Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Riley's Ghost Blog Tour: An Interview with John David Anderson


ABOUT THE BOOK
 
From the author of Posted comes a ghost story pulled from the darkest shadows of middle school—and a tale of one girl’s attempt to survive them.

Riley Flynn is alone.

It feels like she’s been on her own since sixth grade, when her best friend, Emily, ditched her for the cool girls. Girls who don’t like Riley. Girls who, on this particular day, decide to lock her in the science closet after hours, after everyone else has gone home.
When Riley is finally able to escape, however, she finds that her horror story is only just beginning. All the school doors are locked, the windows won’t budge, the phones are dead, and the lights aren’t working. Through halls lit only by the narrow beam of her flashlight, Riley roams the building, seeking a way out, an answer, an explanation. And as she does, she starts to suspect she isn’t alone after all.

While she’s always liked a good scary story, Riley knows there is no such thing as ghosts. But what else could explain the things happening in the school, the haunting force that seems to lurk in every shadow, around every corner? As she tries to find answers, she starts reliving moments that brought her to this night.
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


John David Anderson is the author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including the New York  Times Notable Book Ms. Bixby’s Last DayPostedGrantedOne Last Shot, and Stowaway. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wonderful wife, two frawesome kids, and clumsy cat, Smudge, in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.


Interview with John David Anderson

Foodie Bibliophile: As a librarian in a K-8 school, I have often been attuned to the readers who aren't quite ready for YA, but still want something more mature than what is usually offered in a typical middle grade novel. What I have appreciated about your books is how they speak to that in-between age... of students who want to explore their burgeoning adolescence but are still not emotionally in a place where YA is in their wheelhouse.  What made you decide to write for this age group and how have you navigated it in the publishing world, since straddling lines, genres, and age groups is likely not an easy feat, even after you've finished the writing process. 

John David Anderson: I think “in-between” describes how a lot of young readers (and some older ones like myself) feel much of the time: never quite sure where you stand in the world, with your family or friends, never quite sure of yourself or your worth. Straddling the line between being the person you think you are, the person you want to be, and the person other people want you to be. That perpetual uncertainty, that feeling of always being in a liminal space, really starts to sink its claws into you by the age of twelve or thirteen—at least it did for me. And it’s something I empathize with and appreciate in my readers—the inner strength required to grapple with all that ambiguity and self-doubt. Of course, it’s a struggle that continues into young adulthood and beyond, but I think middle grade readers are especially attuned to those feelings. In that way, the genre probably matters less than the mindset of the character. A coming-of-age story can take place in the country or the city, in a fantasy kingdom or another galaxy. I’ve always been more interested in the battle with insecurity and the quest for agency and self-actualization than conflicts with dragons or supervillains or ghosts, though these do make things more exciting. 

 

As for the publishing world, I’m very fortunate to have a publisher and an editor who are willing to let me cross genre lines and reach slightly different audiences. I think they see it as their goal to help me write the best stories I can, regardless of setting or tropes, stories that (hopefully) speak to kinds of social and emotional conflicts my young readers deal with daily. I agree, it’s not easy—for me, writing never is--but if it gets kids reading, thinking, laughing, crying, and questioning, it’s worth it.  

 


FB: How is Riley's Ghost different from your other novels and what have you learned about yourself as a writer since publishing your first book?

 

JDA: Riley’s Ghost is dark. Not pitch-black, not hopeless by any stretch, but definitely gloomier than anything I’ve published before. Partly that’s a function of genre—it is a ghost story, after all, bordering on psychological thriller--but mostly it’s a reflection of the emotional place I was in when writing it. I think many of us, young and old, have had our imaginations travel to dark places in the last year or two, and personal loss only intensified my connection with Riley as she grappled with issues of legacy and memory and guilt. Riley is not some good-as-gold, perfect protagonist ready to leap into the fray. She’s angry, confused, hurt, isolated—and that’s before any ghosts show up. I probably identified with her emotional journey more than any character to date. 

 

As for things I’ve learned—the list is much too long and a work in progress, so I’ll just pick one. I’ve learned to trust the process more. (Note, I said trust, not like. There are still parts of it I dread.) I’ve resigned myself to working through eight or nine drafts, which means I’ve learned how to make more of a mess in the beginning and how to clean up those messes at the end. I don’t fret as much over a cliché in draft two, knowing/hoping I’ll come up with something more original by draft five. I’ve learned to trust the editorial process (much to my editor’s chagrin as it probably means more work for him). I often tell young writers that no story is ever perfect, only finished. I still think that’s true, but I now have a much better idea of what “finished” should look like and all the hard work that’s required to get there. 

 

I’ve also learned that revision, which I find challenging, is incredibly bad for my diet. I’m looking at you, can of Pringles.     

 


FB: As I was reading Riley's Ghost, I picked up on nuanced themes that went beyond typical ghost story tropes, such as bullying, mental health, and family struggles. What was it about a ghost story that felt like a natural way to explore these issues?

 

JDA: What I love about a good ghost story is how it forces the present and the past to confront each other. In that way, it is ideally suited to explore the repercussions of our actions and to gauge the amount of progress we’ve made in terms of handling our problems (like bullying or anger management or family conflicts). Most of us have done things in the past that we aren’t particularly proud of or that we regret, but when those things manifest themselves as potentially malevolent beings chasing you down the hallway…well, it’s harder to turn a blind eye. 

 

Just as important, though, is the ghost story’s potential for redemption. The process of “laying a ghost to rest” works brilliantly as a metaphor for overcoming all kinds of mental, spiritual, and emotional struggles. Forgiveness, empathy, understanding—these are the positive products that can come with confronting the ghosts of our past.

 

That all being said, I also felt that there weren’t enough scary stories out there for the middle-grade crowd. I wanted to write something that quickened the pulse a little.

 

Also, middle-school is just really scary. I’ve been there. I know.   

 


FB: What is the most meaningful thing a reader has ever told you and what do you hope Riley's Ghost will mean to readers? 

 

JDA: I don’t know about most meaningful, but lately I’ve been hearing from several parents who have connected with their tween by reading one of my books aloud together. I always hope that my books speak to some young reader out there, of course, but when the book becomes a catalyst encouraging families and friends to talk, share, laugh, and cry with each other? That’s the whipped-cream frosting on the triple-layer chocolate cake. I won’t lie, I also love to hear that one of my books is somebody’s favorite, even if it’s only for a day.

 

As for Riley’s Ghost in particular…I hope that it keeps them madly turning pages to see what fate befalls her, if she makes it out of that place alive. Then, after they’ve closed the book, I hope it encourages them to reflect on all the ways we as human beings manage to hurt each other, intentionally or not, and what it takes to heal those wounds. I’m not sure I have the answer, mind you, I just know the question is worth asking.   

 


FB: Since the theme of my blog is about food, books, and travel, I always end interviews with the same question: What is your favorite food, book, and place you've ever traveled? 

 

JDA: I’m sure my answer would be different if you asked me tomorrow, but for today I’m going with:

 

Food: Chicago-style deep-dish pizza with sausage, spinach, pepperoni and fresh garlic (the spinach is to help you delude yourself about your life choices).

Book: Hundreds of possibilities, but this time we are going with Slaughterhouse Five. If it has to be a kid’s book, let’s go with Winnie-the-Pooh. 

Place: Most recently, Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park (it’s about the journey, not the destination). Also Narnia, Tatooine, and Middle-Earth.



Blog Tour Stops

 

January 10 Nerdy Book Club @Nerdy Book Club

January 12 A Nerdy Bibliophile in Wanderlust @bethshaum

January 13 Teachers Who Read @teachers_read

January 14 A Library Mama @alibrarymama

January 15 Maria's Mélange @selkeslair

January 18 Lit Coach Lou @litcoachlou


Monday, January 10, 2022

It's Monday! What are you reading? 1-10-22

It's Monday! What are you reading? Is a wonderful community of readers, teachers, and librarians. Hosted by Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers, participants share their reading adventures from the past week along with their reading plans for the week ahead.

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.


Books I read and loved last week:
Amos McGee Misses the Bus by Phillip and Erin Stead
Dare I say I loved this book more than A Sick Day for Amos McGee? Loving a sequel more than the original is no easy feat, but here's why I think this book touched my heart more than the first one. Like most readers, I found A Sick Day for Amos McGee to be a quiet, charming, and whimsical tale. And Amos McGee Misses the Bus is no different. But because I went into this book knowing what sweet and gentle characters Amos McGee and his animal friends are, I just picked up where I left off from the first book and I felt my heart melt and anxiety float away as I reunited with some beloved literary friends.

Off-Limits by Helen Yoon
When a young girl goes into her dad’s office that’s supposed to be off-limits, she only plans on taking a small piece of tape, but things soon go awry and before long, she’s playing with allllllllll the office supplies.

A delightful book that will make you smile the entire time, particularly the surprise ending.

Vibrant illustrations and brilliant poetic writing


Keep Going by Austin Kleon
Whenever my brain is low on motivation and inspiration, I can always count on Austin Kleon to get my creative wheels turning. I especially love his message about resisting the urge to monetize the things we are good at. In Kleon's words: "We used to have hobbies; now we have "side hustles." As things continue to get worse in America, as the safety net gets torn up, and as steady jobs keep disappearing, the free-time activities that used to soothe us and take our minds off work and add meaning to our lives are now presented to us as potential income streams."

I think I've internalized this advice before I even read it in this book. For the longest time I have contemplated writing a novel, but have never felt compelled to sit down and actually do the work. Given how much I love writing, this lack of motivation perplexed me. But after reading this book, I think I've realized that because I once tried to monetize something I loved by going to college to be a music teacher and when that turned into a complete disaster that left me never wanting to play the piano again (it took me over ten years for it not to be painful to sit at the piano anymore), I don't think I can take the pain of something else I love becoming a source of anguish for me.

There's lots of other great advice in Keep Going, but that was the one thing that really stuck out to me.


Currently reading: 
I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

Currently reading with my ears:

My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder


Purchasing books from any of the above Bookshop affiliate links support independent bookstores and gives me a small percentage of the sale. 

Monday, January 3, 2022

It's Monday! What are you reading? 1-3-22

It's Monday! What are you reading? Is a wonderful community of readers, teachers, and librarians. Hosted by Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers, participants share their reading adventures from the past week along with their reading plans for the week ahead.

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.

Happy 2022! On New Year's Eve, I wrote about what were my favorite books of 2021

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a life-changing and heart-changing book for me. So it’s hard not to make comparisons to the two books. While this book didn’t have as much impact to me, it was still an honor and a privilege to get to spend some more time with Ari and Dante. Especially since the venerable Lin-Manuel Miranda narrates the audiobook.


Currently reading: 
 
Riley's Ghost by John David Anderson
Keep Going by Austin Kleon


Currently reading with my ears:

My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder


Purchasing books from any of the above Bookshop affiliate links support independent bookstores and gives me a small percentage of the sale. 

Friday, December 31, 2021

Favorite Books of 2021

2021 was such a hard year of reading for me. I constantly found myself not wanting to even pick up a book let alone being able to immerse myself in the pages of a book. Despite that, I still managed to read over 400 books this year (most of them picture books) and these were some of my favorite books published in 2021. 

This was my last book I read in 2021 and so I was elated that it was one of my favorites given my reading rut this year. I hope this will give me a little momentum and motivation in 2022. I loved the lightheartedness of the humor and despite the hyperbole of the cultural touchstones discussed in this book, there is also so much truth to it. As a born and bred Midwesterner, I felt seen reading this book. 

In The Wild Light by Jeff Zentner
I actually finished reading the ARC of this book on Christmas of 2020, but was published in August of 2021 so that's why I'm including it on my list of favorite books of 2021. One year later, I can't stop thinking about it. This book's exploration of gentle masculinity, of loving familial and platonic male relationships, is one that will stay with me for a long time.

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl
I've always loved the Foo Fighters and Dave Grohl ever since I learned he was the drummer for Nirvana and then became the guitarist and frontman for his own band after Kurt Cobain died. Foo Fighters is very much a band of my generation. I listened to the audiobook of The Storyteller which Grohl narrates so it felt more like I was sitting with him at the kitchen table while he regaled me with stories from his life in rock n roll. I love how salt-of-the earth Grohl is, managing to stick pretty close to his humble roots despite having a life in an industry that can get you swept up in the fame, money, and vices pretty quickly. But Grohl is quick and frequent to credit his public schoolteacher of a mother who recognized that her son would never be fit for the academia track and let him go to pursue his dreams of being a musician before he even finished high school. What a gift that was to him to live his own life rather than trying to get him to fulfill her dreams that she had for him. Prior to listening to The Midwest Survival Guide, this was my favorite audiobook of 2021. But it's still pretty high up there. 

This is a book that I would have never picked up had I not already been a longtime fan of John Green's writing. He sets up the book in the introduction perfectly, reminding readers what a gifted writer he is, compelling you to keep turning the pages, even if you're not particularly interested in the topic of the essay you're currently reading. What you soon come to realize, however, is that these essays are not just about the topic listed in the chapter heading. That title is just an entry point for Green's meandering, yet purposeful style of writing. 

Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy
Huda F Are You? is a compelling, humorous, and page-turning graphic novel that also deals with serious and sometimes heavy issues like identity, family, and Islamaphobia. And it wins for best book title in the history of book titles. 

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
2021 marked the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a shameful moment in our nation's that most Americans didn't even know about until recently. For families that want their children to learn actual history and not just "feel-good" history that seems to be what state legislatures are forcing in schools, add this book to your collection. 

Niki Nakayama: A Chef's Tale in 13 Bites by Jamie Michalak & Debbi Florene Michiko, illustrated by Yuko Jones
This picture book biography is a feast for the senses. After I read this book even sought out the episode of Chef's Table that Nakayama was featured on so I could learn more about her and the type of cuisine in which she specializes. If you have a budding chef in your life or just want to learn more about badass women busting glass ceilings, I highly recommend this wonderful book.

Oliver Jeffers ingeniously uses vellum throughout this book as a way to overlay pages so that, in a brilliant use of dramatic irony, the reader sees the ghosts but the main character does not. Before Halloween, I read this book to all of my library classes, K-8, because I knew when I first read this that it would be one of those books that every age group will love... and I was right. Even my 8th graders were completely rapt and engaged when I read this book to them. 

Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Aaron Becker
Recently there have been quite a few picture books to come out about the 9/11 Survivor Tree, so it takes a lot to make each one stand out. With this book, what stands out is when the single turn of a page makes you gasp and leave you speechless, you know you've experienced something special. 

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson
A stunning tribute to Nina Simone. The writing is engaging while the pictures draw you in and beg you to pore over them and ask questions. I could totally see a Caldecott sticker on this next month. 

More Than Sunny by Shelley Johannes
The playful language in this book just oozes joy and coziness for each and every season (even the ones we don’t like). 

Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin
This quiet but powerful story will leave a lasting impression with its complicated but nuanced approach to immigration, family, culture, and inter-generational tensions. I wouldn't be surprised if this book also has a Caldecott or even a Newbery sticker come January.


What were your favorite books of 2021? 


Purchasing books from any of the above Bookshop affiliate links support independent bookstores and gives me a small percentage of the sale. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat... Everything with Ranch by Charlie Berens

Charlie Berens is a journalist and comedian known for his hilarious videos on social media that celebrate life in the Midwest. Some of my favorites are his series on Midwest Nice:

What Charlie Berens does so brilliantly in The Midwest Survival Guide is that he made the culture of being a Midwesterner not just a source of poking fun, but also of pride. Despite his hyperbolic cultural touchstones of the Midwest, there's also a great deal of truth in his hyperbole.

As a born and bred Midwesterner, I have often felt that sense of being excluded from distinctive cultural humor and conversations of the United States. Not only is the Midwest considered flyover country, it also tends to get overlooked in terms of discussions about what makes a person culturally Midwestern. We hear all the time about what makes a person a Southerner or a New Englander, for example, but rarely do we talk about the culture of the Midwest. So when Charlie Berens talks about the fashion of the Midwest, the debate over casserole vs. hotdish, the long goodbye, and of course, the beauty, humor and practicality of the word "Ope," I have to say... I felt seen.

After a difficult year that left me in quite a reading rut, I read/listened to this book in less than two days. I highly recommend reading and listening to this book concurrently because you miss something from only doing one or the other. If you only listen to the book you miss out on all the charts, maps, and illustrations. If you only read the book, then you miss the very best part of the book in my mind, which is hearing Charlie Berens' endearing and exaggerated Midwestern accent.

This will definitely be one of my favorite books of 2021.

The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat... Everything with Ranch by Charlie Berens*
Published: October 5, 2021
Publisher: William Morrow/Harper Audio
Pages: 272
Audiobook length: 6 hours, 5 minutes
Genre: Humor/Nonfiction
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: Library Copy/Audiobook provided by publisher

*Purchasing the book from the above Bookshop affiliate link supports independent bookstores and gives me a small percentage of the sale. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

It's Monday! What are you reading? 12-20-2021

 

I
t's Monday! What are you reading? Is a wonderful community of readers, teachers, and librarians. Hosted by Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers, participants share their reading adventures from the past week along with their reading plans for the week ahead.

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.


Books I recently read and enjoyed:
All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson
A book that will undoubtedly make (and has made) many readers uncomfortable but is going to be and likely already has been a life-saving book for so many queer adolescents and young adults.


The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder, illustrated by Catia Chien
A beautiful book with tender and innovative language. For anyone who's loved an old dog.


Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham, illustrated by C.G. Esperanza
Soul Food Sunday deals with some of my favorite picture book topics:

Food
Family
Joy
Celebration


Dad Bakes by Katie Yamasaki
“Home smells like warm bread.”

A young girl’s father gets up before dawn to go to work at a bakery and despite being tired when he returns home, spends quality time baking with his daughter.


Dougie doesn't want anyone to know that he's a dung beetle who eats poop, so he hides his lunch under a rock on the playground and doesn't eat in front of his classmates. But a situation on the playground soon causes him to have to either reveal his true identity or betray a fellow classmate who isn't afraid to be who he truly is.

Despite the silly title, this book actually has an important message of embracing and loving who you are as well as honoring the identities and differences of others.


Currently reading: 
I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys


Currently reading with my ears:

Monday, November 22, 2021

It's Monday! What are you reading? 11-22-21

 

It's Monday! What are you reading? Is a wonderful community of readers, teachers, and librarians. Hosted by Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers, participants share their reading adventures from the past week along with their reading plans for the week ahead.

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.

I'm still having tons of fun making book-related content over on TikTok. Here is my favorite one from the past few weeks:
@bibliophilebeth

##schoollibrarian ##librariansoftiktok ##librarianlife

♬ original sound - Nicolandia🌞

Last week I reviewed: 
 


Picture books I enjoyed last week:
The Creature of Habit by Jennifer E. Smith, illustrated by Leo Espinosa
A book that challenges the concept of "well that's just how we've always done things here" and examines the joy and possibility of new perspectives.

Words to Make a Friend: A Story in Japanese and English by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Naoko Stoop
A beautiful story that shows friendship can transcend language.

Currently reading:




Note: Purchasing the books from any of the above Bookshop affiliate links supports independent bookstores and gives me a small percentage of the sale.