Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Super Star Children's Book Review: Mockingbird

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers—Cara Chow, Joan Charles, Sharon Calle—and I are so excited to be championing books celebrating everything from gender diversity, people of color, the LGBTQ community to ethnic, cultural and religious minorities, people with disabilities and developmental challenges to controversial topics, unique family situations and anything and everything I did not include. It is to say we take a rightfully board view of diversity! We aim to shine a light on books that bring both familiar experiences to those who do not often see themselves represented in books and new experiences to those looking to expand their worldview. Here at Bird Meets Worm we believe in the power of story to build empathy and thus a better world for you and me and everyone. Look for a new review on the second Wednesday of every month.

By Kathryn Erskine
Middle Grade (ages 10 & up), • 235 pages
Published by Puffin Books • 2010
ISBN 978-0-14-241775-1

Ten year old Caitlyn and her community must cope with the aftermath of a school shooting, which claimed the life of Caitlyn’s older brother, Devon, and two others at Devon’s school. Before the shooting, Caitlyn had depended on Devon to navigate her social world, an opaque labyrinth for Caitlyn, who is on the autism spectrum. Now, bereft of her brother and her mother, who had succumbed to cancer years earlier, Caitlyn has only her dad at home, but he is drowning in his own grief.

With the support of the school community, Caitlyn befriends a first grader who lost his mother in the shooting. She also learns to be a friend to an unlikely schoolmate: the cousin of the shooter. Caitlyn convinces her father to work with her to complete a special project begun by Devon. In the process, Caitlyn learns about empathy, friendship, and the most elusive of all concepts, closure.

Mockingbird is the most poignant, exquisite, and moving first person narrative I have encountered since reading Flowers for Algernon. Every scene in this story aches with the incongruity between Caitlyn’s perspective and that of the other characters, not to mention the reader. At times, this mismatch is hilarious; at other times, it is heartbreaking. As the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I deeply appreciate Erskine’s portrayal of the school community and the rich complexity of its characters as they cope with trauma and with children who are different. I first read this book two years ago and fell in love with it. Reading it again now, after so many more school shootings, it feels even more relevant and urgent.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Cara Chow

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Rebecca Petruck

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators, designers and creative professionals I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month. 

I’m excited to be chatting it up with the super star Writer, Rebecca Petruck! When I moved from Los Angeles to Wilmington, North Carolina not that long ago, I looked to connect with other NC creatives, also working in children’s publishing, and was kindly welcomed by Rebecca. She is the author of BOY BITES BUG (May 2018) and STEERING TOWARD NORMAL (2014), both with ABRAMS/Amulet. BUG received a starred review from ABA Booklist, who said it’s "...funny, perceptive, and topical in more ways than one." SLJ called it "a sure bet for reluctant readers." She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington, and is a mentor for Pitch Wars, Writing in the Margins, and SCBWI Carolinas. She is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary. You can follow her on Twitter here and you can check out her books here! 

Isn't Rebecca totally adorbs?!

Q: Your NEW middle grade novel BOY BITES BUG releases on May 8th! Congratulations!!! Give us the full scoop on this title—ALL the juicy details! 

A: We change a lot between kindergarten and middle school. I used to eat mud pies and smoke candy cigarettes like the other cool kids, then graduated to unicorns, softball, and Mathcounts. I also changed schools three times, moving from Minnesota to Louisiana to Mississippi. I sometimes wonder who I’d be if I’d grown up with the same group of kids since kindergarten.

Will Nolan has been friends with Darryl that long and thinks he knows all there is to know about him—until Darryl calls Eloy Herrera a racial slur.

The moment is a crossroad. Will knows it. He doesn’t like it and pretends it isn’t, but he knows, and now he has to decide what kind of person he wants to be. While he feels loyalty to an old friend, even a boneheaded one, his new friendship with Eloy grows more important to him each day.

Changing friendships has long been a theme of middle grade, though I think it may be seen more frequently in stories about girls. Here’s one for the boys.

What does any of this have to do with eating bugs? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Bug appétit! (Psst! You can read an excerpt here!!!)

Q: How did BOY BITES BUG come to be? Tell us all about the process of submitting and selling the manuscript as well as the back-and-forth process of developing the project with your editor.

A: Because this is a second book with the same publisher, BUG sold on proposal rather than as a finished manuscript. Sometimes, what seems as if it will work, doesn’t. The version of BUG you will read is so wildly different from the synopsis, you wouldn’t recognize it if it didn’t still have the bug eating. The thing about the bug eating, entomophagy, is that it’s cool, but it’s not a story. Why do the characters eat bugs? How does it affect the characters’ decision making and the story as a whole? I’m lucky my editor was able to give me time to figure it out, even if some of the “time” was because he rejected the version I thought would be “the one.” That stung! But he was right. I love BUG now. I genuinely have moments of not really believing I wrote it. 

How fun is this cover?! You know you totally wanna read this!!

Q: Dish with us about your writing process—routines, rituals, inspiration & practical practices. Set the scene for us, too—what does your writing space look & feel like?

A: I have a small desk against an oversized window that looks out on the mountains of northwest North Carolina. In addition to my laptop, I always have a lined, yellow writing pad, Pilot G-2 1.0 mm pens (seriously, I buy these in bulk), Post-It Notes, and usually a craft book, most often Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. When I’m stuck, I’ll either walk around or open Wired for Story as if it’s a tarot deck, and whatever page I land on has the thing I need to hear right then—and it always does. Lately, I’ve also been helped by Donald Maass’s exercises in The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

I don’t have a routine other than I write in the mornings and in timed, 30-minute stretches. If I’m struggling with focus, I listen to a guided meditation that’s on YouTube. You can search by length or issue, like, “Five-minute meditation for focus,” and a bunch of great options pop up. My favorites are Jason Stephenson and Sarah Hall.

Q: An author’s job doesn’t end with publication—this is when promotion kicks in! What plans are in place for promoting Boy Bites Boy—both by your publisher and on your own? What advice would you give fellow authors on book promotion?

A: My professional background is in PR and marketing, so I have many thoughts of, “I could do this! And that! And this other thing!” But I’d have to be Doctor Manhattan of the Watchmen comics to accomplish everything. It’s easy to feel like that means I’m failing my book.

My advice to others is to list all the things you could do, then list the time/energy/money/enthusiasm you have and get real with yourself. Starting as early as you can (many conferences schedule six months to a year out), make a plan, break it down into smaller tasks with due dates, then let go—don’t “should” on yourself for things you’re not doing. Be excited and focused on the things you are.

For BUG, I’ve offered free visits to schools in my area, created a promotion with my local indie bookstore (Hi, Foggy Pine Books! You can pre-order from them here!), and contacted companies in the entomophagy community to request discount codes for people who want to try insects. I also applied for a grant from my local arts council to attend the American Library Association’s summer conference, and last year submitted a proposal to present at the North Carolina School Library Media Association (which I did in the fall). It may seem like a lot, but there are a dozen area conferences I could have submitted proposals to, several more national conferences I could have traveled to, dozens of bookstores in my region I could have contacted about in-store events, and don’t even get me started on all the insect treats and promotional items I could have bought.

What I have to remind myself is what others have said: My number one marketing tool is my book. It’s the single most important thing I can do to market myself. So, while there are things I can do to help the book, my focus is best spent on the quality of the book itself—and on writing the next one. 

Ooo!! Tasty! Yummy! Delish!

Q: You are a plot super star extraordinaire and even teach a workshop on plotting novels! What are your top 3 tips for fellow writers on developing plot?

A: 1) Know it’s all about Character. Plot is the soil your characters need in order to grow, but no one cares about a book that is only dirt. (To be fair, I would totally read about dirt, and this made me do a Google search, and now Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David Montgomery is in my TBR.)

2) Have a tool to see the big picture. At some point, even pantsers need a way to see everything they have in order to know what to cut, keep, develop, or re-think. It doesn’t matter what the tool is as long as it truly helps you pull back for a very wide-angle view.

3) Ask different people with different experiences for feedback. I geek out for plot, so I’m always happy to talk with mentees and clients, and personally I brainstorm everything with my critique partners. We each approach potential plot knots in different ways, and often my CPs help me see where the real story is versus whatever shiny thing has caught my eye.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday. (And what tasty bug recipe would you eat at the end of it?!)

A: Swimming beneath a waterfall then lying in the shade beside a friendly dragon on soft grass with a book, bottle of Champagne, and Brie sprinkled with black ants.

Thank you so much, Rebecca, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! And congrats on your fabulous new book!!!