Friday, May 22, 2015

Free Book Friday: Jane Yolen's Trash Mountain

It's time for another Free Book Friday! This week, enter to win Jane Yolen's Trash Mountain. With illustrations by Monkey with a Tool Belt illustrator Chris Monroe, this middle-grade novel is sure to delight. The Star Tribune's Ann Klefstad calls the book "a gripping story, right-sized for children but with all the authentic drama of any novel" in her review.

This you should know: Gray squirrels are almost always larger, faster, and more aggressive than reds. They out-eat the reds and out-breed them. Science says the grays will eventually win.

Nutley is a young red squirrel. For most of his life, he's been content to live on local seeds and the cautious wisdom of his parents. But like so many young squirrels before him, he feels the call of the wild (and the hazelnuts) beyond the safety of his family's own tree. Nutley wonders what it would be like to be Dangerous, like the growing band of gray squirrels that roam his neighborhood.

Nature, which is truly red in tooth and claw, forces Nutley to find out if he's cut out for a life of danger. He must flee his familiar tree for the smelly shelter of the local landfill. There, with the help of some unlikely allies, he might just be able to make a stand against the grays. 

This you should know: No matter what scientists say is almost always true, the exceptions are almost always the best stories.

Also, download a free discussion guide here

If you'd like to win Trash Mountain, please leave a comment on this post (including your first and last name), or tweet this line: "Free Book Friday! Tweet to win TRASH MOUNTAIN by Jane Yolen from @LernerBooks."

We'll announce the winner on Friday, May 29, so check the blog then to see if you've won!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

STEM, the evolution of technology, and Elon Musk's new solar batteries

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Earlier this month, Elon Musk and his company, Tesla Motors Inc., announced two new batteries designed for use with rooftop solar electricity systems--one for large-scale industrial use and one for homes or small businesses. This piece, on the announcement, comes from Scientific American.

Later analysis suggests that these batteries are pretty neat, but they are not very powerful. One home battery is  strong enough to power about one or two window air conditioners, which is only a small portion of a home's total electricity use. That fact didn't stop 38,000 people from ordering the new batteries ahead of time.

Tesla is perhaps best known for its push into the electric car market, with the 2008 Roadster. That vehicle cost the customer around $70,000. It was an incredibly cool, technologically advanced car that didn't require the use of gas. Analysts thought that only very rich individuals would buy it because of the price, which turned out to be true. But this very expensive, very intriguing car made a splash. It showed that some people did think electric cars were cool. It made people with less disposable income ask other car manufacturers for more affordable electric cars. In 2010 Nissan launched the electric Leaf for a mainstream market. And as you probably know, Tesla didn't invent the electric car. Electric cars have been around in various forms since the early 19th century. But as time and engineering progress, electric cars (and millions of other kinds of technology) change and improve. Many different people work on different components of technology, and their collaboration and hard work lead to really interesting, useful tools.

So what does this mean, particularly in the area of STEM? Well, to me it says a few things. 1. People are interested in new sources of energy, particularly those that don't come from fossil fuels. 2. People who have lots of money are willing to put money down on new concepts, even if those ideas aren't yet cost-effective. 3. That means, to me, that individuals are willing to spend money on the concept of innovation in areas they find valuable, knowing that technology will likely improve over time, particularly if there's a clear interest in said technology. So we as a society would benefit from trying out new ideas, even if they don't seem practical or marketable up front.

Do you have students who are interested in this kind of story? Well, then, we have books for you (and for them): a STEM Trailblazers Bio of Elon Musk; a Searchlight Books title on solar power; a First Step Nonfiction title on sunlight, and Key Discoveries in Engineering and Design, from our Science Discovery Timelines series. And let me know if you have other STEM books you'd like to see! We're always looking for fascinating ideas for new books.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Thank a Cow

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Does anything on Earth go better with warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies than a nice, tall, ice-cold glass of milk? What about with s’mores, their chocolatey, marshmallow-y center sliding out around the edges of two crunchy graham cracker squares?

12706 To me, milk is pretty much the perfect drink. If you agree, you’ll love From Grass to Milk (cover pictured). This book starts out in a bucolic field, where two black-and-white cows munch grass swaying amid golden dandelions. It progresses to a barn, where milking machines help farmers milk the cows, their milk flowing into large glass cooling tanks. We then see a refrigerated truck carrying the milk from the farm to a factory. At the factory, the milk is cleaned, pasteurized, transferred into jugs, and, finally, shipped to stores, where we pick it up, bring it home, and enjoy it at our kitchen tables.

From Grass to Milk brings new appreciation for what it takes to get a glass of milk into our hands. It turns drinking milk (something I already love) into a mindful and, dare I say it, even meditative experience. I think it’s so important to remember that food doesn’t just magically materialize at our nearest big-box store. It takes many hands to produce products like milk. So, the next time you drink some milk, thank a farmer—and the truck drivers, factory workers, grocery workers, and (of course!) the cows that made the drink possible. I know I will.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Pressing the Fresh: Guest Post by Patrick Jones

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Patrick Jones is the author of many Darby Creek series for reluctant readers, including The AlternativeLocked Out, The Dojo, and the upcoming Support and Defend series. Today, he'll share why author visits benefit authors and students, and give some anecdotes from his recent school visits.

What’s that line about writing…one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration? I’d also say for (most) young adult authors, the perspiration doesn’t stop when the writing is done. That’s when it’s time to press the flesh and press the fresh. Meeting teens reminds me who I write for and why I write.

I’m speaking tomorrow, May 9, at the Twin Cities Teen Lit Con, and then from there I’ll go down to Texas for school visits. I just returned from two days in Wyoming and three days in my home state of Michigan. Before the end of this school year, I have five in-person gigs in Minnesota and two in Michigan and New York via Skype. This is the best part of my job. (Well, getting the royalty check’s nice, too.)

Back in the day, I used to be a librarian working with teens. In my first young adult librarian job, I hosted two visits by authors and I was struck by the difference in those experiences. One author wanted as much “teen time” as possible: he wanted to hang out with kids at lunch, he spent his down time observing at a mall, and his presentations were in small groups allowing for more questions than answers. The other was the opposite: he gave one big presentation with no interaction, he had lunch away from the kids, and, in my opinion, he seemed to have a disdain for his audience. 

Give me teen time, as much as possible. 

My visits last week in Michigan represent what I do and why I do it. 

The first was at Morenci High School, a very small high school in a rural area of southern Michigan, which happens be the home of superstar teacher Sally Krueger.  From my interactions with students, and Sally—the teacher or librarian is the make-or-break factor with most visits, I’ve found—I came up with an idea for a series of books about kids living in small towns. All my fiction is set in urban areas since that is what I know, but I realized while talking with these teens that someone needs to tell their stories, too. Since the visit, several of the students have been in touch via email with story ideas. This presses the fresh, keeping me connected to young adult life.

The next day I was the keynote at the Monroe High School writing marathon.  Take it from me, if you’re asked to provide a writing prompt to a group of imaginative, artistic, chomping-at-the-bit-to-create high schoolers, you might not want to use “I’m sixteen years old and I’m holding a human heart in my hands” if you don’t want things to get a little gory and graphic.
If you would’ve been there, you’d have seen a room snapping with super similes, crackling with outrageous images, and popping with powerful prose. The students all donned Day-Glo green shirts, and it was as if an Army of Young Adult Author Aliens had descended upon the space, taken it over for a while, and left in their wake the notebooks bursting with words and trash bins filled with candy wrappers.
In addition to opening and closing the day, I was honored with the opportunity to sit with groups at tables discussing writing and publishing, and to hold one-on-one conferences with young writers. I was also able to converse with students while autographing copies of my novels used as prizes. In one person’s book, I wrote these words: “One day you will sign a book for me.” Yes, I write fiction, but that was non-fiction. I have no doubt those words will come true for one (or more) of these young writers.

My Michigan tour ended up at Riverside Academy, an alternative school in Dundee which I’ve visited many times over the years. At the event, hosted by YA goddess /ALAN president Daria Plumb, not only did I get to sign a book for every student, but I met with a small group of students who read the manuscripts for my next reluctant reader series. These teens honored me with their insights, intelligence, and energy.
Last story: at one of these schools, I had a chance to speak one-on-one with a teen who had read my book Target. During the course of the conversation, he told me that like that main character in the story, he too had a father who was in prison (again). He asked me, “How do you know so much about me?” I didn’t answer; I just listened because that is what the moment demanded.

So, if you’re a teacher, librarian, or youth advocate reading this, invite an author to your school. It’s good for you, good for your students, and for most of us, great for the authors.   Writing and reading are both solitary acts, so make them social: host an author. Let us press the fresh. Operators are standing by to take your call. 

Thanks, Patrick! 

Oh, and congratulations to Nayda, who commented on last week's Free Book Friday blog post! Nayda, email us at with your address, and we'll get your books in the mail. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hello, May Flowers!

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Ah, May…the month of celebrating moms, first visits to the lake or pool, last days of school for some lucky kiddos, and gardens just starting to bloom with those colorful, gorgeous harbingers of summer—flowers.

18062 In celebration of May and all it has to offer, I turn my focus today to From Bulb to Tulip (cover pictured). It's the perfect book to help usher in the month. You can share this one with all those students who are bursting at the seams to get their summer started.

From Bulb to Tulip takes readers through all the steps of a flower’s life cycle. We start off viewing bins holding bulbs for all sorts of tulips, from red-and-yellow blooms to delicate, soft pink-and-white flowers. We then see a gardener gently placing a bulb in rich brown dirt. The bulbs are watered, go through a looong winter (cold temps are necessary for tulips to blossom!), send up fragile green leaves, start to bud, and, finally, bloom.

Bi-level text lets readers choose how many details they want to learn about tulips, with the first line on each page telling a streamlined story and the lines just below that getting into the nitty-gritty. Bolded glossary terms include words like bulbs, roots, climates, and energy, and sequencing words from first and next to then and finally let readers know where they are in the story.

I hope you enjoy From Bulb to Tulip, and I hope young readers love it too. It’s sure to get you in a summery frame of mind—and, if mild temps haven’t quite come to your parts yet, just take a look at the beautiful photos to go on a quick and lovely mental vacation!