Category Archives: Teen Entertainment

Audiobooks as a Literacy Tool

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.Jim Trelease, author of The Read Alound Handbook

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The Benefits of Reading Aloud

When I attended college back in the 1990’s, we elementary education majors got an earful about the 1985 findings of the U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on Reading. Study after study was telling us that reading to children is one of the very best ways to help children become successful readers.

That consensus hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. It’s a philosophy that was pushed heavily in the schools where I worked. When I stopped teaching to raise a family and it became apparent that two of my kids struggled with varying degrees of dyslexia, I read widely on the subject. Guess what the experts recommended? Reading aloud in a variety of formats: teachers reading to students, students reading to teachers, teachers reading chorally with their students, students reading chorally with other students, students performing practiced text aloud to an audience, students recording practiced text, etc, etc, etc.

brainAgain and again studies suggest that listening provides many of the same benefits as reading. And it seems that taking in language audibly and visually creates connections within different parts of the brain that aid a variety of reading skills: decoding, comprehension, increased vocabulary, fluency, word recognition…

I opted to homeschool my low readers so I could impliment these suggestions liberally throughout the school day and across the curriculum. It was a wise decision. Though they aren’t quite up to grade level, their proficiency has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few years.

Audiobooks: A Practical Solution

But very few teachers have a 1:2 teacher to student ratio. And parents may not have time to read aloud as much as they would like to. Let me suggest a very practical solution: audiobooks.

Many teachers I know actually record themselves reading classroom books and provide their students with MP3 players so they can listen while reading along. I did this with my boys. It’s a great way for kids to practice reading without direct help. But pre-recording all those books takes a lot of time. And the quality? Um… Let’s just say listening to professional voice artists is far more enjoyable. Reading along can be really FUN!

But aren’t audiobooks expensive?

They don’t have to be! If you buy an ebook on Amazon, the audiobook is often available for a ridiculously low price. For example, the audiobook for The Candle Star lists on Amazon for $14.95. But if you purchase the ebook for 99 cents, you have the option of adding the audiobook for another $1.99. That is a significant savings! Just look for “Add Audible narration” on the page listing.

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I don’t know how to listen to an audiobook.

No problem. You can turn any device you own into an audiobook player (Kindle Fire, Kindle Touch, Kindle Keyboard, Android phone, iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, Android tablets, even your PC or MP3 player). Just download the appropriate app and bingo! You’re listening.

If you’re still not certain you want to jump onboard the audio bandwagon, let me suggest that audiobooks are absolutely AWESOME for family road trips. (They’re not bad for work commutes, lawn mowing, cooking, or other brain-free, hands-busy moments either.)

We have a growing selection of kid-friendly audibooks here on Emblazon, often for dirt cheap through Amazon’s narration option. Now that you know about that little secret, you can watch for it on thousands of Amazon titles.

Audiobooks should never replace the special one-on-one time a parent and child share reading books together. But they’re an effective, practical, and inexpensive option for all those other “listenable” moments. Pick one out to enjoy with your family today.

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Michelle Isenhoff is a former teacher, current homeschool mom, and reviewer on her award-winning children’s lit blog, Bookworm Blather. Listen to samples of her audibooks here.

 

A Cauldron of Herbs

Scary halloween laboratory
A Cauldron Of Herbs by Christina Mercer

In honor of this Harvest/Autumn/Halloween time of year, I decided to stir up some magic for you. Plant magic, that is! Nature is quite amazing, and humankind has utilized its wondrous magic since our beginnings.  I became a Certified Herbalist many years ago, and when writing my first Tween/Teen books, I enjoyed weaving herb lore throughout them. In addition to herb lore, I had fun with Celtic tree lore to show the marvelous magic of trees. I used the (totally fun!) folk names for herbs and trees, and had my main character use plant remedies for wounds and ailments that she and her loved-ones endured.

A little trivia about remedies found in nature . . .

The Doctrine of Signatures dates back to ancient times, and was studied in depth in Western Europe. The idea was that certain plants resembled the body parts they healed. Also, the names given to certain plants correlated to their healing properties. Some examples:

Walnuts—resembles a brain and helps memory

Ginger Root—resembles a stomach and helps nausea

Kidney Bean—resembles a kidney and helps kidney function

Eyebright—helps with “pink eye” and other eye irritation

Bloodroot—has red sap and helps purify the blood

In addition, herbalists found that certain “cures” grew near “causes.” An example is Jewelweed, an herb used to heal skin conditions, which is often found growing near Stinging Nettles and Poison Ivy.

Folk names were the early names given to herbs, and often eluded to their healing function. Some names, however, are perplexing or quite silly sounding. In fact, some of these silly-sounding herbs were used in healing remedies and not at all the literal meanings that their names may have suggested. Here are a handful of some fun “Halloween-ish” herb names:

Lion’s Tooth—Dandelion

Graveyard Dust—Mullein

Bloody Fingers—Foxglove

Little Dragon—Tarragon

Bat’s Wings—Holly

So, this year, while enjoying the festivities, if you happen to hear, “In the cauldron, Toe of Frog; watch it bubble with Tongue of Dog,” you might just find a neighborhood herbalist brewing up an herbal remedy.

ARROW OF THE MIST (currently 99 cents!) & ARMS OF ANU

both books-BeFunky

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Christina Mercer is an award-winning author of fiction for children and young adults. She enjoys life in the foothills of Northern California with her husband, sons, pack of large dogs, and about 100,000 honeybees. For more about her and her writing, visit www.christinamercer.com

 

Spooky Reads for Tweens

When the air turns cold and the leaves begin to fall from the trees you know it’s time to read a spooky book…at least it is for me. You might be thinking, “Wait! Creepy books for middle-grade readers—I don’t know…” What you might not know is that these dark tales are hot right now in the tween market—kids want to be scared! How do you know which books are just right for you or your middle-grade reader? I hope I can help with that by sharing with you some of my favorite spooky reads for the Halloween season and rate them from shivering to absolutely horrifying.

The Shiver Books:

These are the books that will give you’re the shivers.

They will not give you nightmares but instead make you jump

at things that go bump in the night.

 

graveyard-bookThe Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. This is a book about a boy raised in a graveyard by ghosts. Because they are always around you get pretty desensitized quickly that they are ghosts and I feel that removes most of the creep factor that would make this book scarier than it really is.

Summary: In this Newbery Medal-winning novel, Bod is an unusual boy who inhabits an unusual place—he’s the only living resident of a graveyard. Raised from infancy by the ghosts, werewolves, and other cemetery denizens, Bod has learned the antiquated customs of his guardians’ time as well as their ghostly teachings—such as the ability to Fade so mere mortals cannot see him. Can a boy raised by ghosts face the wonders and terrors of the worlds of both the living and the dead? And then there are being such as ghouls that aren’t really one thing or the other. *The Graveyard Book won the Newbery Medal and the Carnegie Medal and is a Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel.

Another shivering tale by Neil Gaiman: Coraline

 

book1The Secret of Grimm Hill, by Linda DeMeulemeester. This one was a really fun read. I had the opportunity to exchange emails with the author and she is also delightful. This book had just enough creepy to keep you reading more. A super fun read for reluctant readers.

Summary: Winner of the OLA Silver Birch Award, and selected, Canadian Toy Testing Council’s “Great Books for Children.” Cat Peters just transferred to Darkmont High and is already desperate to get out. There’s no way her mom can afford the tuition at Grimoire, the posh, private school nearby, so when Cat hears that Grimoire is offering a full scholarship to the winners of a soccer match, she jumps at the chance! Once she makes the team, everything starts going Cat’s way. It’s as if the whole town is under a spell – all anyone cares about is the soccer game. Elated by her new celebrity status, Cat doesn’t pay much attention when her little sister, Sookie, and their bookworm neighbor, Jasper, try to tell her there’s something…just not right about the old school on the hill. But when terrible things start happening, Cat is forced to take Sookie and Jasper seriously and figure out what is going on. While investigating, Cat stumbles across a book of ancient Celtic myth and fairy lore and quickly realizes that something truly wicked is at work inside the walls of Grimoire.

More shivering tales by Linda DeMeulemeester: The Grimm Hill series

 

The Dream Keeper ChroniclesThe Dream Keeper Chronicles, by Mikey Brooks (yes, I had to throw my own books in there). This series is not as spooky as it could be—the main reason is: I was too scared to write it that way (I’m a daffodil when it comes to bad dreams). It does delve into the nightmares of kids and for some that can be pretty shiver-making.

Summary: Dreams: Dorothy called it: Oz, Alice called it: Wonderland, but Nightmares call it: HOME. When an evil shifter takes over the gateway to the realm of Dreams, it falls to 14-year-olds Parker and Kaelyn to stop him. Their only hope lies with Gladamyr, the Dream Keeper, but can they trust a Nightmare to save their world?

Other books by myself (although not scary): The Stone of Valhalla and The Gates of Atlantis

 

case filesCase Files 13: Zombie Kid, by J. Scott Savage. This book takes me back to my own childhood where I’d watch cult classics like The Monsters Squad (note: it’s an 80’s movie and thus packed full of cuss words—now shocking to my adult ears). This has plenty of creepy moments but Savage fills the tension with comedy and makes the book both enjoyable for kids and adults. It’s well worth the read.

Summary: You hold in your hands a very dangerous record. I have collected every side of the story and every piece of evidence on case number 13. Now, in this file, you will find all you need to follow the dark adventures of Nick, Carter, and Angelo, three boys who possess an unhealthy obsession with monsters, in a town so grisly, so horrific— Whoa, whoa, whoa. You’re telling it all wrong, dude. You make it sound like it’s a scary story. Ahem. Well, Nick, it is a scary story. In this volume alone, there are voodoo queens, graveyards even the dreaded Zombie King himself. Yeah, but there’s also the part where Angie gets mashed potatoes all in her face, and the part where I use my cool zombie powers to— All right, point taken. Now, if you don’t mind . . . You hold in your hands a very dangerous, very funny record, detailing the hilarious adventures of three boys who have an awesome obsession with monsters. This is the first volume. Read on if you dare. . . .

Other incredible books by J. Scott Savage: Case Files 13 series, The FarWorld Series, and The Mysteries of the Cove series

 

The Nail Biter Books:

Still not scary enough to inflict nightmares

but scary enough to keep you thinking about them long after you read them.

 

A Tale Dark and GrimmA Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz. This is a fun book because it explores the darker-original fairytales and puts a twist on them by blending them together. The narrator tries to keep things funny but it does get pretty spooky as parents try to kill their children or old ladies try to eat them. It is exactly what it says, a tale that is dark and grim.

Summary: Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm (and Grimm-inspired) fairy tales. An irreverent, witty narrator leads us through encounters with witches, warlocks, dragons, and the devil himself. As the siblings roam a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind the famous tales, as well as how to take charge of their destinies and create their own happily ever after. Because once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.

Other books by Adam Gidwitz: A Tale Dark and Grimm Series, and So You Want to be a Jedi?

 

home for kidsThe Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, by Claire Legrand. This is a story about an orphanage you probably NEVER want to visit or be sent to. It’s got monsters masquerading as people running it, creepy-crawlies everywhere, and worse—children go missing after acting out or not doing what they’re told. A truly spooky read!

Summary: Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster—lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does, too.) But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out…different. Or they don’t come out at all. If anyone can sort this out, it’s Victoria—even if it means getting a little messy.

 

GoosebumpsThe Goosebumps Books, by R.L. Stine. These books have remained the bestselling spooky books for kids since I was a kid. That’s pretty incredible. And with the new release of the Goosebumps movie I am sure these books will continue to be popular. I like that they are shorter reads that get pretty scary but don’t delve straight into the horror.

Summary: Goosebumps HorrorLand – the best-selling horror series – is still the must-have read for true horror fans. Fright-freaks will relish this collector’s set containing all 19 titles in the HorrorLand arc, plus Welcome to HorrorLand: A Survival Guide. Readers will find themselves trapped in the theme park which becomes more and more horrific with each book. Who – or what – is behind the evil plot to assemble these kids?

For other books by R.L. Stine (because there are TONS) visit his page by clicking here.

 

nightmaresNightmares! by Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller. As you might have guessed, because I wrote a book myself about kids fighting nightmares, I like these kind of spooky books that are not only scary but funny. In order to save their town these kids have to face their worst fears. It’s a pretty sweet read.

Summary: What Charlie doesn’t know is that his problems are about to get a whole lot more real. Nightmares can ruin a good night’s sleep, but when they start slipping out of your dreams and into the waking world—that’s a line that should never be crossed. And when your worst nightmares start to come true . . . well, that’s something only Charlie can face. And he’s going to need all the help he can get, or it might just be lights-out for Charlie Laird. For good.

 

The Night GardnerThe Night Gardner, by Jonathan Auxier. If you haven’t gotten a chance to read a book by Jonathan Auxier now’s your chance. This one is fun! I first read his Peter Nimble book which was a delightful steampunk style book that had its own spooky moments. This one is a fun follow up about ghosts set in a Victorian world that is a creepy tale about human greed.

Summary: The Night Gardener follows two abandoned Irish siblings who travel to work as servants at a creepy, crumbling English manor house. But the house and its family are not quite what they seem. Soon the children are confronted by a mysterious spectre and an ancient curse that threatens their very lives. With Auxier’s exquisite command of language, The Night Gardener is a mesmerizing read and a classic in the making.

 

The Absolutely Horrifying Books:

These are the books that will keep you up late at night because you are too scared to sleep. Yes they are downright creepy and will make you think about them long after you have finished wondering to yourself if the things in those pages might escape.

Yes! they are scary books for kids.

 

ThicketyThe Thickety: A Path Beginnings, by J.A. White. This book is rather intense…the whole series is intense. It starts off with a young girl’s mother being hanged for witchcraft. This is a downright creepy book but I loved it. I loved the chills and thrills it gave me. The second one is just as suspenseful and spooky and I am eagerly waiting the third.

Summary: When Kara Westfall was five years old, her mother was convicted of the worst of all crimes: witchcraft. Years later, Kara and her little brother, Taff, are still shunned by the people of their village, who believe that nothing is more evil than magic…except, perhaps, the mysterious forest that covers nearly the entire island. It has many names, this place. Sometimes it is called the Dark Wood, or Sordyr’s Realm. But mostly it’s called the Thickety. The villagers live in fear of the Thickety and the terrible creatures that live there. But when an unusual bird lures Kara into the forbidden forest, she discovers a strange book with unspeakable powers. A book that might have belonged to her mother…And that is just the beginning of the story.

Other books by J.A. White: The Thickety: The Whispering Trees

 

Doll BonesDoll Bones, by Holly Black. What kid didn’t like reading the Spiderwick Chronicles? That was pretty mild when I comes to this book on the level of scary—this one is more on the level of a horror (books about ghosts and creepy china dolls always send chills up my back!). It received a starred review from Kirkus and they don’t hand those out too freely so know the writing is awesome!

Summary: Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And for almost as long, they’ve been playing one continuous, ever-changing game of pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over all is the Great Queen, a bone-china doll cursing those who displease her. But they are in middle school now. Zach’s father pushes him to give up make-believe, and Zach quits the game. Their friendship might be over, until Poppy declares she’s been having dreams about the Queen—and the ghost of a girl who will not rest until the bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave. Zach and Alice and Poppy set off on one last adventure to lay the Queen’s ghost to rest. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen. Is the doll just a doll or something more sinister? And if there really is a ghost, will it let them go now that it has them in its clutches?

Other books by Holly Black: The Magisterium Series, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Darkest Part of the Forrest, and The Coldest Girl in Town

 

SpookThe Spooks Apprentice, by Joseph Delaney. I discovered this series on audiobook and it made me jump several times as I was listening. The Last Apprentice, the first book in this horrifying series, is about a boy who is learning the trade of vanquishing witches and other dark creatures. What he encounters is just frightening. Downright fighting! It’s awesome!

Summary: A wonderful and terrifying series by a new writer about a young boy training to be an exorcist. Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son and has been apprenticed to the local Spook. The job is hard, the Spook is distant and many apprentices have failed before Thomas. Somehow Thomas must learn how to exorcise ghosts, contain witches and bind boggarts. But when he is tricked into freeing Mother Malkin, the most evil witch in the County, the horror begins …

Other books by Joseph Delaney: The Last Apprentice, The Seventh Son, and The Ghost Prison

 

Miss-Peregrine-Home-Peculiar-Children-Ransom-RiggsMiss Peregrine’s Homes for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. This book is classified as a YA but I think it’s one of those books that rests in the in-between (a tween read). This book gave me the creeps as I was reading it and it wasn’t just the monsters that take on human form but the strange kids that do or are peculiar. This is a book you want to see in print or eBook (not that the audiobook isn’t cool because the narrator does a great job) but you want to see the picture inside of the creepy children. (There is mild language in this one).

Summary: A mysterious island…An abandoned orphanage…A strange collection of very curious photographs…It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

Other books by Ransom Riggs: Hollowed City, and Library of Souls

 

My Personal Remedy for being scared:5268d5b5-c672-4eb0-9d11-69b463823b5e

Sleep with the lights on!

 Let me know if you find lists like this helpful as I will most likely be posting again. So that’s it for now. Read and be scared! ~Mikey Brooks

Positive Portrayals of Females in our Writing

I attended Salt Lake Comic Con this last weekend and I had the opportunity to be a part of four different panels. I enjoyed each of them, but I think the one that stuck with me the most was the last one I attended. It was called Positive Portrayals of Women in Pop Culture.

I was the only writer on the panel, while the other women came from different podcasts. They were more into pop culture and the latest and greatest television shows, while I was involved because of the characters in my books. I worried that I wouldn’t fit in or have a clue what to say among them, but I found that we had a lot more common ground than I’d first expected.

One thing that stuck out to me the most was that we made sure to point out over and over again that a positive portrayal is not simply making the female the super tough heroine who needs  no one because she can win the battle herself. It was more about bringing depth to those characters and making them real.

As the different women spoke of their favorite shows and why they liked those female characters, I had time to reflect on the books I write. I thought of each of the main characters and why they were “strong” to me. I realized that it was their flaws and their need to get through their obstacles that made them who they were. Am I perfect at getting those characters down? Probably not, but I want to do my best to build someone who girls can relate to and want to be like.

Each of us have our own voice, our own likes and dislikes, our own backgrounds. We as writers need to make sure that we provide those same attributes for the characters in our stories.

So what does this have to do with portraying strong women? Or the girls in younger books? Everything. It’s not about making them tough enough to win a battle. It’s about making them strong enough to be the daughter or the best friend, or yes, the hero by showing who they really are. Give them a backstory, fears, and a reason to go on. Let’s make them strong by allowing them learn and be a better person than when the story began.

Think of your favorite villains who share their backstories. Maleficent’s movie showed her love turning on her and stealing her wings, causing her to lose everything. The stepmother in the new Cinderella movie only wanted love and comfort and watched the stepdaughter she’d tried to squash, get exactly what she wanted.

Think of your heroes. Hermione used her book smarts, her wit, and the strength of her friends to fight, but also to help Harry and Ron survive. Katniss was tough, yes, but she also stepped in to protect her family so her sister wouldn’t have to be part of the games. Aurora won Maleficent over by her love, her smile, and her kindness. Black Widow is a tough fighter who knew nothing else as she grew up, but when it comes down to it, kindness is what makes her the person I admire. The way she handles Hulk to calm him down, touches my heart every single time.

If you need tough females to make your story work, do it. But give her both the flaws and the strengths to make her the best person she can be.

Chicka Chicka vs. Paper Towns

chick vs paper

In a little over a week’s time, I’ll be sitting down to breakfast with hundreds of other authors who write for “children” at the New York City Book Expo of America “Children’s Book & Author Breakfast.”  I am very excited. Nathan Hale and James Patterson will be there, along with many others.

However, I must admit, when my friend said she and her agent wanted to go to the breakfast, I was confused.

“But you write for Young Adults,” I said. “Why do you want to go to eat breakfast with authors who write children’s  books?”

It was then I was reminded that even in one of the most innovative cities in all of the United States books written for someone under the age of 18 are all still classified as a “children’s books.”

Huh?

It’s true. Young Adult, Middle Grade, Chapter book, and picture book authors are typically lumped together in the same category.  Perhaps it’s just me, but I get a chuckle thinking about the authors of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom having a chat over a coffee and bagel with John Green, author of the edgy YA fiction such as Paper Towns. It seems silly to consider them in the same category, but that is what the industry currently does.

Emblazoners, however, is different. We are a group of writers who call attention to the unique needs and interests of the “tween” reader. Emblazoner authors have all published books for those between the ages of 9 to 12—an age that often gets lost in the “children’s books” category.

So if you know someone who has out grown “little kid stories” but who isn’t ready for the edgy material in some Young Adult books, this is the place for you.

Stop. Take a peek around. You’ll find the works of twenty-five talented authors whom I would love to go to breakfast with someday.