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Sneak Peeks from our Publishing Academy Publications: Part 2

Lucy is the second of our amazing student authors who completed novels at our 2014 Publishing Academy summer program. We’re so excited to present a very special sneak peek of her book, The Legacy, to be published at our author launch in September!


The Legacy

By Lucy N

Chapter 1

The bright morning sun slowly filtered in through the blinds, and I sat up in bed, yawning and stretching. The fresh smell of cooking bacon wafted through the air, and I cringed. My foster mom still hasn’t figured out that I hate bacon, even though I’ve been living with her for almost two years. My mother died while giving birth to me, so it had just been me and my father until six years ago, when I was 10. Then, without warning, he disappeared. So, I was thrown into the foster system.

“Happy birthday, Willa!” shouted a voice beside me. I shrieked, jumping up. My friend Ace popped up from his sleeping bag next to my bed.

“Oh my God, Ace! Don’t scare me like that!” I exclaimed, throwing a pillow at his head. I had forgotten that he had decided to stay the night. Ace laughed, making fun of my reaction.

“Don’t tell me that I actually scared you,” he said. I just glared at him. Suddenly Ace turned his head toward the door, sniffing the air.

“Is that bacon?” he asked enthusiastically.

I just nodded with a sour expression on my face. Suddenly Ace looking at me with a devious grin. I narrowed my eyes suspiciously at him, but it was too late. He launched himself at me, hands outstretched. His hands found my sides, and he began to tickle me.

“Stop it! Stop that, Ace!” I said, attempting to slap his hands away. He attacked me more vigorously, making me giggle.

“Stop…s-stop it!” I said, gasping for breath.

“Only if you tell me that you love bacon!” Ace said with a grin.

“N-never!” I protested in between giggles. But I didn’t hold out for long. “Fine! Fine! I love bacon!” I shouted.

“Ha! Victory!” Ace cried as he stopped tickling. I maturely stuck my tongue out at him.

“Breakfast is ready!” I heard my foster mom, Shelly, shout from the kitchen. Ace leapt up, stumbling through the door and down the stairs. I rolled my eyes.

“Boys and their stomachs,” I muttered under my breath. I threw on some jeans and my favorite graphic tee, put my long, wavy red hair into my signature side braid, and slipped on my converse.

When I got downstairs, Ace had a giant plateful of bacon in front of him. I wrinkled my nose in disgust, simply grabbed the box of Cheerios from the cupboard, and poured myself a bowl.

“Rachel, wouldn’t you like some bacon?” I resisted the urge to bang my head on the table. Almost two years and she still hasn’t learned my name. I saw Ace holding back a snicker out of the corner of my eye, and I elbowed him sharply.

“No thank you. Cereal is just fine,” I said in a fake, sweet voice.

“Okay kids, I’m heading to the gym. Be safe!” Shelly said, before going out the back door.

Ding dong. The sound of the doorbell rang throughout the house. I got up, volunteering to see who was at the door.

“Willa!” exclaimed my friend Addison as I opened the door. “Happy birthday!” I grinned as Addison smothered me in a hug. “So… does it feel any different to be sixteen?”

I shrugged. “Not really. Hey, why don’t you come eat breakfast with us? Shelly made bacon.”

“Sure! I am assuming Ace is here?” Addison inquired. I nodded, and we both headed to the kitchen. When we walked in, I saw that Ace’s entire plate of bacon was almost gone. I shook my head at him.

“Hey, Addison,” he greeted with a mouthful of bacon.

“Hi, Ace,” Addison responded.

“Oh, hey, Willa, I have—” Ace began.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” I reprimanded. Ace rolled his eyes, and once he finished chewing he was about to say something, but I interrupted him.

“Do you guys hear that?” I asked. There was a strange humming sound that seemed to be coming from upstairs. Both Addison and Ace cocked their heads, trying to listen.

“Yeah, I can hear that. What do you think it is?” asked Addison. I shrugged.

“You guys go ahead and check it out. I’m staying with my bacon,” Ace said.

Addison and I exchanged a look, and I led the way upstairs, following the strange humming sound. It sounded like something really big was vibrating. My heart started to pound, and I grasped Addison’s arm. The sound got louder the closer we got to my room, so I cautiously pushed my door open.

“What is it?” asked Addison.

“Shush,” I said quietly, creeping into the room with her behind me. I could see my bookcase vibrating and snatched my Swiss army knife off my nightstand, sticking it in my pocket. Addison looked at me questioningly, but I shook my head. We both walked over to the bookcase, but I couldn’t see to find the reason for the vibrating.

“Willa!” Addison said over the loud humming sound. “Look!” She pointed to a small box on the bottom of the shelf that seemed to be vibrating even more than the bookcase. I quickly knelt down and picked up the box, and the bookcase immediately stopped moving. The box continued to vibrate and hum as I fumbled with the latch on the front of it. Once I got it unlocked, I set it on the floor and threw the lid to the side. Shocked, I stared at the contents.

Addison gasped. It was the pendant that my dad had given me when I was younger. It was a gold disc about the same size as a dollar coin, on a black leather cord. The pendant had some sort of strange-looking labyrinth pattern on it. But what shocked me was that it was glowing. It was glowing a bright gold, and vibrating strongly. In a daze, I reached out and picked it up but dropped it immediately, and it fell to the ground.

“Ouch! Hot, hot, hot!” I cried, shaking my hand.

The pendant fell to the ground with a thud and began to spin. The light coming from it was becoming brighter  with every second. It was spinning so quickly that I could no longer see the designs on it. I glances at Addison, and she that she was staring at it with wide eyes, her jaw hanging open. Addison looked over at me and we locked eyes. 

Suddenly, just when we thought that the pendant couldn’t spin any faster and the humming couldn’t get any louder, there was a bright flash and




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Sneak Peeks from our Publishing Academy Publications: Part 1

Vincent is one of our incredible student authors who finished his first novel at our 2014 Publishing Academy summer program. We’re so excited to present a very special sneak peek of his book, The Eight Swords, to be published at our author launch in September!


The Eight Swords

By Vincent P

Chapter 1: The King’s Piece

Be careful, the captain had said.

Be careful of what? Jeiy thought as he descended the gangplank onto the dock.  Traders and merchants bustled around him as he made his way to the end of the dock.  A small shack stood slightly off to his right.  A tall, gaunt man with greying hair stepped out.

“Welcome, traveler!” he boomed, his voice not matching his body.  “Please come with me so I can sign you in.”  Jeiy followed the man over to a desk that stood next to the shack.

“What is your business here?” he asked, opening a book on the table and dipping a feather into the inkwell that was sitting next to it.

“I’m here to explore the fabled ruins of the Areci Mountains.”

The man squinted at him.  “So you’re a looter?”  The words came out with a disapproving, almost angry tone.

“I prefer the word adventurer,” Jeiy replied, returning the man’s cold gaze.

The man looked away and scribbled something in the book.  “And where do you hail from?”

“The sovereign states.”

“Well, that is evident,” the man said, nodding towards Jeiy’s bronze skin and jet-black hair.  “More specifically, where are you from?  What port?”

“That is none of your business.”

The man’s cold gaze was back.  “Weapons are not allowed inside the castle walls,” the man said, gesturing toward the long sword on Jeiy’s back and the two short swords at his sides.

“I don’t plan on entering the city walls.”

The man opened his mouth to speak, but Jeiy cut him off.  “Where can I find a currency exchange?  I’ve heard these Tereches have no value here.”

The main straightened up and gave Jeiy a look of distaste.  “Nine docks down, to the right.  It’s a domed building with sandstone walls.”

Jeiy nodded, gave a half smile and walked off.  It’s best I keep my business to myself, I guess, he thought to himself.  These southerners mistrust foreigners enough as it is.

The city walls stretched as far as the eye could see.  The weathered grey stone shot up ten times higher than even the tallest man.  Every hundred yards, it seemed, lean towers rose into the sky.  Each was rimmed with carved stone that reached to the chests of the men who stood guard on them. The currency exchange sat next to a large gate.  A ramp with a gradual slope lead to the iron portcullis which were, at the moment, open, allowing the traders into the city.  the exchange itself had a round domed roof decorated with gold rods that were inlaid into the roof, reaching from the start of the curve and meeting at the top.

Jeiy opened the door.  A bell rang as he entered the dimly lit building.  The lobby area was small and the air was heavy.  The smell of incense drifted in from somewhere.  Iron bars protected the teller, who was sitting behind a desk, counting a stack of coins.  When he heard the bell ring, he raised his eyes.

“Hello,” he said in a heavy eastern accent.  “Welcome to the King’s Mint.  How may I help you today?”

“The King works here?” Jeiy asked, walking to the counter.


“Then why call it the King’s Mint?”

“That’s just its name,” the teller answered.  “Now, how may I help you?”

“I need whatever kind of currency you southern folk use.  In exchange for these,” Jeiy said, grabbing the pouch that hung at his side and opening it so the man could see the iron Tereches he carried.

“Ah, I see,” the teller said, reaching his hand through the half circle hole in the iron bars.  “I’ll get you what you need.”

Jeiy handed him the bag.  The teller reached under his desk and brought up a large box that jingled when he put it down.  Jeiy watched the man as he poured his coins onto a scale and wrote down a number.

“So what are you doing in the city?” the teller asked, opening the box.

“I’m here to visit my sister,” Jeiy lied.  “She just had her first child and I’m here to meet him.”

The teller smirked and raised an eyebrow while counting out coins from the box, asking, “Do they bring long swords to birthday parties in the sovereign states?”  Jeiy shrugged.  

“My guess is you’re here for - *ahem* - shadier dealings, yes?”

Jeiy said nothing.

“If that is indeed true, then you’d best keep some of these Tereches.  They’re used in the black market here.”

“Thanks for the advice,” Jeiy said, grabbing the newly filled pouch.

“Be careful, traveler,” the teller said as Jeiy turned to leave,  “There are secrets and dangers in this city you would be best to avoid.  FInish your business here quickly, and go.”

Jeiy smiled,  “Danger is what I came here seeking.”

The teller just shook his head as Jeiy left.

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Meet our August Vol-Star, Jamie Crockett!

August’s Vol-Star is the wonderful Jamie Crockett! We are so lucky to have Jamie here helping out with Publishing Academy for the second time (and many more, we hope…fingers crossed.) Jamie is a veteran teacher, and she brings impressive classroom management skills that have some of our staff affectionately referring to her as our “enforcer” when the kids need an extra dash of focus. She’s also a burst of energy and infectious enthusiasm. Read on to better know this amazing volunteer!


What Open Books Programs have you participated in? Book Buddies and Publishing Academy. 

What has been your favorite/most rewarding moment as an Open Books volunteer so far?

My most rewarding moment was at last year’s Publishing Academy author launch. It was so awesome to see the students’ finished books after helping them work on them for four weeks. Listening to the young authors reading from their books was a really powerful experience. I was so proud of them! 

What is a tradition from your childhood that you would love to pass on?

It’s not necessarily a tradition, but my parents instilled in me the importance of giving back to your community.

If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Pasta! Any kind of pasta!

What is the best Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?

I am terrible at Halloween costumes! One time I went as Lindsay Lohan, and all night people asked me why I didn’t dress up. :/

What is your biggest pet peeve?

Unnecessary use of car horns! Seriously people, why must you honk your horn?  Every time I hear someone blast their horn, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.  

What is the earliest book you remember reading, and why was it special?

It’s not the earliest book I remember reading, but Bridge to Terabithia definitely impacted me the most as a young reader. I loved that Jesse and Leslie had this special place where they let their imaginations run wild. As a child and an adult, with a wild imagination, I really wished that I had my own Terabithia. It was also the first story that I read that did not have a happy ending which killed me when I read it. It took a while for me to recover from that book, but it will always be one of my favorites.

What are you reading right now/what’s the last book you finished? Would you recommend it?

I am currently reading Crossing California by Adam Langer. The last book I finished was We Were Liars by E. Lockhart which I highly recommend. It’s an easy read for the summer.

If you could instantly be good at any given thing, what talent would you choose to have?

I really wish I knew how to play the piano or the guitar.

What is something that not a lot of people know about you but you wish more people could know? 

I can make myself cry on command! I fake cry all the time to freak people out.

Who is your favorite character from a fiction or non-fiction book?

I am a Jane Austen fan, and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice is my homegirl! I love her because she stays true to herself and stands up for what she believes in during a time when women didn’t have much of a say in their future. Plus, she gets Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth forever!) in the end.


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Special Children’s Concert and Reading by Ellis Paul

Open Books River North is proud to present singer-songwriter Ellis Paul for a very special concert and reading of his new book The Hero in You on Saturday September 6th at 2 p.m.


Based on a children’s album Ellis released in 2012, The Hero in You contains “moving and celebratory biographical sketches with messages of positive reinforcement to young people to explore their own potential and follow their dreams.” Ellis will perform songs from The Hero in You album and read from the book before signing copies!


Ellis Paul is an award-winning singer-songwriter who has spent over twenty years performing on the American folk circuit.  He has released eighteen albums, including The Day After Everything Changed and Chasing Beauty.  The first of his two children’s albums, The Dragonfly Races, was one of NPR’s top ten picks for 2008.  He grew up in northern Maine; he is now based in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and their two children. The Hero in You is his first picture book.

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Join us on Sept. 4th for a reading with Peter Brown!

Join us at our River North Bookstore on Thursday September 4th at 6 p.m. for a special talk and signing with Peter C. Brown, co-author of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.

Named one of the “Top Ten Books on Teaching" by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Make It Stick draws on recent discoveries in cognitive psychology and other disciplines to offer concrete techniques for becoming a more productive learner.


More on Make It Stick: ”Many common study habits and practice routines turn out to be counterproductive… More complex and durable learning come from self-testing, introducing certain difficulties in practice, waiting to re-study new material until a little forgetting has set in, and interleaving the practice of one skill or topic with another… Make It Stick will appeal to all those interested in the challenge of lifelong learning and self-improvement.”

The book has been praised in publications such as Psychology Today and The Boston Globe, and co-author Henry L. Roediger recently described the lessons from the book in a New York Times Op-Ed.

Peter C. Brown, a novelist and writer based in St. Paul, MN,  will discuss Make It Stick's central arguments, as well as sign copies afterwards.

Hope to see you there!

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Meet Educator Board Member and Partner Amy Besida!

Amy Besida wears a lot of hats at Open Books - as a valued member of our Literacy Consulting Board, she’s helped us think through our teen programs and teacher evaluations. Amy is one of our only board members who is also a program partner; Open Books has worked with hundreds of her students at the now-closed Chicago Talent Development charter high school through our ReadThenWrite program. Needless to say, we adore Amy, and can’t wait for you to get to know her, too!

1. How did you begin working with Open Books?
I was first introduced to Open Books through our partnership with Communities in Schools.  We wanted to bring in programs to our school that would originally address a small group of students that were not only struggling readers but also disengaged from school.

2. What has been your most rewarding experience with Open Books so far?
My most rewarding experience with Open Books was being able to be a full time teacher last year and have Open Books come into one of my classrooms.  I saw each week how excited the kids were to see their mentors, read, and work on their memoirs; it was incredibly rewarding and their new-found zest for reading and writing bled into our classes every other day of the week!

3. What do you love about being an educator?
I love that every day is different. Watching my students grow not only as learners, but also as young people, is incredibly rewarding.  I love that every day they make me laugh, they challenge me to be a better teacher, and we are able to build a real community in our classroom.

4. What was the first book that really had an impact on you, and why was it important?

The first book that had an incredible impact on me was The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I remember reading this book in high school when I was a quiet teenager full of angst and I finally found someone else I could relate to - even if they were only a character in fiction.  It changed the way I thought about myself and everyone else around me.  I still reread it once every year just to remind myself of everything I learned from it. 
5. How do you motivate your students to become better readers and writers?

I motivate my students by setting high expectations and not letting them give up.  I work hard every day to make sure they are working hard!  I cheer them on and I am honest with them at all times so we can address their challenges and celebrate their successes.
6. What’s something that a lot of people know about you but you wish more could know?

I think a lot of people know that I am a dedicated educator and I love the classroom.  I wish more people could step into my shoes on a daily basis and understand why it is so gratifying and fun to be a teacher in an urban school district. 

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Concert at Open Books River North on August 13th!

Join us at our River North Store on August 13th at 6 p.m. for a intimate acoustic concert from singer-songwriters Ashley Hamel and Grace Kendall! The performance is free and open to the public, and will combine the singers’ love of music with literary themes.
Ashley Hamel is a singer-songwriter, improv comedian, and wizard rocker. She incorporates her diverse stage experience into a live performance full of emotion and humor, expressed through a powerful voice and energetic stage presence.

Grace Kendall is an singer/songwriter and traveler who toured the country for several years singing songs about the Harry Potter books. Now she performs intimate, heartfelt songs on her ukulele, often bringing crowds together to snuggle on the floor and sing sweet harmonies.  Her favorite authors are Ray Bradbury, Lemony Snicket and Henry David Thoreau.

Hope to see you there!

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