Friday, May 27, 2016

YA Reads to Start Your Summer

Summer is a great time to read all the books that you haven’t had time to read during the school year. This year, there are so many great books to choose from to take on vacation or read poolside. Below are some choice favorites for the beginning of summer.

With Malice by Eileen Cook (Available 6/7/2016)
Two friends go to Italy as a graduation gift. When one ends up dead and the other ends up in the hospital with no recollection of the trip, what really happened?

The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder (Available 6/7/2016)
“I can’t stop them: The dinosaurs are leaving New York City.”
What a great first line! A quirky, lovable protagonist who falls in love and collects trinkets along the way, while falling for the wrong guy. How do dinosaurs factor in? Pick up this book and read it in one sitting!

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye
Doomed love. Enchanters locked in a fierce battle to the death. Imperial Russia. What’s not to love? Check out the whole review here.

Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
When Lina’s mother dies of cancer, her last wish is for Lina to go live in Italy with her father she never knew existed. As Lina discovers more about her mother’s past, the beautiful hillsides of Tuscany offer friendship, love, and of course, gelato.

The Land of 10,000 Madonnas by Kate Hattemer
Jesse and his father live in an apartment wallpapered with postcards of Madonnas. After his young life is cut short by a hole in his heart, he writes a note to his cousin Cal: “I’m dead and you’ve got my notebook.” Another “last wish” book that sends the people left behind on a mission, Jesse planned for the five people he knew best to go to Europe following his death. His cousins, best friend and girlfriend are all sent on a wild goose chase across Europe that helps them come to terms with Jesse’s death. I especially loved the strong voices in this book, and the cast of characters is fun to follow.
Kate Hattemer is also the author of The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
Lucas Knight, an American teenager who visits Old San Juan every summer for his father’s contracting business, gets swept up into a murder mystery. A girl whose touch is poisonous (literally), hidden secrets in locked up houses, and the lush world of Puerto Rico combine to make an excellent summer read. Read the entire review here!

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
Solomon Reed is perfectly fine, except he’s not, because he hasn’t left his house since the seventh grade, which was three years ago. But he’s happy being an agoraphobe. His whole life can be taken care of from inside of his house--school, food, and even friends. When Lisa Praytor needs to write an essay about “My personal experience with mental illness” to be accepted into Woodlawn University’s psychology program, she decides that curing Solomon of his agoraphobia is going to be her ticket into the program. Lisa and her boyfriend Clark befriend Solomon as part of the project, but then actually become friends with him. John Corey Whaley’s writing is sharp, funny, and incredibly real.

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
This is the quintessential summer book. Andie Walker is working a job she never thought she would have as a dog walker, but it leads her to Clark, a famous author who is trying to write the next book in his series. Andie’s summer becomes completely unexpected, but in the best way possible. Read the entire review here!

The Fall of Butterflies by Andrea Portes
Willa Parker of What Cheer, Iowa, moves east at the behest of her mother to start a new life at an exclusive prep school called Pembroke Prep. From the middle of the country to the center of the glittering socialite world, Willa meets Remy Taft. When Remy decides to befriend Willa, Willa thinks that her troubles of fitting in are over, but nothing is ever enough for Remy. The Fall of Butterflies was a quick read and one that fans of We Were Liars will enjoy.

The Last Boy and Girl In the World by Siobhan Vivian
“You’re officially the last girl in Aberdeen.” Keeley Hewitt’s world is underwater. The world is coming to an end. And it might be her last shot with the boy she’s always wanted to take a chance with. The world won’t wait forever.

The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye

The Crown’s Game is full of mystery, magic, and intrigue. And of course, Russian history and folklore.

Vika, as fiery as her red hair, lives on the isolated and tiny Ovchinin Island. Her magic is wild and acts in a way that imitates nature. Nikolai is an orphan who has grown up in the city of the tsar, St. Petersburg, and who has grown as close as a brother to the crown prince, Pasha. Nikolai’s magic works as smoothly as a clock’s gears, integrating itself into the very infrastructure of the city.

Two enchanters. Only one can win the title of Imperial Enchanter and assist the tsar. For the other, imminent death awaits.

In the introduction to The Crown’s Game, the game itself is explained.

The Crown’s Game is an old one, older than the tsardom itself. It began long ago, in the age of Rurik, Prince of Novgorod, when Russia was still a cluster of tribes, wild and lawless and young. As the country matured over the centuries, so too, did the game. But always, always it retained its untamed fierceness.

For the winner of the game, there would be imaginable power.
For the defeated, desolate oblivion.
The Crown’s Game was not one to lose.

Vika and Nikolai compete for the title of Imperial Enchanter, each act of magic more dangerous than the last. They both fight to win, but how can you defeat the one person you love? In the meantime, Pasha begins to decipher that the elaborate “decorations” and illusions around the city might be more than just smoke and mirrors, while also falling for the flame-haired girl.

For fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus set against the backdrop of Imperial Russia, Evelyn Skye’s world comes to life in vivid color. As a scholar of Russian history and literature, Skye expertly creates an alternate universe for Imperial Russia; one that, while she takes some creative liberties, feels like a perfect merging of fact and fiction. A historical fantasy of the best kind, The Crown’s Game will have you wishing for more.

Author of The Crown's Game, Evelyn Skye

Friday, May 20, 2016

Interview Session: Peter Brown

When Peter visited Lemuria Books back in April, we sat down to talk about his newest book for kids: The Wild Robot. Charting a new path by writing a chapter book, this book is heartfelt, has adorable characters, and full of strange and mysterious things while at the same time feels very familiar. Many thanks to Peter for answering my questions! 

Peter Brown and Clara Martin stand by a life size Roz!

How did you enter the world of children’s books and illustrating books for kids?

PB: I studied animation at the Art Center College of Design. I wanted to make characters come to life. Once I experienced [animation] up close, it was not as comfortable as I thought.

Why did you switch to illustration?

PB: I was studying illustration the whole time, and when I realized that animation wasn’t right for me, I still loved characters and children’s books, so that was a way for me to continue creating characters. My books are like little short films. I’m the director, the costume designer, and I control the lighting.

What are your favorite children’s books?

PB: Frog and Toad Are Friends and Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. I fell in love with the Hobbit too. I wasn’t much of a reader, but I loved making stories. Since I wasn’t a fast reader I did not spend as much time reading.

What artists or animators have inspired you?

PB: Eyvind Earle. He was a Disney artist responsible for the look of Sleeping Beauty. His art is so graphic, bold, and textual. He was a real influence on me.

What was your first book?

PB: The Flight of the Dodo. I graduated and moved to New York City and started making picture books for kids. I fell in love with words. Eventually, I fell so in love with words that I made a novel.

That first novel is The Wild Robot. Tell me a little about it.

PB: I first got the idea when I was writing The Curious Garden. The total time to write, from the initial idea to the completed project, was eight years. I spent two-and-a-half years actually working on it. The first years were important.

What was your favorite animal to write about in The Wild Robot?

PB: Roz’s adopted son, Brightbill. Geese are interesting animals because we don’t think of them as such. They have interesting behaviors like migrating and imprinting. A gosling was perfect for my story because in the real world geese can imprint on people, so maybe they can imprint on a robot. I was also able to touch on real human emotions, such as “leaving the nest.”

What surprised you about Roz?

PB: She’s a robot. I was surprised by the similarities between my robot main character and myself. We have to find that little voice in our mind and explore that. I like a strict routine; I’m a creature of habit and a perfectionist, all things in common with Roz.

What upcoming projects do you have next?

PB: A sequel to The Wild Robot. There is no title yet. The second book will be as surprising and intriguing as the first one.

Peter speaks to captivated students at a school.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

New York Times Bestselling Author Peter Brown ventures into wild territory with the chapter book, and he emerges unscathed. The Wild Robot is a wonderful tale for children with a great moral. We cannot survive without the earth, and in turn, the earth cannot survive if we do not take care of it.

One hurricane. Four crates. Only one washes safely ashore an island. Inside? A robot named Roz. Roz is solar powered and full of “Survival Instincts.” Her shiny exterior is soon marked by scrapes and mud as she traverses over the wild landscape of the island. She cannot understand the language that the animals speak. She discovers ways to camouflage herself so that the animals do not run away in fear of the “monster” on the island.

She began by smearing handfuls of thick mud over her entire body. Then she grabbed clumps of ferns and grasses and sank their roots into her new coat of mud. She placed colorful flowers around her face to disguise her flowing eyes, and any bare patches were covered with pebbles and strips of moss…The camouflaged robot now looked like a great tuft of plants walking through the twilight. She padded to the center of a forest meadow, nestled herself into a hillock, and became part of the landscape.

This disguise offers her the ability to observe the animals and their behavior, and after several weeks of disguising herself as a clump of seaweed or a stone in the forest, she can understand the language of animals. Only once she becomes “one with nature” can she communicate with the animals and speak to them in their own language. After Roz causes a rockslide that leaves a family of geese dead, she rescues the last, small egg. She makes it her mission to ensure that the egg and the gosling inside, survive.

Mama! Mama!” The gosling thinks Roz is his mother. Roz knows nothing about being a gosling mother, but with help from the other animals, Roz builds a home for herself and Brightbill, the baby goose. Loudwing, the know-it-all goose helps Brightbill swim. Mr. Beaver and his family help build a large robot-sized home out of birch trees, known as the “Nest”. Tawny the deer shows Roz how to garden and grow berries. Chitchat the squirrel is Brightbill’s first friend. These island creatures show that we cannot exist in this world without taking care of the earth, and helping each other. Roz learns that although she has perhaps “higher thinking,” it is the animals, and her adopted son, Brightbill, who teach her what it means to be a part of the wilderness, how important it is to take care of the one earth we are given.

This review originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger.

Signed copies of The Wild Robot can be purchased here.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Interview Session: Matt de la Peña, Newbery Medal Winner 2016

What does it mean when a picture book wins the Newbery Medal from an author who primarily writes novels? There is a shift in the way picture books are being used to communicate big picture ideas to small children. From The New York Timesarticle, "Masters of Prose Warm Up to Children's Picture Books," there is a paragraph that nails the appeal of picture books to authors who normally write novels. 

"Picture books, typically written for 3- to 7- year-olds, could represent the next frontier for writers seeking to further expand their audiences by reaching even younger demographic. It also may help them hook impressionable young readers--sometimes before they can read." 

Matt de la Peña has done just that in his picture book (illustrated by Christian Robinson), Last Stop on Market Street, which won the Newbery Medal this year. The Newbery is for the greatest contribution to children's literature in America, and this story of kindness, of loving fellow humans from all walks of life, and in seeing the beauty even among the broken and dirty parts of their city, covers the human condition in approximately 32 pages. CJ and his Nana take the bus, but it is more than just a bus ride. It is an adventure. It is filled with fire breathing dragons, beautiful music, and people helping other people.

"Sometimes when you're surrounded by're a better witness for what's beautiful." 

Matt de la Peña answers some questions about himself and about his book, Last Stop on Market Street.

20xJ: Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you do anything else in addition to writing great books?

Matt: I’m from National City, which is right on the Mexican border in San Diego. It’s actually the setting of my second book, Mexican WhiteBoy. For the past ten years, though—wow, TEN YEARS!—I’ve lived in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to writing, I teach in the low residency MFA program at Hamline University (alongside superstars like Gene Yang and E. Lockhart and Laura Ruby and Anne Ursu) and visit a lot of schools around the country.

20xJ: When did you get your start as a writer? You went to school on a full basketball scholarship—how did that turn into writing?

Matt: I was a secret writer all through high school. Spoken word poetry. I loved the music I could make with words. I loved basketball growing up, but I also knew it was my best chance to become the first de la Peña to go to college. Even when I was young I sort of viewed the game as a path to education. And once I stepped foot on my college campus, my focus shifted. I took every class I could. I read every book a professor mentioned. And I continued writing in secret. During my junior year I submitted a poem to a big college-wide contest. It was the first time I ever let my work travel beyond my notebook. And it won! That validation was incredibly powerful. For the first time ever I gave myself permission to dream . . . I wonder if I could ever be a writer?

20xJ: You are primarily a writer of Young Adult novels. Why did you choose to write The Last Stop On Market Street as a picture book? 

Matt: I have a lot of stories I want to tell. And the more experienced I get, the more I realize they require different approaches. I grew up in a super working class family, and I always viewed my context as beautiful—especially once I left for college. But I didn’t think I could hit that idea head on in a YA novel. And then I had the opportunity to do a book with Christian Robinson, who I greatly admire. It was the perfect marriage. I got to write about a kid learning to perceive himself as beautiful (both physically and contextually), minus the hormones. If I saddled this story to an older character it would be a different thing.

20xJ: There need to be more nanas like CJ’s nana in the world. She sees the bright side to every situtation. When CJ asks a million questions about the world (like most little kids do), Nana is patient. When CJ asks, “Nana, how come we don’t got a car?” Nana replies with “Boy, what do we need car for? We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you.” Was there a “nana” in your life that inspired Nana’s character? 

Matt: My Mexican grandma was much more subtle. She guided young me by patting my knee when I started to mouth off. I grew to see the power in her silence, though. She was a powerful presence in my life, but she was also strangely ghostly. If that makes sense. And then she was gone. Christian Robinson had a grandmother like Nana, however. I met her as I was writing the book. I saw the strength in her eyes.

20xJ: The wonderful thing about Last Stop On Market Street is that it is a story that could take place anywhere—in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans. Where is Market Street for you?

Matt: I love when folks claim it as their own Market Street. I recently had a woman tell me, “I’m so happy you wrote about Newark, New Jersey.” And I told her, “Yeah. Newark. Exactly.” Truth is, I imagined Los Angeles when I wrote the book. I lived there for four years and rode the bus everywhere. Christian imagined San Francisco, where he now lives.

20xJ: I know it must be hard to choose, but which of Christian Robinson’s illustrations in Last Stop On Market Street is your favorite?

Matt: The dream sequence, when CJ closes his eyes to listen to the music. That spreads makes me want to cry.

“CJ’s chest grew full and he was lost in the sound and the sound gave him the feeling of magic.” 

20xJ: Another tough one, but what was your favorite line or passage to write in Last Stop On Market Street?

Matt: Okay, this feels weird, praising my own words, but I like this line: “CJ’s chest grew full and he was lost in the sound / and the sound gave him the feeling of magic.” I like the music of that one. I had to fight for the rep of “sound” which is absolutely vital to me.

20xJ: What were your favorite books as a child? And/or your favorite books now? 

Matt: Sadly, I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid. I read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros about a dozen times. It was so good, I thought, “Why should I read anything else? This one works!” A couple favorites now: Suttree by Cormac McCarthy, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, and Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis.

20xJ: What is your favorite line in literature?

Matt: From McCarthy’s The Road: “Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorry it.”

20xJ: On the ALA website, one of the definitions of the Newbery Medal is that it is a “‘contribution to American literature for children shall be a book for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.”

I think everyone ages 0-99 should read this book. What is your dream for Last Stop On Market Street? In other words, how would you like for it to inspire children?

Matt: I feel like one of the most important things you can do as a writer is let go. Once a book leaves your computer it is no longer fully yours. My dream is for readers to interact with my stories, period. What an honor. But it is the reader who makes a book special. So, it’s hard for me to speak to this with much insight. I will say this, however, it’s important to me that diverse readers encounter diverse characters. This is a validating experience.

20xJ: You are also the first Latino male to be awarded the Newbery. This recognition of a Latino author has been a long time coming, but hopefully, as racially diverse as America is, this will continue to shape the way books are made and for whom they are made.

What does winning the Newbery mean to you, and how do you hope this encourages other Latino authors as well as other diverse authors?

Matt: Winning the Newbery is a humbling, humbling experience. It means a committee of really thoughtful readers liked my book. A lot. How insane is that? And I’m definitely proud to be a Latino writer. I hope all the brilliant Latino/Latina writers of the past and present view this as a recognition or our diverse community and that it inspires young Latinos coming up to read their way through the world and consider a path in the arts. 

20xJ: In a society of consumerism, a society that wants more things, we see CJ’s complaints that reflect that way of life (why can’t he have an iPod like the teenagers on the bus)? You write about connecting to human people. On the bus, there is a man with tattoos, a woman with a jar of butterflies, a blind man, and a man playing guitar. 

Once CJ closes his eyes, he is transported. “CJ’s chest grew full and he was lost in the sound and the sound gave him the feeling of magic.” 
How does writing and music connect people? What do you hope to accomplish or write next? 

Matt: Music is so visceral. But not just the music of music. The music of poetry is like that, too. I wish more people could see the poetry in their lives. I wish we would all be more comfortable in silence, in boredom, in our work. There’s poetry all around us. Even some forms of sadness are bursting with poetry.

I can’t wait for my next picture book to come out. It’s called Carmela Full of Wishes, and it follows a young Mexican girl on a trip to do errands with her brother. She, too, is in search of poetry.

Visit Matt's website at

Thanks, Matt! 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Perfect Books for Moms and Grandmas

Mothers are superwomen. They make sure the books get read, the homework is completed, the teeth brushed and hair brushed too (on good days). They do all of that and so much more. What do you get a mom who loves to read to her kids? These books might help you out. Happy Mother's Day!

You Made Me A Mother by Laurenne Sala, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (illustrator of Fancy Nancy

This book is a beautiful little story about the mother’s journey alongside her child’s growing up. “If I could, I would open my heart, and love would rain down all over you.” 
I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (illustrator of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site)

Illustrated in pastel colors by Lichtenheld, I Wish You More is a sweet book that goes both ways—parents can have wishes for their children, such as “more treasures than pockets.” In turn, a child can wish happiness on his or her mother. The book ends with the line, “I wish you more stories than stars.”

i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings, illustrated by Mati McDonough

One of my all-time favorite poems is beautifully illustrated in this book with cut paper illustrations to demonstrate a mother’s love for her child. The book works dually in that it can be given to a child, and also given to a mother. 
An excerpt: 

“and it’s you whatever a moon has always meant/and whatever a sun will always sing is you/ here is the deepest secret that nobody knows/ (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud)/ and the sky of the sky of the a tree called life;which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)/ and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart/ i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)” 

Once Upon a Cloud by Claire Keane

Claire Keane is the concept artist for Tangled and Frozen, and she brings the same dreamy, pastel look to her illustrations. One of my all time favorites for Mother’s Day, a little girl named Celeste wonders what would be the perfect gift for her mother? It takes exploring the sunny skies, traveling on a cloud, and swooping above the earth before she realizes that the best gifts are those from the heart. 

"Celeste wanted the perfect gift for her mom." 

Don't forget about the grandmas!

Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina, illustrated by Angela Dominguez

I love this story, in that it explains so perfectly the generation and language gap between grandparents who may speak a different language from their grandchildren. In this case, a little girl’s grandma comes to stay, but “when I show Abuela my new book, she can’t unlock the English words.” In turn, the little girl’s español is not good enough “to tell her the things an abuela should know. Like how I am the very best in art and who I can run as fast as the boys.” When Mango the parrot joins their family, granddaughter and grandmother learn to practice each other’s language with Mango who can speak spanish AND english. 

Nana in the City written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo 

A little boy goes to visit his nana in the city, but he is scared of the loud noises and overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. He says, “It is no place for a nana to live.” Nana knows best, and knits her grandson a cape to help him stay brave when they explore the city the next day. Nana wears red glasses, a red purse, and red boots, and a hat with a red feather in it. She is kind, warm, and shows her grandson that in this world, it is better to be brave than to be afraid.