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Embrace Your Inner Royal

by Meg Cabot, author of "The Princess Diaries"

Mia Thermopolis of Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries isn’t the only princess in town anymore, and we royally approve. Meet Princess Oliva Grace in From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.
                        
It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been fifteen years since we snuck our first glimpse at the diaries of that not-ready-for-royalty princess, Mia Thermopolis.  

But it’s true!

In the nearly two decades since we heard the words “Welcome to Genovia,” we’ve all grown up a little: Some of us have our own careers/children/tiara-wearing cats; Anne Hathaway, who starred in the two Disney films based on The Princess Diaries series, has her own Oscar; and Genovia has its own Wikipedia entry!

But now the little country so famous for its moderate climate, superb beaches, and pears has once again been thrust into the media spotlight.  

And this time it’s because of events so scandalous (but also, according to Kirkus, heartwarming), it took me two books to describe them: one, for adult readers, is called Royal Wedding, and the other is for readers aged eight and up: From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.

Notebooks is a very special book for me, not only because it allowed me to follow a dream I’ve had since I was a kid—no, not of turning out to be a princess myself—illustrating one of my own books! But also because it introduces a new character to the royal family of Genovia:

Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison, Princess Mia’s half sister, who has been living for the past twelve years in New Jersey, and is totally unaware of her royal heritage. How will Olivia—who considers herself a completely “average” sixth grader, even though she’s a pretty talented artist and “decent” at math—deal with the discovery that she’s second in line to a royal throne?  Is she up for the challenge?

Let’s hope so! In a world that lately seems lacking in civility, I think what we definitely need is more royalty. Not the spoiled-brat kind we see on reality shows (although personally, I believe we could all could use more glitter and limos in our daily lives).  

I mean the kind like Princess Diana, who was the first royal to be photographed touching an AIDS-infected person, or Queen Noor of Jordan, an outspoken advocate for anti-nuclear weapon proliferation.

And though not all of us are going to marry royals like they did, or turn out to be long-lost heirs to a throne like Olivia, we are all capable of fighting for the underdog, like Princess Leia from Star Wars, or loving our wayward family members even when they do crazy things like freeze the entire kingdom (see: Princess Elsa in Frozen).

Because that’s what being a true royal is all about: using your hidden strengths and talents to do the right thing, even when the odds against you seem insurmountable.

And the more people are willing to use their inner royal powers for good, the more happy endings we’ll have. And to me, that would be even better than a fairy tale.

Thanks so much for joining me on this new journey to Genovia. I just know you’re going to enjoy the trip.

Much love,
Meg Cabot signature

The Art of Writing About Villains

by Melissa de la Cruz, author of "The Isle of the Lost"

To write fully developed wicked characters, it helps to remember that villains are people too!

I’m not sure if there is an “art” to writing about villains, but I do find that to write convincing and three-dimensional villains, one must be sympathetic to their plight. I’m always drawn to stories where good and evil evil isn’t depicted in stark black and white but in infinite shades of grey. We need to understand what drives a person to do evil things in order to understand our own less than noble intentions.

When I was writing the "Isle of the Lost", I decided to have the protagonist, Mal, experience the same snubbing that befell her mother Maleficent. As we all know Maleficent was not invited to Princess Aurora’s christening, which set off the events in "Sleeping Beauty". In my story, Mal is six years old and not invited to Evie’s birthday party. This also sets off the events in my story, and it also gives Mal a little perspective into her own mother’s psyche.

Being rejected and excluded creates a pain that is as real as physical pain, and I think when you write about villains you have to remember that their desires and motivations are just as important to them as the heroes and heroines’ desires and motivations. The art of writing them is to humanize them, to me, they’re not these stick-figure dark lords glowing with a red eye on a horizon, they’re wounded and selfish people who are just trying to do their best to get rid of this pain they are feeling—by inflicting it on others.

In my vampire series Blue Bloods, the real villain of my story is a flawed hero, a failure. I love tragic stories, and I love stories about villains, I see our humanity reflected in their tales so much more clearly than the classic hero stories. Look at the current pop culture slate—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, led by anti-hero characters who are much more complex and interesting than a do-gooder hero.

Root for the villain, if anything, they’re the hero of their own story.

 

Lincoln Pierce Talks About "Big Nate"

Lincoln Pierce, author of the New York Times bestselling "Big Nate" series, takes some time to answer questions for Kindle readers.

"Big Na"Big Nate Lives It Up"te" has been running in newspapers for almost 25 years. How did it get its start? I began trying to get a comic strip published when I was 18, and for several years had no success. But I could tell I was improving when the generic rejection letters became more encouraging. Finally, I submitted Neighborhood Comix, loosely based on the neighborhood in New Hampshire where I'd grown up. One of the featured kids was named Nate, who had a little brother, Marty. At the time, Nate was blond and something of a straight man; Marty had all the gusto. I combined the two brothers into Nate, but I gave him more of Marty's over-the-top personality. I renamed the strip Big Nate, and very quickly, I realized what really interested me was what took place in Nate's school. The more I wrote about Nate's adventures with his classmates and teachers, the more I enjoyed myself.

How do you find inspiration for the strip? What’s your process? I've never been one of those cartoonists who sees something happening on the street and thinks, “That would make a great strip.” Instead, I imagine situations Nate might find himself in or conversations he might have. Big Nate is a four-panel strip, so the dialogue in panel 4 might come to me first. Then, it's just a matter of writing the dialogue in panels 1, 2, and 3 that lead to the payoff. It also doesn't hurt that I can remember in vivid detail things that happened when I was Nate's age.

Which cartoons/cartoonists have influenced you most? It begins with Charles Schulz and Peanuts. I don't think it was possible to grow up reading comics in the 60s and 70s and NOT be influenced by Peanuts. I really absorbed the rhythm of telling a joke in four panels. There's just something about it that's so symmetrical and beautiful to me, and I always knew that any strip I'd create would have to be four panels. Next I would cite Garry Trudeau and Doonesbury, because I think he brought an entirely new kind of writing to comic strips. He almost always found a way to sneak two gags into one strip. There would be one joke—presented either in the third panel or early in the fourth—and then another, often times understated but somehow even funnier joke, to close out the strip.

I'd also pick a relatively obscure but enormously important cartoonist named Francis W. Dahl, who created multi-panel comics for the Boston Herald in the 30s, 40s, and 50s that were like nothing I'd seen before or since. They're part political satire, part social commentary, but there's no anger, no outrage. His cartoons poke fun, in a big-hearted way, at everyday people—usually, residents of New England. I discovered my grandparents’ collections of his comics when I was about 7 or 8. And while I'm talking about cartoonists before my time, I'll also mention George Herriman's Krazy Kat, Cliff Sterrett's Polly And Her Pals, and E.C. Segar's Thimble Theatre, the strip that introduced Popeye.

 

The "Big Nate" series is full of hilarious adventures and is great for readers aged 8-12. Learn more

 

Author-Illustrator Salina Yoon Shares Artwork From Her Latest Book "Stormy Night"

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Beloved author-illustrator Salina Yoon returns to the charming world of Found with her new book Stormy Night, a story about scary thunderstorms and finding comfort in family and friends. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a stormy night, and Bear can’t fall asleep! Thunder and lightning might be frightening, but with the help of his parents, his bunny Floppy, and a special song, Bear learns not to be afraid.


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Stay up to date on the latest in children's books while discovering ways to advance kids' reading skills by signing up for our children's newsletter. These monthly newsletters for ages 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 highlight new releases, learning resources, exclusive author content, deals, and more.

Author Susan Verde Shares Five of Her Favorite Books About Friendship

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“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” – William Shakespeare

Thank goodness for friends! They are what make life full of connection and adventure. They are the inspiration for my new picture book, You and Me, which considers the journey, the what-ifs, and the serendipity that brings friends together.

Friendship is a common theme in children’s picture books because it is the place where kids learn to navigate the world at large. Friendships teach us how to share, listen, empathize, work things out, be selfless and vulnerable, and learn about the kind of person we want to be. Through the years I’ve read countless wonderful children’s books about friendship and all of its components. I would love to share a few of my favorites.

Amos and Boris by William Steig: This is a beautiful tale of a friendship forged between a mouse and a whale. Their friendship begins as Boris the Whale saves Amos the Mouse, who finds himself fighting for his little life in the middle of the great big ocean. As Boris carries Amos to safety they share their stories and dreams and become fast and deep friends. Amos wonders how he can ever repay Boris for saving his life and ultimately gets the chance to prove the depth of his friendship when Boris becomes beached on the shore. I love this book because it shows how true friends find a way to be there for each other no matter the obstacles. I can’t help shedding a tear or two when reading this story.

Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems: This is just one of the stories in the “Elephant and Piggie” series, all of which tackle the layers and challenges of friendship with simplicity and humor. This particular story makes me laugh out loud when a snake wants to join in Gerald (Elephant) and Piggie’s game of catch. The dilemma? Snake has no arms (albeit a great sense of humor)! But Gerald and Piggie are determined to include their new friend and keep his self-esteem intact. I must have read this one hundred times and with each read I laugh and feel proud of the way these friends find a solution.

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers: This is the story of a boy who finds “a penguin at his door.” Deciding the penguin must be lost, the boy does everything in his power to bring the penguin home to the South Pole only to realize that “home” is being with each other. The boy’s empathy and kindness and the connection between these two characters, expressed in so few perfectly chosen words, makes me ache in my heart. 

Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel: I like this series of short and sweet stories because they tell of a friendship that is already well established. Frog and Toad’s personalities balance each other out and they know just how to care for each other and run interference when life gets them down. Each tale is sweet and tender with a little bit of an edge and an appreciation for the occasional curmudgeon in all of us.

My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann: This story is the ultimate friendship tale of acceptance and appreciation. Through bold and beautiful illustrations, Mouse expresses his love for his friend Rabbit, in spite of the trouble that always seems to follow him. We all have friends like this (or maybe we are that friend)! Although the situation is fantastical, the message of the story is real and full of fun!

These stories have touched my heart and captured the true meaning of friendship.

Stay up to date on the latest in children's books while discovering ways to advance kids' reading skills by signing up for our children's newsletter. These monthly newsletters for ages 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 highlight new releases, learning resources, exclusive author content, deals, and more.

Guest Post by Lee Bennett Hopkins, Author of "Lullaby and Kisses Sweet"

Lullaby_Kisses_SweetAuthor Lee Bennett Hopkins has compiled over one hundred books of poetry for children, but a book of lullabies was among the most joyous collections for him to put together.

Working with America’s most revered poets writing for children today, such as X. J. Kennedy, Marilyn Singer, and J. Patrick Lewis, as well as introducing a bevy of new voices, it was a delight to bring thirty newly commissioned works for children to life in Lullaby and Kisses Sweet. There are five sections: Family, Food, “Firsts,” Play, and Bedtime, and all are integral phases of child development.

From grandparents to big brothers, snacks to spaghetti, a first tooth or haircut, playing in a sandbox or being on a swing, each poet’s voice resonates the fun of growing, the thrill of the unexpected, and the love that family brings. Alyssa Nassner’s charming artwork adds to the melodious tone of this book.

Self-concept and awareness is stressed throughout. It is the child –every child – shouting, “Look, world! It’s me!”

Poetry is life and only the poet’s pen can reveal it via a lullaby, kisses ever so sweet, and enduring love.

Poetry is meant to be read aloud, shared. Here are five books of poetry that will enhance any child’s library:

Brothers & Sisters: Family Poems by Eloise Greenfield: From “My Little Brother” to “Grandpa and Great-Uncle Paul,” the bond between family members is portrayed in this poignant collection.

Forest Has A Song by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater: Journey through nature in an award-winning collection highlighting new looks at fossils, spiders, lichen, and a baby owl making its “First Flight.”

On the Farm by David Elliott: Thirteen brief poems evoke beautiful imagery about animals and insects, such as “The Bees” who “Tell their story,/sweet and old…”.

When Riddles Come Rumbling: Poems to Ponder by Rebecca Kai Dotlich: Twenty-nine rhyming riddles about familiar objects, such as a kite, soup, and a clock, are here for young readers to think about and solve.

 Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw: A shelter cat is adopted by a young boy in this book of haiku that will warm hearts.

Stay up to date on the latest in children's books while discovering ways to advance kids' reading skills by signing up for our children's newsletter. These monthly newsletters for ages 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 highlight new releases, learning resources, exclusive author content, deals, and more. 

Four Middle Grade Adventures with Unforgettable Sidekicks

Dan Gemeinhart, author of the middle grade debut The Honest Truth– the exciting and heartfelt story of a runaway boy and his dog – picks four of his favorite middle grade books about kids on an adventure with a trusty companion.

I love a good sidekick. A stalwart companion. A faithful friend whose devotion is always steady no matter what the road brings. My debut middle grade novel, The Honest Truth, is about a sick boy and his loyal dog who run away together to climb a mountain. To celebrate its release, I thought I'd highlight a few other great kid-and-non-human-companion stories, some of my very favorites to recommend to kids looking for that next great adventure. This list is an eclectic mix: it’s got sled dogs, shipwrecks, talking badgers, and flying robots. But they all have two things in common: gripping adventure and super sidekicks.

 

Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo

While on a family sailing trip around the world, 11-year-old Michael and his dog, Stella, get swept overboard one night and wash up on what he thinks is a deserted island. His struggle to survive is complicated when he discovers that the island is inhabited by a Japanese soldier stranded there since World War II.  An unforgettable adventure.

 

Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham

A stunningly original story. Young Max finds himself wandering in a mysterious forest world with no memory of how he got there. With three unlikely sidekicks (a bear, a badger, and a barn cat) he sets off to learn the truth of his own identity and the world he finds himself lost in. Pursued by the sinister Blue Cutters, this ragtag team must stand together to survive a host of perils and complete their quest. The stunning, literary twist ending may change forever how you feel about stories, and heroes.

 

Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

A gripping, white-knuckle sled-dog survival story with an awesomely tough girl protagonist. It's a story as rugged and hard-bitten as anything by Jack London or Gary Paulsen, and just as absorbing. I can't wait for my young daughters to grow up and read this adventure that I read in one breathless evening.

 

Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout

A super fun sci-fi page-turner. Fisher wakes up to discover that he's the last person on earth, survivor of a botched hibernation project to preserve humanity through a global crisis. With a robot and a mammoth as his companions, he sets off on a dangerous journey to find more human survivors in a ravaged and menacing world. Post-apocalypse Earth has never been so much fun.

Guest Blog by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Author of "Echo"

           Sometimes the book I set out to write, ultimately becomes a tiny part of a much larger story that demands to be written. That's what happened with Echo.

          I thought I was going to write a novella about the nation's first successful desegregation case in 1931: Roberto Alvarez vs. the Lemon Grove School District. I was researching at a historical society in San Diego County, when I came across a peculiar photograph of a large group of children, including many Mexican-Americans, sitting on the steps of a country school. Each child held a harmonica. When I asked the docent about the photo, she told me it was the school's harmonica band and added, "during the big harmonica band movement in the United States."  Those intoxicating words were enough to send me on the long and winding  journey toward ECHO.

          Not only was there a harmonica band movement, at one time there were over two thousands school harmonica bands in the U.S. , including Alfred N. Hoxie's Philadelphia Harmonica Band of Wizards, a 60 member boy band. I began to wonder about the children in that country school band, who were later segregated, and the boys in Hoxie's band in Philadelphia, which was full of orphans. Two characters and their stories began to take shape: Mike, in Philadelphia; and Ivy Maria, a Mexican girl in California. I began to wonder if by some odd fate, my characters at different points in time might have played the same harmonica. And if they had, who had owned it before them?

          After more research and traveling to Germany to the largest and one of the oldest harmonica factories in the world, I learned about the young apprentices who had worked there before WWII. Another character's story, Friedrich's, began to unfold. I had the premises for three stories but I wanted more than just episodes in the life of one musical instrument. Given the years the novel spanned, 1933-1951,  I realized that my characters would live during some of the most dark and challenging times in history that included war, the Great Depression, and segregation. They would have to cope with circumstances far beyond their control. How would they have the courage to put one foot in front of the other? How would they find their way? What emotions and themes echoed from one story to the next?

          I wanted to give my characters beauty and light when they were afraid and their future seemed bleak. I wanted them to experience the universal language of music and the camaraderie of musicians. I wanted Friedrich, Mike and Ivy Maria to experience hope, and magic. That is why the harmonica is tied to a promise, tangled in a witch's curse, and is the vessel which carries the midwife's prophecy: Your fate is not yet sealed. Even in the darkest night, a star will shine, a bell will chime, a path will be revealed.

Teen & Young Adult, Mystery & Thriller Author Sara Larson

Guest Post by Sara Larson, author of Defy Series

Sara Larson shares insight on how the strength and courage of her favorite literary heroines inspired the development of the main character in her Defy series, Alexa Hollen.  

A lot of readers have written to tell me how much they love Alexa’s strength and courage in Defy and Ignite—and that spurred the idea to write about some of my favorite literary heroines. Bear in mind that there are definitely many more amazing heroines out there that I love, but here are some of my favorites.

One of my all-time favorite heroines of all time is Jane Eyre. She’s so quietly courageous. Her life was very hard, but she just made the best of it, no matter what got thrown at her. I also loved the dynamic between her and Mr. Rochester. I’ve had some readers tell me they thought the relationship between Alexa and Prince Damian in DEFY reminded them of theirs (but in a fantasy setting, of course)—which wasn’t on purpose, but I am highly flattered by the compliment!

Another favorite from the books I loved growing up is Beauty from BEAUTY by Robin McKinley. I always felt an affinity with Beauty, in all the retellings I’ve read and watched. I felt unattractive when I was growing up, and I was a voracious reader. I was so inspired by Beauty’s ability to see past the exterior and love someone for what was inside of them—for their heart and soul. And again, you might see unintentional echoes of that theme in the DEFY series, especially with what happens to Alexa at the end of DEFY and how that influences (or doesn’t) those around her for the rest of the series.

Another favorite is Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. Talk about a strong character! I love that Hermione is so smart and resourceful. Let’s be honest, without her, both Harry and Ron would have been toast many, many times. I adore a character that can use her brains and courage to be strong. Hermione made being a “nerd” cool—nerds can save the day, and often do in real life and fantasy.

Some more recent favorites include Karou from DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. Her story is heartbreaking but powerful. She is witty, smart, strong, and achingly broken, but still manages to keep going and going and going. How do you keep living when you keep losing all the people you love—whether to death or for other reasons? Karou will teach you how. There is a lot of loss and heartbreak in the DEFY series as well, and I only hope readers will think my characters can prove to be as resilient as Karou and those who fight alongside her for peace and freedom and happiness.

Finally, another recent favorite is Lilac LaRoux from THESE BROKEN STARS. You might think she’s just a spoiled, rich princess as the daughter of the richest man in the galaxy, but you’d be wrong. There’s much more to her than that, right from the start, but when the Icarus crashes and she is stranded on a deserted planet with the only other survivor, Tarver Merendsen, you find out just how deep her strength runs. She never gives up, no matter how bad things get (and trust me, in this book, they get pretty bad). I love this book and just how brave Lilac proves to be.

So those are some of my favorite heroines from books I’ve loved throughout my life. Perhaps someday, Alexa will make someone else’s list. Wouldn’t that be something?

Dogs, Pianos, and Names that Make You Smile

Authors Augusta Scattergood and Sarah Weeks discuss their new books and how they come up with names for their characters.

Sarah: Hey, Augusta Scattergood. You don’t mind if I call you by your full name, do you? It’s such a wonderful name! It makes me smile just to say it. Speaking of names, how did you choose the names for the characters in your new book The Way to Stay in Destiny?

Augusta: Names are so important, aren’t they? But I don't always get them right the first time. Occasionally I give a character a place-holder name until he tells me what to call him. Theo was Shelton for a while! But Theo’s name is such a part of him—the mystery of why he was named for Thelonious Monk and that now he’s “just plain Theo.” Miss Sister was actually named for a dance teacher in my hometown. Speaking of names that make you smile, I can just hear Honey being read aloud to kids. Teeny and Melody jump off the pages. And Bee-Bee Churchill. Great names, great characters.

Sarah: Thanks! Melody’s mother was a musician, so I chose a musical name for her. Even the dog in Honey is named after a famous composer. I was a singer-songwriter for many years before I became an author, so I have a deep love of music. I really enjoyed reading about Theo’s musical talent. I could hear that piano playing inside my head. Our new books have a number of things in common—pianos, bratty neighbors, dogs, and dance lessons—did I leave anything out?

Augusta: Let’s see, both of our books are set in small towns where kids have the freedom to get themselves in and out of escapades. Although I’ve lived in a lot of places, my heart is in the kind of place I grew up, a small southern town.

Sarah: I didn’t grow up in a small town, but I spend my summers in a little town in the Catskill Mountains. My dog loves to swim in our pond there. I wonder if Mo and Ginger would get along.

Augusta: My childhood was filled with animals. Rabbits, fish, parakeets, dogs, and cats. And those were the ones we had for pets. But I’m really a dog person. My book’s dog, Ginger Rogers, didn’t get quite the billing as your dog Mo. I love Mo’s voice and his sweet personality, but Ginger is the old and crotchety type. She did take a shine to Uncle Raymond, who’s a bit crotchety himself actually.

Sarah: You know what makes me crotchety? Doing research! I prefer to make things up. The things I am most interested in writing about are kids and animals, and of course things that make me laugh or cry—or better yet, laugh and then cry. 

Augusta: Since I write historical fiction, I’d better love the research part. Hey, I’m a librarian, what can I say? For my first novel, Glory Be, I did a ton of research about Freedom Summer. While writing The Way to Stay in Destiny, I spent a lot of time fact-checking dates, prices, and baseball records. 

Sarah: I love baseball—especially Little League games! Before we sign off I just want to mention that in addition to Honey, I have a new picture book out called Glamourpuss. It’s about a narcissistic cat who thinks so highly of herself that instead of saying meow, she shortens it to just “Me!” David Small illustrated—lucky me! Nice chatting with you, Augusta Scattergood.

Augusta: You too, Sarah Weeks!