Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Grades 6-8’ Category

Stinkwaves Magazine is the brainchild of Tevin and Nicole Hanson.  Tevin is the author of numerous books and short stories. He enjoys skateboarding, reading half a dozen books simultaneously, and chasing his two small children around the house while singing horrendous versions of children’s songs. Nichole is a full-time mom of two children and an avid reader of young adult books. Thanks to Nicole for taking time for this interview, and for sending me a free sample copy of Stinkwaves Magazine.

ALLISON: Why did you start Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Handersen Publishing actually started as silly handmade books for friends and family featuring Tevin’s quirky story ideas and art. Then, after reading a few literary magazines, we thought, “Why not start a literary magazine for middle grade and young adult readers?” and Stinkwaves was born. All this time Tevin was trying to go the traditional route for publishing his middle grade books. We finally decided to give self-publishing a try. We started with Hole in the Wall, Mr. Boggarty, and An Evening of Temptation and The Ultimate Sacrifice. When it was time to take on new authors, we immediately started with past Stinkwaves Contributors and became a full-fledged publishing house!

We want Handersen Publishing to be a place where reluctant readers can find a book to connect with, and established readers can find something new to challenge themselves. Each project that we take on has some type of twist to the traditional books in that genre. Some of our books have been labeled bizarro fiction, and we kind of like that title.

ALLISON: How has this venture changed your life?

NICOLE: We are now running Handersen Publishing full time, which is both amazing and exhausting. It’s amazing to be able to work from home and be doing what you love, but it takes a lot of time and energy. Seriously, though, how can you complain when you make books for a living, and get to work with great kids making slime and thumb theatres?

ALLISON: Why both books and a magazine?

NICOLE: It just kind of worked out that way for us, and I’m glad it did. We have met some amazing talent through Stinkwaves. And each of our authors was originally published there.

ALLISON: What skills—business or otherwise–does each bring to Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Books are where we have found the most success. Unfortunately, Stinkwaves has had a hard time finding readers, it’s a great little magazine, and we’ve been lucky to get some great submissions, but we’re finding that a lot of readers aren’t super familiar with what a literary magazine is, especially when it is for a middle grade and young adult audience. Anytime we get it into kids’ hands, though, they really like it and seem to connect with the stories and poetry.

ALLISON: How involved is your family with Henderson Publishing? *Who is in your family?

NICOLE: We are definitely a family business. Our two kids Elinore (6) and Gordon (4) are the inspiration for most everything we do. They encourage us to stay young and think young. They are also great helpers when it comes to creating art or setting up for an event. Our daughter Elinore is also great to have in an audience. She has a fabulous laugh that inspires other kids to get involved with the show and have fun!

ALLISON: What other activities do you and your family enjoy besides Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Right now, it seems like our lives revolve around books, but it’s what we all love. Whether it’s finding the perfect book (or twenty) together at the library, snuggle time reading, or watching a movie that was based on a book, book time is the best time! We also have a lot of fun with art, jumping on the trampoline, or spending time together at the park.

ALLISON: Share one success story.

NICOLE: We recently booked our first paid gig for a reading event. We’ve done a lot of donated time events, but it was very exciting that an organization found value in what we do, and invited us to come and work with their kids. It was also a TON of fun!

ALLISON: Share a major challenge and how you overcame it.

NICOLE: The publishing industry, itself, is a major challenge. Navigating libraries, bookstores, online marketing, websites, social media . . . the list goes on and on. We overcome this one step at a time. We currently have four authors from the UK and Ireland, and it’s a challenge learning another regions rules and processes, but we are working on it, one step at a time.

ALLISON: What are your future dreams—for Handersen Publishing or personal?

NICOLE: We want Handersen to be successful so that we can share literacy and the importance of books and reading. There are a lot of communities that struggle to have the necessary resources to encourage kids to read. If we can succeed we will have more resources to share, whether it’s actual books or events that connect kids with books and authors.

ALLISON: Where can those who live in the area find you?

NICOLE: Our books are for sale online both through our website (free shipping) and on Amazon (they even qualify for FREE PRIME shipping). We are also season vendors at the Haymarket and the Fallbrook Farmers Markets in Lincoln, Nebraska, and you can find us at craft fairs and other events throughout the year. Also, Indigo Bridge (Lincoln, NE), Francie and Finch (Lincoln, NE), Chapters Books and Gifts (Seward, NE), and The Bookworm (Omaha, NE) all carry Handersen Publishing titles.

Isn’t Stinkwaves a deliciously fun name for a young people’s magazine? I hold in my hands an 80+ page literary magazine packed with stories, poems, and artwork by contributors of all ages. With its wide range of genres—from adventure and fantasy to scary and silly–the magazine will appeal to young people and adults.

The Spring Issue hosts an eclectic collection of writings. To start, there’s a how-to article on writing and an interview with an author. My favorite story is The Prize to be Won. Think the movie Mission Impossible and mice. That’s all I’m going to tell you! Other top contenders are: The Caterpillar mixes fantasy with reality as it tells the tale of a man whose life would be perfect except he must ride the bus, and then one day he meets a caterpillar who forever changes the course of his life; The Winter of the River is a love story about two young people who discover a new world at the end of the river, but that new world takes them on two different paths; and A Wish for Stolie weaves humor into a tale of a dump ranger who unleashes a genie from a bottle, only to potentially lose his chance a wish when his friend falls into a ravine.

The Spring Issue also boasts a colorful cover and multiple illustrations. The latter are all submitted and, as such, vary in their style and quality. A duck drawing looks computer generated, a robot forms a perfect stencil, a flower drawing resembles those found in adult coloring books, an alligator emerges from a watercolor background, and much of the remaining artwork is either line drawn or painted. The most adorable are the bear sketches accompanying a poem entitled “I’m my own best friend” and the most striking is that of an ink-drawn city landscape. If they don’t already have one, many of the contributors should have a promising art career.

My one concern about the magazine is its hefty price of $20 for two issues. My circle of writing friends immediately put that worry to rest. The ladies (who are also parents) enjoyed the magazine and reassured me that families who want quality reading for their teenagers will not be deterred by the price.

In today’s market, with many print publications folding, relatively young publishing companies need to stand out to compete. The content of Stinkwaves is quirkier than the norm, which should have high appeal to its adolescent audience. In addition, editors have selected submissions from authors of various experience levels and from all around the world, ensuring both a fun and quality read for readers of all ages. Bravo to Henderson Publishing!

Fifty years ago, Joni Eareckson took a dive that left her paralyzed and changed her life forever. Today she runs a non-profit organization called Joni and Friends that offers many ministries to those impacted by disability. In her autobiography, Joni, she shares her journey into faith, and in A Step Further she attempts on a personal level to answer why God allows trials. Fifty years later, these books remain fresh and inspirational.

Joni is a compelling story of an average athletic and church-going adolescent. Growing up, Joni enjoyed riding horses, hiking, tennis, and swimming. While she believed in God and knew scriptures, her spiritual walk was lukewarm. On July 30, 1967, Joni dove into Chesapeake Bay after misjudging the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels, which for some have meant death but for Joni instead resulted in her becoming a quadriplegic. In writing about her rehabilitation, she holds nothing back of the emotional upheaval she felt—anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, and religious doubts. Her openness is part of what makes her story such a page-turner. When she writes about at times turning away from but ultimately turning to God, I’m ready to listen because this isn’t just another feel-good conversion story.

As great of testimony as Joni has, I’d be remiss if I don’t point out that the well-crafted writing style is key to my repeat enjoyment. Joni has excellent character portrayal and setting description. People are developed through dialog and succinct sentences such as “His large dark eyes, usually smiling and full of good-natured fun, were clouded with concern.” Places are revealed through perfect word choice such as “The hot July sun was setting low in the west and gave the waters of Chesapeake Bay a warm red glow.” At every point of Joni’s narrative, I feel as if with her no matter where she is or what experiences she’s facing, and so I am pulled into her world.

During her two years of rehabilitation, Joni learned to paint with a brush between her teeth, and began selling her artwork. She also writes this way. To date, she has written over forty books and recorded several musical albums. One book, A Step Further, Joni wrote in response to the thousands of letters she received from people who identified with her depression, despair, and loneliness. The writing of it she says required much study on her part. The result is a well-balanced answer that incorporates additional autobiography while also providing scriptures that address suffering and the destination for every Christian of heaven. Naturally, in being an exposition not a narrative, A Step Further isn’t as suspenseful as Joni. However, it is just as easy to read, and just as honest. There aren’t any pat answers, but rather carefully thought-out encouragement from someone who accepted God’s response of “No” to her prayer for healing.

For me, Joni and A Step Further are treasured religious classics. I read them back in junior high, and Joni was one of the first movies I saw on the big screen. If you’ve yet to discover them, you’re in for a treat.

Gabby Duran is a name you’ll remember. She’s the world-renowned babysitter in a hilarious science fiction series by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners for middle schoolers. What makes Gabby so famous? The fact that she’s sought by leaders and celebrities all over the world for the most impossible babysitting jobs. What classifies the books as science fiction? The fact that the Association Linking Intergalactics and Earthlings as Neighbors hires Gabby as babysitter of aliens. To date, the series has three titles. All are fast-paced, action-packed, and will have high appeal to reluctant and avid reader alike.

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables introduces Gabby’s family, friends, and enemies. Her mom is single and believes her husband lost in a war. Gabby has a younger sister who, although she lacks social skills and interprets every speech as literal, is super smart and handles all the family’s finances and schedules. Best friend Zee is a mad scientist stuck in an adolescent body who would like nothing more than to analyze the aliens that Gabby meets. In contrast her musician friend Satchel remains blissfully ignorant even when Gabby’s life is in danger. At the same time, Gabby’s sworn enemy is zealously determined to get to the bottom of Gabby’s secrets and to outplay Gabby in the school band. This initial title also introduces Edwina, Gabby’s contact with alien parents. Edwina is uptight, primly-dressed, and no-nonsense. She’s also totally confident of Gabby’s abilities and deeply concerned about the safety of her alien charges. These charges come with some tall orders. For example, Gabby’s first job is to care for a girl who is no larger than a garden gnome and who can transform herself into anything she wishes. Oh, and she’s also in line for the throne for one of the plants, and so key to intergalactic peace.

The subsequent two titles introduce equally unusual babysitting charges. In Gabby Duran and Troll Control, Gabby encounters the first family to truly dislike her. The mother wrinkles her nose upon meeting Gabby, describes her as “uneasy on the eyes,” and throws around the word unpleasant. The father attempts to act polite, but can’t resist a sneer or cleansing his hands with sanitizer after Gabby and he shake. And who is Gabby’s charge? A frizzy-haired, mole-covered troll with a habit of stealing and showing off. Gabby also encounters the first true setback of her new job. Prior to now, she’s successfully remained secretive about her job and handled babysitting at odd hours. With this newest charge, she inadvertently allows him to get kidnapped. In Gabby Duran and Multiple Mayhem, Gabby has not only redeemed herself in the eyes of Edwina, but received the dubious honor of babysitting One. It’s her first experience with a real baby; all her other charges have been toddlers or preschoolers. Gabby soon discovers that One isn’t all he seems to be. In one short evening, One has replicated into not just two, three, four babies but thirteen! Despite it being against agency orders, out of desperation, Gabby calls her friends to help. To make matters worse, a classmate discovers Gabby’s secret and her mother might be dating a bad guy.

Is there anything I don’t like? Okay, the characters are mostly one-dimensional. But that’s often the case with light-hearted books. Besides, over time, idiosyncrasies are revealed such as the fact Gabby blushes, sweats, and speaks in a high-pitched voice when telling a lie. True, the plots are simplistic. But again, that’s often the case with easy-to-read series. And, eventually, subplots are developed such as the mystery of what happened to Gabby’s dad. The most serious criticism I have is that the overblown “good versus bad guy action” is so outrageous that I gave up trying to understand it.

Over all the series has a lot of creativity and heart. It reminds me of the Scary School series by Derek the Ghost. Those titles entertained me for a few hours and turned one of my reluctant readers into a fan of books. I’m enthused to own the first three titles of Gabby Duran and equally eager for the next book to be published.

Reyna Grande is the author of The Distance Between Us, a novel about family. Born in Mexico, Reyna was two years old when her father left for the United States to find work.  Her mother followed her father two years later, leaving Reyna and her siblings behind in Mexico. When Reyna was ten, she and her siblings entered the U.S. with their father as undocumented immigrants. Reyna become the first person in her family to graduate from college and today she is well-known speaker and author. To find out more, check out my interview.

ALLISON: Tell readers something about yourself that they won’t learn from reading The Distance Between Us.

REYNA: I love gardening. I especially like creating butterfly gardens. My daughter and I raised monarch butterflies for a while and it was the most amazing experience. I think every child should have a chance to witness the transformation of a butterfly with their own eyes. It’s powerful. One of my favorite quotes, that I actually have framed and hanging on my wall, is: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” It inspires me.

ALLISON: You were born in Mexico. What is a favorite memory from Mexico?

REYNA: One of my favorite memories that I didn’t write about in the book is the time when I went on a pilgrimage with my grandmother, Abuelita Chinta. We went with the group from our local church. The procession walked to the churches in nine different towns. It was long and tiring to walk there, especially since I was only eight years old, but the people at every town would welcome us with a delicious meal cooked over an open fire. I can still taste those meals–pork in green chile sauce, rice, beans, and hot oatmeal drinks we call atole served with a piece of sweet bread. The pilgrimage was one of those times when we ate very well! I went there to pray for my mother’s return. I don’t think my prayers were answered, but at least I still have the memory of the food I ate.

ALLISON: When you returned to Mexico, you found yourself almost a stranger. Have you taken your children to Mexico? What has been their experience?

REYNA: I take my children almost every year because I want them to know the place where I came from, so that they can have at least a small connection to the place and the family I have there. I hope that by seeing the poverty I came from will help them appreciate what I’ve been able to give them in the U.S. They enjoy going to my hometown but they also complain about the lack of luxuries that they are used to here–like running water!  Over there, they have to boil their bath water on the stove, then put it in a bucket and throw the water on themselves with a small container. On the other hand, they very much love the food that my aunt cooks for them and they like the freedom that children have over there–such as being able to walk around the neighborhood, to go to the store by themselves, to play in the street with other children, things that here in the U.S. children don’t get to do because parents tend to be over-protective and their isn’t as much a sense of community as there is in Mexico.

ALLISON: You concluded in your memoir that despite the strain immigration put on your family, the hardship was worth it. What would you tell young people about overcoming challenges?

REYNA: I would tell them to do everything they can to overcome those challenges because otherwise, their lives would get worse instead of better. If you find yourself in a hole, try to climb out of it–you do that by making the right choices. Focus on school, on your dreams, on your future. If you make bad choices out of desperation, you only dig yourself deeper.  Remember, things don’t always have to be that way–they can get better, they can change. You just have to keep focused, stay strong, and above all, don’t lose hope.

ALLISON: You gave a special tribute to a teacher who changed your life. Have there been other mentors in your life? If so, what has been their influence?

REYNA: I had another teacher at UC, Santa Cruz who was very important to me. Her name is Marta Navarro, a Spanish and Chicano Literature teacher, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She–like my former teacher that I write about in the book–also encouraged me to keep writing. She introduced me to more Latino authors, and she was always available to talk whenever I needed someone to listen. I’m still in touch with her too, and she even came to my wedding!

ALLISON: The Distance Between Us is based on your adult memoir. What process was involved in rewriting it for young people?

REYNA: I didn’t want to water down the story for young readers so I did my best to stay true to the original. Mostly what I did was to put the book on a diet–meaning–I trimmed off all the extra stuff, details, backstory, inner thoughts, and only left what was essential. I cut out about 100 pages. I took out my  crazy uncle, and also some details about my love life that was inappropriate for young readers.

But by cutting 100 pages, it gave me some room to expand on things that young readers would find interesting, such as the border crossing. In the original, my border crossing is only one chapter long. In the young reader’s version, it is three chapters. I added more details so that young readers could really have a chance to experience that moment in my life that was very traumatic but also life-changing.

ALLISON: You’re open in your memoir about both the highs and lows of your family’s life. What has been the reaction of your family to your memoir?

REYNA: My siblings have been very supportive of my writing and they really loved the book. My mother didn’t read much of it because she said it was too painful. My father passed away before the book was published. My aunts from the Grande side got mad at me for writing about how mean my evil grandmother had been. But, that is how she was, and I wrote the truth of my experience living under her roof. I don’t feel guilty about what I wrote, and I understand that since she’s dead, my aunts would rather I had honored her memory by writing more positive things–but unfortunately, I had nothing positive to write about because all my memories of her are unpleasant and painful. Writing memoir is very tricky because you are writing about your family and they might never speak to you again if they don’t like what you wrote! Ultimately, if you write memoir, you have write your truth and no one else’s. You aren’t writing to please anyone. You are writing so that you can heal from the wounds of your experience.

ALLISON: You wrote The Distance Between Us to provide an awareness. What would like people who are not immigrants to understand? What books would you recommend a person starting out in their awareness of diversity to read?

REYNA: I would like for non-immigrants to remember where they came from. Everyone here–except for native Americans–came from somewhere. Perhaps it was a great-grandparent or grandparent who immigrated, who went through the trauma and heartbreak that new immigrants go through. If people honor the memories of those who came before them–their ancestors–I think it will make them more compassionate and understanding towards new immigrants. The U.S. has a history of discrimination against specific immigrant groups. Even those who managed to assimilate very well into American culture (like the Irish) at one point or another were heavily discriminated. I think it’s time that we accept that we are a multi-cultural society. We have people from all over the world who live here, and that is a beautiful thing!

Recommended Reading:

1) Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami

2) The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

3) Broken Paradise by Cecilia Samartin

4) Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

5) A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez

6) Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli


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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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