Favorite Books of 2019

I’ve been posting my favorite books of the year for several years now, and even though my own debut novel came out this year, I have plenty of other favorites! As usual, I fell hard for some historicals and novels-in-verse, and I’m also including a graphic novel that both my kids and I absolutely adored. In fact, I had quite a few middle grade books among my top picks:

  • THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman. As with all of Padma’s stories, this book is full of heart (which might break just a little while reading, but it’s so worth it).
  • NEW KID by Jerry Craft. This graphic novel is a must-read for everyone. Fantastic artwork and story.
  • OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga. A gorgeous novel-in-verse about a new immigrant and her family.
  • HOW HIGH THE MOON by Karyn Parsons. This racially-charged historical is set partially in South Carolina and partially in Boston, and takes the reader along on a difficult journey they won’t soon forget.

But as usual, most of my favorites this year were young adult titles. So many favorites this year! Here are a handful of my top picks:

  • INTERNMENT by Samira Ahmed. This dystopian places a teenager and her family in a Muslim internment camp and follows her resistance from within its walls.
  • LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry. The setting in this WWI historical was vivid, the writing gorgeous, and the story layered and rich and divine. Also, the romance(s)! Simply lovely.
  • THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL by Stacey Lee. I adore all Stacey Lee’s books, and this one is my favorite yet. Jo is a Chinese American girl living in Reconstructionist Georgia whose determination is an inspiration.
  • BUTTERFLY YELLOW by Thanhha Lai. I love Thanhha’s verse, but the prose is just as lovely here. It’s a post-Vietnam War historical and a tragic reminder of the scars immigrants fleeing terrible situations bear.

I also had a couple of really innovative favorites:

  • PET by Akwaeki Emezi. People have been calling this one genre defying and it sure is. Jam calls forth Pet, who returns to Jam’s world to hunt a monster. Absolutely incredible.
  • IN PARIS WITH YOU by Clémentine Beauvais, translated by Sam Taylor. I read this novel-in-verse in the English translation, but I do want to try it in my (rusty) French as well because aaaaah, all the feelings! I loved this gorgeously-written retelling of Eugine Onegin.

Finally, a few bonus books from the 2020 ARC titles I was lucky enough to read this year:

  • THE BLOSSOM AND THE FIREFLY by Sherri L. Smith. Get this one on your radar pronto, and get those tissues handy! I love everything about this historical set in Japan in the final days of WWII. Absolutely stunning.
  • THE ASSIGNMENT by Liza Wiemer. This fictional story is based on a real incident that had high school students taking sides in a mock debate about the Final Solution. Like the real-life students, these students refuse to participate, taking a powerful stand against hate.
  • FLOWERS IN THE GUTTER by K. R. Gaddy. This work of narrative non-fiction offers an impressive body of research about the Edelweiss Pirates, a loosely-grouped band of teen resistance members during WWII.

That’s it from me for 2019. What were your favorites from this year? And what books are you most looking forward to in 2020? Please share!

Award news!

I’m thrilled to announce that A Kiss Before Breakfast, a project I submitted to the SCBWI WIP translation grant, has won the award!

Translation is a relatively new obsession for me, but the source text (Un beso antes de desayunar, a picture book from Spain) has been one of my family’s favorite books for years. The text is so lovely that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and had to give it my best shot.

Find the full list of grants and winners here. Congrats to all!

A Dash of Weimar Republic

Last week, I shared a post of my path following the White Rose in Munich on my recent trip to Germany. One of the other stops on my trip was Berlin, which had nothing to do with the White Rose, but which gave me a dash of Weimar Republic I was looking for.

First off, traces of history are hard to find in modern-day Berlin, rebuilt after about 80% of the city was destroyed in WWII and then modernized again after the fall of the Berlin Wall. So sometimes a hint means “[XYZ] used to be here,” where [XYZ] was once a cabaret, the most popular cafe in town, or an old dance hall.

Sometimes hints can be found in actual items from back in the day. There are several vintage and antique shops in Schöneberg, and I also got to visit the Saturday flea market at the Rathaus.

Just walking around the neighborhood provided glimpses of what once was, even though most of these structures have at least been partially rebuilt.

(Literal) signs of some of the more famous residents still exist today as well. I’d made a point of booking in the Hotel Sachsenhof, where the poet Else Laske-Schüler used to live, but other famous residents in the neighborhood included writer and director Billy Wilder and writer Christoph Isherwood.

But there were a couple of places that went virtually untouched and still exist today with much of that century-old detail. One such place is the Einstein Cafe, an art nouveau villa that now serves excellent meals with loads of ambience.

Another is Clärchens Ballhaus, a still-active restaurant and dance hall that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. There’s been talk of the place switching hands or closing down, but I certainly hope it remains for years to come.

Overall, it’s not easy digging for history in a city that’s been through so much, but it was definitely worthwhile to find those small traces that remain.

White Rose in Germany

Back when I was doing my initial research for White Rose, I visited Munich and Ulm a few times, both to speak to experts and spend time in the archives and to get a feel for some of the important sights themselves.

This summer, I was in Germany to do some research for a couple of different projects, so I got to spend some time in Munich once more, visiting a couple of newer museums/exhibits, and donating a copy of White Rose to the Weiße Rose Stiftung, a fantastic organization at the university that houses an (updated!) exhibit and organizes events to keep the group’s legacy alive.

It’s always chilling to visit sites of historical significance, especially those where something so important happened, and I made a point (as I did other times I’ve visited) to stop, think, remember. What were Sophie and Hans thinking that day? Do students passing through these halls today think of their legacy every so often?

I also got to visit a few other sites important to White Rose history, including the Justitzpalast (Palace of Justice) where the trials were held, the apartment building that once housed Sophie and Hans’s flat, the Ostbahnhof (East Train Station) where Sophie bade farewell to the boys when they left for the front, and the site of the former Wittelsbacher Palais (Wittelsbach Palace), where the Gestapo interrogations took place.

I’ve previously visited the Perlacher Forst cemetery beside the Stadelheim Prison where White Rose members were executed, and didn’t make it back there this time, but it’s of course every bit as somber a place as expected.

The ghosts from the war are never far from the surface in Germany, no matter how much is rebuilt. Some of those remnants have been left as a reminder, like at the Wunden der Erinnerung (Scars of Remembrance) wall around the corner from the university.

Plenty of other signs lie underfoot, like the Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) placed in memory of Jewish victims of the Nazis in front of buildings where they used to live.

Moreover, these signs infuse the air, capturing the voices and memories of those whose lives ended too soon, whispering to those passing by today and into the future, begging us not to forget, begging us, Never again.

Historical Novel Society Conference Highlights

I’ve been watching from the sidelines for years as other historical fiction authors I admire talked about the Historical Novel Society and its amazing conference, held every two years in the United States. I promised myself that if I ever got a book published, I would try to go, and lo and behold, it worked out for me this year!

My debut novel, White Rose, based on the true story of a German student-led resistance group during World War II, was published in April, 2019, with HMH’s new Versify imprint, so I was lucky enough not only to attend the conference this June, but also to present as part of a WWII panel (Beyond Rosie the Riveter) and a Kaffee Klatsch (The Crossover Revolution: Is It Adult or Is It YA?).

Obviously a huge highlight for me was talking my passion with these fantastic authors and attendees. But there was much more to the conference. I’ve been to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conferences multiple times, and while I can sometimes manage to track down the historical writers in the bunch, it was amazing to be surrounded by other like-minded individuals. Instead of, “What do you write?” I could start out with a much more specific, “What’s your era?” to get a conversation going. And there were conversations aplenty, starting with Thursday evening’s costume party, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Next, attending other sessions was a huge highlight for me, including the
Tall Poppy Writers’ Marketing Collective panel and the State of the State of Historical Fiction panel with a group of agents and editors.

Finally, listening to Dolen Perkins-Valdez give her fabulous keynote about “making sh*t up” (while she also clearly does the work, putting on the gloves in the archives and the whole bit) and going back to our “nerd-holes” was an absolute inspiration. Looking forward to reading her books, and to reading more from everyone I met!

Upcoming Workshops

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be leading some upcoming workshops, focusing on my own areas of passion and expertise: verse and historical fiction. I’m already looking forward to working with writers on their projects. Feel free to share and to ask any questions in the comments below.

Where and when you can catch me in the coming months:

July 16, 2019: The Writers’ Loft, Sherborn, MA

September-December, 2019: at home!

This fall, I’ll be leading a virtual-based historical fiction workshop through Inked Voices. I’m especially excited about this one because I’ll get to read several historical fiction projects and get to know the writers behind them.

September-October 2019: Follow Your Art, Melrose, MA

This fall, I’ll be working with teens to craft and revise original poems, as well as introduce them to various forms and styles of poetry.

White Rose Pre-Order Gifts!

Now that it’s February, the publication date for my debut novel is just two months away, which means it’s time to share the White Rose pre-order gifts I have planned! I’m so thankful for everyone who wants to read, so this will be my turn to give back to you.

How to Pre-order

Make your pre-order by 11:59 p.m. EST on April 1, 2019 at …

    • My local independent bookstore, Porter Square Books. I’ve attended more book launches at PSB than I can count, and I just love the knowledgeable, friendly staff (and the fact that the store is one of the most enthusiastic settings for the HONK! band to parade through).
    • Any independent bookstore (I love indies!). You can find the closest one to you on Indiebound and pick it up in the store–how cool is that?
    • Any library. I personally pick up a ton of the books I read at my local branch. Did you know that you can make a request at your local library to purchase a book? Getting my book into libraries where even more readers can find it is a huge dream of mine, so if you prefer to make a library request, that will also qualify.
    • One of the larger outlets. I realize many people make their book purchases at Amazon or Barnes & Noble or others I haven’t listed, so these will count as well. Also, for my international friends, books can be ordered and shipped through Book Depository.

To receive your gifts, send your full name, mailing address, and proof of your pre-order to WhiteRose.Preorders@gmail.com. A screenshot or photo of the pre-order or library request is fine. Now on to the gifts themselves!

First off, everyone who enters will receive a beautiful bookmark and a sticker. This part of the giveaway is open internationally! I truly appreciate the support of all readers, and I’m so glad I can at least send along these goodies to readers farther afield.

Then, along with these swag packs, winners of the following gifts will be chosen randomly among entrants based in the U.S. (because shipping costs).

  • Three third-place winners will receive a white rose enamel pin in addition to the swag pack. Aren’t they beautiful?
  • Two second-place winners will receive rose-themed notebooks in addition to the swag pack. Useful for jotting down any and all  thoughts! 
  • One grand-prize winner will receive a mini Playmobil figure of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in addition to the swag pack. Goethe was an 18th-19th century German author whose words inspired the White Rose to take action, and I just loved that his action figure shows him writing.

The Fine Print

  • A pre-order of the hardcover or ebook of White Rose  made by 11:59 pm EST on April 1, 2019 counts as one (1) entry.
  • The giveaway is open internationally to contestants 13 years of age or older.
  • By entering, you are stating that you are 13+ and that you authorize me (Kip Wilson) to contact you via email to confirm your address for prize pack.
  • For each book preordered, entrant will be mailed a single swag pack including: (1) bookmark and (1) sticker. This giveaway is open to international entrants and will continue while supplies last.
  • (3) third-prize winners will receive (1) swag pack + (1) white rose enamel pin
  • (2) second-prize winners will receive (1) swag pack + (1) rose notebook
  • (1) grand prize winner will receive (1) swag pack + (1) Playmobil Goethe figure

A Star for White Rose

The first of the trade reviews are in, and White Rose has earned a starred review from Kirkus!

I’m so very grateful and absolutely thrilled. The last line of the review particularly got exactly what I was aiming for. “Real events made deeply personal in an intense, bone-chilling reading experience.”

Feel free to check out the full review here (warning: it does contain spoilers).

Favorite Books from 2018

Although 2018 continued to be a dumpster fire in many of the same ways 2017 was, it was at the very least a great year for reading. I read 88 books this year*, and was astounded by all the literary greatness. Choosing only ten favorite books from 2018 was no easy feat. I’m quite proud of myself that I managed it!

*So far. I am well aware that there are 12 days left of the year and I am still reading. But at the moment I’m up to my eyeballs in research books that are completely fascinating to me but unlikely to end up on a top-ten list of favorites.

As usual, some of my absolute favorite books are historical fiction or novels-in-verse, and this year was no exception. To start with some of my favorite historicals, I fell hard for:

  1. THE DOLLMAKER OF KRAKOW (MG historical) by R. M. Romero tells the story of Karolina, a doll who comes to life as the Nazis roll in to Krakow. Heartbreaking, lovely, and poignant.
  2. ORPHAN MONSTER SPY (YA historical) by Matt Killeen is about a kickass Jewish teen who infiltrates an elite Nazi school. Looking forward to the sequel already!
  3. NOTHING BUT SKY (YA historical) by Amy Trueblood sends the reader high over the skies in the 1920s with wingwalker Grace. Love the historical details in this one.
  4. THE NIGHT DIARY (MG historical) by Veera Hiranandani is told by Nisha, a young girl composing letters to her deceased mother during the turbulent time when India becomes independent and breaks into two separate countries, India and Pakistan. Epistolary novels are most decidedly my jam.
  5. THE LADY’S GUIDE TO PETTICOATS AND PIRACY (YA historical) by Mackenzi Lee features asexual Felicity in her well-deserved own story after playing a side character to her brother Monty and his love interest Percy in THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE. While I adored GENTLEMAN, I’m pleased to report that I loved LADY even more. Historical fiction at its best!

    a few historicals

    Also as usual, I fell hard for some amazing novels-in-verse this year.

  6. JAZZ OWLS (YA novel-in-verse) by Margarita Engle is such a gorgeous book about the Zoot Suit Riots. The poetry is absolutely lovely, and the details she weaves into the lines just sing. As a bonus, artwork throughout by Rudy Guitierrez further sweeps the reader away.
  7. REBOUND (MG novel-in-verse) by Kwame Alexander is a prequel to his Newbery-award-winning THE CROSSOVER, aka the verse novel that astounded me with its ability to interest me in a sport. REBOUND is actually a historical too, since it’s the story of the dad in THE CROSSOVER as a teen, so it doubly captivated me. Un-put-down-able.
  8. BLOOD WATER PAINT (YA novel-in-verse) by Joy McCullough is stunning. It tells the timely #MeToo story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a painter active in Italy in the early 17th century. But don’t just take my word on it. BLOOD WATER PAINT is winning all kinds of praise, and is a newly-announced Morris Award finalist.
  9. THE POET X (YA novel-in-verse) by Elizabeth Acevedo is pretty much everything. This book! The poetry grabs you by the heart, and Xiomara’s voice rings true and loud and in-your-face, and so many people needed her story right now, and I can’t recommend it enough. On top of all that, THE POET X just won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, so others think it’s a pretty awesome book too. Side note: if you ever get the chance to see Elizabeth in person, do not miss it

    some favorite verse novels

    Finally, a bit of a curve ball.

  10. The Faithful Spy (YA nonfiction) by John Hendrix caught me completely off guard. I had pre-ordered this one because I’m particularly interested in World War II resistance within Germany by Germans, and I’ve long held great respect for pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As expected, I devoured it when it arrived, but the unexpected thing is … I simply cannot stop re-reading it.  I just love it so much. I’ve never read such a gripping work of non-fiction, and I absolutely credit that to the graphic presentation. The story of Bonhoeffer’s life progresses in a linear fashion, but it’s broken up by compelling images, descriptions, and details that add up to a full and rich picture not just of this one important man’s life, but of the terrible time he lived in and how he reacted to the circumstances as a person of conscience. This book is a masterpiece and I would love to thrust it upon more readers, so here!  

a book unlike any other

On top of all these wonderful books, I’ve also had the chance to read ARCs of some of the new books coming your way in 2019. From Gita Trelease’s ENCHANTÉE to Justin Reynolds’ OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS to Laurie Halse Anderson’s SHOUT to Mariama Lockington’s FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME to Lamar Giles’ THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER, you are in for some fantastic treats! 

Stats:

Total books read: 88
Total YA books read: 35
Total MG books read: 39
Total adult books read: 14

Indies Introduce

Bookish news to share! A panel of ABA booksellers has selected White Rose as an Indies Introduce title for Winter/Spring 2019! I am so incredibly thrilled about this honor and so excited to share the space with the incredible titles on the full list.

Indies Introduce is a fantastic program wherein committees of independent booksellers first read mountains of manuscripts. They then select their favorite books by debut authors to promote for the upcoming season. One committee selects ten children’s books, and another committee selects ten for adults. The idea is that they select books they love and think they can hand-sell. In the end, this program helps introduce readers to unknown, untested authors. All this to say that this is an amazing honor!

Independent bookstores and their booksellers are glorious, beating hearts that get books into the hands of readers. That this group of knowledgeable, passionate people saw the promise in my book means the world to me. The bookseller who called me with the news absolutely made my day (after I recovered from the shock), and her blurb left me dizzy:

This enthusiasm for White Rose reminded me of my purpose in writing it–that this story might move readers as much as it moved me. I’m simply over the moon at this news!