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Friday, September 26, 2014

An Upcoming Middle Grade Book You Don't Want To Miss: The Troubles of Johnny Cannon (review & giveaway)

It’s hard to create a unique character and plot these days. People might say, “Oh, a boarding school? You’re stealing from Harry Potter!” or “That character with a beloved dog is straight out of Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Because of Winn Dixie!” Well, folks, I’ve found an original voice that nobody can deny is something unique and fresh. Welcome to the world, Mr. Johnny Cannon!

The Troubles of Johnny Cannon by Isaiah Campbell will be released on October 14 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Here's a summary:

Johnny Cannon’s got problems. Money is scarce. Martha Macker, the girl he likes, barely knows he’s alive. His best friend Willie is pretty great, but he also happens to be a black kid—which is not exactly acceptable in Cullman, Alabama. His big brother Tommy went to war and vanished. His Pa may be committing treason in their backyard. And just when it seems like things couldn’t get worse, an old family friend—or maybe enemy—appears and shakes everything up. How’s a kid like Johnny supposed to get himself and his family out of a mess that’s stickier than molasses and twice as tangled as a spiderweb?

What we want more than anything as readers is to feel like we’re in the capable hands of a storyteller—to be swept into another world naturally and vividly. Campbell has the gift of a natural storyteller and a main character with a voice that caused Newbery medalist Richard Peck to describe The Troubles of Johnny Cannon like this: 

"A boy with a highly original voice winces his way into the bewildering world of adults during a neglected moment in American history."

Campbell’s characters are flawed, which is where the authenticity comes in. He’s also not afraid to address the more shameful parts of our past because these things are our past and by addressing them, young readers will get an important reminder of historical injustices and maybe even internally compare them to the injustices that they still see around them in today’s world. It’s not easy to read about things like racism, but I would argue that the most difficult scenes to read in a book are often the ones that stay with us—that touch us deeply and leave a mark.

One of the most amazing things to me is that Campbell manages to develop deep and sensitive subject matter while he weaves a rollicking tale with twists, turns, friendship, and troubles galore. Holy excitement, Batman! This novel’s got it all. I won’t spoil the incredible ending, but I’ll tell you this—Johnny Cannon is a legend in the making. There’s already a sequel scheduled to come out next year, so you better hurry up and buy the first one now!

I believe in this book so much that I’m going to pre-order a copy for one lucky person leaving a comment. I’ll announce a winner on Friday, October 3.UPDATE: The winner is Linda Baie!

Any favorite character voices among books you've read? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pumpkins: The Novel of the Gardening World (and the latest book from a favorite MG author~ w/ giveaway!)

Pumpkin patch on 9-14-14
Pumpkins are one of those plants (technically fruits) that you have to wait for. They sprout fairly quickly, which gives you something to get excited about, but the process seems to drag on forever. Pumpkins, which are already available for plucking from enormous cardboard boxes outside of my local grocery store, are a lesson in patience.

My daughter and I planted the pumpkins in this photo months ago and have watched the vines grow, been delighted by the appearance of tiny yellow balls, thinned away certain plants to let the others grow better, and now we're just watching them get bigger. We're waiting. It's no use trying to hurry them along~ they'll get done when they get done.

Sound familiar? Novel writing can be a lengthy and exhausting process. Moments of excitement are followed by slogging through paragraphs that attempt to move the plot forward~ paragraphs that you know will need to be cut eventually, but at the time aid in helping you get to where you need to be in the story. Extra vines, if you will. And paragraphs of brilliance, little golden gems that delight the writer, are sometimes just disguising themselves as the same thing. Darlings that will need to be pruned for the greater good of the patch.

The pumpkins shown above would benefit from another 30 days of growth, but I'm not sure they'll get it. Unfortunately I live in a place where this sort of thing happens quite early (see other photo): SNOW.
My front porch, 09-12-14
These very short glimpses of winter threaten to shut down the entire pumpkin operation. You can cover the patch with canvas tarps, you can invest in snow-proof electric blankets to keep them cozy until Colorado changes its seasonal mindset the following day, or you can move to a more produce-friendly state. I didn't do any of those things when the snow hit last Friday, but the pumpkins seem to have survived all on their own. Tough little guys. They must really want to finish growing and get carved up as jack-o-lanterns.

In closing, don't let a few unexpected storms ruin your novels, er, pumpkins (see, now I'm getting them confused and to be fair, short stories and picture books can take just as long to "bear fruit," but my writing experience is mainly with children's novels). A growing novel is a hungry, stubborn, tough little thing, so don't give up on it.

Random fact from this fun picture book we picked up from the library: The Maxima pumpkin variety can gain as much as 5 POUNDS A DAY.


OKAY, GIVEAWAY TIME! *UPDATE: The winner is Julia Tomiak! Congratulations, Julia! Shoot me an email with your address and I'll ship it to you :)

One of my favorite middle grade authors is Stuart Gibbs. He's written the The Last Musketeer series (The Last Musketeer, Traitor's Chase, and Double Cross), the Spy School series (Spy School, Spy Camp), and the Fun Jungle series (Belly Up, Poached). I happened to get my hands on an advanced copy of his latest, SPACE CASE (which will be released tomorrow), and absolutely loved it.

It's an adventurous murder mystery with an amazing setting (Moon Base Alpha!), always-stellar Gibbs humor, and a full cast of characters/suspects. I want to pass it along to a lucky reader so just leave a comment and consider yourself entered in the giveaway. The pages have only been touched once and it's a shiny, like-brand-new copy :) *UPDATE: Winner is Julia Tomiak

Book Description:
Like his fellow lunarnauts—otherwise known as Moonies—living on Moon Base Alpha, twelve-year-old Dashiell Gibson is famous the world over for being one of the first humans to live on the moon.

And he’s bored out of his mind. Kids aren’t allowed on the lunar surface, meaning they’re trapped inside the tiny moon base with next to nothing to occupy their time—and the only other kid Dash’s age spends all his time hooked into virtual reality games.

Then Moon Base Alpha’s top scientist turns up dead. Dash senses there’s foul play afoot, but no one believes him. Everyone agrees Dr. Holtz went onto the lunar surface without his helmet properly affixed, simple as that. But Dr. Holtz was on the verge of an important new discovery, Dash finds out, and it’s a secret that could change everything for the Moonies—a secret someone just might kill to keep...