Tag Archives: nonfiction

Interview and Giveaway with Pura Belpré Honor Author Alexandra Diaz

 

Alexandra Diaz is the author of The Only Road, a Pura Belpré Honor book and Américas Award winner, which she also co-translated into Spanish, El único destino. She is also the author of the YA novels, Of All the Stupid Things (re-titled When We Were) which was a ALA Rainbow List book, and Good Girls Don’t Lie. For her day-job, she teaches circus arts to children and adults. She can be found at alexandra-diaz.com, facebook.com/AlexandraDiazAuthor, or on Twitter @alexandratdiaz.

(Photo credit: Owen Benson)

From Indiebound:

Twelve-year-old Jaime makes the treacherous and life-changing journey from his home in Guatemala to live with his older brother in the United States in this gripping and realistic middle grade novel.

Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead.

Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed–like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Angela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico.

Inspired by true events, The Only Road is an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.

PURA BELPRE HONOR BOOK
ALA NOTABLE BOOK
“Powerful and timely.” —Booklist (starred review)
“An important, must-have addition to the growing body of literature with immigrant themes.” —School Library Journal (starred review)

Congratulations on the Pura Belpré Honor! Tell us what it was like to find out about it. How did you celebrate?

I was driving a friend to Tuscan and didn’t hear the phone ring. It wasn’t until 11 o’clock that night that I checked my messages. I was very excited and thrilled and couldn’t really believe it. In the morning I double-checked the messages and sure enough it was still there! Once back in Santa Fe, my mom and sister took me out for lunch, and the ladies in my writing group brought cake and ice cream to our following meeting. It was awesome and such an honor!

In your Author’s Note, you tell us that you are the child of Cuban refugees. How does that inform your writing in The Only Road?

I grew up hearing stories of what it was like to leave family and home behind. Though my parents’ experience was different than what my characters went through, the thoughts and feelings remained the same: what was going to happen, would they make it, would they ever come back, and so forth. But mostly it was the sense of not having any other choice.

How did you decide to depict the uglier, more violent aspects of the journey and still make the book appropriate for middle-grade readers?

I wanted a book true to the current immigration status and the experiences of real people. But yes, I also didn’t want to introduce situations that readers weren’t prepared to understand. For example, I mentioned that if the gangs thought Ángela was pretty enough, she would become one of the gang members’ girlfriends and left it at that. The reader could then interpret that to whatever level they felt comfortable.

Why did you choose to have Ángela and Jaime travel together, rather than Jaime going it alone?

By traveling together, they could help each other out, it adds compassion, and it also ups the tension. I love characters and characters’ relationships with each other. As a writer, I think I would have been a bit bored if Jaime were on his own, especially as other characters come and go.

A Spanish version of The Only Road was also published. Can you tell us about the process?

I think I had just finished writing the English version when I was asked if I wanted to translate it. The prospect excited and scared me as my brain shifted continuously from “I’d love to!” and “I can’t do it!” I never learned Spanish in school so my writing abilities are not very strong. But my mom said we had to do it and I’m so glad we did. We worked on the translation together—her focusing more on the grammar and vocabulary and me on the narrative/character voice and structure. I chose the title El único destino because “destino” has a double meaning of “destination” and “destiny”. Hopefully the overall effect worked well!

What kind of research did you do to get the details right?

I read a lot of biographies, autobiographies, and other nonfiction material that discussed the immigrants’ journey. I also interviewed a few people who had either immigrated themselves or worked with immigrants or along the migration trail. I knew I wouldn’t want to experience it for myself, but I did want to remain true to what happens and several resources expressed similar events. Thank goodness for the internet, which allowed me have access to much more than I would have found otherwise, including a map of the cargo train routes through Mexico. I did visit Mexico a couple of times to get a feel for the country and what it looks like and translate that sense into the book.

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from The Only Road, what would it be?

Young people read about slavery and the Holocaust but not so often about what is happening with immigration today. I would like readers to know this is something that is going on in the world today, possibly even happened to classmates or neighbors. And for those readers who have experienced something similar, I wanted to remind them that they are not alone and there’s always hope.

How is writing middle-grade fiction different from writing for young adults?

When I write YA, I tend to write in first person, while middle grade comes out in third. Most of the differences I noticed were around that: first person is more internal and limited to what that one character is experiencing while third person allowed me to move into an occasional omniscient or different characters’ point of view. Also, when writing for young adults, anything goes in terms of language, sex, violence, etc. but middle grade fiction requires a few more filters. That said, I never felt restricted or frustrated in terms of what content to include. If anything, I feel I’m a better and more diverse writer as a result.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed The Only Road?

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez is a great historical novel about Cuban immigration in the 1960s that is truthful and compassionate.

 

I also enjoyed The Arrival by Shaun Tan, which is a wordless graphic novel that truly captures the feel and emotions of an immigrant or refugee.

What’s your favorite thing about middle-grade fiction (as a reader or a writer)?

I love getting involved in the story and situations of youth. I feel I can connect better with them than I do adults or fiction for adults. I also enjoy that for the most part middle-grade fiction is fast-paced with good action and generally has some funny lines.

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

It’s important to know your audience, how they behave and interact together. Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve noticed is talking down to your reader, or having the protagonist seem too young or too good. Read a lot of middle grade and write even more. If there are people you trust who can give you constructive criticism, that’s great, keeping in mind that your work can always be better, but not every bit of feedback has to be applied. Remain true to yourself while striving to make your writing better. Above all, keep writing and keep going no matter what setbacks you might find.

 

Alexandra has kindly offered a copy of The Only Road as a giveaway. Enter below (USA/Canada only, please).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

New Releases for April

Spring has Sprung!  Are you anxious to sit out in the sun and catch some rays? Why not take a book. Take a look at this awesome new releases for some good relaxing time.

Good news! We have 4 MUF members with new releases this month. Congratulations to Amber J. Keyser, Tricia Springstubb, Patricia Bailey, and Jennifer Swanson.

 

Cody and the Rules of Life by Tricia Springstubb (Candlewick Press)


In Cody’s life, many things are hard to predict. Like why her older brother, Wyatt, is obsessed with his new bicycle called the Cobra, or why her best friend Pearl suddenly wants to trade favorite toys. Pearl says she will trust Cody with Arctic Fox because Cody is a trusty person. But Cody doesn’t want to give up her beloved Gremlin, and she regrets it as soon as she hands him over. When the Cobra goes missing, Cody has to decide for herself who is trusty and who is not. If only she had Gremlin to talk to! Surely Pearl wouldn’t mind if she secretly traded back . . . it’s not stealing if it belonged to you in the first place, right?

The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan by Patricia Bailey (Albert Whitman and Co.)

Life in a 1905 Nevada mining town is not easy for any thirteen-year-old. For Kit Donovan, it seems downright impossible. When her mother dies of a fever, Kit is certain she is to blame. Guilt-ridden, she is determined to honor her promises to her mother―namely to be a “proper lady.” Only being a lady is tougher than it looks. When Kit discovers that Papa’s boss at the gold mine (the menacing and self-serving Mr. Granger) is profiting from unsafe working conditions in the mine, she convinces her dad to speak out. But sometimes doing the right thing leads to trouble. Now Kit must find a way to expose Granger’s misdeeds before it’s too late. Aided by an eccentric woman, a Shoshone boy, and a drunken newspaperman, Kit puts her big mouth and all the life skills she’s learned from reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to work. With a man’s hat and a printing press, Kit defies threats of violence and discovers that justice doesn’t always look like she imagined it would.

 

Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser  (Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Publishing)

Jessie Vale dances in an elite ballet program. She has to be perfect to land a spot with the professional company. When Jessie is cast in an animalistic avant-garde production, her careful composure cracks wide open. Nothing has felt more dangerous. Meanwhile, her friend Dawn McCormick’s world is full of holes. She wakes in strange places, bruised, battered, and unable to speak. The doctors are out of ideas.These childhood friends are both running out of time. Jessie has one shot at her ballet dream. Dawn’s blackouts are getting worse. At every turn, they crash into the many ways girls are watched, judged, used, and discarded. Should they play it safe or go feral?

 
Zoology: Cool Women who Work in Science by Jennifer Swanson (Nomad Press)


Love to work with animals? Zoology is the study of everything having to do with animals, including how and why they look, act, and behave in their environments and with other animals. As a zoologist, you might study how elephants solve problems or take care of tigers at a zoo.

 

Snowflake Freezes Up (Grimmtastic Girls) by Joan Holub (Scholastic)


Snowflake isn’t sure which fairy tale character she is. But with her magical powers causing lots of trouble, she’s definitely on thin ice! So just in case she might be a villain, Snowflake is chilly to her classmates. Can she keep her cool until she knows her whole story, or will her social life at Grimm Academy be permanently frozen?

 

The Bad Guys in The Furball Strike Back by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic)

Mr. Wolf and his bad buddies have messed with the wrong guinea pig–one who is secretly an evil mad scientist. And the nasty little furball wants revenge! Will they survive? Will they be heroes? And will they ever stop trying to eat each other?!? It’s time for the Bad Guys to spring into action!

Panda- Monium by Stuart Gibbs (Scholastic BFYR)

Teddy Fitzroy returns as FunJungle’s resident sleuth when the zoo’s newest addition goes missing–before she even arrives –in Panda-monium, the latest novel in Stuart Gibbs’s FunJungle series.
FunJungle is frenzied, awaiting the arrival of its most thrilling animal yet–Li Ping–a rare and very expensive giant panda that the zoo went to enormous lengths to secure. But when the truck transporting Li Ping shows up, its precious cargo has vanished into thin air. The FBI steps in to investigate, and Teddy is happy to leave the job in their (supposedly) capable hands. After all, FunJungle has never encountered a crime this serious. But when someone threatens to blackmail Teddy’s girlfriend, Summer, if he doesn’t solve the crime, his involvement in this mystery is no longer black and white.

 

The Unbreakable Code (The Book Scavenger series) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (Henry Holt & Co. BFYR)


Mr. Quisling is definitely up to something mysterious, and Emily and James are on high alert. First, there’s the coded note he drops at a book event. Then, they uncover a trail of encrypted messages in Mark Twain-penned books hidden through Book Scavenger. What’s most suspicious is that each hidden book triggers an arson fire.

The clock is ticking as the arson fires multiply, and Emily and James race to crack the code of a lifetime.

 
Titanic Treasure by Eric Luper (Scholastic)

Cleo and Evan have a secret. A collection of books so dangerous they are lockedup tight. And only they can find the keys to release the magic inside!
A FORTUNE LOST AT SEA!
When Cleo and Evan set sail on the Titanic, time is not on their side! The famous ocean liner is destined to hit an iceberg. If they can stop a thief from stealing a priceless jeweled book–and find their next key–they might avoid sinking with the ship in this historic disaster!

Interview and Giveaway with Science Author Patricia Newman

I’m so excited to welcome Author Patricia Newman to the MUF blog today. She writes SCIENCE books!  YAY!

Patricia (middle) is shown here with Lilian Carswell (L) and Brent Hughes (R).  Photo credit:  Elise Newman Montanino

 

Author Patricia Newman has written several titles that connect young readers to scientific concepts, including Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem, a Junior Library Guild Selection and recipient of a starred Kirkus review; Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a Green Earth Book Award winner; Ebola: Fears and Facts, a Booklist Editors’ Choice selection; and the upcoming fall 2017 release, Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. In her free time, she enjoys nature walks, the feel of dirt between her fingers in the garden, and traveling. She lives in Northern California with her husband.

Patricia is here to share her newest book,

Sea Otters: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem (Millbrook Press, 2017)

 

Why do you write science books? 

I like the way science connects to nearly all aspects of our world. For instance, in Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem I show kids how saving endangered predators can benefit our air, our water, and our food supply. In my opinion, for kids to be successful in the 21st century, they will need to become global citizens who look at the bigger picture. Science can help us do that.

 

How do you choose your subjects for your books?

In the case of Sea Otter Heroes, the subject chose me. I was invited to the David Smith Conservation Research Fellows Retreat in April 2015 by Chelsea Rochman, one of the scientists that I featured in Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. She thought her colleagues might be interested in learning more about communicating their research to children.

 

I conducted a day-long writing workshop, and somewhere in the middle, marine biologist Brent Hughes and his mentor Lilian Carswell (the Southern Sea Otter Recovery Coordinator with US Fish and Wildlife) approached me to see if I would be interested in writing about Brent’s sea otter discovery. He explained to me that he’d discovered a trophic cascade in which sea otters, the apex predator in an estuary off Monterey Bay, restored the natural food chain and healed the ecosystem so it could perform functions that benefit us. The more I spoke with Brent and Lilian, the more I liked the idea. Everyone thinks sea otters are adorable, and every kid knows about food chains, but Brent had found an amazing twist that most kids wouldn’t know about.

 

You seem drawn to eco-friendly topics. Is that something that you are passionate about? 

Yes, without a doubt. We have only one planet. It sustains us in so many ways. The ocean produces nearly 75% of our oxygen, it feeds us, and it entertains us. In a world where concrete is king, I think kids (and adults) benefit from getting closer to nature. In the current political climate, I want to persuade kids to love nature before they are corrupted by “alternative facts.” Caring is key because we protect what we love.

 

Tell us a little about how you do your research. How much time do you spend? What type of sources do you look for?

Nonfiction requires digging, and like my colleagues I dig through scientific journals, online sources, books, magazines, and newspapers. I also interview scientists conducting amazing research, and if I’m lucky I take a field trip to visit their labs. For Sea Otter Heroes, I spent a day on Brent’s research boat enjoying the sun on my face and the crisp ocean breeze, watching pelicans dive and sea otters crack open crabs with a rock. There are definitely worse jobs!

 

Why is back matter useful for readers?

As a researcher, I love back matter because it contains all sorts of gems. But for kids, I hope it extends the reading experience. When a novel or a fictional series ends, we have to say good-bye to beloved characters, but nonfiction science back matter lays more research, more videos, and more books within a child’s reach and encourages continued inquiry—the basis of all science.

 

Anything that you are working on that you would care to share? Other books that we can look for from you soon?

Photographer Annie Crawley (from Plastic, Ahoy!) and I team up again for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue (Millbrook Press, Fall 2017). We had a great time with this book, traveling to three different zoos, getting up close and personal with the animals, and fighting a fierce Colorado blizzard. The book features three endangered species—orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos—and shows how zoos protect them and their wild habitats. Annie and I are excited to introduce our readers to the three scientists that we interviewed. The two women and one man are amazing role models for kids.

For fall 2018, think elephants.

 

Do you do school and/or Skype visits? Why do you think these are helpful to students?

I visit schools in person or virtually every year. Author visits motivate kids to apply themselves to reading and writing. We introduce them to a variety of literature—some of which is bound to pique their interest. Authors also show kids what real revision looks like and that writing takes perseverance. I tell students that writing is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but even in the face of rejection I refuse to give up on myself. What child who shares a piece of writing with me or asks about writer’s block or struggles to put ideas on paper wouldn’t benefit from believing in him/herself?

If you want to learn more about Patricia’s books or just drop her a line, you can find her on Twitter @PatriciaNewman  or visit her website at http://www.patriciamnewman.com/  to check out some of her other amazing science books:  

 

 

 

 

It’s Time for a Giveaway!!    Patricia’s publisher, Millbrook Press/Lerner, has generously donated a copy of her Sea Otter Heroes book. For a chance to win, leave a comment below about your favorite animal!


Jennifer Swanson is an award-winning author of over 25+ science books for kids. Visit her at her favorite place to explore the world around her www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com