Monday, December 23, 2013

Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier

Mother/Son team Ying Chang and Vinson Compestine created a wonderful middle-grade, historical fiction novel: Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier.

Thirteen-year-old Ming lives in the small village of Red Star in Maoist China in the 1970s. His father, an archaeologist, is convinced that Emperor Qin’s tomb (and his Terra-Cotta army) is in the area.  But if Ming’s father doesn’t prove it soon, the town’s Political Officer will condemn him to the brutal labor camps. When a terra-cotta soldier is found, and begins speaking, Ming learns about Emperor Qin, the history of the terra-cotta army, and what life was like for the soldier.  As the two become friends, Ming experiences adventure like he'd never expected!  Will they be able to save Ming's father, and outwit the Political Officer?

This was an amazing weave of history and fiction.  Ying and Vinson created a fantastical adventure that will appeal to boys (and girls).  It's almost...Indiana Jones meets Aladdin (and the Goonies).  Caves, treasures, booby traps ("that's what I said!  booty traps!")  And throw in an ancient Chinese golem (or terra-cotta soldier).

The book is filled with Chinese history from both Ming and Shi (the soldier).  There are illustrations and pictures throughout with captions describing life in Maoist and Qin Dynasty China.  The setting descriptions are very detailed, making the reader feel as if he/she is actually there.  

The book also includes a glossary (with both Chinese characters and romanization for pronunciation), a brief history of both the Qin Dynasty and Maoist China, and a Q&A session with the authors.  Oh!  And there's a stir-fry recipe at the end!

I would highly recommend this for collections.  I believe it fits with common core standards...and is just an entertaining, educational, interesting book.  Great for bringing in young, male readers.

Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier is published by Amulet Books (a division of Abrams).  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 01.07.2014

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Dirt Diary {Blog Tour} Plus! Interview with Author Anna Staniszewski!

"Oh. My. Goldfish."  I loved Anna Staniszewski's The Dirt Diary!

Rachel Lee is in the 8th grade.  Her parents have just split up, and she's still recovering from a fake boyfriend incident the year before (Junior High kids can be so mean!)  She doesn't think her life can get much worse...but then she has to help out with her mom's new business: a house cleaning service!  One that caters to the families of the popular kids in her school.  She discovers, though, that finding her classmates "dirty laundry" (see what I did there?) can be used to her advantage.  What will Rachel do with this information?

When I started The Dirt Diary, I was expecting the typical Mean Girl vs. Outcast story (or maybe even something along the lines of Seven Deadlies).  Burn Book gets found and spread all over the school, outcast girl becomes super-popular, ends up with football star.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Sure, there are some similarities, but the conflict doesn't go so horribly awry you feel sick/uncomfortable (which has happened with the last few Mean Girl/Outcast/Bully books I've read lately).  It was nice in the way Napoleon Dynamite is nice [confession: memorized movie].  There are popular kids, not popular kids, and some conflicts- but none (okay, maybe most) of the characters were completely evil.  It was very similar to my junior high experience.  

First- I loved Rachel Lee.  She captured me with her blurting of "Holy fish tacos" (something I'm pretty sure I've actually said).  She continued to endear me with her fun little quips, and then when she turned to baking to ease her troubled soul? I gave her a mental hug.  Food IS a language all in itself!

Second- I loved Rachel's friends.  Marisol and Andrew are...well, if I could've put Andie and Ducky together in Pretty in Pink, that's how I picture Marisol and Andrew.  And who wouldn't love that?

Third- Red Sox.

This was a super-fun read that would be great for middle grades! And apparently nearly 30-somethings, as I raved about this book to everyone I saw for two days after I finished it.  I'm really excited to see how the rest of the series goes!

Sidenote: I read this while also watching the K-Drama Heirs.  One of the characters is Yoo Rachel (but pronounced Rye-el).  So, in my head that's what I called our Dirt Diary Rachel, unless it was explicitly pronounced otherwise ("Ray-CHUL!")


And now!  I had the privilege of interviewing Anna as part of The Dirt Diary Blog Tour! (HUGE thanks to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, and Anna, for this opportunity!) 

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of My Very UnFairy Tale Life series, published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Look for the first book in Anna’s next tween series, The Dirt Diary, in January 2014, and visit her at

Hi Anna! Greetings from the frigid Midwest :)
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions!

1. Of all the characters in The Dirt Diary, which one do you connect with most? And, if it’s different, which one are you most like?
Rachel, the main character, and I definitely have a lot in common personality-wise. Her extreme shyness, neurotic insecurities, and funny sayings were inspired by my own quirks from when I was in middle school. Luckily, I’ve gotten a little more outgoing and a little less insecure since then!

2. Were any of Rachel’s situations based on your own experiences?
Although I haven’t been in Rachel’s specific situation (cleaning houses with her mom, going through a parental divorce, etc.) I can relate to the treatment Rachel experiences at the hands of the popular kids. When I was younger, the popular kids didn’t go out of their way to make my life miserable, but they usually treated me like I was completely invisible which made me feel like dirt.

3. Did you know from the beginning the direction you wanted her parents’ situation to take? Or did that develop with the story?
I had a pretty good idea early on of how I wanted Rachel’s parents’ story to end up. My goal was to make the outcome hopeful but realistic. I spent a lot of time trying to get Rachel to a point where she’d be okay, no matter how her parents’ relationship ended up.

4. Did you have any teachers who encouraged you the way Ms. Kennedy encourages Rachel?
I was lucky enough to have lots of great teachers when I was growing up, particularly a couple of English teachers in high school who really believed in my writing. I don’t know if I would be an author now if they hadn’t encouraged me as much as they did.

5. What would YOU have made for the bake sale?
I love eating pastries, but I’m not that great at making them. I do have one dessert that’s always a hit: a chocolate chip cookie cake with cream cheese filling.

6. As a children’s librarian, I have to ask: what was your favorite book growing up?                 
I had so many that I can’t narrow it down to just one! Among my favorites were Anne of Green Gables, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Secret Garden, and A Wrinkle in Time.

7. Were any characters based off people you know in real life? Marisol and Andrew would definitely be characters from my life.
I usually weave in characteristics from real people into my characters, but I don’t think there was one person who inspired any of the characters. It’s more fun, somehow, to invent characters from scratch and then sprinkle in traits from real-life people.

Thank you again for chatting! I look forward to reading more of your work! Enjoy the holidays in New England! (I was just that way for Thanksgiving).

Thank you so much for having me!


The Dirt Diary is published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 01.07.2014

Monday, December 16, 2013

I'm back!

Sorry for the break!  November was an exciting, busy month!

1. It was my birthday- my husband took me to the Brookfield Zoo and Mitsuwa Marketplace.  I stocked up on deliciously adorable baked goodies...and got to see animals.  A seal decided it would be hilarious to pop up out of nowhere and spit at me.  I screamed.

2. The hubby and I went to New England for Thanksgiving!  I hadn't had a Thanksgiving with my parents since 2004, so it was great to celebrate with them and also show my Wisconsin-born-and-raised husband some REAL mountains!  My parents live right between the White Mountains and Green Mountains.  Also, we had scallops.  GOOD ones.  Wrapped in bacon.

3. While out there for Thanksgiving, my sister and I surprised the parents with a special dinner out for their 30th Anniversary.

4. I discovered the band Clazziquai.  I don't even know how to describe them.  Korean-Canadian Acid Jazz?

Google Images/Dark Horse Comics
5. I did some reading.  Nothing new, though.  Serena by Ron Rash (made into a movie with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper!), The Crimson Labyrinth by Yusuke Kishi...and a good portion of Junji Ito's horror manga.

Google Images/Dark Horse Comics
Google Images/Dark Horse comics

Can we just discuss how dementedly awesome Junji Ito is!?!  Every. Single. Volume.  I would just be reading next to the husband saying "This is so messed up!  Like...really effed up! Holy crap! Look at this!" [and I would then shove some expertly penned illustration of effed-uppedness into his face; and he won't even watch horror movies, so you can imagine how well that went over.]

And now...NOW...I am ready for some reviewing.  And there are some fun things planned for this blog!  Stay tuned for some special guests and special features!