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Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Ten Picture Books for Bouncing Boys
by Kitty Griffin

Here we are into Thanksgiving week, so I offer you ten picture books that boys have chose to read to my dog.

Yes. You read that correctly. I have a therapy dog and one thing she does is go into schools and libraries so kids can read to her.

Here are books that BOYS have chose from library shelves to read out loud. 

Enjoy! Woof woof!

The "Fly Guy" books remain a favorite for young readers.

Dog books are always a favorite.

This is a favorite over in England and Ireland, too so I'm told.

Oh, David! 

This one is very silly.

Yes, sometimes they think it's silly to read about a cat to a dog.

These "Who Would Win" fight books are actually a nice introduction into nonfiction.

Oh, the Elephant and Piggie books are a huge hit. I think I know all of the stories.

Ha! A boy and his bot, 'nuff said.

Sometimes we even get to hear the classics.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Book Reviews: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson and Journey by Aaron Becker

By Carol Baicker-McKee

I love pairing up picture books when I read to kids - the tension between the two books can generate as much lively discussion as what's in each book. That's the case with the two books I'm reviewing today as another "Something Old, Something New" picture book pairing.

Something Old: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (1955)

Johnson's simple but oh-so-appealing and creative book has been in print continuously for the nearly 60 years since it first appeared and routinely appears in top picture book lists - and it's easy to see why. The small volume features a young boy, a purple crayon - and an imagination come to life. Harold takes his purple crayon on a nighttime journey that he creates for himself as he goes. There is tension and humor along with a spare text and equally spare graphic loveliness.

The story is so well loved that it has spawned spinoffs in many media: in addition to the six other Harold books that Johnson created, there are a short film, animations of several of the other Harold titles, a documentary, a thirteen-episode TV series, an iPad app, theater adaptations - and a computer-animated feature film in the works. (It was to have been produced by Maurice Sendak, but following his death, Steven Spielberg has taken over.)

This is a book every child should know - and preferably, own.

Johnson (1906-1977), whose real name was David Johnson Leisk, came to children's books from careers in commercial art and cartooning (he did the popular strip Barnaby - Harold strongly resembles its protagonist). He also illustrated the classic story The Carrot Seed, written by his wife, the renowned children's writer Ruth Krauss. (That's another book every child should know.)

Something New: Journey by Aaron Becker (2013)

Okay, I'm just going to say it. This is the book I hope wins this year's Caldecott. Even though it's yet another book illustrated by a man instead of a woman (and you can read how I feel about that). Even though it's yet another wordless book. Even though it's yet another obvious retelling rather than an original story. It's that breathtakingly gorgeous, that magical, that well done. I want one of the signed giclee prints for Christmas (of the treehouse, of course, if anyone from my family is reading this - though the treehouse doesn't appear in the book). I'll settle for an autographed copy of the book though.

Many reviewers (who shall go unnamed here, but are easy to find with a Google search) have noted the similarity of Journey to Harold and the Purple Crayon - and some have done it in a way that seems to me to imply disdain, as if Becker were stealing an idea and trying to put one over on us. BUT it's a completely obvious homage. Becker borrows images and events from the Harold books and mashes them together in a way that's new while evocative.

Here I've juxtaposed a page from Journey with its inspiration from Harold and the Purple Crayon:

And here's another Journey page with the image from Harold and the Fairy Tale (1956) that surely prompted it:

(Becker also borrows from other well known tales -- such as his use of a near colorless palette in the girl's real world that's supplanted by vivid color in the fantasy world, ala The Wizard of Oz.) He even...


...inserts Harold, complete with purple crayon and its magical abilities, at the end of the story.

If Becker had wanted to hide what he was up to, I'm sure he sure could have been a lot more subtle.

The children's book field is littered with retellings and homages - Journey is nothing new in this respect. They're often vehicles publishers suggest to illustrators, as a way to let them create a book and garner both the writing and illustrating royalties even if they aren't skilled writers. The only thing that's different in this instance, really, is that instead of being inspired by an ancient folktale, Becker takes his inspiration from a more recent classic, with a known author-illustrator.

Aaron Becker, like Crockett, comes to illustration from another art field - from film-making. His website, storybreathing, showcases his many talents and includes lots of fascinating goodies about the book, including a trailer that's simply amazing and a fascinating video on the making of the book.

Sharing these Books with Kids
First, please note that these books are for the older end of the picture book range (and continue through adults). Many toddlers will find some of the images scary (even in Harold I've seen little ones frightened by the dragon or the water going over Harold's head.) I'm always inclined to read both books, Harold first, without noting the similar stories and wait a bit to see whether the kids catch it on their own.

From there, you can let them comb the books, looking for similarities (be sure to have the other Harold stories available too, for the images borrowed from them). After that, you can have a conversation about the ways they are different and wonder about the whys - the use of color and detail, the use of words (or not), the inclusion of back story, the gender of the main characters, the colors of their respective crayons, the resolutions of the stories, and so on. Even the difference in size, shape, and size is interesting to talk about. Talk about which the kids like better as well as the different kinds of feelings produced by the two illustrators' approaches.

With older kids, you can broach some even more interesting topics like these:
1) In both books, the kids can control their worlds by what they draw. Why do you suppose both end up drawing scary things?
2) How do the kids get out of tough situations, using their crayons? Was there ever a time you wished you had a magical crayon to get you out of a tough situation? What would you have drawn?
3) If you were making up your own world, what would you put in it? What would you leave out? Why?

Making These Books a Special Gift
I plan on giving these as a set this holiday season, and I'll make the gift extra special by including:
  • A crayon (perhaps green. Or blue. Or maybe a box of crayons. Haven't decided...),
  • Watercolors or tempera paints or a set of markers or colored pencils for experimenting with color
  • Maybe some different media, to encourage yet another approach to the story? Maybe cardstock and lightweight cardboard, chenille stems,clay? paper-mache?), along with scissors and tape or glue to experiment with a 3-D telling,
  • A roll of paper - there's something about a whole lo-o-o-o-ong blank page that spurs imaginative drawing
  • A blank book
For older kids, you can't go wrong by giving them some artist-quality materials - it makes such a difference in the quality of what they can make. And perhaps more importantly, it makes them feel respected and capable - and what better gift is there than that?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ten for Tuesday - Historical Fiction

by Dave Amaditz

In case you've been too busy with life, as most of us are, you may not have noticed that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Today is the anniversary of President Lincoln's famed Gettysburg address, which is being celebrated along with many other events at the Gettysburg National Museum and historic site. Check out this site for a complete listing of all events. http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/176

In order to call attention to this historical event, I picked 10 of my favorite historical novels. Because most of us write kid-lit at Route 19 Writers, I chose mainly young adult and middle grade novels, however, I picked a few adult novels because they are some of my all-time favorite books; ironic in a sense because I read the adult novels as a teen and the other novels as an adult.

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy
Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy - This story traces the life of Sylvia Perlmutter, one of the few children to survive the ghettos of World War II, Poland. She's forced by the Germans to wear a yellow star on her clothes to signify her status and to endure the humiliation that comes with it. In the end, however, it's the same yellow star that is her salvation.

Misha (Milkweed)
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli - Set in the streets of World War II war-torn Poland, this story is told through the eyes of an orphan boy, Misha Pilsudski. He's called Gypsy. Jew. Stopthief - and admires the Jackboots who have given him those names - until he realizes the Jackboots are not taking the Jews on the trains away to a better life.

The Kite Runner (10th Anniversary)
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini - This gives a close-up look at life in war-torn Afghanistan. It explores friendship, class struggle and betrayal. Written so beautifully, I had to often check to make sure it was a work of fiction.

Tamar by Mal Peet - this tells the little-known story of the underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Holland when a girl, Tamar, living in present-day England, inherits a box from her grandfather containing a series of clues and encoded messages. Her grandfather had never talked about the war, and it reminded me how many unsung heroes did their part to preserve life the way we know it, yet never asked for any credit.

A Single Shard
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park - set in 12th century Korea, the story is about 13-year-old orphan, Tree-ear, who desires to learn the craft of making celadon pottery from best potter in Korea. Along the way, he learns much more valuable lessons then began the craft itself.

The Master Puppeteer By Katherine Paterson Illustrated by Haru Wells
The Master Puppeteer by Katherine Paterson -set in feudal Japan, Jiro becomes an apprentice at one of Japan's most famous puppet theaters amidst riots by angry mobs of Japan's starving citizens. He learns responsibilities greater than his craft and stumbles upon a secret that nearly gets him killed.

Between Shades of Gray Book
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - this tells the story of a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl, Lina, who is forced by the Soviets into a Siberian work camp. She is separated from her father and forced to endure unimaginable hardships, using her love of art as a way to embed clues as to where she can be found.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak - what would you do for a book. For a story? In 1939 Nazi Germany,
Liesel Meminger steals books, but they become much more to her than simple stories. They become a lifeline, a way for her and her neighbors to survive the war's bombings.

The First Hundred Years of Nino Cochise; The Untold Story of an Apache Indian Chief, by A Kinney Griffith - although there is some controversy surrounding the authenticity of the character interviewed for this story, this was one of my favorite books as a teen, which I read at least twice. There was plenty of action to keep me, an energetic teen, riveted.

My adult picks - read when I was a teen.

Shogun, by James Clavell - An amazing look at feudal Japan through the eyes of a shipwrecked, English explorer. He comes to learn the Japanese culture, falls in love with a Japanese maiden, yet still dreams of returning home.

The Frontiersman, by Allan W Eckert - a great look at the early history of the United States in what was then the Far West (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan) through the eyes of a frontiersman by the name of Simon Kenton. It explores his hardships, and his role in opening the Northwest Territory  to vast numbers of English settlers which ultimately led to a clash between two cultures; the white settlers and the native Americans whose lands were encroached upon.

I'd like to hear some of your favorites: picture book, middle grade, young adult or adult, and even an adult selection if you wish.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Highlights 2014 Fiction Contest!

By Cynthia Light Brown

Hey everyone! The annual Highlights contest is coming up. Get your entries ready!

Theme: A Holiday Story

Must be postmarked between Jan. 1 and Jan. 31, 2014

Prize: $1,000 or tuition for any Highlights Foundation Founders Workshops

Here’s the link to find out more details:

Remember, there are all sorts of holidays. Dig into your memory, or imagine an interesting character in a difficult dilemma related to a holiday.

I entered this contest in 2004, and although I didn’t win, they did buy my story. Highlights is a wonderful organization, with fantastic workshops for writers.

Get Ready!
Get Set!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ten Picture Books for Cultivating Gratitude All Year Long

A Ten on Tuesday List - By Carol Baicker-McKee
Rather than the usual holiday-themed Thanksgiving titles, I decided to list some of my favorites that nurture a thankful heart any time of year. Please list any good ones I've missed in the comments!

1. Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Stacey Dresser-McQueen Based on a true story about the author's mother, this is the story of a young girl in Holland post-World War II, when there were shortages of everything. One day, Katje receives a mysterious box full of welcome surprises from a child in America. Her return letter of thanks sets off an exchange that brightens many lives. This won a Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year award.

2. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead  This Caldecott winner features a gentle zookeeper who always goes the extra mile for his animal buddies. When Amos is sick one day, the animals thank him for his thoughtfulness by paying him a visit and caring for him in turn. The illustrations are, as you'd expect, outstanding and the expressions on the animals' faces really take the story to the next level.

3. Amos and Boris by William Stieg Boris the Whale rescues the little mouse Amos when he falls out of his boat - and Amos is so grateful he vows to repay the kindness. William Stieg, of Shrek fame, was both a master storyteller and illustrator, making this a particularly satisfying story of tit for tat. This story is similar to many other award-winning folktales and retold tales, including Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty, The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney; and The Mouse and the Lion by Rand Burkert and illustrated by Nancy Eckholm Burkert

4. Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco Good for a slightly older audience, this book looks at how we can be grateful for something that happens over a period of time, rather than as a one-off occurrence.  Fifth grader Trisha struggles with reading and suffers the taunts of classmates who call her dumb. The help and encouragement of her teacher enable her to overcome her difficulties and find joy in learning. Based on the author-illustrator's own battle with dyslexia and her rescue by a kind teacher, this one always makes me choke up.

5. Kate's Quilt by Kay Chorao This charming story about a little elephant who is NOT grateful for a handmade gift from her mother probably had a bigger impact on my kids' awareness of expressing gratitude nicely than any of the books we read about thankful kiddos. Sadly, the little books about Kate are out of print and often hard to find in their original small format. There is a combined anthology of the Kate stories, prepared for early readers called Here Comes Kate! -- and although it too is now out of print, it is generally easier to locate, though I think the larger, longer format loses some of the book's magic for the very young.

6. The Paper Crane by Molly Bang I love this book, and not just for the magical three-dimensional illustrations. The story of kindness toward a needy stranger who then expresses his gratitude in unexpected and powerful ways is found in many cultures, and serves to remind us all to be kind and generous to all we meet.

7. Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera This lovely book features 16 poems in a variety of formats (including a haiku, a riddle, a rebus, and more) that look at thankfulness for everyday experiences and objects. Good for a broad age span, from preschool through grade 5.

8. Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein  A pay-it-forward circular tale that looks how our actions can create a sense of thankfulness in others that will inspire them to perform their own generous acts - and how in time our good deeds may come back to us.

9. Dogger by Shirley Hughes This classic tale of young boy who loses his favorite toy and must rely on his sister's help to regain it, is one of my all time favorite picture books - and others must feel the same because it is still in print many years after it first appeared. It's a good lesson in feeling grateful to family members and how the bonds of gratitude strengthen all our most important relationships.

 10. Please Say Please: Penguin's Guide to Manners by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand  Prescriptive books are important too, for teaching the niceties of expressing gratitude and other manners. This one is funny and lighthearted - and makes the lessons go down easy. Other oldie but goodie favorites for these lessons include What Do You Say Dear? by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Manners by Aliki, and Manners Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf (of Ferdinand fame). One of my favorites from my childhood was Being Nice Is Lots of Fun by Jane K. Lansing, illustrated by Bernice Myers

11. Okay, I'm cheating and adding a plug for a book I illustrated, An Apple Pie for Dinner by Susan vanHecke. It's another retold folktale that shows how Granny's generosity is repaid in time because of the recipients' gratitude - and how she is generous yet again in turn and everyone benefits. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! As always, all of us at Route 19 will be giving thanks for our thoughtful readers - and for everyone who creates, enjoys, and shares good books.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Are you invited to Linda Sue Park's Party?

Guess who's having a party? Not a dinosaur, pirate or zombie amazingly enough! Xander is the only panda bear in the zoo, and so as he compiles an invitation list to a party he includes all of the other bears.  However, Koala Bear informs Xander that she is not so much a bear as a marsupial and wonders, will she still be welcome? 
     "Xander fetched some more bamboo.  He wasn't sure what he should do.  He chewed a slew of      new bamboo; he nibbled, gnawed and thought things through."
Xander then changes the invitation to include all mammals.  Can you see where this gentle rhyme is going? Soon birds and reptiles cannot be excluded either.  Then right before the party starts there is a new arrival...will Xander know what to do?
This delightful tale of inclusion doesn't hit you over the head with its message, but lovingly shows Xander's dilemma and solution.  In addition, the author's note at the end of the book includes information about the panda's habitat and panda research as well as some taxonomic classification notes.  Panda lovers and party planners too will love what happens with Xander at the zoo.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Needed Subjects by Judy Press

As a member of SCBWI I receive their bulletin and read it cover to cover. In the December/January issue they featured a column of "Needed Subjects." It lists requests by students, parents, teachers and librarians for books dealing with a particular subject. I put in a call to the Mt. Lebanon Library to get Katie McGuinley, the children's librarian, her suggestions for needed and most-requested subjects.

Picture Books:
Improving social skills such as sharing, friends, controlling temper and sibling rivalry, children confronting special needs such as being confined to a wheelchair

Endangered animals, gross animals and insects, environmental topics such as going "green" and recycling, also visits to the doctor and dentist

Presidents-current and past, sport stars, pop stars, women leaders in science such as Marie Curie and  female writers such as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jane Austin

Monday, November 4, 2013

Two Childhoods of Favorites

Sitting in the rocking chair this weekend in what used to be our two childrens' shared room (twenty-seven or so years ago), I stared at the torn bindings and smudged covers of picture books on the closet shelf wondering if they remembered the priceless hours we spent each night rocking and reading aloud. I decided to call them both and ask them to, right then, as quickly as possible, think back on the first five or six books along a continuum that popped into their minds from childhood. I was curious as to which ones had made an impression, and why. Here is their brainstorm down memory lane.

Olivia's list:  

Babies by Gyo Fujikawa: She remembers sitting on my lap with her, then, baby brother and looking at this book together. For me, it's one of my favorite first books, filled with illustrations of babies doing what babies do. Of all the books in the basket on the floor, it's also our one-year-old grandson's first choice every time.

Chicken's Aren't the Only Ones by Ruth Heller: She says, now, it was her introduction to the world of Biology, though she didn't know it at the time. "Chickens lay the eggs you buy, the eggs you boil or fry or dye! Or leave alone so you can see what grew inside naturally."It then goes on to explain that chickens aren't the only ones. "Most snakes lay eggs, and lizards, too, and crocodiles and turtles do."  Olivia said the whole egg thing suddenly made sense. It's the book that introduced us to the ocean ray's mermaid's purse, and the Octopus's cascading strings of a hundred thousand eggs. The illustrations are colorful and timeless and must have left an impression on her since she identified a mermaid's purse at the beach this summer. She said she remembered it from this book. 

The BFG by Roald Dahl: Of all the books we ever read aloud together Olivia remembers this as the one that made us laugh the most. Dahl's whimsical use of language and insanely wonderful imagination (of which I am very envious) are really delicious to devour. We then went on to gobble up James and the Giant Peach, The Witches and any others of his the library had on its shelves.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: According to Olivia this is the first book that ever made her cry. It was her coming of age book, her first hard-hitting drama were she had to deal with the death of supporting characters Old Dan and Little Ann. She also said she remembers, for the first time, feeling the main character's life so vividly that it seemed she was living it.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamara Pierce: Actually it was The Song of the Lioness series in which Liv says she finally found, in Alanna, a strong, defiant female character who was determined to enter a world where girls weren't allowed to go. She said that growing up with a brother and 5 neighbor boys she always felt the implied boundaries, and that reading about a girl becoming a knight made her feel stronger and more capable.   

Ian's List:

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson: Ian said he remembers reading a book of poems, and that he liked them because they all seemed like really tiny stories, and that the rhyming made them comfortable. He remembered one about leaving a farm and I knew immediately that my suspicions as to which book it was were correct. The poem is Farewell to the Farm. 
The coach is at the door at last; the eager children, mounting fast. And kissing hands, in chorus sing: Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!
To house and garden, field and lawn, the meadow gates we swang upon, To pump and stable, tree and swing, Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!
And fare you well for evermore, O ladder at the hayloft door, O hayloft where the cobwebs cling, Good-bye, good-bye to everything!
Crack goes the whip, and off we go; The trees and houses smaller grow; Last, round the woody turn we swing, Good-bye, good-bye to everything!

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman: This title Ian remembered quite clearly, though I must admit that it was never one of my favorites (the confusion with the crane just took it over the top for me). Maybe the machinery component set against the sweet nature of the story made it intriguing to boys. Ian certainly never tired of it. The apparently captivating essence of this long loved story just wasn't clear to me the way it has been, and still is, to millions of others. None-the-less, it will always hold a soft spot in my heart. 

My Fun With Words Dictionary: by James Ertel: I'm not sure what it was about this two volume collection, but we all remember loving to read it together. It is a collection of illustrations and quasi definitions of words such as: "Circle--A bicycle wheel, a dime, and a ring on your finger are all circles. A circle is a line that is perfectly round." Or, "Extreme--If the weather gets so hot that you can fry hamburgers on the sidewalk, the heat is extreme. The word extreme means very, very much so." These books are simply a delightful collection of silly, though explanatory meanings to various words that you can choose at random over and over again. The latest edition appears to be 2000.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: I'm so glad that this was one of Ian's favorites. To me this is a near perfect story and it says something about his gentle nature. I so clearly remember in my own childhood two large pine trees that we spent many an afternoon in, under and around, and thinking of them as friends, so that the relationship between the boy and the tree seems an ideal conduit for this story about love, giving, and the progression of life. It would seem a shame for any child (or adult, actually) to miss the experience of this book.

Redwall: by Brian Jacques: As with Olivia's Tamara Pierce books, this series came at just the right time in Ian's life. He said it was the first time since Roald Dahl that he felt excited about a book. He had a general complacency toward reading that I hadn't been successful in eradicating. He had enjoyed being read to and was a good reader in his own right, but he wasn't a motivated reader. After a friend recommended the first Redwall book, the series took him happily through many month's of reading. It had taken just the right combination of fantasy and adventure to turn things around for him, at least for a while. 

posted by Fran McDowell

First Friday Five Favorite Things - Project Cain

by Geoffrey Girard

Geoffrey Girard

1] What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth? 

I didn’t want to know any of this. I didn’t want to know anything about what was really going on. I didn’t want to know how the world really worked. I wanted to be clueless like everybody else.

There are other lines later I like “better” but they’re major spoilers regarding Jeff’s growth/development. The first half of the book, Jeff is mostly confused and scared. A little more than halfway through, he’s here, at this line. Now, he knows too much. Truths about money and our military, violence and science. Truths that most of us never have to think about. Jeff, at this point, thinks it’d be easier to be like everyone else again. Focused on things like Miley Cyrus and Peyton Manning.

2] What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger? 

A woman. Lying on the second bed facing the ceiling. She was wearing a long black dress. Her arms extended on either side like Christ, fingers hanging lifeless off the sides of the bed. There was something wrong with her face. It was too, too white. She was wearing a mask of some kind, I decided. Its cheeks and lips painted dark dark red. Redder than the sun. I could not see the eyes. Until she turned.

This is the nightmare woman who plagues Jeff Jacobson throughout much of the book. A personification of many fears he must face. She wasn’t in the book originally but while writing as Jeff one day, she came fully formed in my head. And I (like Jeff) couldn’t shake her.

3] Who is your favorite secondary character and why? 

Everyone likes Ox, and I do too. He’s based on a real person and I think that helps. BUT, for PROJECT CAIN, I kinda like Amanda Klosterman. She’s a girl Jeff met at science camp years before. Not a romantic interest, but someone who once loved Jeff unconditionally… if only for a week. She’s a bit of the “anti-scientist” in the mix. Not always controlling or trying to “figure things out.” Jeff’s whole life has always been the exact opposite. Amanda just embraces things for what they are. Jeff eventually admits to her about these “faces” he often sees: hallucinations/ghosts, and then reports of Amanda: “She smiled so big. And then told me I was lucky. Said I’d probably never know who these faces or people are and that meant they could be anything.”

4] What is your favorite line or paragraph of description? 

That shriveled corpse on the other side maybe prying himself free from the cold box. Maybe now pushing slowly off the table, dragging across the floor and up against the other side of the door. The skeletal hand moving against the inside wall. Long brown nails clawing at the door to lift himself up fully. The rotted skin and filthy burial shroud hanging off cold dry bones. The endless eye sockets glistening like imploding black stars in that dark room. Fingers now taking hold of the latch… 

I finished CAIN’S BLOOD (the adult version) first and wasn’t immediately sure if I’d have a whole different  story/version for Jeff to tell himself. This dead body is just mentioned once in CAIN’S BLOOD, but in PROJECT CAIN Jeff spends more time in the room (it’s in his house!) and starts imagining all sorts of terrible things. I got to this scene in my second day of writing and knew then that Jeff had a story to tell that is completely his.

5] What is your favorite line of dialogue? 

“I’m Castillo,” he said and held out his hand.

“Hi,” I shook his hand. “I’m Jeffrey Dahmer.”

This is the line when Jeff Jacobson and Shawn Castillo first meet. It’s one of the few lines that remains from a novella I wrote in 2007 that became the basis for the two CAIN books. There’s just something horrific and innocent and funny and god awful about Jeff’s line. Now, whether or not the line is true is the question at hand…

Congratulations to Geoffrey Girard for his debut YA novel Project Cain and his adult techno thriller, Cain’s Blood. To read more, please go to:

Friday, November 1, 2013

First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day

by Dave Amaditz and 
Marcy Collier

Welcome to November’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.

This month we're pleased to highlight debut YA novelist, Geoffrey Girard and his novel, Project Cain.  This fantastic read will pull you in from beginning until end. We hope you enjoy our answers and encourage you to buy the book.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Dave – There were quite a few passages to choose from, but in the end I chose this because it gave insight into how Jeff, the main character, was able to rationally process information so that he could cope with everything that had gone wrong in his life (since he was created).

One thing I've learned from all of this is that there aren't answers for everything.

Science and logic and facts can't cover all of it.

Sometimes stuff just can't be explained.

Marcy – I really enjoyed this passage in the novel. It provoked thought and gave me great insight into the main character, Jeff. It ended up being his mantra throughout the remainder of the novel. 

EXTREME LIFE would have been simple enough for any skate park. Extreme sports and lifestyle and all that stuff. It meant “to stay radical and colorful and dangerous and loud and outrageous.” And I’m sure that’s how most of the skaters here took it. But the “FOR,” I think, added something else entirely. Something that whoever’d spray painted this message however many weeks, months, or years before had meant for the whole world to see. Or maybe just for himself or herself. It meant, I think, to fight FOR life. Not taking it for granted. Call it carpe diem or YOLO or whatever. This person embraced life, was made for it. It meant don’t take one minute of life for granted. It meant DON’T EVER BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. A challenge. And a promise, too.

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Dave - To me, there were so many parts throughout the book where the tension was so high, so riveting, that I could've found a cliffhanger to write about on nearly every page.  As insight, the "dark men" were created by the government to seek out and find people like Jeff. Chilling.

All that whole day, Castillo and Ox and the other guys prepared.
A lot of it involved explosives. Mines and stuff.
Consequently I was asked to stay in my room.
A room surrounded by concrete that was a hundred feet below the ground.
They took turns guarding my door.
I tried to sleep. To heal.
All that whole day, I could feel the dark men in my head.
Listening for me. For my blood.
All that whole day, I could feel them getting even closer.
I closed my eyes.
Come and get me, I said to the dark.

Marcy – I won’t go into detail as not to spoil this scene, but Jeff is quite intuitive. The deeper I got into the book, the more dark secrets I learned about Jeff’s dad. This chapter ending kept me reading late into the night. And I have to say, I had some very bizarre dreams while reading this novel!

He’d wanted me to have it. Just another one of his little experiments for me. Left it precisely where I’d find it. Wanted me to see all that he’d been up to.

So I guess he got exactly what he wanted.

Because when I opened the door, the very first thing I saw was the dead guy.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Dave – Castillo. Not to be repetitive, but ditto Marcy's comments found below.

Marcy –  First, Jeff is scared of Castillo. He feels like he’s being held captive against his will. But the more I get to know the strong, silent Castillo, the more I like him. His true personality is uncovered, and he becomes this gentle, protective giant.

It was a paperback. The Pillars of the Earth. Something about building a Gothic cathedral in England. What’s this for? I wondered out loud.

Castillo said: You said you were a reader. He positioned his new lawn chair at the back window. Unless you wanted a romantic thrill, he said. That’s all the store had.

I flipped through the book. It was, like, eighty thousand pages long and weighed fourteen pounds. I had the feeling Castillo had bought it only because it was the biggest one they’d had. Guess he thought we were gonna be in an empty house awhile.

Castillo watched me, looked like he wanted to say something, and then turned to look out the window again.

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

Dave – As Marcy has said below, there were so many interesting descriptions to choose from. I took the liberty of picking two.

First, can you imagine knowing your father thinks of you like this:

The night my father left, he'd told me I was part of the special 5%.

That when living conditions become too crowded in any environment, 5% of the population will resort to violence to achieve its goals.

They've done studies with rats. Perfectly calm and nonviolent animals until they're introduced into an environment with limited resources. Limited food, mates, and space. Then 5% of the previously nonviolent rats get medieval. They murder other rats. Rape other rats. Eat other rats. Even though they'd never done any of these things when in small groups or appropriate space. It was just part of their nature to adapt. To survive and thrive in a more challenging environment.

These are the dominant ones, my father said. The ones meant to rule their world.

That's, I guess, who I was with now.

Second, I think this explains a lot of what the main character has to deal with throughout the novel on a very personal level as to why he is always having visions of some sort.

Online I found all sorts of information about other people who claimed to see faces. Mostly right when they were falling asleep. But most of what I found talked about weird stuff like astral projection and passed lives and something called the Akashic Records, which is like a universal storeroom for all human knowledge that can be assessed during deep meditation. None of this was too helpful, so I basically just went around for years weirded out by it all.

The mystery was solved only when my father handed me that folder. Inside, remember, were pictures of all of Jeffrey Dahmer's known victims. Pictures with names.

I'd looked only at the top sheet. Hadn't known any of the names.

Their faces, however...

I'd recognized everyone.

Marcy This perceptive line rang so true to the book and everyday life. Totally relatable to most everyone. There were so many “ah ha” statements made by the main character that it was extremely hard to choose a favorite.

It was funny to think about the whole world just going on. I mean, when shitty things are going on in your life, everyone else just kinda carries on. Business as usual. All those people passing had no idea what was going on in the motel room below me.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Dave –  This line comes from Castillo. It made me wonder. Do we all become our parents? Also, Jeff's thoughts following the response are worrisome, but I'll let you read for yourself to find out what he's thinking.
Castillo suddenly said his own dad had taken off when he was nine.
Yeah? I prompted.
Yeah, Castillo said. I hated the son of a bitch for close to twenty years. And the more I tried hating him, the more I became just like him. The way he moved, talked. Things he said. Christ... I don't know. In a couple of years I'll probably be him.

Marcy – Again – another way that the reader can identify with Jeff. Even though his circumstances are way over the top extreme of normal people, he tells it like it is and makes the reader think deeply about everyday life.

If everyone told the truth, even half the time, we’d probably all jump off a bridge.

To read more about Geoffrey Girard’s debut YA novel Project Cain or his adult techno thriller, Cain’s Blood, please go to: