Tag Archives: Giveaways

The Drake Equation “Alien Invasion” Giveaway Winner!

I promised (ahem – sprung on) Bart that I would indulge in some fun for this giveaway. As I said in my interview with him about The Drake Equation, we usually use Rafflecopter to choose a winner for giveaways, but I wanted to try something a little goofy.

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Hence the “Alien Invasion” giveaway:

Aliens are landing in my backyard. The alien (a commenter on this post) whose name lands closest to the bird (a black swift, of course…) is the winner.

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First, we have to check the wind direction and see how things fly around here. Not so great. They all blew back toward the deck and some even landed in the bushes.

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Add some weight to the aliens so they are not affected by the wind so much.

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Then we have to do a test drop. Or three. And move the target closer…

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Now, the real thing!

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And the winner of the Drake Equation Giveaway is… Pragmatic Mom!  You’ll be getting an email from us soon. Thanks so much to everyone who stopped by to comment. I really think you and your kiddos will enjoy Bart’s book. 2016-05-13 17.30.54

Interview–and Giveaway–with Steve Brezenoff

Steve Brezenoff is the author of young adult novels Guy in Real Life; The Absolute Value of -1; and Brooklyn, Burning, as well as over a hundred chapter books for younger readers, including The Field Trip Mysteries, Museum Mysteries, and Ravens Pass series. He grew up on Long Island, spent his twenties in Brooklyn, and now lives in Minneapolis with his wife and their two children.

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Steve joins us to talk about his middle-grade Museum Mysteries series.

Description from IndieBound: ” Join four friends as they take in culture and solve crimes in the Capitol City museums. Because of their parents’ jobs in the museums, the kids have unprecedented access to the exhibits, and because of their brains, they solve mysteries that leave the pros scratching their heads. Discussion questions, writing prompts, a glossary, and nonfiction resources continue the reader’s learning experience long after the story ends.”

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The Museum Mystery series is one of several series you have written for Capstone. Can you tell us a little about the process of developing and writing a series?

I’ve done (or am in the midst of) five series for Capstone. The Museum Mysteries, The Field Trip Mysteries, Back to the Titanic, and Ravens Pass, as well as the Twice-Told Tales under the name Olivia Snowe. (I’ve also contributed titles to a series of sports books under the shared author name Jake Maddox, and a series that morphed into Ravens Pass under the name Jason Strange.)

When it comes to series for this market (school and library), series development is a different animal from trade publishing, primarily because librarians don’t want series that must be read in a particular order. It’s a difficult feat to provide books in order to readers, so being able to read out of order without losing any aspect of the story is ideal. The exception in my case is the Titanic series, which is ordered.

Because of this, development tends to be more thematic. That is, the story is not continuous, so we’re developing characters and scenarios. And because these are all work-for-hire titles, much of this work is done in-house at the publisher before I’m onboard. For example, for the Field Trip Mysteries, the idea of four sixth-graders going on field trips and solving mysteries came from Capstone. I created and developed the characters and placed them on field trips that, initially, came from the publisher as well. As the series went on, more of that became my responsibility. The Museum Mysteries in many ways grew out of the Field Trip Mysteries–they’re thematically very similar. In that case, I was given the four museums to bounce off of, and then developed other details–characters, backgrounds, parents, etc.–on my own.

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If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from the Museum Mystery series what would it be?

I’m tempted to talk about science or art history or American history–in other words, one of the themes behind the four museums featured in the series. But the truth is I’ve been more focused on writing about these characters in a way that shines a light on race and gender and sexuality in a way that I haven’t seen much in chapter books for younger readers, readers at the bottom of the middle-grade range. It’s no secret that most of my fiction takes place in Minneapolis/St. Paul, or a very vaguely fictionalized version of the metro area. I try to make sure, therefore, that the characters reflect the Twin Cities I’ve come to know and love since moving here ten years ago.

It’s no surprise, then, that what has garnered the most positive reaction has been the diversity of the cast. The cover of one of the first Museum Mysteries titles, The Case of the Missing Museum Archives, features main character Amal Farah wearing her hijab. It was such a small gesture, to be honest, but it got a lot of very positive attention.

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There’s so much to like about the Museum Mysteries: An engaging plot with a diverse cast of characters, great illustrations, and (especially appealing to me) lots of science. It seems to me that reluctant or struggling readers would really enjoy them. What has been the response?

I think the response has been good, particularly to the diversity of the cast.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed your Museum Mysteries?

Well, obviously the Field Trip Mysteries, which are thematically very similar to the Museum Mysteries. There’s a great resource for young mystery fans here and here.

Some may know you more for your young adult titles. How does your approach differ in writing for the different age groups?

It might be a symptom of writing mysteries for younger readers rather than the readers’ age, but I tend to rely more on an outline from the outset for my chapter books than for my longer novels for older readers. I can’t even begin a Museum Mystery without knowing everything about the crime, the suspects, and how it was done. With a longer novel, I tend to just start writing, knowing little more than a couple of characters, maybe a setting, and I see where it takes me before I step back and think about outlining.

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Can we look forward to more middle-grade books from you?

There are two more Museum Mysteries in August of this year. And for spring 2017, we’re trying something new with the Field Trip Mysteries. I’ve pulled Sam, Cat, Gum, and Egg out of retirement, and next year they’ll star in four new You Choose mysteries, where readers can make choices for the junior sleuths and try to solve the crime. Stakes are high, and some endings will leave the culprit on the loose.

Steve has kindly offered to give away a set of two signed books from the Museum Mysteries series–The Case of the Stolen Spacesuit and The Case of the Missing Mom. Comment below before midnight on Friday, April 15 for a chance to win. The winner will be announced Saturday, April 16.

Jacqueline Houtman is the author of the middle-grade novel The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press 2010) and coauthor, with Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long, of the biography for young (and not-so-young) readers, Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist (Quaker Press 2014).

Interview–and Giveaway–with Robin Yardi

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Robin Yardi lives in the California foothills, where—every once in a while, in the dark of night—a skunk or two will sneak by. She loves good stories, animals of all sorts, homemade cakes, and kids. She blogs about books, teaches at her local Natural History Museum, and is the author of the nonfiction picture book, They Just Know: Animal Instincts, and the absolutely-not-nonfiction middle grade novel, The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, scheduled for release on March 1.

Life is confusing for Mateo Martinez. He and Johnny Ramirez don’t hang out anymore, even though they used to be best friends. He and his new friend Ashwin try to act like brave, old-time knights, but it only gets them in trouble. His parents keep telling him to hold his sister’s hand when crossing busy streets, even though she’s the one who always runs ahead.

And last night, two skunks stole Mateo’s old trike.

Wait—two skunks stole his trike?

Mateo is too big for that rusty kid toy. He has a cool, shiny new bike anyway. But Mateo also has a neighborhood to protect. And he’s about to begin a big, stinky quest to catch the thieves. A quest that starts in the middle of the night!

Kirkus called The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, “A magnificent novel that defines what it is to be an older brother, a friend, and, yes, even a knight.” Come visit her on the web to ask a question, schedule a Skype visit, or peek into her books: www.RobinYardi.com!

Your first book They Just Know: Animal Instincts (Arbordale Publishing 2015) features anthropomorphized animals and humor to teach about instinctive animal behavior. How does that compare to your approach to The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez?

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I’ve never thought about it before, but both books feature animals doing things kids usually do! In the picture book those funny images of animals playing board games, hugging teddy bears, and getting coached, are contrasted by spreads that show the real deal. Frogs don’t get coached—they just know how to hop! Snakes don’t need stuffed animals—they already are stuffed with animals!

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The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez begins with two skunks creaking away on Mateo’s rusty old trike, again an animal doing something a kid would, but the real deal in the novel is all about being a boy, not a skunk, about being a big brother, and a good friend, and an honorable knight… even when you are nine.

So, I guess, my books leave room for real life and imagination. I believe kids need both!

You are obviously an animal lover. What can you tell us about your work with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History? In a typical week, what animals do you interact with in real life? Any close encounters with skunks?

I teach in a special, very kid centered, section of the Museum that we call the Backyard. We have a clubhouse with specimens and live animals, an outdoor waterway with wooden boats and pumps, tins, spoons, pots, and pans for making mud pies, and a dig pile for finding worms and pill bugs and millipedes. All that is surrounded by a riparian woodland of oaks and sycamores! When a child comes into the clubhouse I become a librarian of creepy crawly animals.

  • Which snake should we bring out (we have three)?
  • Have you ever held a beetle?
  • Would you like to hold a frog?
  • Do you know what a stick insect is?

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I try to keep to the facts when I’m teaching at the museum, but I am the only naturalist, so far as I know, who has insisted on naming all of our tree frogs.

And don’t get me started on my animals at home… sometimes we name our spiders.

Where did the idea for skunks on a trike come from?

Well, the idea for that book started in my backyard. One night, through the backdoor, my daughter and I watched skunks, raccoons, and stray cats battling it out for some leftover dog food. I said, “I wonder if the skunks and raccoons play on the playground at night when you’re asleep?”

“How would they even get there?” my daughter asked.

“On your creaky old trike!” I told her. She laughed pretty hard, so I knew I had a good beginning.

Mateo, his little sister, Mila, and his best friend, Ashwin, were inspired by kids I know and teach in Santa Barbara. In fact I overheard one of my favorite Mila lines while working in the Museum Backyard. Someone asked a little girl, “How do you think snakes get clean?”

“They lick themselves like kitties,” was her answer, which I thought was brilliantly funny and completely plausible, so I stole it and snuck it into the book!

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, what would it be?

Mateo is struggling to understand the world around him and how he fits into it.  He’s dealing with changing friendships, his Mexican-American identity, his need to be a good big brother and an honorable knight. That’s a lot. Any kid who reads my book is going to have their own worries, things they don’t quite understand, maybe some things they never will. I want kids who read the book to deal with those worries bravely and with honor, without leaving behind the fantastical thinking of childhood, because sometimes that’s the only way to find understanding, by following the trike-riding skunks that are creaking down your driveway, up your street, and through your dreams.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez?

I love The Hoboken Chicken Emergency, the Dyamonde Daniel books, the Cold Cereal Saga, and the whole Clementine series. And this one is a bit of a throwback, but The Mouse and the Motorcycle has a tidy kinship to two skunks on a trike, don’t you think?

How long did it take from first spark of an idea to finished book in your hands?

SIX years. My daughter was three when we watched those skunks through the backdoor—she’s nine now.

Why do you write middle-grade?

First, middle grade kids don’t question how real life worries and trike riding skunks end up in the same book. They just know. They get it! I guess part of my brain never grew out of that kind of thinking.

Second, as a kid middle grade novels were a huge part of my life. Sometimes books were my best friends. Sometimes books were my only friends. They kept me company and taught me about the world. I hope my books can do the same!

What advice do you have for someone who wants to write middle-grade fiction?

Don’t underestimate your audience. Middle grade readers can be deep thinkers… deep thinkers who like fart jokes and talking animals. Respect what they can understand and respect what they like and want to read! Be funny, be adventurous, and be honest. Pretend you are still nine, or ten, or eleven—in short, be AWESOME!

Robin has kindly offered a signed hardcover copy of The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez and a bookmark for a giveaway. Leave a comment by midnight on Friday, February 12. The winner will be announced on Saturday, February 13.

Jacqueline Houtman is the author of the middle-grade novel The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press 2010) and coauthor, with Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long, of the biography for young (and not-so-young) readers Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist (Quaker Press 2014).