Shopping for Someone Who Loves Books? Check These Out!

It’s easy for my family to shop for my Christmas gifts. Just give me a book–or a trip to the bookstore, with a gift card in hand–and I’m happy.

Kitty Cornered, by Bob Tarte. Courtesy of Algonquin Books

I’m also happy that several new books have come my way lately, thanks to publishing companies who have sent me advance copies to review. Are you buying for a bookworm this year? Check out these new releases:

The Future Of Us, by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler.  Young adults snapped up author Jay Asher’s novel Thirteen Reasons Why, and critics loved it, too. The book spent over a year on the NYT bestseller lists and has sold over 1 million print copies in the U.S. alone. While the premise might sound dreary–it’s about a teenage girl who leaves behind 13 clues to help a friend understand why she took her own life–it resonated with many readers.

Co-author Carolyn Mackler is an award-winning writer whose novels have been published in 15 countries. They include The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things; Tangled; and Love and Other Four Letter Words.

As you’d guess, these two authors have collaborated to produce another sure-fire hit. The Future of Us is set in 1996, when friends Josh and Emma receive an America Online CD-ROM in the mail and discover Facebook–except Facebook hasn’t been invented yet. Suddenly the kids are looking at their profiles 15 years in the future, complete with info on their spouses, jobs, and innermost thoughts.

Miss Paws recommends The Future of Us, a new young adult book.

Every time Josh and Emma refresh their Facebook pages, they’re actually changing their own futures. Soon they’re confronted with some difficult choices. Can they be happy with what life holds–or will they risk it all, in order to change their destinies?

The Future of Us should appeal to anyone who enjoys resist a sweet, young-love romance, and the added element of time travel is fun for sci-fi fans. You don’t need a crystal ball to see the future of this book; I’ve heard it’s already been optioned for a movie.

If you’re a pet lover, don’t miss Kitty Cornered: How Frannie and Five Other Incorrigible Cats Seized Control of Our House and Made It Their Home, by Bob Tarte. The only bad news is that this book won’t be released until April of 2012–but you can go ahead and put it on your wish list, or preorder through Amazon.com.

Tarte is also the author of the hilarious Enslaved by Ducks, and his story of surviving in a household run by a half-dozen demanding felines is another laugh-out-loud tale. While I’m a dog person at heart, I’ve owned cats (I should say, I’ve been owned by cats), and I enjoy them. You’ll enjoy Tarte’s adventures with his complicated, diva-kitties.

Even my loyal rescue doggie, Miss Paws, gives Kitty Cornered a paw’s up!

(Click this link to see more about Enslaved By Ducks, while you wait for Kitty Cornered to be released.)

Barry B. Wary, by Leslie Muir – A Picture Book for Bug Lovers

Barry B. Wary, by Leslie Muir (Hyperion Books)

My son is grown up now, but sometimes I still wish I had a little one around the house, so I’d have an excuse to buy more picture books. I love the stories and amazing artwork.

Today I’ve got a treat for those of you who also love picture books–and it’s an even bigger treat, if you’re an aspiring children’s writer (like me!).  Leslie Muir, author of BARRY B. WARY, recently spent a little time answering my questions about her brand-new book and about the writing process.

Leslie, who is also a poet, sold the manuscript for BARRY, along with two other manuscripts, about three years ago–and yes, it took that long for the first one to be published. The good news is that Leslie’s other books are coming out soon, and in the meantime, she’s sold a fourth. (Big congrats, Leslie.)

And just who is BARRY B. WARY? He’s a hungry little spider who dines on click beetles and fireflies, as spiders do, but his dining habits leave him a little short on friends. Then he spots a passing butterfly, and….well, you’ll just have to read the story. Until you do, enjoy this visit with Leslie!

1. Leslie, how did you get into writing about bugs? Does this have anything to do with Bailey, your German shepherd, who enjoys munching on flies?

Well, my dog is a highly skilled fly catcher, but he was not the inspiration for this particular story. (German Shepherds are very sensitive, so please don’t tell him). I do find bugs and spiders endlessly fascinating. And their funny little features and quirky personalities make great fodder for picture book tales.

This is Bailey, Leslie's dog. Handsome, isn't he? Leslie says he's a good fly-catcher.

2.  Are your sons into bugs? What kind of stories do they like to read (or hear read aloud, if they’re very young)?

My nine and ten-year-old sons are into anything that flies kamikaze-like or thrives in dirt.

Much to my chagrin, my boys have moved away from picture books—though they still secretly enjoy them. I refuse to believe otherwise! They are both into middle grade fantasy (Tolkien is big with my youngest right now) and they adore graphic novels.

3. What made you decide to write BARRY B. WARY in rhyme? We know you’re a poet, but don’t publishers say they don’t buy many rhyming picture books anymore?

When I started this story, I was a member of an online poetry group, so most everything I wrote during that period was in rhyme. Because it’s difficult to do well, rhyme is always a harder sell. But fear not! Publishers are still buying rhyming stories. They just have to be exceptional.

4. Was this book hard to write? How many revisions did you go through?

BARRY B. WARY was originally a short poem and eventually evolved into a picture book. There were many revisions along the way. And in order to sell the story, I was asked to totally revamp the ending. My original ending was predictably sweet and romantic, but my editor thought it would be more interesting if Barry remained true to his darker, carnivorous nature. She was right. Last week, I read it to over 1.000 elementary school students and their reactions were comical.

5. How hard do you think it is for aspiring picture book writers to be published? Picture books almost seem like the hardest kinds of books to sell nowadays.

The picture book market is tough right now and publishers are responding by being very selective. Even proven authors are finding the waters difficult to tread. However, I remain a staunch believer that a worthy story will eventually find a home. These days, it might just take a little longer.

Leslie Muir, author of BARRY B. WARY

6. Any advice for wanna-be writers of children’s books?

Read widely. You never know where those precious jewels of inspiration will come from. Learn the craft and connect with fellow writers, editors and agents by joining SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and attending conferences. Join a critique group and let your stories be heard by objective ears. And finally, listen. Use constructive criticism as a tool to fine-tune your work.

7. What are you working on next?

Right now I’m in the middle of a picture book story about a mischievous (and highly annoying) fairy who decides to go to school. I’m having a lot of fun with this one—probably because it’s not in rhyme. : )