Featured Book of the Week/Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C O'Brien

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with four small children, is faced with a terrible problem. She must move her family to their summer quarters immediately, or face almost certain death. But her youngest son, Timothy, lies ill with pneumonia and must not be moved. Fortunately, she encounters the rats of NIMH, an extraordinary breed of highly intelligent creatures, who come up with a brilliant solution to her dilemma. And Mrs. Frisby in turn renders them a great service. (Publishers Summary from Powell's Books)

In real life, Robert C. O'Brien was Robert Leslie Conly. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, attended Williams College and graduated from the Universtiy of Rochester. While there he studied piano at Eastman School of Music, and at one time considered being a musician. Instead, he became an editor and writer for Newsweek magazine from 1941 to 1944, and for Pathfinder from 1946 to 1951. From 1951 until the time of his death in 1973 he was employed as a writer and editor by the National Geographic Magazine. He made his home in New York City before 1944 and in Washington, D.C. after that. He also had a home in Morgan County, West Virginia, after 1965, a place he loved and visited as often as he could. He was married and the father of one son and three daughters. His books include The Silver Crown, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which won the Newbery Award, and A Report From Group 17. His last book, Z is for Zachariah was nearly completed at the time of his death; the last few chapters were written from notes by this wife and one of his daughters. (Author biography from Powell's Books)

Featured Book of the Week/Middleworld by J & P Voelkel

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Fourteen-year-old Max Murphy is looking forward to a family vacation. But his parents, both archaeologists and Maya experts, announce a change in plan. They must leave immediately for a dig in the tiny Central American country of San Xavier. Max will go to summer camp. Max is furious. When he's mysteriously summoned to San Xavier, he thinks they've had a change of heart.
Upon his arrival, Max's wild adventure in the tropical rainforests of San Xavier begins. During his journey, he will unlock ancient secrets and meet strangers who are connected to him in ways he could never have imagined. For fate has delivered a challenge of epic proportions to this pampered teenager. Can Max rescue his parents from the Maya Underworld and save the world from the Lords of Death, who now control the power of the Jaguar Stones in their villainous hands? The scene is set for a roller-coaster ride of suspense and terror, as the good guys and the bad guys face off against a background of haunted temples, zombie armies, and even human sacrifice! (Summary from Powell's Books)


Jon and I would like to thank you very much for choosing Middleworld for your Battle of the Books.  We had a blast writing it and, for me in particular, being an author is a dream that I never thought would come true.

The problem was that I got bad advice early on.  A teacher told me that great writers always write about what they know. For me, as a kid, that was like a door slamming in my face. I hated the world I knew. I had an unhappy childhood because my mother was very ill for most of it and I had no desire to write about it, ever.

Some people find that writing about their problems helps them feel better. I found it just made everything more real and more painful. I wanted to pretend that none of it was happening and I escaped by reading books. Adventure stories, boarding school stories, anything where kids lived in worlds without parents. (In those days, at my school anyway, they didn't have books about unhappy families - no Laurie Halse Anderson or Ellen Hopkins to reassure me that other kids’ lives weren’t perfect either.)

When I left college, I looked for jobs with writer in the title.  For twenty-five years I wrote catalog captions, book reviews, and advertising copy. I was resigned to never writing a book because I didn't want to write about what I knew. Then my husband, who was not a writer by trade, became obsessed with the idea of us writing a book based on his childhood.  He'd had a wildly adventurous time growing up in Latin America and had always kept our children entranced with his action-packed bedtime stories. 

It was the perfect solution! I would get to know his world! And now, thanks to the many trips we've taken down to Central America to research the rainforest and the Maya, it’s become my world too. (And that of our three children.) We’ve tracked howler monkeys in the jungle, made our own tortillas, and sailed down the mighty Usumacinta river with crocodiles watching from the bank. We've got to know many famous archaeologists, and made friends with teachers, librarians and booksellers all over America.

I wish I could go back to that unhappy little kid I used to be and tell her that it would all work out.  That one day she'd have exciting adventures, and a happy family, and finally get to write books.  But the funny thing is that The Jaguar Stones trilogy is about a lonely boy and a girl who’s had to grow up too quickly. Okay, so he’s from Boston and she’s a Maya, but – guess what? – in some ways, they’re both me. 

So my advice to students who want to be writers is this: remember that the story of your childhood is not the story of your life. But whether you’re having an interesting youth like Jon’s or a miserable one like mine, remember how you feel right now - because one day you’ll want to write about someone who feels the same way.  And if you’re brave enough to follow where your new story leads you, you’ll find yourself in places that you never dreamed existed.

Enjoy the adventure!


Jon Voelkel grew up in Peru, Costa Rica and Colombia. He was not a natural-born adventurer and found life in the jungle difficult, to say the least. Having survived monkey stew, an attack by giant rats, and a plane crash in the middle of the rainforest, he escaped to college in Minneapolis and went on to business school in Barcelona. After working in advertising agencies in Spain, Holland and England, he started his own agency in London with four other partners - one of whom would be his future wife. In 2001, the London Financial Times named him one of the top fifty creative minds in Britain.

While Jon was battling the daily perils of the jungle, Pamela Craik Voelkel was dreaming of adventure in a sedate seaside town in the north of England where nothing ever happened.  After graduating from Leeds University in English Language and Literature, she fled to London to take any job with “writer” in the title.  After stints reviewing books, writing catalogs and penning speech bubbles for photo-romances, she became an advertising copywriter. As Creative Director of Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel, she helped the agency win literally hundreds of creative awards.

In 2001, the Voelkels moved to rural Vermont and began work on ‘Middleworld’, the first book they have written together. In an interesting male/female collaboration, Jon plots out the action (much of it based on his own childhood memories and the bedtime stories he tells their three children), then Pamela fleshes out the characters and decides how they feel about things. (Author Bio from authors website)

I want to thank J & P Voelkel for being a part of the featured book of the week and encourage all you book battlers to visit their wonderful website to learn more about their lives and books. 

I am also very excited to tell you that the next book in this exciting series is due to be released in December, so you will have a chance to go on another thrilling adventure with Max and Lola.

Featured Book of the Week/The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat's sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.


Bestselling author Suzanne Collins first made her mark in children’s literature with the New York Times bestselling Underland Chronicles series for middle grade readers. Her debut for readers aged 12 and up, The Hunger Games (September 2008), immediately became a New York Times bestseller, appealing to both teen readers and adults. It was called “addictive” by Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly, and “amazing” by Stephenie Meyer on her website, and was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2008 and a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.
Catching Fire (September 2009), the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, debuted at #1 on the USA Today bestseller list and simultaneously appeared at #1 on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. It was named a Time Magazine Top Ten Fiction Book of 2009, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and a People Magazine (Top 10) Best Book of 2009. 

Foreign rights for The Hunger Games and its sequels have been sold in 39 countries to date. Movie rights for The Hunger Games have been optioned by Lionsgate, and Nina Jacobson’s Color Force production company will produce the film with Suzanne Collins set to write the screenplay. In April 2010, Suzanne Collins was named to the TIME 100 list of “the world’s most influential people.” The publication of Mockingjay, the thrilling final installment in The Hunger Games trilogy, was released August 24, 2010. 

Suzanne Collins has also had a successful and prolific career writing for children’s television. She has worked on the staffs of several Nickelodeon shows, including the Emmy-nominated hit Clarissa Explains It All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. She received a Writers Guild of America nomination in animation for co-writing the critically acclaimed Christmas special, Santa, Baby!
Suzanne Collins lives with her family in Connecticut. For more information about her, please visit www.suzannecollinsbooks.com .
(Biography retrieved from Scholastic)

While many of you will be unable to view this terrific interview with Suzanne Collins talking about her inspiration for The Hunger Games  (due to firewalls blocking You Tube), I have included it hoping that you will take a look at it at home. It is fascinating to hear how Collins took a Greek myth and turned it into on one the best books of 2009.

Feature Book of the Week/Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight... for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.

From acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson comes this compelling, impeccably researched novel that shows the lengths we can go to cast off our chains, both physical and spiritual.


Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous national and state awards, as well as international recognition. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Laurie was honored with the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”. Mother of four and wife of one, Laurie lives in Northern New York, where she likes to watch the snow fall as she writes. (Author information from author's website The Mad Woman in the Forest)

Unfortunately, Laurie Halse Anderson, was too busy with her current book tour of Forge, the sequel to Chains, which was released last month, to participate in the Featured Book of the Week event.

Feature Book of the Week/Jump the Cracks by Stacy DeKeyser

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


What would you do?
As far as I'm concerned, there's no excuse not to be decent...Especially when you're responsible for a kid. 

It just figures that fifteen-year old Victoria's dad fails once again to be at the train station like he's promised. Fuming, Victoria watches as a teen mom stashes her bruised little boy in the train's bathroom. When the mom gets off the train alone, Victoria decides she has had it with all the poor excuses who call them selves parents. Making a split-second decision, Victoria boards the next train out of town-taking the little boy with her. 

No, really, what would you do? Victoria's staying on the run until everyone responsible starts keeping their promises. This kid's not falling through the cracks. Not on her watch. (Publisher's summary from Powell's Books)


One of the best things about having a book published is hearing from readers. The question I’m asked most often about Jump the Cracks is: “What happens after the book ends?”

At first this question surprised me, and I wasn’t sure how to answer it, because (of course) I think the ending is perfect the way it is. But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that it’s a great question, because it means you got so wrapped up in the story that you kept thinking about it after you finished reading. I like that.

But I suppose, since so many of you have asked, you deserve an answer. What DOES happen after the pages of the book close? Does Wills grow up happy? Who raises him? Will Victoria ever see him again?

I have a confession to make: Originally, I wrote a different ending. An ending that answers all of those questions, without any doubt. I tied the story up in a neat little bow.

And then I changed it.

Because the thing is, when you’re writing a story for readers who are smart enough to think about what they’re reading, it’s not fair to do the thinking for them. So I changed the ending for a couple of reason

1. A “neat” ending wouldn’t have fit the story. After all, Jump the Cracks is about a bunch of imperfect people trying hard to do their best (well, most of them, anyway). It wouldn’t have made sense to end the story with everyone suddenly perfect and doing all the right things.

2. The open ending allows each reader to imagine his or her own perfect ending—whatever that might be.

Think of it as one of those “You decide” stories.

Are you a sucker for a happy ending? The possibilities are there, at the end of Jump the Cracks, for a perfect, storybook ending. All you have to do is fill in the blanks.

Or maybe you like your stories gritty and more true-to-life. The possibilities for that type of ending are also there, in the story. Just fill in the blanks.

It’s completely up to you. You are free to imagine what happens after the book ends. And whatever you imagine, that is the right ending.


As a teenager, I was not incredibly popular or unpopular. I was one of that vast group of invisible, semi-geeky (i.e. normal) people. I wore braces. Twice. I did not make the cut for cheerleader. I warmed the bench for my softball team. Which was probably just as well, since I liked the library better anyway.

Even though I am now Grown Up, I still feel pretty much like the semi-geeky teenager I used to be.

Except when I write. When I write I feel beautiful and graceful. (Authos Bio from Stacy De Keyser's Blog)

I want to thank Stacy for sharing more about her book Jump the Cracks with us.
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