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December 03, 2014

Writing for My Kids . . . and Yours by Lou Anders

For the past ten years, I’ve worked in the publishing field as an editor and art director, editing fantasy and science fiction books for the adult market. I’m very proud of that work. I’ve been honored with several awards and nominations, and it’s been a rare privilege to collaborate with such wonderful and talented authors and artists over the years. I count many of them as dear friends, and one or two are actually writers that I read as a child! Can you imagine the thrill of commissioning a story or a novel from a childhood hero? Wow.

But most of the books I’ve worked on aren’t really appropriate for children. That’s okay. They’re adult books meant for adult readers. They’re fantastic books, to be sure, but I can’t share them with my children for a few years yet. So for a while now, I’ve wanted to write something that my kids could enjoy right away, starring characters that both my son and my daughter could relate to and care about.

I love “buddy fiction,” those tales of unlikely duos adventuring together across imagined lands, so writing about a boy-and-girl team was a natural choice. I also love fantasy fiction. I grew up on The Hobbit (which I read over and over again), the Lord of the Rings (which led me to painting tons of miniature orc figures), the Chronicles of Narnia (which my father read to me several times), and films like The Dark Crystal, Dragonslayer, and Conan the Barbarian. For a long time, I’ve wanted to craft my own fantasy world, one rich and full enough that heroes—and readers—could explore it in adventure after adventure.

Enter Frostborn and the Thrones and Bones series. The story of Frostborn is set in the country of Norrøngard, a Norse-inspired land on the northwesternmost edge of an enormous continent. It’s a land of trolls and frost giants, winter wolves and undead warriors known as draug. And dragons. Oh yes, dragons. It’s a place of adventure, thrills, and chills, but also humor.

And friendship. It was into this snowy, northern environment that I placed my boy and girl. I should stress that they are co-leads. It’s very important to me that neither character is the sidekick of the other. Karn Korlundsson and Thianna the half-giant are very different in personality and in strength, but they are equal in importance to the story of Thrones and Bones. Thianna is big and brash and brave and decidedly unsubtle. Karn is introspective, clever, and an obsessive gamer (who finds that strategy games have more real-world applications than he anticipated). Like so many of us, neither of them starts out feeling like they fit in exactly with their environment, though they both have strengths they haven’t recognized. Together, they learn about themselves and each other, as they are forced to team up to survive both the harsh wilderness and several sets of enemies.

I mentioned that Thianna is a half-giant. Her mother was a human from a faraway land, but her father was a frost giant from Norrøngard. My children are biracial, and it is important to me that they see themselves reflected in their fiction. So while Karn is a blond, blue-eyed boy, very typical for his region, Thianna is a child of two cultures and favors the skin tone and hair color of her mother’s distant country (think Mediterranean). But whatever a child’s ethnicity or heritage, I hope they can relate to Karn’s and Thianna’s struggles, their hopes and dreams, and their journey. I’m writing for my children, but I’m writing for yours as well, and for the child in all of us. It’s a wonderful hat to wear, this brand-new writer’s cap of mine, and I hope I get to keep it on for many years to come.


Lou Anders’s research on Norse mythology while writing Frostborn turned into a love affair with Viking culture and a first visit to Norway. He hopes the series will appeal to boys and girls equally. Anders is the recipient of a Hugo Award for editing and a Chesley Award for art direction. He has published over 500 articles and stories on science fiction and fantasy television and literature. Frostborn, which Publishers Weekly described as “thoroughly enjoyable” (starred review), is his first middle-grade novel. A prolific speaker, Anders regularly attends writing conventions around the country. He and his family reside in Birmingham, Alabama. You can visit Anders online at louanders.com and ThronesandBones.com.

FrostbornFrostborn by Lou Anders 
HC: 9780385387781  GLB: 9780385387798  EPUB: 9780385387804

Grades 3–7; Debut novelist Lou Anders has created a rich world of over twenty-five countries inhabited by Karn, Thianna, and an array of fantastical creatures, as well as the Thrones and Bones board game.

December 03, 2014

December is for giving cheer . . . and great books!

It’s December at Random House Children’s Books, and the long countdown to the holidays is making us feel Frozen in Time. With the weather getting colder, we’re holding on to our Mitten String, while only the Frostborn are able to go outside. Thinking about the holidays makes us nostalgic for Family Ties. Some of us are just Day Dreamers until The Night Before Christmas, which falls at the end of our Honeyky Hanukah. And since this isn’t our First Christmas, we have one Tiny Wish.

Have a safe and happy December, no matter how you and your loved ones celebrate.

Frozen in Time
by Mark Kurlansky
9780385743884 | Delacorte BFYR
The Mitten String
The Mitten String
by Jennifer Rosner
illustrated by Kristina Swarner
9780385371186 | Random House BFYR
by Lou Anders
9780385387781 | Crown


Family Ties
Family Ties
by Gary Paulsen
9780385373807 | Wendy Lamb Books
Day Dreamers
by Emily Martin
9780385376709 | Random House
The Night Before Christmas
The Night Before Christmas
by Roger Duvoisin and Clement C. Moore
9780385754590 | Knopf BFYR


Honeyky Hanukah
by Woody Guthrie;
illustrated by Dave Horowitz
9780385379267 | Doubleday
  The Tiny Wish
The Tiny Wish
by Lori Evert; photographs by Per Breiehagen
9780385379229 | Random House BFYR
The First Christmas
The First Christmas
by Jan Pienkowski
9780375871511 | Knopf


December 03, 2014

Why I Write History by Jon Meacham

Thomas Jefferson wasn’t perfect—far from it. As the author of the Declaration of Independence, he articulated an ideal of individual rights that has since reshaped the way nations the world over have viewed the very nature of humanity. Yet as a slave owner, Jefferson failed to live up to his own noble language. A man capable of great good, he was also capable of great evil. Yet part of being a historically minded person—someone who understands the past and its connection to today—is to see people not as wholly good or wholly bad but as creatures of the world in which they lived. And I believe we can learn much from Thomas Jefferson’s sins.

If even the greatest of those who came before us could be so wrong about such important issues, then maybe we are liable to be blind, too, to the shortcomings and issues of our own age. We should be particularly mindful of the injustices and unfinished work we face so that there will be less to condemn or regret when historians look back at the era in which we lived. Knowing that leaders in the past failed should inspire us to succeed and act justly in the present so that we can create a better future.

That’s why I write history: to recover the reality that those who we tend to venerate as godlike were anything but. They were people like us, enduring good days and bad, fighting to overcome selfishness and ambition, yearning to be good and even great in a world that can be stubbornly inhospitable to our finest impulses.

Often viewed largely as a man of ideas, Jefferson was in fact a man of action, a colossus who was not only present at the creation of the country but who fought, year after year and battle by battle, to keep what he once called “the world’s best hope” strong and secure.

In him we have a vivid example of an American whose engagement with issues of liberty, security, race, power, finance, religion, and partisanship sheds light on the possibilities and the limitations of leadership. He is often seen as the thinking man’s Founding Father, an embodiment of the Enlightenment, a philosopher more at home with the abstract than with the carnal—and feral—nature of politics. But as a legislator, governor, diplomat, secretary of state, vice president, and president, Jefferson spent much of his life seeking centrality and a sense of control over himself and over the lives and destinies of others.

He was subtly imposing, neither as grand a presence as George Washington nor as disarming a wit as Benjamin Franklin. He was, rather, formidable without seeming overbearing, sparkling without being showy, charming without appearing cloying. He loved his books, his farms, good wine, architecture, Homer, horseback riding, history, philosophy, France, the Commonwealth of Virginia, spending money, and his two devoted daughters. Sensitive to criticism, intoxicated by approval, obsessed with his reputation, Jefferson was irresistibly drawn to the great world.

Thomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher is a book about a man of many parts, but it is chiefly about how Jefferson, as our third president, lived and worked in the politics of his time to advance the causes of human liberty and self-government.

History can sometimes seem dry and distant. It shouldn’t, though, because history, told and taught properly, is the very human story of flawed people who, at their best, struggled amid the all-too-familiar difficulties of life to leave the world at least a slightly better place than they found it. I wanted this young readers’ adaptation to show the next generation of Americans this truth: that the heroes who seem unreachable and encased in marble were once living, breathing human beings. And if they, with all their faults and fears, could do great things, then all of us, with our faults and fears, can do great things, too.

Thomas Jefferson: President and PhilosopherThomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher by Jon Meacham
HC: 9780385387491  GLB: 9780385387507  EPUB: 9780385387514

Grades 5 & Up; Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States. He was one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence. But he was also a lawyer and an ambassador, an inventor and a scientist. He had a wide range of interests and hobbies, but his consuming interest was the survival and success of the United States. This adaptation, ideal for those interested in American presidents, biographies, and the founding of the American republic, is an excellent example of informational writing and reflects Meacham’s extensive research using primary source material.


December 03, 2014

Author-daughter book club with Suzy Becker

“How many pages did you write today?”

“Four,” I said.

I used to feel a little self-conscious answering someone who can turn out a book in a day and considers herself an expert on publishing.

This is a piece she  wrote two years ago:

“Do you want to know how to make a book? Well, if you do, you’re asking the right person. First, you brainstorm for ten or fifteen minutes. Next, you get a piece of paper and write the story down. Then you send your story to the pudlisher. Last, you get a note from the pudlisher that says it’s a good story. Finally, the pudlisher makes it into a book.”

My daughter is going into fourth grade this fall. Her babyhood inspired a board book with teething corners, but she had ten teeth by the time I turned it in. She’s the subject of One Good Egg (an illustrated memoir about having her), but sharing that story required heavy parental paraphrasing. The books in the Kate the Great series are the first for which she is the perfect audience. Involving her in the “pudlishing” process (except on the “go away, I have to finish this book!” days) has been the perfect opportunity to deepen her understanding—as a reader, as an aspiring writer, and as my daughter.

In the beginning, we brainstormed what would make Kate “great”: being a good friend (her idea), being a good sister (her idea again), being herself (my idea), being able to say the alphabet in less than five seconds (hers). We went over the outline and the character sketches. Nightly recaps became part of our bedtime routine.

There was the one time when I had to confess, “I didn’t follow the outline. Kate went upstairs to loan Heather [the Junior Guide Leader’s not-so-nice daughter] a pair of clean shorts and ended up giving Heather . . . well, stealing one of the horses from Robin’s old collection.”

“How did that just happen?” she asked doubtfully.

“Heather was pressuring her. Now Kate has to get it back.”

“It’s like they’re real people,” she said, almost admiringly.

“On the good days!” Or so I thought, until I had to explain to her why my page count was in the negative numbers a couple of weeks later.

“I’m going to swap Nora for Heather. No one cares about Heather. She doesn’t have a big enough part in the story. So I have to go back to the soccer game and revise.”

“I care about Heather,” she protested. Once I let her know that my editor, my agent, and our writer friend were in favor of the swap, we had the perfect opportunity to talk about revision. I explained how I actually like revising because I know I’m making the book better. When I was nine, I dreamed of seeing my name on the spine of a book as I scanned the library shelves. (And as long as we’re talking about dreaming, forget the spine—visualize your book with the cover facing out.) I told her that if my name was going to be on a book, I wanted it to be the best book it could be.

There was the night I told her I was stuck. We brainstormed a list of all the things people do to get unstuck: jump on the trampoline (her idea), have a snack (hers), skip ahead (my idea), ask for help (hers), write in the wrong voice (mine), listen to music (mine), play with the cat or dog (hers). . . . And when I was still stuck the following night, she left a drawing of Linda Watson the Book Fairy (who fixes manuscripts in the middle of the night) by my place at the breakfast table the next morning.

My daughter saw me work through being stuck. We went to Dairy Queen to celebrate the submission of the manuscript and sketches. We had hot fudge sundaes at Cabot’s after the final art went in. She was there when I opened the box of advanced reader’s copies. Yesterday she held her own copy of the hardcover, dedicated to her, which was exciting until she saw the stickers in the activity kit.

Back in June, we were waiting for the bus and she asked, “Is writing books the hardest job?”

I may have over-deepened her understanding. “Sometimes it’s hard, but most of the time I feel really lucky—very few people get to be what they always wanted to be,” I answered, as one aspiring writer to another.


Add attribution? asked my daughter–? I don’t know who’s speaking here.

 I’m confused. Again, I don’t know who’s having the above conversation.

 Who’s she? Suzy? Confused.

Kate the GreatKate the Great Except When She’s Not by Suzy Becker
HC: 9780385387422  GLB: 9780385387439  EPUB: 9780385387446

Grades 3–7; Kate’s older sister is way too perfect. Her younger sister is way too cute. And her mom wants her to be pals with her frenemy, Nora. Her art teacher, Mrs. Petty, is way too uncreative, and how can Kate pay attention at Junior Guides when her pod leader has a sweat stain the size of the town beach? Now she has to get through her Christopher Columbus role during Discovery Day and her “Colonial Buddies” report, but little does she know how much “help” she’ll be getting from Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein.

November 03, 2014

Music Teachers Make Noise with Uni the Unicorn

Hooves up, raise your horn, Uni the Unicorn.
If you believe in magic, make a silly sound.
Hooves up, trot the trail,
Giddy-up, gallop, shake your tail,
If you believe there’s magic all around.

Uni the Unicorn | Theme Song
Download the sheet music from Uni’s song and bring magic into your
music classroom.

Uni the Unicorn


by Amy Krouse Rosenthal; illustrated by Brigette Barrager
Random House BFYR | 9780385375559

In this clever twist on the age-old belief that there’s no such thing as unicorns,
Uni the unicorn is told there’s no such thing as little girls! No matter what the
grown-up unicorns say, Uni believes that little girls are real. Somewhere there
must be a smart, strong, wonderful, magical little girl waiting to be best friends.
In fact, far away (but not too far), a real little girl believes there is a unicorn
waiting for her.

November 03, 2014

Q&A with Autumn Falls author Bella Thorne

Autumn Falls

Autumn Falls
by Bella Thorne
Hardcover: 9780385744331
Delacorte | Nov. 2014

Autumn Falls is your debut novel. Why did you decide to write a book?

I enjoy storytelling, and this was a great way to put my energy into another art form. I also wanted to inspire people. I think that you can do almost anything you set your mind to do. I am dyslexic, but I have loved books. Writing this has been a big step for me.

Where did you come up with the story for the novel?

I have had this idea for years. I wanted something teens could relate to and that showed a part of my life without it actually being about my life or Hollywood. What some may not know about me is that although I’m an actress, the memories that are most special to me or that I hold close are the events outside my professional life in Hollywood.

As an accomplished actress, musician, and now author—how do you find the time to achieve all of your goals?

No denying that I am really busy. Luckily I enjoy what I do. Usually I will take a high school dance or game over any red carpet event.

When you’re not acting, singing, or writing, what are some of your favorite hobbies and activities?

I enjoy yoga, spin class, school games, watching movies, going to the beach. I like the time to hang out with my family and pets.

Are there any aspects of Autumn’s life and personality that are biographical?

The majority of the book is actually based on aspects of my life.

You have been very public about your struggle with dyslexia growing up. How did your struggle shape you into the person you are now, and what would you say to teens today dealing with learning disabilities, challenges, etc.?

I am grateful that I have been able to see things positively even though I have had my struggles with dyslexia and great losses in my life. It has helped me become a fighter. I am a survivor. I am ready for anything. I will always be okay.

What do you hope your fans take away with them after reading Autumn Falls?

I hope they understand that we are all going through struggles and all want acceptance. I hope they know that high school is really only a small part of your life. It’s what you do with those experiences that defines the rest of your life.

What is your most embarrassing moment?

I’ve had so many embarrassing moments. I’ve had public female issues. I’ve walked into walls in front of cast mates. You name it, I’ve probably done it.

If you could read any book again for the very first time, what book would you choose and why?
I really loved Ghost Girl, and since it deals with high school and death, two things I am very interested in, I’d read it again with a new perspective.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?

Sitting in bed binge-watching TV shows.

In a movie about Bella Thorne, who would play the leading role?

I really don’t know, but I’d expect her to be different, sassy and a fighter. I’d expect that even if the actress didn’t get a role, she’d call her reps and ask them to send her back in to audition again.

If you had to sum up the book in one word, what would it be?


At age sixteen, Bella Thorne is a role model for young people, serving as a global ambassador for Stomp Out Bullying and lead ambassador for iDECIDE, a campaign encouraging teens to focus on making smart and healthy decisions, such as saying no to underage drinking. Bella is no stranger to personal struggles, but her positive energy, stay-true-to-yourself message, and amazing family, plus the love of all the Bellarinas around the world, are the driving forces behind everything she does.