Pajama Press

Archive for August, 2013

Stephanie McLellan on the radio for Middle Child Day

Posted on August 23rd, 2013 by pajamapress

Did you know that Monday, August 12th was Middle Child Day? If you missed the occasion you can still celebrate by listening to some great middle child-themed radio.

Stephanie McLellan, author of Hoogie in the Middle, appeared on CBC’s  Metro Morning to talk about her book and about being a middle child. She was also interviewed on CBC’s Ontario Morning.

At Q107, Dominik Diamond, Ryan Parker, and Johnny Garbutt had a hilarious time reading Hoogie in the Middle and talking about it on the air.

And since every day is a good day to appreciate each other, why not show some love to a middle child in your life today? I’m sure they, like Hoogie, will feel “like the jelly in the middle of a donut…sweet.”

Quill & Quire praises “Character-rich” Graffiti Knight

Posted on August 22nd, 2013 by pajamapress

“Alberta author Karen Bass’s latest novel is a character-rich story about a 16-year-old boy struggling with anger, loyalty, and rebellion. What makes Graffiti Knight different is the setting: Soviet-occupied Eastern Germany in 1947.

Wilm and his impoverished family live in a tiny flat in war-ravaged Leipzig. His father is a crippled, bitter war veteran, his sister an emotionally paralyzed victim of the Soviet invasion, and his mother a ghost-like figure fighting to keep the family together. The only people in Wilm’s world with any power are the Soviet occupiers and the brutal collaborationist East German police; everyone else compromises and tries to get by.

Minor acts of rebellion give Wilm a thrill and offer him a sense of power that he is otherwise lacking. Unfortunately, the minor vandalism he and his friends see as a game escalates dangerously. Suddenly, Wilm finds himself dragging his family and friends into a deadly race to escape across the border into the American zone.

The characters in Graffiti Knight are multi-faceted and their motivations complex. Wilm, in particular, represents an excellent portrayal of how teenage anger can sometimes lead to stupidity. In attempting to assert his individuality, Wilm is seduced by the power he feels carrying out sabotage. But does that mean he is the same as the enemies he is trying to outwit? …Wilm is a thoroughly believable character who invokes the reader’s sympathy (and a sense of frustration at his actions).

Bass has artfully recreated an historical time and place peopled by realistic, three-dimensional characters grappling with their own emotions and global forces they can only barely understand.”—John Wilson, whose latest novel is Stolen (Orca Book Publishers)

The Nervous Marigold reviews Namesake

Posted on August 19th, 2013 by pajamapress

Namesake_LR“…There is simply nothing I love more than offering some real, well-researched, history to kids, through a vehicle that engages them…I loved it, and I will be recommending this book anywhere I can, to any kids, teachers and libraries I encounter.”

Click here to read the full review.

Namesake is “captivating” —Ramblings of a Daydreamer

Posted on August 13th, 2013 by pajamapress

“…I thought MacLeod did a really good job of weaving the past together with the present. I always worry that books like this will get confusing with the back and forth, but I had no trouble keeping up with Namesake. I enjoyed watching Jane’s life in the present, and I eagerly anticipated each of her visits to the past, since I’ve always been fascinated with Tudor era England…Namesake is a captivating story that is sure to please fans of contemporary young adult and historic fiction alike.”

—Marie Landry

Click here to read the full review

Tweezle into Everything “has everything that makes a picture book right” —CanLit for LittleCanadians

Posted on August 13th, 2013 by pajamapress

“…The trick of putting a great picture book together is telling a story that has fluency with powerful but concise text and illustrations that complement the text. Tweezle into Everything has everything that makes a picture book right.  Stephanie McLellan has found the right words for the common dilemma of the youngest child in a family, surprising readers with an unexpected plot twist to Tweezle’s story, and Dean Griffiths has again brought the less-than-scary monsters to life.  If you’re reading this to your children, make sure to have them carefully note the details in the illustrations because Dean Griffiths does not fill space; every detail enhances the story and even hints at what Tweezle is up to.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll be delighted by the turnabout in the story, and close the cover with a smile on your face, for Tweezle and others (I can’t give it away), and for Stephanie McLellan and Dean Griffiths who’ve proven that big stories can come in few pages.”

—Helen Kubiw

Click here to read the full review

Interview with Jill MacLean

Posted on August 2nd, 2013 by pajamapress

J.MacLeanThe emotionally hard-hitting YA novel Nix Minus One will hit Canadian bookstore shelves on February 15, 2013 and US shelves in July. Today the book’s author, multi-award-winning Jill MacLean, sits down to share with us about Nix, writing, and life.

Nix Minus One is your first novel written in free verse. What did you enjoy about this style of writing? What did you find challenging?

Big question.

Both the content of the book and Nix’s taciturnity led me to free verse. But when I’d finished writing it, I realized there were only 32,000 words, while my other three books were 40,000 and up—so what exactly was I leaving out?

There were times I threw up my hands in despair, times when I wondered if I’d made a big mistake by choosing (or being chosen by) free verse. At the same time, I was hugely resistant to rewriting the book in prose.

In one sense, it’s no different writing in free verse than in prose—you always need to strive for the one vivid detail, the essence of the setting, dialogue that reveals character—and always in “the least number of best words.” Free verse, however, carries these strictures to the extreme.

Flow from “section” to “section” (I’m not comfortable calling each section a poem) was challenging, as was fleshing out the characters in a minimum of words, and settling on the “right” linebreak (I nearly drove my editor—and myself—insane when it came to the linebreaks). Revisions seemed to last forever, and when I read the advance reading copy, I still wanted to revise. I’ll probably be revising this book from the grave!

Why did you choose to set the novel in Newfoundland?

I’ve had a prolonged love affair with Newfoundland. My family lived there for nearly nineteen years; my daughter-in-law and two grandchildren were born there; and I made a point of exploring the five localities—two of them very isolated—where they lived. I’ve taken coastal boats along the southern cliffs; stayed in outports and in a lighthouse; hiked, snowmobiled, canoed, eaten mussels around a driftwood fire; visited schools who’ve never had a real live author walk in the door; come face to face with a moose on the boardwalk at Gros Morne—you get the message? But having said all this, I can’t really tell you why I placed Nix in the (fictional) community of Bullbirds Cove on the west coast of the northern peninsula—I just know that’s where he belonged.

In this book, Nix develops a relationship with his neighbour’s neglected dog. What draws you to write about issues of animal welfare?

My first stray cat came to live with us when I was ten, and ever since then, cats have had a tendency to turn up on the front step and walk in the door. The cat I named Hal arrived at Hallowe’en, a short-haired black cat who was horribly skinny. Within six months, he’d grown a luxuriantly long coat, and the vet told me that starving animals can’t afford to waste protein on growing long hair.

For a few years I was a dog walker and volunteer at the local SPCA, and did the same at the Winnipeg Humane Society—a remarkably well-run shelter. I remember Bella, who was depressed, who liked to walk across the grass to the shade of a tree and fall asleep where it was quiet, away from the incessant, stressed barking of dogs kept in cages.

Animals don’t have voices to tell us what’s happened to them, and the stories of some of the dogs and cats that end up in shelters are, no doubt, horrific. So perhaps that’s what I’m doing—filling in a few of the gaps.

Some writers love writing; others love having written, but find the process arduous. How do you feel about it?

For me, writing is hard work, no way around it. But it’s work I love and feel pulled to do—telling stories, being drawn into the hearts and minds of the characters, realizing with a jolt what they’re about to do next, visualizing what’s in their kitchen cupboards and what they hide under the bed, hearing them argue and lie.

I love revising, and spend a long time on it. Cutting unnecessary words, finding strong verbs, fleshing out an all-important scene—it’s all part of getting to know what I’ve written.

Then, of course, when the book is published, I have to let go. And move on to the next one….

In your novels you have been consistently skilled in writing with a young person’s voice—something many writers struggle with. Is there a secret to your success?

I’m not sure how you analyse a “skill”, or even if it’s desirable to do so. So here are a few random thoughts.

I’ve had children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren (I take my 8-year-old great-grandson swimming at the Canada Games Pool once a week—the theory is, it keeps me young).

Empathy is right up there on my list of virtues.

I have clear memories of schooldays. I have no desire ever to go back to those days—and if anything I write can smooth the path for a child or a teen, that’s a real bonus.

I never want to “write down” to young people simply because they’re young.

What is your favourite part of being an author? Your least favourite part?

It’s a real privilege to meet kids who have read one of my books and to hear what they think of it—for and against. On occasion, it’s been very obvious that something I’ve written has affected a girl or boy deeply. This is both gratifying and humbling.

Least favourite? The business end of things.

There’s something else I struggle with. I feel you have to have a thin skin to be a writer, because you’re constantly taking in impressions, scraps of overheard conversation, stories, stories, stories…but once the book is published, you need a much thicker skin to cope with reviews, with signings where four people show up and only one buys the book, with readings where someone in the second row starts snoring. If anyone has the secret of how to switch between thin skin and thick, please let me know!

When you aren’t writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Paddling solo in my Mad River canoe.

Gardening is another passion, and I’m fortunate to have two gardens at the apartment where I live; I grow drought-resistant perennials, and spring bulbs. I call the larger of the two gardens the Dumpster Garden, so you can guess its location. A great way to meet people because everyone has to take out the garbage.

Spending time with friends and with family (they’re nearby, after living in Newfoundland for nearly nineteen years).

Travel—locally or internationally. I’ve been to the Netherlands, England, Banff and the west coast, and various locations in Ontario in the last two years, and hope to return to Europe this summer. Iceland is also on my wish list. As is Greenland. Dream on!

Reading. Non-fiction, essays, plays, poetry, novels. I belong to a YA reading group whose members are so well read and so knowledgeable—an inspiration.

I’ve just started piano lessons after a very long gap. I’m trying not to murder simplified Mozart and Brahms—I love classical music, always have, and venerate musicians. 

Walking in the neighbourhood or by the sea or a lake, and taking photographs that I make into cards.

I cook because I like to eat. Vacuuming—as the magnet on my fridge says—sucks. 

Is there a subject or character you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to write about?

Definitely, in terms of both subject and characters. However, I’ve learned over the years never to talk about future books, or characters that are beginning to emerge in my head. For one thing, it takes enormous energy to write a book—all those blank screens!—and talking about the manuscript-in-progress dissipates that energy. 

For another, the book as it takes form is very fluid, very open—and to describe out loud something so mutable runs the real risk of restricting it or even closing it down (most plots, for instance, stripped of narrative, sound absolutely ridiculous). I don’t know if this makes sense to you, or if other writers feel the same way—it would be interesting to know. 

Nix Minus One is “Refreshing” YA novel—School Library Journal

Posted on August 2nd, 2013 by pajamapress

“Maclean’s novel in verse has a hypnotic rhythm that pulls readers into the mind of 15-year-old Nix. Formerly known as “Fatty Humbolt,” he is struggling with his crush on Loren Cody, the girlfriend of the best player on the hockey team, and his love-hate relationship with his older sister, Roxy. With her “Vampire Red” hair, endless stream of boyfriends, and rebellious energy, Roxy is the polar opposite of Nix, who likes to fade into the background and thinks it’s hard to talk to anyone, let alone members of the opposite sex. Nix finds solace and self-expression in his woodworking. Then Roxy falls for Bryan Sykes, a popular but notorious cad and politician’s son, and Nix is forced to come out of his shell and find his voice. The poems successfully capture the cadences of modern teenage speech and behavior in unadorned language. The sparse verse also provides the perfect narrative voice to express Nix’s taciturn strength. Readers used to a diet of cliché-ridden YA fiction will enjoy this refreshing take on the teenage plight, and, although the ending is particularly painful and poignant, the hard-won hopefulness of Nix’s growth will linger with them long after the poetry ends.”

Community Soup a “great choice for sharing”—School Library Journal

Posted on August 1st, 2013 by pajamapress

CommunitySoup_LR“PreS-Gr 2–With echoes of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” this amusing tale set in a Kenyan school garden tells the story of students and their teachers making soup. A girl’s recalcitrant goats, however, do little to help with the process: “Kioni has a herd of goats,/with hair of calico./And everywhere Kioni goes,/those goats are sure to…Oh, no!” Finally, one clever student realizes that the animals have just the right ingredient to add to the meal: their milk. This title will be a fun read-aloud, with lots of opportunities for listeners to predict the upcoming action. The full-color, mixed-media collages steal the show. The illustrations add texture and vibrancy to the tale and advance the plot on several wordless pages. The book ends with a recipe for pumpkin vegetable soup. A great choice for group sharing or for units on communities.”
—Sara-Jo Lupo Sites, George F. Johnson Memorial Library, Endicott, NY

Click here to learn more about School Library Journal.