This month, I'm taking a break from LikeWise because my brain's a tad overextended. Since it's the season of thanking and giving, I hope you have much to be thankful for. And here's my giving advice: never obsess over what you don't have to give. Instead, focus on what you do have, including yourself and your talents.
To make up for this brief post, here's a festive video:
NaNoWriMo starts Sunday, so this is prep time for all you people itching to start a novel. The Young Writer's Program offers a novel workbook, author pep talks and venues to connect to other teen writers.
NaNo launched in 1999 and last year 325,142 participated. Since it's beginning over 250 NaNo novels have been published, including Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and Marissa Meyer's Cinder.
Here's how it works. You go to their website, fill out a profile, hang out with other writers and commit to trying to write 50,000 words in a month. At the end of November, you stop. Not everybody makes the goal, so don't feel bad if you don't. There are badges that reward your best efforts. Display them with pride!
Fifty thousand words is a lot to write in a month. The great thing is, no one expects them to be brilliant. You just write the story straight from your head. It will probably be a mess. Like most first drafts, it might make you wince when you read it. But it might also be the beginning of a good book.
NaNoWriMo is a fast, fun way to prove you have a novel in you. It doesn't guarantee it will be a novel worth publishing. The value of the words you write depend on you learning to write them well. So if you start NaNo as a beginning writer, don't expect to create a blockbuster novel. Use it as a learning experience. Most authors start by writing books no one will ever read. Why not do that with a legion of new writer friends? And for experienced writers who are using NaNo to bring a third or fourth book into the world, who knows? It could be the next Eleanor and Park.
October 18-24 is Teen Read Week. Sponsored by YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, the theme for this year's event is Get Away, and it encourages teens to take a break from their busy lives by escaping in a book.
Before I grew serious about writing books, I read fiction to escape. I loved finding new favorite authors, waiting for their latest titles to emerge and savoring every word. But for the last seven years, I've read with a focus on learning to write better. When you're dissecting sentences and analyzing plot, it sort of steals the pleasure from the story. I miss the old me that approached each book like a house full of hidden treasure, anticipation tingling up and down my spine as I opened the cover.
And it still happens. Even with my brain set on Study Mode, I find books that draw me into a story so completely, I abandon the analyzing and dissecting, latch onto the protagonist and follow them like an adoring puppy. Because I love books. I love picture books that tickle and dazzle with carefully chosen words and brilliant art. I love middle grade stories, especially the ones that touch my heart. And of course, I love YA books, and not just because I write stories for that age.
My favorite books are the ones that make me see the world in a new way. Sometimes that's fantasy, sci-fi or magical realism. But just as often, it's a contemporary or historical tale. Good books take us to another place and when we leave, we're changed. Our minds have stretched to allow room for new thoughts and perspectives. I just finished reading the graphic novel Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson. I'm not into comic books or super heroes, but somehow this book landed on my reading pile. And I loved it. It's a book after all, with a story to tell, so I shouldn't be surprised.
Do you have your literary vacation picked out for Teen Read Week? Is it one book or a stack? Will you cozy up with familiar authors or try something new? There's still time to search. Go on now, what are you waiting for? Oh, you're in the middle of Algebra II, squinting at the impossibly twisted formula the teacher just scribbled? That's okay then. But the very next time your fingers hop online, head thee to the library and reserve a book. You deserve a vacation from mind-tangling math formulas!
Summer's almost over. Is that groaning I hear? No more sleeping in or freedom to plan your days. But heading back to school isn't all bad. There's shopping for new gear and clothes, reconnecting with friends you haven't seen since June, making new friends, feeding your brain and sharing your creative passion. In my county, school starts next Tuesday. You have one last week to hit the beaches, malls and movies with friends before your minds are called to greater challenges.
Picturing the school year ahead, I focused today's LikeWise on a plethora of links. Plethora. Sorry, I love saying some words, even if it's just in my head. You can check the links out all at once or peek at them whenever you feel the urge.
First up is Study.com's 40 Best Websites for Teen Writers. This is an awesome list, including communities and courses (some of them free), grammar and reference, creativity boosters and publishing advice.
For inspiration, visit The Academy of Achievement's Arts Page. You can match your personality with the world's most respected achievers, watch podcasts and browse a list of recommended books.
Teen Ink's Art and Photography Resource Page offers art, photography and museums links. Their site also features links for:
And a General Resource Page. Besides art, photography and writing sites, you'll find environment, reference materials, volunteer opportunities and a fantastic summer camp and courses list, so you can daydream about next summer.
Finally, here's a list of teen blogs for artists, writers and readers:
The Metropolitan Museum of Arts Teen Blog
The Whit Blog from The Whitney Museum
Contemporary Austin's Teen Blog
YA Author's Cafe
The YA Blogosphere, a directory of YA book related blogs.
Enjoy the last days of summer! And it's okay to admit you're a tiny bit excited about going back to school.
School's out. Two months of freedom from school work. What will you do with all that freed up brain space? Read, of course! You'll want books at the beach, books for lazy afternoons on the porch or under a tree, books on long car rides and late nights in bed. So this month, LikeWise features sites dedicated to readers.
First up is teenreads.com. Teenreads offers the Ultimate Reading List of 400 books, interviews with authors and publishing professionals, polls, contests, a blog and monthly book and screen reviews. What I liked most about this venue was the Teen Board. Thirty teens from around the country are chosen by staff for a year long commitment to provide reviews and blog posts, as well as answer reader questions. The site's recommendations include non fiction and adult books.
Next up is Readingteen.net. It features similar content: book reviews, giveaways and blog. But it's run by two mothers and their young adult children with part time reviews by a handful of teens. While there are adult, motherly opinions being offered on their blog, I thought the content was thoughtful and invited discussion. I especially liked this post urging book banners and the banned books' supporters to stop fighting and start listening:
Child Corruptors vs. Nazi Book Burners
At The Library of Congress, you'll find booklists, poetry and free resources. They feature fantastic author webcasts and a gazillion links that probably lead to a gazillion more links so there's no telling what sort of treasure you'll dig up.
Finally, there's Reading Rants, a blog hosted by Middle school librarian Jennifer Hubert. She reviews books for teens but doesn't stick to the YA section and she accepts book suggestions from readers. I love her listed links, which include book reviews by topic, blogs for teens and out-of-the-ordinary authors.
These are just a sampling of the sites I found. Try them out, start a reading list. If you're the type who likes to share books with friends and those friends are away for the summer, join a book club. You can find them at libraries, Nerdfighters, Goodreads or The Guardian. And if you love a book so much you're eager to share it with the world, create a YouTube review. Who knows, you might gather a following, like Jesse the Reader who offers brief book reviews for summer reading below.
Next up is a 2011 Printz honoree, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King. After I read this book, I immediately read the other two King books in my library: Ask the Passengers and Everybody Sees the Ants. Needless to say, King is a new favorite author. I love her kind of magic realism where the protagonist's world is normal except for one or two teensy things. In Vera Dietz' life, that thing is the thousand transparent, two-dimensional, expandable Charlies who show up at the worst possible moments.
The book opens with this prologue:
Before I died, I hid my secrets in the Master Oak.
This book is about my best friend, Vera Dietz, who eventually found them.
(the pickle on Vera's Big Mac)
To say my friend died is one thing.
To say my friend screwed me over and then died five months later is another.
(high school senior and pizza deliver technician)
Just before Vera's best friend Charlie dies, someone sets fire to the pet store. Charlie is blamed and his thousand ghosts want Vera to clear his name. But in order to do that, she has to face her true feelings for Charlie and the wreck he made of them.
A. S. King unveils this story through multiple points of view, including Charlie, Vera, her recovered alcoholic father who makes flow charts to help him sort out his daughter and an abandoned pagoda that provides witty commentary about the teens who hang out in its parking lot. King has a unique voice and she tells stories that are hard to forget.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, a 2009 Printz honoree by E. Lockhart isn't my typical read. I don't normally relate to girls who have everything and Frankie most definitely does. During her fifteenth summer, she transforms into a girl boys notice. She's barely begun her sophomore year at a prestigious boarding school when she snags the attention of senior, Matthew Livingston, the most popular boy on campus. It launches her into an select circle of boys who belong to a decades old secret society called The Basset Hounds.
Frankie's father was a Basset Hound and he reveals just enough about the society to plant a seed of curiosity in Frankie. Hoping for an invitation to the club, she tries to distract Matthew from her face and body and impress him with her keen mind. But The Basset Hounds has been exclusively male since its founding in 1941 and the members aren't about to change that. When no invitation is offered, Frankie activates Plan B. Taking on the leader's identity via email, she organizes a series of pranks so ingenious the whole school is buzzing. To save face, the real leader takes credit, just as Frankie planned.
Plotting bigger and bigger escapades, Frankie controls the Bassets like a puppet master. For awhile, she's satisfied with the thrill of proving to herself she's brighter than Matthew and his cohorts. But a part of her wants the boys to recognize her efforts. When her pranks push the headmaster to threaten severe punishment, Frankie is faced with a dilemma. How far will she go to get the Bassets' attention and who will get hurt in the meantime?
As a reader who relates to outcasts, it wasn't easy stepping into Frankie's shoes. But while Frankie isn't an outsider, she's also never been special or part of the popular crowd. I did relate to her need to be accepted and even more so, to her desire to be intellectually respected. I enjoyed Lockhart's thought-provoking, imaginative style and I'd like to think if Frankie and I met today, we'd find something to talk about.
Wednesday, as part of the celebration of National Children's Book Week, the winner of the Teen's Choice Book Awards was announced. Readers on Teenreads chose the top five books: Ellen Hopkins' Smoke, Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park, Veronica Roth's Allegiant, Rick Yancey's The 5th Wave and Cassandra Clark's Clockwork Princess. Then teens voted from March 25 - May 12, 2014 at ccbook awards.
And the winner is . . .
Science Fiction. Again. Don't get me wrong, I love fantasy (for brevity's sake, I'm lumping sci-fi, paranormal and wizarding worlds), but there are other genres. And there are so many well-written, compelling books ignored for the trendy books, the ones Hollywood turns into blockbuster films. This is my worry -- those films are steering readers to bookshelves, virtual and real. They're creating readership for people like Roth. I enjoyed Divergent and I wish her success but do we really want our literary tastes determined by Hollywood?
The movie industry is counting on teens' supposedly insatiable appetite for fantasy. There's still the final Hunger Games, Hobbit and Divergent movies to come. Plus a film trilogy based on JK Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I expect those movies to drive readers to those books, tightening fantasy's grip on the literary throne.
Despite this trend, John Green's contemporary novel The Fault in Our Stars won the 2013 Teen's Choice award, beating four fantasy titles. And Hollywood noticed. The Fault in Our Stars, the story of two teens who meet in a cancer support group, is being released June 6th. Will the movie achieve the blockbuster success of YA fantasy? If it does, will more contemporary books be converted to film and will that catapult the genre into readers' hands?
No doubt, Green, Rowell and Hopkins are super stars writing award-worthy YA books. If their books become movies that lead readers to contemporary work, well, that's not a bad thing. But I encourage readers to diversify. Sample titles outside your preferred genre and try authors who aren't on Hollywood's radar. Check out the lonely books.
I've challenged myself to read five books from the Newberry award list and five from the Printz list by the end of this year. I'm starting with Sir Terry Pratchett's Dodger, a Printz winner.
Pratchett creates worlds and characters every bit as rich and amusing as the ones in Harry Potter's world, and he was doing it long before J.K. Rowling dreamed up the boy wizard. Makes me wonder if she might have been a wee bit influenced by him. Pratchett's fantasy series Disc World boasts forty-one books, including the Tiffany Aching subseries, written for YA readers.
Set in Victorian London, Dodger is historical fiction with a twist (Pardon the pun. I promise, it wasn't intentional.) "I'm Dodger on account of I'm never there if you know what I mean. Everybody knows Dodger." That's the voice of Pratchett's seventeen-year-old protagonist, a tosher by trade. Toshers troll the city's underground for the things people drop. On good days, that's coins and jewelry. On bad days, it's . . . well . . . it's the stuff people usually deposit in sewers. Although, believe it or not, in those days, London's sewers were fairly clean. Dodger is king of the toshers, an expert pick pocket and petty thief, and he's never once been caught by the Peelers (If you don't know what this is, you will by the end of the book).
Dodger also has a heart. Living with an old Jewish man that he saved from thugs, Dodger never hesitates to jump in if someone needs help. When writer and journalist Charles Dickens discovers Dodger saving a badly beaten young woman named Simplicity from attackers, he hires Dodger to help him discover who beat her and why. Dodger is smitten with Simplicity. He agrees to help Dickens. The mystery draws him out of his comfortable, lower class world into the realm of the educated and wealthy. While Dodger upends aristocratic London, he begins to believe toshing may not be all his future holds.
Pratchett wrote this book as a tribute to Henry Mayhew, a peer of Dickens who published articles and a book highlighting the horrible conditions of London's poor. Dickens' work is too dark and tragic for me. But there's no denying his talent for creating unforgettable stories and characters. Pratchett plucked Dodger from Dickens' Oliver Twist, added his limitless imagination and edgy humor, then set the teen loose to tell his story. It's a fantastic read. If you haven't already read it, what are you waiting for?
Sir Terry Pratchett is sadly suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer disease. But he continues to write with the help of a dedicated assistant and his daughter. He also enjoys speaking so there are lots of videos of him on YouTube. You'll find some of them posted on his site. Go there, check it out.
Dodger has a healthy respect for rats, being as he spends so much time with them. Since rats are notorious hoarders, I imagine they do their own toshing. And that's where today's sketch comes from.
For Christmas, Teddie, the much adored leader of my critique group, The Skyway Writers, gave each member a beautiful, red-beaded bracelet. Now, I wear it every time I write. It makes me feel connected to my talented peers as I sit at my lonely desk, trying to find the right words to tell a story only I can tell. I love starting the year with a positive new tradition.
I announced at the end of last month that I planned to steer this blog in a new direction. My focus will be encouraging teen readers, writers and artists. There's no better way to start than by celebrating great books. This week, one of my favorite authors, Kate DiCamillo, won the John Newbery award for the second time with her latest book, Flora and Ulysses. Have you read it? I haven't and I'm eager to get my hands on it. I've loved all her other books so I know what to expect. That's the thing about favorite authors. They don't disappoint.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist, and I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti at Open Book Literary.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor