2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #9
The Potato Chip Puzzles by Eric Berlin

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


When puzzle addict Winston Breen and his best friends head to an all-day puzzle hunt with a $50,000 grand prize, they're pumped. But the day is not all fun and games: not only do they have a highstrung and highly competitive teacher along for the ride, but the puzzles are hard even for Winston, the other schools' teams are no joke, and someone in the contest is playing dirty in order to win. Trying to stop this mystery cheater before it's too late takes an already tough challenge to a whole other level. . . .

Packed with a variety of fun puzzles to solve, this fast-paced sequel will pull readers right into the action from start to finish. (Publisher's Summary from Goodreads)

Sometimes people ask me how I came up with Winston Breen's name, and the truth is, I don't remember. (Honestly, I wish I knew.) Or people will ask me how I came up with all the puzzles for my books, and the answer is, it's just something I know how to do -- probably as a result of solving a million puzzles over the span of my life.

But then people ask me how I came to write books with puzzles in them, and THAT question I can answer.

I'm friends with a lot of people who, like me, love puzzles. We're all scattered around the country, and so we get to see each other only a few times a year. So when we do get together, large groups of us go out to dinner and catch up. It was at one such dinner, perhaps in 2000 or 2001, that we got to talking about all the things in our childhood that made us realize we would be lifelong puzzle people. We had all played the same video games, and we all loved patter songs like Tom Lehrer's "Elements." We were all madly addicted to Games magazine. We were all a little on the nerdy side. Or maybe more than a little.

And everybody at the table, as a child, had read the same book: "The Westing Game," by Ellen Raskin. It won the Newbery medal in 1979. It's still read and beloved by children today. And somehow -- impossibly -- I had never heard of it. This book that all my puzzle-loving friends had read, I had missed it entirely.

Well. Obviously I wasn't going to let THAT stand. So I ordered a copy the very next day, and read it as soon as it arrived.

It's a fine book. There's a reason it's considered a classic.

BUT... I was expecting something a little different. Because this book had come to me via all my puzzle friends, I thought it was going to be a mystery filled with different kinds of puzzles -- things you could solve as you read along. It's not. There's only one real puzzle in "The Westing Game." It's a doozy of a puzzle, to be sure. But it's only one.

And soon I thought: Well, I could write a mystery with lots of puzzles in it, can't I? I could write the book I had expected "Westing Game" to be! I could write the sort of book that if I had found it on a library bookshelf when I was a kid, I would have grabbed it immediately. Out of another person's hands if necessary.

That was the spark behind Winston Breen, and I'm happy to say that today's puzzle-loving kids ARE discovering him. That's why I was able to write the second book, "The Potato Chip Puzzles," and that's why a third book, "The Puzzler's Mansion," comes out in May 2012. You don't have to solve any of the puzzles as you read, of course -- if you want to skip the puzzles and enjoy the story, that's fine with me. But I'm hoping that even kids who don't like puzzles will stare at one of Winston's challenges... and have that"aha!" moment of solving satisfaction. The same kind of moment that turned me into a puzzle addict a long time ago.


Eric Berlin creates puzzles for all ages, from kids to adults (his crosswords appear often in the New York Times). He is a member of the National Puzzlers' League, and enjoys creating puzzle events for schools and other groups. He lives in Milford, Connecticut, with his wife and two children. (Author bio from The Puzzling World of Winston Breen web site)
Thanks so much to Eric from participating in this year's Feature Book of the Week. Make sure you leave your comments about his guest post and about his book.

2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #9
Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig.

The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band's manager and get her share of the profits.

The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she's deaf?

Piper can't hear Dumb's music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb.

Hey there, Book Warriors! A huge thanks to all of you for including me in your battle plans. I can’t wait to meet you on May 8th next year! I’ll be the one who isn’t Heather Brewer :)

If you’ve been reading all the posts, you may have noticed that authors sometimes take long and winding paths to getting published. This is not unusual. It’s really not even surprising. We’re the sum of our experiences, and the more experiences we have, the more we have to draw from when we write.

But what’s just as interesting to me is that we all take different paths to becoming readers too. Some of you may have been devouring books for years, while others may only now be discovering the joys of reading. If you’re in the latter group, then you’re just like me.

When I was a middle school student in England in the 1980s, a lot of the books felt terribly similar. There was always a little (non-violent) adventure, some wholesome friendships, contented siblings, and at least one or two fluffy puppy dogs (because no English family is complete without a fluffy puppy dog, apparently). To be honest, these books didn’t exactly excite me, and so I pretty much gave up on reading altogether. I was what librarians and teachers call a “reluctant reader.” Sad, but true.

Then, when I was 13, my English teacher handed me a copy of “The Outsiders” by S. E. Hinton. It blew my mind! Suddenly I wasn’t reading about other well-adjusted English kids, I was reading about gangs in an Oklahoma high school. The language felt raw and real. Everything moved along at breakneck speed. I was hooked.

At the time, I didn’t know that Susan Hinton wrote “The Outsiders” when she was only 16 years old. She was writing from her own experience. But the key thing is that her experience was not the same as mine. “The Outsiders” removed me from my world and put me in hers. It made me view the world differently.

And that is why I read and write books. I want to constantly rethink what the world is, and what it might be. I want to see a familiar scene through the eyes of someone I’ll never be. I don’t have much in common with Piper Vaughan, the narrator of “Five Flavors of Dumb”—she’s a girl at a co-ed US high school, whereas I went to an all-boys school in England. She’s deaf and has little interest in music (at first, anyway), whereas I’m hearing and have Ph.D in music. But seeing the world through her eyes allowed me to think about music from an entirely new perspective. It taught me a lot about deafness. And it reminded me how important communication is to everyone, hearing or not.

As you read the books in the challenge, think about how they change your view of the world. And if you feel inspired to write you own book, go for it!

One last thing: If a book gets you really fired up, please tell your friends about it. If you think one of the challenge books will appeal to a friend or family member, check it out from the library and put it in their hands. Share the gift of your favorite books. Who knows—maybe you’ll change someone else’s


Antony John is the author of young adult novels Busted: Confessions of an Accidental Player and Five Flavors of Dumb (winner of the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award). His novels Thou Shalt Not Road Trip and Elemental are forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in 2012. A native of England, he graduated from Oxford University with a degree in music, and received his Ph.D. from Duke University. Now he lives with his family in St. Louis, Missouri. Check out his website: www.antonyjohn.net

First, I want to thank Antony for taking time to participate in the Feature Book of the Week.  And in case you missed it in his opening comments, the Book Battle Committee is very excited that Antony  
Enjoy his book!  And Happy Thanksgiving!

2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #8
Priscilla the Great by Sybil Nelson

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Meet Priscilla Sumner, an ordinary seventh grader with extraordinary gifts. As if middle school isn’t hard enough, not only does Priscilla have to fight pimples and bullies, but genetically enhanced assassins trying to kill her and her family. Armed with wit, strength, and a genius best friend, Priscilla must defeat the Selliwood Institute, an organization dead set on turning children into killing machines.

Add an older brother annoyingly obsessed with Christina Aguilera, mischievous baby twin brothers who could scare the sin off of Satan, and parents more puzzling than a Rubik’s cube in the Bermuda triangle and expect a smoking page-turner! (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)


            Hi Bookbattlers! Thanks so much for having me this year. I’m so excited for you to get to know Priscilla Sumner, the title character in my Priscilla the Great series. I’ve written a lot of books and she is by far the most fun to write. While I was writing the series, many times during the day I’d have to stop what I was doing in order to jot down something funny I could imagine Priscilla saying.

            So how did I come up with the idea for my feisty little fire-thrower? Well I started thinking about all the problems kids have when puberty comes along. I mean, what does puberty bring besides pimples and confusing hormones? So I thought how cool would it be if puberty brought awesome powers as well. But Priscilla the Great isn’t your ordinary superhero story. Even without her fire-shooting fingers, she is a riveting character. She’s addicted to superhero movies, comic books, and racing bikes down Main Street with her friend Kyle. Plus her school cafeteria has a soft serve ice cream machine which is home to the monthly seventh grade versus eighth grade Ice Cream Challenge (ICC). Imagine being able to stick your head under the nozzle of your favorite ice cream and gorge yourself while humiliating the eighth grade bullies. Awesome!

            While Priscilla is totally competitive in a tomboy kind of way, she is also completely in touch with her feminine side. A major plot point of the book is Priscilla trying to capture the attention of her crush, Spencer Callahan who barely knows she exists.

            On top of all this, Priscilla also has to deal with her quirky family: five-year-old twin brothers who like to throw frozen waffles at her for no reason at all, a sixteen-year-old brother who can’t stop singing Christina Aguilera songs, a father who looks like a professional wrestler but would rather bake cookies and a mother who has never heard of Oprah!

            I wrote Priscilla the Great while I was a high school teacher in South Carolina. I often found my inspiration for characters and situations from my students. In fact, Priscilla is a mix of two my students Ellen and Helen. It’s a complete coincidence that their names happen to rhyme. They weren’t even related. Anyway, I remember Helen would come into class every day with the craziest stories of something that happened to her. Once she shaved her armpits without shaving cream and they burned so badly that she spent the day with her hands tucked in her armpits. I haven’t used that story yet but expect it soon!

            So basically, if you haven’t already been introduced to Priscilla’s great world, be sure to check it out. Soon, she’ll most definitely be the hottest girl you know!


Sybil has always had a love of books and writing. During her school years, shed choose a different author each summer and devour their complete works.  Riding public transportation from her low-income housing, she always dedicated Wednesdays to her library pursuits. 
Sybil also spent her time jotting down poems and stories in her beloved notebooks. She even won a full scholarship to Washington and Lee University for one of her essays. Though her scholarship was for journalism, she soon lost confidence in her writing and ended up changing her major from English and Journalism to Mathematics and Music Theory.
During the years after college, while working as a math teacher at Georgetown Day School, Sybil never lost her love of words. She continued to devour novels in her free time. In all of her reading however, she began to notice that the novels she enjoyed most never contained any black female characters. This observation bothered her.

After years noticing the role models (or lack thereof) for black girls in the media, Sybil finally decided to pick up a pen and do something about it. While working as a math teacher at Ashley Hall School in Charleston, South Carolina, finishing her masters thesis at the College of Charelston, she began writing stories poems and novels that featured strong black women. She now attends the Medical University of South Carolina pursuing her Ph.D. in Biostatistics. She continues to write and, to date, has written ten complete novels.

Sybil has three books published under pen name Leslie DuBois. Visit www.LeslieDuBois.com to learn more. 

A BIG thanks to Sybil Nelson for taking time out to support all you lovely book battlers. Hope you are enjoying Priscilla the Great as much as it sounds like Ms. Nelson enjoyed writing about her. Make sure you leave a comment to let her know and enter in the Comment Challenge.

Also make sure you stop by next Monday for a very
special and exciting announcement!! 

2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #7
The Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Cam O'Mara, grandson and younger brother of bull- riding champions, is not interested in partaking in the family sport. Cam is a skateboarder, and perfecting his tricks — frontside flips, 360s — means everything until his older brother, Ben, comes home from Iraq, paralyzed from a brain injury. 

What would make a skateboarder take a different kind of ride? And what would get him on a monstrosity of a bull named Ugly? If Cam can stay on for the requisite eight seconds, will the $15,000 prize bring hope and a future for his big brother? (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)


Today I was at a high school and one of the students asked me “Why do you write your books?” My answer? – so people will read them. Yes, most writers love language and play with it the same way a star basketball player may practice six ways to do a layup shot. Yes, most professional writers hope to make money and almost everyone likes to be told they are special and their work is good. That just feels great. But the reason I spend a couple of years writing a book is because somewhere in that process I found the story’s heart, the thing that I’ve struggled with in my own mind, the question that I want to think about, and maybe a little bit of my answer that I want to share with readers.

When I started writing Bull Rider it was a story about a kid who wanted to be a bull rider and his mom wouldn’t let him do it. It was simple and the book had nothing to do with the story it became – the story of a family dealing with the aftermath of war. But one of the smaller characters in that first (unpublished) manuscript was Cam O’Mara’s older brother Ben. As I designed the O’Mara family, I needed Ben to be doing something, and being from a small ranching town, I figured he’d join the service as so many young men and women do. And I was writing the book during the height of the fighting in Iraq, and I had a hard time ignoring that if this brother was in the service, he’d probably be in the Middle East fighting a war. That was a really different story from the light one I’d started out to write. But that was the one that grabbed my heart. What if that brother came home injured and fundamentally changed? How would Cam handle that? So I found the heart of Bull Rider and the passion of writing this story for you.

Please know that every author of every book in your library wrote those books to be read. An unread book is like a text message that you don’t pick up or a conversation that you pretend to listen to but really blow off while you play a video game. A book that sits on a shelf doesn’t matter. But when you read a book you connect with the author. You become part of a conversation with someone you may never meet, but whose words may touch you. That’s the possibility, the promise, every time you pick up a book.

I just love knowing that you guys are reading Bull Rider. The things you think about and care about will be the basis for what happens in all of our futures. This is the absolute truth. School isn’t really about getting good grades and doing assignments – although that’s how you get through and on toward what you want to do. It’s about becoming the great people you are intended to be. Every time you read a good book, you not only (hopefully) are entertained, but you get to crawl inside someone else’s head and try on their ideas. You won’t always agree with the author or with each other, but like exercising to get better at sports, reading lots and lots of books will strengthen your own sense of who you are. As an author, a citizen, and a human being, I couldn’t hope for more than that. I’m honored that Bull Rider is on your Truman Award List, is part of the Book Battle and that, for a little while, we may share some thoughts. Enjoy.  

Suzanne Morgan Williams


Suzanne Morgan Williams is the author of the novel Bull Rider (Margert K. McElderry, 2009) as well as eleven nonfiction books for children. Bull Rider is a Junior Library Guild Selection, is on state award lists in Texas, Nevada, Missouri, and Indiana, and received a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City and represented the state of Nevada at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. Suzanne’s nonfiction titles include Pinatas and Smiling Skeleton (Outstanding, Parents’ Council and Best Multicultural Book, Independent Publisher’s Book Award), The Inuit , Made in China, and the upcoming China’s Daughters (Pacific View Press 2011). Suzanne’s work takes her into classrooms and communities across the US and Canada, from Mexico to the Arctic. Visit www.suzannemorganwilliams.com

I want to thank Suzanne for taking the time to be a part of this year's Feature Book of the Week and writing a guest post especially for all who will be competing this years.

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