Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Reading Bad for Kids, New Study Shows

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On April - 1 - 2013

ID 10053661 300x199 Reading Bad for Kids, New Study ShowsScientists at the National Institutes of Health have published the results of a groundbreaking longitudinal study in this month’s Journal of Psychology and Education. According the study, which followed six thousand children from ages seven through thirty-five, reading reduces both educational and career outcomes over a person’s lifetime and is linked with an increase in criminal behavior. The scientists measured the amount of reading done by the children using self-reports and parental reports as well as by monitoring the children’s library card usage. The results show that library use is particularly pernicious—there was a direct correlation between the number of books checked out per year at ages seven through fourteen and the number of arrests suffered by the children as adults. One in five of the heaviest readers (one hundred or more books per year) failed to graduate from high school, while those who read the least (zero to five books) were the most likely to have a graduate degree. Readers were also more likely to be divorced and less likely to have health insurance. Teen Writers Bloc spoke with Dr. Ralph Schumaker, the lead author of the study.

“Some people might find the results surprising,” said Dr. Schumaker, “but we’ve always known that reading impedes children’s development of social skills. Since success in life is based on likeability and not intelligence, we can expect to see some disadvantages. Readers get frustrated by their inability to connect with their TV-watching peers, and they retreat into lives of vice and crime.” Dr. Schumaker then described the life of one study participant, Paul Fletcher, who read two hundred books per year as a child and is now incarcerated in Federal prison. “His wife left him for a normal TV-watcher, and he lost it and went on a bank robbery spree,” said Dr. Schumaker. “He wore a mask with giant glasses painted on it. I guess he was making some kind of statement, but you know, it’s sad. If he had just read fewer books, he could be making a good living.”

The study also revealed that the heaviest readers tended to get pooped on by birds more regularly than non-readers, but the authors note that causation in that case has not been proved.

What does this mean for children’s authors like the members of Teen Writers Bloc? “We’re all in shock,” said Teen Writers Bloc member Alyson Gerber. “We love writing books, but we don’t want to be responsible for bank robbery or bird poop. We’re going to have to think long and hard about what to do now.”

What do you think? Should we stop writing children’s books and burn our library cards? Tell us in the comments!

Photo credit: Phaitoon

Characters We Love: Clare Vanderpool’s Early Auden

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On March - 8 - 2013

Navigating Early 198x300 Characters We Love: Clare Vanderpool’s Early AudenThis month we’re talking about our favorite characters. I recently had the pleasure of reading Clare Vanderpool’s new historical middle grade Navigating Early. The book takes place at the end of WWII, and I loved that even though the book is set in a certain era, there were no hit-you-over-the-head era clichés. I’ve found obvious era markers to be a problem in some children’s historical books, and once I saw that this book wasn’t going that way, I knew it was going to be something special. But the real reason the book is special isn’t the setting or even the narrator and ostensible main character, Jack. Jack, who at the beginning of the book is dropped off at boarding school feeling lost and alone, is sympathetic but not particularly unique. It’s when Jack meets Early that the story really gains its heart.

If Early were growing up today, he’d probably be diagnosed with some form of autism, but in the world of the 1940s, he’s not a kid with a “disorder”—he’s just weird. He sits in the basement room he’s commandeered listening to music and doing whatever he feels like, since no one forces him to go to class. He has to listen to Billie Holiday when it’s raining, and he takes everything literally, and he’s always sure he’s right, but he’s also the most friendly and open person Jack meets. We soon learn that Early is obsessed with the number pi and a story he tells about it, and what happens to the numbers as they go on. I confess that I didn’t like the pi story or some of the parallels between it and the main story. I’m just not a fan of coincidences. But I loved Early’s insistence on his story, and how he knew exactly what he had to do, and how he was such a good friend and so earnest and likeable that Jack just had to go along with it. I love it when the weird kid is the hero, and I love seeing a character who could be seen as disabled portrayed as uniquely loveable and intelligent and strong-willed. I understood why Jack was willing to follow Early on his crazy quest into the wilderness because I probably would have done it too!

Cover image: Delacorte Press

Mary’s Great Middle Grade Reads

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On January - 28 - 2013

Hello Teen Writers Block readers! Today I want to share with you a couple of great middle grade books I read this month.

Gustav Gloom 102x150 Mary’s Great Middle Grade ReadsFirst, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Gustav Gloom and the People Taker by Adam-Troy Castro. It’s the first in a planned series, but never fear, it stands alone as a great read. Although Gustav Gloom is the title character, the real star of the book is Fernie, a plucky, scary-story loving ten-year-old who moves in across the street from Gustav Gloom’s weird, cloud-enshrouded house. She’s joined by her equally cool twelve-year-old sister and her hilariously cautious father. I couldn’t stop laughing at all the funny ways Dad had supposedly tried to keep the girls safe from imagined dangers. After noticing her cat’s shadow run off into the mysterious Gloom house, leaving the cat behind, Fernie is quickly moved to follow, and the adventure begins. The most amazing thing about this book is that it’s a fantastic adventure story all set inside a single house. This works perfectly because the house is much bigger inside than out and filled will all sorts of wonders and dangers. Gustav, the boy who lives among the weirdness, is an interesting, sympathetic character. Most importantly, there are plenty of laughs thrown in along the way. I’m so glad I came across this book and I highly recommend it!

The Mostly True Story of Jack 103x150 Mary’s Great Middle Grade ReadsSecond, I finally got around to reading my copy of The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill. Wow, is this book right up my alley! It has a slow-building mystery, ominous and subtle magic, and a cast of unique but relatable characters. I recommend skipping the publisher’s book description, because it really does a terrible job of reflecting the book’s coolness. In the beginning, Jack’s mother drops him off at his aunt and uncle’s house to spend some time while his parents work out their divorce. But it quickly becomes apparent that everything is not right. Jack’s mother seems to have a hard time remembering him. He tries calling both parents, but his calls never go through. His letters mysteriously erase themselves. There are two weirdly sentient and protective cats and a book that talks about magic that couldn’t possibly be true, could it? Then there are the twins down the street, the silent and scarred Frankie with a mysterious past and his plucky sister Wendy, who will do anything to protect him. The writing is fantastic and the artfully layered story comes together in a unique way. This is for fantasy fans who are looking for something deeper than a wham-bang action extravaganza, and I loved it!

Well, it looks like I got lucky with my picks this month. How’d you do?

Cover Images: Gustav Gloom—Penguin, The Mostly True Story of Jack—Little, Brown

Mary’s ConFusion Roundup

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On January - 22 - 2013

Sci fi 216x300 Mary’s ConFusion RoundupI just got back from my second sci-fi/fantasy convention ever, and it was a total blast! For those of you who don’t know, there’s this whole circuit of conventions for science fiction and fantasy writers and fans. Some are mainly for writers and other industry people to network and some have a huge fan component with costumes and games and general geekdom. ConFusion, held in Detroit, MI, was a great mix of writing talk and fun. There were panels on all sorts of topics related to sci-fi and fantasy writing, a costume contest, and even some science lectures.

Friday night I mainly spent at the dessert reception because, hey, if there’s a free dessert reception, why would I do anything else? I also caught the end of a strangely hostile panel in which some lady was basically arguing that fans who aren’t “authentic” (read “old and bitter”) should go home, and then award winning fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal satisfied the audience by handing the woman’s ass to her on a stick. Fortunately I never saw the crazy woman again and that panel wasn’t representative!

Saturday I got up at the insanely early hour of 8:15 a.m. so I could make my 10:00 a.m. panel. This was my first time sitting on panels, and I’m happy to report that I made it through four of them without falling all over myself or saying anything stupid. At least, if I said something stupid, no one felt compelled to call me on it. I even got to moderate a panel, which was a lot of fun. The con organizers called it “The Curse of the YA Heroine,” and the premise was supposed to be that female protagonists are too often defined by their relationships to men. Whoever wrote the program made the mistake of suggesting that not only was this true, but it was the result of “lazy storytelling.” Well, all the other panel members (Aimee Carter, Sarah Zettel, Susan Dennard, and Courtney Moulton) had written strong female protagonists, and we had a great discussion about how strong YA women really are, among other interesting topics. During the day I also had time to hang out in the game room, where some cool people taught Wesley Chu and me how to play Munchkin. I was a little worried that I’d get thrown out for not being geeky enough (let’s face it, I’m just a nerd), but instead of throwing me out, they gave me twizzlers, so yay!

Add in a couple interesting science lectures on Sunday plus the bar-con aspect, where I met lots of great people, and the weekend was a success! Huge thanks to Wesley Chu for convincing me to go and Patrick Tomlinson for putting up with me as a roommate. Check out Wes’s forthcoming sci-fi novel The Lives of Tao (see, I plugged it, are you happy?) and Patrick’s forthcoming A Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition (pay no attention to the cover, ladies).

Photo Credit: Victor Habbick

Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On December - 31 - 2012

Dragonswood 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012Hello everyone, it’s that time again, the time when we take the arbitrary ending of the year on the calendar and make a big deal out of it. But hey, there’s no better excuse for a “best of” list! So today, I want to share with you my favorite 2012 YA books. I read lots of other books this year (more on that soon), but these are my favorite books that were published in 2012. Of course, this is in no way scientific, because I didn’t read anywhere near all the books published in 2012. I have to get work done sometime. But having said that, without further ado … let’s start with dragons! I read two fantastic books involving dragons this year! The first was Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey, the sequel/companion to the fantastic Dragon’s Keep (2007). In Dragon’s Keep, our heroine Princess Rosalind, a Pendragon, was born with a dragon’s claw, which she had to keep hidden on pain of death. Much action, romance (but not too much romance), and frolicking with dragons ensued. In Dragonswood, Carey returns to the same world two generations later. The heroine is a peasant who flees an accusation of witchcraft and finds romance and a connection to both dragons and fey. The historical world of Wilde Island is just as well realized as in the original, and the author has expanded on the world she created. Both books are must reads!

Seraphina 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012And then, later in the year, we got Seraphina! Seraphina is even more about dragons. I loved the way Rachel Hartman created a realistic historical, yet pleasingly modern world in which science plays as much a part as magic. Like the heroine in Dragon’s Keep, Seraphina has a secret connection to dragons. In this world, dragons can fold themselves into human shape and mate with humans. To be frank, I had a huge problem with that premise because … physics! Mass! Biology! But I took a deep breath and got over it and allowed myself to get lost in the story. The world Hartman created is extremely well imagined and intricate, but the story never gets bogged down. Even though I’ve seen dragons before, the world felt completely new and fresh. Also, it’s the first book in a trilogy, but it has a satisfying ending that completely wraps up the plot. I’ve become extremely annoyed with the current trend of ending books in mid story, and I was super happy to see that Seraphina did it’s job and finished. All in all, a fantastic book!

Every Day 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012Leaving dragons for the time being, the next book on my list is Every Day, by our New School professor David Levithan. In Every Day, our hero “A” jumps from body to body every night at midnight. Why? I never stopped to wonder, which is a credit to the fantastic writing. Every day our hero takes over a new person’s life, always the same age as A, which is sixteen. A has no intrinsic gender or sexual orientation, but after a lifetime of experiencing people’s lives in day-long snippets, he/she/it suddenly falls in love with a girl. Yes, suddenly. It’s YA insta-love, and like with giant reptilian dragons suddenly turning into tiny mammals, I just had to get over it. Once you accept the love, you get to experience all the interesting complications. How do you develop a real relationship with someone if you’re a different person and in a different place every day? This book really got me thinking “what if?” Levithan, unsurprisingly considering his wild optimism in Boy Meets Boy, chooses to see A’s predicament as bringing out the best in A’s human nature. A’s experiences in the bodies of different people make him thoughtful and understanding. I’m not so sure I would behave as well as A if I jumped into other people’s bodies. I think I might party hard and screw the consequences. But not A! He takes good care of the people he borrows. Until he falls in love, and his careful system threatens to fall apart. Will A get the girl? You’ll want to read this and find out!

The Theory of Everything 112x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012And finally, my absolute favorite book of the year is The Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson. I already reviewed the book here, so I won’t go into great detail again. Let me just say that I tend to read more fantasy than realistic fiction, so it’s a big deal that a realistic book ended up on the top of my list. I haven’t read a book with a better mix of sadness and humor. On its surface it’s a book about a girl dealing with the death of her best friend, but Johnson tells the story in such a way that it becomes about what it means to be a person dealing with life’s stuff. The main character’s voice is absolutely perfect.

Well, that’s my list! What were your favorite 2012 books? Is there anything that we here at Teen Writers Bloc absolutely must read?

Mary Tries Thinking and It Doesn’t Work

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On December - 3 - 2012

Pig with Money 300x297 Mary Tries Thinking and It Doesn’t WorkSo lately I’ve been trying to come up with some new ideas. Chickens. Pot roast. Time travel three minutes. Ice dancing. What? Oh yeah, I’m writing a blog post. I’ve been trying to come up with ideas. Six documents open, three pages of notes, eighteen prom scenes, three aliens. Ten more documents open. Let me look at all of last year’s files. Wait, I wrote 20,000 words of that? Hmm. Mary, that is some weird s***. I have no idea what is going on here. Nineteen worlds, three hundred alternate universes, thirty-three more prom scenes. Why are you so depressing, Mary? Why do you think that joke is so funny? How much fake science will people read?

“Write 20,000 more words, Mary,” says the pink pig. As he speaks, he carefully picks my Canadian money out of my wallet.

“But it makes no sense!”

“It will make sense if there’s MORE! Heh heh heh.” He laughs like a donkey.

Sometimes I wonder why I start changing titles on stuff and create new folders and move part of it into a miscellaneous folder and then decide to redo the concept and write 18,000 words and then forget I did it. And then I always like the first version better anyway but WHICH FOLDER DID I SAVE IT IN?

Sometimes the prom happens over and over and over again.

There is an opening chapter of something somewhere that involved mysterious entities that have something to do with traffic. And possibly time travel. And several fairy tale characters. And an alien is always useful. And I promised someone a book about Space Marines. And somehow there is terraforming. Invisible people are pulling my hair out.

I have 973,823 million pages of notes.


YA for NJ: Bid on YA Swag for a Great Cause!

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On November - 29 - 2012

YA for NJ 300x300 YA for NJ: Bid on YA Swag for a Great Cause!Hello Teen Writers Bloc readers! Why are you reading this blog? Is it because you love YA books as much as we do? Well, if that’s the case, then you’re in luck, because you can buy books and swag from some of your favorite authors and support a great cause at the same time. The seven-day auction will begin this Friday, November 30, at 8:00 p.m., and here are just a few of the 170 fantastic authors who are participating:

Holly Black
Coe Booth
Libba Bray
Gitty Daneshvari
Matt De La Pena
Lisa Greenwald
Jenny Han
Ellen Hopkins
David Levithan
E. Lockhart
Megan McCafferty
Kate Milford
Kate Messner
Michael Northrop
Lauren Oliver
Kenneth Oppel
Rebecca Serle
Kieran Scott
Natalie Standiford
Cecily Von Ziegesar
John Corey Whaley
Jerry Spinelli

And this list is just the beginning! The 170 authors (including me!) will be offering a ton of great stuff. You can bid on signed copies of the authors’ books and collections of books. Some authors are offering Hollywood swag from their filmed projects. Some authors are even offering dedications or character names in future books. If you are a teacher, a parent, or just a friend of a school, you can bid on individual author visits, author panel visits, and Skype visits for your favorite school. One hundred percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey to aid in their efforts to feed the people most affected by hurricane Sandy. Yes, that’s one hundred percent of the proceeds, not profits. Every single item has been donated by the authors, so the entire amount raised will go to those who need it.

We know you love all things YA! Wouldn’t now be a great time to get something you always wanted and also support a great cause?

Follow this link to check out the YA for NJ auction now!

Mary Rants About Movies

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On November - 12 - 2012

Crying 300x199 Mary Rants About MoviesSo … this month’s topic is YA books made into movies. How can this not turn into a rant? Folks, I seriously tried to come up with a movie based on a YA book that I loved. But the truth is, even though some of them are okay in that they don’t make me scream and cry and yell “Why, God, Why?” none of them live up to the books they’re based on. I know this is a true fact, and every time a movie comes out based on a book I liked, I say I’m not going to watch it, but then I do. Take, for example, The Golden Compass, based on the book by Phillip Pullman. The movie did a really good job of following the events and characters of the book, but had none of the life or the magic. Pullman’s world simply didn’t appear on screen. I wish this was 1910 and I could go to a warehouse and burn all existing film for doing such injustice to a great book. Take The City of Ember, based on the book by Jeanne DuPrau. This, too, followed the events of the book, but the main characters were too old and the movie showed the scariest part of the book, when the entire city goes dark for seven minutes—a bone chilling thrill in the book—in full lighting. Why, God, Why? Take the Harry Potter films. How could anyone possibly do justice to this series? How can a true book lover accept a watered down, extensively cut snippet of such a classic? Take The Hunger Games. How could a true fan accept the movie’s lack of emotional resonance? Take Twilight, which … oh, never mind, I didn’t like the book anyway.

I could probably go on for hours and hours, blog page after blog page, until we’re all old and white-haired and crazy. I just have one more movie to discuss, which wins the award for Worst Movie Adaptation Ever: The Wizard of Oz. What? You say. This movie is a classic! That’s true, and to be honest, I did watch and re-watch the movie as a kid just like everyone else. But I read the book before I saw the movie, and I eventually read all of the original L. Frank Baum Oz books, plus many many more written by his successor, Ruth Plumly Thompson, and I love Oz. I love it just the way it is, as a real place and not a dream. Now, I bet L. Frank Baum, had he lived to see the movie, wouldn’t have had any problem with it, because shortly after the initial success of the book, it was turned into a traveling stage extravaganza that made him a lot of money, which he loved. He even put an army of knitting-needle-wielding girls in the second Oz book possibly for the sole purpose of becoming dancing girls during a future stage production. So I’m not defending the author’s honor here. I’m defending my honor as a reader, as the little girl who used to lie awake at night imagining walking down the yellow brick road and having adventures that would take her away from her boring life. That little girl was a firm believer in the world of the book and never took any stock with all that dream crap. How dare a bunch of filmmakers in Hollywood try to take away a little girl’s escape hatch and turn it into something smarmy and Technicolor and fake? Yes, movie adaptations of books I love make me angry. But dear Hollywood people, please buy my books and turn them into movies, because like L. Frank Baum, I need the money.

Mary’s Seemingly Uneventful But Kinda Productive Summer

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On October - 15 - 2012

EFTPM ARC 448x600 Mary’s Seemingly Uneventful But Kinda Productive SummerWell, it’s that time again—the month when we here at Teen Writers Bloc post updates about our exciting lives. I have to admit that I had trouble coming up with anything to say at first. After all, my life isn’t very exciting. All I do is sit in front of the computer, read books, watch Supernatural on Netflix (finally finished season 7 … whew, glad I got that important task out of the way!), and … well, that’s it. So what was I supposed to talk about? Then I got to thinking. Summer is a long time. I must have actually done something.

I wrote a contemporary teen novel. What? Yes, I was surprised, too.

I did some stuff for my second book, Escape From the Pipe Men!, coming out next June. (Check out my sexy fingers holding the ARC!)

I wrote the first 40 pages of about 800,000 new middle grade ideas.

In July I went home to Oregon for a week, during which time I made my exciting first ever radio appearance. I’m not kidding. I’ve always wanted to be on the radio, and it was awesome! I also visited my hometown bookstore, the Bookmine in Cottage Grove, OR, where I spent an evening signing books and listening to my parents’ friends tell embarrassing stories about me. Lest I find myself getting sappy, I’ll just say that there are some really great things about being from a small town. Remember that when I spend whole books doing horrible things to people who live in small towns. Finally, I visited an old friend in an even smaller town, Vernonia, OR, population 1,200, where I learned that all roads lead to Vernonia and paradise, like your grandmother always said, is one stoplight. Seriously, paradise. Everyone move there now, except don’t because you’d ruin it.

In September I went to the Southern California Writers’ Conference in Newport Beach, CA. I have a soft spot for this conference because it happens to be where I met my agent (the lovely and talented Kate McKean) back in 2008. Everyone was as nice as I remembered, and it was a great time. I don’t know what they were thinking asking me to give a talk at 8:00 a.m., a time when I’m normally just going to bed. Kidding. (Not really.) I stayed up until 2:30 the night before, but thanks to a double alarm and a shot of 5-Hour-Energy (hey, guys, where’s my endorsement check?) I managed to get myself to the podium in upright condition, say my words, and sit back down without getting booed off or throwing up. A word to nervous speachifiers—always have a half-naked picture of Jensen Ackles ready. It pretty much makes anything fantastic. Also, make sure your talk is at 8:00 a.m., because everyone will be asleep and no one will notice if you are, too. So all in all, it was a successful conference!

Aaaand … now it’s October and summer is over. Well, nothing’s changed but the weather. I’m still plugging away at my computer, watching the new season of Supernatural, and digging into my stack of books. It’s not the most exciting life, but I’ll take it. It beats anything that’s not being a writer.

Totally Biased Review: The Broken Lands by Kate Milford

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On September - 3 - 2012

The Broken Lands Totally Biased Review: The Broken Lands by Kate MilfordI’m admitting it right in the title: Kate Milford is a friend of Teen Writers Bloc, and I’ve personally mentioned her before in multiple blog posts. She hosted my book release party and saved my day at BEA. AND we have the same publisher, Clarion Books. Now that that little disclaimer is out of the way, go buy her new book because it’s awesome!

The Broken Lands is a prequel/companion to Kate’s first novel, The Boneshaker, which took place in 1913 and starred 13-year-old Natalie Minks, who had to save her small Missouri town from the evil Jake Limberleg and the devil himself. Of course, everyone should read The Boneshaker just for the fun of it, but you don’t need to read it to understand The Broken Lands. Though both books take place in the same alternate-history world where folklore is real, the The Broken Lands stars different main characters and stands alone.

The setting is 1877 New York City, a time when the country had yet to recover from the Civil War and tensions were thick. Into this come the mysterious and evil Walker and Bones (a literally-derived name), who want to turn the city into a new kind of hell. I don’t want to give away too much, so let’s just say there are a goodly amount of evildoers, a well-laid-out and diabolical plan, and a need for heroes! Enter Sam and Jin, a 15-year-old Coney Island card sharp and a Chinese girl who is a pyrotechnic genius. With the help of a few “uncanny” good guys and their own wits and spunk, they must save the world by beating the bad guys at their own game. Kate renders the setting, characters, and folklore in exquisite detail and makes the New York of 1877 feel as real as New York today. Anyone who likes historical fiction, fantasy, or historical fantasy will love this book!

Aaand … Kate is having a book release party on September 6, 7:00–9:00 P.M., at McNally Jackson Books in Soho (52 Prince St.). The party is for The Broken Lands and the companion novella The Kairos Mechanism (which I can’t wait to read!). I guarantee a good time.

Cover image courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

pixel Totally Biased Review: The Broken Lands by Kate Milford

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