Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Q&A with Steve Bloom, author of THE STAND-IN

The Stand-In by Steve Bloom is set to hit the stores October 1st. It’s a hilarious rom-com, an antidote to some of the grimmer YAs out there, about blue-collar Brooks Rattigan, who becomes a stand-in date for the daughters of the elite who don’t have anyone to take them to the milestone parties of senior year. Brooks soon gets sucked into the world of privilege and perks, and starts cutting a few moral corners to be accepted by the one-percent crowd. Of course, because this is a funny book, with a hilarious protagonist, all turns out well, and Brooks ends up with the right girl on his arm.

I wanted to take the opportunity to interview the author, Steve Bloom, about the book, because it has such an unusual history.

First, Steve, how did the idea for this story come to you?

Years ago, I was playing tennis with an acquaintance of mine whose daughter was on a soccer team with my daughter. His daughter’s prom was coming up and she had her heart set on going but her date suddenly cancelled at the last minute. Her father asked if my daughter might know someone who could escort her instead. A loud bell went off that this was an idea worth writing about.

You initially wrote The Stand-In as a screenplay. What was the experience like of taking a screenplay and turning it into a book?

Challenging and liberating. 

Challenging because I’d never written prose before and had to use new muscles I had to learn how to write new conventions, not to mention overcome some major insecurities. As a screenwriter, I’ve never perceived myself as a writer with a capital “W” which is how I think of book authors.

Liberating because the old rules I was used to no longer applied. Feature scripts are roughly 105-120 pages and fifty or so scenes long. Books have no set length. In screenplays, character is revealed through external action. Books allow you to go into your characters’ heads, to spell out how they’re thinking while they’re thinking it. There are no limits. 

When you wrote The Stand-In as a book, did you make any significant changes?

Structurally not too much, but I was able to get to dig deeper into my characters and get to know them better.  I added about one third brand new material. Mostly I added more about the college admissions process, a target I’ve had fixed in my sights for awhile now, particularly after going through it all over again with my daughters. 

The book is now in production to be made into a movie. Can you tell us a little about that?

Strange but true story.  Literally the week that I got the publishing deal with blessed Carolrhoda Lab for the novel -- years after I had written off the script -- I got an email out of the blue from the head of Awesomeness Films saying they wanted to option it. They have since purchased the screenplay and are currently in pre-production. So hopefully The Stand-In will be coming soon to a movie theater near you or at the very least to your nearest computer.

Thank you for your time, Steve! I absolutely adore the freshness of Brooks’s voice and the hilarious twists and turns of the plot, and find the ending completely satisfying. I’m excited that the book will soon get into the hands of readers!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Q&A with Author Caren Stelson

Caren Stelson is the author of Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story, which will be released on October 1, 2016. The book tells the story of Sachiko Yasui, who was six years old when an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki where she lived. Booklist called Sachiko "luminous, enduring, [and] utterly necessary" in its starred review of the book.

Why is Sachiko’s story important to tell now, more than seven decades after the bomb dropped on Nagasaki?

Sachiko Yasui’s story of surviving the Nagasaki atomic bomb is as relevant today as it was seventy-one years ago. According to the Ploughshares Fund, 15,375 nuclear weapons remain in the world with the U.S. and Russia possessing 93% of them. But for me, Sachiko’s story is broader and deeper than nuclear history and politics. We all experience pain and loss in our lives. Sachiko’s story is a universal one of resilience and a search for peace. If I had only one big story to write in a lifetime, it would be Sachiko’s.

How and when did you get the idea for this book?

Sachiko, Fumiko Yamaguchi
(vice president of the Nagasaki–Saint Paul
Sister City Committee) and Caren 
I met Sachiko Yasui on August 6, 2005 at a Minneapolis peace park. Sachiko was visiting the Twin Cities on a peace mission to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When Sachiko was introduced to the park’s audience, I was startled. I had never met anyone who had survived an atomic bomb. Sachiko was so young, just six years old, and only 900 meters from ground zero when the atomic bomb detonated. Being a writer and having interviewed many WWII survivors from Germany, the United States, and England before, I thought I had the skills to write Sachiko’s story, but it took me five years before I had enough courage to ask her to work with me. Even when Sachiko said yes, I had no idea what a challenge it would be to write her story.

Why did you write this book for middle-grade readers and teens instead of adults?

I have an MFA in writing for children and young adults, so I naturally think in terms of what young people might want to read. What’s more, when Sachiko spoke, she often shared her story with children and teens, always encouraging them to think about peace. Sachiko and I agreed: young people are our future; they need to understand the past.

What type of research did you do for the book? 

Organizing Sachiko's story
(also pictured: a kokeshi doll)

Many types! The book’s main narrative comes from my interviews with Sachiko in the course of five trips I made to Nagasaki. While in Nagasaki, I also wanted to internalize the topography of the city, understand the city’s history and culture, speak with experts, and study the exhibits in Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Museum. I also traveled to Hiroshima on a scholarship to interview survivors and attend a week long peace symposium at Hiroshima City University. When I returned home, I read many more hibakusha [atomic bomb survivors] testimonials from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to compare these survival stories to Sachiko’s experience.

To educate myself more broadly, I read numerous books about WWII and the War in the Pacific from different perspectives, and I located and interviewed WWII veterans who had fought against the Japanese. To further my understanding of Sachiko’s key influences on her journey to peace, I visited the Helen Keller Archives in New York City and read as much as I could about Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. I even had a chance to visit Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and stepped onboard the U.S.S. Missouri where the surrender papers were signed to end the war on September 2, 1945.

In short, I walked around in Sachiko’s story for six years, learning as much as I could.

Were there other details that you weren’t able to fit into the book that you’d like to share with readers?

Keiko Kawakami
What’s impossible to show in a published book is the process of writing it. If you can believe it, this book began as a picture book. But the more I learned, the longer it became. If I knew beforehand what I would have to do to complete Sachiko’s story, I might never have started.

Sachiko’s story was an emotionally daunting story to tell and finding a way to tell it was a challenge. Since Sachiko does not speak English and I don’t speak Japanese, we needed translators. In Nagasaki, our mutual friend, Dr. Takayuki Miyanishi simultaneously translated as Sachiko told me her story. When I returned home to Minneapolis, Keiko Kawakami translated my letters to Sachiko or called her on the phone to translate my questions. Keiko also translated all my manuscripts of the narrative for Sachiko’s approval or correction. And since Sachiko does not use a computer, all work had to be mailed via snail mail.

Researching at the Tokyo National Diet Library
(the equivalent to our Library of Congress)
Bridging language was one challenge, and bridging culture was another. Takayuki Miyanishi, Keiko Kawakami, and my own readings helped me step into the Japanese world. Takayuki pointed out the importance of the Nagasaki camphor trees as symbols of strength, not just for Sachiko, but for all the people of Nagasaki. Keiko helped me understand Japanese family relationships, customs, and traditions, and taught me enough Japanese to be polite. At night, I would climb into bed and read Japanese haiku, noting the careful choice of words and the imagery of nature. I would fall asleep with Sachiko’s story and the language of haiku in my mind.

What has been Sachiko’s reaction to having her story told in book form?

Sachiko is very pleased to have her story in book form, although she hasn’t seen the published version yet. I plan to go to Nagasaki in January to present the book to her. For me, it will be a promise fulfilled. For Sachiko, it will be a gift that assures her story will not be forgotten. It might have been. In November 2013, Sachiko had a stroke, which left her paralyzed on her right side. Fortunately, Sachiko has recovered much of her faculties, although she is now in a nursing home and no longer speaks in public. Sachiko’s greatest hope was always to give young people the strength and courage to surmount the challenges they face in their lives so they can work for peace in their communities and in the world. This is my hope too and is the hope of the many people who helped Sachiko’s story become a book. Is Sachiko happy? Yes. Her published story will inspire more young people than she may have dreamed possible.

From left to right: Takayuki Miyanishi, Caren, Kim (Caren's husband), and Sachiko

Thanks, Caren!

For more on Caren's Sachiko research, read her "Return of the Sword" guest post here and editor Carol Hinz's "The Book That Took a Village" post here

To watch a talk Sachiko Yasui gave to Nagasaki University students (with English subtitles) in 2011 on contributing actively to peace, click here

Get Students Reading this Fall with Audisee™ eBooks with Audio!

Special thanks to Jeff Mitchell for the following post!

Lerner Digital’s award-winning Audisee™ eBooks with Audio are designed to provide an engaging, intuitive, and versatile option for readers of all levels in grades 4-12. These eBooks feature professional narration and sentence highlighting to interest reluctant readers, struggling readers, auditory learners, ELL/ESL students, and on-level students. They’re available in both single-user and multi-user format, and they’re accessible on a wide range of devices, from desktops to laptops, tablets to handheld e-readers.

An  Audisee page from BMX Vert, one of our new Fall 2016 titles now available.

Each season Lerner Digital carefully selects titles for Audisee™ that will pique the interest of reluctant readers and auditory learners. From graphic novels and YA thrillers to sports and pop culture topics, there are now nearly 200 total options in a wide range of high-interest offerings. And we’re pleased to offer 55 new Audisee™ eBooks with Audio titles, now available for Fall 2016. Here are just some of the new Audisee™ titles ready for the school year:

by Trina Robbins, Illustrated by Tyler Page

Graphic novels are a fantastic fit for Audisee™ because they appeal to many levels of readers, and The Drained Brains Caper is one of several graphic novels available in the line (including all 6 titles of the Chicagoland Detective Agency series).
Raf knows Megan is trouble from the moment she steps into his mom's pet food store asking for a tarantula. But there's one thing you can count on in Chicagoland: weird things happen several times a day.

Megan is a vegetarian, manga-reading haiku writer. She definitely doesn't fit in at Stepford Academy, her new summer school. The other students are happy to be in class. Too happy. And everyone looks and acts exactly alike. That's weird.

Megan is determined to dig into Stepford's secrets, but soon she's in way too deep. Raf may be the only human being she knows who can help. But with zombified students, very mad scientists, and the school psychiatrist on their trail, they're going to need a whole lot more help.

We did say that Chicagoland is weird. . .

The Prank
by Ashley Rae Harris

Spine-tingling thrillers and YA fiction are always in popular, and Audisee™ offers several options, such as The Prank.

 By the time I looked up, he had already fallen off the roof. And then I heard this wailing sound. It sounded like a girl crying.

Pranks make Jordan nervous. But when a group of popular kids invites her along on a series of practical jokes, she doesn't turn them down. As the pranks begin to go horribly wrong, Jordan and her crush, Charlie, work to discover the cause of the accidents. Is the spirit of a prank victim who died twenty years earlier to blame? And can Jordan stop the final prank, or will the haunting continue?

Fall brings the start of a new school year…and a new football season. Part of our Spectacular Sports series featuring stellar photography, detailed text, and tons of informational sidebars, The College Football Championship will encourage fans to dig deep into the sport’s history.

In 2015, when Ohio State took on the University of Oregon in the first College Football Playoff championship game, millions of sports fans tuned in. But back in 1869, when Rutgers University and Princeton University played the first-ever college football game, no one predicted the national spectacle that a college football championship game would become. Author Matt Doeden takes readers on a journey from the disorganized games of the early years to the most recent playoffs to determine the best college team in the nation. Along the way, discover some of the most incredible moments, games, blunders, and statistics in the history of college football championships. 

You and your students can experiment first-hand with Audisee™ eBooks with Audio (along with a host of other Lerner Digital products) anytime through Lerner Digital’s 30-Day Free Trial. Or, contact our knowledgeable customer service team to order at, 1-800-328-4929.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Books and a Snack

Chocolate and books…few things in this world are closer to my heart. Here’s a fun way to enjoy both at once—and to celebrate the final days of summer and the early days of fall.

1. Gather your favorite elementary-age kid(s).

2. Grab a selection of books about chocolate. Here are a few of my favorites from Lerner:


3. Buy all the supplies needed for s’mores: graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows.

4. For easy, no-fuss, kid-safe s’mores, follow these directions:

● place one graham square on a paper towel
● top the square with two squares of chocolate and a marshmallow
● microwave it until the marshmallow gets puffy (usually somewhere around 15 seconds)
● remove the graham square, chocolate, and marshmallow from the microwave and cover it with a second graham square. Make enough of these so each kid has a little plateful to enjoy.

5. Spread a big, fuzzy blanket on the floor—or outside on the grass, if you prefer. Pile the kids, the s’mores, and the chocolate books on top of it.

 6. Read the chocolate books out loud while the kids enjoy their s’mores. (And make sure to have them save at least a few s’mores for you.)

This Books-and-S’mores Party is an excellent way to make reading extra-fun for kids (which, as those of you who caught my last post know, ranks right up there with chocolate and books when it comes to my passions in life). If you have other ideas for inspiring young readers, please let me know! In the meantime, Happy Reading, and Happy Eating!  

Friday, August 19, 2016

Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Maniac Muffins Giveaway

Happy Friday! Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Maniac Muffins by Chris Monroe will be out in less than two weeks, but we're offering a chance for you to win it now. It's packed with adorable art, zany characters, and quite a few vicious baked goods . . .

Gigantic maniac muffins are on the loose! To stop them, Chico Bon Bon needs a plan. With the right tools and some quick thinking, this crumbly disaster might just have a tasty solution!  

If you'd like a chance to win Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Maniac Muffins please leave a comment on this post or send an email to that includes your first and last name. Or, tweet this line: 

Tweet to win MONKEY WITH A TOOL BELT from @LernerBooks! 

US entries only, please. We'll announce the winner on the blog on Friday, August 26. Good luck!