ENGINERDS available for pre-order!!!

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Is there a farting robot-sized hole in your life? If so, and you can’t bear to wait a single day longer than you must to fill it, pre-order the first ENGINERDS book today! It will arrive on your doorstep the day it comes out (having perhaps been delivered by one of the below retailers’ very own fleet of flatulent drones).

You can pre-order RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT from any of the below sites:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

BAM! (Books-A-Million)

IndieBound

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EngiNerds

by Jarrett Lerner

The battle between boys and bots is on in this funny, fast-paced novel.

Ken is an EngiNerd: one of a super-smart group of friends—all nerds—who have been close since kindergarten.

They may be brainiacs, but they’re just like everyone else: they fight with one another, watch too much TV, eat Chinese food, and hate walking their dogs. Well, maybe not just like everyone because Ken’s best friend Dan has been building robots. He then secretly sent one to each of the EngiNerds, never letting them know he’s the mastermind.

At first Ken is awed and delighted: what kid hasn’t dreamed of having a robot all their own? Someone who can be their friend, clean their room, walk the dog, answer homework questions…how amazing is that?

But be careful what you wish for: Dan’s robot, Greeeg, may look innocent, but his ravenous consumption of food—comestibles—turns him into a butt-blasting bot. And once the other robots ‘come alive’ it’s up to the motley crew of EngiNerds to not only save the day, but save the planet!

ENGINERDS cover art is here!

I’m beyond thrilled to finally share the cover art for ENGINERDS! This first book in the series hits shelves Fall of 2017, with sequels to follow.

If you’ve always wondered what might happen if a horde of comestible-obsessed, dangerously flatulent robots was unleashed on your town, THIS is the book for you.

Follow the blog to keep up-to-date on all ENGINERDS-related info.

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DEADWEATHER AND SUNRISE (Book 1 of THE CHRONICLES OF EGG), by Geoff Rodkey

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I first learned about THE CHRONICLES OF EGG a couple years ago, when I saw it on one of my young cousin’s bedside tables. I asked him if he liked it, and he immediately brightened up and told me, “It’s awesome.”

I got myself a copy a few days later. When I see or hear about a kid getting that excited about a book – any book – I find it and I read it. I do this because I want to see just what it is that’s so awesome in there, and also because, if a kid’s excited about books, I think you should try to keep them excited about books, and I read enough kid lit that I can usually go back to said excited kid (or said excited kid’s parents) with a few recommendations for future reading.

All of which is to say that I don’t know why it took me so long to finally pull DEADWEATHER AND SUNRISE, the first book in THE CHRONICLES OF EGG trilogy, off my shelf and give it a read. I don’t know why, after my cousin gave it such a glowing review, it literally took me years to read it. I’ll blame it, though, on there being too many other damn books to read, and say, too, that I wish I had read it sooner. Because my cousin was right – THE CHRONICLES OF EGG is awesome.

Rodkey, first and foremost, is an excellent writer. Every sentence of DEADWEATHER AND SUNRISE is an absolute pleasure to read. The descriptions are wonderfully evocative, the pacing spot-on, and the story both gripping and interesting. There’s also the world-building – THE CHRONICLES OF EGG takes place on a sort of alternate 19th- or early 20th-century planet, Deadweather and Sunrise being the names of two small islands, physically close but perched on opposite ends of the economic spectrum, the one muggy and pirate-infested, the other idyllic and overflowing with vacationers and tourists. (Books 2 and 3 of THE CHRONICLES venture further and further away from the islands, the reader learning more about Rodkey’s world as Egg himself explores it.)

But the thing that really sets Rodkey’s book(s) apart from all the other Middle Grade adventure series flooding the market (to which I’ll be adding my own next fall) is the characterization. Egg (formerly “Egbert”) is our narrator, and so he’s explored most thoroughly. But DEADWEATHER AND SUNRISE is packed with other characters. Some appear for two pages and others for two hundred. But it’s a testament to Rodkey’s abilities that even the minor ones, when they’re “onscreen,” seem major. Rodkey is as subtle a writer as he is an entertaining one, and he takes care with every character’s appearance, behavior, body language, and even diction, and also has Egg – a sensitive, insightful boy – offer his own interpretations of each new person introduced. Even those characters who only have cameos seem to live off the page, to have their own complicated lives to live and stories to tell. This realness of the characters makes Rodkey’s fantastic world come all the more alive, and makes the stakes of Egg’s story all the more meaningful. Like any great book, Rodkey’s is a master class in storytelling.

Shortly after you finish DEADWEATHER AND SUNRISE, you’ll find yourself missing its cast of characters (even the nasty ones), and longing to return to Rodkey’s world. Fortunately, Egg’s adventures are only just getting started – and hopefully, Rodkey’s only just getting started, too.

DANNY, WHO FELL IN A HOLE, by Cary Fagan

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This slim book if founded on an elegantly simple premise: a boy, Danny, falls in a hole. On the face of it, this may seem like a complete story in and of itself, or at the very most an incomplete one that, once fleshed out, couldn’t possibly be all that interesting. But in the hands of a storyteller as skillful as Fagan, this novel about a boy who falls in a hole is by turns funny, moving, exciting, and fascinating, and never once does it come even close to being boring.

By trapping his main character – and thus himself – in a hole, Fagan earns himself a kind of freedom that a novelist spinning a more complicated, event-heavy story doesn’t have. There isn’t much for Danny to do down there in that hole, and this leaves Fagan free to explore his character with a patience and depth that a lot of writers of kids’ books either don’t get to or choose not to.

Reading DANNY, WHO FELL IN A HOLE, I was reminded of the books of another writer, Cesar Aira, who I’ve posted about here a handful of times. Aira has said many times that he never revises his novels, and that he often purposely writes himself into awkward corners just to force himself to then get out of them. In Aira’s stories, this makes for the occasional disorienting passage, but more often than not, it leads to thrilling, unforeseen twists and moments of surprising, electrifying enlightenment.

Fagan is doing something similar here. But in backing both himself and his main character into a corner, he’s doing more than drawing his readers’ attention to his own skills and ingenuity. He shows, too, what happens to Danny – and, by extension, what can happen to any of us – when we find ourselves in a tough, even seemingly impossible predicament with nothing to rely on but our own two hands and the head on our shoulders.

Before Danny’s fall, we learn just a little bit about his family, his place in it, and his relationship to the various members of it. It turns out he is the sole practical-minded one in a group of creative eccentrics who, even collectively, have only a tenuous grasp on reality. He is known – not un-affectionately, but still – as the single unimaginative, uncreative one of the bunch. Here’s a representative comment, which occurs during a family discussion following Danny’s discovery that his still-happily-married parents are nonetheless splitting up for a year in order to pursue their most-recent artistic dreams, one in Banff and the other in New York City:

“It’s not your fault that you’re not creative like the rest of us . . . To a common-sense person like you,” his mother went on, “this might seem very impractical. But dreams are not practical, Danny. Vincent van Gogh wasn’t practical. Bob Dylan wasn’t practical.”

In a way, Fagan’s book is about proving just how wrong Danny’s mom and dad and older brother are about their younger brother and son. Because sure, Danny can’t really draw and he doesn’t play an instrument, and unlike his parents, he doesn’t have a passion for baking cheesecakes or for singing opera. But forced to fend for himself in that hole of his, he shows us, himself, and also ultimately his family that he is equally – if very differently – as creative as each one of them. Maybe he won’t be the next van Gogh or Dylan, but Danny displays the sort of creativity that, say, a successful engineer or scientist might need.

This book is a good read for anyone and everyone, but especially for kids who perhaps feel out of place in their family or school, and especially especially for any kids feeling frustrated about “not being good at anything” or not knowing what they’ll grow up to be and do. The novel is also a good argument for the potential benefits that can come from properly challenging kids. Obviously, Fagan’s not encouraging any parents or teachers to throw kids in holes and forget about them for a few days. But in presenting kids with difficult problems to solve, in allowing them the time and space to wrestle with thorny questions and tackle trying situations, you give them a chance to push and stretch themselves and, beyond that, to perhaps discover abilities they never dreamed they had.

FLUSH, by Carl Hiaasen

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Carl Hiaasen is a masterful storyteller. The way he strings his sentences and scenes together, you just don’t want to stop reading them. Ever. His characters (even the more minor ones) immediately pop off the page, and have a tendency to hang around long after you finish a book.

I was overjoyed when, in addition to his usual, adult-oriented output, Hiaasen began writing novels aimed at younger readers. Like his others – HOOT, SCAT, and CHOMP – FLUSH is, at base, a story about nature and the environment, pitting those who wish to preserve and protect it against those who exploit and/or damage and degrade it. The story is narrated by Noah, the son of a big-hearted but impulsive man who takes matters into his own hands when a crooked businessman parks his casino boat at his neighborhood marina. Adventure and absurdity ensue, with Noah and his little sister growing ever more entangled in their father’s mission to uncover the dirty (extremely dirty, in fact) dealings of the casino boat owner. The loose ends Hiaasen scatters throughout the first half of his book are all tied up by the end of the second – neatly, believably, and satisfyingly.

One thing I always love about Hiaasen’s books for kids – and something that goes a long way toward making his stories, despite their occasional zaniness, so believable, and his endings so satisfying – is his inclusion of adult characters, and his exploration of their wants and needs and feelings in addition to those of his younger characters. It’s good, I think, for young readers to be urged toward empathy for people the ages of their parents, teachers, and older neighbors and relatives. And the emotional layer that Hiaasen incorporates into his stories has the additional benefit of preventing them from ever getting preachy – which, in a lesser writer’s hands, they certainly could.

But even if, say, you don’t believe in global warming and every night you dump the day’s garbage out on the side of the road, you won’t be able to stop yourself from falling for Hiaasen’s characters and reading eagerly till the very end. Like all his books, FLUSH will make you think, feel, and laugh deeply. It’s a high-quality read for anyone, young or old, who simply enjoys a good story well told.

THE MYSTERY OF MR. NICE: A CHET GECKO MYSTERY, by Bruce Hale

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Bruce Hale’s Chet Gecko series is based on a clever and very fruitful premise – a gecko detective in a zany elementary school exclusively populated by animals. And Hale very clearly knows how to spin a mystery. But the thing that really shines in these books is the language.

Hale writes in a silly, stylized parody of classic noir. He exaggerates the genre’s use of odd, figurative phrases. Every other page contains yet another delightful expression.

“I pushed my hat back on my head and let my eyes go as dull as a lawn mower in a rock garden.”

“[Her] desk was so neat, it was scarier than a piggyback ride on a porcupine.”

“Moving slower than a parent-teacher conference, we sneaked up the driveway, past the barbed wire, and through the bushes.”

“The crook chuckled deep in his chest. It sounded like an alligator digesting a handbag salesman.”

“[His] whistle cut through the pandemonium like a belch through a church service.”

“If ugliness were art, he’d have been the Moan-a Lisa.”

And yes, these are funny. Yes, they are an excellent sendup of one of noir’s favorite ticks. But more importantly, after only a handful of pages, Hale’s playful attitude becomes infectious. Every additional quirky phrase and groan-inducing pun is like an invitation to try your own hand at it, and the silliness of so much of the book’s subject matter will set younger readers at ease and help them feel more confident, more certain that they, too, can be similarly creative.

These books are great for kids just getting started on mid-sized chapter books, and especially those kids that have an interest in animals and/or mysteries. They’re good, too, for readers of any age who enjoy watching a talented wordsmith toy around with the English language.

MELONHEAD, by Katy Kelly

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I came across MELONHEAD at the library, totally randomly, and having now found the book, it honestly frightens me to think about what my life would have been like had I gone another few months (or even a whole lifetime – eek!) without discovering Katy Kelly and work. I know, for one thing, life would’ve at the very least been a little bit duller.

MELONHEAD concerns Adam Melon and his best friend Sam Alswang’s attempts to win the Challenge America! competition by coming up with the best reinvention of any kid or team of kids at their school. This plot, though, is almost incidental, and is constantly being diverted by Melonhead’s antics and asides. The Challenge America! storyline is like a plain old fir tree, and Melonhead’s loony, all-over-the-place narratives are the sparkling ornaments, strings of lights, and strands of tinsel that turn those basic branches so dazzlingly festive.

Much more than any single overarching plot, MELONHEAD is driven by its cast of delightfully quirky characters and their curious, inventive approach to the English language (it helps, too, that Gillian Johnson has provided a batch of energetic, spot-on illustrations). Their dialogue is snappy and charmingly bizarre. For instance, this snatch of a scene that comes just a few pages into the book, after Melonhead has (already) gotten his foot stuck in the hole of a tree.

The next things I saw were two red and blue striped socks and two legs coming out of the upstairs bathroom window. They were attached to Pop. He walked across the roof and said, “Your foot has disappeared into a hole?”

“It’s more like a short tunnel that has no exit,” I said.

Down below, Sam was dragging Pop’s ladder across the driveway. “Never fear, Paul Revere,” he shouted. “I’m climbing to the rescue.”

“One boy per tree,” Pop said. “House rule.”

Then he asked me: “Can you untie your shoe?”

“Nope,” I said. “The laces are inside. They’re tied tight and double-knotted.”

“Double-knotted?” Pop said.

“I do that for safety,” I told him.

“Of course,” Pop said. “What happens when you try to pull your foot out?”

“It doesn’t move,” I said.

“I’ve got it!” Sam shouted. “Stuff butter around your ankle. Your foot will slide out.”

“That’s using the old bean,” Pop said.

A minute later Madam was in the driveway, tying a short green bottle to one end of my rope. “Olive oil should work,” she said.

“I married a genius,” Pop said.

Or here’s another one, just a handful of pages later, after Melonhead gets rescued from the tree by a group of firemen wielding the Jaws of Life. When he gets to school the next morning, his friends are waiting for him. They all have questions, but Sam gets his in first.

“How was it being saved by the Jaws of Life?”

“The greatest,” I said. “For me and for the firemen. Before my foot situation they only used the Jaws to open car doors that were smashed in accidents.” 

“What do the Jaws look like?” Sam asked.

“They’re kind of like a jackhammer,” I said. “There’s a cutter part that they didn’t use and a spreader part that they did. I never thought wood could stretch but the Jaws made the hole open enough to squeeze my foot out.”

“How did it look?” Jonique asked.

“Soggy,” I told her.

“How come?” she asked.

“Because every foot has about a hundred and twenty-five thousand sweat glands,” I said. “All of mine were working.”

“Stink-o-rama,” Lucy Rose said.

“Totally,” I said. “My mom said my shoe is ruined. I told her, ‘Not to me.’ I nailed it to the wall over my bed so I will always have the memory.”

“Does your whole room smell like foot?” Sam asked.

“Completely,” I said. “Come over and have a smell.”

Lucy Rose twisted her face so her nose and freckles were bunched up. “Never in this lifetime,” she said.

“This afternoon for me,” Sam said.

I could read hundreds of pages of this stuff. And luckily, Katy Kelly is easily able to sustain the silliness and pitch-perfect narration and dialogue for that long.

MELONHEAD is superb for so-called reluctant readers, inquisitive kids, and readers of all ages looking for a laugh and an entertaining story told by an endlessly curious, accidentally mischievous boy.

And fortunately, once you breeze through MELONHEAD, there are five more stories in the series waiting for you to enjoy.

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Click here to learn more about Katy Kelly, and here if you want to learn more about the story behind Melonhead specifically. You should also check out illustrator Gillian Johnson’s page here.