This yearly favorite has reached new heights for 2018. Available now, ALMANAC 2018 includes twelve chapters filled with oh my gosh pictures, facts, games, quizzes and much more. Include this in your summer travels and you’ll never hear “I’m bored” from any young person who is lucky enough to have their own copy.

A look at the chapter titles gives you a preview:

  1. Your World 2018
  2. Awesome Exploration
  3. Amazing Animals
  4. Going Green
  5. Engineering and Technology
  6. Wonders of Nature
  7. Fun and Games
  8. Space and Earth
  9. Culture Connection
  10. Life Science
  11. History Happens
  12. Geography Rocks

That’s an eye popping collection contained on over 350 pages and 500 amazing photos! Each chapter also includes an 18 cool things feature.

The almanac is not only good for summer, but when school revs up again you’ll find many curriculum connections. An added plus scattered throughout is a section called HOMEWORK HELP giving tips on how to—write a perfect essay, make an oral report, write a good letter, and read a map to name just a few.


Here’s More Background from National Geographic Kids:

One of the most effective, easiest and affordable ways to ensure students are on track academically come September is to make sure kids have access to books throughout the summer. Whether it’s making library visits a part of the summer schedule, starting a neighborhood book swap or incorporating a trip to the local bookstore as part of an outing to the ice cream shop, there are lots of ways to get kids hooked on reading this summer.

As the best selling kids almanac on the planet, the National Geographic Kids Almanac has helped millions of kids beat the summer slide. The key to getting a child to pick up a book is to find one that interests them, and the Almanac 2018 has something for EVERYONE.  The Nat Geo Kids Almanac 2018 (ages 8-12, $14.99) is the perfect way to take a big bite out of the summer slide.


You can never stop learning, even for a big kid like me. Here are some of my “I didn’t know that” moments as I read this great resource:

  • With an app and an earpiece you can have a real time conversation with someone speaking a language you don’t know. Included are Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and English.
  • The Newsmaker Challenge next year is to Save our Sharks. A fantastic website is devoted to learning more about the importance of sharks and the health of our oceans.
  • The armadillo is truly the funniest animal on the planet.
  • Recycled denim jeans can be used as insulation in the walls of green homes.
  • The microwave oven was created by accident.
  • I was blown away by 18 Facts about Natural Disasters.
  • Harriet Tubman is set to appear on the U.S. twenty dollar bill.

There are hundreds more I could note, but you’ll want to devise your own list. The National Geographic Kids ALMANAC 2018 will for sure be the most popular non-fiction title in your home or school. Fantastic stuff!


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WELCOME TO THE WONDERLAND–Beach Party Surf Monkey for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

P.T. (named after P.T. Barnum) returns as the hilarious narrator in the second book in the WELCOME TO WONDERLAND series. Earlier this year I raved about Book #1—Home Sweet Motel.

This is a totally new wacky adventure and reading the first is not a requirement but encouraged. You’ll quickly find out P.T. lives in The Wonderland Motel in St. Petersburg, Florida with his mom and grandpa. P.T. has a knack for talking and convincing people his stories are real. His best friend is Gloria, a business minded classmate.

The nasty owner of the resort next door wants to bulldoze The Wonderland and use it for a parking lot. He always gets his way, but maybe not this time. P.T. and Gloria convince a movie crew to film their retro 1960’s movie, Beach Party Surf Monkey, at Wonderland. They hope doing so will bring worldwide popularity to the motel and keep P.T.’s mom from selling out.

Of course problems arise with the monkey costar and a teen idol with a huge ego. It leads to lots of baloney, a smelly finale, and the promise of a third book, BANANA SHACK SHAKE-UP.

The 79 chapters—not a misprint—fly by and reluctant readers who are under the parental rule of reading one chapter a day this summer, won’t even notice they’ve read many more.

Silly and lighthearted makes for the perfect combination this summer. Check in for a few hours at The Wonderland and enjoy all the amenities like a fun, outrageous  story with many laugh out loud illustrations.



There’s always something wacky happening when you live in a motel, and P.T. (named after P. T. Barnum, of course) has grown up at the world’s wackiest! When word gets out that the hottest teen idols in Hollywood (plus current YouTube sensation Kevin the Monkey!) will be filming their next movie—Beach Party Surf Monkey—right in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida, P.T. and his friend Gloria know that the Wonderland would be the perfect location. Now they just have to convince the producers!

But when things start to go wrong (crazed fans? missing stars?), it will take all of Gloria’s business genius and P.T.’s wild stories to save the movie before both it and the Wonderland are all washed up!

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: WELCOME TO WONDERLAND: Beach Party Surf Monkey by Chris Grabenstein

  1. The extras in the back will keep readers amused until the next book comes out. P.T. WILKIES OUTRAGEOUSLY RIDICULOUS AND OCCASIONAL USEFUL STUFF is where you will find explanations of common movie terms and a fun movie quiz. Some smart marketing person decided to put the questions in the book but the answers on the author’s web page. A great way to move readers to other content.
  2. One major cliffhanger remains. Where is P.T.’s dad? Its something both P.T. and readers will hopefully find an answer to in the next book.
  3. Books with illustrations can often be hard to read as you go back and forth from words to drawings. Here though there is a nice balance and they seamlessly integrate with each other.
  4. Grandpa is the kind of grandpa every kid should have—always there when you need him.
  5. Nothing heavy here. Leave that to the many MG books dealing with those big issues. As I read the book on my porch it had me laughing, garnering a few extra looks from passing neighbors. I let them borrow my copy and now they’re the ones smiling.

FAVORITE LINE FROM P.T. as he leads the motel’s tram tour:

As people climbed aboard, I kept up my patter. “By the way, if you lost a roll of fifty twenty-dollar bills wrapped in a red rubber band over by the concession stand, please let me know. I’ve got great news. We found your rubber band.”

FROM Mr. Grabenstein’s WEBSITE:
Yes, like we said, Chris is always writing! This morning, he wrote a grocery list, a note to his wife, J.J., and a letter to Santa Claus. It’s never too early.


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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You mean I’m not done?

The plot shines with all of the needed pieces to keep a reader turning pages and the characters are memorable. It looks like I can close the book (or rather the computer file) and call this one complete….

Okay, not so fast. Another editing hurdle lies ahead to leap over and this one can be painful and lengthy…but here’s what you can do to make your pages shine even more.

Print your story out single space. Reading it this way will give you a whole new view. I found words and sentence structures repeated that I never noticed on the computer screen.

My biggest problem words were “Instead” and “but”. It’s not that I had to eliminate all of them—just the over occurrences. When I did a FIND of these two in Word, some pages lit up like a Christmas tree. I was then able to go in and either eliminate the word or rework the sentence. The difference in quality was apparent.

There are other words I collected from my mentoring experience with SCBWI that I searched for in my story. Many are known as “Telling Triggers” while others often slip into writing and can give a page or chapter a more passive voice.

It easily took me more than a week of spare time to sift through my 40,000 plus words and decide whether to let a particular word stay, go, or rewrite. Some needed to go for sure, but again the goal in doing this time-consuming step is not to get rid of every word. The goal is to take your writing to a higher level—one that will be noticed.

Here is the alphabetical list if you care tackle the task in your own writing. Just be sure to take frequent breaks!

Note: The above list is in JPEG format if you wish to drag it to your desktop and print it out.



Posted in Editing, Resources, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged | 2 Comments

FELIX Yz for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I try to keep a pulse on what agents, editors, and book publishers are looking for in new stories. Reading their blogs, web pages, and tweets can often give me insights (See Manuscript Wish List). Specifically in MG, here is what pops up the most:

  • I want diversity in race and LGBTQ
  • Give me a character who is not an everyday girl or boy
  • Show me the struggles of someone with a disability

There are certainly books out there who cover one or two of these, but with the quirky FELIX Yz, all of them are covered. Throw in a bully, a single parent family, and some light science fiction and you have one of the most unusual titles to come along this year or any year.

Felix is 13 and narrates the story. He has a unique problem after a freak accident left him fused with an alien inside him ten years prior. The alien has a name, Zyx, and the first sentence you hear from Zyx on page three makes you think this is going to be one weird ride: do what you want do not do what you do not want.

The story begins 29 days before the procedure doctors and scientists have devised to separate the alien from the boy. Each chapter is a countdown in name and content—29 DAYS TO GO, etc.  until you reach the chapter titled ZEROMOMENT.

The pages in between are about Felix trying to live a normal life in middle school despite his strange movements and ticks, courtesy of the other being nesting inside him. Felix is attracted to another boy in his class, Hector, and that thread carries on to the end. At home are a bisexual mother dating again, a piano prodigy older sister, and a grandparent who hasn’t settled on one gender going with Vern part of the week and Vera the rest.

Felix is scared of what might happen to him on the crucial day, but his dialog is often funny and perceptive. This one may not be for everyone, and for sure it is more of an upper MG title (10-13). It will make you see how life keeps happening no matter what.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON)  When Felix Yz was three years old, a hyperintelligent fourth-dimensional being became fused inside him after one of his father’s science experiments went terribly wrong. The creature is friendly, but Felix—now thirteen—won’t be able to grow to adulthood while they’re still melded together. So a risky Procedure is planned to separate them . . . but it may end up killing them both instead.

This book is Felix’s secret blog, a chronicle of the days leading up to the Procedure. Some days it’s business as usual—time with his close-knit family, run-ins with a bully at school, anxiety about his crush. But life becomes more out of the ordinary with the arrival of an Estonian chess Grandmaster, the revelation of family secrets, and a train-hopping journey. When it all might be over in a few days, what matters most?

Told in an unforgettable voice full of heart and humor, Felix Yz is a groundbreaking story about how we are all separate, but all connected too.


  1. Zyx communicates with Felix by taking control of Felix’s fingers and typing his thoughts. A perfect way for an alien to communicate with this earth boy.
  2. Acceptance is the main issue here…of who you are, who you want to be, and pushing away others who can’t accept ways different from their own.
  3. At first you’ll be trying to understand the alternate pronouns (vo and veir?), but they soon become a natural part of the story. Yes, this will test your reading brain to the max, but you’ll survive.
  4. There is a lot going on here with the other characters, but thankfully its Felix who puts everything into proper perspective.
  5. I’ll call this a contemporary sci-fi. It seems like a fitting new label for a new type of story.


The only thing I have to report about today is that it has been less fun than usual for a Friday because tomorrow, all day, is the trip to the Facility to finish the Fitting of the Apparatus. Gah, all these Capital Letters. But, that’s how it feels, so, Whatever. The Facility is the science complex where the accident happened and where the Procedure is going to be performed. It’s a long way from here, back where we used to live. (Of course the fifty-mile rule doesn’t apply to driving there.) And may I just say I am not looking forward to any part of this, at all?

Lisa Bunker has written stories all her life. Before setting up shop as a full-time author she had a 30-year career in non-commercial broadcasting, most recently as Program Director of the community radio station in Portland, Maine. Besides Maine she has made homes in New Mexico, southern California, Seattle, and the Florida panhandle. She currently lives in Exeter, New Hampshire with her partner and her cat. She has two grown children. When not writing she reads, plays piano, knits, takes long walks, does yoga, and studies languages. She is not as good at chess as she would like to be, but still plays anyway.(Read more at Lisa’s author web page)


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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A Dash of Help

I recently wrapped up my five month long partnership in our local SCBWI Author Mentorship program. I was matched with Anna-Maria Crum and we worked so efficiently together I was able to get two manuscripts into superb shape for submitting.

Not only did my characters and plot get a needed boost, but I also learned (or relearned?) some important grammar and editing skills. Over the next few months I’ll share a few tips to help make your final product a professional masterpiece.

Today is the often misunderstood HYPHEN (-), EN-DASH(–) and EM-Dash(—). I had become lazy in how they are used and often in my drafting chose whatever one came to mind first. Here’s the low down on how to use these correctly:


  1. When to use
    1. Connecting compound words (right-of-way)
    2. Telephone numbers or grouped numbers (555-555-5555)
    3. Syllable breaks within words at the end of the line
  2. How to make one
    1. Use the minus sign on the keyboard


  1. When to use
    1. To join words when describing a range (June–August, 2017)
    2. To join numbers in a range (8–13 years old; 1968–2010)
  2. How to make one (two options)
    1. MAC & Windows: Type a word followed by a space, then type the hyphen, followed by another space and the second word. Tap enter, return or space bar.
    2. MAC: option-minus sign; Windows: control-minus sign

Em-Dash (—)

  1. When to use
    1. Set off a unique idea from the main sentence (This manuscript—minus a few flaws—is close to perfection.
    2. Separate an inserted thought (Writing is a journey—often not on the same road.
  2. How to make one (two options)
    1. MAC & Windows: Type a word followed by two hyphens, then type the second word and tap  enter, return, or space bar.
    2. MAC: shift-option-minus sign; Windows: alt-control-minus sign

No test. You are dismissed for the weekend!

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THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Earlier this year I won a copy of THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE at Literary Rambles. Be sure to check out the site as it is one of my favorites with frequent giveaways, author/agent interviews, and great advice for writers.

This was not a book on my radar, but I’m glad I had the chance to spend some time with Ethan, even though it was a bit depressing at times… okay, most of the time. It’s all about grieving the lost of someone you love—in this case a best friend.

We don’t start off knowing all the details. Ethan is in such a deep depression his parents have moved the family from Boston to Georgia to get him away from reminders of what happened. There’s an older brother who seems to hate Ethan and Grandpa Ike who they move in with.

Questions abound about whether Ethan caused the accident, the unsettling relationship of the parents with Grandpa, and Coralee who is a new friend with a few stories of her own. The numerous chapters are short, but always make you want to turn the page for more. A well constructed story with a satisfying end.



Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk. The Ethan I Was Before is a story of love and loss, wonder and adventure, and ultimately of hope.


  1. Ethan makes lists with titles like WHAT I KNOW ABOUT MYSELF, WAYS I COULD FIX THINGS IF I COULD TIME TRAVEL and WHY CORALEE AND KACEY ARE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. They delve into his thought processes and are entertaining to read.
  2. Strong readers (kids who always have a book in hand) are looking for something different and meaty. This would satisfy their taste. It will be hard sell for reluctant readers or for those looking for a few laughs. Adults will probably enjoy this one more than the intended audience.
  3. The school scenes with the different social groups were spot on. This side of middle school is rarely depicted accurately, but the author got it right here.
  4. The book ends with a redrawing of the front cover. Very poignant.
  5. I’ve read many stories where a storm serves as a subplot. It’s used here but in a way that drenches the characters with a new understanding about family, friendship, and moving forward.


Mom has started saying my name the way she placed the teetering stacks of her best china into boxes back in Boston. Carefully. Slowly. Like she’s afraid of breaking something fragile and precious.


After four years in D.C., it was time for a new adventure, so my husband and I packed up our things, including our rescue dog, Bella, and moved across the Atlantic to Cambridge, England. It was here that I wrote Ethan, in a tiny office in a small English village, while I waited for my work visa to come through. Life’s funny that way. (Read more at Ali’s author website)


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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Something smells bad…but it’s not this new title from NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS. Filled with colorful pictures, fascinating facts, and activities, the trash here will inspire all readers to look at garbage in a totally new way and more important—take action to make a difference in what we do with our trash.

Seven chapters explore a variety of issues (And a little teaser I found interesting):

  1. THE BIN AND BEYOND–Discover what eight categories makes up our trash and the ways we get rid of our rubbish. (Nearly two tons of trash in the U.S. ends up in landfills every year!)
  2. TRASHING THE EARTH–How does trash effect the entire planet and beyond? (A glove dropped during the first American spacewalk in 1965 is still orbiting the Earth.)
  3. ALL ABOUT RECYCLING–Ways to eliminate waste and the wild ways people around the world are recycling. (The leader in recycling rates in the U.S. is San Francisco at 80 percent)
  4. FOOD (WASTE) FOR THOUGHT–Learn about food waste and how some people are vowing to prevent it. (The average person throws away a half a pound of food a day.)
  5. DIRTY WORK–Learn from the people who make trash their living. (Garbage collectors are more likely to get injured on the job than police officers.)
  6. THE FUTURE OF GARBAGE–Take a look at seven innovative receptacles that are changing the way we get rid of our waste. (Adidas is working on a new sneaker made out of trash.)
  7. TAKE OUT THE TRASH–The little things all of us can do to make a difference in turning trash into a positive.(Don’t throw out the sour milk; instead use it to make pancakes—recipe included!)


THE OFFICIAL BLURB: Get up close and personal with the wonderful world of waste. From composting and recycling, to landfills and dumps, to how creative people are finding new ways to reuse rubbish. It’s fun to talk trash when it’s jam-packed with infographics, thematic spreads, wow-worthy photos, sidebars, serious stats, and fabulous facts. Also included are quizzes and activities to inspire kids to take action, be proactive, and rethink the things we throw away.


Author, Sarah Wassner Flynn, has taken a less than appealing topic and made it into a fascinating journey of discovery. Interviews with various trash experts and quizzes add to the interactive nature. The best part is kids can use the detailed five part plan and begin making a difference in their home and community.

Perfect for science classes and for summer reading. This is one book you won’t want to recycle.

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