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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Interview: Wendy McClure, author of Wanderville

I'm thrilled to have the lovely Wendy McClure stopping by today to chat about her new middle-grade historical fiction, Wanderville...

(Wanderville #1)
by Wendy McClure

Jack, Frances, and Frances’s younger brother Harold have been ripped from the world they knew in New York and sent to Kansas on an orphan train at the turn of the century. As the train chugs closer and closer to its destination, the children begin to hear terrible rumors about the lives that await them. And so they decide to change their fate the only way they know how. . . .

They jump off the train.

There, in the middle of the woods, they meet a boy who will transform their lives forever. His name is Alexander, and he tells them they've come to a place nobody knows about—especially not adults—and "where all children in need of freedom are accepted." It's a place called Wanderville, Alexander says, and now Jack, Frances, and Harold are its very first citizens.


What three words best describe Wanderville?

Orphan train escape!

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give this book a try?

Four kids escape from a fire, an orphanage, a cruel work farm, and a moving train, and they start their own town in the woods.

Grab a copy of Wanderville and answer the following:

Favorite chapter? Chapter 17, “The Liberation of Merchandise,” where Jack and Frances and Alexander have to steal things from a store.

Favorite page? Page 28, when Frances lies and claims that Jack was in a New York street gang called the Ugly Rabbits.

Flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser:
Page 85: “Clearly he’s touched in the head! Also, he wants to start his own town. He’s about twelve years old, he’s got nothing but a barrel and a suitcase full of eggs, and he wants to start his own town.”

There are some really likable and memorable characters in Wanderville, do you have an absolute favorite? What do you love about him/her?

I love Harold. He’s Frances’s younger brother, and he’s sort of like the younger sibling I never had. I guess I was the Harold in my family. Harold always speaks up when he’s not quite supposed to, but he winds up saying really important things.

Did you have to do a lot of research when writing Wanderville? How much of the story is based on historical fact?

 I read a lot about the orphan trains and how they traveled from the East Coast, taking thousands of kids from big cities and relocating them in homes out west. I also read a lot about life in New York City in the 1800s and early 1900s, where lots of kids lived the way Jack and Frances and Harold did.  Kids worked in factories and lived in dark, crowded tenement buildings with their families, and many kids, like Frances and Harold, lived on the street or in orphanages. The orphan trains were meant to help get children out into the country where they could have better lives, but sometimes kids didn’t wind up in happy homes and were made to work as servants or farmhands. That’s what the kids in Wanderville are afraid of, so they escape from the train… then I imagined the rest. I don’t know if any orphan train  riders ever jumped off a train in real life, but sometimes kids ran away from the homes where they were placed.

What do you hope readers, especially young readers, will walk away with or learn from Wanderville?

I hope readers get a better sense of life around the turn of the 20th century. I hope they also think about what it means to be on your own. And maybe they’ll get a sense of how history works. The orphan trains were supposed to help kids, but sometimes it didn’t work that way, and history is like that—things happen that are both good and bad.

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

Middle grade books help kids think who they are right now, not who they’re supposed to be when they get older. When I write MG, I feel like there’s a homing instinct—like I’m returning to this place where my mind started, when I first started thinking about life’s big questions, and I know that happened when I was a kid reading middle grade.

Who are your all time favorite male and female middle-grade characters (that aren’t yours)?  

Stanley Yelnats from Holes and Laura Ingalls from the Little House books. They both have to deal with a lot.

Fill in the blanks:

I’m really awesome at making omelets.

I’m really embarrassed to admit that I am writing this in pajamas even though it’s only 8pm.

The last great book I read was Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

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

The cake would be an old-fashioned shortcake with a wild berry filling, since the kids pick berries in the woods! It would be frosted with buttercream and sprinkled with bits of broken sarsaparilla hard candy. There’d be two pretzel sticks stuck in the top holding up a tiny fondant hammock. I would call it  “Home in the Woods.”

Thank you SO MUCH, Wendy, for stopping by and giving us a chance to get to know you and your book!

Wendy McClure is an author, a columnist, and a children’s book editor.  She is the author of  The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, which won the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for nonfiction in 2011, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick. Her 2005 memoir, I’m Not the New Me, was featured in publications such as Time Magazine, USA Today, Elle, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her infamous online collection of vintage Weight Watcher recipe cards and commentary was published in the 2006 humor book The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan.  Since 2004 she has written the pop culture column for BUST Magazine. Additionally, her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Glamour, The Chicago Sun-Times, and on the radio program This American Life. She has an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Her work in children’s books includes her historical fiction series, Wanderville, and she has edited over fifty novels and picture books for children as a senior editor at Albert Whitman & Company. She was born in Oak Park, Illinois, and now lives in Chicago with her husband, Chris, in a neighborhood near the river.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Personalized Children's Book from MarbleSpark {Review, Interview, Giveaway}

I am SO very excited to be featuring MarbleSpark today! MarbleSpark is a wonderful company that makes awesome personalized children's books. I got the chance to review one of these books AND to interview the author, and you can check out both my review and interview below. Plus, one lucky reader will win their own personalized book...

Following Featherbottom
by Philip Haussler
illustrated by Brad Sneed

Follow Felix Featherbottom and his sidekick Pierre du Pond as they race around the globe finding the letters for your child’s name.

From an A in Antarctica to a Z in Zimbabwe, Felix and Pierre run into fantastic characters and adventures that grow along with the child. Babies love the vibrant illustrations and rhyme. Toddlers learn to recognize and spell their name. Older kids get a geography lesson and love the hidden “I Spy” items in each illustration.

Each book is unique, including the child’s birthday, nickname, dedication from the sender, and personalized hardcover with your child’s name on it. You can select different letters and even choose among three different hardcover background colors. Perfect for all kids ages 0 to 8.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

Since pretty much the moment my niece was born, I knew I wanted to get her a personalized picture book. So, when I got the chance to review one of MarbleSpark's personalized children's books, I jumped at the chance. And I'm SO glad I did! I received a copy of their adorable Following Featherbottom, personalized with my niece's first and middle names, Aeicha Elizabeth, and her birthday, May 24th.

I've done my research when it comes to personalized picture books and Following Featherbottom is one of the absolute BEST I've come across. From the ease of using their website to personalize a book, to their affordable prices, and their superb products, MarbleSpark is truly fantastic. I received my personalized book very quickly and immediately fell in love with the gorgeous cover featuring my niece's name (see first pic above). In Following Featherbottom, little readers will journey with Felix Featherbottom as he travels across the world collecting the letters of their name. 

The story Philip Haussler has created is easily customized for each individual child, but more importantly, the story is super fun and engaging! The lyrical rhyming is pleasing to the ear, making each individual book perfect for being read aloud. Each individual letter gets its own country or destination page and, that page not only explores the culture of that place, but also features items beginning with that specific letter. Like me, little readers will be captivated by each page and discover something new with every reading. Plus, readers will be learning while being thoroughly entertained!

The illustrations are simply stunning with their bright colors, charming characters, and delightful whimsy. Illustrator, Brad Sneed, really brings each letter and destination to life!

What I love most about Following Featherbottom is how truly special and one of kind our copy, and every individual copy, feels. From the importance placed on collecting each letter, to making a big deal about delivering that name by the child's birthday, to speaking directly to the child, this book offers, not just a story, but a fantastically engaging experience to each child.

I am so impressed with everything about this book: the quality, the fun story, the awesome illustrations, and unique reading experience. The littlest of readers will love the fun rhymes and hearing their name, while older readers will delight in learning the letters of their name, while discovering all the hidden pictures on each page. I know our copy will be treasured and well loved (and well-read!) by my niece! If you're looking for a super special surprise for the young reader in your life or, if you're hoping to find a way to encourage a love of reading, then Following Featherbottom is an excellent choice!

Philip Haussler, the author of Following Featherbottom and one of the founders of MarbleSpark, is here to tell us a bit more about his book and company...

How did MarbleSpark come to be? What inspired the idea of creating personalized children’s books?
MarbleSpark is what can happen when you chase a wild-hair way beyond what's reasonable.  Eight years ago, my wife and I were expecting our first child.  As a "weekend project", I thought it would be fun to write a children's book.  I started toying with the idea of a personalized book.  After a bunch of detours, I eventually wrote Following Featherbottom. At that time, I still only imagined this as a project for my own kids. But one night I emailed an early draft to my sister and she called me early the next morning and said my story had made her cry.  That was the first moment I ever considered publishing Following Featherbottom for anyone beyond my own kids.  And because it was such a non-traditional book, we knew we would need to start a company to publish it.  Four years later, we launched MarbleSpark and Following Featherbottom... quite a "weekend project"!

The name MarbleSpark speaks to our hope of igniting imaginations. Marble is meant figuratively, as in brain, noggin’, or noodle – like, “Have you lost your marbles?”   And Spark means ignition, explosion, and combustion.  We want to blow your mind... so MarbleSpark is more than just a name... it's our mission.

Was it hard coming up with an idea, like Following Featherbottom, that would be easy to personalize AND be a fun, entertaining story? What do you think makes Following Featherbottom special?
Each of our books (we're just about to release our third personalized book) has been a huge challenge in its own way.  As you know, the personalization in Following Featherbottom goes waaaaay beyond slapping your child's name into the story a few times...the child's name is the very heart of the story.  Ultimately, we want to create family heirlooms -- books that both entertain and amaze both parent and child, which is indeed a very difficult puzzle to solve!

In Following Featherbottom, children can travel with Featherbottom on a trip around the world and explore the gorgeous illustrations for each letter/country. Do you have an absolute favorite country/letter illustration?
That's like asking me to choose my favorite child!  It is honestly a really tough question to answer... but this give me a chance to mention one of my favorites that very few people ever get to see: Quebec... because so few names contain the letter Q, it rarely gets included in our books!  It features a quartet of porcupines singing, while a queue of ducks floats by quacking "coin, coin" as our sidekick, Pierre DuPond, explains that quack quack sounds different in French.

How do you hope children react to their one of kind copy of Following Featherbottom? 
I suppose we're going for something like this description we recently got from a customer: "I got our six year old a book and she LOVES it!! She could not believe there was a book made with her name in it…she kept asking me how I found such a book…she was so shocked! She took it to school today to show her class. I heard her reading over and over again the page about 'a beautiful girl'."

For parents, we're going for a slightly different reaction: tears-of-joy... I never thought I would get so much pleasure from hearing that we had made them cry. :)

MarbleSpark is also the home of Project OpenBook...can you tell us a bit about this project and what you hope to accomplish with it?
On the same day we launched MarbleSpark and Following Featherbottom, we launched Project Openbook.  It's a "community-built" illustrated poetry book.  We have already raised enough money for Room To Read to send a girl in Nepal through high school.  Later this year, we hope to publish a book of the best poems and for every personalized book we sell, we'd like to give away a copy to a child without access to books of their own.

(our super fun bonus questions) If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Following Featherbottom, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
Ah, yes... let me tell you about our famous Following Feathercake.  It's a one-of-a-kind, made-from-scratch cupcake, built especially for each customer with ingredients from around the world based on the letters of your name.  For example, Cici might get a Chocolate cupcake made of the best cacao of Chile, icing from the inchworm of Indonesia (it tastes better than it sounds), Coffee-shavings from Chile and a side of Ice Cream from the island of Iceland.  ;)

You can learn more about MarbleSpark, their personalized books, and their mission by visiting them here:

Win your own personalized copy of
Following Featherbottom!
The awesome people at MarbleSpark have generously offered one person the chance to win a personalized copy for the young reader in their life! 
-open INT
-will end 2/7
-there will be one winner
-must be 13+ to enter
-winner will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-Word Spelunking is not responsible for lost, damaged, or stolen prizes
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Monday, January 27, 2014

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky Blog Tour {Review, Interview, Giveaway}

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky Blog Tour is stopping by today with my Review, my Interview with author Holly Schindler, and a giveaway...

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky
by Holly Schindler

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” meets Because of Winn Dixie in this inspiring story of hope.

August “Auggie” Jones lives with her Grandpa Gus, a trash hauler, in a poor part of town. So when her wealthy classmate’s father starts the House Beautification Committee, it’s homes like Auggie’s that are deemed “in violation.” Auggie is determined to prove that she is not as run-down as the outside of her house might suggest. Using the kind of items Gus usually hauls to the scrap heap, a broken toaster becomes a flower; church windows turn into a rainbow walkway; and an old car gets new life as spinning whirligigs. What starts out as a home renovation project becomes much more as Auggie and her grandpa discover a talent they never knew they had—and redefine a whole town’s perception of beauty, one recycled sculpture at a time. Auggie’s talent for creating found art will remind readers that one girl’s trash really is another girl’s treasure.

"...a heartwarming and uplifting story...[that] shines...with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve." – Kirkus Reviews
"Axioms like 'One man's trash is another man's treasure' and 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder' come gracefully to life in Schindler's tale about the value of hard work and the power of community…Auggie's enthusiasm and unbridled creativity are infectious, and likeminded readers will envy her creative partnership with [her grandfather] Gus." – Publishers Weekly

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

There’s nothing I love more than an excellently written middle-grade novel that both amuses and moves me, and Holly Schindler’s The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky is definitely one of those books!

Fifth-grader, Auggie Jones, lives with her beloved Granda Gus, a trash hauler, in the poorer side of their small town. Auggie loves her neighborhood, but when the newly founded House Beautification Committee is formed and Auggie’s house is deemed an ugly eyesore, she starts to think maybe she and Gus are as rundown as their neighborhood. But Auggie is determined to prove the Committee wrong and with a little imagination, pluck, and hardwork, she and Gus begin to create beautiful sculptures and artwork from trash. Auggie and Gus discover a wonderful talent they never imagined they had and the whole town discovers the true meaning of beauty.

There’s so much to love about The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky: the superb storytelling, the heartfelt message, the endearing heroine. Holly Schindler has spun a truly special story that is as entertaining as it is poignant. That shimmering, captivating spark I always look for in middle-grade is definitely present within this book! Schindler’s writing style is smart, yet accessible, warm and delicious, without being too sugary and over the top. Young readers especially will love Schindler’s vivid, colorful word choices and way of describing things.

With her heroine, Auggie Jones, Schindler captures that refreshing, pitch-perfect middle-grade voice fantastically! Auggie is truly an unforgettable, genuine character and I loved everything about her: her courage, compassion, can-do attitude, unique perspective, and so much more. Grandpa Gus is a wonderful, equally lovable character and the relationship between he and Auggie is just so beautiful and sweet. By the end of this book, Auggie, Gus, and all their neighbors felt less like simple characters, and more like long lost friends to me.

Schindler’s message of love, friendship, hope, and true beauty is a heartwarming and inspiring one. Readers of all ages will feel their hearts and courage swell as they root for Auggie and her neighbors. There’s also such mesmerizing magic in the artwork from trash Auggie and Gus create.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: Holly Schindler’s The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky is a thoughtfully and beautifully written middle-grade contemporary that will uplift and move readers and leave you smiling for days.


  1. What three words best describe THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY?

Art.  Beauty.  Shine.

  1. Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY a try?

One girl uses garbage—yep, garbage—to stand up to a committee and unfair rules, win back her best friend, and even find her own “shine” (her hidden talent)!

  1. Grab a copy of THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY and answer the following:

Favorite chapter? The Thanksgiving chapter.  Love the warmth in this one.  And this is the chapter that brings the character into Auggie’s life that will help her big idea—the idea that saves her neighborhood, Serendipity Place—come to life at the end.

Favorite page?  The last page.  Actually, the last line on the last page.  It didn’t come easy—but every time I reread it during copyediting, it would make me smile.

Favorite character?  Auggie.  By far.  She may actually be my favorite character of all the characters I’ve ever written.

1-2 sentence teaser: “Our voices sound like a whole playground as we squeal and squirm.  Excitement leaks out that way—in shrieks, like air slipping out of a balloon—the day before you get sent to a brand-new school.”

  1. What inspired you to write THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY?  And what do you hope young readers will walk away with after reading Auggie’s story?

My path to publication was long and winding: after receiving my master’s, I dove headfirst into a full-time writing career (which was only possible because of support from my family).  About four years into it, I had this make-or-break moment.  I think, to a great extent, that was because I had this impossible-to-ignore marker each year: graduation.  I started my pursuit of publication the day after I wore my last cap and gown.  So every single time grads would parade across the local news, I’d think: There’s one more year gone…It took four years to get out of high school, to get my undergrad degree.  But four years into my publication pursuit, I hadn’t accomplished my goal.  I hadn’t even really gotten much in the way of “good” rejections—editors taking time to tell me what I could work on.

I got really upset at the four-year mark—had to ask myself, “Am I really going to keep at this?”  The first thing I wrote after deciding to put my rear in the seat and just get to work was THE JUNCTION.  That first draft was REALLY different than the final version, but I do think sometimes that THE JUNCTION was me taking a stand for my own “art,” just as Auggie does.  And I do hope that, when kids read it, they feel inspired to stand up for themselves as creative people.

  1. Auggie and her Grampa Gus create awesome art from trash…what is your favorite piece of art they create?  What kind of trash turned art treasure would you love to create?

I do like the last sculpture Auggie says she has planned on the last page of the book (a girl reaching for a star, which sums up who I think Auggie is)…But I also really love some of the last figures: a baseball player sliding into “home,” for example.  

I’m always been fascinated by any kind of recycled art or objects; I love scouring flea markets for galvanized buckets turned into lamps, purses made from burlap sacks with old keyholes for clasps, necklaces made from antique salt shakers.  There are so many incredibly creative people out there.  I love seeing how people can take an old broken object and “see” its new life.  

  1. Why do you think middle grade books are so important?  What do you love about writing and reading middle grade?

During the middle grade years, kids are really figuring out who they are—what their “thing” is.  In YA lit, we see so many characters who already have their thing: they’re skaters, or athletes, or musicians, etc.  But in middle school, kids are figuring that out for the first time.  They’re learning what their passions are—the passions that will be with them the rest of their lives.  It’s an exciting time—as a writer, it’s also exciting to be a small part of that time in a child’s life.  

  1. If you could put any book (that isn’t one of yours) in the hands of every young reader, which would you choose?  Why?

I’d give them all that ONE BOOK—the one that snags them.  The book that they can connect with on a personal level.  The book that makes them feel like the story they’re reading is actually their story.  Or it’s the book that has such a thrilling adventure, they’re under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime, heart racing, anxious to discover how it all pans out.  (Of course, I’m cheating with my answer a bit, because this would be a different book for each child.)  I just don’t believe there’s a single person out there who isn’t a reader.  It’s a matter of finding the book that hooks them.  

Being a reader ignites the imagination.  I firmly believe that imagination is the most important life tool you could have.  If you’ve got a good imagination, you can visualize possible solutions for any problem you encounter.

  1. Imagine you step into a time machine that can go to the past or future.  Where and when do you go and what do you do there?

I’d go to the past.  Jane Austen-era.  Isn’t there something so calm about a Jane Austen book?  Wouldn’t it be fun to live in one?

  1. Fill in the blanks:

I’m really awesome at: Coming up with new ideas!  I’ve got more ideas for books than I know what to do with.  It’s sticking with a current WIP that can often be tough.

I’m really embarrassed to admit that: No embarrassments!  We all try things and change our minds—it’s a part of becoming who we truly are.  It’s all good.

The last great book I read was: While I do read a ton of MG, it isn’t all I read.  My TBR pile hits just about every genre and reading level out there!  My last read was a Catherine Ryan Hyde book.  She never disappoints.  (She’s also doing a young readers’ edition of PAY IT FORWARD, which I’m especially excited about:

  1. If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?

Oooh!  I love this question.  I’d call it “Secret Surprise.”  It’d be a rich, homemade chocolate cake—with peppermint icing.  Star-shaped sprinkles all over the top.  It would have a prize baked inside.  And each person would have to make something out of it.  

Twitter: @holly_schindler
Author site:

Site for young readers: Holly Schindler’s Middles - I’m especially excited about this site.  I adored getting to interact with the YA readership online—usually through Twitter or FB.  But I had to create a site where I could interact with the MG readership.  I’m devoting a page on the site to reviews from young readers themselves!  Be sure to send your young reader’s review through the Contact Me page.
Group Author Blogs: YA Outside the Lines ( for YA authors and Smack Dab in the Middle ( for MG authors.

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Check out the next stop (1/28) on this blog tour at