Author Max Brallier Talks New Monster Novel ‘The Last Kids On Earth’

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Bestselling author Max Brallier (Eerie Elementary and Galactic Hot Dogs) is at it again with The Last Kids On Earth, a thrilling post-apocalyptic graphic novel that’s as funny as it is spooky.

Last Kids on Earth jacket art hi-res[1]Told in a mixture of text and black-and-white illustration, this book tells the tale of the monster apocalypse as 13 year old Jack Sullivan does his best to survive in the new world. If you’re a fan of comic books, videogames, monsters and zombies, this book is for you.

The Last Kids On Earth opens with Jack living in his tree house, which he has armed with catapults and a moat, not to mention videogames and an endless supply of Oreos and Mountain Dew scavenged from abandoned stores. But Jack alone is no match for the hoards of Zombies and Winged Wretches and Vine Thingies, and especially not for the eerily intelligent monster known only as Blarg.

So Jack builds a team: his dorky best friend, Quint; the reformed middle school bully, Dirk; Jack’s loyal pet monster, Rover; and his crush, June. With their help, Jack will try to to slay Blarg, and achieve the ultimate Feat of Apocalyptic Success.

I got the chance to chat with author Max Brallier about the new series (yes, there will be more books in this saga) earlier this week. Scroll down to see what he had to say about monsters, videogames and more.


5 Questions With Author Max Brallier

What can you tell us about The Last Kids On Earth?

I sometimes describe it as The Walking Dead with giant monsters and zero adults. It’s about a barely heroic hero, Jack Sullivan, and his band of buddies, who appear to be the only people still alive after the Monster Apocalypse.
So basically, there are zombies and humungo, scary monsters everywhere. Jack has a tree house, which he arms to the teeth with catapults, zip-lines, rocket launchers, and all that good stuff – and an endless supply of snacks and soda scavenged from abandoned stores and houses.

One particularly big and particularly foul monster named Blarg is hunting Jack – so Jack’s trying to say alive while searching for his missing love, June del Toro (who barely even know he exists). Also, there are pet monsters, videogame-style achievements, weapons of power, and all that good stuff.

And it’s told in a really perfect mix of text and illustration. The illustrations and diagrams are done by monster master Doug Holgate, and they’re absolutely killer. It’s funny, scary, adventure-packed and full of over-the-top action. That’s what I can tell you about the Last Kids on Earth.

Most of your writing has that geeky, fantastical vibe to it. Is this book the same?

Definitely! Jack and his best friend Quint are huge movie, TV, superhero geeks – and they can’t stop referencing things that they love. There’s one scene where they’re about to be crushed and devoured by a “zombie ball” – and all they can talk about is how much it’s like Indiana Jones and how cool that is.

Early on, Jack describes his tree fort as “better-defended than Fort Knox, Stark Tower, and the X-Mansion combined.” So yeah, definitely a geeky, fantastical vibe.

What made you want to write about monsters?

I’m trying to think if I’ve written any fiction that wasn’t about monsters – and, man, I think the answer is no. I’ve just always loved monsters – particularly big ones. But I’ve always felt like big, giant monsters are something that work best in film. So that’s part of the reason I wanted this book to have lots of illustrations – I wanted the reader to actually see these big brutes. And when I realized just how well Doug Holgate draws monsters – I just started adding more and more and more beasties.
Also, I’ve written a lot about zombies in the past – so I wanted to do that in a different way, here. In this book, the zombies are more of an annoyance – like dangerous pests. The real threats are the big monsters: Blarg, Winged Wretches, Dozers, and other giant wicked brutes.

Halloween is coming up, what’s the scare level from 1-10?

Oh boy. About an 8, maybe? My top three goals for this book were adventure, fun, and funny – the scares and the horror came fourth. I was really inspired by movie monsters like the Graboids in Tremors and the Rancor in Return of the Jedi. With those monsters, it’s less about “Oh no! So scary! Need to shut my eyes!” and more about “Oh man, that thing is freaky looking! How is our hero going to destroy it?!?”
So that’s really how I approached it: create a world full of deadly, man-eating monsters – and see how our heroes survive.

What’s up next for you?

I’m busy! It’s a rare thing for a writer to be really, really busy – so I’m partly busy just being really thankful for being that busy. The next entry in my Galactic Hot Dogs series comes out Spring, 2016 – and I’m in the process of writing the third book in that series. I’m having a blast putting Cosmoe and his crew in all sorts of horrible situations and watching them trying to get out.
I just finished writing The Last Kids on Earth #2, and Doug Holgate is now diving into the illustrations. I’ve seen a few early sketches and they’re amazing – big monsters doing big monster things.

I write the Eerie Elementary series under the penname Jack Chabert, and I’ve got a bunch more of those coming. The third book in the series comes out in January, 2016. And then I’ve got three more to write! Those are an absolute blast.

Besides that? Playing videogames, riding my bike around the city and trying not to die while doing it, and doing some traveling.


Read Chapter One of The Last Kids On Earth

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John Flanagan Gives the Scoop On Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years


Ranger’s Apprentice fans rejoice! Bestselling author John Flanagan is returning to the world of Ranger’s Apprentice with a new prequel series, Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years. It brings readers to a time before Will was an apprentice, and lays the groundwork for the epic battles that are brewing when Ranger’s Apprentice starts.

In the first book in this new series, The Tournament at Gorlan (in stores now), readers will discover the beginnings of one of the original series’ best characters — Will’s bristly, sarcastically funny mentor, Halt. Not yet a Ranger himself, young Halt bands together with Ranger Crowley to take on a scheming Baron who is out to dismantle the Ranger’s Corps, oust the current king, and take the throne for himself.

Earlier this week, I got the chance to chat with John Flanagan about his new series. So, scroll down to see what he had to say.


51Gw8rBavrL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_-1What can you tell us about The Tournament at Gorlan?

It’s set fifteen to twenty years before The Ruins of Gorlan (Book 1 in the Ranger’s Apprentice series) and it describes how Halt and Crowley first met, then revived the Ranger Corps. In the process, they came into conflict with Morgarath, who was trying to usurp the throne. Lots of action. Lots of humour. Lots of excitement.

Had you always planned on writing an origin story for Ranger’s Apprentice?

No. But over the past few years, I’ve been asked about how Halt and Crowley met and reformed the corps, and who their mentor was. Those questions gave me the idea. It’s been great developing the growing relationship between Halt and Crowley. They’re a great pair – Halt is dour and serious, Crowley is always joking and whistling.

The Tournament at Gorlan seems to come full circle with the first Ranger’s Apprentice book. What else can fans of that series look forward to?

Meeting a young King Duncan — a young Halt and Crowley of course. Meeting a dozen new rangers, who form the core of the new corps, if you like. And, most important, meeting Pritchard, a ranger who taught both Halt and Crowley their skills.

Will there be more book in this series?

At least another book, taking us up to the Battle of Hackham Heath, when Morgarath is defeated and driven back into the mountains. And maybe a third book, expanding on some of the stories that I’ve hinted at — the battle with a witch that’s mentioned in The Sorcerer in the North, the story of the giant Crowley defeated and chained to a millstone, and Halt’s mission to steal horses from the Temujai. Maybe three or four long short stories.

What’s the status with the next Brotherband book?

I’ve just delivered the sixth Brotherband book, set in a strange new land to the west that bears a strong resemblance to the USA. That should come out in mid-2016.


Read Chapter One of The Tournament At Gorlan

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‘How to Tell a Story’ Creates an Epic Game of Endless Possibilities


If you’re a fan of telling tall tales, How to Tell a Story by Daniel Nayeri is for you. The whimsically illustrated, 144-page book comes with 20 six-sided story cubes that provide all you need to craft more than a million stories.

How Does It Work?

The book is a guide to the principles of creative storytelling, covering the essential elements like conflict, characters, motivation, dialogue, theme and, of course, the climax. As you turn the pages, you’ll be prompted to roll the story blocks that are included with the book.


And that’s when the magic starts to happen. In fact, that’s how How to Tell a Story first got my attention. You can play/read it in so many of different ways. Have some friends over? Break out How to Tell a Story and collaborate on a single epic story. Or, players/storytellers can pit their own stories against other players’, letting a judge to decide which one is best.

You could also play it alone. Roll the blocks and let your imagination lead you to a cool imaginative story that you may not have dreamed up otherwise. Here at the BL office, we’ve used the blocks to get a brainstorming session up and going, break the ice at a meeting, and

If it sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. How to Tell a Story teaches you the ins and outs of gameplay, and leaves plenty of room for you to create up your own ways to play, too.

All About the Blocks

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Each block has six colored sides, all loosely associated with a part of speech: nouns (people or animals), other types of nouns (things), even more types of nouns (places), adjectives (descriptions or emotions), verbs (actions) and relationships (which like regular relationships, are a whole bunch of messy things at once).

Simply put, How to Tell a Story provides more than million combinations for telling a cool story. That means there are endless ways to read — and play — this book.

Check Out Some of the Coolest Libraries From Around the Globe


It’s easy to think of libraries at dusty old buildings without much aesthetic appeal, but these incredible book rooms will change the way you think about libraries forever. From Austria to Washington D.C., to the United Kingdom, this gallery features some of the most breathtaking libraries from around the world.

Butler Library at Columbia University — New York, N.Y.



Vatican Library — Vatican City




Library at the Benedictine Monastery of Admont — Admont, Austria




Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University — New Haven, Connecticut




Royal Portuguese Reading Room — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil




Library of Congress — Washington, D.C., U.S.A.




The Library of Melk Abbey — Austria

The library of Melk Abbey, Austria; Melk Abbey



University of Aberdeen Library — United Kingdom

Architect: schmidt hammer lassen architects, Client: University of Aberdeen, Area: 15,500 m², Construction sum: € 40 million excl. VAT, Competition: 2005, 1st prize in restricted international competition, Status: Construction period 2009 - 2011, Engineer: Arup & Partners Ltd, Quantity Surveyors: Davis Langdon LLP, Landscape Architect: schmidt hammer lassen architects



Read an Exclusive Excerpt From Gary Paulsen’s ‘This Side of Wild’


Bestselling author Gary Paulsen (Hatchet, Brian’s Winter) has brand-new book out this week: This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs. It’s a collection of this-side-of-wild-9781481451505_lgtrue stories about his relationship with animals, highlighting their compassion, intellect, intuition, and sense of adventure.

Paulsen is an adventurer who competed in two Iditarods, survived the Minnesota wilderness, and climbed the Bighorns. None of this would have been possible without his truest companion: his animals. Sled dogs rescued him in Alaska, a sickened poodle guarded his well-being, and a horse led him across a desert. Through his interactions with dogs, horses, birds, and more, Gary has been struck with the belief that animals know more than we may fathom.

Does the book sound interesting? Read an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 2 of This Side of Wild below:


He closed his eyes and fought a cough, then opened them but did not look at me. Instead he softened his gaze and passed his eyes over Gretchen, then out the window, out and out, not looking at anything in particular except perhaps a far time and place that didn’t exist any longer.

“I have been training animals for a long time,” he said at length. “Fifty, sixty years. Dogs for hunting, for working stock, for companions; horses for work and show or just to gentle them. Trained almost every kind of animal that walks or crawls except cats. Not a way to train a cat—they got no give to them. All take. Even trained or half trained a couple of snakes for a fat man who came through El Paso making a movie about snakes. And I know in the end that they all, even the snakes, trained me as well. Think of it—when a rattler sets to buzzing, what’s he doing? A kind of talking, a warning—he’s training you, teaching you to get away.”

stock-illustration-34178930-animal-face-ui-flat-designHe reached now and ran one of Gretchen’s soft ears through his gnarled, bent fingers, like silk through barbwire. “And I never saw it until I started with Gretchen. Got her to sit one day. The same day, she looked a long time at me and at a piece of cookie”—and here she perked up, ears more alert with the word “cookie”—“in my hand, and she saw the cookie and my eyes and then she sat. Clean and down. As much as if she’d said, ‘I’ll sit and then you give me that piece of cookie,’ and she did and I did and it was the first time I knew I had been wrong all along. I never trained one animal. Not once . . .”

“They trained you.”

He nodded. “I always got what I wanted, what I needed, or almost always, but it was all working backward and I didn’t know it, didn’t see it until Gretchen showed me how to see, how to know, how to learn.”

Gretchen sat looking at him, into his eyes, as he talked, clearly loving him but more, too, something more. She heard more, felt more in some way, and I realized with a start that she was listening to every word, every single word.

And more—much more—she understood some of them.

stock-illustration-44008996-animal-face-flat-iconHe had seen my look, and his smile widened and he nodded. “That’s why she wants a conversation. When she hears a word she knows, she feels like she’s more a part of it.”

“How many does she know?”

“I’m not sure. I tried keeping track of them at first and got up to seven hundred or seven hundred and fifty before I lost the thread of it. I think she’s way past a thousand now—a thousand words she recognizes and places with some object or place or thought. And she’s learning more all the time, just stacking them up. But there’s more, too.”

I looked at her, thought I was maybe seeing some of kind of a freak—no, miracle. Some kind of miracle. “What could be more than this?”

“She has learned how to understand people in some way that goes with the language. So that you can actually talk to her, or almost talk to her. Watch her. Watch her reaction when you say something she knows and likes. Say the word c.o.o.k.i.e.” (He spelled it.)

stock-illustration-31348010-animal-ui-flat-design“Cookie,” I said, and there it was; she perked at the word, and (I swear it) seemed to add to it, to almost nod.

Winnike saw it as well and smiled. “She knows the word, of course, and that was the alerting part of it, but that second little bit was because she likes it, wants to eat one.” He stood and went to the cabinet over the sink, took a vanilla cookie from a jar, and gave it to her. She ate it with two small, delicate bites, then nodded again and with a half grimace added a toothy look.

“She’s smiling,” Winnike said. “She picked it up from a little girl who came to visit who kept smiling at her. Now, say something she won’t like, wouldn’t think of eating. . . .”

“Gretchen,” I said. “Would you like some broccoli?”

And here she shook her head in a negative manner, studying me the whole time.

“Now another thing she might like to eat . . .”

“Steak,” I said, “smothered in gravy.”

She alerted, nodded, then smiled, and he gave her a cookie.

stock-illustration-43476006-sheep-face-flat-iconWe went back and forth that way for a time—pork chops and spinach, chicken and grapefruit, beef stroganoff and eggplant—and she was right, dead right every time. She would shake her head in a negative way when she didn’t like it, nod in a positive way when she did.

“She knows,” I said, taking a sip of my coffee; somehow cold it was more palatable than it had been hot. Cold and sticky sweet. Like Kool-Aid from the devil. “She knows all the words. How is that . . . ? Is that even possible?”

He shook his head. “It’s not that. I doubt even all humans would know all the words. It’s the other thing, the thing that surprised me and led me away from my former life. What I thought I knew my whole life . . .”

“What was that?”

“She ‘reads’ people. . . .”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“I’m not sure I do, either. But I think she can tell by voice or posture or smell or some thought wave, or something, when a person is saying a food she wouldn’t want to eat, or when he says something she would like. . . .”

“But how could she know . . . me? We’ve never met. How would she know anything about me, about my speech or posture or smell? How could she know anything about me?”

He nodded. “I understand and agree with your thinking, or how I believe you’re thinking. But the thing is, it’s not just you. I’ve had other people in here, old people, young people, children barely old enough to understand what I mean, and they’re all the same. She reads them all. . . .”

“She’s reading their minds?” I shook my head. “You think she’s actually reading their minds?”

stock-illustration-43476002-animal-face-iconHe hesitated, sighed, rolled another cigarette, and poured more coffee—in my cup as well as in his—before I could stop him. I wouldn’t be able to sleep for the rest of my life. “No. Yes. Maybe. God, I don’t know. But I have seen it and know what I’ve seen. The only way I think I can understand it, or feel that I know what she’s doing, is I have to think in some kind of way that I don’t really believe in—spirits and vapor clouds or thought beams or some of that other kind of wild stuff. Thing is, thing is, I’m just an old cowboy who took to training animals and don’t know how that other kind of thing works. Do you?”

I shook my head briefly, then thought of the school I was going to with blast patterns and radioactive winds and radiation lobes and flash damage with melted people who were turned into instantaneous shadows on concrete. He could not know any of this, would probably not understand it any better than I understood what I was seeing with Gretchen. “No, not really.”

“Is it”—he sighed—“would it be something you might like to learn, to know?”

I looked at Gretchen. She looked up at me, waiting, waiting, waiting for, for what?

For me?

For me.

“Yes. On the weekends when I’m not at school. I can come each weekend, if that’s all right?”

He nodded, and so it was that I came to talk to Gretchen and listen to Gretchen, and Gretchen kept me from going insane—or something like it.

stock-illustration-27798787-crocodile-face-flat-icon-design-animal-icons-seriesThe thing was, I didn’t know what I was seeing or hearing. I decided to take a notebook and simply write down words or subjects she liked or disliked and see if there was a pattern.


“Broccoli”—head shake negative.

“Steak”—head moved in nod.



“Butter” in negative tone—positive.

“Spinach” in positive tone—negative.

Here—and almost in a regular rhythm—she would stop for a sip, or a couple of laps of coffee, a tail wag, and (infrequently) the need to go outside and relieve herself, to return quickly, get back up in the chair to look at me quizzically, head cocked, waiting for the next question.

No matter what I tried, I could not confuse her, catch her out. I changed tone of voice, facial expression, gesturing with hands, not gesturing with hands. Always she would give the correct, or what I assumed to be the correct, answer.

“Pork chop” in angry tone—positive.

“Ice cream” in anger—positive.

“Vinegar” in loving tone—negative.

I sat in the chair backward, watching her with a small mirror I found in an amazingly decrepit bathroom, and she never missed.

“Jackrabbit running fast,” my back to Gretchen—positive.

stock-illustration-43474160-animal-face-icon“Bowl of okra,” my back to Gretchen, positive voice—negative response with a small shake of the head and a courteous tail wag.

“Oatmeal, no condiment,” negative tone—positive nod.

Oatmeal, brown sugar and butter on top,” negative tone—positive nod.

And slowly, over three or four or five weekends, it became evident that she was somehow “reading” me, and it was still more evident in another short time that she had begun testing me, seeing what I “knew” or could be taught.

One cold November morning, at least cold for El Paso, I drove down along the river in my old 1951 Buick (army pay then wasn’t what it is now; I made $82.50 a month and was forced to pay 10 percent back in donations to United Fund) that barely ran. I had paid seventy-four dollars for the car, and it was worth that—or nearly.

Inside, the old house was warm—a small potbellied stove in the corner burned a cherry red with mesquite—and Gretchen met me outside as she always did. Mr. Winnike was gone, but he had left a pot of coffee. God, it was so strong. I still remember the bite of that first sip; it was worse even than army coffee, which was nearly brain damaging. I sat at the table, jolted awake by the coffee, petted Gretchen on top of her domed head, got a tail wag and, in as positive a tone as possible, said: “Used motor oil.”

And got no response at all. The first time. Clearly it was something she wouldn’t like to eat—and most of these decision-questions involved food. Or smell. Or noise.

And here nothing.

Then I noticed something.

stock-illustration-27796897-lion-flat-icon-design-animal-icons-seriesIn front of her, on the table, was a small piece of prickly pear cactus, just a corner of a tiny lobe, big enough to have a couple of spines sticking out of it. I hadn’t seen her bring it in, and for moment I thought it must have stuck to her ear and flopped on the table. I reached to brush it off the table, and she stopped me with her nose, looked pointedly at the cactus, and gave a deliberate negative shake of her head, then looked up at me.

“You don’t like cactus?” I said.

Again, a negative shake, then a focused study of my face, waiting.



For what?

Me. A response. I looked at the cactus, saw the needle- sharp spines, and agreed wholeheartedly that I didn’t like that piece of cactus either. I shook my head in a negative.

Bang. She got rid of the cactus—put it by the door—and picked up a small stick. She put it on the table, looked up at me and nodded, waiting, I returned the nod, reached for the stick, thinking she wanted me to throw it, but before I could pick it up, she grabbed it and was out the door.

We were not to play. We were working, studying, thinking.


And so that day passed. Not with me testing her but the opposite. She was finding out what I knew, what I thought, and somewhere in that day, I realized with a kind of shock, or stunned belief, that we were actually “talking.”


I had, as a small child, been raised by my grandmother—a wonderful, all-knowing woman brought up on farms in Norway and later in northern Minnesota. She believed in the old Norse tales of gods and goddesses and spirits of another world, another spirit world that could and often did talk through animals, telling tales of love and hate and joy and music. Sometimes when birds were singing, she would put her hand on my arm and say, “Songs, for you and me, from them; the birds sing for them, for us. . . .”

stock-illustration-45090808-grayhound-dog-face-flat-iconI did not disbelieve it, actually, but simply thought it was something perhaps only old people could know, a code I did not understand yet. Like when it was going to rain or snow or when somebody would be close to death or birth. I was not skeptical so much as blank, unable to understand.

But now it was true for me, and open, and clear. Gretchen was, in her way, a very real way, bringing me into a conversation; she knew many things I liked, and now she was showing me some of the things she liked and disliked. We were very definitely “talking,” and as the afternoon drew on, my level of astonishment grew lower and I accepted it and began to understand what I was really doing:

Having a conversation with a friend.

We had—or rather Gretchen had—found a way to break down the communication barrier and interlock with another species. It was simple, clean, and very elegant—we looked at things, said what we thought of them, and with more depth than I thought possible, we understood each other completely.

It was, in many ways, for me a lifesaving understanding.


This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs by Gary Paulsen is in bookstores across the country starting Sept. 29.

Read an Excerpt From the All-New Football Book, ‘Legends’

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Just in time for the start of the NFL season this week, comes the second book in a cool non-fiction series for sports fans, Legends: The Best Players, Games, And Teams in Football by Howard Bryant.

It’s a great look at some of the most famous moments in football history. Whether you’re a fan of QB’s like Tom Brady or John Elway, famous plays like David Tyree’s epic Helmet Catch or the Immaculate Reception, or any of the other great moments from NFL history, this is the book for you. Plus, you’ll get an timeline of the history of football.

Here’s the official synopsis:

9780399169045 (1)[1]In this day and age, the gridiron reigns supreme. Football is America’s most popular sport and the NFL’s star players are instant celebrities. Our collective obsession with the game begins when we’re just kids and culminates each year on what has become the equivalent of a national holiday—Super Bowl Sunday. Recounting momentous stories of football’s past and present, and accompanied by iconic photos, Top Ten Lists to chew on and debate, and a Top 40-style timeline of key moments, this comprehensive collection details twenty of the greatest Super Bowls in NFL history—and expands on their relevance within the larger scope of dynasties, giants of the coaching world, and marquee players forever etched in the public’s mind. From the upsets to the blowouts to the nail-biting finishes, this is the perfect book for young fans eager to kick off their football schooling.

Read an Excerpt

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New Book Trailer for ‘Jedi Academy #3: The Phantom Bully’

Star Wars: Jedi Academy is one of the most entertaining and hilarious book series of the last few years. The third book in the series is called The Phantom Bully (in stories now), and it may be the best of the bunch.

If you’re a fan of comics, graphic novels and, of course, Star Wars, this is the series for you.  Here’s what Star Wars: Jedi Academy #3: The Phantom Bully is about:

51V9vlXHClL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_It’s hard to believe this is Roan’s last year at Jedi Academy. He’s been busier than ever learning to fly (and wash) starships, swimming in the Lake Country on Naboo, studying for the Jedi obstacle course exam, and tracking down dozens of vorpak clones–don’t ask. But now, someone is setting him up to get in trouble with everyone at school, including Yoda. If he doesn’t find out who it is, and fast, he may get kicked out of school! Why can’t middle school just be easy. . .

This incredible, original story captures all of the humor, awkwardness, fun, and frustrations of middle school–all told through one boy’s comics, journal entries, letters, sketches, e-mails, and more.

Read the First Chapter from ‘The Marvels’ By Brian Selznick

The Marvels is the highly-anticipated new novel from Brian Selznick, the bestselling author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. His latest novel is a true epic, spanning from 1766 to present day.

The Marvels is actually two stories — one in words, the other in pictures. The illustrated portion (nearly 400 pages) begins with the lone survivor of a shipwreck named Billy Marvel, and follows his unique family’s story over five incredible generations. The other portion of the book begins in 1990 and follows Joseph, a mysterious kid who runs away from school to his distant uncle’s home in London.

While the two stories are seemingly unconnected at first, what makes this story so special is the surprising and mysterious method that they’re eventually connected.

Sound interesting? Check out the first chapter below.


Chapter One

Joseph was lost.

Somewhere far away the headlights of a car swept through the snowy night. He stopped to rest beneath a low passageway off an ancient cobblestone street. A single rusting streetlamp flickered nearby. He put down his heavy suitcase, dried off his glasses, and coughed. He was shocked he’d made it all the way to London without being caught. But then again, the headmaster at St. Anthony’s was probably relieved he was gone.

Joseph leaned against the wall and pulled out the map he and Blink had made. They’d marked his uncle Albert’s house at 18 Folgate Street with a big red X, as if they were looking for treasure. All Joseph knew about his uncle were a few overheard words from his mother through the years and the line in her address book: A. Nightingale, as if they were related to a bird. He had no idea what his uncle would say if he showed up unexpectedly at his house. He prayed A. Nightingale was a generous man, more generous than Joseph’s parents, anyway, and he’d let Joseph stay for a few days and help him figure out how to track down Blink.

Joseph had forgotten his gloves on the train, and his hands were shaking. He couldn’t make sense of the map at all.

If only he had run away with Blink when he’d had the chance, then he wouldn’t be standing here alone and freezing. The hazy blue light made Joseph think of the nights the two of them would sneak off to some empty room at school, light a candle, and read out loud to each other from one of Blink’s books. They’d quickly get caught up in the adventures of characters with names like Pip and Mowgli and Prince Caspian.

It was while reading Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson that they first got the idea to run away together. Joseph knew it was just a game, but it was fun to imagine themselves on pirate ships or alone on desert islands. Soon their stories grew more complex. They dreamed of finding abandoned mansions in the woods and vanishing into secret chambers in ancient castles. Once,  Joseph had mentioned he had an uncle in London he’d never met, and Blink insisted he get the address, just in case they were ever to really run away. Joseph had laughed, but as a surprise for Blink, he’d snuck into his mother’s room during a visit home and copied down his uncle’s address, which he proudly handed over when he returned to school.

That night, instead of reading together, the two boys had huddled in the library, creating a detailed map of the route that would lead them from St. Anthony’s in Cornwall to Albert Nightingale’s house in an area of London called Spitalfields, where their adventures would begin.

It was that same map Joseph was now holding, in the middle of a snowstorm, a couple of days after Christmas, lost in a city he didn’t know. He was supposed to be here with Blink. But Blink was gone, leaving behind nothing except a single book, and Joseph had no idea if he’d ever see him again.

There was no else Joseph could talk to about any of this, least of all his parents. They were always expressing concern that he spent too much time lost inside of stories, and now it seemed as if that’s what actually had happened.

A dog barked in the distance, and the wind suddenly snatched the little map out of Joseph’s shivering fingers. He picked up his suitcase and ran after it, toward a group of vagrants who were warming themselves over a fire by the side of the road. Joseph watched as the map was plucked out of the snow by one of the men, who looked at it briefly, turned it over, then crumpled it into a ball and fed it to the flames. Sparks lifted up from the fire like tiny orange insects, zigzagged into the air, and vanished.

Joseph panicked. What would he do without the map? He wondered if he should return to Liverpool Street Station and make his way back to school, but he’d already turned down so many streets and passed through so many little alleys, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to even find the station again. And besides, the school probably wouldn’t take him back now.

Joseph looked at his watch. It read 11:16.

The barking dog he’d heard before got louder, and suddenly a white blur came barrelling through the snow. It raced past him like a rock speeding down a mountainside.

A sound, high in the air, bounced off the brick walls and repeated itself.


Joseph, half-blinded by the snow and the darkness, turned a corner and ran straight into a boy who seemed to appear from nowhere. The boy was out of breath and his teeth were chattering. He was taller than Joseph, almost the same height as Blink, and he was wearing a blue cap.

“Hey!” gasped the boy. “Watch out!”

Joseph coughed.

“Have you seen Marcus?”


“My dog. He’s white, so it’s hard to find him in the snow. His name’s Marcus.”

Joseph adjusted his glasses and pointed down the street. “He ran that way.”

The boy smiled and turned, but then stopped to look back. “You have a suitcase,” he said. “Why do you have a suitcase? It’s the middle of the night. And it’s snowing!” The boy took a step closer. “Are you running away?”

“I’m looking for Folgate Street.”

“That’s right near my flat.”

Joseph felt a wave of relief wash over him. “Fantastic!”

“But the only person who lives on Folgate Street is . . . wait . . . who are you looking for?”

“My uncle.”

“Not . . . Albert Nightingale?”

“Yes! You know him?”

“Of course I know him! Everyone knows him. But . . .”

“But what?”

“Why does he live like that?”

“Like what?”

“You don’t know?”

“Don’t know what? I’ve never even met him. Please just tell me where he is! I’m freezing!”

“I’m freezing, too,” said the boy. “I’ve been out here for hours looking for Snowball.”

“Who’s Snowball?”

“My dog!”

“How many dogs did you lose?”

The boy stared at Joseph. “What are you talking about?”

“You said your dog’s name is Marcus.”

“Oh! Right! No, I don’t think that’s it. It would upset my mum too much, and my dad probably wouldn’t like it, either. Maybe Paddington!”

“Don’t you know your own dog’s name?”

“Not yet.”

Joseph was confused, but he was distracted by the wind whipping down the street and the cold water seeping into his shoes. He looked again at his watch.

“What time is it?” asked the boy. “It must be late.”

“I don’t know.”

“You just looked at your watch.”

“It’s broken.”

“Then why did you look at it?”

Joseph’s head was pounding. He didn’t feel like talking; he just wanted to find his uncle.

“Why don’t you get your watch fixed?” asked the boy.

“I don’t want to get it fixed.”

“Why not? What use is wearing a broken watch?”

Joseph wasn’t about to tell this stranger the real reason he wore the watch, and he was losing patience. “What use is chasing a dog whose name you don’t know?” He turned and marched off down the street. He’d find his uncle’s house on his own. It couldn’t be too far now.

“Wait!” came a voice behind Joseph. “I’m sorry.”

Joseph kept walking, but the boy jumped in front of him.

“What time is it?”

“Go away.”

“Don’t be so stroppy. I mean, what time is your watch stuck at?”

Joseph did not like this boy at all, but he pulled up his jacket sleeve and showed him the watch. “11:16. Now will you leave me alone?”

“I have an idea. Help me find my dog, and I’ll help you find your uncle.” The boy smiled.

Joseph sighed. “Do you promise?”

The boy nodded and adjusted his cap. His nose was bright red. “Good! Let’s go!” He ran down the street shouting, “Pudding! Paddington!”

“How will we know when we get the name right?” asked Joseph, trying to keep up.

“When he answers to it!”

Joseph was tossed back into the labyrinth of ancient streets as he followed the boy, shouting the names of dogs from books he’d read: “Bull’s-eye! Toto! Snowy! Pongo!” After a while they paused to catch their breath.

“Look,” said the boy, pointing to a sign. “My father’s shop.”

The sign read Bloom’s Bakery.

A light was on in a window above the shop, and the shadow of a figure passed across the closed curtains. “And there’s my dad! Keep your voice down.”

“He doesn’t know you’re out here?”

The boy shook his head. “Do your parents know you’re out here?”

Joseph’s parents didn’t really know anything about him. They lived their lives of great privilege, with their servants and their money and their travels that didn’t include him. He glanced up at the window and changed the subject. “You live above a bakery?” he asked.

“No,” the boy whispered.


“Come on. This way!”

Soon a church steeple appeared in the distance, silhouetted against the moon, and the boys came to a long row of old brick buildings, all separated by a series of pitched glass roofs held up by cast-iron frames. The openings between the buildings led into a vast nighttime marketplace, lit by a procession of fluorescent lights. Delivery trucks pulled in and out of the market, and inside were a hundred different stalls, with names like Gibbs and Pardoe Fruits, Great British Mushrooms, and David Kira, Banana Merchants. Old crates filled with fruits and vegetables were piled everywhere, and the place teemed with people, even at this hour. The boy pointed to a four-sided clock suspended from the ceiling in the centre of the market. It read 11:36.

“If we’d been here twenty minutes earlier,” said the boy, “your watch would have been correct!”

A dizzying cascade of smells mingled in the cold air. People gathered for warmth around a cast-iron stove where someone was making tea. “The Little Drummer Boy” played on the radio. Christmas decorations still hung on the walls, and a few strings of coloured fairy lights blinked on and off, like a secret code.

Joseph and the boy ran up and down the aisles searching for the dog until they bumped into a man piling silvery fish onto ice. He wore a thick checked wool coat with a white apron tied over it, a long scarf, and a leather top hat.

“Frankie!” said the man, sounding surprised. “What are you doing here so late at night?” He spoke with a French accent, and there was a gap between his front teeth. “It’s not the dog again, is it?”

Joseph noted the boy’s name.

“Have you seen him?” asked Frankie, trying to catch his breath.

“Does your mother know you’re out? You must not worry her so much.”

“It’s okay, she’s asleep!”

“Sneaking around will only lead to trouble . . .”

Just then, there was movement at the end of a long aisle on the other side of the market. Someone shouted, “Get out of here, you runt!” They heard barking, and Joseph saw a dirty white ball of fur with something in its mouth dash out from beneath a table.

“Well, I think you have found your dog,” the man in the top hat said with a curious smile.

Joseph and Frankie chased the dog into the streets again. After a few minutes, Joseph bent over to catch his breath, and he dropped his suitcase. It sprung open and as he looked down at his clothes and books in the snow, his glasses slid off his nose.

“Hello?” Joseph yelled. He found his glasses, dried them off, and put them back on. “Frankie?” There was no answer. “You promised you’d help me!”

Joseph returned everything to his suitcase, pausing when he came to the bright red book Blink had left behind. He carefully dried it off as much as possible and gently ran his hand along the cover. In gold letters, it read, The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats. Joseph set it safely inside his suitcase.

Frankie was gone and Joseph’s toes were going numb. He needed to find somewhere warm soon. He looked for an open doorway or a place he could escape from the snow for a little while. Finally, the howling wind took pity, and it spoke from far away.

“Follow the ship!”

It sounded like the beginning of a pirate adventure he and Blink would have loved. And then it came again . . .

“Follow the ship!”

Joseph realized it was Frankie’s voice, calling to him from some other street.

“What are you talking about?” Joseph yelled into the night. “Where are you?”

But there was no answer now.

“What ship?” Joseph trembled. “Answer me!”

There was no ocean, no dock, nothing nearby at all, just streets and parked cars and darkness and snow.

Frankie’s voice cut through the cold night air once more: “Follow the ship!”

Joseph looked up into the sky, although he wasn’t sure why. Maybe he was looking for the moon, or a star, or a chimney with plumes of smoke to guide himself by. He thought he saw something far away glint in the dark. He cleaned off his glasses to get a better look and found himself walking toward a mysterious glow.

And there it was.

Appearing through the snow, high in the air, was a golden sailing ship, like a dream a lost sailor might have. Joseph thought of “The Little Match Girl,” a story he’d read in school last year about a girl who ended up dead in the snow after a freezing night filled with beautiful visions. Joseph hoped he wasn’t imagining the golden ship, and he prayed his own story wouldn’t turn out like the Little Match Girl’s.

Not knowing what else to do, Joseph ran toward the ship. As he drew nearer, he saw it was a massive golden weather vane, signalling to him. A sign that read Folgate Street was just visible beneath a thin sheen of snow on the corner, and soon he was standing in front of an old brick building in the middle of the dark narrow road. There was a large metal gas lamp hanging above the entrance, illuminating a brass knocker shaped like the head of a dog with a ring in its mouth. Pine garlands with red velvet ribbons were hung around the doorframe. The house provided the only light on all of Folgate Street.

The number 18 was nailed to the centre of the door.

From The Marvels by Brian Selznick, Scholastic Press © (2015) by Brian Selznick, used with permission.

The Best Upcoming Children’s Books of the Year


We’re more than halfway through 2015, and it’s already been a great year for books. But, there’s still plenty of other great books on the horizon. These are a few of the very best upcoming reads that we’re excited about.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate


Mega-talented author Katherine Applegate, burst onto the scene in 2012 with the awesome The One and Only Ivan. But she’s written plenty of other great stuff, too, including the Roscoe Riley books and even a few Animorphs titles. 

So, when we saw her newest novel, Crenshaw, come through the office, we were very excited. Good news: the book doesn’t disappoint. It’s an incredible story of limitless creativity, overcoming adversity and unexpected friendship. The only bad news: you’ll have to wait until Sept. 22 to read it.

Here’s the official synopsis:
Crenshaw is the unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Read an excerpt here.

How to Tell a Story by Daniel Nayeri

If you’re a fan of telling tall tales, How to Tell a Story is for you. The interactive game book comes with 20 six-sided illustrated story cubes that provide all you need to craft more than a million stories. Roll the story cubes to get the story started, and let your imagination do the rest.

Here’s the official synopsis:

Introducing an incredible storytelling package—a full-color, 144-page book paired with a collection of 20 six-sided, beautifully illustrated storytelling cubes that make it easy for any imaginative child (and that is every child) to start creating wonderful stories. Roll the blocks, and you can make anything happen, to anyone, anyplace in this or any other world.

The book is a guide to the principles of creative storytelling. It covers the essential elements like conflict—that thing that no one likes in real life, but without which no story could ever start—characters, motivation, dialogue, theme, and, of course, the climax. As you turn the pages, you’ll be prompted to roll the story blocks. And that’s when the magic starts to happen.

How to Tell a Story will be in stores starting Oct. 6, but be sure to come back to BookZone in October for a giveaway of the book.

Kid Athletes by David Stabler

In 2014, Quirk Books released the hilarious Kid Presidents, telling true stories of the childhoods of the American Presidents. Now, the same minds behind that book, are back with Kid Athletes. Learn about hilarious childhoods of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Peyton Manning and more of the most legendary sports stars in history. The book includes quirky illustrations and plenty of unusual trivia.

Kid Athletes hits bookstores in November. For now, you can read an excerpt here.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School by Jeff Kinney

With more than 150 million copies in print, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid is one of the most popular series of all-time. The lastest installment is called Old School.

Life was better in the old days. Or was it?

That’s the question Greg Heffley is asking as his town voluntarily unplugs and goes electronics-free. But modern life has its conveniences, and Greg isn’t cut out for an old-fashioned world. With tension building inside and outside the Heffley home, will Greg find a way to survive? Or is going “old school” just too hard for a kid like Greg?

The 10th entry in the series will be published on November 3. Read an excerpt here.

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus and Kane Chronicles series were all about Greek and Egyptian mythology. Now, author Rick Riordan is covering Norse legends in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series.

If you love Riordan’s book, get excited. This one is already in high demand around the BL office. Early reviews? Epic and haw-dropping.

Read an excerpt here.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick


If you’re not already familiar with Brian Selznick, drop everything and go read The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Finished? Good, now that you’re fully aware of the author’s immense talent for world-building and epic storytelling, you can prepare yourself for his latest: The Marvels.

Here’s what you can except from The Marvels when it’s released on Sept. 15:

Two seemingly unrelated stories — one in words, the other in pictures — come together with spellbinding synergy! The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle’s puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries. How the picture and word stories intersect will leave readers marveling over Selznick’s storytelling prowess. Filled with mystery, vibrant characters, surprise twists, and heartrending beauty, and featuring Selznick’s most arresting art to date, The Marvels is a moving tribute to the power of story.

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

Fifth grader Tamaya Dhilwaddi and seventh grader Marshall Walsh have been walking to and from Woodbridge Academy together since elementary school. But their routine is disrupted when bully Chad Hilligas challenges Marshall to a fight. To avoid the conflict, Marshall takes a shortcut home through the off-limits woods.

Fuzzy Mud hits bookstores on Aug. 4.

Read the first chapter here.

Boys’ Life Fiction: ‘Ollie’s Owl’ by Yona Zeldis McDonough

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Fiction by Yona Zeldis McDonough


Oliver doesn’t know exactly what makes him sit up in his sleeping bag — but he’s so glad he does. Perched on a low-hanging branch a few yards away sits a great gray owl!

Trying to remain still, Oliver stares. Great grays are rare; he might never see one again. The owl looks bigger than it is; Oliver knows its inflated size has to do with lush feathers covering a rather small body. But it is the owl’s face that is so arresting: flat and round, with a pattern of concentric gray and black feathers that frame the lemon eyes and amber beak.

Then, without a sound, the owl opens its massive wings and takes off into the night.

6Oliver is still staring when he realizes his dad is sitting up too. “Did you see that?”

His father nods, a look of wonder on his face. “A great gray owl … I never thought I’d actually see one.”

“Too bad we didn’t get a picture,” says Oliver. “But I can still record it.”

Oliver has been a birder since he was 10. He knows how special that owl is and reaches into his backpack for his journal, so he can note the sighting.

Later, as he is drifting off to sleep, Oliver thinks about the owl. What is it doing here, nearly two hours away from the Sierra Nevada mountains where it’s reported to live? Is it on its way somewhere else, or has it made its home nearby?

In the morning, he has an answer. While his dad makes pancakes and bacon, Oliver wanders around the campsite with his binoculars. Mourning doves coo in the trees, and he sees a finch and a brown-headed cowbird. Then he sees a big nest in an Oregon ash. Great grays don’t build their own nests but use those of other large birds. Could this nest be a home for the great gray he saw last night?

Without telling his dad, he climbs up the tree and peers inside. There are four smooth white ovals, each about 2 inches long. He has seen pictures of the great gray’s eggs, and these look just like them! He fishes out the old digital camera he and his dad use on their trips, takes a bunch of pictures and shimmies down again.

Back at the campsite, he shows his father the photos. His dad agrees: owl eggs.

The next day, Monday, Oliver’s dad is off to work. It’s June, and school has just let out. Oliver has a late breakfast with his mom. She’s reading the newspaper, then stops and hands it to him. “Look at this.”

7Oliver reads the headline: “New Shopping Mall Under Discussion.” The new mall will have a cineplex, a sporting goods store and one of Oliver’s favorite places to buy jeans. Sweet.

But when he reads where they want to put it, his smile fades.

“That’s right’s where Dad and I go camping.”

“I know,” says his mom.

“They can’t do that!” Oliver says. “We saw a great gray owl there. Do you know how amazing that is?”

“Is that a rare bird?” asks his mom.

“Rare and endangered, at least in this area,” says Oliver. “Its wingspan can reach 60 inches, Mom. It’s got the longest tail of any known owl, and it’s one of the most skillful hunters.”

“Sounds like you know a lot about these guys.”

“I do. That’s why I don’t think they should build that mall.” He looks down at the article again. “There’s a town council meeting on Tuesday. Can I go?”

“That’s an excellent idea,” says his mother.

But when Oliver bikes over to the meeting, it’s clear no one takes him seriously.

“That’s nice that you’re interested in birds, son,” says the town council president. “Why don’t you write a paper for your science class?”

Oliver blushes; he’s 14 but the town council president is treating him like he’s 5.

“I have pictures of a nest,” he persists. “With eggs in it. Owls are breeding in that area.”

6The president glances at the pictures. “The date stamp on these says 2000; that’s 15 years ago!”

“How could that be? I just took them!” says Oliver. But he knows the camera is old. Maybe there was a malfunction with the mechanism.

“I have no idea. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting to conduct.”

Oliver leaves the meeting room and goes outside. As he unlocks his bike, the door opens and out steps one of the men from the meeting.

“I’m Ben Hadley, and I wanted to say that what you did in there was great. Not many guys your age would have the courage to speak out like that.”

“But he won’t listen,” Oliver says.

“You’ve got a smartphone, right?” asks Ben. Oliver nods. “Make another trip. Use it to take the pictures that will prove your point.”

That night, Oliver tells his dad about the meeting and the new pictures he needs to take. “Can we go again?”

“Not until next month,” says his father. “I’m flying to Dallas this weekend and Aspen next.”

“Next month is too late,” Oliver says. “The town council is going to vote really soon.”

“I’m sorry I can’t help you, Ollie,” says his dad.

After dinner, Oliver pedals over to see his best friend, Dylan, and tells him the story. “I want to go again, but my dad can’t drive me.”

4“Maybe Jake could take us.” Jake is Dylan’s older brother.

“Really?” Oliver brightens.

“I’ll ask.”


On the way home, Oliver’s mind is busy developing a plan. The geotagging and date/time-stamping features on his cellphone’s camera will prove where and when the pictures were taken. And the GPS coordinates will be included, so he can easily lead the council members to the tree. Now if only Jake will say “yes”!

Two days later, Dylan, Jake and Oliver are driving toward the campsite. The sky is gray and filled with clouds.

“Looks like rain,” says Dylan.

“Hope not,” says Oliver. But he has his phone and a rain poncho. He’ll get those pictures no matter what. Only, when they get to the campsite, Oliver can’t find the Oregon ash that holds the nest.

“It was right here,” he says. They walk round and round, getting nowhere. A light drizzle starts to fall. “You guys head back to the car.”

“No way, dude,” says Dylan. “You know you have to have a buddy.”

Jake goes back to the car to wait while Dylan follows Oliver. Fortunately, he’s got a poncho too.

Oliver remembers the tree had a long branch extending in one direction, like a finger pointing. He’ll find it. And after about 10 minutes, he does. He snaps a picture of the tree. Now it’s raining harder and the wind is blowing. As Oliver nears the tree, a branch smacks him in the face. Ouch!

Dylan waits on the ground as Oliver starts to climb — up, up, up. When Oliver reaches the nest, he sees it’s tilted perilously; on the ground below are three shattered eggs. Only one egg is left. He snaps pictures, puts the phone away and shimmies down.

6But on the way, his poncho gets caught in a branch and tears. Now he’s being pelted by the rain, shirt soaking up the water like a sponge. He lets go too soon and falls with a thud to the ground. When he tries to get up, he can’t — he’s twisted his ankle.

“Are you OK?” Dylan rushes to his side.

“It’s just my ankle,” moans Oliver.

“Call Jake,” Dylan says. “I left my phone in the car.”

Trying to ignore the shooting pain, Oliver pulls out his phone and frantically taps. The battery is now dead! Now what? Can he crawl to the car?

Then he hears his name, and there’s Jake! The boys hoist Oliver up and get him home.

Three days later, Oliver shows up at the town council meeting on crutches. He shows the photos to the members, and even the president has to admit that they are convincing. And using the GPS coordinates contained in the photo files, Ben is able to drive the members to see the nest. Oliver goes along.

“There’s only one egg left,” he says when they arrive. “But inside, there’s a great gray owl ready to hatch.”

“I move that we consider several other sites for the mall,” says Ben.

While the other members are seconding the motion, Oliver looks down where the crushed eggshells are scattered and sees a sleek, gray feather. He picks it up.

It’s from a great gray owl, possibly the one that was nesting in this tree. It’s illegal to keep a feather from an endangered bird, so he sets it down again. But even the sight of it is special, like a gift meant just for him.

Click here for more books by Yona Zeldis McDonough.