Monday, December 22, 2014

Sarah's Top Ten Books of 2014 (Because Picking Just Five is A Fool's Errand)

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince (Zest, $16)
Sweet, funny, and poignant. This autobiographical comic tells Liz's story without pandering or over-explaining. This book was so good that I wanted to flip a table and run down the street pumping my arms in victory after I finished it.

Buck by MK Asante (Spiegel & Grau, $15)
I put this on another top five this year, but I don't even care. Buck is so good. It could be set anywhere, but Asante captures the voice of Philly so clearly that you can hear the accent when you're reading it. I'm a total sucker for any story where books rescue the main character from other sources of conflict.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (Hogarth, $15)
Certainly one of the most beautiful books I've ever read; the setting and the characters leap off the page and into your heart and head. Overall, this is a story of war, a love story, and a story about the human capacity for cruelty and kindness.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (Griffin $19)
I love story about two kids from opposite lives who save each other. This book made me feel swoony and weepy and hopeful all at once.

Queer and Trans Artists of Color by Nia King (CreateSpace $22.95)
This is the most important book I read all year. Each one of the interviews has some nugget of wisdom that everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality, will relate to. Especially if you make art, like art, or spend any amount of time thinking about your place in the world and what you can do to make it better.

Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year by Ramsey Beyer (Zest, $16)
This zine is a collection of comics, illustrated lists, and writings about the author's move from a small rural town to a big city college. A great gift for people who are starting high school or college, or going through any major changes.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Riverhead, $16)
This book is just everything. It's the story about Oscar, a romantic Dominican nerd with no game. It's not just about Oscar's life, but about his family and how he is the culmination of many years and people. Junot Diaz could write cereal boxes, and I'd be psyched to read them. He's just that great.

Every Day by David Levithan (Ember, $10)
Super romantic story about a person who wakes up in a different body every day and the challenges that it creates when wooing the object of his/her affection. Really beautifully written.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Broadway, $15)
This book full of loathsome characters will make you gasp with shock. Read the book before you see the movie and see how well it lives up to the hype.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney (Gotham, $20)
This is a brave, gorgeous comic about Ellen Forney's experience being diagnosed with and treated for bipolar disorder. Regardless of mental health status, it's easy to relate to the author's struggle to balance stability with creative passions.

Sarah Rose, December 2014

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Great QUILTBAG* (Queer, etc.) Books for Kids and Teens

*QUILTBAG is an up-and-coming, more inclusive, more pronounceable (which is to say, an acronym rather than an abbreviation) moniker encompassing diversity in gender and sexuality. According to, it glosses as Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexual, Allied/Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer. (I've also seen lists that include Unidentified and Two-Spirit.)

latest update: 8/28/17
Compiled by Jennifer Sheffield

I was asked to present a collection of "Great LBGTQ books for kids and teens" for our Queer Literary Festival in October. So I looked through what we had in the store, collected ideas from colleagues, and made a big list. And then after the festival I gathered a few more recommendations from friends, and some further resource links, and organized it all into what you see here. Certainly not comprehensive, but most of the books here have been read and liked either by me and/or by someone I know.

Each list is arranged in chronological order of publication, just to give a sense of how things evolve over time... (Can you find the books from 1936 and 1950?)

Read and enjoy!

Board books that feature or include families with same-sex parents:
Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee (2001)
Mommy, Mama, and Me and Daddy, Papa, and Me, both by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Carol Thompson (2009)
A is for Activist (2013) and Counting on Community (2015) by Innosanta Nagara

Picture books that feature or include families with same-sex parents/gay family members:
Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Diana Souza (1990)
Asha's Mums by Rosamund Elwin & Michele Paulse, illustrated by Dawn Lee (1990)
Felicia's Favorite Story by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Adriana Romo (2002)
The Family Book by Todd Parr (2003)
King & King & Family (sequel to King & King, 2002) by Linda De Haan & Stern Nijland (2004)
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole (2005)
A Different Dragon by Jennifer Bryan, illustrated by Danamarle Hosler (2006)
Mini Mia and her Darling Uncle by Pija Lindenbaum, translated by Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard (2007)
In Our Mothers' House by Patricia Polacco (2009)
[Note: This author's books are generally more appropriate for an older audience.]
A Tale of Two Daddies (2010) and A Tale of Two Mommies (2011), both by Vanita Oelschlager, illustrated by Kristin Blackwood and Mike Blanc
Donovan's Big Day by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Mike Dutton (2011)
Operation Marriage by Cynthia Chin-Lee, illustrated by Lea Lyon (2011)
The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner, illustrated by Mike Byrne (2013)
This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten (2014)
The Christmas Truck, by J.B. Blankenship, illustrated by Cassandre Bolan (2014)
Heather Has Two Mommies (25th anniversary edition) by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Laura Cornell (2015)
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer (2015)
Real Sisters Pretend by Megan Dowd Lambert, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (2016)
Ned the Knitting Pirate by Diana Murray, illustrated by Leslie Lammle (2016)
Home at Last by Vera B. Williams, illustrated by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka (2016)

Picture books that feature transgender/gender-nonconforming/intersex main characters:
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (1936)
Oliver Button Is a Sissy by Tomie DePaola (1979)
Jesse's Dream Skirt by Bruce Mack (1979)
Amazing Grace By Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch (1991)
The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein (2002)
The Boy Who Cried Fabulous by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Peter Ferguson (2004)
10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Rex Ray (2008)
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis, illustrated by Suzanne DeSimone (2010)
Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss, illustrated by John Hendrix (2011)
Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero by Cheryl Harness, illustrated by Carlo Molinari (2013)
Jacob's New Dress by Sarah & Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case (2014)
I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas (2014)
Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall (2015)
[Actually about color rather than gender; an excellent illustration of one's inside identity differing from one's outside label.]
Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato (2016)
Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating, with illustrations by David DeGrand (2016)
[Technically this is only here because it features non-stereotypical creatures in pink -- though it does, as it happens, include an intersex species.]
One of a Kind, Like Me/Único Como Yo by Laurin Mayeno, illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo, translated by Teresa Mlawer (2016)
Who Are You? The Kid's Guide to Gender Identity by Brook Pessin-Whedbee, illustrated by Naomi Bardoff (2017)

Picture books about reproduction and families:
All Families Are Special by Norma Simon, illustrated by Teresa Flavin (2003)
The Family Book by Todd Parr (2003)
The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ros Asquith (2010)
What Makes a Baby? by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth (2012) [This book separates the genetic/biological components from the emotional component of making a baby, thus allowing for nontraditional families.]
It Takes Love (and Some Other Stuff) to Make a Baby by L.L. Bird, illustrated by Patrick Girouard (2014) [Two-mom family using donor insemination.]
Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne Lang & Max Lang (2015)
Grandmother Fish: A Child's First Book of Evolution by Jonathan Tweet, illustrated by Karen Lewis (2016)

Early Readers about friendship whose authors came out as gay soon after publication and are therefore now suspected of infusing them with more meaning:
The Frog and Toad Series by Arnold Lobel, starting with Frog and Toad are Friends (1970)

Middle Grade books featuring a protagonist with same-sex parents/gay family members:
The Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce, starting with Sandry's Book (1997)
[Note: the women who become foster mothers to the protagonists don't actually have their relationship identified until much later books]
The Popularity Papers series by Amy Ignatow, starting with The Popularity Papers (2010)
The Flower Power series by Lauren Myracle, starting with Luv Ya Bunches (2010)
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher (2014) and The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island (2016) by Dana Alison Levy
Woundabout by Lev Rosen, illustrated by Ellis Rosen (2015)
The Best Man by Richard Peck (2016)
The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, with illustrations by Caroline Hadilaksono (2017)
This Would Make a Good Story Someday by Dana Alison Levy (2017)
Against the Odds by Amy Ignatow (forthcoming, 2017)

Middle Grade/Chapter books with protagonist or friend who is gay/bi/coming out:
The House You Pass On The Way by Jacqueline Woodson (1997)
The Misfits (2001) and Totally Joe (2005), both by James Howe (inspiration for No Name Calling Week)
Drama by Raina Telgemeier (2012)
The House of Hades by Rick Riordan (2013)
Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot (book 12) by Dav Pilkey (2015)

Middle Grade/Chapter books with gender-nonconforming/transgender protagonists:
Texas Tomboy by Lois Lenski (1950)
Tatterhood and Other Tales, edited by Ethel Johnston Phelps, with illustrations by Pamela Baldwin Ford (1979)
The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, starting with Alanna: The First Adventure (1983) [Note: I'm always a bit puzzled as to whether this quartet is middle grade or young adult, as Alanna ages from 11-14 in the first book and 14-18 in the second, and then beyond in the last two.]
The Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce, starting with First Test (1999)
No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Willow Dawson (2008)
Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (2014)
George by Alex Gino (2015)
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart (2016)
The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey (2016)

YA books with protagonist or secondary character who is gay/bi/coming out:
Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden (1982)
Dangerous Angels: the Weetzie Bat Books by Francesca Lia Block (1989-1995)
The Dear One by Jacqueline Woodson (1991)
From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson (1995)
Hard Love (1999) and Love & Lies: Marisol's Story (2008), both by Ellen Wittlinger
Empress of the World (2001) and The Rules for Hearts (2007) by Sara Ryan
Geography Club by Brent Hartinger (2003)
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (2003)
The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson (2004)
The D.J. Schwenk series by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, starting with Dairy Queen (2006)
Getting It by Alex Sanchez (2006)
Gravity by Leanne Lieberman (2008)
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (2008)
How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity, edited by Michael Cart (2009)
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (2010)
Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez (2011)
Shine by Lauren Myracle (2011)
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth (2012)
Ask The Passengers by A.S. King (2012)
Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin (2012) [set in 1926]
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2012)
Fat Angie by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo (2013)
Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (2013)
If You Could Be Mine (2013) and Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel (2014), both by Sara Farizan
The Summer I Wasn't Me by Jessica Verdi (2014)
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (2014)
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (2014)
When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid (2014)
Adrian and the Tree of Secrets, story by Hubert, illustrations by Marie Caillou, translated by David Homel (2014)
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (2014)
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertelli (2015)
Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story, a musical novel by David Levithan (2015)
[Companion to Will Grayson, Will Grayson, above.]
Anything Could Happen by Will Walton (2015)
Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (2015)
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (2015)
Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa (2015)
An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay (2015)
What We Left Behind by Robin Talley (2015)
Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard (2016)
Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth (2016)
The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend (2017)
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (2017)

YA books with transgender/gender-nonconforming/intersex protagonist or secondary character.
Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy by Seymour Reit (1988)
Luna by Julie Anne Peters (2004)
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (2006)
Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (2007)
Freak Show by James St. James (2007)
How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity, edited by Michael Cart (2009)
Being Emily by Rachel Gold (2012)
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (2012)
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (2013)
For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu (2014)
None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio (2015)
What We Left Behind by Robin Talley (2015)
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (2016)
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (2016)
Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard (2016)
Noteworthy by Riley Redgate (2017)

YA with fantasy elements:
Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett (2003)
[Not marketed as YA, but close enough, I think.]
The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce (2005)
The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner (2006)
[Also not marketed as YA, though often recommended as such. From the author: "No one's sure whether it's an adult novel about a teenage girl, or a Young Adult novel that should be R rated."]
The Graceling Realms series by Kristin Cashore, starting with Graceling (2008)
Ash by Malinda Lo (2009)
The Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, starting with Leviathan (2009)
The Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu, starting with Legend (2011)
Every Day by David Levithan (2012)
Seraphina (2012) and Shadow Scale (2015), both by Rachel Hartman
Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, edited by Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios (2014)
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (2015)
[Companion volume to the author's Fangirl (2013), which I didn't include because in that book these same characters are fictional. ...Which sounds a bit silly when I say it out loud.]
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (2015)
Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth (2016)

Nonfiction for preteens, teens, and parents:
Sex & Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking Sense About Sex by Deborah M. Roffman (2001)
Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children by Diane Ehrensaft (2011)
It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living, edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller (2012)
Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son by Lori Duron (2013)
Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus, photography by Rachelle Lee Smith (2014)
For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health by Al Vernacchio (2014)
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, written and photographed by Susan Kuklin (2014)
Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long (2014)
Some Assembly Required: The Not-so-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews and Joshua Lyon (2014)
Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth (2015)
Pride: Celebrating Diversity & Community by Robin Stevenson (2016)
Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings (2016)
Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs (2016)
The ABC's of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell (2016)

Links to more lists and resources
Goodreads Listopia: Alternative Families in Children's Literature
A Mighty Girl: True Colors: Mighty Girl Books for Pride Month
Huffington Post: 10 Children's Books That Paved the Way for a New Queer Protagonist
Chana Rothman's Rainbow Train Resources, including her newly released Rainbow Train CD, an album of songs of gender liberation (2015).
Trans Youth Family Allies: Recommended Reading
Sarah and Ian Hoffman (authors of Jacob's New Dress): Recommended Reading
A blog by Patricia A. Sarles, which includes lots of different categories and lots of foreign language books: Gay-Themed Books for Children
Goodreads Listopia: YA Short Stories and Collections with LGBT Themes
Malinda Lo's website: My Guide to LGBT YA (a list of lists)


Friday, November 28, 2014

Janet's Five Ways to Feel Grateful

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (HarperCollins, $14.99)
Not only is Orphan Train the 2015 One Read One Philadelphia book, but it is a story of flowering in the midst of a desert and life's full circle. "No substitute for the living [the ghosts of parents, true love, sister], perhaps, but I wasn't given a choice. I could take solace in their presence or I could fall down in a heap, lamenting what I'd lost. The ghosts whispered to me, telling me to go on."

You Are Here by Chris Hadfield (Little, Brown, $26.00)
Seeing the familiar from a completely different vantage point can often bring us to a different level of appreciation. Photographs of the earth from the international space station remind us of how small we and our worlds are.

The Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco (Simon & Schuster, $17.99)
As in companion book The Keeping Quilt, the Blessing Cup is handed down to generations as a reminder of family survivors and their stories. The cover draws the reader in to partake of the same blessings.

The Barefoot Book of Mother and Daughter Tales by Josephine Evitts-Secker (Barefoot Books, $23.99)
Barefoot Books publishing took its name as an invitation to readers to step inside a story. Their books are beautifully illustrated and retold in magical language. Mother and Daughter Tales retell the stories of adventures, from different times and cultures, that a daughter must have to carve a life separate from her mother.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper (Simon & Schuster, $26.00)
Coming out in January, this is a story of the lives of three people and a wolf named James who accompanies 82-year-old Etta on her walk from eastern Canada to the coast. "I've gone. I've never seen the water, so I've gone there. Don't worry, I've left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.
Yours (always), Etta"

Janet Elfant, November 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mariga's Five New Books Featuring Classic Literary Characters

Ruth's Journey by Donald McCaig (Atria Books, $26.00)
A smart, masterful piece of stand-alone fiction.

Longbourn by Jo Baker (Vintage Books, $15.95)

Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart by Jennifer Adams/Ron Stucki (Gibbs Smith, $16.99)

Edgar Gets Ready for Bed by Jennifer Adams/Ron Stucki (Gibbs Smith, $16.99)

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz (HarperCollins, $26.99)

Mariga Temple-West, November 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Author Interview: Galen Longstreth

by Jennifer Sheffield

Hi, Galen! I’ve really been enjoying Yes, Let’s since we heard you read at the bookstore’s Kids’ Literary Festival in May. We took the book with us on a camping trip this summer, and it was a lot of fun to read and ponder, even inspiring a timed family photo in the woods!

I understand the story is based on a game you played growing up. What was the game like? How did you arrive at the idea to base a book on it?

At summer camp one summer I learned an improv game called Yes, Let’s. The version we played entailed a group of eight or ten campers. One would make a suggestion, something like, “Let’s run over to the creek!” And the whole group would respond, “Yes, let’s!” We always had to say yes, and we ran all over camp doing silly things. It was exciting and fun, and I loved the positive spirit of it. I still love saying, “Yes, let’s” when someone makes a suggestion for something to do.

Yes, Let’s is a wonderful exploration of hiking and nature. Did you do day trips like this a lot with your family? Do you do much hiking yourself these days?

My family did lots of hiking, camping, and day trips when I was growing up in Seattle. We spent a lot of time outdoors with our dog in the woods near our home or farther afield in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. Now I’m a city girl and I love living without a car. The trade off is that I don’t get to the woods very often. My husband and I go on a backpacking trip every year. Our favorite so far on the east coast has been Bond Cliff in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

What was the writing and publishing process like for you, as the writer of a picture book?

I wrote this book for fun while I was getting my MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. A person I knew in Portland, Oregon, who publishes comic books liked it and bought it. His company, Tugboat Press, published the book as a small, staple-bound paperback, and people liked it! Later I sold it to Tanglewood, and the hardcover edition was born. I’ve been very lucky to have had a great experience with my first book.

How much input did you have for the illustrations? Once the illustrator was assigned to the book, did you get to make requests/suggestions? If so, what kinds, and how did that process work?

Usually a writer doesn’t have any say about the illustrations, but Tugboat Press encouraged me to be involved with the illustrator for Yes, Let’s from the very beginning of the process. We auditioned different artists and chose Maris Wicks. I provided detailed illustration notes for her, and we talked about the number of characters, their personalities, and specific moments to include, like the dog shaking off after a swim and spraying the father. On top of all this, Maris added her own details to the pictures, and a lot of humor. I had ideas, but she’s the expert!

I love the distinct and well-illustrated personalities of the kids and parents. Are they at all like your own family? Is there someone who seems most like you?

In my family, there are three kids. My younger brother, my older sister, and me, right in the middle. I wanted the family in Yes, Let’s to have four kids so that every page would be bursting with energy – lots of activity, lots of personality. Also, my father grew up in a family with four children, and this always fascinated me when I was a child. What would that have been like? So it was fun to play with that in the book. The only explicit link between a character and someone in my family is the boy with the yoyo. On one of our family vacations my sister got a yoyo and did not stop playing with it for a solid week. She had that yoyo going in the hotel room, at the gas station, outside a restaurant waiting for a table – anywhere she could. It became one of our family stories and I love having been able to include it in Yes, Let’s.

Throughout the book, there are all sorts of little surprises -- details and connections from page to page, or on the inside covers. Micah (age 3) liked the morning and evening owl, and some of the other animals that repeat throughout the book; I also liked the lists and photos...and the various footwear issues. Were these surprises to you as well? Do you have any favorites?

Yes! Maris included so many wonderful surprises in the pictures. My favorite is the squirrel, which you have to watch carefully during the middle of the book.

Are there going to be more books that feature this family? Do you have current or upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

Maris and I would love to do another book together. We both have lots of projects going at once, though, so it hasn’t happened yet. I’m working on other picture books (including one biography), and a graphic novel about two best friends at summer camp.

And now for our "3 for 3" book questions:

1. What were 3 of your favorite books from childhood/teen years?

When I was young and reading picture books, I loved Elizabeth by Liesel Moak Skorpen, Peabody by Rosemary Wells, and The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.

2. What are 3 books that you've read recently that surprised you?

The Loopy Coop Hens: Oh No! A Fox! by Janet Morgan Stoeke made me laugh out loud. Cynthia Kadohata’s newest novel, Half a World Away, struck me for its captivatingly destructive and dysfunctional main character. And I love the simplicity and beautiful illustrations of William Low’s new picture book Daytime Nighttime.

3. What are 3 books that influence/d your work?

At the time I was writing Yes, Let’s, and ever since, I’ve paid a lot of attention to successful rhyming picture books. I am in awe of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr., and Roadwork by Sally Sutton. I also love Jamberry by Bruce Degen. These are all wonderful books to read aloud.

Thank you so much for joining us!

Thanks, Jen!

Galen Longstreth grew up on Mercer Island, Washington, where she spent a lot of time outdoors with her family and their dog, Sunday. One summer she learned a game called “Yes, Let’s,” which involved a lot of running and laughing. Galen has taught kindergarten, sold children’s books, and written book reviews. She now lives in Philadelphia and works at Children's Literacy Initiative. Yes, Let’s is her first book.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order a copy of Yes, Let’s. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sarah's Phive Phavorite Philly-Related Books

Buck by MK Asante (Spiegal & Grau, $25)
This book is awesome. It has such a uniquely Philly voice, that I can hear Asante's words in the voices of my neighbors and friends. I'd love it even if I lived anywhere else, but being in the city where it all happened gives the story dimension.

Philadelphia Noir by Carlin Romano (Akashic Books, $15.95)
I did not expect to love this. I am not a huge fan of mysteries, nor am I that into noir-style writing. But the voices in this anthology are extremely talented and as totally different as the neighborhoods they're writing about.

Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead by Frank Meeink (Hawthorne Books, $15.95)
I was lucky enough to see Meeink speak at the Museum of American Jewish History last year, and his talk was enlightening and touching. The author writes about how easily kids (especially kids with rough home lives) can be indoctrinated into a culture based on hate and fear.

Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick (Sarah Chrichon Books, $15)
I liked this book a lot. I thought the plot was good and the characters were pretty likable. What I especially loved were all of the references to the Eagles and various parts of the Philly landscape.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Bay Back Books, $15)
Listen - I have a love/hate relationship with this book. I think there are places that it is predictable, and overall, I prefer Lucky. BUT. The unusual point of view is huge. And the author does a really good job of capturing just how creepy the suburbs can be.

Sarah Rose, November 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mariga's Five Spooky Picks for Halloween

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
(Quirk Books, $14.95)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
(Harper Trophy, $8.99)

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
(Penguin Classics, $20.00)

The Dark by Lemony Snicket
(Little, Brown, $16.99)

Bats in the Band by Brian Lies
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99)

Mariga Temple-West, October 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Big Blue Marble Queer Literary Festival Starts Tonight!

Tuesday, October 14, - Sunday, October 19, 2014

Six days of fiction, memoir, photography, music, and more, celebrating the LGBTQ (or, more inclusively, QUILTBAG) community, from kids to teens to adults.

Tuesday, October 14

7:00 pm - Voices In and Out of the Closet
Reading with Sue Gilmore, author of The Peace Seeker: One Woman's Battle in the Church's War on Homosexuality, and Anne Balay, author of Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers. One of the narrators from Steel Closets will be at the event to share his stories about working in a steel mill outside of Philadelphia.

Wednesday, October 15

7:00 pm - Queer Youth: Life & Literature
Rachelle Lee Smith, creator of the photographic essay Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus, with Victoria Brownworth of Tiny Satchel Press.

Thursday, October 16

7:00 pm - Lesbian Lives, Lesbian Stories
Reading with Barbara Valletto, author of Pulse Points, Amy Schutzer, author of Spheres of Disturbance, and Anndee Hochman, author of Everyday Acts and Small Subversions.

Friday, October 17

7:00 pm - Trans Oral History Project
Join Big Blue Marble as we welcome local participants in the Trans Oral History Project! They'll be screening clips from the archive, talking about the project, and facilitating discussion about both the challenges and urgent necessity of recording community histories ourselves!
The Transgender Oral History Project is a community-driven effort to collect and share a diverse range of stories from within the transgender and gender variant communities. We accomplish this by promoting grassroots media projects, documenting trans people's experiences, maintaining a publicly accessible digital archive, and teaching media production skills.

Saturday, October 18

1:00 pm - Youth Voices for Change (for middle grades and up)
Student diversity trainers from Strath Haven High School will talk about their work and how it is changing school culture.

Come hear how student leaders at a suburban public high school are creating a positive school culture through an award-winning program called the Diversity Trainers. Students in grades 9 - 12 lead workshops for their peers in high school and middle school on issues of race, class, gender identity & expression, sexual orientation and more. Through activities, videos, and conversations, 150 high school facilitators teach 900 middle school students about understanding bias, awareness of stereotypes and bullying, developing sensitivity, and how to be an ally. Student leaders will share their personal experiences with the group and how you can implement this type of program in your school.
7:00 pm - Blood and Wine Tour
Join two of the country's hottest lesbian novelists as their tour blows through Philly. Erotica, desire, vampires, lust, want, and need - it'll be a Hot Saturday night at Big Blue Marble! Hosted by Mt. Airy's own Renee Bess.

Sunday, October 19

11:00 am - Great LGBTQ (or, more inclusively, QUILTBAG) books for kids and teens
A discussion with Big Blue Marble staffer Jennifer Sheffield.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sarah’s Top Five Fictional Girl Characters Who Rule Kid Lit

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
(HarperCollins, $6.99)

I grew up with Ramona Quimby and I still really like these books. Even more than I like reading them myself, I like listening to the audiobooks which are read delightfully by Stockard Channing.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
(Random House, $6.99)

I reread this book every couple of years and I’ve given it away as a gift enough times to have bought a carton of books. This book holds up really well over time and the lessons about truth and friendship are as valid and important as they were the first time I read this.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
(Penguin, $7.99)

When I was a kid I wanted to BE Pippi Longstocking. She can lift her horse one-handed and her dad is a pirate. She lives alone with no adult supervision. A great book for any day you could use a good laugh.

Matilda by Roald Dahl (Penguin, $6.99)
Most smart kids will relate to the tyranny of unreasonable adults in this book. Roald Dahl does a good job of being sympathetic without patronizing. Despite being 25 years old, this book remains timely and relevant.

Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentine by Barbara Park
(Random House, $4.99)

These books were written way after I was a kid, but I read them to my little cousins and with each new Junie B. adventure, we giggled and rooted for everything to come up happily ever after once more. There are a ton of these books, but Mushy Gushy Valentine is my fave.

Sarah Rose, September 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mariga's Five Picks to Sweep You Away to Imperial Russia

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport (St. Martin's Press, $27.99)

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie (Random House, $20.00)

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie (Random House, $20.00)

The Romanov Bride by Robert Alexander (Penguin, $16.00)

The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin (Random House, $15.00)

Mariga Temple-West, September 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

Janet's Five Favorite Illustrators

Gershon's Monster by Eric A Kimmel and illustrated by Jon J. Muth (Scholastic, $17.99)
Muth is an exceptional painter whose watercolors are both expressive and gentle. This is a wonderful Jewish New Year book for all ages which includes a well-written explanation of "t'shuvah," the concept of repentance or returning done during the high holidays. (Caroline Kennedy's Poems to Learn by Heart is also illustrated by Muth.)

TRAIN by Elisha Cooper (Scholastic, $17.99)
Also done in water colors, Cooper's colors and design makes this a delight for all transportation lovers.

Heart and Soul, Kadir Nelson (HarperCollins, $8.99)
Nelson is an award-winning author and painter. All of his books radiate expert use of light and shadow to create expressions larger than life.

The Tortoise and the Hare by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown, $18.00)
Well known and well loved, Pinkney's water colors are a magical addition to his rendition of traditional fairy tales.

The Fortune-Tellers by Lloyd Alexander and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (Puffin Books, $6.99)
All of Hyman's illustrations create a magical setting for the tales as they unfold.

Janet Elfant, September 2014

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Author Interview: J.L. Powers

by Cordelia Jensen

Your newest book is a picture book, though you’ve written three young adult novels (one of which I'll ask about later in the interview). Can you tell us a bit about how the writing process felt different for Colors of the Wind?

You know, every book is different. I’ve never had a “same” experience with any of them. I never would have written The Confessional, my first YA novel, if I hadn’t taught at an all-boys Catholic high school. This Thing Called the Future required the time I spent earning two master’s degrees in African history and taking 3 years of Zulu language lessons. But writing an expansive, sprawling novel (if 60,000 words can be called expansive or sprawling) requires many more layers and levels and plot twists than a picture book of a less than a thousand words. For this picture book, I had to distill the story of a person’s life down to its essence. What really matters? What doesn’t? And how to say it in compelling words that are also partly lyrical, easily readable?

Because this is also non-fiction, instead of fiction, I had less leeway. I had to figure out how to characterize “George” while, at the same time, sticking to the facts.

Colors of the Wind is an amazing (and true!) story. Was Colors of the Wind your own idea or did you meet George Mendoza in another context, which led to the idea?

I used to write articles about and do interviews with artists along the U.S-Mexico border for Revista Tradicion, a New Mexico based publication. The editor asked me to write an article about George, a blind artist who, ironically, paints what he sees. I met George and was astonished. He’s blind and what that means for him is that objects are multiplied and reflected back, like a kaleidoscope; and also, he sees things that aren’t really there—eyes floating in the air, suns, etc. So he really does paint what he sees—and the end results are jaw-dropping stunning.

George asked me to consider doing a glossy art book with him. We spent considerable time together talking about his paintings and his life as a result. Over time, I realized that his story would make a great picture book. This was actually a long time ago. I think I wrote it first in 2004 or 2005, maybe? In any case, it was a long long time ago.

George is convinced I never told him that I was doing this, that one day I just sent him an email saying, “Here’s the picture book.” Whether that’s how it happened or not, thankfully, he loved the idea and here we are.

Did you help George choose which of his paintings to use in the book?

Our editor at Purple House Press, Jill, designed the book and chose the paintings, although she did ask for my input. George didn’t choose any of the paintings. Because he’s blind, he actually can’t see his own paintings unless he gets up really really close—and then he can only see part of the painting, not the whole—so he just sent Jill a lot of photos of his artwork and she selected the ones she felt would best work for each page. She did an amazing job. And as you’ll see, she included small pictures of paintings at the end that she loved but couldn’t include.

Are you a visual artist yourself?

I do like to take photographs and, through sheer luck and intuition—certainly not because of training, I’ve shot some interesting pictures over the years, usually of people rather than things or landscapes. I feel like my visual intelligence is very low. Maybe that’s why I’m so interested in what artists do.

This Thing Called the Future is a captivating book. I read it in about two days. One of the most interesting parts about it is Khosi’s struggle between traditional South African medicine and healing practices and Western medicine. I love how her strong belief in both worlds is present from the beginning of the book and come to shape the crux of the novel. How much did you know personally about this struggle in South African belief systems before writing the book?

I knew quite a bit, actually. I have two master’s degrees in African history and have spent a lot of time traveling throughout South Africa. I became really interested in healing and ideas about healing, as well as the problem of the HIV-AIDS epidemic, and I wanted to see how “traditional” medicine had absorbed the biomedical understanding of the disease and its treatment, as well as how ordinary Africans dealt with the clash between the two cultural systems and what kind of hybrid cultures are emerging as a result, all over the continent.

In South Africa, generally speaking, many people choose to visit traditional healers first before they’ll go to a medical doctor. This is partly cultural—because people feel more comfortable with their own culture’s healing traditions—but it’s also more convenient. There are approximately 300,000 traditional healers and only 42,000 doctors—in a country with 4.5 million people. For people living in rural areas, hospitals and clinics may be many hours away but the healer lives just down the street. So naturally, traditional healers are more convenient. Although there has historically been real enmity between medical doctors and traditional healers, many people on both sides have overcome that distrust in order to combat the AIDS epidemic—together. I find that a very interesting trend.

By the way, I think it’s important to note that cultural systems along with traditional medical systems are constantly changing so it’s a bit of a misnomer to use the word “traditional” for traditional healers—as though the things they do now are the same they’ve always done. By contrast, traditional healers are always changing their methods as they learn what works and what doesn’t. Nevertheless, “traditional” is the best word we’ve got so for the time being, it’s the one we use.

Has This Thing Called the Future reached a South African teen audience?

South African publishing and book distribution are really separate from the U.S.’s system so it’s not available cheaply and widely in South Africa though people can find it if they really look. In 2013, I took my family to South Africa and I was able to visit two schools and read from the book as well as talk about my life as a writer. One of those schools is an old, established elite all-girls school in Johannesburg—formerly an all-white school, but now integrated. The other was a “container” school in Cosmo City—classes were held in “containers,” those box-structures frequently lacking windows—where many of the students live in nearby squatter communities. I was received with real interest in both schools but I was struck that the girls in the poorer school were most interested in whether I am a poet, not so much the novelist, and some of the girls got up to recite their own poetry—to standing ovations. In fact, and I have to appreciate this, they got a better reception for their poetry than I did for my book or talk. Next time, I’ll come armed with poetry.

The language in the novel is often breathtaking, like “my emotions are a nest of troubled snakes, slithering and sliding around in my stomach.” As a reader, I felt completely present and taken into Khosi’s world even though in many ways it is vastly different from my own. In your image construction for this novel, did you try and use images you felt were specific to this world or ones any reader could relate to?

I definitely tried to use images that were specific to Khosi’s world. Snakes are really important in Zulu cosmology. A snake that appears before you might be an ancestor trying to get your attention, for example, so the imagery has a great deal of symbolic meaning as well as being an image people can pick up on. But of course, I also wanted my book to be completely accessible to American audiences, so a) I don’t explain the symbolic meaning in the text and b) I tried to choose ways to saying things that would be meaningful to Americans as well.

When you set about to write this book was the devastating impact of AIDS on African people always going to be a major part of the book? Was that what first inspired you to write it? Or did that part come from wanting to write about a girl like Khosi?

When I first went to South Africa in 2006, I was struck by the AIDS statistics, which are worse in KwaZulu-Natal (where Khosi lives) than anywhere else in the country. But I didn’t know I was going to write this book when I went there—I went as part of my graduate program in African History at Stanford University. I lived with a Zulu family and the two teen girls in that family inspired this story. Indeed, one of the girls was named Khosi Zulu, just like my character, and her personality provided me with the beginnings of my own character. I was very worried about those girls growing up in a place where older men see young girls as fair game, and where the majority of girls report their first sexual experiences as violent ones. The two teenagers in the family I lived with were such sweet, innocent girls—and I wasn’t sure if it was possible for them to retain that innocence for very much longer. So I wrote this story.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

I’m working on a fantasy trilogy, co-authored with my brother Matt, also YA. It deals with death but it’s also very humorous.

Although it’s only in the thinking stage, I also plan to write (very soon) a sequel for This Thing Called the Future.

Anything else you would like us to know about these two books or your other books?

I try to write books that matter but are also entertaining. I hope people fall in love with the characters and also enjoy the story, but I also want my books to make people think and to question the status quo.

And now for our “3 for 3” book-related questions:

1.     What were 3 of your favorite books as a child/teen? I loved Anne of Green Gables and related books by L.M. Montgomery; the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder; and the Austin family series by Madeleine L’Engle, in particular A Ring of Endless Light.

2.     What are 3 books you’ve read recently that surprised you? I really enjoyed Jandy Nelson’s second young adult novel I’ll Give You the Sun, which just came out. The language in it really surprised me—extremely poetic, full of wonderful images. I also recently read Little Liberia by Jonny Steinberg. I’m a big fan of Steinberg’s books, but what really surprised me was that my 3½-year-old son wanted me to read that book to him. He was taken by these two stories of two Liberian men who found themselves battling each other in the United States. I also recently fell in love with a picture book, Morris Mickelthwaite and the Tangerine Dress—a beautiful picture book about a little boy who loves a tangerine dress because it reminds him of tigers, sunsets, and his mother’s hair, and how he overcomes the prejudice of the other children in his class in order to keep wearing the dress he loves.

3.     What are 3 books that influence(d) your writing? That’s a hard question to answer because, as a writer, every book I ever read influences my writing in some way. Sometimes I see how a really great book could have been better, or sometimes I’m just jealous of how brilliant a book is, or sometimes I’ll find something in particular (e.g., Jandy Nelson’s colorful writing) that a writer did exceptionally well that I want to mimic or adopt into my own writing.

But in terms of overarching influence, I think the Little House books, as well as Anne of Green Gables books, caused me to see setting as an organic part of a book’s whole. Setting influences plot and characters because setting is not just a physical place where a character happens to live. No, that same character couldn’t exist just anywhere. People are created by their settings, in part, and settings are bound up with culture, history, religion, politics—and all of these specifics have to be accounted for (however minutely) within a character’s growth and development as a person. A book set in Salt Lake City must, by default, be different than a book set in Los Angeles. People tend to understand this when a book’s setting is a foreign locale but not so much when it’s an American city, but it’s just as true for American cities as anywhere else. I get annoyed when I read books and the writer has presented us with a sterile, bland setting, as if it doesn’t matter. That writer has just not stopped to think about how important location is.

Another book that has greatly influenced me is Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I feel like a one-woman-choir preaching about that book because I bring it up everywhere—it’s my favorite young adult novel. I love the setting, of course (the U.S.-Mexico border, where I grew up), but I also love the novel’s ultimate message: that being someone who “matters” has absolutely nothing to do with becoming wealthy, powerful, or beautiful or being noticed by the powerful, wealthy, and beautiful. This message is incredibly important for American teens to hear because they’re not hearing that very many places. One of the most common messages they DO hear is that if you lack wealth, beauty, and/or power, you are a nothing and a nobody and you don’t matter. It fills me with so much rage to realize how that message is proliferated and propagated in all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways in our society, and it’s a message that brings death. Sammy and Juliana is a powerful antidote.

Thanks so much for being with us!

J.L. Powers is the award-winning author of 3 books for young adults (The Confessional, This Thing Called the Future, and Amina) and editor of two collections of essays (Labor Pains and Birth Stories: Essays on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Becoming a Parent and That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone). Colors of the Wind: the story of blind artist and champion runner George Mendoza is her first picture book. She teaches English at Skyline College in San Bruno, California. You can find her online at, or

If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order Colors of the Wind or The Thing Called the Future. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grace's Five Books That Make (or Will Make) Stellar Television

Why was it abhorrent to watch Harry Potter movies without reading the books, but so few of us have read A Song of Ice and Fire (the Game of Thrones series)? Why does no one seem to know that HBO's incredible TV series The Leftovers is based off a book? What is Outlander and why do people keep posting about it on Facebook? These are the questions that haunt me.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (Griffin, $15.99)

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (Bantam Books, $9.99)

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Bantam Books, $18.00)

Dead Until Dark (True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris (Ace Books, $15.00)

The Walking Dead (Compendium #1) by Robert Kirkman (Image Comics, $59.99)

Grace Gordon, August 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Author Interview: Rachel Wilson

by Cordelia Jensen

This month on our blog, Cordelia Jensen interviewed Rachel Wilson, author of Don’t Touch.

Here's a summary of Rachel's book:

Step on a crack, break your mother's back,
Touch another person's skin, and Dad's gone for good...

Caddie has a history of magical thinking—of playing games in her head to cope with her surroundings—but it's never been this bad before.

When her parents split up, Don't touch becomes Caddie's mantra. Maybe if she keeps from touching another person's skin, Dad will come home. She knows it doesn't make sense, but her games have never been logical. Soon, despite Alabama's humidity, she's covering every inch of her skin and wearing evening gloves to school.

And that's where things get tricky. Even though Caddie's the new girl, it's hard to pass off her compulsions as artistic quirks. Friends notice things. Her drama class is all about interacting with her scene partners, especially Peter, who's auditioning for the role of Hamlet. Caddie desperately wants to play Ophelia, but if she does, she'll have to touch Peter . . . and kiss him. Part of Caddie would love nothing more than to kiss Peter—but the other part isn't sure she's brave enough to let herself fall.

From rising star Rachel M. Wilson comes a powerful, moving debut novel of the friendship and love that are there for us, if only we'll let them in.

Hi Rachel! I really loved your book. So, first question, I know you are an actress. Have you ever been in a production of Hamlet? The story is so expertly woven into your novel; you must know the play inside and out. Did the idea of writing a girl playing Ophelia come to you first or did Caddie as a character?

Thank you, Cordelia! I haven’t! The only times I’ve gotten to perform Shakespeare were for classes. In college acting class, I played Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (on a playground, which was super fun), Lady Anne in Richard III, and Macbeth—not the Lady, regular Macbeth. In high school, I almost got to play Juliet, but most of the actor guys played basketball, and we ended up doing a courtroom drama instead. Le sigh.

I have seen many stage and screen productions of Hamlet, including some inventive explorations of the play (like the Neo-Futurists’ Daredevils: Hamlet in which five guys explore masculinity and perform risky stunts while trying to perfect Hamlet), and I’ve studied it from a literary angle.

Caddie came way before Ophelia. In an early draft, she was actually a ballet dancer rather than an actress, and later on, she was performing in The Glass Menagerie. I changed things up because I wanted to use a play that I could pull text from without trouble. There’s a lot of water imagery and swimming pool scenes in Don’t Touch, so I’d been considering having Caddie play Ophelia when one of my writing advisors suggested it. I thought, this is some kind of kismet, and ran with it.

I was curious about Caddie’s relationship with her brother. Although he does not appear very often in the book, he is actually the person who helps her see her own irrational thinking. Did you do much free-writing on the relationship between these two? I almost felt like he could’ve had his own book, he felt so three-dimensional even though he has so few scenes.

That is lovely to hear. Thank you! The Jordan who appears in his first scene—his angry, acting-out self—showed up as is. I always saw him as someone Caddie would feel responsible to and be able to bounce ideas off of without fear of judgment, and I saw him as a foil to Caddie in that he’s acting out while she’s containing her feelings. Siblings are often in a unique position to give us feedback—they’re very close to us but not necessarily an authority or peer, and are pretty much contractually obligated to love us unconditionally. Or that’s what I tell my sister, anyway.

In revision with my editors, I brought out more of the positive relationship between Jordan and Caddie. In my mind, Jordan and Caddie were loving, but I didn’t show that much in early drafts. I’d cut an important scene between them for length that made its way back in—the one where they’re cooking together. I’m really glad my editors pushed me to soften Jordan’s edges and find the sibling love between the two.

Caddie’s gloves are a huge part of the story. Without giving too much away, did you always know you would use the gloves as a vehicle for Caddie’s OCD?

Not always, but very early. The novel used to open with a much younger Caddie on a road trip with her family, and the gloves were something she got away with wearing because she was a child. Later on, when I decided to cut those flashback scenes, I realized that it might be even more interesting for a teen to suddenly start wearing gloves. It’s more of a challenge for an older Caddie to explain.

Peter and Mandy both challenge and support Caddie and, really, see her through even as she pushes them away. Was it hard as an author to write a character who keeps pushing people away? Was it hard to prolong her suffering?

Well, I don’t know that it was hard. I can be pretty mean to my characters, and I think that came pretty naturally since that’s so true to my own experience with OCD as a kid. I had perceptive, involved parents and several close friends, and I still managed to hide what was going on with me for years. It is a frustrating part of Caddie’s character—frustrating to her and to her friends. The challenge was less about writing that aspect of Caddie and more about writing it without alienating and totally frustrating readers. I’ll leave it to individual readers to decide whether I’ve managed that. 

I haven’t read any other YA books on OCD; it seems like a really important topic to tackle in teen fiction. Have you read any other books that address this topic so directly?

Yes! Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story is wonderful and captures how odd and sometimes scary compulsions can be, and it spends time in group therapy sessions, which is really interesting. E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver series starting with The Boyfriend List doesn’t deal with OCD but has a great treatment of anxiety and panic attacks. Those are the ones I think of offhand, but I know there are some great ones I haven’t yet read.

What other projects are you working on currently?

About a month after Don’t Touch comes out, I’ll have an e-short story out with HarperTeen Impulse—“The Game of Boys and Monsters.” It’s a spooky, suspenseful story, and I’m working on a novel that’s spooky and suspenseful as well, but it’s still deep in the oven.

Is there anything else about the novel you would like us to know?

I guess I’d like people to know that while this book goes to some dark places, it does have humor. Life is funny, and humor breaks our guard down—it’s often the best entry point to difficult subjects.

And now for our “3 for 3” book-related questions:

1. What are three of your favorite books from childhood/teen years?
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg.

2. What are three books you’ve read recently that surprised you?
The Circle by Dave Eggers, Trent Reedy’s Divided We Fall, and Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

3. What are three books that influence/d your writing?
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Looking for Alaska by John Green, and All Rivers Flow to the Sea by Alison McGhee.

Rachel M. Wilson received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Don't Touch is her first novel. Originally from Alabama, she now writes, acts, and teaches in Chicago, Illinois.

And more about the book here: 

If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order Don't Touch. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Staff Review - Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

"What do a disabled superhero, a time-traveling Chinese-American figure skater, and a transgender animal shifter have in common? They're all stars of Kaleidoscope stories!

"Kaleidoscope collects fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life."

When the editors entitled this collection Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, they were not kidding around. The book is full of difference -- in race, culture, gender, sexuality, ability, mobility, physical and mental health, religion, and economic status (not to mention species and style of magic) -- and one of the most notable things is that it's not the purview of the protagonist alone but woven into the fabric of each story. The diversity is so thick on the ground here that it's like walking through an Alison Bechdel comic strip -- or like walking through Mt. Airy. I confess to a fond partiality for "Signature," by Faith Mudge, set in a small indie bookshop in Queensland, Australia. The story starts out so full of cozy and familiar detail that I had to remind myself partway through that there would be fantasy coming!

There is also geographic diversity, though that's partly because the book is a multinational effort, with even the editors working together from opposite hemispheres. There are two Philly-area authors in the mix, whom we're hoping to bring to the store in the fall. "Krishna Blue" by Shveta Thakrar is filled with colors so vivid you can taste them, while Eugene Myers' "Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell" delves into possible futures, drug interactions, and kissing games. Shveta and Eugene have both visited before, and we're looking forward to seeing them here again!

Some other favorites of mine:

"Cookie Cutter Superhero" by Tansy Rayner Roberts - Joey must leave school to become a superhero, and everything in her life will change. Well...maybe not quite everything.

"Vanilla" by Dirk Flinthart - A fascinating and sweet look at immigration and assimilation, and the meaning of friendship.

"Careful Magic" - Imagine being the only declared (and highly skilled) Order worker in a high school full of Chaos. Yeah, it's like that.

I read the stories in order, and I found the writing consistently engaging and compelling. As I scroll through the list of titles I keep seeing more and more stories I really enjoyed. So many different kinds of stories, so many different kinds of difference! Rather than try to describe them all, I will offer a list of odd pairings I noticed as I read through. I was entertained to discover that the highly disparate collection nonetheless contains...
2 lotteries
2 love spells
2 vampires
2 cosmic bridges
2 unpredictable machines
2 sets of daily protection rituals
2 interactions with alien species
2 strange types of four-legged animals
and 2 characters with veterinary interests.

Good luck with your own explorations! Kaleidoscope offers a wild ride to places both enticingly new and comfortingly familiar, and it's a great addition to the worlds of both YA and SFF.

-- Reviewed by Jennifer Sheffield
(Review originally posted in the August Big Blue YA Newsletter.)