Unabridged: a Charlesbridge Children's Book Blog


Books That Make You Go "Hmmm..." 0

I got a chance to catch up with Monica Perez, Executive Editor of CharlesbridgeTEEN about her experience launching a new imprint with us at Charlesbridge. Check out charlesbridgeteen.com to check out the books!

When the Charlesbridge team first started discussing a young adult imprint, everyone was excited. Up to that point, our house had published a handful of middle grade fictional titles, including the much-lauded Samurai Rising, which had pushed the boundaries of its age category. It seemed only logical to continue expanding into the teen and crossover markets. In terms of topics and genres, the sky was the limit!

Monica Perez (l) and Editorial Director Yolanda Scott (r)

But being open to any story under the sun turned out to be perhaps a little broad when it came time to sign up new titles and to start publicizing them. . . We needed a mission statement. But first we had to examine why we were acquiring certain books.

One way to think about different kinds of stories, and why they work for some readers, is the mirror and window analogy. For example, some teens will look for books that touch on topics they already know and like, and which may reflect their own selves or lives—like a mirror. Other teens are open to or actively seeking books that expand their worldview or present a reality very different from their own (including fantasy)—a veritable window to peer through. What could these diverse books have in common? After some consideration, we gleaned that both kinds can inspire their readers to think deeply, to question, and to read further.

And so we landed on this official goal:

CharlesbridgeTEEN features storytelling that presents new ideas and an evolving world. Our carefully curated stories give voice to unforgettable characters with unique perspectives. We publish books that inspire teens to cheer or sigh, laugh or reflect, reread or share with a friend, and ultimately, pick up another book. Our mission—to make reading irresistible!

Each one of our Fall 2017 launch titles fits very nicely into this description.

Blood and Ink, by Stephen Davies, is a book about two teens who get caught up in a life-of-death situation during an invasion of modern-day Timbuktu by Islamic fundamentalists.  Ali and Kadi are on opposite sides of the conflict but they find common ground in a shared love of the written word—a small connection that might be key to saving lives. We can’t think of a better time to be publishing a book that encourages people to move beyond their differences and discover common elements of their humanity.

Running Full Tilt, by Michael Currinder, is a semiautobiographical debut novel about two brothers who have a complicated relationship. Leo is a high school junior who discovers he has a talent for running after he must consistently run out the back door and away from his older brother Caleb’s fists. There’s no easy solution for repairing their relationship, partly because Caleb is autistic and developmentally-delayed. But their lives have also been interrupted by a recent move and marital troubles between the boys’ parents. It doesn’t mean that Leo won’t find hope and support from classmates, a new girlfriend, and his success on the track—proving the old adage that when one door closes, another opens. We are champions of this book for its authentic voice, thrilling race scenes, and the fact that it tackles tough subjects with sensitivity.

Select, by Marit Weisenberg, the first book in The Select series, is an atmospheric debut novel that can best be described as speculative fiction. What if humans could evolve into something. . . more? For Julia Jaynes and her extended family, they’ve made such a leap. They are strong, athletic, beautiful, strikingly perceptive, and able to affect their world in ways that seem practically supernatural. They are also arrogant, powerful, calculating, ruthless, and ultra-secretive. Julia has never felt like she fit in, most especially when she falls for high school tennis star and outsider John Ford. If Julia rejects the prejudices of her family to be with a normal human, she will also have to leave the group forever. What attracted us to this story of otherness versus belonging is that Julia’s journey of self-definition is a universal one—the quest to be loved, respected, and understood by those around you.

We hope you enjoy discovering these new and new-to-Charlesbridge authors and their unique, thoughtful stories. And we sincerely hope you come back for more!

Purchase Blood & Ink, Running Full Tilt, and Select for your readers today by visiting charlesbridgeteen.com!

  • Mel Schuit

Determination in the Face of Religious Extremism 0

Stephen Davies, author of Blood & Ink, ponders an increasing determination to stay strong in the face of religious extremism.

In February 2012 I was living with my wife and daughter in the arid north of Burkina Faso, West Africa. We had learned Fulfulde, the language of Fulani cattle herders, and were experiencing the normal joys and frustrations of cross-cultural living. For my day job I worked in a tiny, oven-hot recording studio, producing radio dramas in Fulfulde with local actors. In my free time I wrote adventure stories, mostly set in Africa’s Wild West, the Sahara Desert.

photo courtesy of Mark Gibson

One day my friend Muhammed Mintao came to see me at home. We sat under a straw shade shelter and made gunpowder tea on a tiny wire stove. Muhammed is a camel trader from Timbuktu. He came to Burkina Faso as a refugee in the 1980s.

photo courtesy of Mark Gibson

"Trouble is coming," muttered Muhammed, his anxious eyes gazing out between the voluminous folds of his turban. "The Tuaregs of the Sahara are going to mount a rebellion. They are digging up the rifles that they buried long ago."

Two weeks later Muhammed’s prediction became a reality. His extended family became hosts to thousands of refugees who were pouring across the border to escape the violence in Mali. For my own part, radio drama quickly took a a back seat to humanitarian aid work. Many of the refugees had arrived with nothing but the clothes they wore.

photo courtesy of Joseph Hunwick

Muhammed was disturbed by the stories these refugees were telling. The Tuareg rebellion had been hijacked by a group of well-funded Islamist extremists. The proud Muslim cities of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal were being subjected to a harsh and alien form of sharia law. Music and dancing, even musical ringtones, were banned. Girls as young as five were being forced to cover their faces. Playing football was outlawed.

photo courtesy of Mark Gibson

Not all of the stories were so gloomy. There were tales of spirited resistance, of a women’s protest march, of secret singsongs and romantic trysts. Perhaps most amazing of all, they told of a heroic smuggling operation being undertaken by Timbuktu’s librarians, trying to prevent the city’s treasure trove of ancient manuscripts from being plundered or burned by the occupiers.

photo courtesy of Joseph Hunwick

Blood & Ink is my first foray into historical fiction. Although I had long been writing adventure stories, I had never encountered a real-life Saharan drama which so completely demanded my attention. I wrote the book during NaNoWriMo 2013 and redrafted it in subsequent months. On its UK publication, Cethan Leahy called the book “an exciting combination of sweeping romance, adventure, danger and history”. I am excited about its upcoming US publication and grateful to Charlesbridge for enabling it to reach a wider audience.

Other writers and film-makers were similarly inspired by stories coming out of Timbuktu, including the great Malian film director Abderrahmane Sissako. His 2014 film Timbuktu is an arresting and tender portrayal of a city under sharia. The football-less football clip below is one of many memorable scenes from the film that show people’s determination to remain true to themselves in spite of the pressure of religious extremism.

My family and I returned to the UK in 2014. We are now living in London, which has also come under the shadow of terrorism in recent times. How do we resist extremism yet at the same time recognize the humanity and fragility of those who have been beguiled by extremist narratives? I hope that my novel Blood & Ink explores this question in good conscience and that it might even suggest some answers.

Purchase Blood & Ink for your readers today!

  • Mel Schuit

The Joys of Research 0

Terry Lynn Johnson, author of Falcon Wild, discusses the best part of writing a new book: researching.

There are a lot of great things about being an author fan mail, seeing your book cover for the first time, school visits, taking a selfie in a bookstore while madly pointing at your own name on a shelf – all amazing rewards after years of effort poured into a book. But a surprising perk, one that I hadn’t considered a good thing before, was the research you get to do.

The idea for Falcon Wild had been percolating inside me since I was twelve and read Hawkmistress by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I was obsessed with the idea of owning a bird of prey – something wild and free that comes back to your outstretched fist. What a feeling that would be! I was going to be a falconer! I spent months trying to convince my parents that it would be incredibly cool if we owned a falcon or two. For my efforts, I got a hamster. I named him Snickers and was content with that for a few years.

Fast-forward a couple of decades. I was still fascinated with the idea of forming a special bond with an animal. Instead of a bird of prey, I ended up with eighteen sled dogs. So when I wrote my first book about dogsledding, I needed very little research to portray that relationship accurately. But I’d never forgotten that first obsession with the art of falconry.

Setting out to capture, in words, the feeling of a falcon returning to your fist was a daunting task at first. I needed to get rid of a lifetime of romanticism about the sport and start actual research. Before long, I was enamored with falconry all over again.

My husband was all for research once I uttered the words “road trip.” We love to travel. So stuffing our backpacks with sleeping bags and a tent, we set off for the wild parts of Montana, which turned out to be most of the State. We interviewed interesting people, swam in freezing rivers, and went on some wild hikes. The best part was I felt like a real “author” whenever I said that we were there doing research for my book. Such a tough job!

Even better, during the next year we visited with four different falconers. This allowed me a glimpse into the life of a falconer. I felt a great affinity toward them, not just because of my interest in birds, but because of my background as a musher. I know what it’s like to dedicate so many hours, and resources toward this passion that consumes you.

Once I stood on the back of a dogsled for the first time, I was hooked. And I felt it again the first time I held a bird. When you feel the clutch of talons on your fist through the thick leather of the glove, it’s as though your heart is clutched as well. Something deep within me responded to those wild eyes appraising me. One of the falconers warned me that just holding a bird has been known to change some people. I believe him.

Seeing the cover of Falcon Wild, holding the book in my hand, those things are amazing and dream-fulfilling. But it was the research, getting to know the men and women who spend their days training with these incredible birds, and feeling the weight of the falcon on my own fist, that was the rewarding part of this journey. Getting a hamster instead of a falcon was okay, but being an author and getting to do research – what a perk!

Pre-order Falcon Wild for your readers today!

  • Mel Schuit

Writing Science Books for Babies in 3 (not so) Simple Steps 3

We asked author Ruth Spiro the not-so-simple question: What inspired you to write STEM books for babies? 

Since the first two titles in the Baby Loves Science series came out in October 2016, this is the question I’m asked most often. Fortunately, it’s also the easiest to answer!

Back in 2010 The New York Times ran the article "Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children." It attributed the drop in picture book sales to the choice some parents were making to bypass picture books for their very young children in favor of more “sophisticated” reading material. I was discussing the article with friends and wondered aloud, “What do these parents want, quantum physics for babies?”

The more I thought about it, the more I realized this was an idea with potential. But when it comes to writing books, inspiration is only the beginning. Here’s the story of how the Baby Loves Science series came together in three (not so) simple steps:

  1. Start with Science

It’s a good thing that I enjoy a challenge, because I spent nearly a year researching before I could even begin writing. I knew I needed to understand the science well enough to then explain it in very simple terms. From a long list of possible topics, I picked seven to really focus on with, you guessed it, more research. The topics I ultimately chose to write about were those I could relate to common childhood experiences or observations.

Because this step is so crucial to the success of the series, each book also gets a thorough once-over by an expert reviewer, Dr. Fred Bortz, who verifies the science is accurate.

  1. Make It Accessible

I’d previously written picture books, but envisioned this project as a series of board books for babies and toddlers. Was this a realistic goal? Once again, I hit the books and spoke with professionals to learn all I could about early literacy and how babies acquire language, because I wanted my series to be age-appropriate.

Interestingly, it turns out the most effective way to make abstract ideas more accessible is to present them within the context of a story. Listening to a story activates the language processing center of a child’s brain and helps make the information more memorable. (This is true for adults, as well.) Taking it a step further, when the story is told from the point of view of a character the child can relate to, areas of the brain literally “light up” as if they are experiencing events right along with the character. How amazing is that?

So, while concept books have their place in baby’s first library, I’d need to take a different approach. I decided that the best way to structure my books was in the form of a story, told through an appealing main character, and related to a familiar real-world experience or observation. I was especially happy to discover that this scientifically supported structure just happened to align with my experience as a children’s book author!

  1. Make It Irresistible

As soon as Irene Chan signed on to illustrate, I knew these books would be adorable. The beautiful babies featured on the covers and throughout each book practically leap off the page, adding another layer of interest for even the littlest listeners.

You may have noticed that babies love to look at pictures of faces, and especially faces of other babies. It turns out there’s science behind that, as well.  “Babies are hardwired to recognize faces, which helps them connect with their caregiver early on,” says Michael Frank, a brain and cognitive sciences researcher at MIT.  So, even before a baby understands the meaning of the words in the text, they are practicing their focusing skills on the bright, colorful illustrations. It’s no wonder that parents report their babies are drawn to these books like little hummingbirds to nectar!

All humor aside, the Baby Loves Science books only appear to be simple in their writing and design. In reality, they’re the result of collaboration between an entire team that works very hard to ensure they are accurate, age-appropriate and irresistible to our young audience - because we believe they deserve nothing less.

We’re pleased to report FOUR new additions to the Baby Loves Science family will arrive in 2018! But since we all enjoy an element of surprise, we’ll be announcing the titles closer to their arrival!



 Purchase any (and all!) of the Baby Loves Science books for your readers today!

  • Mel Schuit