Monday, January 28, 2013

Classroom Connections: Gae Polisner's THE PULL OF GRAVITY

YA contemporary fiction
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
released May 2011
paper back edition February 2013

"Polisner's first novel begins with a bang and ends with another . . . . There is a great deal to enjoy throughout, and literary kids will surely enjoy a subplot involving John Steinbeck." -Booklist

"Characters feel real . . . and the plot zips along, championing strength in adversity." -School Library Journal

"She [Gae Polisner] is a writer young adult readers will surely want to hear more from."

"Although the teens' best laid plans go oft awry, they discover that the force of the universe is with them-or at least friendship, family and romance. Pulls the heart in all the right places." -Kirkus Reviews  

Please tell us about your book.  

The Pull of Gravity is about two teens who, armed only with the wisdom of Yoda and a rare, first-edition copy of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, set off on a secret, whirlwind journey to keep a promise to their dying friend. I wrote it as an homage to the character-driven fiction I loved as a tween and teen. I hope I've done those wonderful books justice.
What inspired you to write this story? 

First and foremost, my own boys. We had always read aloud nightly from the time they were babies into their early teens (they're 15 and 13 now. I still read aloud with my 13 year old once in a while; the 15 year old, not so much).
From the time we started chapter books and then novels, they loved realistic, contemporary fiction, and weren't really interested in most of the genre fiction (sci-fi or fantasy or magic like Harry Potter which frightened them). We enjoyed endless Kate DiCamillo, Sharon Creech, Deborah Wiles, Lynne Rae Perkins, to name a few. But the older they got, the more they wanted their books to have male MC's - characters they could directly relate to in body and mind. And, outside of genre fiction, it got harder and harder to find those relatable male protagonists in contemporary MG and YA. So much was told from a female lead character. So, I decided to write a book for them, narrated by a teen boy. Your average teen boy, who is extraordinary only in the quiet way we are each capable of being.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

I did two sorts of research for the book. The first was on Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria syndrome - a rare genetic disorder that causes a body to rapidly age so that, by the average age of 9 - 13, most children affected die literally of old age. I had read an interview of a 15 year old boy with the syndrome and it really moved me - his spirit and matter-of-fact nature. The rest of the research was medical and on-line. I didn't need to go into depth, just have a general understanding of how it works and looks and what medical information exists on it - which is far too little.
Secondly, because Nick's dad walks from upstate NY (a fictional town near Saratoga) to NYC, and furthermore, because Nick and Jaycee venture from that town to Albany and then Rochester, NY, I had to do a lot of mapping of mileage and streets. During the writing and revision of TPoG, I often had Google maps and walking directions and a calculator spread out before me. 
 What are some special challenges associated with paralleling your book with a classic? 

The biggest challenge was to make Of Mice and Men sound interesting without giving away too much! I didn't want to ruin the book for kids who will read it after TPoG. It was also a challenge to just find the balance of how much to include for it to feel integral to the story without including so much that it bogged down my own story. I really loved that part of writing the book, though.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

In addition to the many Of Mice and Men ties that are there for the finding if a teacher wants to do so (here's a link to an essay I wrote on the same), there are themes of friendship - and what it means to be a good friend - taking responsibility andindependence, and my favorite theme to explore: that we can be flawed individuals, our families can be flawed, our parents can be flawed, but that doesn't make us bad. Flawed and bad are not synonymous. That message is important to me. Being perfect is a big old bore. ;)

What are you working on now?

My next book comes out in 2014 (but is currently without a title). Here's the premise: Still reeling from her little brother's drowning death, a girl finds herself holding back -- from summer trips to the ocean, friendship, budding romance -- till she meets a young boy who may be her brother's reincarnation, which awakens her to new possibilities.

To learn more about Gae Polisner, visit her at




Saturday, January 26, 2013

Newbery Book Clubs for Kids and Students - Plus Winner Predictions for 2013!

Spellbinders Logo

January 22, 2013
Newbery Book Clubs for Kids and Students - Plus Winner Predictions 
for 2013!
Many schools and libraries do Mock Newbery Awards, getting the kids to read books that are getting "buzz" each year and then putting together discussion groups to talk about the books they've read.

In December or January, ballots are assembled and the students can vote on their top favorites and see which book "won" that year's Mock Newbery Award. Sound like fun? It is!

Here are a couple of links for more information to get started at your school:

Newbery Book Club

Eva Perry Mock Newbery

ALSC/ALA Mock Newbery

ACPL Mock Newbery and General Children's Book Site

If you're on Goodreads, there is a forum filled with librarians, teachers and readers, who discuss books all year long as they are published and the pros and cons about their potential as a Newbery Medal contender.

I've often learned about new books that I've missed, or I enjoy the conversation about good books in these forums.It's super easy to join, too.

Newbery 2013 Discussion Groups on Goodreads:

The Hunt Begins...

Our Mock Newbery

Predictions Contest

Recent reads to discuss

In case you've been a bit swamped with lesson plans (who isn't?!), here are a few of the books folks have been buzzing about all year long as potential Newbery winners.

See if you've read them, let us know which are your favorites for 2012, and don't forget to watch the ALA Newbery Broadcast next Monday, January 28th.

Information about how to log in and watch it LIVE is right here: Live ALA Youth Media Awards Broadcast


 Black Stripes
Meet the Spellbinders

Kim Bio Photo
Kimberley Griffiths Little is the recipient of the Southwest Book Award, The Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, and the author of the highly acclaimed, The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets, published by Scholastic Press. Look for her books at the Scholastic Book Fairs, as well Circle of Secrets
as two more forthcoming novels in 2012 and 2013. She lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her husband, a robotics engineer and their three sons. Kimberley is a favorite speaker at schools around the country, presenting "The Creative Diary", a highly successful writing
workshop and has been a speaker at many conferences. Please
to download free Teacher's Guides and Book Club Guides. 

Follow me on Twitter 

 Carolee Dean
Carolee Dean has made numerous appearances as a guest poet/author at schools, libraries, poetry events, and teacher/library conferences. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and a master's degree in communicative disorders, and she has spent over a decade working in the public schools as a Comfort Paperback Coverspeech-language pathologist. Her first novel, Comfort,was nominated as a Best Book for Young Adults, was named the Best YA Novel of 2002 by the Texas Institute of Letters, and was on the TAYSHAS (Texas Library Association) reading list. She conducts teacher trainings on inspiring reluctant writers including "The Secret Language of Stories" and "Random Take Me There CoverActs of Haiku."

To find teacher's guides, writing activities, and information about author visits, go to

 Follow me on Twitter 

Caroline Starr Rose
Caroline Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. She's taught English and social studies to upper elementary and middle-school students in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. Back in New 
Mexico, Caroline now writes middle-grade novels and picture books full time.
May B



Montgomery County Teen Book Festival

                           Houston, Texas

Saturday, February 2, 2013, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Author Panels and Autographing sessions

Carolee Dean
Kimberley Griffiths Little

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Spellbinders | 3 YAF Authors | Albuquerque | NM | 87181

Sunday, January 13, 2013



Author Research Panel

This past November I gave a presentation with four other authors (Kersten Hamilton, Betsy James, Carolyn Meyer, and Vaunda Micheaux Nelson) at the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Literature Symposium in St. Louis. We had a wonderful view of the arch out the window of our presentation room. There were over 100 librarians at our session and I was afraid they would all be looking at the skyline, but we kept them entertained with book giveaways and fun stories about how we, as authors, conduct research. We discussed the types of non-fiction sources that we use while working on our novels and made several suggestions for incorporating non-fiction into the reading of fiction in the classroom.

Social and Contemporary Issues – Exploring Hot Topics

Common Core Standards place greater emphasis on reading non-fiction. Many contemporary works of fiction may serve as a springboard for exploring non-fiction sources.

1. In my young adult novel, Take Me There, one of the topics I explore is the death penalty. There is an excellent NPR audio recording called "Witness to an Execution" which may be found at Sound Portraits. Another site I highly recommend for exploring a variety of controversial topics is This site offers viewpoints on various debatable issues.  It provides the history of a topic, presents both sides by quoting a variety of sources, and also evaluates the quality of those sources. Graphs and charts related to the subject are often available. For more details about using these sources in the classroom, visit the YALSA page
on my blog.

2. Another book I recommend is Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Not only is the prose style beautiful and poetic, but the book may be used to explore topics such as body image, peer pressure, and the influence of the media on eating disorders.

3. Rx by Tracy Lynn is about teen abuse of prescription drugs. The class could discuss the over prescription of pain medication, how this affects teen abuse of prescription drugs, and what should be done about it.  

Weaving History and Fiction

After studying a culture or a specific time period in history, discuss the social/cultural, political and religious implications. Consider issues like rules for marriage, women's rights, political structure, elements of warfare, crime and punishment, freedom of speech, etc. Then use that knowledge to:

1. Have students make a list of rules for a fantasy or dystopian society based upon the historical context being studied. This could tie into the reading of a novel like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for an example of a dystopia. Check out Kersten Hamilton's Tyger, Tyger series or Listening at the Gate by Betsy James for examples of fantasy. Also, note how the latter two authors weave Celtic mythology into their stories.

2. Instruct students to write a scene from the point of view of a historical figure, or take one event from history and have different students write a scene from different points of view. Explore Carolyn Meyers' books for examples of first person narratives written from the point of view of famous historical figures such as Cleopatra or The Bad Queen. Look at Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's No Crystal Stair to explore a story based on historical facts with multiple points of view. Discuss how authors and movie makers create dialogue and flesh out missing information with their own ideas. Debate how to test this information for accuracy. Check out the Lerner website for a study guide for No Crystal Stair at

3. Ask students to create a picture book based on historical settings or events. Read students a variety of picture books with historical settings such as Sadako by Eleanor Coerr, Almost to Freedom by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Elsie's Bird by Jane Yolen, Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco, Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, or Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki

Using Science as a Springboard for Science Fiction

1. Read a novel such as Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi and discuss what research the author had to do to create a fictional world where children scavenge old oil tankers for parts and fuel. Relate it to a debatable topic such as the importance of alternative energies.

2. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer explores cloning. Students could discuss medical ethics and health care. Are all advances in science and medicine good? What happens when they're not?

3. Encourage students to take a scientific topic and ask the question What If? Then use that question as the basis of a short story.

4. Ask students to take a scientific principle and use it to explain a sci-fi concept like time travel or a fantasy concept such as the origin of werewolves.

For more information about our panel, visit the YALSA page  on my blog.