grandparents read him lots of books, which fed his imagination and became a touchstone for his love of imagery and storytelling later in life.

“I’ll never forget the experience of sitting in a beloved lap and having a whole world open before me: a world brought to life by the pictures and the grown-up’s voice. That wonder is what I want to re-create in my own books,” says David.

David went on to become a voracious reader and made up stories of his own. Near the end of his time at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, encouraged by beloved author and teacher Pat Cummings, he decided to pursue children’s books as a career.

After graduation, he was briefly a window display artist, puppeteer and puppet builder, interior and set-design illustrator, and New Yorker cartoonist. In 2006, his first book, Cowboy Ned & Andy, was published by Simon & Schuster. Since then he has published nine picture books. His latest, Because Amelia Smiled (Fall 2012), continues a richly creative working relationship with Candlewick Press.

David lives in Kew Gardens, NY with wife, Miriam, and son, Sam. When he’s not working on new stories and pictures, he enjoys making music, cooking, running, hiking, and talking with kids and grown-ups about books!

REVIEW

I am eager to try this book out with the target audience. I enjoyed it and I think children will too.  This is a different sort of look at kisses and I have to admit the end surprised me, it was not at all what I was expecting, but it definitely made me laugh.  The antics of the young dinosaur reminded me greatly of a young child with her enthusiasm and determination.  The baby t-rex starts off stomping and chomping, but then she sees a kiss and decides that is what she wants to do, but her efforts fail in funny ways, until she finds the right creature to kiss, although not in the way I expected.  I love this kind of book because they are so fun to share.  The reader thinks he/she knows where the story is going only to be delightfully surprised. Highly recommended. 

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Journey by Aaron Becker


ABOUT THE BOOK

Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship.

A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart’s desire? With supple line, luminous color, and nimble flights of fancy, author-illustrator Aaron Becker launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Becker has worked as an artist for such film studios as Lucasfilm, Disney, and Pixar, where he helped define the look and feel of characters, stories, and the movies they become a part of. With Journey, he has created characters and worlds of his very own, using traditional materials and techniques. Aaron Becker lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife, daughter, and cat. This is his first book.

"I’ve made several memorable journeys in my lifetime. I’ve lived in rural Japan and East Africa and backpacked through the South Pacific and Sweden. But to this day, my favorite destination remains my imagination, where you can often find me drawing secret doorways and magic lanterns." — Aaron Becker




REVIEW


Wow! What can I say about this book. I fell in love with it immediately. Maybe it was the gorgeous illustrations with the amazing detail. Maybe it was the girl who after being pushed aside by her family uses her imagination to find her own fun.  Maybe it's the creative twists and turns and the way the girl finds a friend in the end (in a quite unusual way).  This book reminds me of another book that I very much love, Harold and the Purple Crayon except on a bigger, grander scale.  The steampunk aspects of the story were, I thought, a fun touch that I think kids will really like.  Wordless books provide so much room for children to use their imagination and an opportunity to tell the story the way they see it.  And this book adds immensely to the growing number of fabulous wordless books.  In fact, this book definitely has the characteristics to be a strong Caldecott contender. I would be disappointed if it wasn't.  All in all, I loved it and can't recommend it highly enough.



 

Friday, August 9, 2013

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Circle by Cindy Cipriano


ABOUT THE BOOK

Calum Ranson is sure of three things: his cousin Finley is alive, Calum will find him, and no one knows Calum and his family are Sidhe. No one until Laurel shows up at his mother’s bookstore wearing a dark clan’s mark.

When Calum learns the details surrounding the disappearance of Laurel’s brother, he suspects the evil Hobayeth clan. Calum and Laurel work together in the Realm of Man and the Otherworld to rescue her brother – revealing a connection between Calum and Laurel that may cost Finley his life.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cindy Cipriano lives in North Carolina with her husband, son, and 27 pets. Okay, maybe not 27. More like three dogs, one cat, and many, many, fish. Cindy enjoys spending time with her family, writing, and the avoidance of cooking.

Cindy is a 2012 recipient of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund PRISM award, and was named outstanding science teacher in 2009 by the NC Science Teachers Association.

REVIEW

A fun middle grade story about a boy and a girl and their adventures with fairies and curses and missing people. Calum's cousin is missing and he desperately wants to find him, but he doesn't know where to start. When Laurel arrives in town determined to find her missing brother, Calum decides to help her, not realizing the possible repercussions. Cipriano creates a fun mythology surrounding fairies and the Sidhe. An enjoyable read and one I can easily recommend.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

BLOG TOUR/GIVEAWAY: Penumbras by Braden Bell


ABOUT THE  BOOK

Conner Dell didn't meant to blow up the school bus.

Or the bathrooms.

In fact, he only wanted to go to sleep and possibly dream about Melanie Stephens.

But explosions had a funny way of happening when Conner and his friends were around.

***


Conner Dell wants to be good--he really does. But he is terrified that he might be turning into a Darkhand, especially when new powers start to surface. What's worse, the Stalker is following Conner, but no one else seems to be able to see him. The Magi think he might be hallucinating, the guilt of what happened in the Shadowbox keeps weighing on him, and his relationship with Melanie Stephens is complicating things. Even for a Magi, Conner knows his life is anything but normal. 

Note: I will be selling both Penumbras and The Kindling through my website for a steep discount--$9.99 (plus s/h) 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Braden Bell grew up in Farmington, Utah and graduated from Davis High School. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theatre from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. in educational theatre from New York University. He and his wife, Meredith live  with their five children on a quiet, wooded lot outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where he teaches theatre and music at a private school. An experienced performer, Braden enjoys singing, acting, reading, gardening, and long walks with the dog. 




REVIEW

Some writers just seem to have a gift when putting together their books. Bell is one of those kind of writers. This book is fabulous full of great characters, an action-packed plot, and a powerful theme. Middle school can be such a difficult time for students, parents, and teachers alike.  Bell's experience as a middle school teacher shines through as he highlights the struggles of Conner, Melanie, and Lexa.  The three kids as new Magi face challenges beyond the normal middle school variety.  After their experiences in the first book (The Kindling), all three face the repercussions of those experiences (I recommend you read the first book before you read this one, otherwise a lot of things will not make sense).  Conner struggles with the awful things he experienced in the Shadowbox. Melanie faces opposition at home as well as her own academic tendencies. Lexa deals with feelings of jealousy and pride.  All must continue their training because it is clear that the Darkhands have no intention of leaving them alone.

I think one of the things I especially love about this series is the role that the teachers play in helping Conner, Melanie, and Lexa continue to develop their skills and talents.  In so many children's books, teachers are the enemies and clueless about the students, that is not the case in this book. In addition, there is enough action in the book to satisfy the most picky middle grade reader.  The themes of light and dark, friendship and loyalty shine through bright and clear.  That ending though is a heart-wrenching one and yet not surprising considering the character of those involved.  Like most second books in trilogies, this one ends with a cliffhanger. I really wish I didn't have to wait until next year to read the next book. But for now I can highly, highly recommend this one.


INTERVIEW

Q: Tell us about Penumbras.

A: Penumbras is the second volume in The Middle School Magic series. The first installment, The Kindling came out last summer. I am currently working on the third volume, which will hopefully come out next summer.

Q: “Penumbras” is a somewhat unusual title. Can you explain it?

A: A penumbra is a vague, shadowy, area, neither fully light nor dark. The Kindling, the first book in the series was about the sparking of new and exciting powers. This particular book follows the characters as they confront the complex consequences of those initial events and confront the shadowy places in their own hearts.

Q: How did you get the idea for this series?

A: One night during a sky-splitting spring thunderstorm, my kids came home from a church activity and told me about a man they had seen driving home. He had a black cape and was walking across people’s yards in the storm. Wondering about who he was and what he was doing triggered the idea for the book.

Q: What is your background?

A: I am a middle school choir and theatre director at a small private school. I’m the father of five children and the husband of one wonderful wife.

Q: Speaking of that background, is it a coincidence that a middle school theatre and choir teacher has such a prominent part in the book? How about the students and other teachers in the book? Are they based on anyone specific?

A: Well, writers write what they know! Dr. Timberi is admittedly similar to me in some ways. However, that’s not because he’s modeled on me. Rather, it’s because he is someone I would like to be. As far as the other characters, in the very beginning, I did sort of model their voices on some specific people—but that changed within a few pages of the first draft and they quickly become their own unique characters.

Q: Beyond the characters, are there any other events based on real life experiences?

A: There is a sad scene towards the end between Dr. Timberi and one of his students. While it is not an exact replication, being a theatre director means I have dealt with disappointed and/or angry students (and parents!) for many years. I tend to have a pretty thick skin. However, there are occasional times when this gets to me. This scene was actually inspired by a particularly difficult confrontation with a student of whom I was quite fond. I wrote the scene as a way of working through the incident—and ended up keeping it. The only other thing that might be based in reality is the degree to which teachers truly do care about their students. I don’t think the students often realize just how much teachers and other adult figures care about them and what they would do to protect and help them.


Q: What is your favorite thing to do, besides reading or writing?

A: My wife and I love to watch old movies, or adaptations of literary classics. Nearly anything by the BBC! I also love working in my yard. 

EXCERPT

CHAPTER ONE
SHADOW PUPPETS
Conner Dell didn’t mean to blow up the school bus.
Or the bathrooms.
In fact, he only wanted to go to sleep and possibly dream about Melanie Stephens.
But explosions had a funny way of happening when Conner and his friends were around.
It all started on the annual seventh grade science trip to the Sea Lab at Dauphin Island, Alabama. Fifty-four thirteen-year-olds on a five-day field trip. What could go wrong?
Especially when three of them happened to be Magi.

#
For a fraction of a second, Conner thought he saw shadows slithering along the base of the cinderblock walls. Tensing, he blinked and looked again.
Nothing. He was alone in the darkness of his dorm room.
Well, except for his friend and fieldtrip roommate, Pilaf.
Across the room, Pilaf disturbed the darkness by turning his flashlight on and digging through a giant floral print suitcase. Fishing a book out, Pilaf hunched over, tucked the flashlight under his chin, and read.
“What are you reading?” Conner asked.
“Sorry. Did I wake you up?” Pilaf squeaked. “I couldn’t sleep. I guess I slept too much on the bus.”
“No worries.” Conner burrowed into his sleeping bag. He didn’t like messing with sheets on these trips. The springs of the ancient bed creaked beneath him. “I’m not sleepy either.” Lexa? Can you hear me? Conner reached out in his thoughts, wondering if his twin sister was awake in her room on the girls’s floor. Head-talking was a cool benefit of being one of the Magi—a secret group of warriors who used the power of Light to battle evil.
No answer from Lexa. Her allergy medicine must have knocked her out.
Melanie? He tried Lexa’s best friend, Melanie Stephens—also one of the Magi-in-training. Conner listened for her response, trying to ignore the backflip in his chest that came when he thought of her. No answer. Melanie had taken something for motion sickness on the bus. She must be knocked out too.
Conner jerked up as something skittered across the ceiling right above him. No doubt this time. He grabbed his own flashlight, raking the beam across the ceiling tiles as someone whispered his name.
Coooonnerrrrrr.
“What?” Conner pointed his flashlight at Pilaf, who looked up from his book, blinking behind his thick glasses. Pilaf’s blinks always reminded Conner of the way a light on a computer blinked when it processed data.
“What?” Pilaf squinted back at him.
“Why did you call me?” Conner asked.
“I didn’t.” Pilaf looked down at his book.
On edge now, Conner lay back down, scanning the room for more shadowy movement, his fingers ready to snap his flashlight back on at any second.
Co-n-n-e-r-r-r-r-r-r D-e-l-l-l-l-l.
A whispered, hissing sort of growl sounded in his head as a flicker of movement caught his eye. He whipped his head around in time to see a shadowy tail vanish under Pilaf’s bed. Flipping his flashlight on, he investigated the space under the metal frame.
Nothing there.
“What are you doing, Conner?” Pilaf managed to blink and stare at the same time.
Trying to protect you from slithery shadow monsters that could slurp your soul like a slushie, Conner thought. How could he keep the flashlight on without alarming Pilaf? Out loud, he said, “Uh, it’s a game. Flashlight tag. You’re it.” He shined the flashlight at Pilaf.
“How do you play?”
“Well . . . one person’s it and he shines a flashlight all over the room.”
“That’s all?” Pilaf blinked until Conner wondered if he was broadcasting the telephone book in Morse code. “It seems kind of pointless.”
“Uh, yeah.” Conner said. “You’re right. Lame. How about shadow puppets?” He slipped his hand in front of the flashlight, wiggling his fingers until the shadow resembled a horse.
“Cool!” Pilaf shouted.
A knock at the door interrupted them and a tired-looking science teacher poked his head in, glaring beneath tousled red hair. “What’s going on in here?”
“Sorry, Mr. Keller,” Pilaf said. “We slept on the bus ride, so we’re not tired. Conner’s making shadows with his hands. Look, a horse!”
“Neeeiiiiggghhh.” Conner threw in sound effects as a special feature.
Apparently unimpressed with great art, Mr. Keller frowned. “Get some sleep. We have a full day tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir.” Conner swallowed his depression at the thought of a five-day science class. Five days of plankton, ocean salinity, salt marshes, and beach ecology. Five days of science, 24/7. At least they were close to the beach. That might be fun.
“Do another one,” Pilaf whispered as the sound of Mr. Keller’s footsteps retreated down the hall.
“Okay, but be quiet this time.” Conner opened his fingers, making a snake’s mouth, complete with a flickering tongue.
It seemed so real that Conner thought he heard a hiss. Unsettled, he dropped his hands, but the hissing noise continued, twisting into words.
Co-n-n-e-r-r-r-r-r-r D-e-l-l-l-l-l—
Trying to squash the sound, Conner raised his voice. “Here’s another one.” He cupped his hands on top of each other, stuck his thumb up, and opened his fingers slightly.
“Wow!” Pilaf yelled. “A wolf!” He giggled as Conner opened the mouth and growled. “Little pig, little pig let me come in.” Conner prayed that none of the other seventh-grade boys heard he’d been doing Three Little Pigs shadow plays. That would not be cool.
Co-n-n-e-r-r-r-r-r-r D-e-l-l-l-l-l—
The weird voice came louder. Conner dropped his hands away from the flashlight.
The wolf head stayed there.
Fighting panic, Conner switched the flashlight off, but the wolf head remained, darker than the darkest shadows on the wall.
It stretched and grew bigger, becoming life-sized within seconds. It turned and stared at Conner, a three-dimensional head sticking out of the wall like some kind of freaky hunting souvenir.

The wolf growled, then jumped off the wall, and sailed across the room toward Conner.

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