Novel Madness 2018–Semifinal Round!

Our novel competition is heating up! This week we said goodbye to some favorites.The remaining books will face off on Monday. These are four very different books, which makes for an interesting matchup.

Here they are:


Matilda by Roald Dahl vs. House of Hades by Rick Riordan

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins vs. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech


Novel Madness 2018–ROUND TWO

To find out about this contest in my sixth grade classroom, go here. Here are the results of Round One, paired with their new opponents for Round Two, which takes place tomorrow. Good luck!




Matilda by Roald Dahl vs. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Frindle by Andrew Clements vs. House of Hades by Rick Riordan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate vs. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech vs. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen


Novel Madness 2018

Every year in March, to coincide with basketball’s March Madness, my sixth graders participate in Novel Madness to choose their favorite novel of all time. They brainstorm their top sixteen favorites, then pair up to create persuasive speeches. Here are this year’s top 16:


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Maze Runner by James Dashner

Holes by Louis Sachar

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Frindle by Andrew Clements

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

The Witches by Roald Dahl

House of Hades by Rick Riordan

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau


This is an excellent lineup that includes old favorites like Matilda and Holes, and favorite authors like Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling. This list also include first-time appearances by Chomp, and Fever 1793. Good luck everyone!


I’ll Give You the Sun

jandy-nelson I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson, is one of the best magical realism books I’ve read for Young Adults. It features twins, a boy and a girl, named Noah and Jude. They are coming of age in a world where Jude regularly sees and receives advice from her dead grandmother, and Noah sees the world in the blazing color of possible paintings.

Jude has a ‘bible’ from her grandmother, who referred to God as Clark Gable, that contains spells and proverbs. Jude sums up every situation with one of these bits of wisdom. For example, to avoid serious illness, keep an onion in your pocket.

Both twins have artistic talent, but Noah is exceptionally talented. He’s also a serious misfit at school. This is further complicated when he develops a crush on another boy. All of his observations are punctuated by possible portrait titles. For example, when he’s angry with Jude, he thinks, PORTRAIT: My Spider Sister.

The death of the twins’ mother, as well as Jude and not Noah getting accepted at a special art school, begin to drive the twins apart. The story unfolds as they struggle to find their way back to each other and back to being comfortable in their own skin.

This is a book full of beautiful, lyrical language that evokes strong images. Some of my favorites:

“No woman can resist a man who has tidal waves and earthquakes beneath his skin.”

“Our eyes meet and we both crack up like we’re made of the same air.”

“We’re sprinting at the speed of light when the ground gives way and we rise into the air as if racing up stairs.”

Authors, Excerpts, Reviews

Author-go-Round: Tracy Lawson

003(48)Hi! I’m Tracy Lawson, and I’m so excited to be featured on Week 2 of this Author Interview-go-Round! I’m the author of Counteract and Resist, the first two volumes of the YA dystopian Resistance Series. Ignite, the third book in the series, is slated for release in summer 2016!

Here’s a quick summary of the series so far:

The Resistance Series takes place in a near-future version of the United States. The powerful Office of Civilian Safety and Defense has enacted a long list of Civilian Restrictions designed to keep the people safe from frequent terrorist attacks, but it hasn’t worked: as the story opens, the threat of a chemical weapons attack is literally hanging over everyone’s heads.

Careen takes the OCSD’s offered antidote, but the side effects cause her to hallucinate. Her erratic behavior attracts the attention of a young law enforcement officer, who mistakenly pegs her as a dissident. Careen doesn’t realize the antidote is causing her confusion…until she runs out on the day of the anticipated attack.

Tommy, recuperating from injuries sustained in a recent auto accident, is unaware that there’s a link between that accident, which killed his parents, and the chemical weapons attack that threatens him now. When he discovers that working out before he takes his dose of the antidote helps him feel more like himself, he defies the rules to regain his strength and his sanity. On the day of the attack, he meets Careen, who just might be the girl of his dreams, and tries to save her by sharing his last dose of the antidote, even though doing so could potentially hasten his own death.

What Careen and Tommy learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action; their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government.003(35) copy

In Resist, the second volume in the Resistance Series, Tommy and Careen are no longer naïve, frightened teenagers who believe the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense can protect them from terrorist attacks. They’ve discovered the OCSD’s miracle antidote’s true purpose: to create a population bereft of free will, incapable of defying the tyrannical OCSD. They join the Resistance, but on their first mission, things spin out of control and soon they’re on the run, dodging the quadrant marshals in a headlong dash for the Resistance’s secret headquarters.

Being part of the Resistance presents them with new challenges. Not everyone working for change will prove trustworthy, and plans to spark revolution go awry with consequences greater than they could’ve imagined. Tommy and Careen’s relationship is tested when their philosophical differences and the pressures of interpersonal rivalries and jealousy put a strain on their romance. Can they make time for each other while trying to start a revolution?

I love to talk to readers, and I’ve answered some interesting questions at book festivals and school visits. I’d like to share some of them with you:

How did you get the idea for your books? This question can be answered with a question. I was mentoring a friend of my daughter’s when the initial idea for Counteract came about. Chase is a pretty sharp guy and an excellent writer—and when he was in high school I had a lot of fun working with him and editing some of his short stories. We had finished working on a story about baseball, a broken nose, and a broken heart, and were ready to start something new, when he suggested we write scenes in response to the prompt: “What if everyone was on LSD and all thoughts were communal?” It was certainly thought provoking! Chase created the characters Tommy and Eduardo, I created Careen. Right away, we knew we were onto something. The story morphed and changed a lot before it became the finished version of Counteract—but that was how it all began.

What kind of research did you do while writing Counteract? A high school student asked me this question when I visited her English class, and I have to admit I totally fell for it. I responded, “Oh, I did lots of research.” Several people in the class looked surprised, and a few began to giggle. It took a second before I realized they’d asked if I’d tripped on LSD as part of my research, so I quickly qualified my answer. “I totally Googled LSD!” Actually, my browser history might look pretty odd to anyone who didn’t know I was researching a book about a society paralyzed by the fear of terrorism and an oppressive government. I’ve Googled guns, explosives, detonator cord, terrorist attacks, torture methods, and even a floor plan of the Capitol building. Don’t call the NSA on me, okay?

Did you get your ideas from another series? Is this story going to turn into another love triangle like Team Edward and Team Jacob in the Twilight series? When I was writing Counteract, and then Resist, I made every effort to craft a story that was different from the other popular teen books, like Hunger Games, Divergent, and Twilight. I even avoided reading The Hunger Games until I was finished writing Counteract so I wouldn’t be influenced. Love triangles are great devices in fiction, and Careen, my heroine, does attract the attention of two different guys, but it’s not the main focus of the story, and it does have a twist you won’t find in Twilight.

At almost every school visit, someone will ask how I chose the color orange for the CSD antidote in my book. One student noted that CSD is the same color as hallucination-causing drug that was used on Tris in the Divergent series.

At first, I’d envisioned the antidote as red, but when I saw the red liquid in the glass vial, I thought, ‘oh, no—everyone will think it’s vampire blood. This isn’t a vampire story.’ What other color could I choose? I eliminated blue, green, and purple, because cool colors are happy colors. I couldn’t use yellow (that’s when I pause until someone in the class starts to laugh) because it looks like pee. So that left orange, and that worked, because orange means caution and danger. I’d bet Veronica Roth arrived at her orange antidote using a similar process of elimination!

In the first chapter, you say something about Tommy being in an accident. I want to know more. Why didn’t you tell about the accident? This has to be one of the most amazing questions I’ve ever had, because it came from a very bright eight-year-old! My books are geared for ages 12 and up, and I don’t usually get questions from elementary-school children, but Bennett, who is the son of longtime friends, had been reading his older brother’s copy of Counteract before school that morning I visited his combined class of fourth through eighth graders.

I explained, “Bennett, you and I have known each other your whole life. But if we’d just met, and I said, ‘Hi, I’m Tracy Lawson, and I’ve come to speak to your school today. Back when I was born in Cincinnati in nineteen sixty something…’ you’d get bored and tune me out. I shouldn’t try to tell you my whole life story at once. Same with Tommy. I need you to get interested in him, and his immediate situation, before I tell you his backstory. What chapter are you on right now?” Bennett replied he’d just started Chapter 3. “Okay—you’re just about to learn about the accident that killed his parents and put him in the hospital.”

Counteract and Resist are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s online store in both print and ebook editions.

Amazon buy links:

Counteract: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B013ZBPH7Q

Resist: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B013Z7URKM

Barnes & Noble:

Counteract: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/counteract-tracy-lawson/1120081568?ean=9780996610803

Resist: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/resist-tracy-lawson/1122581420?ean=9780996610827

Signed copies are available through Tracy’s website at http://counteractbook.com/lawson-publishing/

The audio book version of Counteract is nearing completion—so look for its release in February!

Want more behind the scenes info and updates about the Resistance Series?

Follow Tracy on

Twitter: @TracySLawson

Facebook: http://facebook.com/TracyLawsonAuthor

Also please visit these awesome authors: 

Eve Connelly, www.eveconnelly.wordpress.com

Nina Day Gerard, www.ninadaygerard.com

Miracle Austin, www.miracleaustin.com

Connie Peck, conniepeck.wordpress.com











Neverwhere Book Review

neverNeverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, is a young adult magical realism novel. The main character, Richard Mayhew, struggles with his job and overbearing fiancee–who symbolizes parents/authority. He stops to help an injured girl, Door, and is plunged into a fantasy world underneath London. He follows Door on a quest to discover who killed her family. He meets mythical creatures and has supernatural experiences. The entire time he is trapped in London Below, Richard longs for his old life. When he is finally returned to London Above, he finds he has changed. In the end, he is given a way back to Below.

This novel is a classic coming of age young adult book. It is also an excellent example of magical realism. The definition of magical realism states that the story must have a blurred line between realism and the supernatural that is part of daily life. It also must have shifts in time and space, as well as a journey that uncovers a different truth about the world.

While in London Below, Richard encounters much magic. He meets Rat Speakers and attends Floating Markets that move locations every night. He is new to a world where residents interact with the supernatural every day. Occasionally he visits London Above while he is with Door, and the world never looks as he remembers it. It is eerily empty, or some structure is missing. Door herself is practically London Below royalty. She has inherited the power to open a gateway, or door, to anywhere she wants to go. Door symbolizes the pathway for Richard to adulthood.

When Richard first sees Door, bleeding on the street, he stops to help her. The next day, he is invisible. He loses his job and watches as his apartment is rented out to new people as if he never existed. This symbolizes the adolescent stage of life when a young person wants to be an adult but is not yet treated as one. On the quest to locate the angel Islington, Door and Richard go to the British Museum in London Above. They locate the Angelus, and Door opens a gateway to Islington’s underground home. Near the end, when Richard is returned to London Above, his life is waiting for him as if he never left.

During the quest, Richard must participate in a test of character. Door and her bodyguard, Hunter, have already won tests of intellect and strength. Richard’s ordeal greatly changes him, causing him to lose most of his self-doubts; he is now confident enough to interact with other beings of London Below. When he returns to London Above, he finds that his experiences have changed him so much that his job and friends mean little to him–he has become an adult and left them in childhood.

Although Richard is an adult by age in this book, unusual for Young Adult novels, his experience is one that clearly resonates with the readers in this age group. This novel is a good example of magical realism as opposed to fantasy. All the magical elements include a shift in time or space, or have some symbolism relevant to Richard’s awakening adulthood.


Novel Madness FAll 2015 FINALS

ribbonI’ve been remiss in updating this contest! On Monday, September 21, my students voted on the remaining novels. As a result, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Hobbit were sent into the finals. Yesterday, the final round of speeches and the final vote took place. This year, the title of favorite novel was awarded to

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit joins the ranks of past winners:

Spring 2015: Holes by Louis Sachar

2014: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

2013: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

2012: Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

I find it interesting that in five years the winner has never been duplicated even though all of these books have appeared in the list more than once. Super favorites like Riordan’s Percy Jackson books or Roald Dahl’s Matilda haven’t won either. I am proud of the variety shown in my students’ reading over the years, and proud that every winner is a book I believe to be worthy of the title. I wonder what they’ll be reading next year?


Novel Madness 2015 ROUND TWO

2Novel Madness is the annual tournament my students conduct to determine their favorite novels of all time. For the beginning of this year’s contest, go here. Students tweaked their speeches to reflect their new opponents and delivered them in class. Then everyone voted. The winners of Round Two will match up like this for Monday’s (September 21) Semifinal Match:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling


Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney


The Maze Runner by James Dashner


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I was quite surprised that The Hobbit beat the perennial favorite Lightning Thief, but the contest between Divergent and The Maze Runner could have gone either way. Diary of a Wimpy Kid beat Hatchet to make it to the semifinals. I wonder if that vote would have come out differently had I waited until after we read Hatchet in class? One thing is for sure. Every year my class has its own reading preferences even though a few books make the list consistently. Stay tuned for semifinal results next week!



bookWatersmeet is the first novel in the Watersmeet series by Ellen Jensen Abbott. It is tagged Young Adult, but unlike some of today’s YA books this one can be read by younger YA readers. It’s about a girl who lives in a land with mythical creatures–including centaurs. You know how I am about horses, centaurs, unicorns, pegasi–you get the idea. On Amazon and Goodreads, this book gets a lot of rating abuse. I think those low stars are from YA readers who are expecting something edgier/more violent/sexier. Watersmeet is not like that.

Abisina is a human girl, heavily discriminated against because of her coloring and her absent father. Luckily, her mother’s healer skills are valued and Abisina is tolerated. An event turns the girl’s life upside down when she is forced, under penalty of death, to leave her village and find Watersmeet, where her father lives. She finds cruelty and discrimination as well as loyalty and love.

The world Abisina travels through is rich with history and races of creatures. The reader learns along with the girl as she encounters new things. Something I enjoyed was when Abisina is forced to realize the depth of her own prejudice–something many of us never fully understand. Discovering your own prejudices and overcoming them is an excellent theme for a YA book, and you don’t need violence and sex to accomplish it!



The Wolf and the Sorceress

coverThe Wolf and the Sorceress; The King’s Magician by Brian Pemberton

The sorceress, Nemeila, crash landed in the woods as baby–in a spaceship. She is rescued by a wolf. Now if that doesn’t hook your interest right away, I don’t know what will. Nemeila is taken in by a woodsman and his wife and is raised as their daughter. But that’s not the end of the story. We meet Nemeila’s real mother and an evil sorcerer who is her nemesis. Nemeila’s adventure includes traveling to another land to rescue a prince when the sorceror kills his father. In addition to the wolf, the story includes a dragon, an eagle, and a horse. While the animals can’t talk, I enjoy how the author puts their thoughts into words for the reader.

This novel is perfect for middle grade readers and up. The character of Nemeila instantly makes you root for her. Parlan and Tyler, the prince and his friend, are also well developed characters. The conflict is great, plausible with just the right amount of magic.

The very best news of all is that the author is planning five more books in this series. We don’t have to leave Nemeila and her wolf yet!