Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Guest Post: Sarah Fine, author of Of Metal and Wishes

Please welcome Sarah Fine, author of Of Metal and Wishes, to GreenBeanTeenQueen! Sarah Fine is the author of Of Metal and Wishes.

About the Book: Sixteen-year-old Wen assists her father in his medical clinic, housed in a slaughterhouse staffed by the Noor, men hired as cheap factory labor. Wen often hears the whisper of a ghost in the slaughterhouse, a ghost who grants wishes to those who need them most. And after one of the Noor humiliates Wen, the ghost grants an impulsive wish of hers—brutally.

Guilt-ridden, Wen befriends the Noor, including the outspoken leader, a young man named Melik. At the same time, she is lured by the mystery of the ghost. As deadly accidents fuel tensions within the factory, Wen is torn between her growing feelings for Melik, who is enraged at the sadistic factory bosses and the prejudice faced by his people at the hand of Wen’s, and her need to appease the ghost, who is determined to protect her against any threat—real or imagined. Will she determine whom to trust before the factory explodes, taking her down with it?


The sequel, Of Dreams and Rust will be available in August 2015. You can find Sarah online at http://sarahfinebooks.com/


The Stomach and the Heart

“I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” Those are the words of Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, the book that influenced Of Metal and Wishes. Wait, you might be thinking. Isn’t Of Metal and Wishes a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera? What the heck is this nonsense about The Jungle?
Well. My book is a loose retelling of Phantom. But everything about this book—including the Ghost of the factory himself—was heavily influenced by another novel, which has haunted me from the time I first read it as a teenager.
Upton Sinclair began writing The Jungle at the end of 1904 after spending nearly two months in Chicago, studying the lives and travails of immigrant workers toiling away in the heavily industrialized meat-packing industry. There, he had witnessed how the dream of having one’s hard work repaid with some financial security for one’s family was being completely turned upside-down. Instead of work = fair pay, fair treatment, and a path to success, work = danger, risk, and the inescapable trap of debt and defeat. The system was devouring these people—big business controlled everything, profit was king, and worker’s rights? Virtually nonexistent.
It might be tempting to assume that we don’t have these problems in the United States anymore. In so many ways, we’ve come so far, what with unions to protect workers’ rights, and news media that can report on injustice and distribute it quickly and widely. That assumption would be wrong, however. Meatpacking is one of the more dangerous professions one can have in this country—despite improvements made in the first half of the 20th century, partly due to the response to Upton Sinclair’s work. In the last few decades, the meatpacking industry has consolidated into a few powerful entities. And they have a habit of hiring undocumented workers, who carry all the risks on their back in the hope of earning decent money for their families. These people have little legal or economic leverage, so how can they defend themselves when they’re victimized?
Here’s a clip from Food, Inc., which I was watching the night I decided I needed to write Of Metal and Wishes. It’s less than five minutes long, but it will probably make you shake with rage. It brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it:
The Jungle is unflinching in its description of the meatpacking plants, and I did my best to give OMAW the same visceral feel. I didn’t want to shy away from hitting the reader “in the stomach.” I did research into how animals are slaughtered in these places, and it is gut-wrenching and horrific. I won’t link to any videos here, but if you go to Youtube and search for video of slaughterhouse machinery, you’ll find plenty of nightmare fuel.
But like Upton Sinclair, my goal wasn’t to make readers focus only on animal cruelty or the unsanitary way meat is sometimes handled before it enters the food supply. My greatest desire was to get readers thinking about those workers, the ones who come from desperate places, willing to offer their muscles and sweat in exchange for a fair wage and a chance to live and provide for the ones they love. The ones who so often get trampled and ignored. I purposely set the story outside of time and history because these issues existed over a hundred years ago, and they still exist now all over the world, including the US.
Of Metal and Wishes is a love story, yes. A sweet, poignant one, I think. But it’s also a story about people without power who struggle to survive and thrive in a system designed to crush them. I hope it hits readers in the heart.

*There are many organizations involved in the fight for justice for undocumented workers, and one of my favorites is the Southern Poverty Law Center, because they also focus on a number of other important social justice issues. If you go to their site you can get more information, and if you are so inclined, contribute to their efforts.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Picture Book Month: Hooray for Hat by Brian Won

Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won

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About the Book: Elephant wakes up feeling grumpy. Until a delivery arrives at his door and a new hat cheers him up. Elephant wants to share his hat and along the way cheers up his friends.

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: I'm a sucker for retro-style illustrations. There's just something about them that make me feel happy. Hooray for Hat! features what could be called some retro-style illustrations and it fits the book perfectly.

Elephant is grumpy but his hat cheers him up. He visits his friends throughout the day and cheering them up with a hat of their own. The text is simple and the illustrations are bright and simple and not distracting making this a great storytime book. There's also a nice repetitive refrain of "Hooray for Hat" that kids can cheer along as the animals become happy.

This is a great story of how a simple act of kindness can make someone's day. This would be a great book to talk to kids about being kind, helping others, and paying it forward.

I've used this one in storytime a few times this year and each time I've read it it's been a bit hit. The kids catch on quickly to saying "hooray for hat" excitedly with each animal. And the joy the animals experience in sharing their gifts expands to the kids. The illustrations catch the expressions of the animals perfectly and the kids can see that and they get just as happy as each animal gets a new hat.

A fun picture book debut that is a great storytime addition.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from final copy borrowed from library

Thursday, November 13, 2014

ALSC Blog: Dinovember

Today I'm over at the ALSC Blog sharing about my library's Dinovember display. Here's a sneak peek:

Photo Credit: Valerie Bogert

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Picture Book Month: Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato

Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato

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About the Book: Little Elliot is a little elephant who lives in a big city that is so much larger than he is. Elliot would love a cupcake but he's too small to reach. Will he get his treat?

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: Every year a book is released that is so adorable and sweet I just sigh with happiness each time I read it. Little Elliot, Big City is that book for me in 2014.

Elliot is adorable-there's just no better way to describe him. I would love a little polka-dotted elephant friend and I would love to share a cupcake with Elliot.

Not only is the story of Elliot finding a friend in the big city sweet, but the illustrations add to the tenderness. Mike Curato captures emotion on Elliot's face as he has to be careful in crowds or when Elliot is too small to reach what we wants. But Elliot doesn't let his size get him down and he takes notice of the small things. The two page spread of Elliot looking sad after he can't get his cupcake is heartbreaking. I also think it's appropriate that the only person that notices Elliot in a crowd is a small child. Of course a child would have the innocence and wonder to notice Elliot. It's a picture that is so simple and also speaks volumes. When Elliot meets mouse and learns he can help someone else, the spread of Elliot feeling big and proud captures Elliot's monumental achievement.

Little Elliot, Big City is Mike Curato's debut picture book and I can't wait to see more from him. I think Elliot would make a nice storytime book and would pair wonderfully with A Sick Day for Amos McGee about a storytime on sweet and tender friendship.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from galley sent by publisher for review

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Picture Book Month: Cheers for a Dozen Ears by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky, illustrated by Susan Swan

Cheers for a Dozen Ears: A Summer Crop of Counting by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky, illustrated by Susan Swan

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About the Book: A family visits the local farmer's market to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: I always think it's fun to read books that introduce fruits and veggies to kids. It's a nice way to read about food and help them understand that fruits and vegetables are good to eat. (I don't know that reading about them makes them eat them at home, but I can try and help the parents out at least!)

Cheers for a Dozen Ears is the perfect book to add to my food themed storytime. It pairs wonderfully with Rah, Rah, Radishes. You can even add in the board book We're Going to Farmers Market for a full storytime about fresh foods.

With rhythmic, rhyming text, the kids make sure to get all the items on their list. From eggplant to squash, peaches and green beans, the family counts as they add items to their cart. The bright colored illustrations capture the feel of a hot summer day.

A fun book that incorporates counting and food that makes a nice addition to storytime.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from finished copy sent by publisher for review

Monday, November 10, 2014

Picture Book Month: The Orchestra Pita by Johanna Wright


About the Book: A snake finds himself in the wrong pit. Instead of a snake pit, he winds up in an orchestra pit and learns about the various instruments that make up an orchestra.

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: I have a music teacher mother so I was raised on music and books about music. I love finding books that I can use in storytime to introduce instruments and music to kids. Sometimes books that talk about the orchestra are a bit too long or detailed to use with a young audience. Johanna Wright fills that void with The Orchestra Pit.

As our snake finds his way through the orchestra pit, he discovers the various instruments and sections of the orchestra. He even discovers what the instruments sound like comparing the percussion to a gorilla and the horns to a elephant. 

Younger readers might need a bit of help understanding that where an orchestra plays is called an orchestra pit and that each instrument has a unique sound. But The Orchestra Pit is the perfect starting point for that introduction. Read this one before you visit the symphony (or have the symphony visit the library for an instrument petting zoo and concert!) for an extra special treat.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from galley sent from publisher

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Guest Post: Shelby Bach



I'm excited to welcome middle grade author Shelby Bach to GreenBeanTeenQueen! If the middle grade readers at my library are anything like yours, fairy tales are huge! 




About Shelby: Shelby Bach was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, but while writing the ever afters, she moved almost as many times as her main character. She came up with the idea for the series right before she left New York City, and she finished the first book, of giants and ice, in Montana—the second, of witches and wind, back in Charlotte. Driving up the West Coast to research the settings for the third book, of sorcery and snow, Shelby fell in love with Portland, Oregon and settled there. She would love to set up a Door Trek system in her apartment to visit her family and friends around the country, but she makes due with much slower and less fictional transportation. These days, while finishing up the fourth and final book, she also works part time for a real-life afterschool program. It is strangely similar to the one where her stories are set—except the students study math instead of fairy tales.   






What Fairy Tales Taught Me About Plot
By Shelby Bach

I love adding new characters, and I especially love giving a side character a strong subplot of their own. Of course, this enthusiasm led to several unruly early drafts of my first novel, Of Giants and Ice, and as an inexperienced novelist, I spent weeks overwhelmed by the number of plot threads I was failing to keep straight and develop effectively. Somewhere around draft number five, I started to use the Rule of Threes to help me structure each of the story arcs. It was a good decision—both for my book and for my sanity.

The Rule of Threes is usually explained as a pattern that occurs three times, which happens a lot in fairy tales. In some, these repetitions occur in just one section: for instance, at the end of “Cinderella,” three people try on the glass slipper the prince is carrying: the two stepsisters and Cinderella. Sometimes, these repetitions make up most of the fairy tale: for example, Jack climbs the Beanstalk three times.

I took a fairy tale course in college that analyzed the Rule of Threes in more detail. (Believe it or not, this was one of the hardest classes I ever took at Vassar. Professor Darlington was a stickler for structure and precision in every paper. My grades suffered, but my writing improved.) First of all, plain repetition gets pretty boring, so our class examined what the three instances actually achieved within the fairy tale: the first one describes the process of actually climbing a beanstalk and sneaking around a giant’s house. The second instance establishes what part of that process is a pattern: Jack climbs the beanstalk again but steals a golden goose from the giant instead those gold coins. (It’s usually the shortest passage.) The third instance, however, breaks with what was established with the first two occurrences and leads to some sort of big change: the giant notices Jack stealing his harp and chases him down the beanstalk. Describing just one trip up the beanstalk would have made a fun story, because the first two instances establishes certain expectations, Jack’s third trip has a bigger impact.

Limiting myself to three occurrences helped me tame the plot threads in Of Giants and Ice. It also forced me to make sure every scene in a certain arc served a purpose. An almost spoiler-free example is the subplot around Rory’s dad. Her parents are divorced, so readers don’t actually see her father in person in Of Giants and Ice. Rory does, however, speak to him on the phone—exactly three times. During the initial call, Rory’s father, a Hollywood director, invites her to a shoot in England during the summer. Rory knows immediately that she doesn’t want to go (he barely pays any attention to her while he’s filming a movie), but afraid of disappointing him, Rory tells him she’ll think about it. Her father doesn’t listen well—he starts telling her all about the actress he wants her to meet when they’re in England. This leads to her mother stepping in and Rory’s parents fighting. The second call takes place a few weeks later. Rory tries to talk to her father about something completely different, but he asks her when her school lets out—he wants to book her flight. She reminds him that she hasn’t made up her mind up and quickly ends the call before her mom can step in again. That’s a tiny step forward—she avoids a fight between her parents, but she still isn’t honest. The third call takes place after Rory has come back from her quest. She discovers from the tabloids that her father has started dating the actress he wanted her to meet in England, and Rory calls him up and tells him that she won’t go on the trip with him. Then she explains exactly how much it upsets her that she had to find out about his new girlfriend from an outside source. Because readers have seen Rory struggle to be honest about her feelings in the previous scenes, her strong stance in the final call has more oomph.


This isn’t much different from most goals in fiction—to show how conflict has changed our characters—but the Rule of Threes was a helpful way to think about it, especially when working with an overwhelming amount of plot threads. As I mentioned earlier, the Rule of Threes was most helpful during the revision process—conscious repetition is easier to develop when you have a whole plot to work with. It’s also easier to recognize where plot threads intersect. In my second novel, Of Witches and Wind, I challenged myself to take several story arcs and see how many third instances I could pack into one scene. It tightened the book’s pacing and gave the ending a way more epic grand finale.

 Find Shelby online:

Blog Tour – Shelby Bach


November 3 – Middle Grade Mafioso
November 4 – From the Mixed-Up Files
November 5 – Log Cabin Library
November 6 – Amanda K. Thompson Blog
November 7 – Novels, News, and Notes
November 8 – Green Bean Teen Queen
 
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