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Monday, March 31, 2014

(MMGM) Tracy Holczer, author of The Secret Hum Of A Daisy {Review, Interview, Giveaway}


I'm so excited to have Tracy Holczer stopping by the March MG Madness today! Check out our Interview, my Review of Tracy's book, and enter the Giveaway below...


The Secret Hum of a Daisy
by Tracy Holczer
5/1/14
Penguin/Putnam

Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. Just when she thinks she's found it her mother says it's time to move again. Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels and will always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

After her mother's sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she's never met. She can't imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

Lyrical, poignant and fresh, The Secret Hum of a Daisy is a beautifully told middle grade tale with a great deal of heart.




Tracy Holczer’s The Secret Hum Of A Daisy is a powerfully poignant middle-grade contemp, full of love, heart, honesty, hope, and beautiful writing.

Twelve year old Grace’s mom has always kept them on the move, never staying in one place too long. Grace believes they’ve found their forever home with Mrs. Greene and Lacey, but her mother says it’s time to go. The two argue and Grace’s last words to her mother are angry, sad ones. After her mother’s death, Grace is sent to live in her mother’s small hometown with a Grandma she’s never met. Full of grief and anger, Grace refuses to get to know her Grandma or new town and hatches a plan to get back to her beloved Mrs. Greene and Lacy. But when Grace discovers a clue, she’s sure her mother is somehow leading her on  a treasure hunt and back to where she belongs.

The Secret Hum Of A Daisy is such a breathtakingly felt book! Palpable and soul-deep, Tracy Holczer’s story of grief, love, and family fully consumed me from page one and well beyond the end. With lyrical storytelling, heart-aching emotion, and very real characters, The Secret Hum Of A Daisy is definitely an important page-turner.

The lovely, lyrical writing simply floats off the page, wrapping itself around readers. There is stunning magic in Holczer’s words and her ability to express and capture so much emotion. Grace’s story is a wonderfully woven and immensely felt one. Holczer deftly and beautifully explores grief, depression, heart-ache, disappointment, and so much more, in a way that feels honest and genuine, but appropriate for a middle-grade audience. I love how Holczer uses the smartly crafted treasure hunt and clues to gently guide Grace on her emotional and coming-of-age journey. This treasure hunt allows both Grace and readers to get to know and appreciate Grace’s new town and the people in.

And the people in this town and book are one of the reasons why I love The Secret Hum Of A Daisy so much! Holczer does a fantastic job of writing complex, well-developed characters who feel very real and very relatable. From feisty Grace, to her surprising Grandma, sweet Jo, endearing Mummy Max, motherly Mrs. Greene, and a town full of quirky, unforgettable people, there are so many characters to fall in love with.

My Final Thoughts: The Secret Hum Of A Daisy made me laugh and cry, moved and inspired me, left me thoughtful and hopeful, but I don’t think it will ever really love me. Author Tracy Holczer has written a truly special story that is bound to leave its magical mark on many readers!

MY RATING


What three words best describe The Secret Hum of a Daisy?
Mysterious. Tender. Honest.


Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give The Secret Hum of a Daisy a try?
The Secret Hum of a Daisy is for anyone who loves a good treasure hunt J


Grab a copy of The Secret Hum of a Daisy and answer the following:
favorite chapter? Chapter 33
favorite page? 306
flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser?
Mama had told me that daisies spoke in a kind of song, a secret humming that birds could feel in their hollow bones, drawing them close. She said I could feel it, too, if I tried, along the fine hairs of my arms and neck. That we all have a little bird in us somewhere.
What inspired The Secret Hum of a Daisy? How did the story come to be?
When I was eight, I had a porcelain statue that I believed was magic. I’d been through a lot up to that point, more than an eight-year-old should, and this statue was everything to me. She was my guardian angel, my good luck charm. I believed this with all my heart.
I brought it to school one day for show and tell and a girl in my class made fun of me. She didn’t understand it was magic, of course, and I so I decided to prove it to her. By throwing it down on the asphalt playground as hard as it could. When that statue shattered, so did something inside of me.
When I first came to writing, I sat down to try and capture that story, but this one came out instead. I guess I wrote it for the little girl I was, giving that little eight-year-old some closure. I also figured there would be lots of other girls and boys who might have had something shatter in their lives – anything from losing a goldfish to losing a friend - and need assurance that they will find a way to put their pieces back together.

There are some memorable characters in The Secret Hum of a Daisy, do you have a favorite? What do you love about him/her? Did any of your characters end up surprising even you with the way they turned out?
My favorite character is Grace. I just love her. She is brave and honest and fiercely loyal, qualities, I think, we all struggle with when we are twelve. And when we are forty-six.
As for surprises, I have to say that Grandma’s character surprised me by the end of the story. I can’t explain specifically without ruining it for the reader, but I’ll just say, she didn’t turn out the way I thought she would. In a good way.


What do you hope readers walk away with or learn after reading The Secret Hum of a Daisy?
Oh, so many things. How to see beyond the tips of their noses into the hearts of not just their friends, but people in their lives who might be more challenging to love. Or maybe that forgiveness is an option, even in the worst of circumstances. Mostly, I hope readers see that tragedy doesn’t have to define who they are.


As a middle-grade author, why do you think middle-grade is so important? What do you love about writing and reading middle-grade?
We choose how we walk in the world by the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. While I’m writing, I’ve been known to press my palms into my eyeballs and say, vociferously, “I’m never going to figure this out!” So, of course, I don’t. And then I bang around and pout and generally become a nuisance to everyone because I’ve told myself the story that “I can’t do it.”
Generally it doesn’t take me more than a couple of days to remember that instead, I have to shout, “I can write anything!” or “I am the best crazy-dancer ever!” to counteract all the negativity. We are in charge of our destinies, much more than we think, by simply changing perspective. I love writing stories where this happens for the main character and just might give the reader permission to do the same. I think middle graders are so open to this experience that it makes it somewhat irresistible to write for them.
What is your all-time favorite middle-grade book, middle-grade hero, and middle-grade heroine?
My all-time favorite book is The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson with Gilly being my favorite heroine. She is the epitome of toughness and heart. Flawed and so very hurt, her experience is inspirational and makes me cry. Every time I read it, I feel like I’m visiting an old friend.


Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at baking chocolate chip cookies.

I’m really embarrassed to admit that I’m afraid of the dark.

The last great book I read was Pointe by Brandy Colbert.


If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by The Secret Hum of a Daisy, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
Hmmm, I’d call it Sunshine on a Tuesday. It would be frosted the color of summer sky and taste like melancholy.
Thanks so much for stopping by Tracy!


Win a signed finished copy (+swag) of 
The Secret Hum of a Daisy!
Tracy has generously offered one signed copy +swag.
DETAILS
-US only
-ends 4/6
-must be 13+
-winner will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-Word Spelunking is not responsible for lost, damaged, or stolen prizes
Fill out Rafflecopter form:









Sunday, March 30, 2014

(MMGM) Jess Keating, author of How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied {Interview and Giveaway}


I'm so excited to have the very awesome Jess Keating stopping by the March MG Madness today for a fun interview about her upcoming book (that I'm dying to read!) and fabby fab giveaway...


How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied
(My Life is a Zoo #1)
by Jess Keating
6/3/14
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

What would middle school be like if you lived in a zoo?

Ana didn't ask to be named after an anaconda. She didn't ask for zoologist parents who look like safari guides. And she definitely didn't ask for a twin brother whose life goal seems to be terrorizing her with his pet reptiles. Now, to make matters worse, her parents have decided to move the whole family INTO the zoo! All of which gives the Sneerers (the clan of carnivorous female predators in her class) more ammunition to make her life miserable-and squash any hope of class tennis stud, Zack, falling in love with her. Ana tries to channel her inner chameleon and fade into the background, but things are changing too quickly for her to keep up.





What three words best describe How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied?

Crocodiles, cupcakes, and cameras!

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied a try?

This funny, filled-to-the-brim-with-critters-and-shenanigans book is for anyone who has ever felt like a weirdo and an outsider, and wanted to be brave enough to
own it!

Grab a copy of How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied and answer the following:

favorite chapter? Unlucky Chapter 13! This is the one where poor Ana embarrasses herself on live television. Then her parrot, Charles Darwin, makes things even worse. How? You'll have to read it to find out all the mortifying details!

favorite page? p. 244! I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say what goes around comes around and it could possibly involve crocodiles.  

flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser?
p. 29 Ana confused thoughts on her brother's best friend, Kevin:

"You know those kooky Magic Eye things that reveal a secret picture when you stare at them in just the right way? Kevin seems like that, only I have no idea what the secret picture is. And there's no way I'm going to stare at him to find out."

What inspired How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied? How did the story come to be?

Oddly enough, the first thing that came to me was the title. I had a clear vision in my head of a goofy, geeky girl dangling out of a tree with a crocodile snapping at her feet. Only instead of being afraid, it was just another ordinary day for her! It's possible I was watching too much Animal Planet at the time. Once the initial idea was there, Ana's journey became clearer to me. This book is all about 'owning your weird', and with a zoologist background, it's no surprise I wrote about a girl who is surrounded by animals as a way of life.
There are some memorable characters in How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied, do you have a favorite? What do you love about him/her? Did any of your characters end up surprising even you with the way they turned out?

I love all of my characters (even the nasty ones!), but the biggest surprise was Ana's grandfather, Shep Foster. Shep is a world famous naturalist, who films reality TV shows about his crazy adventures with venomous snakes and man-eating sharks. I've always been a fan of naturalists and conservationists, and Shep was inspired in part by some awesome real people, like David Attenborough, Jeff Corwin, and Steve Irwin. The surprising part to me was that Shep turned out to be a bit of a celebrity hunk, with a supermodel girlfriend and an entourage of paparazzi following him everywhere! What I love most about him is his infectious humor and positive outlook, and the way he teaches Ana to be her bravest self. I also love his Hawaiian shirts.

Would you be willing to move INTO the zoo like your character Ana’s family? What part of the zoo would make the coziest home?

What a great question! I would love to live in a zoo. I think the otters would be great to live with, but the fishy smell would probably get to me after awhile. After ditching the otters, I'd move in with the chimpanzees so I could feel like another one of my heroes, Jane Goodall.

As a middle-grade author, why do you think middle-grade is so important? What do you love about writing and reading middle-grade?

I think the books we read as middle-graders influence the type of people we become, and what we think of as possible. I remember trying to move pencils with my mind for hours after reading Matilda, for example, and reading middle grade now always brings that feeling back. There's a certain openness and wonder at that age, but there's also an incredible sense of unfiltered observation that's really fun to tap into. Because so many things are new, they notice everything. Middle-grade readers have brilliant questions about the world, and creating characters that have these (often hilarious) questions is probably my favorite part of the middle-grade gig!

What is your all time favorite middle-grade book, middle-grade hero, and middle-grade heroine?

Ah! I'm horrible at favorites. I have so many, depending on what mindset I'm in, or what type of adventure I'm looking for! Island of the Blue Dolphins is one of my old favorites, and a new favorite is Endangered, by Eliot Schrefer. Both have an incredible mix of heart, survival, and human-animal friendship. As far as middle grade heroes go, my heart belongs to Neville Longbottom and Ivan the Gorilla. The favorite heroine award would be split between Meggie from Inkheart, Matilda, and Charlotte from Charlotte's Web.

Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at making fancy popcorn (with toppings like cheddar-lime, and apple-chocolate-cinnamon bun).

I’m really embarrassed to admit that I wanted to marry Tarzan when I was a kid.

The last great book I read was PRIMATES, by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks!

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?

Well, this is officially my favorite question. Cupcakes play a special role in this book, so I'd have to make extra to share with Ana. I'd go with a chocolate fudge cupcake, with a cheesecake-lime icing! I'd call it the "How To Eat This Whole Thing in One Bite" cupcake.
Thank you so much for stopping by today, Jess! I can't wait to read your book!

As a middle grade author and zoologist, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. Her debut How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied is coming in Summer 2014 from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, with a sequel to follow. She has a Masters degree in Animal Science and a growing collection of books that are threatening to take over her house. She lives in Ontario, Canada, where she loves hiking, playing ukulele, and writing books for adventurous and funny kids.

Win a signed ARC and swag OR swag and a signed finished copy of
How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied!
The loverly Jess Keating is offering a signed ARC and swag for one winner and a signed finished copy and swag to another winner.
DETAILS
-US/CAN
-there will be two winners: 
winner #1 will get the ARC + swag, winner #2 will get the finished copy (when available) + swag
-ends 4/6
-must be 13+
-winners will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-Word Spelunking is not responsible for lost, damaged, or stolen prizes
Fill out Rafflecopter form:


Saturday, March 29, 2014

(MMGM) Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, authors of Saving Lucas Biggs {Interview]


I'm so thrilled to have Marisa de los Santos and David Teague stopping by the March MG Madness today to chat about their new book...

Saving Lucas Biggs
by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague
4/29/14
Harper Collins

When thirteen-year-old Margaret's father is unfairly sentenced to death by the cruel Judge Biggs, she is determined to save him, even if it means using her family's secret-and forbidden-ability to time travel. With the help of her best friend, Charlie, and his grandpa Josh, Margaret goes back to a time when Judge Biggs was a young boy and tries to prevent the chain of events that transformed him into a corrupt, jaded man.



What three words best describe SAVING LUCAS BIGGS?

Friendship. Adventure. Time-travel.  (Yes, we hyphenated “time-travel” to make it fit!)

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give SAVING LUCAS BIGGS a try?

When thirteen year old Margaret’s father is unfairly sentenced to death by the cruel Judge Biggs, she is determined to save him, even if it means using her family’s secret—and forbidden—ability to time travel.

Grab a copy of SAVING LUCAS BIGGS and answer the following:
Favorite Chapter

Marisa:  I love the part in Chapter Eight in which Josh and Luke climb the mountain together.   Their world has come crashing down around them.  Everyone they care about is hungry, injured, grief-stricken, homeless, but the boys still manage to steal a good moment.  It’s like they clear out a space in all the mess to just be friends.  They climb, they talk about things that matter to them, and then they stand on the top of that beautiful mountain and look down, and are filled with hope and courage, despite everything.

David:  My favorite is the opening chapter, written by my partner.  It’s like plunging over a waterfall.  You read the first words, and then you speed into the story faster and faster every second.  Margaret hears her father sentenced to death by forces so huge and powerful she can never stand up to them, but she refuses to lose hope, and the whole sequence is so beautifully written you can’t stop reading.  There is also a mysterious, almost magical incantation woven into the middle that piques your curiosity.  I’ve read this section out loud to audiences and in parts, everybody in the room stops breathing.

Favorite Page

Marisa:  Page 194.  Margaret’s just returned to the present, and she opens her eyes to see her best friend Charlie looking exactly the way he did when she left.  Until that moment, she never let herself consider the possibility that her playing with history could change not only the bad things but also the good ones.  As soon as she sees Charlie, it hits her that she could have changed him or even “disappeared” him, and, for one moment, the fact that she hasn’t is the only thing that matters.  “There was only room for:  thank you, thank you, thank you.”

David:  Page 99.  Aunt Bridey has been into her moonshine, and she gives Josh a piece of advice.  “Friendship,” she says, “will stand the test of time.”  Now of course, this is a time-travel novel, so that statement may or may not have more than one meaning.  Josh gamely tells Aunt Bridey, “I see.”  But she replies, mysteriously, “I doubt it.  Not now.  But you will.”  And part of the fun of the rest of the book is watching Josh and Margaret test the truth of Aunt Bridey’s declaration.

Flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser:
Page 117

“History resists,” I told him.
“Oh yeah, you said that yesterday.  What’s it mean?”
“History doesn’t want to be messed with.  It pushes back when you try.”

What inspired SAVING LUCAS BIGGS?  How did the story come to be?

First, the fictional events in Victory, Arizona, in 1938 are based on actual events in Ludlow, Colorado, in 1914, when a brave group of miners fighting for their rights were gunned down by a ruthless energy company.  

Second, we like stories about friends who solve problems together.  

Third, we like time-travel stories.

There are some memorable characters in Saving Lucas Biggs; do you have a favorite?  What do you love about him/her?  Did any of your characters end up surprising you with the way they turned out?

Marisa:  My favorite character is Josh because no matter how many awful things happened or how much time went by, he never lost faith in his friend.  He never stopped believing that somewhere, deep down, the good, loving, brave, honest parts of his friend still existed.  He had faith that one day, those parts would reemerge and triumph.  We should all have someone in our lives who is that true-blue and loyal and who believes in us even when we lose our way.

David:  Mine is also Josh.  At the very end of the book, you realize what’s kept him going all through the years, and if it’s not exactly a surprise, it’s more like something really wonderful about him that’s been hidden in plain sight all along.  

If you could time-travel, would you go to the past or future?  Where/when would you go?

David:  I would go to the past.  I’m interested in the future, but I’d prefer to get there the regular way, by passing through time.  I’d really like to go back to 1725 to hear Count Morzin’s orchestra perform Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.”  

Marisa:  I want the future to stay wide open and surprising, so I’d go to the past.  I’d love to meet Louisa May Alcott and just talk to her for awhile about how she wrote such incredible characters, although it’s possible I’d be too awestruck to speak!

As middle grade authors, why do you think middle-grade is so important?  What do you love about writing and reading middle-grade?

Marisa:  As much as I read and love books now, books have never meant more to me than they did when I was eleven or twelve.  I didn’t read books back then, I climbed inside them, and a lot of times, felt more at home in them than I did in the real world.  The characters were my friends (or enemies!), and no one could ever convince me that they were just figments of someone else’s imagination.  I love thinking that someone could read a book I wrote like that.  I love thinking that Margaret could help some kid feel brave or that Charlie could be someone’s true friend.

David:  I think my best self is the twelve-year-old self inside of me, and I think that may be true for a lot of people.

What is your all-time favorite middle grade book, middle grade hero, and middle grade heroine?

Marisa:  THE FOUR STORY MISTAKE by Elizabeth Enright is my favorite book.  I still read it and all Elizabeth Enright’s books every year, without fail!  Meg Murray from A WRINKLE IN TIME is my favorite heroine because she spends most of her life being fairly ordinary, not outrageously brilliant or brave, but she comes through when she needs to and everything courageous thing she ever does is out of love for the people in her life.  

David:  THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper is my favorite middle-grades book.  I’ll never forget the opening, as Will Stanton, on that eerie winter day, feels the Dark begin to grow stronger all around him, not knowing that he, just a regular eleven-year-old boy, will be called upon to beat it back.  When I first read that book, I saw how much could be expected from an ordinary, everyday boy, and I saw how much a boy like that could accomplish.  I think that Will, in that book, is also my favorite middle-grades hero.

Fill in the blanks:
I'm really awesome at ___.
I'm really embarrassed to admit that ___.
The last great boo I read was ___.

Marisa:  I’m really awesome at writing with a dog on my lap, sometimes two dogs!  I’m really embarrassed to admit that I have a terrible sense of direction and get lost going places I’ve been to a dozen times; also, I steal people’s French fries.  The last great book I read was ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell.

David:  I’m really awesome at catching grapes thrown far into the air.  Seriously—three or four stories high.  Or at least I used to be.  I haven’t practiced in a while.  I’m really embarrassed to admit that the only reason I make up my bed is so I can yell at my kids to make up their beds.  The last great book I read was THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION by M. T. Anderson.

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Saving Lucas Biggs, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?  

There are actually cupcakes in SLB!  Margaret’s mom is a professional baker and her dad’s a geologist.  One year, her mom is away on Margaret’s birthday, and her dad has to make the cupcakes.  They sink in the middle, so he fills up the holes with frosting, which would have been okay, except the something goes wrong with the frosting, so it turns hard as a rock.  As soon as he realizes this, he announces that they are pet rock cupcakes, and all the kids pull the icing rocks out of their cupcakes and play with them for the rest of the party.  This says a lot about what makes Margaret’s dad such an extraordinary guy, but it also brings out a theme of the book:  when things look grim, shift your perspective, get creative, and turn the grim thing into something amazing.


Thanks so much for stopping by Marisa and David!

Marisa: goodreads
David: goodreads