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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.

Working with Amelia Bedelia in Paris

By Lynne Avril

Every year, Amelia Bedelia and I spend two months in Paris, rejuvenating my artistic spirit. For me, it’s a shot in the arm—I see inspiration everywhere. This year, I completed the final art for two new Amelia Bedelia books while we were there—an I Can Read, and a chapter book. It kept me very busy, but AB (as I affectionately call her) was getting stir-crazy!

AB in PARIS 1 Greenwillow 

So, for the next three days, we took some time off from painting. The first day, we found a beautiful carousel in Montmartre. AB picked a spirited mount, and you can see me, riding like the Queen, in a carriage just behind her.

AB in PARIS 2 Greenwillow

The second day, we took our sketch pads and found a nice park, where there was a good place to draw and have a picnic.

AB in PARIS 3 Greenwillow

The third day, we visited the Pompidou Center, which houses the national museum of contemporary art. Part of the exposition was an installation piece that consisted of a room with chalkboard walls. Four people were allowed to enter at a time, to draw whatever they liked with chalk. AB drew a great self-portrait, so now she is on exhibit at the Pompidou!

AB in PARIS 4 Greenwillow


AB in PARIS 5 Greenwillow


On the walk home, we were admiring all the street art we saw—it’s really a big thing in Paris. AB still had her chalk in her pocket, so she decorated the bridge with one last picture.

AB in PARIS 6 Greenwillow

The next day, we FedExed the art for the I Can Read book to Sylvie in NYC, and later I carried the art for the chapter book home in my carry-on. Working in Paris is “magnifique,” and we are already looking forward to next year’s trip! Merci!

P.S. Just in case you’re wondering, this art was not done digitally. I cut and pasted photos from my album—I’m just an old-fashioned girl!

Lynne Avril is the illustrator of all the young Amelia Bedelia books. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona . . . but she loves Paris! The two books she was working on while she was there this year are Amelia Bedelia Is for the Birds (I Can Read) and Amelia Bedelia Cleans Up (chapter book #6). Both will be available this spring!

String! Or, Where Ideas Come From #4(th Thursday in November)

By Lynne Rae Perkins

My grandmother once knitted a dress out of lavender string.

“String!” my mother said. “And she was a large woman for a while. She lost weight later.

“She had one of those circular needles and she just kept knitting around and around. She knitted it for herself. She wore it a lot.

“It wasn’t just regular string, it was special string, and it came on a big spool.”

(gestures with hands, indicating size)

“Oh, I’ve seen those at estate sales,” said Carrie. Or maybe Donna.

“She had two of them,” said my mom. “One of them was lavender and one was white. And I’ll never forget, one time my dad and my Uncle Bob—we had a lot of aunts and uncles we weren’t really related to because we weren’t allowed to call adults by their first names, but we knew them too well to call them ‘Mr. and Mrs.’ My dad and Uncle Bob were flying a kite, and it went really high and they were going to run out of string, so they grabbed my mother’s spool of white string. She was so mad when she found out. That kite must have been over Shaler Township. And then they wanted to reel it in, so my dad went into his workshop and he had a motor, and they used the motor to reel in the string and wind it around. For years, whenever we needed a piece of string, we went and got it from there.”

So, this isn’t what happened, but this is the picture that formed in my mind:

If you happen to be sharing a meal with people on Thanksgiving Day, there will be conversation. There will be a lot of conversation about football and politics and who is in the hospital and recipes. Somewhere in that day of conversation, there will be a good story, like the story about my grandmother and her string. Maybe a lot of good stories. The next morning while you’re having your coffee, see which ones you remember.

Oh! one more thing: while we are talking about relatives and kites, this is an excellent time to read, or re-read, Truman Capote’s wonderful story The Thanksgiving Visitor.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lynne Rae Perkins is the creator of several acclaimed works for children, including the incomparable picture book Snow Music and the novel Criss Cross, winner of the 2006 Newbery Medal. Her most recent work is the novel Nuts to You, which The Horn Book called “Another completely original and exceptional package from Perkins” in a starred review. She lives in northern Michigan.

In the studio with Michael Hall

In It’s an Orange Aardvark!, a carpenter ant drills a series of holes through a wall in his stump in order to see what’s outside. With each hole, a different color of light enters the dark stump; and with each new color, another ant—who’s convinced himself that a hungry aardvark lurks outside—makes more and more ridiculous suggestions to make the new facts fit his original assumption.

I tried a number of different ways to illustrate the light flooding into the stump before settling on a series of painted, overlapping concentric circles.

Early on, I was enamored with the idea of using simple radiating lines of colored chalk. Chalk is a medium children understand, and they could easily use it to draw their own bursts of light. But the radiating lines were somewhat frenetic, and adding little ants to these chalk drawings made them too busy.

But there was another, more pressing, issue: Reflected colors—like the ones produced by light bouncing off chalk, paint, or printer’s ink—combine quite differently from projected colors—like colors from light entering a dark place. Reflected colors combine to form darker colors, while projected colors get lighter when they’re combined. (What’s worse, projected green plus projected red makes projected yellow. That’s never seemed right to me.)

One solution was to avoid mixing the colors altogether. For example, I painted paper and cut it into chunky asterisk shapes. The hefty spokes created the suggestion of a circle. It was more appealing than the chalk, but I felt it was too stark and lifeless.

Then, I broke the radiating lines into rectangles. This made it possible to mix each color variation separately, which gave me much more control. The resulting image felt very energetic to me—like light. Your eye is directed both away from and toward the center.

But it wasn’t quite right, so one day I tried grouping the rectangles in concentric circles. That became more contained and satisfying to me.

The next step was to forgo the rectangles and portray the colors as a series of intersecting circles. Now the colors were more soothing and meditative, and the shapes were interesting and sometimes surprising. I outlined each shape. This flattened the image and emphasized the shapes. It seemed right to me.

In the end, though, I removed the outlines. The resulting circles of color provided a more suitable and simple background for the ants and their story.

Of course, that was still just another beginning . . . and I confronted the task of painting a hundred pieces of paper (reflective color) to portray a hundred combinations of projected color!