Jessica Darling’s It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection by Megan McCafferty

It’s no secret that I love and adore Jessica Darling and Megan McCafferty.  Jessica Darling is my spirit animal.  She is my bosom buddy.  Sometimes I think she is me.  I’ve read the Sloppy Firsts series multiple times and I have recommended it to many friends.  So when I read that McCafferty signed a deal to write a middle grade series starring Jessica Darling I was thrilled.  I was even more excited when I was randomly chosen to receive an ARC from a contest on Twitter.  As soon as the book arrived I sat down and read it in one sitting.

If there are middle school girls in your life, I highly recommend Jessica Darling’s It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection.  This is the first in a series where Jessica  is trying to navigate middle school by following advice from her older sister, who provides her with a guide to being on the “It list”.

The voice is distinctly Jessica Darling but is age appropriate.  She’s sarcastic and a realist, but appropriately so for a middle schooler.   Jessica does her best to follow her older sister Bethany’s advice as she begins her time Pineville Junior High. But Jessica is not her sister and things are not as easy as the  list makes them seem. Making Cheer team? Hanging out with the cool crowd? Dressing right?  Any middle schooler who has struggled to fit in will identify with Jessica and her witty, sarcastic voice will make them laugh as they see themselves in her.

I can’t wait to share this series with my middle schoolers and ninth graders.  I think it will be a perfect introduction to Jessica Darling and will make many of them want to pick up the Sloppy Firsts series.  I am also recommending it to anyone who knows and loves Jessica Darling already.  Meeting her, Bridget, and the rest of the gang (MARCUS FLUTIE!!!) as 7th graders is a fun look at the world of Pineville before Jessica grows into herself.  I am looking forward to the rest of the series!

Thumped by Megan McCafferty

Last November, while at NCTE, I was ecstatic when I checked the program and realized I would have the opportunity to meet Megan McCafferty. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I read Sloppy Firsts (Jessica Darling, Book 1).  Jessica and I are kindred spirits.  I also read and reviewed Bumped when it was released. Megan doesn’t live to far from me but I’ve never been able to make it to any of her local signings.  Needless to say, I was very happy that I would get a chance to meet her, even if it was in Chicago instead of NJ!

I waited on the long line for Megan (one of the only lines I waited on at NCTE!) and I was looking forward to getting a copy of Bumped signed (which I reviewed here).  When I got closer to the table where they were selling the paperbacks, I almost fainted.  They had ARCs of Thumped on the table! Thumped was scheduled for an April release, so I was not expecting to see ARCs at NCTE, in November. My day was pretty much made. The only thing that made it better was getting my ARC signed by Megan, who was a complete sweetheart. She even recognized me from blogging and Twitter. :)

I read Thumped as soon as I got home because I had a waiting list for it. My colleague, who teaches Biology, had really enjoyed the first book in the series, so I wanted to pass it on to him. I read Thumped in one sitting and absolutely loved it.

Thumped is awesome.  Absolutely awesome.  I recommend the series to upper-YA readers and adults.  In a culture where millions of people watch sixteen-year old girls give birth and raise their babies on TV, McCafferty has crafted a speculative dystopian world that resembles our own a little too much.  You know the saying “too close for comfort”? That’s what McCafferty has crafted in these books.
Thumped picks up about eight months after the first volume left off. Harmony is back with her church family and Melody is the pregnant girl.  Think Beyonce’s pregnancy times a million.  Her every move is calculated and tracked by her fans.  Both girls are about to give birth, but it’s not as simple as it seems.  Before either girl gives birth, they are brought together once again and some tough decisions are made.  I can’t tell you much more because it will give it away.  Just know that this is a book you won’t be able to put down once you start it.

The best part of McCafferty’s writing in these books is the world building.  The slang she uses is intense but you quickly slip into the world she has created and the language becomes your language.   I know the word choice made it difficult for some readers to get through the first volume, but it’s really the best part of the book for me.

And you know what else I love?  The sarcasm in these books.  People, I am sarcastic. Seriously. All. the.time.  It’s a problem.  And I know that there were some people who took issue with the premise of these books and seemed to miss the whole point- it’s a satire.  But it’s the best kind of satire; the type that makes the reader really think.  You will close this book and you will wonder how we can ensure this doesn’t happen in our world.  I think teens will read this pair of books and think about the repercussions of having babies when they are still a child themselves. These aren’t books you can finish and file away in the back of your mind.  These books are intended to make you think and think you will!

Highly recommended for mature readers.  As with the first volume, I’d recommend reading it yourself before placing it in a classroom library, but I think it is a valuable addition to any library.  Definitely a high school book (and even college!), but I wouldn’t recommend it for middle school readers.

#NCTE11 Day 2 Reflection

Day 2 of #ncte11 started bright and early, as I had made plans to have breakfast with Stacey from TwoWritingTeachers.  I was a little early for our meeting in the lobby and ended up running into Meeno, also meeting a friend for breakfast.  It was a perfect run-in because I was able to congratulate Meeno on her new status as a National Board Certified teacher!

Stacey and I grabbed breakfast in the hotel and we spent about an hour chatting about literacy, writing, and our families.  It was great to finally meet in-person!

After breakfast I hit the exhibit halls again, where I spent time talking with Ned Vizzini, Megan Mccafferty (who recognized me!), Neal Shusterman, and a variety of other authors.  I also chatted with Sarah, also known as VocabGal, at the Sadlier Oxford booth. She was a doll and chatting with her afforded me the opportunity to take a look at the new Vocabulary Workshop books, which we use in our district.  I was able to get some of our questions answered and look at a physical copy of the book.  I immediately emailed some of my colleagues to share my thoughts and we are looking forward to the new version, which we will be ordering for next year.

Saturday afternoon was spent in the exhibit hall and in downtown Chicago, where Chris and I visited the bean, a local cupcake shop, and a Millennium Park.  We skipped the aquarium, but we still had a great time.

Sunday night was fantastic.  I was invited to dinner with Little, Brown and I assumed it would be a huge crowd.  When I arrived a few minutes early, I ran into a lovely woman and her daughter who were also there for dinner.  Sharon introduced herself and took me under her wing, which I am extremely grateful for.  We spent some time chatting about our favorite books and the books my students are enjoying right now.  Sharon shared a few title recommendations for my students, which I have already added to my library.  We watched the ice skaters in Millennium Park until it was time for dinner.  When I walked into the small room at the restaurant I was stunned to see only three tables set up for dinner.  This was a small, intimate meal with some of my favorite authors!  Little, Brown had brought Sara Zarr, A.S. King, and Matthew Quick and they would be reading from their new books and rotating through the three tables.

What an amazing dinner!  It was so nice to talk with all three authors and I was able to bring back signed copies of all three books.  (I’ve already read and loved King’s Everybody Sees the Ants and Quick’s Boy21- look for reviews soon).  It was one of the best meals of my life.  And to make the night even better, I walked back to the hotel with Donalyn Miller, the amazing Book Whisperer.  Poor Donalyn walked eight blocks past her hotel because we were so deep in conversation about independent reading, the Common Core Standards, and our mutual love of helping kids learn to love reading.  Donalyn was recently named TCELA’s Teacher of the Year and it could not go to a more deserving teacher.  She is a force to be reckoned with and I am  lucky to have the opportunity to present with her and share teaching strategies and ideas.  It was a fantastic end to a great night, and an even better way to end the conference.  Monday would be spent at Midway Airport as I waited for my delayed plane to Newark, but I didn’t care.  I had books, friends, and lots to reflect on.

This past weekend I got a call for proposals in the mail for #NCTE12.  I’m already brainstorming ideas!  See you in a year, NCTE!

I Love Jessica Darling and Megan McCafferty!

I love Jessica Darling.  She is smart, sarcastic, and a fellow Jersey girl.  Back in 2008 I picked up Sloppy Firsts: A Jessica Darling Novel after seeing it at the bookstore.  I then flew through the rest of the series in a matter of days and have been recommending it to everyone I know ever since then.  I was eight years late picking up Sloppy Firsts, though.  It was first published way back in 2001, when I was starting college. (This is my excuse for missing out on it back then!).  But Megan McCafferty is throwing a month-long party in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Sloppy Firsts.  I am thrilled to be a part of the party today, interviewing both Jessica and Megan. :)

First, a few questions for Jessica Darling!


Welcome, Meg! I’m a Jersey girl, and I like to think that Jessica and I are very similar (clearly me projecting). One of my biggest guilty pleasures is MTV’s Jersey Shore. So who would Jessica’s favorite Jersey Shore cast member be, and why?

Snooki. Jessica would hate to admit it, of course. But I think she’d have grudging admiration any girl who is bold enough to do a drunken dance-floor cartwheel in a thong.

Haha, very true!  I think we can all agree with that.  How about some other aspects of pop culture.  What’s on Jessica’s iPod today? What is she reading? (I’m cheating, I know- this is two questions. :) )

Jessica listens to LCD Soundsystem because James Murphy was so heavily influenced by 80s new wave and electronica. And she reads Jezebel.com and wishes it had existed when she was in college so she could have gotten an internship there.

Sigh.  More things Jessica and I have in common.  I love Jezebel.  I’m addicted to celebrity gossip and other ridiculousness.  What about Jessica?  If she had to choose one celebrity crush, who would it be?

Len Levy, lead singer of the multiplatinum band The Mighties.

You stumped me there.  Now I have to google The Mighties!  Itunes, here I come.  Forget celeb crushes though.  Tell us what Marcus Flutie is like today! How has he changed? How has he stayed the same? What are your future plans?

Marcus is happier now than he’s ever been. Let’s just leave it at that.

Oooh.  An intriguing answer.  :) And you, Meg?  What’s your life like right now?

As for me, I’m working on the idea for my next book. And THUMPED (sequel to Bumped) comes out in Spring 2012.

Woot!  Can’t wait to read THUMPED!  But first, back to Jessica.  What was her New Year’s Resolution for 2011?

Don’t feel guilty when good things happen to you.

I like that.  Words to live by from Jessica Darling.  So Meg, as you look back to when you were first drafting Sloppy Firsts, what advice would you give to past-Meg?

Oh, to be so clueless about the business of selling books. You’ll never be so blissfully naïve again.

Haha.  I guess there’s nothing better than blissful ignorance.  Before the business end of writing came into the picture, you had to draft.  What came first? Did Jessica come to you as a character, or was the concept/plot the first thing that you started with?

Voice came first. Then I created a character to go with that voice. I struggled with plot, trying to figure out what was going to happen to this Jessica Darling girl that I had invented. The title SLOPPY FIRSTS actually came from another unrelated short story I wrote in college that eventually was published in Seventeen magazine as TRUE BLUE.

And what type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

It’s a combination of planning, inspiration and intuition. I have to know how the book begins and ends, with very flexible ideas for what happens in between. I love making discoveries about the story and the characters as I go along. Those surprises are what keep things interesting for me as a writer—and for the readers.

 Do you write everyday? Do you have a specific writing schedule?


When I’m working on a book, I write from Monday to Friday while my son is in school. I have a minimum word count that I must get done (usually 750 words) before I’ll allow myself to do anything else, like go to the gym or go out to lunch. Once my son comes home, I’m done for the day. I try to keep my writing life and my real life as separate as possible, which can be a challenge because I work at home.

And what books are you reading now? Any recommendations?

I just finished Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, the most charming romance I’ve read in ages. Now I’m reading Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes. It won a bunch of awards for YA fiction, but I think it could have just as easily won accolades if it had been published as an adult title.

Thanks for stopping by, Meg!  It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. And thank you for giving the world Jessica Darling!  

Do you love Jessica Darling?  Be sure to take part in Megan McCafferty’s SLOPPY FIRSTS: The Epic 10th Anniversary Giving Away of Rare and One-of-a-Kind Stuff.

(from Meg’s blog)

To commemorate the 10th Anniversary, I’d like you, the biggest supporters of my series,  to share with me (and the world) what SLOPPY FIRSTS has meant to you. What form should your tribute take? That’s up to you. Write a heartfelt blog post about discovering SLOPPY FIRSTS in the bookstore. Make a video re-enacting the infamous “lip nip” with finger puppets. Compose a song incorporating one of Jessica’s many graphs, charts and lists. Create a line of SLOPPY FIRSTS inspired t-shirts.  EXPRESS YOUR LOVE ANY WAY YOU WANT TO. Send me the link(s) to your awesome tributes via Twitter or my Facebook Page, tagged #sloppyfirsts10th. (If you are a nonparticipant in these social networks, you can always email me at megan@meganmccafferty.com.)

……BE CREATIVE AND HAVE FUN. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

 

I can’t wait to see what the fans come up with. And Meg has some fantastic prizes up for grabs, including “A SPECIAL 10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION of SLOPPY FIRSTS. A one-of-a-kind copy randomly annotated in my (Megan’s) very own, very sloppy handwriting .”  Umm, yes please!

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

I am a huge Megan McCafferty fan.  Like, ridiculous fangirl, over-the-top, absolutely love her.  Jessica Darling is in my Top 10 Favorite Fictional Characters.  I recommend Sloppy Firsts: A Jessica Darling Novel (the first in the series) to everyone I know.  So when I saw that Megan was writing a dystopian YA novel, I was pretty much in heaven.  One of my favorite authors writing in my favorite genre?  I was guaranteed to love it!  Then, when Megan offered me an ARC (thank you!), I jumped on it.  When the package arrived, I was almost afraid to read it- what if I was disappointed? What if I had built it up too much? Could it be as good as I imagined it would be?

I was silly to worry. Bumped is fantastic and novel read, unlike anything else I have read.  The publisher’s summary does a great job, so I will let it do its job:

When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

I was immediately intrigued after reading the back copy a few months ago.  For a long time, I have been fascinated by MTV’s Sixteen and Pregnant and Teen Mom. I feel like those two shows are a great way for parents and schools to begin talking to teens about safe sex and pregnancy.  I know that Megan was partly inspired by her own similar idea, so Bumped doesn’t shy away from some tough issues. Needless to say, I love that Megan takes on the hot-button issues, injects some sarcasm and humor, and still manages to make her reader think, and I mean really think, about the issues at hand.

Bumped is not for the faint of heart.  The reader needs to understand that the world in which Melody and Harmony exists glorifies teen pregnancy.  McCafferty doesn’t shy away from sexual language, but every word and scene choice is carefully made.  This is not a book that is meant to glorify and celebrate teen pregnancy.  Yes, that is the world it is about. But that’s not what the book is actually about, if you understand what I mean.  I think teens who read this will think about what these girls go through, and the choices they make.  There was a fantastic article in the NY Times this weekend which focused on the use of MTV’s Teen Mom in the classroom. While many adults are horrified by the popularity of the show, the article points out just how many teens are learning from the experiences of the girls on the show and the conversations that result from watching the show.  I think Bumped can and will do the same.

I’ve read a few reviews of Bumped and it seems they are mixed. But from what I see, many reviewers/readers don’t understand that McCafferty has her tongue planted firmly in cheek for the duration of the book.  This is a satire, and a very effective one at that.  Bumped is a critique.  It’s a critique of a juxtaposition- the focus on purity in religion coupled with secular society’s focus on sex and sexuality.  It satirizes the world we live in,pointing out the ridiculous path we are headed down. I loved it! I found myself putting the book down and thinking a lot as I read, and I was dying to talk to someone about it after reading.  It’s that type of book.

In the foreword, McCafferty refers to Bumped as her first “young adult” novel.  This is definitely a book that straddles the line between young adult and adult.  It’s certainly not a book for middle school students.  However, my more mature high school readers have rated it 5 stars on Goodreads.  They inherently understood that it was a satire and appreciated how much it made them think.  This may be a classic case of a book that is so perfect for YA readers that many adult gatekeepers think it is too much for them.  McCafferty does a fantastic job and I highly recommend Bumped, though I would be sure you read it yourself before putting it in your classroom library.

 

 

*ARC courtesy of the author

Writer’s Notebooks: Literacy Outside of School #sas2011

Many children love to doodle, write stories, and decorate empty notebooks found laying around the house.  How can we capture this energy and help kids develop their literacy skills outside the classroom?  We know how important it is to read, and we’ve talked a lot about reading this week. But what about writing?

There is nothing better than a writer’s notebook!  Every child should have a notebook, that they can decorate, doodle in, write down their stories, and cherish.  This should not be something that is graded, checked by mom or dad, or made to be a burden in any way.  A writer’s notebook is a special place, and individual place.

A writer’s notebook isn’t a diary.  It isn’t a journal.  It’s something different.  Something special.  A writer’s notebook is a place to jot down ideas and sketches, to write stories and paste in ephemera.

And the best part?  Lots of published authors cherish their writer’s notebooks and use them daily!  Some of those authors have been kind enough to share a photo of their notebook(s) and a little bit about how they use them.  I hope they inspire you to start keeping a writer’s notebook, and to hand a writer’s notebook to a child in your life!

Courtney Sheinmel:

Like most authors I know, I write my books on a computer.  The problem is, some of my best ideas come at completely inconvenient times – like when I’m on the subway and nowhere near my computer, or when I’m in bed with all the lights turned out.  Late at night, so warm and snug under my down comforter, the last thing I want to do is turn on my computer.  I used to think, Well, this idea is so good there’s no way I’ll forget it.  I’ll just write it down later. And then, invariably, I’d forget my brilliant idea.  In the morning, all I’d remember is the fact that I’d had a brilliant idea, and it would leave me devastated that the book would have to exist without it.  So I started keeping a notebook by my bed, and carrying it  around with me when I left the house, small enough so it fit in my purse – the book under the BlackBerry in the picture is one that’s all filled up now.  My handwriting is especially messy in it, since so often the notes were jotted down in the middle of the night.  Now I’ve graduated from an old school notebook to something way more technological, i.e., the “notes” application on my BlackBerry (that’s why the BlackBerry is atop the notebook in the picture).  I’m completely addicted to the device, so it’s never too far away.  Not sure you can see it in the picture, but I have all sorts of categories, and I’ll type in whatever idea just popped into my head.  They’re certainly not all brilliant, but at least there never has to be another idea lost.

Megan McCafferty:

I did research for about a year before I began writing Bumped. I jotted down passages from relevant books in my black and white speckled composition notebook and ripped out dozens of articles and put them in this “IDEAS” folder. On the clipping titled, “16 & Pregnant: No Fairy-Tale Ending” I wrote,”What if society DID encourage sex? Why?” These are the questions that inspired the novel. The whole story can be traced back to that torn piece of newspaper.

Mitali Perkins:


I start the mornings with a good cup of coffee and a time of reading and reflection through journaling. My preference is a standard composition book and a good, fine-tip pen. I write only on one side of the paper, avoiding backs of pages, always in messy, free-flowing cursive. What do I write? Poetry, ideas for stories, prayers full of angst and anxiety, gratitude and celebration. My journal is supposed to be as private and safe as a fire escape, and one of the reasons I like to use that metaphor in my online life. Recently, however, my dog Zipper (with my son as scribe), violated that privacy to leave an interesting request (see photo).

Barbara Dee:

I have a blue 4X6 spiral notebook that I bring along most places, because you never know when you’ll have your next idea for a book! Here’s what I scrawled one day on a bumpy train ride into New York City: the inspiration for my new tween novel, TRAUMA QUEEN. On the upper left, you can see the names of the characters (the main character is Marigold, but apparently I was also considering Zinnia.) Below it is the plan for the first chapter, which is pretty faithful to what actually got written. On the right page, I’d started to work out Marigold’s/Zinnia’s mother, a performance artist in the Karen Finley mold who “teaches improv workshops-colleges.” After that it gets weird– I’ve written “thumb/bendy straw/ self-esteem.” Huh? I’m completely baffled by these scribbles. Maybe they reflect some idea about where I meant to go in Chapter Two, and the train arrived at Grand Central Station before I could flesh out my thoughts. That’s one of the hazards of writing on trains, I guess: you can lose things even when you write them in your notebook.

Jonathan Auxier:

The first is just my closed Journal. I’ve been using one type for the last ten years (Canson 7×10 field sketch) and same pen (pilot v7

clipped into the spine).  I’ve got about 25 of them now on a shelf.

The second picture is putting down an idea for a book character. I happened to tap
e some old paintings I found online in the corner (which I often do). This character — like many I draw — didn’t make the cut.
The third pic is an example of what I like to do when I read . I take down quotes, new vocab and images that struck me. These notes are all from Roald Dahl’s TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED.

 

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As you can see above, writer’s notebooks are differentiated and individual  Each person treats theirs differently, so there is no right or wrong way to use your writer’s notebook.  It is a great habit for kids to get into, and a great one for adults, too.  If you are interested in learning more about writer’s notebooks and getting some additional ideas, you must check out Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You!
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Do you have a writer’s notebook?  I would love to see some photos in the comments!

Megan McCafferty News!

Megan McCafferty’s “Jessica Darling” series (Sloppy Firsts: A Novel is the first book in the series) is one of my favorites. I was so sad when the final book came out last month, even though I loved, loved, loved the resolution to the series. I was mostly sad that I didn’t have anything else to look forward to from McCafferty. And then I read this announcement from HarperCollins:

Alessandra Balzer at Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins Children’s Books acquired World English rights to New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty’s new novel in a two-book deal from Heather Schroder at ICM. Bumped is a sharply funny and provocative dystopian novel set in a world where only teens are able to have babies, and are contracted by adults to carry them to term. Megan is best known for her Jessica Darling series, which started with Sloppy Firsts and most recently ended with Perfect Fifths.

YAY YAY YAY!!!!  I literally did a little happy-dance when I read the announcement.  Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that dystopian fiction is my favorite genre.  So dystopian fiction, written by one of my favorite authors?  Where do I sign up?! 

The only downside?  I apparently have to wait awhile to read it!  :)

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