Oscar Wilde once said that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” If he were alive today to witness our novel’s origin and road-to-publication, he would’ve seen his theory confirmed!
When we first decided to write a book together, we tossed around themes and kept circling back to the same topic: the large amount of time people spend with their electronic devices. Teens in particular are using them as a way to connect with friends and escape from the pressures of life. How many times have we seen a group of teens together yet alone, everyone focused on their phones?
We both thought the subject was intriguing, and before we knew it, intrigue turned into OBSESSION. We couldn’t stop researching technology (which was strange since neither of us are super tech-savvy) and talking about the effects it has on children, families, and relationships. We started having long discussions (over Skype, no less!) about how our virtual lives can actually threaten our real lives. Naturally, all of it inspired us to write our novel as an allegory for today’s society (though we set ELUSION in the near future, when people will be even more dependent on their devices.)
Before we actually sat down to write though, we asked ourselves the big “what if” questions that helped us shape the story. What if there was an app that offered users an opportunity to visit a virtual world of their choice, a place where they could even meet up with friends and have adventures together, without the complications—or consequences—of real life? And what if the virtual reality app is not quite as wonderful as it appears and rumors surface about the potential for addiction, especially for teens?
Those are the questions we pose in ELUSION. Our heroine, Regan Welch, has the important and dangerous task of uncovering the secrets hidden in a virtual world created by an Equip: a device that uses a special type of hypnosis and technology to transport people to beautiful, seemingly-utopian landscapes.
While ELUSION was clearly inspired by what’s happening in our lives today, neither of us were prepared for what happened next. Just one week after ELUSION was published, Life began to imitate Art. Facebook announced they had paid two BILLION dollars for OCULUS VR, an up-and-coming virtual reality company. According to Mark Zuckerburg: “When you put it on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away. The incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you’re actually present in another place with other people.”
Almost instantaneously, there were concerns about how much time kids were spending with their devices and the danger of addiction to a virtual reality.
We couldn’t believe it. The type of device and reaction that followed the announcement was almost identical to what we had written in ELUSION. But the similarities didn’t stop there. The young man who created Oculus V.R. is only 22, just slightly older than Patrick Simmons, the boy Wunderkind who helped Regan’s father build the world of Elusion and desperately wants it to succeed.
What had seemed like a far-off, fun premise for a novel had become reality overnight. Would we soon be able to immerse ourselves in a virtual world, much like the one in ELUSION? And would teens be especially vulnerable to dangers that world might present?
The sequel to the book—ETHERWORLD—comes out next March, and as excited as we are, we are also a little hesitant. The plot takes an ominous turn and the characters lives are at stake, so in that respect we don’t want Life to imitate Art again! But there are thrilling, unpredictable moments in ETHERWORLD, and we hope readers are waiting with bated breath to see how their lives are reflected in the conclusion to Regan’s story.
Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam are the authors of Elusion and Etherworld. They met when Claudia edited Cheryl’s previous novels, Learning to Swim and The Pretty One. Claudia works as an editor in New York, but she’s also the author of several books for tweens and teens, including the In or Out series and the mash-up Romeo & Juliet & Vampires. They liked working together so much that they decided to write a bunch of things together, including movie proposals and TV sitcom scripts. And then one day they had the idea for Elusion, and the rest is the future.
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.
Alexandra Duncan’s debut novel Salvage has taken the world by storm. As Stephanie Perkins (author of Anna and the French Kiss) says, this book is “kick-ass, brilliant, feminist science fiction.” And boy is she right.
Her life is a shadow of a life. Her future is not her own to fashion.
Her family is a tangle of secrets. She cannot read. She cannot write.
But she is Parastrata Ava, the Captain’s eldest daughter, the so girl of a long-range crewe—her obligations are grave and many.
And when she makes a mistake, in a fragrant orchard of lemons, the consequences are deadly.
There are some who would say, there but for the Mercies go I.
There are some who would say Parastrata Ava is just a silly earthstruck girl who got what was coming to her.
But they don’t know the half of it.
We were lucky to have debut author Alexandra Duncan swing by The Pageturn and talk to us about writing, reading, and how Salvage came about!
Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now?
It’s so hard to pick one favorite book. I think I had a new one every week when I was growing up. (Come to think of it, that’s probably still true.) One of the ones that really stuck with me and that I still have on my bookshelf at home is The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson. I loved post-apocalyptic survival stories, especially ones where all of the adults were dead or otherwise incapacitated, which is exactly what happens in The Girl Who Owned a City.
Right now I’m reading A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, the most recent book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I have to stay ahead of the HBO show!
What is your secret talent?
I make a mean apple pie, crust and all. I have a 96% success rate. I’ve only ever caught one pie on fire, and that wasn’t entirely my fault.
Fill in the blank: _______ always makes me laugh.
My husband. I might be biased, but I think he’s pretty hilarious.
My current obsessions are…
Podcasts. I can listen to them while I’m doing chores or exercising. (Yay, multitasking!) Right now, my favorites are a podcast about pseudoscience and religion called Oh No, Ross and Carrie! and Welcome to Nightvale, which is kind of hard to explain. Just imagine what would happen if H.P. Lovecraft and David Lynch created a town and that town had a public radio station.
Any gem of advice for aspiring writers?
Support each other. Writing looks like a solitary occupation, but I don’t know a single author who has succeeded without moral support and advice from friends. Celebrate each other’s victories and cheer each other up when you hit one of writing’s inevitable stumbling blocks. You’ll all go farther and be happier for it in the end.
Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book…
Sees the world in a new way. One of my favorite things about science fiction and fantasy is that they can be used to re-frame today’s problems and let people see them from an entirely different angle.
How did you come to write this book?
Salvage started life with a short story I wrote called “Bad Matter,” which was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2009. It took place among the merchant crewes that appear in Salvage. When I finished the short story, I knew I wanted to explore their culture further and tell more stories set in that world.
Salvage was a very personal book for me. A lot of the inspiration for the crewes’ culture came from growing up as the stepdaughter of a minister in a small town church in rural North Carolina. It was a very tight-knit and insular environment where there were very strict expectations about behavior, especially for women and girls. It was very much like growing up inside a large extended family. I also drew inspiration from my travels to Haiti and Nicaragua as a teenager, and my time studying abroad in Spain during college. Those experiences shaped my version of a future Earth.
In some ways, Ava’s journey is similar to my own. I consider myself a feminist, but I wouldn’t have said so as a teenager. It wasn’t until I left home and struck out on my own at 18 that I began to understand my worth as a human being. I hope Salvage helps other girls learn the same thing about themselves. I hope it makes them feel like they aren’t alone.
Salvage is in stores now!
Where do stories come from? Sometimes we have to travel to find them, journeying within or experiencing what happens in our paths along the way. Recently I was taking a new book, Abuelo, to Argentina, to people who had inspired it.
People arrive, events occur, that later become essential stories in each of our lives. Clearly, what becomes important is not the same for each person. But often, the stories that happen while we are young stay with us, and can help carry us through the rest of our lives. For my friend Aldo, who is Argentinean, riding La Pampa, the wide plains and foothills of Argentina when he was a boy with his “Abuelo Gaucho”—Grandfather Cowboy—has given him stories, a relationship and a strong place to return to that have helped him ride free through the years.
Aldo’s great grandfather Redmond arrived from Ireland in the 1840’s to a land that “had a lot of beef.” Argentines come in all colors and with names from many cultural backgrounds–from English to Italian, Lebanese to northern European, not just the Hispanic surnames that many associate with Latin America. Aldo explained to me that the popular way to address someone in a friendly way, saying “Che”— something akin to “hello friend”— likely comes from a Guarani Indian word.Like the US, South America is a quilt built of many cultures, from Indian to European to African, and more. But back to Aldo and his young days riding the range with Abuelo Gaucho, that first inspired me to write Abuelo.
As a boy, Aldo lived in a small town in La Pampa where raising cattle was a major enterprise. Cowboys— called gauchos— rode through the streets and sometimes brought herds to load onto the nearby trains. Aldo’s father worked for the railroad. Aldo would see the gauchos in town, and one older gaucho who knew his family well would say to Aldo that he should learn to ride a horse and the ways of the gauchos, that he would teach him. With the permission of Aldo’s family, on Sundays, the gaucho’s day off, the old gaucho began to teach Aldo— first to ride, how to guide and talk to the horse, how to find his way securely on the pampas. Over the years they rode out, the old gaucho on his horse, and Aldo on his own. Grandfather, or Abuelo, Redmond had died before Aldo was born, and so the old gaucho became like a grandfather to Aldo.
When Aldo grew up, he moved away from the small town of Roberts and “Abuelo Gaucho” to the city of Rosario to find work at a newspaper, and eventually for a bank. Throughout many changes, Aldo could return to La Pampa and Abuelo Gaucho in his mind. At a bank meeting that was droning on for hours, Aldo, who had been very active and successful in his work, was silent for a time. When someone at the meeting looked at him being so quiet and asked “where is Aldo?” a friend who knew him well said, “he is on La Pampa.” Throughout his life, he has found strength there.
Now in his eighties, Aldo says that relationships between people are most important. His daughter and her family, his grandchildren live nearby. They know some of the great stories of their Abuelo Aldo, and his wife, Abuela Delia, who is a wonderful artist. Among the drawings I admired in their home was one of a gaucho, which thanks to Delia I now have with me. More tales there. I watched as Aldo saw and read Abuelo for the first time. He smiled at connections to places and relationships he has known so well. When I visited granddaughter Victoria’s school, the students, who see gauchos still, recognized the story and beautiful pictures drawn by Raúl Colón, cheered, and raced to tell new tales they found in their own lives— a fountain of youth and stories.
Arthur Dorros views being a writer as like being a traveling detective. He finds ideas all around. He learned Spanish while living in Latin America, and many of his stories, such as Abuelo, grow from those experiences. Arthur is the author of many books for children, including Julio’s Magic, a CLASP Américas Award Commended Title; Papá and Me, a Pura Belpré Honor Book, and the popular Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science book Ant Cities. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
GALAPAGOS GEORGE is the story of the famous Lonesome George, a giant tortoise who was the last of his species, lived to be one hundred years old, and became known as the rarest creature in the world. This incredible evolution story by renowned naturalist and Newbery Medal winner Jean Craighead George gives readers a glimpse of the amazing creatures inhabiting the ever-fascinating Galápagos Islands, complete with back matter that features key terms, a timeline, and further resources for research.
Here are some Common Core objectives that GALAPAGOS GEORGE can help meet:
Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe. Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a book to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot. Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
And you can use the following questions to help start a specific discussion about this book or a general discussion about informational texts and/or literature:
- How does a reader determine the genre of a particular book? What characteristics apply to GALAPAGOS GEORGE? RI.2.5, RL.2.3
- What elements of a book help the reader determine the main idea? What details support the main idea? RI.2.2, RL.2.2
- How do the illustrations contribute to the text (characters, setting, and plot)? RI.2.7, RL.2.7
GALAPAGOS GEORGE will be available next week!
Math is everywhere! That’s a message I always try to get across to kids, teachers and parents in my MathStart books and presentations. Too often, when students leave math class, I hear them say, “I’m done with my math.” Yet they never say “I’m done with my words” after reading and language arts. Well, just like words, you can’t do much without math. Math is an integral part of sports and music. You need math to go shopping, check on the time and count the number of candles on your birthday cake!
“Who Says Math Has to Be Boring?”—that was the eye-opening question posed in a recent New York Times editorial headline. Several improvements to math education were listed in the article, with early exposure to mathematical concepts singled out as a particularly rich area for improvement. In fact, new research suggests that children as young as three may be math-ready. It turns out we are wired for math!
The interest in early math is part of a larger movement to support universal Pre-K in the US—a rare non-partisan issue with the President and Congress as well as governors and mayors in dozens of states declaring their support. Over just the last year, 30 states have increased funding, while Congress has budgeted $1 billion for programs. The US military is also on board in a big way through Mission Readiness, an effort spearheaded by a who’s who list of retired generals and admirals.
THE COMMON CORE
Another important trend in education is the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) currently being implemented in 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense schools. Teachers, librarians, parents, and caregivers of children are clamoring for ways to effectively address the broad-reaching goals of the CCSS. These goals require elementary school educators to develop a new mind-set regarding their role in advancing mathematics education, as well as a new skill set for facilitating the teaching and learning of mathematical concepts.
Visual learning describes how we gather and process information from illustrations, diagrams, graphs, symbols, photographs, icons and other models. Since visual learning strategies build on children’s innate talent to interpret visual information, they can play an important role in reaching the goals of the CCSS for Mathematics. Visual models help students understand difficult concepts, make connections to other areas of learning and build mathematical comprehension. They are especially relevant for the youngest learners, who are accomplished visual learners even as pre-readers.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
“Math Skills are Life Skills!” That’s the motto of the kids in the Main Street Kids’ Club a musical based on six MathStart stories.
A good grounding in math from an early age is critical and visual learning strategies can play an important role. Children who are comfortable with mathematical concepts and understand that they use math all the time are more likely to do well in school and in everything else, too. It is a formula for success!
Stuart J. Murphy is a Boston-based visual learning specialist, author and consultant. He is the author of the award-winning MathStart series (HarperCollins), which includes a total of 63 children’s books that present mathematical concepts in the context of stories for Pre-K through Grade 4. (Over 10 million copies sold.) He is also the author of Stuart J. Murphy’s I SEE I LEARN (Charlesbridge), a 16-book series of storybooks for children in Pre-K, Kindergarten, and Grade 1 that focus on social, emotional, health and safety, and cognitive skills. Most of all, Stuart is an advocate of helping our children develop their visual learning skills so that they become more successful students.
The recently-published FOUNDING MOTHERS, by Cokie Roberts, presents the incredible accomplishments of the women who orchestrated the American Revolution behind the scenes.
In this vibrant nonfiction picture book, Roberts traces the stories of heroic, patriotic women such as Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Phillis Wheatley, Mercy Otis Warren, Sarah Livingston Jay, and others through their personal correspondence, private journals, ledgers and lists, and even favored recipes. The extraordinary triumphs of these women created a shared bond that urged the founding fathers to “Remember the Ladies.”
Here are some Common Core objectives that FOUNDING MOTHERS can help meet:
- Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
- Describe the overall structure of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
- Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.
And here are some questions you can use and build on for a Common Core-ready lesson:
- How does the structure of nonfiction text affect how we understand the material? RI.5.5
- What composite structure does the author use to shape events, ideas, concepts and information? RI.5.5
- What is the author’s purpose for writing this book? Do you think the author is a reliable source? Discuss. RI.5.8, SL.5.1d, SL.5.4
We’ll be highlighting lots more titles and how they can be used to support the Common Core in the coming months, so be sure to check back often for our Common Core Spotlight feature!
I hated school. This probably isn’t something I should admit, but it’s true. For me, school was hours and hours of stuff I had no interest in learning, shoulder to shoulder with people I didn’t like. In my classmates’ defense, they didn’t like me either. I was smaller, younger, and had zero filter on my mouth.
For those of you playing along at home, that’s math even I can do. Smart mouth and bigger classmates equal Romily being stuffed into lockers twice and tossed into a Dumpster once. Eventually I learned how to outrun them, but not before I had to spend an entire afternoon smelling like dead pizza so, yeah, school wasn’t great.
But Mrs. King was. I had her for World History and our relationship started favorably (at least in my mind) because she put me at the back of the room. This was a great development because most teachers liked to put me in between problem students. Basically, I was supposed to play Switzerland and, let’s be honest, I don’t have the temperament for that.
Anyway, just like our other history teachers, Mrs. King started the semester in ancient Mesopotamia and ended us in modern Europe, but it was the way she taught us the events that really sticks with me. We didn’t just learn there was a girl called Joan of Arc, we learned why and how she might have happened. It wasn’t just that there was an ancient Chinese general called Yuan Chonghuan, it was more about how his life would have possibly shaped him.
For a writer, this was invaluable. She was essentially teaching character motivation, but, honestly, she was also teaching empathy. People are products of their environments and experiences and it’s not always pretty. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. I may not remember specific battles from World War II, but I do remember to think about what someone else might be going through, which is probably one of the best lessons of all.
Romily Bernard is a debut author who graduated in Literature and Spanish from Georgia State University. She lives with her partner in Atlanta, riding horses and working in corporate law. FIND ME was a finalist in the 2012 Golden Heart Awards and placed first in the 2011 YA Unpublished Maggie Awards (given by Georgia Romace Writers).
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!« go back — keep looking »