Kate DiCamillo, author of Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux, brings us a new comic book-inspired adventure with Flora & Ulysses.
Flora Belle Buckman is a very observant 10-year-old who is also a bit of a cynic, but her life is drastically changed when her neighbor accidentally sucks up a squirrel in her fancy new vacuum. After Flora gives the poor squirrel CPR, he somehow wakes up with superpowers—he’s strong, he can fly and he can even write poetry. Flora names him Ulysses, and they form a fast friendship while getting into all sorts of silly hijinks.
Flora & Ulysses is a heartfelt story for young readers that finds a perfect balance between fun and sophistication. K.G. Campbell’s black and white pencil illustrations are just a fantastic accompaniment, and the comic-book style action sequences couldn’t be a better fit. This story is sure to melt the heart of anyone's inner cynic.
Watch the fun trailer below:
Holy Bagumba, readers! Are you reading this highly anticipated Children's Top Pick yet? (If not, you can enter this week's book giveaway to win a copy!)
Pat Conroy announced the National Book Award Finalists today at the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home in Savannah, Georgia.
There are certainly some surprises on the list—small press representation; an absence of Jonathan Franzen; the presence of rocker Patti Smith—along with a few BookPage favorites, like Nicole Krauss, Lionel Shriver and Rita Williams-Garcia.
According to an announcement from the National Book Foundation, this year's bunch of Finalists includes 13 women—"the largest number of women Finalists in a single year in the Awards' history."
Without further ado, here is the list. Click the links to read BookPage reviews.
Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Knopf)
Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule (McPherson & Co.)
Nicole Krauss, Great House (Norton)
Lionel Shriver, So Much for That (Harper)
Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel (Coffee House Press)
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Spiegel & Grau)
John W. Dower, Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq
Patti Smith, Just Kids (Ecco)
Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward (FSG)
Megan K. Stack, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War (Doubleday)
Kathleen Graber, The Eternal City (Princeton University Press)
Terrance Hayes, Lighthead (Viking Penguin)
James Richardson, By the Numbers (Copper Canyon Press)
C.D. Wright, One with Others (Copper Canyon Press)
Monica Youn, Ignatz (Four Way Books)
Young People's Literature
Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker (Little, Brown & Co.)
Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird (Philomel Books)
Laura McNeal, Dark Water (Alfred A. Knopf)
Walter Dean Myers, Lockdown (Amistad)
Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer (Amistad)
Which books do you hope will win? What books did not make the list that should have?
Winners will be announced on November 17 in New York.
Author (and double Gemini!) Bonnie Hearn Hill launches a new young adult series, Star Crossed, this month. In a guest post, she explains how astrology can help a writer get to know her characters. Share your thoughts on her post in the comments by Friday, April 2, and you'll be entered to win a copy of the first book in the series, Aries Rising.
When I first started trying to write fiction many years ago, I was told by a well meaning teacher that I needed to decide if I was writing action-driven fiction (thrillers), voice-driven fiction (literary) or character-driven fiction. That didn't make sense to me even then. Isn't all memorable fiction character-driven? An intriguing character can save a mediocre plot, but the best plot in the world can't rescue a mediocre character.
Can using astrology help you create memorable characters? I think so. It's helped me, but then I haven't relied on it alone. So you need a proactive protagonist, and you say, "Okay, Aries is the Ram, a Fire sign. That's proactive enough." True, but Aries is not always a finisher. Or you say, "I want an emotional sign, so I'll choose a Water sign like Scorpio." But many Scorpios are too secretive to be proactive. You need to know more about your character than her Sun sign. Much more. That information should come from her.
Some of my writer friends believe in the character charts that ask everything from hair color to family history. Those lists make me feel as if I am taking a multiple-choice test. "Eyes? Blue! Hair? Black!" Although they request all of the pertinent information, the quizzes seem too left-brain to let me create organic characters.
When I began my Star Crossed young adult series, I had to hear the voice of Logan, my protagonist. I asked her to write me a letter. I've done this before when characters elude me. I ask them to write something like: "Dear Bonnie, My name is Logan McRae, and I was born . . . I live in . . . I have no siblings, and my mom spends most of her time on a golf tour. I miss her, but I'm happy she's living her dream. At least that's what my dad and I tell each other. My problem now is . . ."
These letters from my characters are usually five or more pages. Of course, I resist this exercise because I want to do the "real writing," but I know the writing won't be real until I truly know my character. Once I do it, and once I hear my character telling me about her life, I can say, "She's not an Aries. This character is an Earth sign who is willing to work hard for what she wants. She sounds like a Capricorn."
Use all of the tools you have. Start with the character's voice, and then you'll be ready to shade in the rest with astrology. Here's the down and dirty on the different signs. Don't let it limit you, though. As Logan learns in the Star Crossed series, the Sun sign is not the sum of a person's personality.
Fire signs: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
They get things done. Aries rams. Leo likes attention. Sadge travels and talks.
Earth signs: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
They keep things stable. Taurus is stubborn but loyal. Virgo is detail-oriented and sometimes critical. Capricorn works really hard and may worry about money when young.
Air signs: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
They are the communicators. Gemini spreads the news, often without filtering it. Libra speaks frequently of self as if trying to understand what to do. Aquarius speaks from an intellectual plane and with a desire to do well for all.
Water signs: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
These are the emotional signs. Frequently they have difficulty breaking from the past. They can also be supportive friends. Cancer is loyal to family and will destroy anyone who challenges or threatens family members. Scorpio is secretive with unfinished business, and loyal to the end. Pisces is a dreamer who has earned the doormat reputation. He's also one of the most spiritual and creative signs.
Young adult author Barry Lyga recently signed a deal with Little, Brown for a book that Publisher's Marketplace described as "'Dexter' meets 'The Silence of the Lambs' for teens, about a teen boy who uses his killer instinct, inherited from his serial killer father, to help solve a series of gruesome murders." The book, I HUNT KILLERS, will be published in spring 2012.
Lyga is a rising star in the field of teen fiction, with four YA novels under his belt, all set in the town of South Brook, Maryland. I wonder if I HUNT KILLERS will take place in South Brook as well — and if so, should fans of his earlier books fear for the lives of their favorite characters? But even if the place and people are all new, Lyga's ability to create fully realized and believable characters will no doubt have me hiding under the covers with a flashlight, frantically turning the pages to find out who survives.
Related in BookPage: A Q&A with Lyga about his most recent book, Goth Girl Rising.
And a question for readers: What was the scariest book you read as a teenager?
We were happy to hear that Libba Bray has signed a contract with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers to write a new YA series for major bucks—$2 million, rumor has it. Editor Megan Tingley (who also publishes Stephenie Meyer) will be working with Bray on The Diviners, a trilogy set in the 1920s. Bray describes the series as "a wild new ride full of dames and dapper dons, jazz babies and Prohibition-defying parties, conspiracy and prophecy—and all manner of things that go bump in the neon-drenched night.”
Bray's success comes on the heels of winning the Printz Medal for Going Bovine, a picaresque tale of a teenage boy searching for a cure for mad cow disease, but she is also known for her atmospheric Victorian-era series that started with A Great and Terrible Beauty and contains supernatural elements.
One mystery: in our interview with Bray, she told us her work-in-progress was something quite different, “a satire about a group of teen beauty queens whose plane crashes on a deserted island. Sort of Lord of the Flies as channeled by P.J. O’Rourke and [National Lampoon writer] Doug Kenney.” Though we're eager to see what she makes of the 1920s, we're hoping this intriguing project will also see the light of day!
The Magician's Book by Laura Miller
December 2008, Little, Brown
The Magician's Book, which details Miller's reconciliation with Narnia, is a thoughtful and heartfelt book, and her exploration of the Chronicles resonates with me as much as the books themselves once did. She discovers that Narnia is big enough to contain not just the adventures she loved as a child, and not just the Christian themes that now appear obvious, but a whole world full of stories and wildness, bravery and treachery, ancient myths and Santa Claus; that loving Narnia allowed her to love all the stories it contained, referenced or built upon, and thus opened up untold worlds.
To me, the best children's books gave their child characters (and by extension, myself) the chance to be taken seriously. In Narnia, the boundary between childhood and adulthood—a vast tundra of tedious years—could be elided. The Pevensies not only get to topple the White Witch, fight in battles, participate in an earthshaking mystical event, and be crowned kings and queens; they do it all without having to grow up. Yet they become more than children, too. Above all, their decisions have moral gravity. In contrast to how most children experience their role in an adult world, what the child characters in these stories do, for better or for worse, really matters, and nowhere more so than in Edmund's betrayal.
. . . To the adult skeptic, the evident Christianity of the Chronicles makes their morality seem pat, the all-too-familiar stuff of tiresome, didactic tales. . . . But that's an illusion, fostered by an adult's resistance to what appears to be religious proselytizing. True, Lewis does populate Narnia with semiallegorical figures who represent eternal aspects of human nature in addition to more realistic characters like the Pevensies. The White Witch is bad through and through, almost as uncomplicated as a fairy-tale villain. But she's not the moral ground on which the story's moral battle is fought. Edmund is.
What are you reading today?
As the year draws to a close, we at BookPage are compiling our own "best of 2009" lists. First up, our top 10 picks for teen reading—in alphabetical order. This list of favorites ranges from the realistic to the futuristic, but only includes one vampire. What do you think of our selections? Tell us in the comments, or show us your own teen top 10.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman (Holt)
Gateway by Sharon Shinn (Viking)
Fire by Kristin Cashore (Dial/Penguin)
Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Random House)
If I Stay by Gayle Forman (Dutton)
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Simon & Schuster)
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks (Houghton Mifflin)
This Full House by Virginia Euwer Wolff (HarperTeen)
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking)