Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Contest Winner

I  have my winner for the autographed copy of Minority Of One. 

Janice Hanson, your name was selected. Please send an email to binns [at] babinns [dot] com to claim your prize.  Contact me within one week.  Note that I have picked an alternate, Lynn Lovegreen. If I have not heard from you by December 12, Lynn will move up from runner-up to winner.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Books Outside The Box - characters with physical disabilities

The annual United Nations' International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a time to focus on issues that affect people with disabilities worldwide. The theme is: “Break barriers, open doors: for an inclusive society for all.” More than a billion people, 15% of the world population, live with disabilities. This is the world’s largest and most disadvantaged group. And a perfect theme for the resurrected Books Outside The Box

Drowned citiesThe Drowned Cities features Mahlia, a heroine with only one hand. This book serves as a companion book, not a sequel, to Paolo Bacigalupi's debut YA novel, Ship Breaker. In this dystopian future, the US has been devastated by climate changes that lead to a flooded east coast and anarchy. Roving warlords fight for power over the remnants of the east coast. Chinese peacekeepers arrived on US soil and spent years trying to stop the violence. When they gave up and left, one left behind a daughter. 

Mahlia's hand was deliberately amputated by one warlord celebrating the departure of the hated peacekeepers. But she doesn't let the missing limb, or the missing father, plunge her into despair. She works assisting a local doctor in a small village and struggles to rescue Mouse, a young boy who is kidnapped by a gang and forced to become a soldier. 

This book covers more than just what a handicapped heroine can accomplish. It also deals with issues of prejudice and standing up for ones self, of being forced to be a child soldier and the sacrifices people sometimes have to make to survive.

pinned sharon g flake cover
Pinned, by Sharon G. Flake, published in 2012 by Scholastic Press, tackles the tough subjects of disability and stereotypes head-on. Autumn is a wrestler, the only female wrestler in her high school. She is in love with Adonis, the brilliant, hard-working, determined, and legless team manager. She has visions of a future where she sits in his lap as he wheels her into the prom. Unfortunately her low skills at reading and math threaten her position on the team. And the voices inside her head tell her to give up, she may be able to wrestle and takedown the big boys, but she will never be able to learn. But at least Autumn is sincere and speaks openly and honestly, admitting her faults and weaknesses. 

pinned - backAdonis may be in a wheelchair, but the star student has no patience with weakness. He views Autumn’s difficulties in school as a sign that she is weak, wasting her talents and abilities.  Adonis won’t be pitied. He is arrogant and never let his lack of legs keep him from standing tall—until the day bullies tossed him into the lake and left him to drown.

Now the boy who could do anything finds his self-confidence shattered.  He can't really believe that any girl really wants to date him.  He's always been confident about himself and can't see ever letting another person inside his innermost thoughts, not even the super strong wrestler who makes him cry out in his sleep.  This book gives readers two strong characters, both having to accept that they have faults, and both having to learn to overcome them.

shadow3Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card, is a companion novel to Ender's game, telling roughly the same story, but told from the point of view of Bean, a boy who grows up on the mean streets of a dystopian future Rotterdam. He is small for his age, extremely small, but that is not his handicap. He uses his difference effectively against everyone except Achilles, a boy with a crippled leg and a bad attitude. Achilles (pronounced Asheel) is the villain of the book, a street bully who has the brains to take advantage of everything including his crippled leg, and the cruelty to kill anyone who sees him as helpless. He isn’t the hero, but he is a reminder that being handicapped does not automatically make one a saint, or a target of bullies.  He knows how to work the system, especially adults who feel sorry for him or make the mistake of seeing him as a handicapped saint, making him one of the most effective villains I've seen in a long time.

Cinder, written by Marissa Meyer and published by Feiwel & Friends in 2012 features a cyborg Cinderella in Beijing China…that is, New Beijing, (after all, this is the future.) Lihn Cinder is missing a foot. The teenaged cyborg has outgrown the model she wore as a child and her stepmother refuses to buy a bigger one. She is also a gifted mechanic, a talent that brings her to the attention of Crown Prince Kai, who sees her as a girl, not a machine. Cinder’s life becomes intertwined with Prince Kai’s but what can a cyborg who has no rights, is only barely considered human, and an artificial foot, do with a prince?

stolenGirl, Stolen written by April Henry, and published 2010 by Henry, Holt & Co. introduces readers to a blind Cheyenne Wilder. in this contemporary novel,  Cheyenne is a teen sick with pneumonia and left to sleep in the back of the car while her mother runs into the pharmacy to fill her prescription. Then the car is hijacked and readers are taken along in this quiet thriller with a sick, blind heroine and a young man who never intended to be a kidnapper. But now that he has, his father intends to make use out of having the daughter of a corporate executive in his power. 

Think about being kidnapped. And then imagine being kidnapped and being in the power of a man who hates everything your parents stand for when you are sick, and blind.

crazyCrazy Beautiful, written by Lauren Baratz-Longsted and published in 2009 by Houghton Mifflin, is a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast featuring Lucius Wolfe and Aurora Belle. Lucius is a double amputee who blew his own arms off.  Lucius tells readers:
I don't blame my parents for what I became, and never have. It wasn't my parents' fault I wanted to blow something up. It wasn't my parents' fault I was so angry with the world. And why was I so angry? I suppose—and I know this is no excuse, but it is the reason—I was exhausted with being so different from everybody else. Sure, many, many people survive extended abuse of bullying and never snap. But some do snap. It is a thing, I think, worth thinking about.
Now he wears hooks to scare people and keep them away, and to remind himself of the monster inside.  But in spite of those hooks he is still a young man in pain.

If you have other books about teens with disabilities, please add them to the comments.  I would love to hear about them.

See other Books Outside the Box columns on TheHub by clicking here.

Return to Books outside the Box in January for YA books deal with mental illness.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Books Outside The Box reloaded

A brief history of Books Outside The Box:

During 2013 I began a series of blog posts on the YALSA book blog, TheHub, that I called Books Outside The Box.  My focus in those posts, and on others I created, was to be diversity. I wanted to talk about books that included something extra: a diversity element, books from small presses or independently published, that still held quality.  Unfortunately, in October after leadership of the blog changed hands, I was told the books I selected, intended for a fun Halloween post, were unacceptable because it featured unacceptable books.

Early in October I asked TheHub's manager about the possibility of doing a Halloween post featuring authors dressed as one of their characters and letting that character speak. I was told "This is a fantastic idea! I love it; please run with it and let me know if there's any way I can help. How fun!" However, once I had responses I was told it would not be posted because "I really like what you've done and I appreciate the authors' contributions, although I'm concerned that the number of self-published/ebook authors featured in the post may not fit The Hub's mission and guidelines."

I questioned this, and the next response was "I'm sorry to say I've concluded that this post isn't the right fit for The Hub. The self-pub/ebook issue is complicated," adding that she thought it was a fun read - which had been my whole intention for the Halloween post, creating a cute piece for the season.  When I protested the censorship, I was told I could publish the post on my own blog. She also told me she would work with me more closely in the future, I guess to be certain that I toed the line with my book/author selections.

After I made a final protest regarding self-published books, the language about the rejection suddenly changed. I was told "Please know that neither I nor YALSA have anything against self-published books or e-books, and that YALSA has no practice or policy in place that omits them from being discussed or shared via any of our communication channels, including our blogs...The reason I decided not to publish your post on the Hub is that it was too promotional in nature, and came across as a series of book pitches. "

So much for the post being a "fun read."

I chose not to deal with the censorship and  gave the only response I felt I could under the circumstances. I resigned, reminding her that I joined TheHub to write on diversity themes, to be different, and to be fun. I can't do that if my book choice is going to be censored. If writing about a diverse set of books is no longer allowed then there is no longer a place for me.

But I have decided to follow her advice. For December I am restarting Books Outside the Box here, with a post at least once a month celebrating diversity. I will begin on December 3 with a post highlighting characters with disabilities, in recognition of the United Nations' International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Minority of One - Contest

Pain is temporary,
Pride is forever.
I first saw the quote on a cross country runner's T-shirt. I understand it has been used as the title of a documentary film, and is the title of an eBook. it's used by coaches and personal trainers.

And by a character in my new book, Minority of One.

Neill Mallory feels he has three strikes against him, he is young (17 years old), black and gay. He is also intelligent, thoughtful, a good friend, and a runner, and those qualities are getting him through the jungle of high school and helping him deal with the loss of his boyfriend. He's good in school, except for English, which is why an assignment to write an "ode to spring" leaves him skipping his morning run and tearing out his hair to get something on the paper and avoid a negative grade. With the help of Carl, his former boyfriend, Neill comes up with a poem about something that defines him, Running.

I run.
Because I have to.
Every morning, of every day,
I rise before the sun.
Rains refresh, snow exhilarates,
Sunshine warms, winds push me on.
Never bad weather, only different types of good weather
When I run.
I pass night shift workers trudging home
Who shake their heads, unable to understand.
Sane people hit the snooze button,
Or maybe sip their morning coffee.
But fueled by sweat, determination, and guts,
I run.
Because pride is forever.

I needed days to write this. As I told a poetry workshop I taught earlier this year, the poem was once much simpler
Life sucks,
And not in a good way.
But over time it changed and expanded as I took inspiration from real runners and other athletes. A few weeks ago I read an excerpt of Minority of One to my critique group. That passage included the two boys working together to develop this poem while fighting off their still strong feelings for each other.  The people in the group told me they could feel the sensuality and the heartbreak, and the still lingering attraction between the two boys.  One asked for a copy of that poem so she could use it as inspiration.

Hard to believe sedentary me wrote the thing, and it only took me almost forever.

Minority of One is a multicultural YA story that not only follows the travails of Neill and Carl, but also gives readers a second romance, between new girl in school Sheila Galliano and basketball phenom Julian Morales, one of Neill's friends (it's practically a bromance). The friendship that develops between Sheila and Neill transforms them both, until her mother is found dead and his brother is arrested. Hopefully the identity of the real killer, and the uncovering of the connections between all parties, will leave readers satisfied and hoping for the future.

Contest:  The book will not be available until next spring. But I have a limited number or ARCs, including one for someone who leaves a comment on this blog. For a chance at an early Christmas present leave a comment below.  I will pick a winner at random  on December 4.
Check back then and see if the winner is YOU!!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Authors celebrating All Hallows Eve 2013

Even authors get a little twitchy on Halloween. I challenged a few to come to a party on The Hub dressed in character and prepared to tell a little about that character. I had no idea how creative some of them would be with the assignment. The result is four different authors with four different YA stories, from the spooky to the romantic to the downright fun.

Christine Verstraete in
costume as girl Z
Take a look at Rebecca, the heroine of Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie by by C.A. (Christine) Verstraete, and read while Rebecca, that is, Girl Z, tells her story in her own words.

Think you know zombies? You know, the bitey, icky, smelly kind? Well… you can be a zombie and not-be-that-way, right? My name's Rebecca Herrera Hayes—Becca to my friends—and I found something almost worse when I woke up in the hospital…

My cousin Spence came home one day and through an accidental scratch, he infected me with the Z-virus. I wanted to go to prom and go on dates and see my friends at school… You know, normal stuff any 16-year-old wants to do.

No mas. I went back to school. Can you say awfullll?
The principal thought he had a good idea, segregating us part Zs into our own section, but it made me feel really bad, you know? And then I heard the whispers, and saw the stares… When you have a strange diet (no, not that!), and weird quirks like a "twirly" eye and walk sometimes almost like a female Wolfman, some adults—and even some kids—just don't understand.

I'm coping. Kind of. It's hard sometimes, but I can't think of myself so much and I have to take care of Carm. She gets pretty freaked out. My mom's out there with Carm's mom, too, trying to get back home from Chicago after they went to find Spence.

I didn't ask for this! I'm not even as bad off as some of the others (wow, the z-virus really did a trick on some of the guys!) But I still knew it was school's out for me and my other cousin, Carm. At least she and mi familia are there for me.

Oh, no! Vigilantes! I didn't want to leave home, but it's better so my Tia Imelda is safe. Me and Carm'll go help my mom's friend in Lake Geneva who's having a hard time fighting off the full Zs by himself.

Carm's friend Jesse and his brother, Gabe, said they'd meet us there. But I don't know… Gabe's a part Z like me, which Carm says makes us perfect together. But he doesn't have all these quirks like I do… Will he like me? I guess I should give him a chance… right?

Recipe for summoning the Fae: (from Hold Tight by Cherie Colyer and published by Omnific Publishing in 2013)
Author Cherie Colyer as
teen witch Madison Riley
  • bowl, preferable ceramic but your kid brother’s plastic Cars cereal bowl will do in a pinch
  • water from nature’s spring
  • three rose petals (I prefer pink myself)
  • three acorns
  • spell from the Book of Fae
Please cast with extreme caution as these faeries are nothing like those in a Disney cartoon.

Hold Tight is the second book in the Embrace series. Sixteen year-old Madison, portrayed here by the author, is still getting a hold of her powers, and ...I'll let her tell the story.

Hi! I’m Madison. Although I don’t wear a witch’s hat or brew potions in a cauldron, I do possess magical powers and I have been known to cast a spell or three when my dad isn’t looking. He still thinks witches are the stuff of fairytales and spell is something I learned in grade school, and I have no intentions of correcting him anytime soon.

It’s just me, Dad, and my pesky kid brother, Chase. This time of year, you’ll find me with a pumpkin spice latte in one hand and Raisinets in the other. And, even though I know there are things that go bump in the night, I still love Halloween.

I recently embraced my magical powers. The trick now is learning how to control them. Until I can do that, by boyfriend and I can’t enjoy a simple kiss without getting shocked by our powers colliding. Instead of mastering my new skills, though, I’m stuck watching Chase and doing chores.

But being a witch has its benefits. With a simple spell, I can conjure some help around the house. Or so I thought. My idea of “help” invited trouble of its own, and it’s not just the faeries I have to worry about. I should have heeded that warning and cast this spell with caution, because this one isn’t easily undone.

Author Kym Brunner as 17-year-old
Monroe Baker, dressed for work at her
dad’s 1920s style restaurant
In Wanted: Dead or in Love by Kym Brunner, coming from Merit Press in 2014, Monroe has the ghost of the legendary Bonnie Parker inhabiting her body, fighting her for control. Because whoever inhabits the bodies at the deadline . . .survives.

In Monroe's own words:

Being impulsive, I act first, think later. I don’t recommend it. Now I’m on probation for something stupid I did at school. If I get arrested again, the judge will give me jail time. To keep out of trouble, I work as a waitress at my dad’s Roaring '20s restaurant, dressed like a flapper. Didn’t take long for me to screw up again. Here’s what happened: Dad showed me the spent bullets that they pulled out of famous criminal lovebirds, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s dead bodies––items he bought at a gangster memorabilia show. Who would have known that Bonnie and Clyde’s spirits were locked inside that container, waiting to be freed? Not me certainly, or I wouldn’t have done it. Opening the container wasn’t enough to make Bonnie’s spirit search for a new body to inhabit, but given my lousy luck, I cut my finger on the stupid thing, opening the door for the whiny, love-starved Bonnie Parker to enter my body.

Course, at first I didn’t really believe that she was inside of me (who would, right?) so later that night, after I met this cute but dull guy named Jack, I showed him the slugs. Bad move. Turns out Clyde hadn’t lost an ounce of his slyness, easily infecting poor Jack and quickly committing a crime. Luckily, Jack finds a way to get back in charge, but after doing some investigation, we find out we have only 36 hours to ditch these outlaws or we’ll share our bodies with them indefinitely. See what I mean about bad luck?

Take it from me––spontaneity’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Amanda and her husband
as The Strangers
1816 Candles by Amanda Brice is a time travel novella in which a chance encounter during a costume ball at a historic tavern sends high school senior Lauren Harper back in time to early Americana. Now she’s experiencing the actual events of the “Legend of the Female Stranger” she’s heard her entire life growing up. Can she solve the mystery of this ghost, find her way back home…and deal with her own emotions when she falls in love with a guy who lived 200 years before her?

Here's what the author had to say about the truth hidden inside her fiction:

In 1816, after docking at the seaport in Alexandria, a man and woman checked into the hotel at Gadsby's and were shown the most extravagant room because their clothes gave the appearance of great wealth. The woman was ill, and her husband called in doctors, but eventually she passed away and was buried in the local graveyard with an elaborate headstone. But what makes this story unusual was that the man made everyone swear never to reveal her name, and then the next day he skipped town without paying his bills. The only trace left of the entire event was the inscription on
the headstone:
To the memory of a
whose mortal sufferings terminated
on the 14th day of October 1816
Aged 23 years and 8 months
Local lore claims that the Female Stranger is known to haunt the hotel to this day. She is occasionally seen in the upstairs window of Room 8, holding a lit candle. Docents at the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum say they have heard the sound of someone walking around upstairs, only to find there is no one there.

Some believe she was Theodosia Burr Alston, the distraught daughter of disgraced Vice President Aaron Burr. Others believed that the Female Stranger was a kidnapped European princess or possibly even Napoleon hiding out in drag. Still others believe the entire situation was an elaborate scam devised by con men, and that both the Male and Female Strangers escaped with a large amount of money, laughing all the way to the bank. Or there’s the author's husband’s favorite explanation — aliens.

Or maybe she was a time traveler, as 1816 CANDLES explores.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Indie Intern - Procrastination

Being in a situation with loose supervision is problematic for me. For more than half of my life I’ve attended classes where I met with teachers several times a week. Beyond that I’ve always had parents and coaches and peers to push me. There was no real reason for me to develop a fool-proof way to self-motivate.

I suddenly have to rely on my own powers of self-discipline and responsibility. There is no one looking over my shoulder every day. This realization has been very important. It might be one of my biggest take-aways from this internship.

That doesn’t mean I’m doomed to middle-management or need to be supervised at all times; I need to be able to motivate myself so that I can have more effective autonomy.

The way I’ve done this is by creating “stations”. My home is where I relax. I have two part-time jobs so that I can earn a little cash while I become an adult, which is expensive nowadays. When I come home, I throw myself on the plushiest piece of furniture and see how long I can go without thinking. Naturally, this is hurdle I need to jump to get work done. 

But instead of making my entire home a place of dreaded work, I went about creating a new space. I realized that I don’t have a problem with working at my other jobs because I have a designated place to go. When I am there, I do my job.

My designated spaces for internship duties are my local library, coffee shops, and my desk. Instead of continuing to flounder, I identified my problems and found a solution that works for me. Now, when I need to do work but can’t find the motivation to do so at my desk at home, I muster the energy to pack up and leave the house.

Remaining productive is important to me. I want to write and make a comfortable living. These things do not go hand-in-hand. If I can’t write or work on personal projects, I can’t be happy. If I can’t do what is expected of me, I can’t be happy. We’ve all taken a look at what we need to accomplish and instantly felt bone tired, but we have all also felt the creeping depression that accompanies being unsatisfied.

I’m glad I’ve encountered this unexpected problem. Now I know how to better handle myself, and I can use that knowledge to make myself happier by applying it to my personal work in writing as well as my future professional goals.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chicago International Children's Film Festival

For the last five weeks I have hit the so-called expressway every afternoon and driven into Chicago to spend Wednesday evening viewing films from across the globe as a member of the Chicago International Children's Film Festival adult jury.

I have never read so many subtitled movies in such a short time.

I served on the jury team judging Animated Features, along with Aaron, Alan, Anna, Eleanor, Glenn, Isabelle, Leslye, Lynn and Natasha.

Together we viewed over four hundred minutes of animated films. As a young Adult author I really enjoyed checking out the screenwriting from around the world. There are a few I plan on going to see again during the Chicago International Children's Film Festival in the fall.

As a jury, we looked at a variety of genres. Some movies were meant for kids as young as 2, others for elementary, middle grade and high schoolers. We were charged with the near impossible task of whittling down the list to pick two.  We were called a jury, and jury we were, as we went over the films and deliberated, using various techniques to come up with the top ranked films. While some jurors had to say goodby to their personal favorites, in the end everyone felt pretty satisfied with our final selections.

Which two did we select?

You'll have to wait for the official announcement. And think about attending the 30th annual Chicago International Children's Film Festival October 25 - November 3, 2013, if you are in the Chicago area. Visit in the upcoming weeks for the complete schedule and festival highlights.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Empowering the Voice of the Black Male in Children’s and Teen Lit - NCAAL 2013

I spoke at the 8th National Conference of African American Librarians on August 8, 2013. The topic was Empowering the Voice of the Black Male in Children’s and Teen Lit. [Click here to read the YALSA Hub post about the conference] At one point we had a discussion on the role of non-fiction. One librarian spoke of a young man who only wanted to read about cars. Not fiction about cars or anything else. There was not a lot of time to talk about this issue during the 45 minute session, but I have some additional thoughts here.

First, reading non-fiction, manuals and magazines is reading and all reading will help with vocabulary growth, reading speed and comprehension. The Common Core empahsizes non-fiction for a reason.

However, fiction gives something non-fiction cannot. The right story in the right hands at the right time gives readers the feeling that someone understands them, that they are not alone. 
Here are some ideas that might help that young man, and others, take a second look at reading in general and fiction in particular.
  1. Short stories - quick reads that can help the reader regain a feeling of enjoyment in reading and a sense of mastery by finishing something quickly and easy.
  2. Books in verse. With most, readers can open it to almost any page and find a new verse, each of which can be considered it's own story about his relationships with parents and peers.
  3. Audio books. Listening can be a stepping stone. Hearing a story read can help kids return back to the younger days when they loved the idea of a story. Listening to stories read aloud is not just for preschoolers. I love my audio books!
  4. Better still, solicit male volunteers, teachers, staff, parents, community members, to read aloud to kids. A surprising number will say yes. With only ten you have a reader/role model each month. Help the boys see that reading is too a masculine activity, not something just for girls.  
  5. Poetry slams. I have found many boys interested in their own poetry/lyrics, and those of peers. I recently judged a poetry contest and gave a workshop on the use of  free verse to high school students. One young man in the workshop only because the teacher had the entire class come in perked up as he listened. By the end he came up to me as other students were filing out and told me he understood one of the poems. He also  said that while he hadn't entered the poetry contest this year, he was already planning for next year.
  6. Give them a book of their own, to keep. Kids who own a book are more likely to read it.
  7. Have them write, whatever they want, their own stories, or song lyrics, or instruction manuals. 
  8. My daughter's school not only had the kids write, they had the results bound and put int he school library for anyone to check out.
  9. Most of all, learn about the kid's issues, interests, problems and recommend a book to him or her that matches them.
"That's my life in that book." I have heard teen readers say that. When they see themselves, and their friends and family, they see the world, develop empathy, and come back for more.

These are my ideas. If you have any more, please add a comment and share them with others.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Indie Intern Returns

Hello, everyone. It’s been a while since my first blog post, so let’s get reacquainted. My name is Sean and I’m working as an intern for B.A. Binns this summer to learn more about the process of writing and publishing.

I’ve been mulling over what I should write about in this post for a while. I spun in my desk chair, I doodled, I stared out my window for inordinate amounts of time, and then I realized what to talk about: Procrastination.

Most of my work revolving around my internship and the class I’m taking to accompany it are both done remotely, meaning that I don’t get much one-on-one time with B.A. or my professor. This is a common position to be in for many jobs in publishing and writing, and it poses a few challenges that I haven’t encountered before.

Procrastinating is nothing new to you. Everyone deals with the feeling. You know that you should do something — you have to — yet you find yourself cleaning the bathtub and watching YouTube videos about how octopus brains function.

Sure, I tried to fight my lack of motivation with organization. I made schedules with allotted times for work and relaxation and there are a half-dozen to-do list themed post-its on the wall above my desk. These tactics did not improve my productivity. Instead they forced me to stare at my anxieties every time I sat down to try and complete something. So I stopped sitting down to try and complete things. Obviously that method doesn’t work very well for me.

I also tried to pep-talk myself. I’m not going to go into much detail because every example starts with me talking to my reflection and ends three hours later with me making another pot of coffee because coffee begets productivity.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review - Buried truth

Buried TruthBuried Truth by Brenda Maxfield

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hillary is a new girl in school, and Margaret, or Mags as her friends call her, quickly learns that Hillary is her enemy for some unknown reason. Mags is an outwardly cheerful girl who chases causes, like save the whales. She really likes Andrew, even though her best friend warns her away from him because everyone knows he’s a bad boy.
Mags thinks she sees something more in him, something that makes him more than just another cause. She wants to help him, even after he chooses Hillary over her. Hillary does more than just take Andrew. She repeatedly spoils Mags’ work, upstages her, and steals her best friend. In fact, Hillary so easily turns Mags’ friends against her that I was left wondering how close they had ever really been.
Mags doesn’t know how to fight back, because in spite of her cheerful exterior, she has her own inner demons. The story repeatedly goes over this problem of something in her past that is hurting her, without telling us what she had done.
“…my guilt had become an unrelenting monster, tearing at my mind and heart until sometimes I couldn’t breathe.”

By the time the reason for her guilt was revealed, I was expecting a mountain. Instead I found something that happened when she was eight, something that felt very typical of that age group. I didn’t get how it haunted her so badly for almost ten years. The long build-up over the horrible secret act that ended up feeling to minor made the ending fall flat for me.

I will say I found Hillary one of the more interesting characters in the book. She is intelligent, resourceful, a really good villain. I enjoyed waiting for her next move.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Boy Book Review - Colin Fischer

Colin FischerColin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All I can say is I loved Colin, his style, the way he let me inside the life of a kid with Aspergers, and the way he handles crime solving and everyday stress. I sincerely hope this is the first of many books about him, his personal Watson, and the totally sinister Moriarty clone.
Colin can't interpret facial expressions without the aid of a cheat sheet. He's smart, gifted in many ways, but in some areas he understands less than a typical five-year-old.

When a gun goes off in the school cafeteria, he figures out that the shooter could not possibly be the prime suspect, Wayne, a boy who has bullied him since grammar school. Instead of taking the opportunity for revenge, Colin's only thought is to solve the crime and find the truth.

Most of all, I loved Colin's family, its nice to have loving parents who aren't trying to hinder the kid or villains in disguise. But that younger brother of his...he's as realistic as he is trouble.

I loved this enough to make it the star of my story on books featuring protagonists on the autism spectrum on the YALSA blog,

View all my reviews

View Boy Book Reviews

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Boy Book Review - Remember Dippy

Remember DippyRemember Dippy by Shirley Reva Vernick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thirteen year old Johnny has an unwanted summer job, helping his aunt care for his autistic cousin, Remember Dippy (and that is his real name thanks to weird parent).

During the course of the summer, fifteen-year-old Remember or Mem as Johnny calls him, joins in with the other neighborhood kids for fun and adventure and the mystery that is girls. Johnny narrates the story, and through his eyes we see how life with his cousin Mem changes both boys.

Mem shows that being autistic is no barrier to being a real friend. He saves an old man’s romance, a girl from being sent away, his cousin from a bully, and the bully from drowning. There is even the possibility of romance, for both boys.

This is a good book for anyone with an autistic family member. It would also be useful in classrooms to spark discussions on autism and what it means to be “normal.” It’s a true feel good book, and I hated to see it end.

I read a copy supplied by the publisher as part of my investigation of books featuring protagonists on the autism spectrum done for YALSA. You can catch the entire post and booklist at

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Indie Intern

My name is Sean O’Donnell. I’m B. A. Binns’ summer intern, and I could not be more excited.
I’m the youngest of three, and I think that is why I’ve always felt a need to keep from stagnating. Raised in a Boston suburb, I couldn’t wait to move away to someplace new. That’s how I ended up half-way across the country in Chicago, where I attend DePaul University.

Reading helped quell my restlessness until I could make it out of Massachusetts. It offered an escape, but it was incomplete. I needed to explore the world outside of books so I could figure out my own brain-stuff. I knew my opportunity to do this was college. But, without reading everything I could get my hands on, I never would have made it out.

This is why I jumped at the opportunity to work with Barbara. Young Adult writing is incredibly under appreciated. It deals with difficult ideas surrounding identity and existentialism, but has to present it in a way that is relatable to people who are only beginning to think about those things. Sure, reading fostered an interest that made me see the value in trudging through works written by the dead white guys lauded by academia, but it also made me realize that I needed to get out so that I could see myself more clearly.

Learning the process behind creating these kinds of influential works is important to me. Being given the opportunity to help edit and promote B.A. Binns’ upcoming novel which deals with issues of identity and unfamiliar surroundings, with the goal to attract reluctant readers, is exactly what I have been waiting for.

I can’t wait to see where this summer takes me, personally and professionally.

Friday, July 5, 2013

ALA 2013 - Attracting Reluctant Readers

I am now the author of two YA novels, one of which was a YALSA 2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list, and was on the School Library Journal list of best books for youth in detention in 2011. Being noted by on those two lists made my proud, because one of my goals in writing was to reach out and try to turn around the so-called reluctant reader and remind them of the joys of reading. I knew I had made it when a teacher told me a reluctant reader not only finished Pull in record time, but asked for another one just like it.

Since 2011, I have met with teachers and librarians and discussed ways to reach out to reluctant readers at a number of venues, including individual libraries, the Illinois Reading Council, Indiana Library Federation, and Ohio Educational Library Media Association. I was overjoyed last fall when my proposal for a presentation on the subject was accepted for ALA 2013. Last Saturday, June 29, was d-day (delivery day)

I recruited another author, Jim Klise, teacher, school librarian, and book club leader at a Chicago charter school, to join me for the presentation, Jim Klise. Jim is the author of Love Drugged, a story about a gay teen who thinks a drug can make him "straight" and therefore acceptable at school. Together, Jim and I represented public and school libraries, and populations (gay and teens of color) that are traditionally under served. Jim talked about the boys in his school, and how many of them enjoyed reading, including one who admitted to enjoying romances as long as the other boys didn't know. He confessed to being one of those boy eager readers as a child, and the family's trips to the library to bring home stacks of books are some of his fondest memories.

We had a room filled with both school and public librarians; a standing-room-only crowd that extended into the hallway, proving how much libraries and librarians care about pairing books and kids.

Being the science type, I began by handing out data on the problem. I entitled my piece of the presentation, Why Johnny, Jaime, Jose and sometime even Jane won't read (because there are girl reluctant readers too, just as there are boys who are eager readers.) Although both boys and girls are read to by their parents, during the early school years, the "learning to read" stage, boys begin falling behind in the amount of time spent reading for fun, and the very idea that reading might be "fun." Some of this is due to different children maturing and learning at different speeds. Another reason is that some of the reading material available may not interest some kids. The result can be two self-fulfilling prophecies. First that a number of kids learn to view themselves as non-readers - and all too frequently those as males. Second, that publishers think boys don't read books, and therefore concentrate all their efforts on "girl books."

The remainder of my presentation focused on strategies librarians can use to attract reluctant readers, including arranging shelves and displays that make books guys like (mystery, science fiction, non-fiction) easier to find, book trailer projects and other uses of technology, and recruiting male staff and community members to show that they read too to make reading seem like a masculine activity. Even the most reluctant reader might be pulled in by a "Don't Get Mad, Get Even" book display.

I handed out a list of suggested books for reluctant readers (the list and more information can be found at my website, and highlighted a few, including science fiction like The Rookie (football set hundreds of year in the future), Acceleration, a classic YA mystery, Lexapros and Cons, a humorous look inside the mind of a kid with OCD, and War Brothers, a graphic novel about children kidnapped and forced to become soldiers. I also talked about books with girls as protagonists including Pinned a story about the only female wrestler in her school, and Yaqui Delgado is Going To Kick Your Ass, (just the title alone would suck in any kid male or female) about a girl being bullied by another girl, but that will suck in both boys and girls who know how dangerous and friendless high school can be.

Jim provided some statistics from a survey of the boys and girls at his school about the kinds of books both genders like, and how they chose new books. His strategies for librarians include making sure they buy books for ALL patrons of all demographics. He noted that at his school he has kids from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientations. He makes sure to have books with protagonists from as many areas as possible. He reminded librarians to expose the kids to different options. And to give the kids books they can keep, books they feel are theirs. He found that a key to getting kids to both read and retain what they read.

Comments and questions from the attendees included a desire for more books with gay characters of color, and a wish that publishers would understand they need to feature other groups in their books.