Category Archives: Tween books
Looking for some recommendations for a middle grader who loves fantasy? Well, we’ve got just the list for you!
Here are some stellar picks for the kid looking for magical powers, mysterious forests, heros, and villains to take to the beach with him.
THE THICKETY, by J. A. White, is the start of a new fantasy series set in a world where magic is forbidden but exists in the dark woods called the Thickety. This book would be a great recommendation for fans of the Septimus Heap series, and here’s a book talk prepared by librarian, author, and Common Core workshop presenter Kathleen Odean:
How would you like to have the power to summon amazing creatures to do your will? When Kara finds a book in the Thickety, a dangerous forest, it awakens her magical powers. Local villagers view magic as evil but for Kara, it’s a connection to her mother, who was executed as a witch. The spells thrill Kara until the magic starts to change her in frightening ways. Is Kara in control of the magic—or is it in control of her? If she doesn’t figure it out soon, she could lose everyone and everything she loves.
There’s even a Common Core-aligned discussion guide with activities written by the author, J. A. White—an elementary school teacher! (You may not want to send this to the beach, though. Maybe save it for September.)
THE CASTLE BEHIND THORNS, by Schneider Award winner Merrie Haskell, is a magical adventure set in an enchanted castle that will appeal to fans of Gail Carson Levine, Karen Cushman, and Shannon Hale.
When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. Everything in the castle—from dishes to candles to apples—is torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. To survive, Sand does what he knows best—he fires up the castle’s forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place? With gorgeous language and breathtaking magic, THE CASTLE BEHIND THORNS tells of the power of memory and story, forgiveness and strength, and the true gifts of craft and imagination.
Thinking ahead to the new school year, Common Core applications include: Comparing and contrasting texts in different forms or genres; determining the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; and analyzing the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
THE DYERVILLE TALES, by M. P. Kozlowsky, tells the story of a young orphan who searches for his family and the meaning in his grandfather’s book of lost fairy tales.
Vince Elgin is an orphan, having lost his mother and father in a fire when he was young. With only a senile grandfather he barely knows to call family, Vince was interned in a group home, dreaming that his father, whose body was never found, might one day return for him. When a letter arrives telling Vince his grandfather has passed away, he is convinced that if his father is still alive, he’ll find him at the funeral. He strikes out for the small town of Dyerville carrying only one thing with him: his grandfather’s journal. The journal tells a fantastical story of witches and giants and magic, one that can’t be true. But as Vince reads on, he finds that his very real adventure may have more in common with his grandfather’s than he ever could have known.
If you’d like to bring this one into your classroom next year, Common Core applications include: Determining the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text; analyzing the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone; describing how a particular story’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes; and describing how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You think you know those guys pretty well by now, don’t you? Well, think again. Posters plastered across the thirteen kingdoms are saying that Briar Rose has been murdered—and the four Princes Charming are the prime suspects. Now they’re on the run in a desperate attempt to clear their names. Along the way, however, they discover that Briar’s murder is just one part of a nefarious plot to take control of all thirteen kingdoms—a plot that will lead to the doorstep of an eerily familiar fortress for a final showdown with an eerily familiar enemy.
And Common Core applications for this one include: Explaining how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text; comparing and contrasting texts in different forms or genres; and analyzing how differences in the points of view of the characters and the reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.
The lovely Lisa Ann Scott, author of the enchanting debut novel SCHOOL OF CHARM, stopped by recently to answer our “opening the book” questions. In case you missed it, here’s a little intro and sneak peek of the book from earlier this year. And now, without further ado . . . Lisa Ann Scott!
Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now?
I am reading fellow Class of 2K14 member Rebecca Behrens’ adorable middle-grade novel, When Audrey Met Alice. Can I claim the entire Little House series as my favorite book growing up? [WE SAY "YES!"]
What is your secret talent?
While I tend to kill most indoor plants, I have beautiful outdoor gardens and a koi pond. People tell me I should design gardens for a living. But then I wouldn’t have time to write!
Fill in the blank: My two kids always make me laugh.
My current obsessions are . . .
Whatever series I’ve found on Netflix, HBO GO etc. that I will binge watch. (Game of Thrones and Dexter are recent addictions.)
Any gem of advice for aspiring writers?
Never give up. (See story below.)
Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book . . .
. . . looks for real life magic in their world, and remembers all the wonderful things about themselves that make them unique and special.
How did you come to write this book?
Grab a snack and sit back for this answer. The seeds of this story came from a dream. I woke one morning with the image of a lovely older woman standing in a clearing in the forest. She was surrounded by a small group of girls and it was clear she was teaching them something, but she had a very knowing look on her face, like there was a secret they had yet to learn. Now most people would have shrugged and thought, hey, weird dream. But when you’re a writer, something like that tugs at the imagination. So I walked around with this story in my head for a while, trying to figure out who was there and why they were there. I wrote this during my lunch breaks when I was working as a news anchor back in 2007. In 2008, I started the query process, looking for an agent. But then I lost my job, and that grief on top of the inevitable rejection that comes with the query process was just too much to take. So I set the book aside and actually stopped writing for a while. It wasn’t long before I was writing again (romance!) and in 2011, took another look at the manuscript. I thought, hey this is pretty good, and a writer friend urged me to send it out again. So I did. To one agent. And then I remembered how much I hated the query process and stopped. But that one lovely agent, Jennifer Unter, loved the book and sold it a few months later.
Thanks for visiting, Lisa!
THE ISLANDS OF CHALDEA, a new, stand-alone novel of magic and adventure, is the last book from the beloved Diana Wynne Jones. Almost finished upon her death in 2011, the manuscript was completed by Diana’s sister Ursula Jones, a popular author and actress.
Read on for some lovely thoughts from Ursula on growing up with such a talented storyteller for a sister and on the challenges of finishing her sister’s work . . .
When I first read this lovely, searching, last novel by my sister, Diana Wynne Jones, it stopped short where she became too ill to continue. It was a shock: it was like being woken from sleepwalking or nearly running off the edge of a cliff. It had elements of a much happier time in our childhood, too.
Diana wrote her first full-length novel when she was fourteen years old. It filled a series of exercise books, and she would read the newest section to us, her two younger sisters, in bed at night. When she suddenly stopped reading, we would wail, “Go on, go on. What happens next?” and she’d say, “Don’t you understand? I haven’t written any more yet.” And we would go to sleep, agog for the next section. It always duly turned up the next night, which is where the present day diverged so unhappily from our childhood past. This time, the next section couldn’t turn up. Her book had ended without an ending.
Diana Wynne Jones was such a masterly storyteller that it was impossible to imagine where she planned to take it. She left no notes: she never ever made any. Her books always came straight out of her extraordinary mind onto the page, and she never discussed her work while it was in progress. There was not so much as a hint of what she was up to, and it seemed The Islands of Chaldea was lost to its readers.
Then the family suggested that I might complete it. I was nervous. Diana was my big sister, and big sisters notoriously don’t like kid sisters messing with their stuff. Particularly when the big sister in question is very good at her stuff. Nevertheless, her family and friends had a meeting to pool their ideas on how the story might continue. We were all steeped in her work. We’d all known her well. Everyone was sure that, by the end of the afternoon, we would come up with something. We didn’t; she had us all stumped. Eventually, Diana’s son closed the session with, “Well, Ursula, you’ll just have to make it up.”
It took months. I scoured the text for those clues that Diana always dropped for her readers as to where the narrative was headed, and which I’d always unfailingly overlooked until I’d read the final page. I hadn’t changed. I found nothing.
Initially, I was working at the National Theatre in London, too (I’m an actress when I’m wearing my other hat), and the play I was in was full of eerie happenings and second sight. I would catch the bus home across the river after the show and dream weird and often frightening dreams as I tried to break into my sister’s thinking. I believe I got even closer to her at this point than I was during her lifetime. But although I hunted and pondered, nothing came to me. Then, just as I was beginning to feel like a sous chef, endlessly producing flat soufflés under the slightly disapproving gaze of the Chef, I found one of her clues. I found it near the beginning of her manuscript. And we were off!
When I started to write, it came easily. It was almost as if Diana were at my elbow, prompting, prodding, turning sentences around, working alongside—and then it was finished, and she was gone again. That was a terrible wrench. But her book was there—complete.
So far, no one who has come to The Islands of Chaldea freshly has spotted exactly where Diana Wynne Jones left off and I begin. Perhaps you will be able to, perhaps you won’t. It doesn’t really matter. It is intrinsically and utterly her book, and I hope you and all its readers love it as much as I do.
We’re so proud of our award-winning authors, and we’d love for you to be able to use these great books in your classroom right away (if you aren’t already, of course)! Read on for some teaching resources to help jump-start discussions and lessons centered around these stellar titles . . .
Here are a handful of images from NELSON MANDELA that you can use as visual inspiration for lessons or projects on history, politics, biography, or even just to print and hang in your classroom or library.
Don’t forget to check out our Common Core Resources page for lots more teaching guides, discussion guides, lesson ideas, and more!
Working in children’s books, there are few days that can compare to the Monday morning of the ALA Midwinter conference, when the ALA Youth Media Awards are announced. Cheers and gasps follow the announcement of every award named, and hugs and happiness end the conference on the highest of notes. What a great day for authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, publishing professionals, and book lovers all over the world! We are so honored that awards committees named the following HarperCollins Children’s Books titles amongst the best and the brightest this year:
Coretta Scott King Author Award to Rita Williams-Garcia, for P.S. BE ELEVEN
Newbery Honor to Kevin Henkes, for THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER.
Schneider Family Book Award for Middle Grade to Merrie Haskell, for HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS
Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor to Kevin Henkes for PENNY AND HER MARBLE
Coretta Scott King Author Honor to Walter Dean Myers, for DARIUS & TWIG
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor to Kadir Nelson, for NELSON MANDELA
Pura Belpre Illustrator Honor to Rafael Lopez for TITO PUENTE, MAMBO KING (written by Monica Brown)
We’re grateful to publish these books, written and illustrated by the most creative, dedicated folks we know, and put them into your hands, the teachers and librarians who give them to children and promote a life-long love of learning. What a fine day to do what we do!
We’re thrilled to introduce our New Voices picks for Winter 2014! We absolutely loved these four debut novels, and we think you will, too. Be sure to click on the links below to read the first chapter of each title, and if you’re hungry for more, comment and we’ll send you a galley (while supplies last).
And now, without further ado . . .
SALVAGE, by Alexandra Duncan, is a sweeping, epic, literary science fiction story with a feminist twist. Teenaged Ava has lived aboard the male-dominated, conservative deep space merchant ship Parastrata her whole life. When a passionate mistake causes Ava’s people to turn against her, she faces banishment and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean. Her struggle to survive outside the insular world of her childhood is harrowing, full of surprises, and constantly thrilling. You’ll be rooting for Ava all the way! Read the first chapter here!
FAKING NORMAL, by Courtney C. Stevens, is a powerful, moving story about a teen girl struggling to forget a traumatic experience from her recent past. Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer by her backyard pool. Instead, she hides in her closet, counts the slats in the air vent, and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does. When Bodee Lennox—”the Kool-Aid Kid”—moves in with the Littrells after a family tragedy, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in this quiet, awkward boy who has secrets of his own. As their friendship grows, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her summon the courage to find her voice and speak up. Read the first chapter here!
CRUEL BEAUTY, by Rosamund Hodge, is a dazzling twist on the story of Beauty and the Beast. Betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom, Nyx has always known her fate was to marry him, kill him, and free her people from his tyranny. But on her seventeenth birthday, when she moves into his castle high on the kingdom’s mountaintop, nothing is as she expected—particularly her charming and beguiling new husband. Nyx knows she must save her homeland at all costs, yet she can’t resist the pull of her sworn enemy—who’s gotten in her way by stealing her heart. Read the first chapter here!
SCHOOL OF CHARM, by Lisa Ann Scott, is an enchanting story full of spirit and hope, with a hint of magic. Eleven-year-old Chip has always been her daddy’s girl, so when he dies she pins her hopes on winning a beauty pageant to show her family of southern belles that she still belongs. The problem is, she’d rather be covered in mud than makeup! Can a rough-and-tumble girl ever become a beauty queen? SCHOOL OF CHARM tells the tale of one girl’s struggle with a universal question: How do you stay true to yourself and find a way to belong at the same time? Read the first chapter here!
Stay tuned for “Opening the Book” Q&A’s with the authors and insightful words from the editors of these fantastic New Voices!
We’re packing up and heading up to Boston tomorrow for the Annual Conference of the National Council of Teachers of English. We’ll be in HarperCollins Children’s Books Booth #1008 every day, handing out materials aligned to the Common Core State Standards (like posters and teaching guides) and galleys galleys galleys!
Come say hello to the amazing authors who will be signing copies of their books:
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22nd:
12:00–1:00pm, Jarrett Krosoczka
1:00–2:00pm, Anne Ursu
2:00–3:00pm, Hilary T. Smith
3:00–4:00pm, Rita Williams-Garcia
4:00–5:00pm, Kevin Emerson
*5:00–6:00pm, 50 Years Later C.S. Lewis Legacy Celebration! Come by for hot chocolate, cookies, a free copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and a free CCSS-aligned Narnia series Teaching Guide!*
Hope to see you there!
Did you know that Patricia MacLachlan’s books are now available ebooks? Look at all of these beautiful ebooks!
To mark the occasion, Patricia stopped by to share some heartwarming thoughts about writing and reading and families. She also filmed a video interview for us, so don’t forget to check that out (below)!
From Patricia MacLachlan:
I have been a reader all my life, long before I became a writer. When I was little I read under a quilt at night, in a tree (!), and all the way home from the library, my mother’s hand on my neck, leading me safely across streets. My grandchildren are readers too, and they are becoming writers with their own voices.
What does reading mean to me? Books help me find out who I am and who I want to be. Books give me courage. Books make me smile. And laugh. And sometimes they make me cry. But always books make me think about what all the children in the world have in common even though they may live far away from each other.
Writing helps me stay close to my family; Sarah, Plain and Tall is about my step great grandmother who I always thought was brave to travel from Maine to Kansas all on her own to meet her new family. My own father’s farm is in Sarah, Plain and Tall, and his farm dogs and his horse, Jack.
Cassie Binegar is a lot about me when I was about ten years old and hid under the dining room table with the tablecloth hanging down, listening to stories people at the table told. Seven Kisses in a Row was written after listening to my young daughter Emily and my husband talk one evening. In fact all my children are in Seven Kisses in a Row, my oldest son John and his younger brother Jamie, who had a great dirt collection!
I played the cello in elementary school and so The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt is about a group of players in a string quartet.
I notice that many of my books are about old people and young people. I like the aunts in Unclaimed Treasures (“unclaimed treasures” being my mother’s name for unmarried women) Old Pepper is another character in the book, wise and kind. My children had a wonderful relationship with my father and mother. My father, who lived to be 102, had respect for children and thought that old people and young people were connected in many ways.. That has gone into many of my books. The old and young are close in all of my stories.
My books often begin because of something a child of mine said, or a grandchild’s question. In some ways writers are watchers and listeners. Spies maybe! One day my oldest son said to a school friend, “watch out what you say in this house. You may appear in a book.”
My books are personal for me.
I truly hope they become personal for you, too. And I am happy to know that children read my books in whatever form – in hard copy books or in ebooks as well.
Thanks so much, Patricia!
One of our absolute favorite new reads this season has to be Caroline Carlson’s THE VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES: MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. It has girl power, adventure, and of course, a missing treasure.
There are three qualities a treasure map must possess: It must be suitably ancient, have an atmospheric title, and include a dotted line leading to an X.
When Hilary Westfield escapes from finishing school to pursue her dream of being a pirate, she finds herself in possession of such a map. But the map is missing an X, and everyone is almost certain that the magical treasure she’s hunting doesn’t even exist. Hilary soon becomes caught up in a madcap quest involving a rogue governess who insists on propriety, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous villain on the high seas.
If that doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will.
We had to get to know the person behind such a piratical tale. So, today, Caroline stopped by to answer some of our hard-hitting questions!
Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now?
I have so many favorite books that it’s hard to choose just one, but one of my all-time favorites is HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones. Right now, I’m reading THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO by Karen Engelmann.
What is your secret talent?
Like Hilary, the heroine of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, I can tread water for a really long time.
Fill in the blank: _______ always makes me laugh.
The movie CLUE. I’ve memorized all the jokes by now, but they never get any less funny.
My current obsessions are…
Cooking and baking—after spending all day writing at my computer, I love doing something concrete and hands-on in the kitchen. While I cook, I like to listen to two of my other obsessions: news podcasts and music by Girlyman and Antje Duvekot.
Any gem of advice for aspiring writers?
Try to learn a lot about all the things that interest you—not just writing. Read newspapers and nonfiction books. Do some exploring, check out your local museums and libraries, or take a class in a subject that fascinates you. If you stay curious about the world around you, you’re sure to stumble across lots of good ideas for stories.
Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book…
…laughs out loud at least once!
How did you come to write this book?
MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT actually started its life as a submission for a workshop at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I was working toward a degree in writing for children. I had to write 20 pages of an entirely new story, the deadline was tight, and I was running short on story ideas. I’d always loved pirates, though, and I’d dreamed of writing a book about a grand pirate treasure hunt. I was also rereading some of my favorite books by Jaclyn Moriarty at the time, and I wanted to experiment with Moriarty’s technique of telling a story through letters, postcards, newspaper clippings and other documents. When I tossed both of these ideas together, I ended up with 20 pages about a girl who receives a letter informing her that since only boys are allowed to be pirates, her application to the pirate league has been rejected.
I wasn’t expecting much to come of my experiment, but I ended up loving the results, and when my workshop-mates told me that they wanted to know what happened next to my pirate heroine and her gargoyle sidekick, I knew I’d hit on a story idea with potential. Those pages that I wrote for my workshop 3 years ago are still more or less the first 20 pages of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. And the story took on a life of its own from there—I wrote the first draft in 4 months flat, which was a whole lot faster than I’d ever written anything before! Plenty has changed since that first draft; in revisions with my editor, I strengthened the magic system of my fictional world, I turned a minor character into a major one, and I rewrote nearly the entire ending from scratch. But MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT is still the kind of book I loved to read when I was growing up: an adventure full of twists, humor, and magic. I had a wonderful time writing it, and I hope readers will enjoy it, too.
Thanks, Caroline! You can find THE VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES: MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT in stores tomorrow!
You may remember the charming (and young and talented and funny and, and, and . . .) Stefan Bachmann from his debut novel THE PECULIAR, which came out last year. His new book, THE WHATNOT (a companion to THE PECULIAR) will be out on September 24th, and we had Stefan in our video studio talking about the new book and some of his experiences meeting kids during school visits. Here he is!