Tag Archive: writing

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell


Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath knows exactly what she is.  She’s a fan of Simon Snow, a magical series of books that rival Harry Potter in popularity.  She’s a twin.  She’s a college freshman.  And she does not want to go out and meet people or party.  She’s much happier in her dorm room writing fan fiction about Simon Snow and his arch nemesis Baz, where she has reworked them as a steamy gay couple.  Cath’s twin also attends the same college, but Wren does not want to be seen much together and is completely into the college party scene.  So Cath spends much of her time alone or with her prickly new roommate, eating protein bars and peanut butter because the dining hall freaks her out.  Soon Cath will be asked to choose between writing fiction and writing Simon Snow fan fiction.  She will need to figure out how to let her Dad live his own life even though he is fragile.  But most of all, she needs to figure out how to live life on her own terms and have it be a life worth living.

Rowell does it again with this second book for teens.  Her writing voice is uniquely hers, so that her books could only be written by her.  She has a wonderful sense of humor that runs through her books, often popping up in the most serious of moments like humor often does in real life.  This book is complicated, about more than one expects from the title.  While it is about fan fiction, it’s also about so much more, including being a young writer, the writing process, siblings, broken families, and even first love.

Her characters are deep and worth spending time with.  Cath is remarkable both in her own issues that she carries with her but also in the way that she survives and flourishes.  Her early days at college echo many of my own fears, though I never succumbed to eating protein bars to survive.  Many high school students will see their own thoughts reflected here too.  It’s universal and makes Cath immediately relatable and lovable.  And I must comment again about how well Rowell writes romance and sex scenes.  Sex is part of life in her novels, something to be applauded, where no young women are made to feel slutty because they are sexually active.  It is beautifully handled.

I can’t wait to see where Rowell takes us next.  She is an author who belongs on lists alongside John Green and Gayle Forman.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

little red writing

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

This is a fresh version of Little Red Riding Hood.  Here Little Red is a pencil and her assignment in school is to write a story, even though it can be quite dangerous.  Her teacher gives her a basket of words to use in case of an emergency, but also warns her to stick to her basic story so that she doesn’t get lost.  Little Red starts writing but soon tries to add more excitement to her story.  Before she knows it, she has bounced right off of the page and into a forest.  It’s a forest full of description, but that’s also something that can bog down a story.  Little Red has to use a word from her basket to get free.  More perils follow with sentences that run on, abandoned punctuation, and a growling voice and twirly tail that lead right to the principal’s office.  It is up to Little Red to both be a hero and finish her story.

Holub has written a very engaging new version of Little Red Riding Hood.  She successfully ties in tips on writing, not allowing them to force her to leave the basic story path.  Her writing is entirely engaging, the format of the story writing works well and she weaves the classic elements of the tale into this one so that it is different but still recognizable. 

Sweet’s illustrations are done in her signature combination of cut paper and drawings.  Her bright colors add much to the liveliness of the book.  She uses the cut paper to good effect throughout, allowing them to set aside important parts of the book as well as using fonts of various styles to really make the book stand out. 

A great pick for writing units, this is one of the best changed-up Red Riding Hoods that I’ve seen.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

13 story treehouse

The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton

Andy and Terry live together in an amazing 13-story tree house.  It has a bowling alley, a secret laboratory, swinging vines, a see-through swimming pool and even a man-eating shark tank.  Unfortunately, all of these fun things around them are distracting them from finishing the book that is due in to the publisher!  They have barely started and it needs to be finished quickly.  But what are you supposed to do when there are flying cats, giant bananas, an evil sea monster, gangs of rampaging monkeys, and burp-filled bubblegum bubbles around you?  You will just have to read the book to find out how Andy and Terry managed to finish their book in time.

Wildly funny and perfect for children who enjoy books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  The author and illustrator worked together beautifully, creating a hilarious world that is a pleasure to visit.  The book has illustrations throughout, black and white line drawings that add to the silliness of the story.  Do not read this one looking for logic, just enjoy the giggles!

A great pick for reluctant readers who will appreciate the silly storyline and funny illustrations that effectively break up the text.  Get this into the hands of your Wimpy Kid fans!  Appropriate for ages 6-10. 

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.

rocket writes a story

Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills

This sequel to How Rocket Learned to Read has the same irresistible charm of the first.  While the first book inspired new readers on their way to proficiency, this book will inspire young writers to try their hand at the craft.  Rocket loved books like they were his friends.  He loved words too and used his nose to find new words to add to his collection.  Eventually, Rocket had so many words, he just had to do something with them.  So he decided to write his own story.  But when he was faced with the blank page, he couldn’t think of a thing to write.  The little yellow bird who was his teacher advised him to write about something that inspired him, that excited him.  Now Rocket just needs to find that perfect inspiration for a story.  It just might be much closer than he’d ever have expected.

Hills has taken the wonderful cheer of his original Rocket book and his Duck & Goose stories and transformed it into a book that will lead young authors through the thicket of writing their first story.  This is a shining example of a book that will inspire rather than lecture young artists as they strive to create.  Rocket has a wonderful combination of confidence and openness that makes him a great protagonist.  Children will be happy to learn to write a book alongside Rocket.

The art in the book is done in Hills’ signature style.  It is simple, bright colored, and joyful.  Hills plays with perspective, turns the idea of a classroom inside out, and rejoices in reading and writing. 

A must-have book for all public libraries, this will also find a welcome home in school libraries and classrooms.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.


Wumbers by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

I love puzzle games and this book is like reading a puzzle game.  The concept is to mix numbers and words to form something entirely new.  The book cre8tes a gr8 way to interact with children, who will happily call out the answers.  My 11-year-old happily curled up with me and helped decipher the puzzles on each page.  The book is made up of a series of different situations rather than a flowing storyline, which makes the puzzles all the more enjoyable.  As the book progresses, the wumbers do get more difficult to figure out, resulting in plenty of groans of appreciation as we read the book.

This would make a 1derful writing exercise for students to a10mpt, since it’s a lot more difficult than it first appears.  It’s not a book to share with a large group, but rather one to cozily figure out together with one or two children.  Lichtenheld’s illustrations are great fun, adding context to the puzzles and a lightness too. 

Perfect for children who enjoy word puzzles or as a jumping off point for a fun writing exercise, this book is sure to el8 young readers.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

chloe and the lion

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex

You know this book is going to be unique when you get introduced to the author and illustrator before the book begins.  Then you meet Chloe, a little girl, who is the main character in the book.  The story begins and Chloe is collecting loose change that she would use to ride the merry-go-round in the park as many times as she could.  When she headed home, dizzy from the ride, she got lost in the forest.  Then a huge lion jumped out at her!  Except Adam Rex, the illustrator, did not draw a lion.  He thought a dragon would be a much better choice.  Mac Barnett, the author, doesn’t like that idea at all and insists that this is HIS book because he is the author.  The fight goes on from there, until Mac feeds Adam to the lion that a new stand-in illustrator drew for him.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t really like the art of the new illustrator and also finds that he can’t draw well enough himself to fill in for Adam.  What is an author to do?!

I love books that break that fourth wall and take a look at the inner workings of the author/illustrator or involve the audience in an interesting way.  The book’s art and writing are so closely integrated together that it is almost impossible to review them separately.  The tone here is clean and clear until the fight scene where it becomes comically fraught with emotion.  There are running gags, funny comments and lots of humor throughout the story that make it all the more fun to read.

The illustrations are inventive and add real dimension to the book.  There are several elements at play.  There are the figures done in clay that represent the author and illustrator.  There are the flat drawings of Chloe and the lion.  Then there is a stage where the book story takes place.  It’s a wonderful mix of theater, reading, and art.

The silliness doesn’t stop at the end of the book, make sure to check out the author blurb at the back, along with the very short illustrator blurb.  This book will thrill children with its silliness, dynamic illustrations, and its clever look behind the curtain of making a picture book.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

dying to know you FINAL

Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers

When Karl’s girlfriend Fiorella asks him to write down his feelings about their relationship and answer a list of questions, he turns for help to a famous writer who lives in their town.  Karl is dyslexic which makes writing very difficult for him, as was the author who suffered as a child from minor dyslexia.  The author agrees to help Karl as much out of loneliness as a willingness to help.  He is drawn to Karl, who is similar in many ways, bright and eager.  He insists that Karl meet with him and give his own answers to the questions which the writer will in turn polish into something worthy of Fiorella’s attention.  As the two spend time together, their relationship deepens slowly into a true friendship.  When Fiorella finds out about the truth of the letters, it impacts the relationship not only of her and Karl but also of Karl and the author.

Chambers has created an amazing book here.  I found it nearly impossible to summarize because so much of the book is the growing connection between the two male characters.  It happens slowly and believably during fishing, quiet moments of driving, and conversation.  It is a look at how we choose connections in our lives and how they impact the life we lead.  While the book may be a quiet one, it also is daring in its own way, revealing the inner world of a young adult, written with truth and honesty.

The two men both face previous losses that have colored the way they face the world.  Karl lost his beloved father at a young age, and still struggles with his connection to his father and with disconnecting from that loss.  The author has recently lost his wife.  The two of them both struggled with depression and grief, sinking lower into a dangerous place with thoughts of suicide. 

Chambers also weaves in the role of art in our lives, the power of that to connect us to the world and the drive to create and be imaginative.  With Karl, who is a plumber, this connection to art is not an obvious one.  It takes time, just like their budding friendship, for the reader to come to understand Karl more deeply. 

I wish I could easily capture this book in paragraphs, since I feel like I have danced around the edges and not captured its heart here.  Let me say that this is a book that is powerful, quiet and filled with revelations about life.  It is honest, beautifully written and deep.  It is a book where you miss the characters for days after finishing it, because you too have befriended them.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

love mouserella

Love, Mouserella by David Ezra Stein

Mouserella misses her grandmother.  She had to go back to the country, and Mouserella lives in the city.  So her mother suggested she write a letter, and she did!  The pages are filled with drawings, photographs, and plenty of great details.  Though Mouserella doesn’t think there is much to share, she actually finds lots of everyday things to talk about: creating seed parachutes, visiting a museum, experiencing a blackout, and playing with her brother.  The story is jolly and warm, filled with homey details, a loving family and the joys of the small things in life.

Stein’s writing and art here create a harmonious whole.  The writing is winningly child-like and wandering.  Mouserella’s voice is clear and personal throughout, creating a solid base for the book.  Stein then embellishes the book with art that ranges from Mouserella’s drawings to photographs of her world.  The combination of crayon art with Stein’s own more realistic but still whimsical art makes for a striking read.

This warm, wonderful picture book will be enjoyed by grandmothers and grandchildren alike.  It is a perfect accompaniment to letter writing units or story times about grandparents.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin Young Readers Group.

Also reviewed by A Year of Reading.

Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan

Fourth grade was dull until the author-in-residence arrived.  Ms. Mirabel brings a love of words and writing as well as her ready laugh to the class.  Through the course of several months, she inspires five fourth graders to write, express themselves, and by doing that change their lives.  The five characters are many for a book this slim, but through their writing they become very distinct.  One of the greatest pleasures in the book is the poetry included throughout, giving us a clear understanding of each character and what they are dealing with in their lives.  A charming book that will inspire us all to carry pen and paper and write to change our lives.

MacLachlan has created a book that is very accessible to young readers with its large font and small size.  She has also managed to portray five characters who go to the same school but are individuals and clearly so.  The character of Ms. Mirabel captures the wonder and inspiration children find in a visiting writer.  It also shows what an impact such a free-thinking and open teacher can have.  But most importantly, this book teaches children what writing can mean to a person, how it can impact their lives, and how important it is. 

Slim and short, this book packs so much in a small wrapper.  Pair it with Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook by Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer for a winning combination that will truly inspire young writers to create.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

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Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter, illustrated by Matt Phelan.

Two veteran authors take their years of writing, their know-how, and their energy and offer it happily to new authors, both young and old.  What could have been a dry subject is definitely not in their hands.  Simply starting the book will have you hooked and make you wonder why you never wrote that book that you know you have inside you.  Mazer and Potter take on all of your excuses, throw in some great advice, and really inspire you to go for it!  Written with lots of humor, this book has I Dare You sections to get you started, funny stories of both failure and success, and offers a refreshing look at the process of writing.

There are so many parts to love in this book.  It has real information about subjects like metaphors, perspective, setting, and plot.  At the same time it is light-hearted and very personal.  Mazer and Potter have created an invitation to join them in both the success and failure of writing.  Their personal stories make the book a pleasure to read, carrying the information easily to readers.  Once you start reading, you will find it reads as easily as one of their novels, which is rare in a nonfiction book on the writing process! 

Phelan’s art suits the writing well with its organic and natural feel.  The illustrations and the fact that the chapters are broken into small bite-sized pieces contribute to the welcoming feel of the entire book.

Highly recommended, I see this as the ideal book to share with writing classes, to encourage young authors, and to hand to adults who want to start writing for children.  Not only will it offer those adults the tools they need to write, it will also show them exactly what a great book for children should be.

Appropriate for ages 10-14.  (I had to pry it out of my 13-year-old son’s hands to get to finish it.  And only by promising not to touch his bookmark!)

Reviewed from Advanced Reader Copy received from author.

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