Create Your YA Debut novel cover

Here's mine. Can you believe I got an owl? Spooky!
And yeah, I know there isn't a person in the picture, but the people ones were a bit disturbing... and I mean c'mon I wasn't going to let that owl go!

Via: Alien Onion.

Here's the instructions:

1 - Go to "Fake Name Generator" or click

The name that appears is your author name.

2 - Go to "Random Word Generator" or click

The word listed under "Random Verb" is your title.

3 - Go to "FlickrCC" or click

Type your title into the search box. The first photo that contains a person is your cover.

4 - Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Be sure to crop and/or zoom in.

5 - Post it to your site along with this text.

Have a look at the gallery.

BooK H0oT #11 Hunger Games

This dystopian novel by Suzanne Collins is set in post apocalyptic USA where there are 12 districts left in Panem, all vying for whatever is left in natural resources, especially food. The Capitol demand a pair of sacrifices from each district every year as a reminder of their subservience. The Games are televised nationally and are fought to the death.

This book is the start of a trilogy and I CAN'T WAIT FOR THE NEXT ONE! On the cover, Stephen King comments on the suspense, and he is spot on.

Collins' novel features exactly the sort of kick-ass girl I think there should be more of in YA fiction.
From the opening scene I knew I would like Kaitness Everdeen; she's spunky, brave and loyal. She provides for her family by hunting illegally and she has developed skills which serve her well when she gets to the Hunger Games in the Capitol. She is a complex character though; she feels deeply and responds to the unnecessary deaths with sensitivity.

These killings might make some younger readers uncomfortable, but they are handled well and make sense in terms of character and narrative. Like all speculative fiction, the reality television of today is taken to its logical conclusion- and Collins asks the reader to consider the extent to which those in power go to keep others subjugated.

While the plotting was pacy and engaging, perhaps there could have been more in terms of the political in the novel. Although Kaitness and Peeta both question the society in the Capitol and their methods of controlling others, they can't do much to protest in their situation. Perhaps there will be more of this in the next couple of texts. There's much to discuss here with a class about society, inequality and protest.

One little gripe, there were two sentences that made me stop because they were missing words. C'mon editors! Young readers, perhaps more than adults, deserve better proof-reading.

There are hints of Margo Lanagan's short story Singing My Sister Down and the classic Shirley Jackson story The Lottery here. Both of them would be excellent companion texts when teaching this novel. And if you were teaching Lord of the Flies, then this might be an easier/ more enjoyable option for some readers.

Recommended for:
  • girls wanting a protagonist who can take care of herself without mooning around longing for lurve (but there is a love triangle here too.)
  • boys too would like the pacy, action packed adventure
  • readers ready to move into sci-fi, this could be a stepping stone to some classic reads
Teaching ideas:
  • How far would you go for self-preservation?
  • Plot out the next two books- predict what might happen to some of the characters
  • Invent your own dystopia- extrapolate a current issue to its logical conclusion.
Discussion notes here from Scholastic.

Happy reading :)

B00K H00T #10 Stolen

Wow this one was a ripper of a read! Lucy Christopher has an excellent debut novel in Stolen. Even though that was MY novel title! Have to come up with something else now...

Anyhoo, this is told from the point of view of Gemma a seventeen year old British girl who is en route to Vietnam when she is drugged and stolen from Bangkok airport. The style is second person point of view, written as a letter to her captor and this is effective in keeping the reader engaged in working out the mystery of where he has taken her and what his intentions are.

It reminded me a lot of John Fowles' The Collector, but the imprisoned Gemma is much more sympathetic than the (at times pathetically) self-obsessed Miranda, while Ty is more interesting but just as creepy as Clegg.

There is a touch of Stockholm syndrome in the resolution, and while teenage girls might like this romance, it wasn't the most interesting part of the story for me. I enjoyed the landscape descriptions of outback WA and that the premise was (mostly) believable.

One small quibble, and I know that the author has little say over these sorts of things, the snake on the inside cover and the back is a bit obvious and brighter readers will NOT appreciate the spoiler.

recommended for:
  • fourteen or fifteen year old girls
  • those who like a bit of mystery with their bit of romance
  • those who like to be creeped out a bit

teaching ideas:
  • the symbolism of the camel, and other caged things would provide discussion
  • writing from the second person pov, considering what situations this would suit
  • design a LESS obvious dust jacket!

happy reading :)

BOOk H00t #9 How Do You Spell G-e-e-k?

This is a quick read from Julie Ann Peters that will engage 11 or 12 year old girls who are going through the trials of friendships.

Friends aren't always easy to get along with are they? Especially if, like Kimberley, they are under pressure from their parents to win a national spelling bee. Or if they are the naive new kid in school, like Lurlene (yes really), who has awkward dress sense, a loud laugh and is traumatised by her parents' divorce. Sometimes you find yourself stuck in the middle, like Ann, forced to mentor Lurlene, at the expense of the cute boy who teases her and Kimberley's companionship.

So, this is a book about much more than spelling. But I do have a few issues with some of the representations. There is a lot of teasing of these girls with little in the way of comeuppance for the perpetrators. Lurlene cops a lot of it, and seems clueless to do anything about it. The branding of characters into narrow stereotypes might be convenient for young readers, but c'mon now authors! Can't we break these common assumptions once in a while? See Diamond In The Window for more on this.

Speaking as a geek, I'd like to think that such geekdom as the pursuit of excellence in spelling might one day be seen positivly.

The resolution was a little too neat, expected and twee, but at the same time left some of the bigger questions hanging. How will Kimberley's parents cope with her performance? And what about the whole divorce theme? Or is it just expected that these kids will get on with their fractured families?

Recommended for:
  • younger readers having friendship bust-ups
  • spellers? although there's a surprising lack of spelling in the story
  • if you liked the documentary Spellbound
  • If you like those makeover type scenes; Lurlene gets a new look for under twenty dollars

Happy tales :)

your reading autobiography

Today I used my year ten class for some blogger fodder (the 'mommy bloggers' can use their kids, so I figure this is only fair!)

I asked them to think about being read to as a child and what book they first remembered loving. ALL of them had something to write about there. They had such fun remembering the Spot series and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. There were also many happy memories of the connection between reading and security. I know that this is not always the case. Another reason to count my blessings I guess.

Then they wrote about the first 'chapter book' they read. Titles like the Animorphs series and Deltora Quest came up. Also these are kids who have grown up with the Harry Potter series. They love them so much and for many these were the chapter books they held triumphantly above their heads crying: I did it! One girl wrote about how her mum would read her the series before bed, but had gone out one night and missed their ritual. So, instead of waiting for mum, she pulled the book from the shelf and read it herself! How amazing to recall that first moment.

Another wrote about how a teacher had singled her and a friend out for some extra reading in the library as a reward for being a good reader. The pride she felt in being picked especially for this treat helped make her the reader that she is today. What a great reminder for teachers, it's those little things that can make such a difference to a child's esteem.

Lastly they recommended a title for me to read.

What would be in your reading autobiography? how have you grown up with books?

Happy reading :)

Book Hoot # 8 How I Live Now

I was prepared to give this one a go given all the positive reviews, awards, and the fact it is rarely on the school library shelves, despite being five years old.

My first impressions were that Daisy is a nasty piece of work: obviously anorexic and manipulative to boot. I would have sent her to the other side of the Atlantic too! The instant attraction to her cousin is a bit sudden. AND what sort of self- absorption does it require to ignore terrorist attacks and invasion in the capital city of the country you're living in?

So, there I was disliking her when she crept up on me and all of a sudden I was on her side. The anorexia was an important motif; for Daisy and Piper have to struggle for food to survive and starving yourself when there's an abundance seems so ridiculous. If teenage girls only take that message away, then that's a GOOD THING.

The style of writing changes as the narrative moves along too. The run-on, overly long sentences were beginning to drive me berko, but I guess that this is the 'authentic teenage voice' that so many reviewers commented on. Anyway, by the end of the book, the sentences were shorter, thank goodness! And the last section is beautifully constructed.

Recommended for:
  • those who enjoyed the Tomorrow series by John Marsden
  • romantics
  • readers who enjoy a pacy, rip along read. (I did it in two hours.)
Teacher's notes available on the Penguin website:

Super new look!

Just a quick post to say how much I LOVE my new look and thank you to TDG. I love the retro owls, and the cuteness of them holding hands. If you have a blog, I would highly recommend Danielle.

I have nearly finished Playing With The Grownups by Sophie Dahl. I don't really have much of an opinion about it to be honest. Isn't that the worst thing you can say about a book? It is just kind of *meh*... This is her debut novel, and there's lots of description of clothing but little in the way of character motivation. As for the relationship between the mother and daughter, hardly credible.

Plenty more books to be read before I pick up another one of hers!

Oh, and Harry Potter was very enjoyable. Had a LONG conversation on the way home about what the purpose of the film was ... with someone who hasn't read the book! Of course there were changes. There is a particularly frightening scene in a corn field at The Burrow, and no battle scene as described in the novel. But even so, I LOVED it.

blog makeover

I'm very excited about my blog makeover stylishly handled by the talented design girl, happening soon!

Meanwhile, finished reading HP in preparation for the movie excursion on Friday. I wonder how true it will be to the book...

In other YA book news, Melina Marchetta has won the 2009 Printz Award for Jellicoe Road. It also won the WAYRB older readers book last year. So that's another one to add to the ever increasing to be read list. Along with other honourable mentions:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves, by M.T. Anderson

(but I should read the first one first!) and

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks,
by E. Lockhart

Both of which sound excellent.

I do have a leaning tower of books next to my bed, 21 at the last count. But I don't feel right if I don't have a big pile there, and several waiting at the library. Greedy? Or just super prepared? I thought that I would get through more these school holidays, but the HP got in the way a little. And I guess I should be reading To Kill A Mockingbird to get ready for teaching.

Too many books, too little time.

Books and Film

I am re-reading Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in preparation for the film, which looks amazing. I got goosebumps just watching the preview! One of my favourite moments from the last HP was the flying through London scene, so vivid and realistic- that's the power of film.

Anyway, this got me thinking about books that are made into enjoyable films; ones that don't elicit the "the book was better" line. I feel a list coming on!

  1. Holes by Louis Sachar is a wonderful adaptation by Disney, just as good as the novel, probably because Sachar wrote the screenplay. Also, it is cast really well with Sigourney Weaver as the Warden at Camp Greenlake. That song: "If only, if only the woodpecker sighs..." is going to be in my head all day now.
  2. Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta is a favourite teen read, a coming of age, and coming to terms with identity tale. Again this is well cast with Pia Miranda and Greta Scacchi in the two lead roles. I think the film handles the suicide scene brilliantly, and Josie's response to her friend's death, probably *gasp* better than the book.
  3. Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara tells the true story of the removal of Aboriginal children to Moore River native settlement. The award winning and controversial film, as you would expect, shows the distance and the beautiful, uncompromising landscape they travelled.
  4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman is a perennial favourite, which was beautifully filmed by Rob Reiner. Although made in 1987, it has not dated. The book is an altogether different experience with an extended commentary about Goldman's relationship with his wife and (fictitious) son.
  5. The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende is a fantasy which centers around a 'dangerous' book which allows Bastien Bux (yes really) to escape some bullies. Ah, books as escape. I loved the representation of Falkor the Luck Dragon. I fear that this film might have dated though, probably ripe for a remake.

What are your favourite book to film adaptations? And which books to films totally flopped? Leave a comment, please :)

yeah! what she said...

Excellent comment from this article about the categorisation of books:

Good YA is not dumbed-down adult fare; it’s literature that doesn’t waste a breath. It doesn’t linger over grandiloquent descriptions of clouds or fields, and it doesn’t introduce irrelevant minor characters in the hope (too often gratified) that the book will be called Dickensian. As Laurie Halse Anderson, author of many excellent YA books, said in an interview, “We write for people who are pressed for reading time. We try to craft our books so they’re not bloated or meandering.”

Book Hoot #7 Wesley The Story of a Remarkable Owl

So you might have worked out that I am a bit enamored with all things owl, so this memoir was right up my alley. The cover featuring Wesley as an owlet sold me, but I learnt a lot about what it means to keep an owl and what it means to be an owl. Stacey O'Brien writes with the devotion of a mother and the dedication of a scientist.

"The Way of the Owl" is a refrain that O'Brien uses to explain the behaviour of owls. For example, did you know that owls mate for life? And when an owl's partner dies, he might turn his head to the trunk of his tree and sink into such deep depression that he dies too. There's a lot to learn about owls, but equally about relationships in this book. O'Brien sacrifices a lot because she adopts Wesley, but she intimates that the sort of guy who couldn't accept her owl would not be right for her anyway. In the end, Wesley saves her, to return the favour if you like.

One aspect of this book which might put off some readers (squeamish teenage girls for example) is the amount of mice that are killed and consumed. O'Brien doesn't hold back on the gory details. And the graphic description of the coughed up pellet which contains a complete rodent skeleton might also be a bit much for some. Personally, I took great joy in reading these sections out loud to those in earshot!

The problem with animal based memoirs is that the end of the story is all too predictably sad. I really liked that O'Brien foregrounded this:
The one thing that I hate about animal stories is that after you have almost read the entire book and really care about the animal, they go and tell you how the animal died... so you should stop reading now if you don't want to hear about Wesley dying.
I am a big sookey-lala, so I had a little cry, certainly not as much as I did reading Marley and Me, but she is right about caring for the animal you're reading about. The talent of the writer is to get you to care.

Recommended for:
  • owl lovers! There's a memorable scene where Wesley stretches his wings to hug O'Brien
  • animal memoir fans
  • readers interested in wildlife science; there's a lot of science in this book
Teaching ideas:
  • pet memoir short stories are always popular
  • research ten things you don't know about an animal

Curl Up Under the Covers reads

There are a lot of northern hemisphere summer reading lists going around, so in the spirit of list making and because on a rainy, cold day like today there's nothing better than reading in bed, here's my: southern hemisphere 10 best to read in bed list. (Not a catchy title, but you get the drift!)

Not all of these are specifically YA, but who says teens can't break into some of these?

  1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy For a bleak, examination of the darkness of humankind after the apocalypse, for the freezing cold and wishing to escape it, but mostly for the spare and beautiful writing and the relationship between father and son.
  2. Any one of the Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Lady's Dectective Agency series will make you as feel warm inside as if you had a large cup of bush tea.
  3. The Boat Nam Lee will take you to many places, some of them uncomfortable, and will make you grateful for the warmth and security of your bed.
  4. Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam is another collections of stories, it follows a group of medical students and will show you what it means to be a doctor.
  5. Atonement by Ian McEwan will take you to the heat of Summer's day in England, through the horrors of WWII and back to England. Escapism at its most intellectual. SO much better than the film.
  6. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery isn't an escape to a place as much as it is to the inside of the characters' minds.
  7. The Turning by Tim Winton will remind you that the heat is just around the corner with this series of interconnected stories set in Western Australia.
  8. Feed by MT Anderson is a smart and funny YA novel, a satire about the all pervasive internet, which Anderson has placed directly into his characters' heads. Snuggle under the doona and let him take you to the moon and back.
  9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte instead of trying to escape the wind and the rain, let Bronte take you to the stormy moors.
  10. Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Pour yourself a hot chocolate and a slice of chocolate cake for this one and enjoy the magical realism, and the recipes!

What's your favourite book to curl up with? And does the season make for different choices?

B0oK H0oT #6 If I Stay

Seventeen year old Mia and her family take a spontaneous drive to visit family on a 'snow day' and get into an accident with a 40 tonne truck which 'eviscerates' the car and kills her parents instantly. Teddy, who is six, and Mia are thrown from the car. The rest of the narrative moves between Mia, outside of her body watching is happening to save her, and flashbacks of her life up until that point.

This was a compulsive read for me, I inhaled it in about three hours and enjoyed it thoroughly. While it might sound as though it breaks my (self-imposed) rules about no dead mothers and gloomy plots, the relationship that Mia has with her parents, brother and grandparents is one of the most affirming I have read recently.

There is also a lovely music theme running through the book, Mia is a talented cellist, her boyfriend Adam is a punk singer and both of her parents were musical too. As for the medical scenes, I found them convincing, if a little disturbing, but I think teenagers seem to be immune to this sort of stuff, blame CSI perhaps.

The premise suggested by the title and the cover is handled really well and would be an interesting point of discussion for teenagers. Do you think that the critically ill have the 'choice' to survive? I like to think so, but what a hard decision, especially if you can see how damaged your body is and know the fate of your loved ones. And, would you have recollection of the time spent outside yourself?

recommended for:
  • musical teens, some of the descriptions of playing are beautifully done
  • realistic romance readers
teaching ideas:
  • point of view is interesting here, students could write the accident from Teddy's point of view
  • the ending is crying out for a sequel, or at least a discussion about what might happen next
  • I see that it is planned for a film in 2011. Students could plan the casting, storyboard some shots, discuss what changes would have to be made etc.

B00k HooT #5 How to Ditch Your Fairy

There's so much to love about this snappy read. I was grabbed quickly by the vocabulary on page one: "My spoffs looked funny in the top, which is odd because my spoffs are tiny." Best opening line this year!

Charlie is cursed by her parking fairy. Her best friend has a clothes shopping fairy, her arch enemy Fiorenze has an all boys will like you fairy, even a finding loose change fairy would be better! So Charlie goes about trying to ditch her fairy, which proves to be more difficult than it sounds. She goes to an all sports high school and has a crush on the new boy, Steffie, who is unfortunately besotted with Fiorenze (Stupid-Name.)

So, funny writing, excellent concept and likable characters. But wait there's more! The thing I liked best about "How To Ditch Your Fairy" was the setting- neither America nor Australia as explained in a note to readers, and the resulting cute touches like Charlie loving cricket and basketball, and being able to own a quokka as a pet.

I would have loved to own a quokka when I was a kid. I did once swing one by the tail because my grandfather said its eyes would drop out. *shame* Of course that was back in the day when you could touch them and feed them. They are quite rightly protected now (probably from kids like me.)

This is a perfectly paced page turner.

Recommended for: those who believe in karma/ luck/ fairies. Personally, I think that my own parking fairy is pretty awesome :)

Teaching ideas:
  • the vocabulary: words like pulchritudinous, doos, doxhead all provided in a glossary at the back. Students could invent their own.
  • make a case for being awarded a fairy, or trading a fairy with a friend. Do fairies come to those who deserve them?

teen reading and sales of YA fiction

This is an interesting read (via Meanjin, via Alien Onions) about teenagers, reading and how sales are rocketing on the back of HP and Twilight.

'There are several reasons why so many teenagers are passionate readers. A book is a pathway inside another person’s head. When you are young, you have few deep relationships, maybe no real emotional connections with others at all. You connect in the text. At that age, it is a revelation to see an author has the same dreams and insecurities as you do. Plus, there is a confidence and conviction to a fiction narrative’s voice. You are eager for someone to look up to, but certainly not your parents, not your teachers. A novel is an opportunity to really listen to another human being.'

Absolutely! Except for the relationships part, I think the emotional connections that most teenagers feel are as intense as at any other age, perhaps there are just more of them. Think of those extended intense phone conversations when you were a teen. HOURS I spent on the phone to my best friend. Back in the day of landlines, when you had to secrete yourself away from snooping parents, as far as the cord would stretch anyway. And the all consuming intensity of first love; now there's a powerful emotional connection if ever there was one!

I love the idea of 'you connect in the text.' What a thrill it is to introduce a new reader to an old favourite and have them fall in love with it, just as you did. That spark of connection or engagement is so precious.

And: 'A book is an opportunity to get “off the grid.”' Well, yes, as much as I love the grid, reading is an escape, always has been. School is off-grid for most teens too, I guess, depending on the restrictions that are in place. It is lovely though when you offer teenagers a chance to silently read how many of them are excited and glad to escape into a book.

In fact, I might get off grid and go finish my fairy book now!