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October 01, 2014

Good things to say about VERY BAD THINGS by Susan McBride

“Katie has mostly recovered from the tragedy of her father’s suicide and is excited about her future: graduation and college with her boyfriend Mark, a popular hockey athlete. She attends a prep school on scholarship and has found a best friend in her roommate Tessa. Katie’s senior year takes a sudden turn, though, when a mysterious package arrives at the dorm for her and contains a gruesome object within. Soon she’s questioning who she can trust and trying to piece together a story from a hazy night of partying that resulted in the death of an innocent teen girl. Fans of “The Pretty Little Liars” series (HarperCollins) will appreciate the high drama and plot twists. The horror elements are tame making this book appealing for middle grade readers as well as teens.”
–Samantha Lumetta, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH, School Library Journal

“Katie can barely believe Mark, the good-looking star center on the Whitney prep school hockey team and son of the headmaster, is her boyfriend. In fact, she is stunned to realize he was waiting for her after the poetry slam she had organized ended. She falls for him hard the day he shows her the secret tunnels which come out in the greenhouse, where he cut a blooming rose for her hair. The last few years have been tough on Katie, losing her father at twelve and only making it to boarding school on a scholarship. Unfortunately, Mark has his detractors, including his former girlfriend, Joelle; his new teammate Steve; and Katie’s roommate and best friend, Tessa. Katie is stunned to learn that there are photos of Mark with another girl online that Mark cannot explain even when she is reported missing. Is he sincere or is he a liar? What secrets is he keeping? When a box addressed to Katie arrives with a severed hand, Katie realizes she cannot just walk away, but her digging leads to only more secrets.

This fast-paced, well-crafted novel is written from the different points of view of Katie, Mark, and Tessa. The characters are interesting with realistic bonds that tangle their lives together. There are many subplots creating both mystery and complexity. This will be a popular book with a long and continuous list.”—Ava Ehde, VOYA Review, October 2014

“In her first book for teens, adult author McBride (the Dropout Debutant Mystery series) draws readers into upper-crust society and the dangerous secrets that lie beneath it. Fifteen-year-old Katie has felt unsettled during her four years at a New England prep school, despite having a loyal best friend in her roommate Tessa and dating Mark, a hockey star and the headmaster’s son. Lately she has reason to worry: several students seem to want Katie’s relationship with Mark to end, and she suspects someone is following her, leaving roses in the library and her room. Then a “sex pic” of Mark and a Katie lookalike circulates, and after the girl in the photo turns up dead, Mark claims he can’t remember anything about the night when it was taken. To save her future with Mark, and possibly their lives, Katie tries to find the killer. McBride’s fast-paced plot is fueled by jumps between multiple characters’ perspectives, and her rendering of the venerable yet sinister school, complete with a web of subterranean steam tunnels, is as absorbing as the tightly wound mystery. Ages 12–up.” —Publishers Weekly, August 29 2014

Very Bad Things
Very Bad Things
by Susan McBride
Hardcover: 9780385737975
Library Binding: 9780385907040
Delacorte | Oct. 2014

October 01, 2014

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s….

Who would you like to see flying through the sky to save the day? In ways big and small we all have someone in our life that is a superhero. To young readers, you yourself may be a hero—a teacher who protects a group of students during a tornado, a librarian who helps you find the perfect book that to turn you a reader…

Have your students and readers tell us about their real-life hero in 500 words or less and they could win a SUPER cool prize: Matthew Cody, the author of Super, Powerless and Villainous will write the winner of this contest into a short story as a SUPER.

Submit real-life superhero stories by December 20th, 2014 to:

Email: STrombetta@penguinrandomhouse.com
Snail Mail: Sadie Trombetta
1745 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Matthew, along with four fantastic ace readers from Knopf Books for Young Readers, will select the winners. The grand prize is the short story and a full set of signed copies of Matthew’s books. Five others will receive signed copies of all of Matthew’s books. As a bonus, any teacher who submits stories from her entire class will be eligible to win a class set of Matt’s books, as well as some select additional titles from Random House. The winner will be selected by January 15th, 2015.

September 29, 2014

October: Family History Month

by Pat Scales

October is Family History Month, and school and public libraries have many books to help readers focus on the idea of family heritage. Some families have family trees that date back to the time their ancestors immigrated to America. Others may only know names of two or three generations. Family history projects in schools have sometimes been an issue with adopted children: Do they place their name on the tree of their adoptive family? Many families have no problem with this, while others feel as though it doesn’t represent the truth of their child’s heritage. In the event this is an issue with their parents, these readers may focus on fictional families (as in the activities below for all readers). If the adoption is a foreign adoption, then these readers should be asked to share something about the culture of their birth.

● Have readers ask the oldest member of their family to tell a favorite story from his or her   childhood.
Then read aloud the picture book Grandfather Tang’s Story by Ann Tompert, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker.
Have readers use the method of storytelling used in the book and tell their family story to the group. (Even adopted
children may find this a fun activity.)

  ● A good way to help readers focus on family history is to look at old family photographs. Ask them to make
photocopies or digital copies of at least five photographs (don’t risk losing the originals) and write captions for
each photograph. These may include school pictures, baby pictures, and family reunion photos.

  ● Have readers find out about an object that has been in their family for generations. Perhaps it’s a household item, a
baby garment, a toy, or a wedding dress. Then have them draw a picture or take a digital photograph of the item
and write a creative story about it.

  ● Invite someone who immigrated to the United States to talk with the group about their family’s immigration story.
Prepare for the speaker by having students read one of the following:

All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
(picture book) by Dan Yaccarino

I Will Come Back for You: A Family in Hiding During World War II
(picture book) by Marisabina Russo

Children of the River (middle Crew) by Linda Crew

A House of Tailors (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff

Ashes of Roses (young adult) by Mary Jane Auch

Enrique’s Journey (young adult) by Sonia Nazario

Goodbye, Vietnam (young adult) by Gloria Whelan

  ● Ask readers to read one of the following books and then write a family history for the main character. Be creative,
and embellish the story by taking it back two more generations.

Stitchin’ and Pullin’ (picture book) by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Child of the Mountains (middle grade) by Marilyn Sue Shank

Family Ties (middle grade) by Gary Paulsen

The Mighty Miss Malone (middle grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis

Nest (middle grade) by Esther Ehrlich

The Quilt (middle grade) by Gary Paulsen

Hattie Big Sky (young adult) by Kirby Larson

The House of Djinn (young adult) by Suzanne Fisher Staples

Orchards (young adult) by Holly Thompson

Roots and Wings (young adult) by Many Ly

What the Moon Saw (young adult) by Laura Resau

  ● Have readers make Family Heritage Boxes. Decorate them with photocopies of old photographs. Then pick at least
five items to include in the box that would tell their personal story to future generations.

  ● Refer to the following websites for ideas of other ways to celebrate Family History Month.




September 17, 2014

Q&A with Author of the Month: John Feinstein

You write both nonfiction and fiction. What are the differences other than the obvious? Do you prepare differently? Do you prefer one over the other? Why?

I’m very lucky at this point in my life to be able to write both fiction and nonfiction. I think going back and forth between the two genres helps keep me fresh and motivated. Of course the kids’ fiction I’ve written—this is my eighth kids’ mystery in all—is based on a lot of the reporting I’ve done through the years. I’ve always believed the best fiction reads like nonfiction. When it’s believable, the readers thinks, “This could happen.” I enjoy creating a story line and characters and, at the same time, trying to make that story feel real.

Why do you think reading is important for an athlete?

I think reading is important for everybody regardless of age, sex, or whether they are an athlete. I do think it is important for anyone interested in playing a sport to have an understanding of what might be ahead in terms of being recruited; in terms of coaching and—maybe most important—understanding when their parents are too involved. That’s the biggest danger we have for kids who are gifted athletes, and the more a kid can understand that, the better

Were you for or against last year’s changes to the college football game structure?

I like the changes to the college football structure in that four teams will now have a chance to play for the national championship instead of two. That’s a small step forward, but not nearly enough. The playoff should involve at least eight teams—and even better, twelve. Get rid of the meaningless conference championship games and play four first-round games at home sites the first week in December. Play quarterfinals on New Year’s Day at bowl sites, semis the next week. Then the championship game the week before the Super Bowl. Unlike with the basketball tournament, players would miss almost no class time, and a twelve-team tournament would let teams like Boise State, TCU, and Utah—which each went undefeated in past years—try to compete for the national championship. They would have the chance to do what Butler, George Mason, and VCU did in the basketball tournament—some of the most magical moments we’ve had in sports.

What should teams and fans look for this season?

Things to look for in this college season? The SEC will still have more good teams than anyone else. Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, and LSU will all make noise nationally. No one in the ACC will beat Florida State. The Big Ten will be down—again. The Pac-10 will be the most fun because no one is dominant but almost everyone is good, and the Big 12 will be Oklahoma, Baylor, and everyone else. Even so, the two games to see will be the same as they always are: Harvard-Yale and Army-Navy. Tradition. It’s great.

What do you look for in terms of stats, news, info in preseason for both NFL and college football?

I really don’t put much stock in preseason at all. Teams have gone 0–4 in exhibition games and won the Super Bowl. Bad teams often go 4–0. What matters are serious injuries—at every level, because football is so violent—and suspensions for bad behavior or steroid use. Unfortunately, even at the high school level where Alex Myers plays, they’re an important part of the game.

Any advice for aspiring sports journalists?

My advice for anyone wanting to get into journalism—whether in sports or not in sports—is always the same:

    1. Read a lot. Even reading bad writing helps because it teaches you what NOT to do.
    2. Don’t specialize when you’re young. If sports is your goal, that’s great. But I learned more from covering police, courts, and politics than I knew at the time. It helped make me a better reporter, and that’s always been critical for me.
    3. Don’t give up on writing. Everyone wants to be on TV these days. The best way to get on TV is to write and report very well. That way you aren’t being hired for your looks and you’ll last a lot longer.

Which writers inspire(d) you?

I’ve been inspired by lots of people since I first discovered reading as a kid. The “triple threat”—Alex Myers—was inspired by reading the Chip Hilton books, written by the great basketball coach Clair Bee (a mentor of Bob Knight’s). I was remarkably lucky to start my career at the Washington Post, where I learned from Bob Woodward—THE Bob Woodward of Watergate fame—David Maraniss, who has only won THREE Pulitzer Prizes, and superb sportswriters like Dave Kindred, Ken Denlinger, Tony Kornheiser (yes, he was once a real reporter and writer, proof of what I’m talking about as a TV star), and Tom Boswell. All took an interest in me and taught me lessons not only about how to report a story but how to RECOGNIZE a story. I’ve always thought my greatest strength was understanding you don’t have to be rich and famous to have a story to tell. I learned that from the people I worked with at the Post. As a reader, David Halberstam inspired me with his amazing eye for detail, whether reporting on Vietnam or the Portland Trail Blazers. I love reading thrillers, too—especially those that, as I said before, feel as if they could be real.

Which players do you admire?

I tend to admire athletes more for what they accomplish away from the playing fields than on them. Arthur Ashe was a great tennis player—three major championships, including the very first U.S. Open in 1968—but a better man. He made people think about important issues rather than trying to use his name to become wealthy. Bill Bradley, whom I watched as a kid because I was a Knicks fan, was similar to Arthur. He saw his ability as an athlete as a means to make a difference in the world, which he did as a U.S. senator. I’ve been close to many coaches, especially in basketball. Dean Smith helped desegregate restaurants in Chapel Hill in the late 1950s as a young assistant coach at North Carolina and took part in civil rights marches and nuclear freeze protests. Mike Krzyzewski is one of the most loyal men I’ve ever met—he never forgets a friend. While dying of cancer, Jim Valvano set up and organized the V Foundation, which has raised more than $100 million for cancer research since his death. He knew he was going to die but wanted to leave a meaningful—truly meaningful—legacy behind.

Any international sports you wish would gain a greater fan following here in the USA?

The one sport I always wanted to cover more and learn more about that is not a big deal in this country is cycling—specifically the Tour de France. Unfortunately, Lance Armstrong and so many other drug cheats have sullied the sport to the point where it will be a long time before anyone takes it seriously again. I was awed—before I knew about all the steroid use—by what cyclists did, riding 100 miles a day, up and down mountains, and then doing it again the next day. People only get interested in swimming in this country during the Olympics, every four years. As an old swimmer, I would love to see people care more about the sport—but you can’t tell sports fans what to like and not like.

What are the dangers of steroid use by young high school athletes?

The most stunning facts I uncovered while researching the The Walk On—I do research my fiction to try, again, to make it feel like nonfiction—were about steroid use among high school athletes, especially football players. Teenagers believe they’re immortal, so health warnings don’t really affect them, especially when they read constantly about millionaire NFL players who are suspended for four games for steroid use and then come back to be cheered and continue to make millions. One doctor told me steroids are an “epidemic” among high school football players, in part because there isn’t very much drug testing at the high school level. The reason I made steroids a part of the story in The Walk On is because they are so prevalent.

Do you think it’s safe for young children to be playing contact football?

I have very mixed emotions about kids playing football. I love the sport, loved playing it as a kid, though I didn’t play past ninth grade because I was a swimmer and because my mom wasn’t thrilled about it. I’m not sure I would want my son to put his heart and soul into a sport that is bound to beat up your body. I think I would try to steer him in another direction. One of the reasons I wanted Alex to be a three-sport athlete was to keep his future options open

Do you think writing nonfiction makes you a better fiction writer?

The work I’ve done writing nonfiction is very much at the heart of my fiction writing. Every story is based on events and people I have covered. If I hadn’t been writing nonfiction for as long as I have, I doubt I could write fiction in the manner or style that I do.

How would you suggest a parent or teacher introduce books to a reluctant reader?

One of the most gratifying things about writing kids’ fiction—besides my own kids’ involvement as editors—has been the response I’ve gotten from a lot of parents who have reluctant readers in their house—more boys than girls. Many have told me that they have given their child one of the books and said, “You love sports, this is about sports, try this,” and have gotten very positive responses. Many write and say, “Please get your next book out soon so I can give it to my son and get him back to reading.” I like hearing/reading that. So, to all of them, here’s The Walk On.

What kinds of books did you like to read as a child?

As I mentioned, I read the Chip Hilton series—twenty-four books—as a kid. I also read the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift. One of the best books I ever read, one that inspired me to eventually become a history major in college, was Johnny Tremain. I think every middle school kid should have to read that book. I also read a series called Signature Books, which was a collection of biographies of famous people. I think learning what I did from those books made me want to know more about people who were successful—or even not successful but had interesting lives—when I grew up.

The Walk On

The Walk On
by John Feinstein
Hardcover: 9780385753463
Library Binding: 9780385753470

September 15, 2014


★ “A little girl’s world disintegrates after her mother’s illness and severe depression result in family tragedy. Nicknamed “Chirp” because she loves bird-watching in her native Cape Cod, 11-year-old Naomi’s devoted to her free-spirited mother, who’s always been a dancer. Unfortunately, her mother’s inability to cope with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis leads to her hospitalization for depression. Ironically, Chirp’s hyperanalytical psychiatrist father seems clueless about what’s happening emotionally to his family, while her older sister blames him for sending her mother away. Meanwhile, Chirp quietly withdraws, finding comfort in her birds and the unlikely companionship of her neighbor and classmate, Joey, whose own family has “significant issues.” When her mother returns and commits suicide, Chirp’s shocked, bereft and in deep denial, until Joey helps her find her way. Chirp’s first-person account of how she and her family react to the events leading to her mother’s funeral presents a nuanced chronicle of loss. Ehrlich’s ability to get inside Chirp’s head, to create beautifully rounded characters and to flesh out details of life for this Jewish family in 1972 Cape Cod adds to the overall realism. Frequent textual references to wild birds and relevant children’s books provide interesting depth. A poignant, insightful story of family crisis and the healing power of friendship. (Historical fiction. 8-12)” — Kirkus Reviews, starred

★ “It’s the dog days of the summer, 1972, and spirited 11-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein tries to enjoy them as best she can—but something is wrong with her mother’s leg. Chirp’s mother Hannah is a dancer and the prospect of permanent limited mobility is both heartbreaking and terrifying. A diagnosis of MS sends Hannah spiraling into a debilitating depression, and she is sent to a mental hospital. Chirp’s father, a psychiatrist, is consumed with grief and tethered to work, leaving Chirp and her older sister Rachel alone much of the time. After several months of therapy, Hannah returns home. The reunion is short-lived as she slips deeper into depression and tragically decides to end her life, leaving Chirp, Rachel, and their father to navigate their transformed familial relationship. A stunning debut, with lyrical prose and superbly developed characters, this novel is an emotional roller coaster that effectively conveys a family’s visceral tragedy. At times tear inducing, the narrative is also vibrantly alive, assisted in part by the Cape Cod setting and refreshingly unplugged 1970s. The focus on nature and the outdoors helps set the pace as the seasonal changes quietly indicate the passage of time. Sensitive readers should be aware of the tough issues that it addresses—suicide, depression, and personal loss. However, the story also offers a hopeful message. Strong readers who enjoy realistic fiction and the occasional good cry will savor Nest and reflect on it long after its conclusion.”–Juliet Morefield, Multnomah County Library, OR, School and Library Journal, starred

★ “First-time author Ehrlich’s achingly realistic depiction of family love and loss is set on Cape Cod during the early 1970s. Chirp Orenstein’s mother, Hannah, is a vivacious, talented dancer until a leg ailment forces her to slow down. When Hannah is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she falls into a deep depression, fading to an almost unrecognizable shadow of her former self. No one—not Chirp, not her older sister, not their psychiatrist father—can make Hannah feel better. Chirp keeps her sadness and feelings of helplessness to herself except when she’s with her friend Joey, a neighbor who spends a good deal of time trying to avoid his violent father and seems to understand what Chirp is going through. Ehrlich’s novel beautifully captures the fragile bond shared by Chirp and Joey and their growing trust for each other in a world filled with disappointments and misunderstandings. Allusions to songs and trends of the era and references to Chirp’s strong Jewish heritage accentuate and ground the story.”–Publishers Weekly, starred