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October 03, 2016

Author Interview, Time Traveling with a Hamster

A Letter from Ross Welford, author of Time Traveling with a Hamster

Hello, Everyone!

The idea for Time Traveling with a Hamster started with a what-if.

What if you could go back in time and meet your father as a child?

Everything else grew out of that central question.

On his twelfth birthday, Al receives a letter from his dead father telling him where to find the time machine that he had been secretly building. There is also a plea: use the time machine to go back to 1984 and prevent the accident that will cause his father’s death twenty-six years later.

As Al struggles to live up to his dad’s expectations, his adventures (on which he is accompanied by his pet hamster) bring him into conflict with everyone around him—especially his much-loved Grandpa Byron, an Anglo Indian hippie with a purple moped and a super powerful memory.

Making the science behind the time travel accessible was a challenge, but it was not the hardest thing about writing the book, nor was creating the happy ending that I felt Al deserved. The biggest challenge was getting the emotional tone of the story right.

On a recent school visit, a boy about Al’s age approached me and said that his father had died only six months before. I was so relieved when he added that he had loved the book and laughed all the way through. That meant so much to me because, although Time Traveling with a Hamster is primarily a fun adventure story, the bereavement at the story’s heart is not something I treated lightly.

As adults, we know that some things in life require more courage, more daring that we think we have. Al discovers that acting on that courage brings rewards greater than he ever imagined.

I loved writing Time Traveling with a Hamster. I sincerely hope that you and your readers love it too.

Thank you!

Ross Welford


★ “Welford’s voice for his protagonist is engaging, pragmatic, and solid… Nods to classic time travel stories will delight some readers; those merely looking for a page turning adventure will find that and more.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ “Smart, engaging, and heartwarming.” —Booklist, starred review


October 03, 2016

Girl in Pieces author’s note and mental illness feature

About a Girl: Building the Story of Girl in Pieces
By: Kathleen Glasgow

The first thing people ask me after reading Girl in Pieces is, “How much of Charlie Davis is you?”  My standard answer is, “I gave Charlie my scars and my emotions, but her story is her own, just like mine is mine and yours is yours.”

That’s one of the pitfalls of writing a contemporary, realistic novel: people often assume the main character is a thinly-disguised portrait of the author. No one ever asks J.K. Rowling if she has a lightning-shaped scar or what her grades were at Hogwarts!

Charlie Davis struggles with depression and self-injury, just like I did as a young woman.  But her story also belongs to the more than one million young women in the United States who also self-injure. On the surface, a reader might think I’m telling my own story through the character of Charlie Davis, but I’m not.  The story I’m really telling is the story of what it’s like to be a girl in the world.

At a recent literary event, I sat with a group of women in their fifties and sixties. It was my job to pitch my book! Tell them everything they needed to know so they’d buy it! Recommend it to their friends! I worked hard to convince grown women with full lives that they needed the story of a 17-year-old girl who cuts herself.

There was silence. Then one woman, with magnificent frosted hair and spectacular red lipstick (a passion of mine) said, “I’m a school nurse and you would not believe how many girls come through my office with cuts and scratches.”

Another woman said, “I teach fifth grade and the girls are so anxious about tests that they put tiny pieces of glass inside their watchbands and push on them if they miss a question.”

They started talking. They knew people who had a daughter who cut. Or a daughter who starved herself. Someone’s cousin’s daughter was seventeen and a full-blown alcoholic. One woman said, “I hate my upper arms and I don’t know why I can’t find any damn dresses that aren’t sleeveless! I am fifty-five and I wish I didn’t give a damn, but I do.”

One day a woman emailed me and thanked me for writing Girl in Pieces. She said, “You know, even though I’m of a different generation, when women may not have chosen cutting, there were all sorts of hair shirts we put on to relieve stress. Drugs and alcohol worked wonders until they didn’t work at all.”

One day a girl wrote to me, “I’m 21 years old and I read your book in 12 hours straight. I couldn’t put it down. I’ve never related to something so much. I’ve suffered from depression since I was 12 years old. I’ve cut my arms and legs and shoulders open to numb the pain. It’s been a journey. Charlie’s story hit me close to home. I felt like I knew her.”

So you see, I didn’t so much build the character of Charlie from myself as I built her from years of listening to girls and women talk about what it’s like to be in pain, to be ignored, to feel body shame, to feel unloved, unlovely, unwanted, un-smart, not needed, pushed aside.

When I was fifteen and looked on the library shelf, I didn’t find myself. They didn’t have books about cutting back then. I had to wait until I was well into my twenties to discover books like Speak, Girl, Interrupted, Prozac Nation.

I wrote a book about being a girl with scars so girls with scars could find themselves on the library shelf. But it’s also turned out to be a story about the scars we have on the inside, too, the ones that keep us from wearing sleeveless dresses even when we are well into our fifties and should damn well not care, anymore.  And we should probably be talking about that.



A New York Times Bestseller

In Glasgow’s riveting debut novel, readers are pulled close to Charlie’s raw, authentic emotions as she strains to make a jagged path through her new life. Love and trust prove difficult, and Charlie’s judgment is not well honed, but her will to survive is glorious.”—Booklist, Starred Review

★ “[Readers] will find themselves driven to see Charlie’s story through. They will better understand a world that often makes no sense to outsiders. Glasgow’s debut novel is a dark read, but the engaging writing will win an audience for [Glasgow].” —VOYA, Starred Review



October 03, 2016

New Bedtime Stories for Your Little One to Read Before Lights-Out!

Even when kids are tired, they sometimes need a little encouragement to close their eyes for a nap or for the night. We’ve rounded up our new favorite fall bedtime stories to help make going to sleep a little more enjoyable!

Hop Along Boo, Time for Bed
by Mandy Sutcliffe
Ages: 3–7

A dreamy, twinkly bedtime fantasy that will draw you close and invite you gently into your dreams.

It’s bedtime for Belle and her bunny, Boo. Join the two friends as gentle rhymes and luminous illustrations guide them through dreamy fantasies to a cozy bed of their own. Readers will follow along with ballerinas, cowboys, pirates, and others as they wind down their days and tuck in for a good night’s sleep. This lullaby journey is as captivating and soothing as any parent or child could want—by the end, there won’t be an open eye in the house!

Buddy’s Bedtime Battery
by Christina Geist; illustrated by Tim Bowers
Ages: 3–7

Power down, little robot—it’s time for bed!

It’s Buddy’s bedtime, but there’s just one problem—he’s decided that he’s a robot! Accommodating parents must now power down their little machine step by step, from his toes to his tip-top. Tim Bowers’s bubbly illustrations capture Buddy’s energy and imagination, and parents and kids will enjoy adopting this new bedtime ritual into their own routines.

The Little Elephant Who Wants to Fall Asleep
by Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin; illustrated by Sydney Hanson
Ages: 3–7

The author of the New York Times and international bestseller The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep is back with another story using all-new child-tested, parent-approved techniques.

Your child joins Ellen the Elephant on a journey through a magical forest that leads to sleep. Along the way, they meet different fantastical characters and have soothing experiences that will help your child relax and slip into slumber quickly. The story works perfectly for either naptime or bedtime.

Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin’s simple story uses soothing language and new sleep techniques to help reclaim bedtime and turn it into a calm and affection-filled end to your child’s day.

Follow us on Twitter at @RHCBEducators and like us on Facebook at @TheRandomSchoolHouse for more school and library news!

October 03, 2016

Teach-a-like: Program Introduction and How to Hang a Witch with The Crucible!

Teach-Alike Pairings:

Purpose: Classic literary authors (Shakespeare, Miller, Hurston, Morrison, Faulkner, Austen, Hemingway, Wright, and Brontë, just to name a few) are studied in classrooms every day across the country. Their texts have been used for years, and for good reason: the writing is exemplary, the characters are universal yet complex, and the themes touch on all aspects of humanity. We know, however, that in addition to these canonical texts, there are many contemporary books that address some of the same themes and conflicts and are written for young adult and middle-school audiences. We believe these text pairings—whether for small reading groups in the classroom or as independent reading—will enhance the reader’s experience by drawing parallels with the themes and archetypes of the classics.

To help spread the word about these text pairings, we have created a Teach-Alike blog that will be posted on our website every other month. If you have any creative suggestions, requests for specific texts, or reviews of the pairs read together, we would love to hear from you! You can email us at slmarket@penguinrandomhouse.com. Enjoy, and keep reading!

October Teach-Alike: How to Hang a Witch and The Crucible

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953) is a partially fictionalized play about the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in Salem, Massachusetts, from 1692 to 1693. The Crucible follows the small colony as it navigates wild accusations of witchcraft and deception, serving as an apt allegory for the United States government’s blacklisting of accused communists. When I was working as a high school English teacher, I enjoyed using The Crucible to investigate how fear and misunderstanding can lead to hysteria, betrayal, and the demise of a community. My students always became incensed with the townspeople’s blatant lies and illogical behavior, and they loved to hate Abigail and her impressionable followers.

Miller’s classic work pairs perfectly with Adrianna Mather’s How to Hang a Witch. This wonderful debut novel is not only written by an actual descendant of one of the real Trials’ most infamous accusers, but it also explores how crucial names are to one’s identity (reminiscent of Proctor’s “I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”) and how a family’s history can overshadow and even corrupt the truth. With vengeful teenage characters and a modern-day school setting, this new look at the lasting scars of the historical Salem Witch Trials offers a contemporary twist on Miller’s interpretation.

The Salem Witch Trials meet Mean Girls in this deliciously suspenseful novel.

Samantha Mather has just moved from New York City to Salem, Massachusetts, in the wake of her father’s mysterious illness. Mathers have lived in Salem for centuries, and Sam is the ancestor of Cotton Mather, one of the architects of the Salem Witch Trials. Her name precedes her and comes with too many stigmas. Before long, Sam finds herself at odds with the Descendants, a powerful group of girls who also have ties to the Trials—only their ancestors were on the other end of the noose. Before long, Sam realizes she is at the center of a centuries-old curse that is tying her fate, as well as her father’s, to her new enemies. Can she overcome her family’s past and break the cycle of unexplained deaths, or will she discover just how easy it can be to hang a witch?

Check out the book trailer!

Adrianna Mather discusses the Salem Witch Trials and her book, How to Hang a Witch!

Follow us on Twitter at @RHCBEducators and like us on Facebook at @TheRandomSchoolHouse for more school and library news!

October 03, 2016

Stock up on Spooky Reads This Halloween!

Here are some spooky middle grade books that will trick and treat young readers!
Nightmares! The Lost Lullaby
Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

You thought the nightmares were over? You better keep the lights on! The third book in the hilariously scary Nightmares! series by New York Times bestselling authors Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller is now available!

Charlie Laird has a very bad feeling.

1. There’s a NEW GIRL at school, and Charlie and his friends have DEFINITELY seen her before.

2. He’s been hearing strange noises after dark, which is NEVER a good sign.

3. The nightmares are back, and they’re WEIRDER THAN EVER.

Don’t miss the other books in the Nightmares! Series:


Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom
David Neilsen

When the mysterious Dr. Fell moves into the abandoned house that had once been the neighborhood kids’ hangout, he immediately builds a playground to win them over. But as the ever-changing play space becomes bigger and more elaborate, the children and their parents fall deeper under the doctor’s spell.

Only Jerry, Nancy, and Gail are immune to the lure of his extravagant wonderland. And they alone notice that when the injuries begin to pile up on the jungle gym, somehow Dr. Fell is able to heal each one with miraculous speed. Now the three children must find a way to uncover the doctor’s secret power without being captivated by his trickery.

Dead Boy
Laurel Gale

Crow Darlingson isn’t like other kids. He stinks. He’s got maggots. His body parts fall off at inopportune moments. (His mom always sews them back on, though.) And he hasn’t been able to sleep in years. Not since waking up from death.

But worse than the maggots is how lonely Crow feels. When Melody Plympton moves in next door, Crow can’t resist the chance to finally make a friend. With Melody around he may even have a shot at getting his life back from the mysterious wish-granting creature living in the park. But first there are tests to pass. And it will mean risking the only friend he’s had in years.



Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle
George Hagen

A tangle of ingenious riddles, a malevolent necklace called a torc, and flocks of menacing birds: these are just some of the obstacles that stand between Gabriel and his father, Adam Finley, who has vanished from their Brooklyn brownstone. When Gabriel rescues an orphaned baby raven named Paladin, he discovers a family secret: Finleys can bond with ravens in extraordinary ways. Along with Paladin and three valiant friends, Gabriel sets out to bring his father home. They soon discover that Adam is being held captive by the evil demon Corax—half man, half raven, and Adam’s very own disgraced brother—in a foreboding netherworld of birds called Aviopolis. With help from his army of ghoulish minions, the valravens, Corax is plotting to take over the land above, and now only Gabriel stands in his way.


The Ungrateful Dead
Rose Cooper

All Annabel Craven wants is to be normal. But that’s hard to do when ghosts keep texting her. And keeping her secret from her nosy new stepsister isn’t going to be easy. When a ghost girl named Harper begs Anna to help her rejoin the living, Anna warns her that it’s impossible. Once you’re dead, you can’t just start living again . . . or can you?





The Most Frightening Story Ever Told
Phillip Kerr

Billy Shivers doesn’t have a lot of excitement in his life. He prefers to spend his days reading alone in the Hitchcock Public Library. So it is a bit out of character when he finds himself drawn to the Haunted House of Books, and a competition daring readers to survive an entire night inside.

The Haunted House of Books is a cross between a bookstore and a booby trap. It’s a creaky old mansion full of dark hallways and things that go bump in the night, and the store’s ill-tempered owner, Mr. Rapscallion, only adds to the mystery. But the frights of the store itself are nothing compared to the stories it holds.

September 01, 2016

Curse of the Boggin: The Library Book 1

Curse of the Boggin: The Library Book One
by D.J. MacHale

Marcus O’Mara is not crazy. He just sees things that aren’t there. And hears sounds no one else hears. Something weird is going on, and he’s determined to find out what that something is. Luckily, he’s got the key—literally, an ornate old key. It unlocks a bizarre library full of unfinished stories. The stories are written by spirits and involve unexplained phenomena. Mysteries that have never been solved. Spirits that have never been laid to rest. Stranger still, it looks like it’s up to Marcus and his friends to finish the terrifying stories . . . before they finish them.

Everyone loves a scary story. Whether you’re huddled around a campfire with friends sharing stories, or you’re curled up in your favorite chair reading about a haunted theme park, scary tales excite, frighten, and remind us to keep the lights on. But ghost stories aren’t just for giving us goose bumps; classrooms are a great place to study literature in the horror and suspense genre.

Listed below are a few examples to help focus units of study by looking at character development, themes, and literary elements in Curse of the Boggin.

  • Character Development: MacHale introduces a variety of strong and diverse characters in this first book: an extremely likable protagonist, a couple of strict parents, a mean teacher, and two really cool best friends. Have students track the development of these characters and explore how the spooky adventures shape their personalities and relationships. Questions to consider: Who succumbs to fear? Who becomes the leader? What are the characters’ motivations?
  • Thematic Investigation: There are many relatable themes found in ghost stories, including revenge, darkness versus light, good versus evil, quest for discovery, self-awareness, optimism, and the will to survive. Have students choose two or three themes in the book, and record supporting details while reading. Questions to consider: What is the main message of the story? Is there a moral? What other books have a similar message?
  • Literary Elements: There are also great examples of literary elements in ghost stories, used to enhance the descriptions and make the characters and setting come alive: mood, setting, mystery, humor, suspense, figurative language, plot twists, and foreshadowing. Have students indicate where in the book they find these literary elements, and have them discuss the purpose and effect. Questions to consider: How do certain descriptions help us visualize the text? Why is it important to understand the setting? How do we know what the characters are feeling?

For more inventive ideas on incorporating scary stories into lesson plans, head over to READWRITETHINK.ORG and search for scary, ghost, or horror stories.

Twitter Follow us on Twitter at @RHCBEducators for more classroom activities.