Tag Archives: humor

March New Releases

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to SPRING into March! There are so many wonderful books releasing this month, and I’m honored to have one of my own  among them!

(Listed In Order of Release Date)

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold; illustrated by Emily Gravett (March 3) 

Rudger is Amanda Shuffleup’s imaginary friend. Nobody else can see Rudger-until the evil Mr. Bunting arrives at Amanda’s door. Mr. Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumor has it that he even eats them. And now he’s found Rudger.

Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. He needs to find Amanda before Mr. Bunting catches him-and before Amanda forgets him and he fades away to nothing. But how can an unreal boy stand alone in the real world?

Flunked by Jen Calonita (March 3)

RlunkedFull of regret, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, Flora, has founded the Fairy Tale Reform School with the mission of turning the wicked and criminally mischievous into upstanding members of Enchantasia.

Impish, sassy 12-year-old Gilly has a history of petty theft and she’s not too sorry about it. When she lifts a hair clip, she gets tossed in reform school-for at least three months. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there’s more to this school than its sweet mission. There’s a battle brewing and she starts to wonder: can a villian really change?

The Box and the Dragonfly (The Keepers #1) by Ted Sanders (March 3)

KeepersArtifacts. Miseries. Mysteries . . .
From the moment Horace F. Andrews sees the sign from the bus–a sign with his own name on it–everything changes. The sighting leads him underground to the House of Answers, a hidden warehouse brimming with peculiar devices. But there he finds only questions. What is this curious place? Who are the strange, secretive people who entrust him with a rare and immensely powerful gift? And what is he to do with it?

 

Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera (March 10)

MsRapscott'sGirls

Fans of Mary Poppins will love this whimsical tale of a boarding school for children of very busy parents, where an extraordinary headmistress teaches them life lessons about courage, adventure, friendship . . . and the importance of birthday cake.
Nestled inside a lighthouse, Great Rapscott School for the Daughters of Busy Parents takes its motto from Amelia Earhart: Adventure is worthwhile in itself. Headmistress Ms. Rapscott couldn’t agree more, but her students, who are shipped to the school in boxes, could use a little convincing. Still, despite their initial reluctance, the students are soon soaring through the sky and getting lost on purpose. In addition to learning what birthday cakes are and how best to approach a bumbershoot tree, the students also manage to learn a little something about strength and bravery.

Little Miss Evil by Bryce Leung, Kristy Shen (March 10) LittleMissEvil

When you live in a volcano, ride to school in a helicopter, and regularly see your dad on the news with the caption “EVIL GENIUS” underneath his picture, it takes a lot to rattle you. Until you get a message that says: We have your father. Deliver the NOVA in 24 hours or we will kill him. But telling him to stop building weapons is like telling Michelangelo to stop painting. And that’s why thirteen-year-old Fiona has a flamethrower strapped to her arm. After all, who’d mess with a girl who can throw fireballs? Apparently, these guys. Big mistake.

Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi (March 10) CatchYouLater,Traitor

Brooklyn, New York, 1951.
Twelve-year-old Pete Collison is a regular kid who loves Sam Spade detective books and radio crime dramas, but when an FBI agent shows up at Pete’s doorstep accusing his father of being a Communist, Pete finds himself caught in a real-life mystery. Could there really be Commies in Pete’s family? At the same time, Pete’s class turns against him, thanks to similar rumors spread by his own teacher; even Kat, Pete’s best friend, feels the pressure to ditch him. As Pete follows the quickly accumulating clues, he begins to wonder if the truth could put his family’s livelihood–and even their freedom–at risk.

Roller Girl (A Graphic Novel) by Victoria Jamieson (March 10) RollerGirl

For most of her twelve years, Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid’s life as she struggles to keep up with the older girls at camp, hang on to the friend she feels slipping away, and cautiously embark on a new friendship. As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout (and junior high!) draws closer, Astrid realizes that maybe she is strong enough to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school… in short, strong enough to be a roller girl.

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman (March 10) Nightbird

Twelve-year-old Twig’s town in the Berkshires is said to hide a winged beast, the Monster of Sidwell, and the rumors draw as many tourists as the town’s famed pink apple orchards. Twig lives in the orchard with her mysterious brother James and her reclusive mother, a baker of irresistible apple pies. Because of a family secret, an ancient curse,Twig has had to isolate herself from other kids. Then a family with two girls, Julia and Agate, moves into the cottage next door. They are descendants of the witch who put the spell on Twig’s family. But Julia turns out to be Twig’s first true friend, and her ally in trying to undo the curse and smooth the path to true love for Agate and James.

Molly Pepper and the Night Train by Courtney King Walker (March 13) ???????????????????

Hidden somewhere in the fog of the San Francisco bay lies Blue Rock Island, home to the bay area’s two best-kept secrets: Bell’s Bluff, the old, abandoned prison on one side of the island, and the Night Train, a mysterious train ride on the other. When twelve-year-old Molly Pepper receives a secret invitation promising a night of magic and adventure aboard the Night Train, she is skeptical. In her experience, most promises prove too good to be true. The fact that she lost her mom is proof enough.

Still, Molly gives hope another chance. Together with her loyal friend, Noah Wonderly, they sneak out of the house and follow a string of clues leading to the Night Train. But when the train stops at Bell’s Bluff, Molly discovers the real reason she was invited. There, she starts to wonder if hope and magic not only fix broken promises; but make you believe in them again.

The Luck Uglies, Fork-Tongue Charmers by Paul Durham (March 17) TheLuckUglies

It’s not easy being the daughter of the High Chieftain of the Luck Uglies. Now an insidious new lawman in Drowning has declared Rye an outlaw, and she’s stuck on the strange and remote Isle of Pest. But the island quickly feels much less remote when the battle to control the future of the Luck Uglies moves to its shores. To defeat the Luck Uglies’ bitterest rivals, Rye must defy a deranged earl, survive a test meant to judge the grit of the fiercest men—and uncover some long-buried family secrets. And when Rye leads the charge to defend the island, she and her friends will meet an eerily familiar enemy. . .

In Todd We Trust by Louise GalvesInToddWeTrustton (March 17)

In the sequel to By the Grace of Todd, the Toddlians believe Todd has forgotten all about them. There’s only one solution to their problems: to find a new god! And so they decide to build a raft à la Noah’s ark in order to search for a more thoughtful deity. But who can the Toddlians turn to in their time of despair? And does Todd really not remember the miniature race generated by the dirt on his smelly sock? It will take more than divine intervention to save the Toddlians and mend their relationship with their neglectful creator.

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly (March 24)

BlackbirdFly

Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. Her mother still cooks Filipino foods, speaks a mix of English and Cebuano, and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” It becomes unbearable in middle school, when the boys—the stupid, stupid boys—in Apple’s class put her name on the Dog Log, the list of the most unpopular girls in school. When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show how special she really is.

The Penderwicks In Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (March 24) ThePenderwicks2

Springtime is finally arriving on Gardam Street, and there are surprises in store for each member of the family. Some surprises are just wonderful, like neighbor Nick Geiger coming home from war. And some are ridiculous, like Batty’s new dog-walking business. Batty is saving up her dog-walking money for an extra-special surprise for her family, which she plans to present on her upcoming birthday. But when some unwelcome surprises make themselves known, the best-laid plans fall apart.

The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein (March 24) TheIslandofDr.Libris

What if your favorite characters came to life? Billy’s spending the summer in a lakeside cabin that belongs to the mysterious Dr. Libris. But something strange is going on. Besides the security cameras everywhere, there’s Dr. Libris’s private bookcase. Whenever Billy opens the books inside, he can hear sounds coming from the island in the middle of the lake. The clash of swords. The twang of arrows. Sometimes he can even feel the ground shaking. It’s almost as if the stories he’s reading are coming to life! But that’s impossible . . . isn’t it?

What books are you excited about SPRINGing into this month? Tell us about them in the comments!

LouGbiopicLouise Galveston is the author of By the Grace of Todd and its sequel, In Todd We Trust (Razorbill) www.bythegraceoftodd.com When she’s not shuffling through the mixed-up files on her messy writing desk, you’ll find Louise directing children’s theater, playing games with her big family, or up to her eyeballs in laundry.

Lemony Snicket’s Particularly Unfortunate Event

Last week at the National Book Awards, Jacqueline Woodson, who is African American, won for Best Young People’s Literature. Immediately afterward, Daniel Handler, who is Lemony Snicket, made a watermelon joke.

A video is here, and this transcript was made by David Perry:

Woodson: Thank you for your love of books, and thank you for changing the world.

[music]

Handler: I told you! I told Jackie she was going to win. And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned about her this summer, which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind.

And I said you have to put that in a book. And she said, you put that in a book.

And I said I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornell West, Toni Morisson, and Barack Obama saying, “This guy’s ok! This guy’s fine!”

Alright

[cackle]

Alright, we’ll talk about it later.

I first learned of this alleged joke by following a Twitter link to a Horn Books blog entry by Roger Sutton titled, “Being a White Guy in Children’s Books.”

Sutton touches on issues of diversity and male privilege in children’s publishing, but also suggests: that Handler is guilty of “overreach,” as if there were some less objectionable version of this particular joke; that Handler mistakenly thought he was “cool enough” to pull off such a joke, as if another humorist might have had better luck at it; and that Sutton, or any other white male, can’t complain too much because they could have easily “fallen into the same trap.”

I strongly disagree with all three of these implications.

First, take a look at the structure of Handler’s joke. At its core is an observation that’s only ironic or amusing to someone who buys into an infamously offensive racial stereotype, and which anyway has nothing to do with Woodson’s literary accomplishments. This was not a risky joke that hovered just beyond Handler’s comedic reach, as Sutton implies. This was an unfunny statement that would have been equally inappropriate to the venue no matter how Handler could have told it.

Is Sutton at least right that the joke might have worked in a different context if only Handler were “cool” enough to pull it off? I don’t know whether Sutton is using “cool” as that Fonzie-in-a-leather-jacket mix of confidence and style that lets some people get away with breaking the rules, or as a euphemism for…something else.

Either way, let’s assume a “cool” comedian like Chris Rock were able to make a successful joke about Jacqueline Woodson’s watermelon allergy. So what? That would be entirely irrelevant because Daniel Handler is not Chris Rock, and because the National Book Awards are not an HBO comedy special.

So if it’s not the joke that failed, or the insufficient “coolness” of the joke teller, then what exactly is the trap that Sutton thinks Handler fell into?

I’d like to posit that this was a classic example of filter-fail.

We all have thoughts we would never say out loud—and I mean all of us humans, not just white males like Daniel Handler, Roger Sutton, and myself. Our senses of humor are built over a lifetime, based on personal experience, and influenced by the society we live in, largely beyond our conscious control. Once you hear a racist joke, it can never be unheard. Luckily, our brains come equipped with filters. When we know a joke is wrong, hurtful, offensive, and unfunny, we can choose not to pass it along to other people.

Handler’s contextual disclaimer emphasized how aware he was that a watermelon joke would be too toxic for him to write into a book, so it’s mind-boggling that he would opt instead to say it out loud to an auditorium full of people—not as an off-the-cuff remark that reached too far and fell flat, but as a story that took months of planning and reflection beforehand.

On the basis of a private conversation that we have no other record of, Handler believed he had Woodson’s permission to tell a racist joke about her, and that such permission would keep anyone else from being offended. No matter how cool you might be, there is no way to ever pull that off.

If Daniel Handler’s internal filters had been working properly, telling him which jokes can be shared with others and which should be smothered, none of us would ever need to know that Lemony Snicket is amused by such things as watermelon allergies among people of color.

But now we do.

Is Sutton right to worry that he himself might suffer a filter-fail under similar circumstances? Or that this is in any way a problem exclusive to white males? Is it wrong for him to empathize with Handler? Is it wrong for me not to?

I am holding Handler to a higher standard than other people, not because of Handler’s gender or skin color, but because he is a professional humorist who writes for children. I also write humor for children, and only wish I could do it half as well as Handler can. He has long been an idol and role model for me, especially in the way he has developed his literary voice and professional persona. I want to do what he does.

But while I can see myself making any number of embarrassing gaffes if I were given a microphone in a public setting, I can’t imagine ever joking about Jacqueline Woodson’s watermelon allergy, or finding humor in such a situation.

It’s personally horrifying for me to think that a watermelon joke could come from the same quirky wit that has produced books that have made me laugh out loud. I won’t be able to read those books quite the same way as before.

And for me, that’s just from the second-hand offense I feel on behalf of other people, a tiny fraction of the outrage and betrayal expressed by Nikky Finney and other commentators who experience racism in their daily lives, and who reasonably expected a literary awards presentation to be a safe zone.

To Handler’s credit, he owned up to his filter-fail in a series of tweets and pledged $10,000 to the We Need Diverse Books campaign, with additional matching funds of up to $100,000. Not that he can pay, buy, or donate his way to forgiveness, but it is refreshing to have at least some attempt at restitution.

We need diverse voices so that our children internalize actual viewpoints instead of ugly stereotypes. That way they can grow up to tell jokes about all the great stories they’ve read, rather than the hateful old jokes of the past.

School for S.P.I.E.S–Giveaway and Interview with Bruce Hale

I’m thrilled to welcome author Bruce Hale back to the Mixed-Up Files. He’s one of the funniest and most entertaining people I’ve ever met. He’s been busy since his last Mixed-Up Files interview. Today, we’re celebrating the launch of Playing With Fire, the first book in his newest series, School for S.P.I.E.S.

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Bruce Hale and his School for S.P.I.E.S. editor, Stephanie Lurie.

Juvenile delinquent and budding pyromaniac Max Segredo belongs in juvie hall. At least, that’s what his most recent foster family would tell you. Instead, Max ends up on the doorstep of Merry Sunshine Orphanage-their very heavily guarded doorstep. As he begins to acclimate to his new home, Max learns a few things straightaway: first, cracking a Caesar Cipher isn’t as hard as it seems; second, never sass your instructor if she’s also holding throwing knives; and third, he may not be an orphan after all.

I love Playing With Fire! How did you come up with the idea for your School for S.P.I.E.S. series?

PLAYING WITH FIRE represents the coming-together of several ideas and loves.  First, ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved spy stories.  James Bond, Get Smart, The Bourne Identity, Mission: Impossible — all these and more inspired me to want to write a spy story myself.

Second, I had a yoga teacher in Hawaii who was like the ultimate drill sergeant — crusty on the outside, but big-hearted underneath.  She spoke in a kind of hybrid of Japanese and broken English, and she was such a character, I wanted to put her in a book someday.  And third, I had an odd what-if thought: What if an orphanage was actually a covert school for spies?

When all these influences came together, I hit upon the title “Shanghai Annie’s School for Spies (and Merry Sunshine Orphanage).”  For a long time, all I had was the title (which changed), but eventually I developed that germ of an idea into the book it is today, with my old yoga teacher in the Hantai Annie role.

 

The spy school feels so authentic. How did you learn so much about spy techniques?

Sadly, college didn’t teach me any of what spies call tradecraft.  (An education, wasted!) Instead, I learned it all — lock picking, code breaking, surveillance — through interviews and reading.  I read lock-picking articles online (while wondering if the FBI was tracking my reading habits). I interviewed a computer guy about hacking.  In fact, I even took a kickboxing class to help me with the martial arts stuff.  I tell you, if they ever offered a spy summer camp for adults, I’d take it in a heartbeat.  That stuff is fun!

 

Once you get a book published, is it easier to get offers for future books?

Yes and no.  Yes, in that they know you can deliver, so all else being equal, they’re inclined to trust your abilities.  No, in that it always depends on the quality of the book you’re submitting and whether it fits their list.  To my occasional exasperation, publishers will still pass on one of my stories if they feel it’s not right for them.

 

What are some of the pros and cons of writing a series?

First off, I love reading series, so it’s a joy to write the kind of books I like to read.  Series give you the chance to deeply explore the world and characters you’ve created, and to build a relationship with your readers, which will carry over into other books you write.

On the down side, series can be challenging.  You have to strike a balance between familiarity and freshness — introducing new elements and characters while preserving enough of what readers loved in the previous books.  Also (if you’re lucky and your series lasts long enough), you may find you’ve cycled through all your ideas and are having a hard time coming up with plots you haven’t used already.

Bruce Coville once said that series books are training-wheel books, helping kids learn to read more confidently.  I’m honored to be producing these kinds of books for young readers.

 

How do you develop characters strong enough for an entire series?

Main characters need a number of key elements to make them series-worthy.  First, they must be likeable, even if they’re an anti-hero.  Second, they must have some quality that makes them stand out (Harry Potter’s wizarding abilities, Katniss’s archery skills and loyalty, Chet Gecko’s punning, etc.).  Third, they must have a certain optimism and drive that keeps them moving forward.  And fourth (just to keep this list short), they must be active.  Passive characters can’t sustain a series.  When asked to move the plot forward, they just say, “Eh, maybe later.”

Photo of Bruce Hale taken by Sonya Sones

Photo of Bruce Hale taken by Sonya Sones

Can you share a writing exercise for series or humor?

Here’s a fun one for humor: Experiment with the triple play.  A triple play is a list of three words or things, in which the first two are expected and the third is a surprise.  That surprise creates the humor.  For example: in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted say that Beethoven’s favorite works include Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, and Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet.  The first two items set up an expectation, which is subverted by the third.  Like, “Tall, dark, and loathsome.”

Have fun experimenting, and remember comedy writing’s Rule of Nine: For every ten jokes you come up with, nine will suck!  But that tenth one will be a gem. 

 

Want a chance to win one of two signed copies of Bruce Hale’s School for S.P.I.E.S.: Playing with Fire? Click on the Rafflecopter widget below, and you’ll see seven quick and easy ways to enter! The winners will be announced on Tuesday, July 23. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Thank you so much for visiting the Mixed-Up Files, and for your generous giveaway, Bruce! 

 

The second book in Bruce’s School for S.P.I.E.S. series is called Thicker than Water, and is scheduled for June 2014. While waiting for the next spy book, you can check out some of the other humorous series Bruce has written. Bruce has sixteen books in his Chet Gecko series, and four books in his Underwhere series. He recently released his new picture book, Clark the Shark, the first of seven in that series. Clark the Shark – Dare to Share! will be out in January 2014.

 

You can find out more about Bruce Hale on his main website, his School for S.P.I.E.S. site, his writing tips website, or on Twitter. Here’s a link to Bruce’s Chet Gecko activity guide. You can view a message from Agent X: School for S.P.I.E.S., and watch the below video of Bruce Hale reading an exciting scene from Playing with Fire.

 

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her twelve and fifteen year-old daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer pup who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s blog or Twitter to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.