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Happy 20th Birthday, SUGARING!

by Jessie Haas

Henry & Nell Greenwillow

Henry & Nell

sap buckets Greenwillow

Sap buckets

My neighbor, Stephen Major, is sugaring, as people have done at this old sugarhouse for 100 years or more. He drives a pair of horses, Morgan/Percheron half siblings Henry and Nell, to gather sap from the buckets along the roads. Meanwhile sap self-gathers from plastic pipeline strung up the hillsides. Twenty years ago, when my book SUGARING came out, Stephen was using mainly buckets, and it was a lot easier to ride a horse through the local sugar bush.

This year, there’s no snow on the ground, and spring has come early. Stephen made more than 35 gallons of syrup in February. We don’t usually start sugaring till March around here, though last year the sap run went into April. So we’ve had a record cold sugaring season and a record warm one, back to back. Yesterday Stephen was gathering sap with his shirt off. It was 65 degrees out, and the sugarhouse must have been like a sauna. El Niño, or climate change? Probably both—and anything that changes sugaring season around here is unwelcome.

However, one very welcome change has come to New England since SUGARING was published. A few years ago kids suddenly began asking me, “Is Gramp a Red Sox fan?” I had no idea, but on examining the familiar illustrations (by the amazing Jos. A. Smith) more closely, I realized that the big B on the front of Gramp’s cap was a Red Sox logo.

Obviously I’m not a rabid sports fan, but if I care about any team it’s the Red Sox, and after an epic drought, the Sox had finally, finally won the World Series. What’s interesting is that Gramp always wore that Red Sox cap. No child ever mentioned it until the Curse was lifted. What was that about? Were Red Sox fans too humiliated to speak up, or did the kids simply never notice that cap until it became a source of pride?

clear sap flowing Greenwillow

Clear sap flowing

sugarhouse Greenwillow

The sugarhouse

inside the sugarhouse Greenwillow

Inside the sugarhouse

We visited the sugarhouse later while Stephen was boiling, and he scooped us out a mug of syrup to taste. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed—the amazing taste of Vermont maple syrup, hot out of the pan. These days my favorite thing to make with it is maple butter. You heat a cup of maple syrup to the soft-ball stage, 240 degrees. Melt a stick and a half of butter into it (I use salted butter), then whip it with an electric mixer for 8 minutes. Maple butter is delicious on toast or an English muffin, or, let’s be honest, straight out of the jar by the spoonful. Make some. You won’t regret it.

In a couple of weeks I have a signing at the Vermont Country Store—a new venue for SUGARING, and a fun place to hang out. I like introducing the book to new readers, and I like even better hearing “I use that every year in my classes,” or “I loved that book when I was a kid.” (Though, really? I’m that old?)

Yes, I am . . . twenty years older, and so is SUGARING. The Red Sox have won the World Series twice, and we’ve had seven years and counting of an African-American president. Things change, even big things—but some of the best things don’t change much. Let’s drink to that, with a warm mug of new maple syrup.



Jessie Haas is the author of Sugaring, and several other picture books and novels for young readers. She lives in Vermont and still celebrates sugaring season every year!


By Alexandra Duncan

I am terrible at puzzles. Sudoku stumps me. I could not solve the New York Times crossword to save my life. I wouldn’t believe anyone could finish a Rubik’s Cube if I hadn’t seen my uncle do it in front of me. But there is one type of puzzle I love —worldbuilding. I love entering into an utterly believable environment that looks and feels different from the world I know, whether it’s my own invention or someone else’s, and figuring out what makes it tick. Creating such a world on the page is a challenge that usually requires a mountain of research. Luckily, I’m a massive nerd who loves learning about anything and everything, and since I work as a librarian during the day, I have tons of information at my fingertips.

One of the recurring scientific concepts in my new novel Sound is biomimetics or biomimicry, where scientists use naturally occurring phenomena, like the hairs on a gecko’s foot that allow it to climb sheer surfaces, to inspire the design of machines or human systems. I ran across this field of research while watching the PBS documentary series Nova several years ago (see, I told you I was a massive nerd), and thought it was the coolest thing I had ever heard. I had to put it in a book. But first, I needed to learn more about the field and what kind of inventions were possible.

I borrowed the book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, by Janine M. Benyus, from the library. In it I learned about investigations into self-healing materials, as well as super-strong ones. Benyus suggests that a seashell would make an ideal template for both. It has an overlapping cellular structure that makes it incredibly strong for its thickness, and it’s capable of healing itself if it’s damaged. Wouldn’t that make an ideal material for the skin of a spaceship, which is constantly bombarded with debris? What if the ship itself were shaped like a giant conch shell? And if the ship was made of a seashell-like material, what if it were grown that way, rather than built? The research ship Ranganathan was born, along with the concept for the underwater environments in Sound.

Once I knew I wanted part of the book to take place deep underneath the sea, I started seeking out information about what life is like underwater. I watched the BBC’s The Blue Planet and National Geographic’s Alien Deep, among others. I learned about superheated blackwater vents along the ocean floor, giant tube worms, and divers in poor countries who work underwater with no equipment except long hoses that pump down oxygen from a generator-powered air compressor on a ship above. All of these elements ended up in Sound.

This isn’t to say that every piece of worldbuilding is planned out far in advance. Inspiration comes from research, happy coincidences, and things you read or saw once that have stuck in your memory ever since. For example, many years ago, before I even knew I was going to write Sound, I visited an aquarium that had a tank of jellyfish illuminated by blue and pink lights. When the jellyfish were within the beams, their whole bodies lit up, and I could see that their tendrils reached almost all the way to the base of the tank. Later, when I was mulling over biomimetics and how you could build an underwater city that would be able to cope with changing currents below and shifting ice above, I remembered how earthquake-proof buildings are designed to move with, rather than resist, the quake. Then I thought about the jellyfish. What if you had a city that was able to sway with the currents the way the jellyfish’s tendrils did? This vision of a jellyfish-like city became Ny Kyoto in Sound, the underwater capital of the moon Enceladus.


An inspiration for the fictional–for now!–floating city Ny Kyoto

This isn’t the whole puzzle, of course. There are abandoned space stations, gangsters’ lairs, and dangerously quirky transport ships to explore as well. I hope you find the worldbuilding in Sound as fun and immersive to read as it was to write.

Alexandra Duncan is a librarian and the author of Sound and Salvage, an Indies Introduce pick for Spring 2014. She lives in North Carolina.

COVER REVEAL: Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann


1. This is your second book for teenagers, and your second book of verse. Ask Me How I Got Here tells the story of one young woman, rather than many, but it deals with emotions and decisions just as heavy as those in Poisoned Apples. Does poetry allow you to tackle difficult topics in a different way than prose?

Ask Me started like Poisoned Apples did, as a collection of poems tied together by recurring themes. Gradually, a main character emerged who was similar to me in many ways, but also different. I realized Addie deserved her own story. For me, writing a novel in verse offers me the challenge of moving through a narrative moment by moment and really concentrating on what my characters are thinking and feeling in each scene. Ideally, poetry is a distillation of experience. Difficult topics lend themselves to that kind of intense focus, I think.


2. How would you describe, Addie, your main character?

Addie is a junior at an all-girls Catholic high school. Most of the time she just goes along doing what’s expected of her without questioning those expectations very deeply. Then she gets pregnant, and she’s forced to confront who she is, who she wants to be, and what she truly believes.


3. In Poisoned Apples, you used fairy tales to speak about issues facing young women. In Ask Me How I Got Here, you use a different set of iconography and stories. Can you tell us more about that?

When I started writing the poems that led to Ask Me, I was reading a lot of saint legends, many of which are darker and more graphic than anything from the Grimms. (The wicked queen dancing to death in red-hot shoes at Snow White’s wedding reception is mild compared to what the virgin martyrs go through!) The legends prompted me to consider the representation of women’s bodies as symbols—symbols of purity, corporeal wickedness, maternal love—versus the actual flesh-and-blood experience of being female. I love Virgin Mary iconography, and I began to write poems that presented Mary similarly to the way Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel are presented in Poisoned Apples—as a real girl, not an archetype. Because of Addie’s religious upbringing and situation, I figured she’d be having such thoughts, too, so I incorporated those poems into the text in her voice.


4. Women’s rights are being widely debated and discussed right now. What do you hope young women will take away from Addie’s story?

I hope it will encourage young women not to define themselves by anyone’s rules or morals but their own. Taking stock of what you’ve always been taught and realizing that it doesn’t work for you, that maybe it’s done more harm to you than good, can be both liberating and terrifying. I didn’t have an awakening like that until college, when I left my cocoon and, for the first time, found myself surrounded by people from a wide variety of religious and philosophical backgrounds. I still struggle to overcome fear and speak out for what I believe. Ask Me is a part of that ever-ongoing process.


Ask Me How I Got Here will be on sale May 3, 2016. You can find Christine Heppermann at www.christineheppermann.com or follow her @cmheppermann.

The jacket photograph is by Rachel Baran, who is one of Flickr’s “20 under 20“–the 20 most talented young photographers on Flickr. You can view more of her work here.


By Kent Davis

I grew up on a steady diet of macaroni and cheese and magic. The mac and cheese have faded, but my addiction to magic is strong. I like my fantasy with generous helpings of the arcane, and when I set out to write A Riddle in Ruby, I knew I wanted its magic to have a different flavor.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore the deep and ancient arcane deeds of those who wear floppy hats: Gandalf, Dumbledore, Granny Weatherwax. That said, Ruby Teach’s story takes place in an alternate-history American colonies, and I needed an arcane mechanism that matched the pluck and gumption of those times. Something that fit with a world perched on the edge of the Enlightenment, as well as on the edge of a vast and unexplored (to the colonists) frontier. It also needed a quality that would keep young and older readers fascinated. It required, for lack of a better word, panache.

Something like this.

Isn’t that FLIPPIN’ AWESOME? That time-lapse video is nothing more than tin, which because of a very low temperature, transforms to another powdery kind of tin.

And no matter its actual explanation, I call it CRAZY AWESOME.

If you do a little digging online with keywords like “chemistry transformation,” “chemistry experiment,” or—even better—”chemistry explosion”—you’ll find a raft of videos of similar events. Innocent liquids that when combined change into mad, grasping tentacles of foam. Chemical volcanoes. Fire blizzards!

So why not turn this already spectacular form of science into magic? It already possesses a metric ton (see what I did there with the metric system? Science!) of consistent rules and laws, which every good magic system needs. But the protagonists—and, let’s be honest, the readers—don’t really have time to watch the sometimes glacially slow rate of chemical reactions. This new science-magic needed to be spectacular, yes, but it also needed to be speedy! Okay, okay, so what if it was linked to your own personal energy, so you could jump-start the laws of reality with your interior fuel, your dynamis, your mojo?

Chemystry is—besides being spelled with a “y”—different from the chemistry in our world in one very important way. The practitioners, called Tinkers, can give the regular normal laws of chemistry a little push. A nudge, using that internal mojo. I know, “nudge” is a very scientific term. The tinkers in A Riddle in Ruby call it “harnessing your quintessence.”

Let’s stick with “nudge.”

These little nudges can have a powerful impact. Take water, for example. A big pond of frozen ice will melt in what? A couple of months? So what happens if a tinker nudges the melting point of ice? Poof! You’re head-deep in water when you thought you were dry. Or worse—what if the tinker transformed the ice into carbon jelly and imprisoned you in it? And then lit it on fire? Ow.

Simple. Give a nudge, alter the law.

Of course, magic should always come at a cost. Great tinkers have performed miracles. They have literally moved mountains, but if they push their inner reserves too far, they suffer. Sometimes even die. It’s also far from easy, and the combination of talent, control, and training necessary to perform great feats of chemystry is rare, indeed. Certainly it isn’t found in Ruby Teach.

One of my favorite facets of A Riddle in Ruby is that the main character is not a tinker. She’s merely an apprentice thief, so all of these chemystral goings-on still retain an aura of mystery, and we get to explore it alongside her. There may be specific explanations for all of the crazysauce happening all around her—cobalt gearbeasts with the mad eyes of living dogs, alchemycal automatons made of living molten metal, strange powders that can erase timber walls or even erase you from sight—but she has no idea what those explanations might be. So to her, well, they’re magic.

I like the idea of a protagonist for young readers struggling through a world controlled by forces that she does not fully understand. To Ruby, the world—with all of its strange mechanisms, hidden agendas, and shadowy motives—is a riddle.

Isn’t it that way for all of us?

Kent Davis has spent most of his life making stories. He is an author, game designer, and actor. He lives with his wife and a wily dog‐ninja named Bobo in Bozeman, Montana. You can read an excerpt of A Riddle in Ruby here, and you can also follow Kent on twitter.

Cover reveal for The Land of Forgotten Girls, by Erin Entrada Kelly

1. Please tell us a bit about The Land of Forgotten Girls.

The Land of Forgotten Girls is about two sisters who are abandoned by their father and live with their evil stepmother in subsidized housing outside of New Orleans. It’s about the power of sisterhood, imagination, and what it means to be a family.

2. Erin, your debut novel, Blackbird Fly, is also about a girl who was born in the Philippines and moves to the United States. How are these two stories different?

In Blackbird Fly, Apple Yengko deals with school bullies, the perils of being “unpopular,” and friends who aren’t really her friends. She’s also entrenched in a cultural struggle with her mother. Soledad and Ming, the sisters in The Land of Forgotten Girls, have different challenges: poverty, no parents to watch over them, and no obvious way to escape—except through their imagination.

3. The Land of Forgotten Girls is about a lot of things, but really it’s about sisters. Do you have a sister? Why is sisterhood important to you?

Yes, I have an older sister named Anna. She’s my best friend. I’ve looked up to her my entire life, even when she wouldn’t stop hogging the phone or she tattled on me to our parents. Anyone who knows her will tell you that they’re better for knowing her, and I feel the same way. There’s no dynamic like sisterhood.

4. We love your beautiful and haunting title—The Land of Forgotten Girls. Where does this come from? What does it mean to you?

Soledad and Ming use their imaginations to transform the environment they live in. They have no loving parents watching over them. They only have themselves. They feel forgotten, so they imagine a world just for them—the land of forgotten girls.

5. Any thoughts on your jacket?

I don’t know if there are words to describe how much I love the jacket. It’s perfect. It shows the power of imagination. The girls’ hopefulness. It blew me away when I saw it. Isabel is such a gifted artist. I’m so fortunate that we were paired together on the book.

The Land of Forgotten Girls, by Erin Entrada Kelly, will be on sale on March 1, 2016. You can reach Erin Entrada Kelly at www.erinentradakelly.com or follow her @erinkellytweets and on Facebook.

The jacket art is by Isabel Roxas, and you can reach her online at http://studioroxas.com, on Tumblr , and on Twitter.

Erin Entrada Kelly is the author of Blackbird Fly. She grew up in south Louisiana and now lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.