Middle Grade Review: The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove

World building is no small task, and S.E. Grove raises the bar exponentially in her debut book, The Glass Sentence. The story follows thirteen-year-old Sophia Tims as she rushes to save her kidnapped uncle, Shadrack Elli, a renowned cartographer. But Sophia isn’t simply riding trains and sailing ships through a familiar world. Years prior, the Great Disruption altered time, leaving each continent in a different age, some countries a mixture of various eras in human history. And hot on Sophia’s tail are the very people who abducted her uncle!

Overall, I enjoyed The Glass Sentence. I cared about Sophia, a spunky, precocious, but ultimately lonely girl who barely blinks at the tasks ahead of her. Each chapter provided an unexpected twist, making it very difficult (for me anyway) to predict where the action of the story would take Sophia. This book required patience to read (and to write, I’m sure!), but I did find that each time I had a question about how the world worked or why a new character was introduced, Grove provided an answer or at least the suggestion of one. There were a lot of characters–at every turn Sophia ran into a new person, it seemed–and at times I wondered if there were too many to flesh each one out adequately. That said, as the story develops, each character fell into place. I had many “aha!” moments (and I did say them aloud) during the second half of the book, and I’m glad I didn’t put it down. This story is definitely one to stick with.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves new worlds with unexpected rules and lots of plot twists and characters. There’s a few scary people (the men with grappling hooks on the cover were creepy to me), and a few moments of very age-appropriate romance.

Don’t be surprised at the end, as I was. This is a series! One of my pet peeves is reading a book thinking it’s a stand-alone, only to discover that the story isn’t over. Nothing against series in general. I just like to know ahead of time. ­čÖé

I learned about this book from Indie Bound’s Indie Next List newsletter. I get the newsletters at my local independent bookstore, and find it them a great resource for new books. To check out their summer recommendations for kid lit (the fall link wasn’t available), find them here.

And here’s my plug for independent book sellers. I picked up my copy this summer at Powell’s City of Books, one of the largest independent new and used bookstores in the world. If you’re in Portland, Oregon, visiting Powell’s is a must! I never leave without a sizable stack of books. To buy The Glass Sentence from Powell’s (they ship), click here.

Appreciating the Genres

As a children’s book writer, I have a good appreciation for the genres of our field. I began my journey in children’s book writing with picture books, and currently I am working on three middle grade novels. My critique partner Joanna rocks the young adult segment.

As my son gets older, he still enjoys having picture books read to him but his choices are different when he reads for himself. He is reading chapter books, but I am struck by the broad range of choices in this genre.

Aidan really skipped over the beginning chapter books, like Frog and Toad, or Nate the Great. They didn’t seem to be “meaty” enough for him. He enjoys adventures, especially those in far away locations or times. The Magic Treehouse books are right up his alley. He frequently connects things that he learns about (Ancient Rome for example) with what he read in a Magic Treehouse book. We are lucky to have a family friend that gave us a big collection of Jack and Annie books (thank you Chrissy!).

I read a Facebook post this summer where Moms were discussing chapter books with appropriate content for young kids. One mom suggested Geronimo Stilton. I had never heard of him. Luckily, our library had some of the books, so we tried them out. And Aidan fell in love.

The Geronimo Stilton books are written in first person by a mouse named Geronimo Stilton. He is the editor of the Rodent Gazette, and the books are told in his voice. He is the “author” ala Lemony Snicket. (Spoiler alert: the books are written by Italian author Elisabetta Dami, distributed by Scholastic in the US)

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The really creative part of the Geronimo Stilton books is how they bridge the transition from picture books to novels. I’m sure many children miss the rich images from picture books when they move to longer books. In the Geronimo Stilton books, there are plenty of illustrations, maps, and pictures. They also illustrate the text. Yes, the text. They use colors, different type faces, even illustration to further illuminate the words. This comes in quite handy for a child who is actively expanding their vocabulary. Combine all this with an exciting adventure story, and you’re on your way!

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If you haven’t yet checked out Geronimo I encourage you to give him a try. There are currently 55+ books in the regular series plus 7 graphic novels. He even has his own web page with games and videos, as well as places to draw and write.

What other chapter book gems would you recommend? Please share in the comments!

Congratulations to the Crystal Kite Award Winners

What is the Crystal Kite Award? Isn’t it called the Golden Kite Award? No, I haven’t gone jewel blind (really, I would love any jewels… ) The Golden Kite Award is given by the SCBWI each year to recognize the best in 4 children’s literature categories. The Crystal Kite Award are also given by the SCBWI, but it is the “regional complement” to the Golden Kite Awards. All 70 regions across the globe were put into one of fifteen divisions, and then each division voted for their favorite children’s book by a SCBWI member in their region for that year.

I am in the New England US region, so I eagerly awaited the email notification for each round of voting. There were so many books that I liked on the New England list, and I was especially pleased to see that these great stories were written somewhere in my part of the world.

The winners were recently announced, with Jo Knowles taking the prize for New England with her novel, See You At Harry’s. I had the pleasure of taking a workshop from Jo last October, so I was thrilled for her to get this extra recognition (the book has already received much praise and interest).

In looking at the complete list of world-wide winners, there were other favorites I recognized, and some others that are on my increasingly long To Read List: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (which also received the Newbery Medal this year), Creepy Carrots by Aaron Brown (a Caldecott Honor Book), Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, and 15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins. Admittedly, I am intrigued to read that last one by the title alone.

Have you read any of the other Crystal Kite winners? Any that you would recommend? Please share!

Congratulations to the Crystal Kite Award winners for having their work praised by their peers, a choosy group with very high standards (right?).

My local library reopens Monday after being closed for 6 weeks for a long-awaited renovation. I’m off to see how many of my To Read List books┬áI can jump into this month. Wish me luck!

Revisiting the Classics

I was reading a message board the other day concerning classic picture books that make you wonder how they ever got published. Part of the discussion centered around how the children’s book market has changed over the years. The approach to children’s education and the state of the children’s book market was quite different seventy, fifty, or even twenty years ago. I wrote a previous blog post on some of the classics, and how they hold up.

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What was most interesting to me about this discussion was not the different opinions about why classics are classics, and why some hold up throughout the years, and some do not. What I saw when I read each post was this: Everyone likes something different.

Several specific books were mentioned, especially Madeline. There were some pretty strong opinions on why they loved the book, or not. ┬áSome loved it, some hated it. I myself don’t get the appeal of Madeline. The character strikes me as a spoiled brat who is put into a variety of unrealistic (but not fantasy) situations.

Regardless, I may not like it, but clearly others do. Some people may find several of my favorite books annoying or dated. But we all, as readers (children and adults alike) like something different.

Editors and publishers today may focus primarily on what will sell the most copies. They must analyze and assess the market of today, and what meets the needs of the bookstore, online, and school markets. I don’t envy them the challenge of trying to float a ship on the changing tides of pop culture and educational theory.

As I writer, I have had many arguments with myself (quietly, I promise) about whether to ditch the story I really love in favor of something more commercially viable. As I advance my craft, I strive to create stories that meet both my personal requirements and the needs of the current market.

But I must start at the beginning: writing what is in my heart. Perhaps what I write will be sellable someday (hopefully!). But if I don’t write what is in my heart, I believe it won’t speak the truth or touch my readers in any way. And if everyone likes something different, perhaps instead of trying to speak to everyone, I should strive to speak to someone.

So in the end, whether a story meets the technical requirements of today’s market or not, it must start in a personal place. And that’s good news. ┬áThe joy of writing down the stories that are begging me to be written, those that occupy a special place in my heart and mind, are why I write in the first place.