Interview With Ellen Klages, Author of The Green Glass Sea

Ellen Klages photo

Ellen Klages at SRK Headshot Day

I recently had the chance to meet with Ellen Klages, a favorite author of mine. Her first novel, The Green Glass Sea, won the Scott O’Dell Award and has long been popular with mother-daughter book clubs. The sequel, White Sands, Red Menace, is also a great book for young readers as well as their parents.

In the years since publishing those two novels, Klages has been busy writing short stories and nonfiction pieces. Earlier this year she released a novel for adults, soon to be followed (in May) by a short-story collection appropriate for ages 15 and up called Wicked Wonders. My review of that book will appear soon.

Here she talks about the differences and similarities between writing for children and adults, reading for fun, and her next book for young readers due out in 2018.

MDBC: You write for young readers, you write for adults. What’s the challenge of moving back and forth?

EK: Slightly different vocabulary and very different themes. I write science fiction and fantasy for adults and I write mainstream historical fiction for kids, but the writing process for me isn’t any different. I’m telling myself a story. There are days when I’m a kid and there are days when I’m a grown up. Actually, there are more days when I’m a kid.

I think for the most part a lot of it vocabulary. Kids looking at a sunset would describe it in a completely different way than adults would. And one wrong word can just throw you off because you’d think, “A kid would never say it like that,” or “A kid wouldn’t care about that.” I try not to write any differently for kids because otherwise I feel like I would be talking down to them.

A lot of stuff will go over kids’ heads the first time they read it. I’ve had kids tell me, “I read this (The Green Glass Sea) when I was a kid and I went back and reread it and there’s so much more in it.” I don’t want the story to be any less rich if you don’t get the nuance.

A lot of what I write is stuff that fascinates me that when I was a kid would not have been in a kids book. When I was a kid there was no such thing as YA. It was teen books. If the book was for girls it was about prom and if the book was for boys it was about hot rods. There was pretty much nothing else. And I felt it was really boring.

MDBC: Because there’s so much more to life right?

EK: Yes. And because I write mostly female characters I’m not going to write girly girls. I’m going to write about girls and science, or girls and sports, or girls and math. Or girls in space and hope that if you’re reading that when you’re 10 that sometime when you’re in college you’ll go, “You know I think the reason I majored in this is because I read this book when I was 10 and I got really interested.”

And I certainly don’t want to encourage stereotypes of any kind, because there’s so much of that out there.

MDBC: What do you think can be gained from moms and daughters reading your stories together?

EK: I’ve been at a couple of mother-daughter book club meetings and a lot of times the kids are too shy to talk initially and the adults do all the talking. And then a kid will say, “No mom, because of this…,” and they’ll get into a dialogue about something. Or the adults are kind of awestruck because I wrote this book and the kids say things like, “Why did you do this? I didn’t like that part.” Hopefully it’s a conversation from two different perspectives about the same thing that gives them common ground to talk.

I didn’t share anything with my mom. My mom either foisted stuff on me that I didn’t like or pooh-poohed the stuff that I liked as a 10 or 12 year old. So it’s kind of an alien concept to me, but I think it’s fabulous that you’ve got this book that you both love and you’re talking about it in a way that kind of bridges the age gap. The moms obviously understand a larger worldview, but the kids are getting the kid perspective. So they both learn and they both have a good time.

I was 10 fifty years ago. All the mother-daughter things I can remember involved sewing or baking or trying to make little girls be more like their mommies. I think the nice thing about these book clubs is that nobody is trying to swing the other side over to their point of view. At least in the one’s I’ve experienced there’s a pretty equal balance of who’s bringing what to the table. And that’s really cool.

MDBC: Do you think having kids choose something to read because it’s fun helps them become avid readers?

EK: Oh yeah, when it’s homework you just want to get it over with. I was one of those kids who would go through four or five books in a weekend and didn’t want to do anything else.

MDBC: Where did you get your books?

There was a used bookstore in downtown Columbus (Ohio) and none of the books had covers. They were all paperback and they cost like a nickel. So for $1 I could get 20 books. They were a nickel apiece so I was buying the fattest ones I could that didn’t look really boring. I was reading everything.

MDBC: Tell me about your new short-story collection, Wicked Wonders, (which I would recommend for readers aged 15 and up).

EK: A lot of the stories have younger protagonists, but that doesn’t mean they’re for kids. Sometimes I find my books in middle-school libraries, because librarians know me as the author of The Green Glass Sea. The themes that many of (the stories in Wicked Wonders) deal with are emotionally wrenching, including one that’s a Holocaust story. Another story is about a man with a son who has Down syndrome that I think is the most poignant thing I’ve ever written.

MDBC: In your historical novels for young readers, you say you try to focus on science and math and sports, kind of nontraditional things. What’s your thought behind that?

EK: Not to write a book about sewing because I hate it.

MDBC: Talk about your next book for young readers coming out in 2018.

EK: It’s called Out of Left Field, and it’s about girls and baseball. It takes place in 1957. A girl wants to play Little League baseball, but Little League doesn’t let girls play. It took me two years to find and ending that was realistic and wasn’t condescending.

Board Books Help Babies and Toddlers Learn About the World Around Them

what do you wear cover imageThick, sturdy pages for grubby fingers to grab. Simple illustrations and words to hold short attention spans. Snuggle-time inspiration for parents, babies and toddlers. Board books provide all these things and more.

I’ve had an abundance of great board books to review recently, and here are some of my favorites. All are recommended for babies starting at birth to toddlers aged 3.

Flora and the Chicks, A Counting Book by Molly Idle. Flora has to count and keep track of baby chicks as they hatch from eggs in the nest. Flora shows off some of her signature ballet moves as she corrals these babies for their mama hen.

Mommy Snuggles, and Daddy Dreams are two board books by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben. Cute illustrations help little ones learn the names of animals and what their babies are called, such as otter pups, kangaroo joeys, and penguin chicks in Mommy Snuggles. Daddy Dreams show how different animals sleep. For instance, bats hang upside down, hedgehogs roll into a ball, and horses stand.

Colorful illustrations of happy animals distinguish Flamingos Fly and Bears Are Big by Douglas Florian and Barbara Bakos. Alternating pages rhyme like this, “Dolphins dive. Swallows soar. Starfish creep on the ocean floor.” Also, “Rhinos have horns. Tigers have tails. Turtles have hard shells, so do snails”. These are great books to introduce concepts, like large and small, and animal behaviors.

Taro Gomi’s eye-catching illustrations are on display in What Do You Wear?, a board book that compares animals skins, fur and feathers to different types of clothing. A snake for instance, wears a snug stocking, and a zebra wears striped pajamas. Kids will love coming to the end to find a boy who needs to get dressed.

Masha and Her Sisters by Suzy Ultman plays on the concept of Russian stacking dolls. Each of five sisters displays a trait. Natasha is the storyteller, Galya is the nature lover, etc. Each sister folds down to reveal her larger sibling, similar to the way stacking dolls fit inside each other. Masha is the biggest of them all. It’s a fun, hands-on book to read.

Take your little one on a travel adventure with two titles from My Little Cities: London and New York. Jennifer Adams chooses landmarks in each city to highlight while introducing concepts such as old and new, fast and slow, quiet and loud, and soft and hard. The end of the book provides facts about the places visited, which include the Tower of London, Abbey Road and Buckingham Palace in London, and the Empire State Building, Yankee Stadium and the Statue of Liberty in New York. Greg Pizzoli’s pictures show kids and parents enjoying visiting these places.

Two titles in the Animal Friends series by Junzo Terada build a story with different animals joining the fun. In Swimming Hole Party! monkey looks for friends who can cool off in the water with him, and picks up hippo, lion and others en route. Barnyard Jamboree! features a banjo-playing cat who puts together a band that includes an accordion-playing sheep and a drum-beating horse. Pages are notched and tiered, so little ones have several angles to grab pages when they are ready to turn them.

The Little Bee series by Hunter Reid and Stephanie Hinton adds two more titles: Bright Lights, Bright City and At the Carnival. Both are filled with colorful illustrations and pages that are chock full of things to look at and identify.

The publisher provided me with a copy of these books in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: Fly! by Xavier Deneux

Fly! cover imageI’m a big fan of Xavier Deneux’s TouchThinkLearn series, and previously I’ve reviewed Colors and Opposites, two titles in the series. So I was thrilled to receive a copy of the newest title, called Fly!

In Fly!, a little bird meets a mate and together they build a nest. Soon after they tend two eggs in that nest until the eggs hatch, the baby birds grow, and finally, one takes its first flight. It’s a beautifully simple story that tunes little ones into the natural world just outside their bedroom window.

What I really love about Fly! is that each page not only features cut-out images, which the series is known for, but some of those images have puzzle pieces that can be removed from one page and inserted into a spot on the next page.

Fly! inside pageFor example, the opening pages say, “Bird arrived at the foot of the tree. It was the end of a very long journey.” The left-hand page features a cloud shape and a simple yellow bird with a red beak and red feet. The right hand page shows an illustration of dirt with grass, and a tree sprouting green leaves. A bird-sized cutout sits at the bottom of the tree, so a toddler can move the bird from its place on one page to the puzzle cutout on the other.

It’s the kind of hands-on involvement that toddlers love in books and that teaches gross motor skills at the same time. Here, children can pretend they make the bird fly, on other pages they can move the sun in the sky, build a nest, and watch eggs crack.

Will the puzzle pieces last? When dealing with toddlers it’s likely that the pieces will eventually bend, but the cutouts seem tight enough to hold them in place through many readings. I highly recommend TouchThinkLearn: Fly! for ages 2 to 4.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Tuck.com Article: Bedtime Stories Increase Later Literacy Rates

Besides being great for parent-child bonding, bedtime stories have also been shown to have other benefits, such as developing higher-than-average literacy rates and an emotional connection to reading. That’s the subject of a post from Tuck Sleep Foundation called “Bedtime Reading for Children.”

The article includes lists of great books in different age groups for bedtime reading. Something that may come as a surprise? Even 11 year olds benefit when their parents read to them before they go to bed.

Tuck.com has other useful information for parents looking to improve sleep quality for everyone in the family.

Book Review: Balderdash by Michelle Markel

Balderdash! cover imageWith the mountain of great children’s books to choose from these days, one could be forgiven for imagining children’s publishing has been around as long as adult books have been available for the masses. But it wasn’t until John Newbery (the man the Newbery Award is named for) became a publisher in the mid-1700s that books children could read for fun came along. Before that, children were expected to read preachy poems and manuals with lots of rules on how to conduct themselves.

Newbery’s life and the influence he had is told, fittingly, in a picture book by Michelle Markel called Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books. The cover sets the tone for the story, with an aproned Newberry holding an open book surrounded by cheering children, many also holding books.

The tone throughout the book is playful and irreverent, which is how many in Newbery’s time saw him. But children loved the books he published, which were small and pretty. Some even came with a toy. It is believed that Newbery wrote many of the titles he published, but the author was officially anonymous.

Balderdash! ends with a short bio of the man, more about the books he published, and references for further reading. Book lovers of all ages will enjoy reading about this man who is so important to the emergence of good literature just for children.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Fault Lines & Tectonic Plates by Kathleen M. Reilly

Fault Lines & Tectonic Plates cover imageWhy do earthquakes occur? What contributes to the eruption of volcanoes? How do tectonic plates move against each other? The answers to these questions and others related to how our planet formed mountain ranges, ocean trenches, certain types of rock and more can be found in Fault Lines & Tectonic Plates by Kathleen M. Reilly.

It’s the kind of nonfiction book that’s great for budding geologists or scientists of any kind, but particularly those who are curious about the physical world around them. Filled with fun facts and words to know, Fault Lines & Tectonic Plates also has 25 projects that kids can do at home. Most will need the help of a parent and/or friend, which gives kids opportunities to interact with others while stimulating their intellectual curiosity.

The activities also give kids the opportunity to learn what it means to come up with a theory and test it out. And it shows how scientists don’t always learn the truth about what they are trying to figure out until they have tried and failed, or when others build upon their research.

Fault Lines & Tectonic Plates should be a great book to read through all at once, but it’s also good to keep it on the bookshelf where young readers can refer to it again and again, particularly when there’s a bit of current news related to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, ocean exploration and more. I recommend it for readers aged 9 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce

The Astounding Broccoli Boy cover imageWhen Rory Rooney’s skin turns green on a field trip he lands in the isolation ward of a hospital in London, where the doctor wants to test and observe him to see if he’s contagious. Rory is shocked to see that the only other person in the ward is Tommy-Lee, his long-time bully. But once Rory realizes that Tommy-Lee can sleepwalk past the locked doors, he discovers his own explanation for the reason the two of them have changed skin tone: they are now superheroes, able to teleport, map out the city, and go into the world to do good. But the world at large is not quite ready to look at their daring actions in quite the same way.

The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce give voice to the bullied, the bullies, and those who are powerless to make themselves heard. When Rory tries to talk to his parents, his teachers, and his schoolmates about being bullied, they generally ignore him or blame him, and he realizes he’s on his own in dealing with it. Once he turns green Rory can’t even control where he lives or who is allowed to see him. It’s no wonder he gravitates to stories about superheroes, especially those who started out as ordinary humans and gained power through some outside force, aka Spiderman, to fight evil.

Locked up with his nemesis, Rory slowly comes to understand Tommy-Lee and the troubles he faces of his own. And while the two become friends of a sort, Rory is under no delusion that under the right circumstances Tommy-Lee will lash out at him again.

The Astounding Broccoli Boy is a classic Frank Cottrell Boyce tale about young people facing difficult situations and struggling to figure out the world around them and their place in it. They make innocent, uninformed mistakes, come to incomplete laugh-out-loud conclusions, and in the end, come away with a better understanding of each other and the people they interact with daily. I recommend it for readers aged 9 and up.

I checked out a copy of this book from the library and have provided an honest review.

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Coloring Book Review: It’s All Connected by Karen Kay

It's All Connected cover imageFans of adult coloring books will be interested in It’s All Connected by Karen Kay. Nearly 50 hand-drawn illustrations fill one-sided pages. With no colors to bleed from front to back, you can frame your favorite pages after you add the color.

The author says she has included “little quirks” that she challenges colorists to find in each illustration. As colors reveal the patterns more richly, little details become more visible

I liked that the illustrations are all flower-like or snowflake-like, but none are easily identifiable as a specific thing. This makes it easier to choose colors that you want to put together instead of ones you think ought to be applied to a certain object. It’s All Connected should provide hours of relaxing fun.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

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