Articles

Cover Reveal: THE TILTERSMITH by Amy Herrick

Drumroll please…

I am so excited for this chance to present a cover reveal and preview of Amy Herrick’s upcoming book, The Tiltersmith, which promises supernatural overtones that allude to the works of Susan Cooper and Madeleine L’Engle.

Spring is late coming to Brooklyn, NY, and while climate change might have something to do with the chaotic weather patterns bringing late snow and even a tornado to the city, there may be supernatural elements at work, too. A curious character named the Tiltersmith —Superintendent Tiltersmith, he claims — shows up at the kids’ school, in search of the tools that will bring Spring to life. But the Tiltersmith is trying to collect them himself and use them to keep the Lady of spring underground and in his power. Unbeknownst to Edward, Feenix, Danton, and Brigit, the tools have been entrusted to them, but competing forces are working to lead and mis-lead them. If the quartet can protect and use the tools properly, spring will arrive. But if the Tiltersmith has his way, as the underworld teems with life, our world will be trapped in an eternal winter.

The cover features a tight grouping of four young heroes surrounded by a maelstrom of colors. Lightning bolts strike leaves from the trees, hinting at the story’s chaotic weather themes. The kids are layered in brightly colored outerwear, arms akimbo, with hair and jewelry chains flying as if we’ve caught them in the middle of a dance.

And you’ll see it soon.

But first, an excerpt…

Edward Finds a Cocoon

Edward was dreaming. He was trying to pick something up with a spoon. The thing, which was going to lead him to a brilliant scientific discovery, kept sliding away like a piece of spaghetti. Then, just as he thought he’d finally got it, there was a tremendous kaboooooom! and he woke up.

He found himself in the deep middle of the night. A thunderbolt lit the sky outside his window, and in its brief flash of light, he saw that it was snowing again. Seriously? It was March 21. Enough already with the snow.

He lay there counting. Ten seconds and kaboooooom! This meant, he knew, that the storm was about two miles away. He waited for the next flash of lightning, which came quickly. It tore out of the clouds and shot down behind the houses beyond Ninth Street. Snow swirled madly through the air. This time the kaboooooom! came only five seconds later.

The storm was headed right this way.

Edward forced himself out of bed with his blanket around his shoulders. He stood in front of the window, scanning the sky. He wanted to see another bolt up close.

Perhaps thirty seconds later, the next strike happened, right up the street. This time the lightning appeared to burst out of the ground like an enormous electrified finger. It was met almost simultaneously by a bolt from the sky, followed by an enormous concussive baaadoooooom! The whole house shook, and the windows rattled. Peering into the darkness and the snow, Edward saw a round metal disk go flying through the air. It landed with a great crumpling noise on top of a nearby car. The roof of the car folded upward like a piece of origami paper. The disk then slid off the car and came to a stop balanced against its side.

A manhole cover! That was what it had to be. He’d read all about how these things happened. Between the flammable gases that could build up underground and the old and frayed electrical wiring down there, sometimes all it took was a little spark to cause an explosion and—boooom!—a manhole cover would go flying off.

His theory was confirmed when a long tongue of fire shot up from what he could see was an open hole in the middle of the street. All the streetlamps went out like the candles on a birthday cake as the tongue of flame reached higher and higher and slowly died back. He was surprised at what a short time it took before the fire department and then Con Edison began to arrive.

A few minutes later, Edward’s aunt Kit knocked on the door and came in without waiting for an invitation. She was barefoot and wearing her flannel pajamas. The storm had already begun to move slowly off. She joined him at the window. “Well, did you see it?” she asked.

“Did I see what? Could you be a little more specific?” Her vagueness often drove him crazy.

“The part where the lightning shot up out of the ground.”

“Well, yes, I did. That was pretty cool. But it’s common, you know. There’s a positive electrical charge on the ground, and it shoots upward to meet the negative electrical charge coming from the clouds. Happens all the time.”

“Does it, now? Well, that’s an interesting explanation.” “Isn’t it?” he said and hoped she wasn’t going to give him one of her crazy alternative theories.

She didn’t. Instead, she said, “Well, in any case, the timing is amazing, isn’t it?”

He didn’t like to encourage her, but he couldn’t help asking her what this meant.

“I mean with tomorrow being what it is.” “What’s tomorrow?”

“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten. Well, you’ll remember in the morning. We’d better get to bed. We’re going to need our sleep.”


Science and supernatural weirdness in a middle-grade novel that starts on a dark and stormy night… If you liked A Wrinkle in Time, this book will hook you for sure.

And now, the big reveal


The Tiltersmith by Amy Herrick

The Tiltersmith releases on April 5, 2022 from Algonquin Young Readers.

About Amy Herrick:

Amy Herrick grew up in Queens, New York, and attended SUNY Binghamton and the University of Iowa. She lives in Brooklyn, where she has raised two sons, taught pre-K and grade school, written books, and kept company with her husband and numerous pets. A retired teacher, she loves traveling, learning Spanish, and above all reducing her carbon footprint.

WNDMG — Interview and Giveaway with Karla Arenas Valenti

We Need Diverse MG Logo
We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado

 

Loteria

Cover art by Dana Sunmar

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Karla Arenas Valenti, author of the extraordinary new MG novel, LOTERIA. This story blends the magic with the real in the spirit of much Latin American literature, and takes places in Mexico. As a writer who strives to celebrate diversity in language and culture in my writing, I found this book especially inspiring and had lots of questions for Karla.

Diversity as a Transformative Experience

APP: Karla, I very much enjoyed reading LOTERIA! Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.

I love it when authors mix languages and incorporate diverse cultural perspectives in literature. Is that something that you feel was important to this story, and to your other writing.

KAV: Absolutely! In fact, this was one of my objectives in writing “diverse” literature. I see diversity in storytelling as having two prongs: (a) writing or illustrating stories in which all readers can see themselves (diversity serves to ground the reader in the familiar) and (b) writing or illustrating stories that diversify the reader’s experience (diversity serves to transform the reader).Of course, I hope that readers will see themselves in LOTERIA (as I do), but I also wrote this book with the intent of diversifying the personal experience of non-Mexican readers. My goal was to plunge readers into life in a Mexican city: experiencing sounds and sights that are familiar to children in Mexico; exploring culture themes and ideas that are common and beloved in Mexico. By immersing readers in this “diverse” world, I hope they will be transformed, incorporating aspects of this new world into their existing one.

Exploring Big Questions

Illustration by Dana Sunmar

APP: I love that idea, literature as a transformative experience.This book is about one girl but it is also about a philosophical question – whether or not there is free will. How did you come to write about that and why?

KAV: I am a philosopher at heart and am always exploring big questions. As a writer for children, I always try to pose some of these big questions in my stories. This one (the one about free will vs fate) was one I had been trying to write about for many years.

I wanted to find a way to pose the question and present both sides of the argument in a thought-provoking and engaging manner for children. It occurred to me that a game of chance would provide a perfect setting. The question was, which game?

As it turned out, my father provided the answer when he came to visit us and brought a reminder of home: a LOTERIA game set. As we laid out the boards and shuffled the cards, the story began to take shape in my mind and before I knew it, Life and Death had made their grand appearance.

APP: As a  critical and creative thinking teacher, I love the idea of introducing big questions through stories. When you are writing, how important is it to you that your stories make your readers think?

KAV:All of my stories explore some “big” question, whether in a picture book format or a novel. In fact, my biggest challenge as an author is not straying too far in the weds with the big ideas. But making sure there’s enough of a plot to keep my readers engaged.

Extraordinarily Ordinary

LD

Illustration by Dana Sunmar

APP: There certainly is plenty of plot to keep readers very much engaged in Loteria! I enjoyed the relationship between Life and Death, both of whom are characters in the book. Did you base these characters’ personalities purely on your imagination or are they grounded in Mexican folklore and/or belief systems?

KAV: Catrina is a beloved Mexican figure that I cannot take credit for. And in a way, she created Life, for he needed to be her equal – as riveting and wise as Death – in order for the story to work.

APP: I found their relationship very interesting. Yet, they are not the main characters in the story. The main character is an eleven year old girl named Clara. Was it important for you that Clara not be particularly good at anything or have any special talents or abilities?

KAV: Thank you for pointing this out. Yes! This was a deliberate choice. I wanted Clara to be “extraordinarily ordinary” precisely to show that her transformation from ordinary to heroic was not the result of a special trait but rather the ordinary magic that lived within her.

Twists and Turns

APP: I love the idea of being ‘extraordinarily ordinarily’ and still being the main character in a book. As it turns out, her experience is anything but ordinary. Clara is the focus of an extraordinary game played by Life and Death. Did you invent the game of Loteria as it is played in this book, or is this based on an actual game that is played by people?

KAV: It is an actual and very popular game in Mexico. The game is a bit like Bingo with a board that has a grid of sixteen boxes on it. Each board has different images printed on each of the boxes (instead of numbers as is traditional in Bingo).

The game master (cantor) will flip a card from a deck of 54 cards and call out a riddle that relates to that image. Once the players figure out the riddle, they must find it on their board. If they have that image, they place a token on that square. The first person to get four squares in a row wins the game.

APP: Well, now I really want to play the game myself! Solving the riddles sounds like fun. On another note, I was quite surprised at how the story ended. Without giving away any spoilers, can you tell us if you changed your mind about how the story would end while writing it? Or did you know the end from the beginning?

KAV: I knew pretty early on how I wanted the story to end. However, I needed the philosophical justification to make sense. So, I was very deliberate in how I built up the arguments for free will vs fate along the way, such that by the time the reader got to the end, it would all make sense. Unfortunately, that was not at all how things panned out in my first draft.

Ironically, the fate I had planned for Clara did not unfold as I intended. And I had also argued Life and Death into a philosophical conundrum that I could not resolve. What did I do?

You’ll laugh, but I had to give Clara free will to tell the story as she wanted it told. To my great surprise (and relief!) she came up with an answer to the question of free will that I had not anticipated. And it also led to the surprise ending!

Challenge by Design

APP: Wow, that is amazing and it really works for the story. Congratulations on a masterful plot! Ia m wondering about the challenges you faced as you wrote this story.

KAV: The biggest challenge I had was making sure the philosophical debate lined up with the plot, and that every argument (for or against free will) unfolded seamlessly in Clara’s life. My second challenge was making sure I didn’t get too lost in the philosophical aspects of it all. Fortunately, my brilliant editor (Katharine Harrison), was able to give the right amount of guidance to make this work!

APP: Yay for brilliant editors, and editors who are willing to take on books that explore stories from diverse perspectives that may not quite fit mainstream narratives. I find that much Latin American children’s literature is a bit edgier than what is often published in the United States. Did you feel that your book was pushing the limits a little bit or were you confident that it would appeal to a US audience?

KAV: Yes, and that was by design (part of my attempt to diversify the experience of non-Mexican readers).

What’s Next?

APP: I think you definitely accomplished your goal! What’s next for you as a storyteller?

KAV: I am currently working on a second book for Knopf. This is not in the LOTERIA world but will have similar elements: a big philosophical question, magical realism, set in beautiful Mexico. I also have a number of picture books coming out in the next two years with Knopf and Chronicle. As well as a number of story drafts in the pipeline.

And here are some upcoming events:

APP: That is wonderful! I look forward to all of them!

And now for the giveaway! Karla and her publisher have generously agreed to give away a copy of LOTERIA, with beautiful illustrations by Dana Sunmar, to one lucky winner – U.S. entries only please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

 

Embracing Diverse Talents and Perspectives: Using Creative Projects to Dive Deeper into Fiction

For me, the brisk fall weather always brings with it a burst of creative energy. Most likely, you and your students are feeling that too. Why not use this season as an opportunity to engage your students in diving deeper into books in creative ways? As we all know, students have different styles of learning and a variety of talents. What if you could offer your students a number of fun options to explore the fictional books they’re reading and to demonstrate their knowledge? I have included several ideas below:

  • Invite students to consider books as not only works of literature but also as works of art. Begin by showing students several well-known hardcover books and discussing how the text, images, and other design elements on the front and back cover, the spine, and inside flaps relate to the central themes of each book Then invite students to rewrite and redesign the front and back cover, the spine, and inside flaps of the book they’re reading. Students can select a color palette that they believe best fits the book, create new images, and re-write the front and back flap copy to highlight things that they believe would appeal to potential readers. They can put those elements together in a new book design. Ask students to also consider elements such as text, font choice and placement, and how themes and design elements from the front cover continue onto the spine, back cover and flaps. Students can even choose a new book title.
  • Invite students to create a playlist including a song for each chapter with a short paragraph explaining why they selected each song and how it relates to the chapter. I recently put together a playlist for my book Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe featuring artists from Mississippi, where the book is set. Even for someone like me who is not musically inclined, putting the list together was surprisingly fun. I discovered new artists and thinking about chapter pairings gave me the opportunity to re-examine the central theme of each chapter. Limiting the playlist options to artists from Mississippi also allowed me to highlight the talented musical artists from that state. You might try a similar approach with your students. You can ask them to select songs from the historical period of the book, to feature only artists from the geographical region where the story is set, or to limit their choices to a particular genre of music.
  • Invite students to create a graphic novel presentation. If the book your students are reading is not already a graphic novel, you can invite students to select what they consider to be the five most pivotal chapters and to present those chapters in graphic novel form.
  • Invite students to create a poem to have a conversation with a book. Another idea is to invite students to create a poem inspired by questions that they had about a book they’ve read. First ask students to consider why the writer chose certain elements in the book. Then invite students to create a poem that explores the meaning of those elements or that asks questions about the writer’s choices. Students can use any poetry form that they wish, including free verse. Sometimes limiting options is the best way to inspire creativity. If students get stuck, they can write the letters of the book title vertically down the left side of a page. They can then use each letter as the beginning of a word in a line of their poem.
  • Use art to explore and express the way the main character changed. Novels involve change and growth. One way to engage readers in exploring the changes in the main character over the course of a novel is to ask them to create an illustration of the main character at the beginning of the book (utilizing elements of composition including setting, choice of color palette, clothing and accessory choices and other items to show the main character’s traits). You can then invite students to illustrate that same character at the ending of the book, again using elements of the composition to show how the character has grown and changed.
  • Turn students into book ambassadors. You can invite students to imagine that they are booksellers and ask them to create a short video sales pitch for the book. What types of readers do the students believe would be interested in the book? What elements of the book did the students find most appealing? What would they tell someone to try to persuade them to read the book?
  • Challenge students to become book marketers. Once students are comfortable becoming book ambassadors, you can invite them to take the next step and become book marketers. Challenge them to create at least five new taglines for the book they’re studying. As you know, taglines are short phrases included on the front or back cover or inside flaps intended to intrigue potential readers. For example, the tagline for Refugee by Alan Gratz is “Three different kids. One mission in common: ESCAPE.” The tagline for When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller is “Some stories refuse to stay bottled up.” The tagline for All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall is “When all the pieces fit together, dreams can come true.” As you can imagine, creating a tagline takes lots of brainstorming. If students get stuck, invite them to create lists of key words that capture important elements of the story. Student then can combine the words in different order and phrasing to come up with potential taglines.
  • Invite students to create a word-inspired poem. Ask students to pick a number at random that is smaller than the number of pages in the book they are reading. Then invite them to turn to that page, select at least seven words that intrigue them, and create a poem about the book that uses each of those seven words.
  • Invite students to immerse themselves in the setting of the book. You can invite students to research the setting of the book. They can then create an annotated map of the place where the major story action occurred.
  • Invite students to get social. You can invite students to create fictional social media posts from the point of view of the main character in the story at key action points.

 

Whatever activities you choose, I hope that you and your students enjoy diving even more deeply into the world of books. You can learn more about new releases at https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/mixed-up-files-book-lists/ and find a list of books by Mixed Up Files contributors at https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/about/contributor-books/. I’m wishing you and your students loads of reading and creative adventures.