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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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Our Publishing Academy authors recommend their favorite books


Drumroll, please…..

It’s time again for our annual book recommendation list, carefully curated by our Publishing Academy authors and their coaches.

Open Books Publishing Academy is a unique opportunity for teen writers to spend their summers with us on a magical quest: writing and publishing their very own novel! This July, we’ve been fortunate to foster the talents of nineteen scribes from all over Chicago, who are diligently working to publish graphic novels and fantasy fiction.

It turns out that the Publishing Academy authors are also the best, smartest, and most eclectic readers around. Without further ado, we present you with their favorite reads, many of which you can conveniently find at Open Books River North or at Open Books Pilsen.

  • Vincent recommends Kaffir Boy by Mark MathabaneA very inspiring story of a black boy growing up in South Africa during apartheid. It shows how the human spirit can prevail even in the worst conditions.
  • Amanda recommends The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare.  This has to be my favorite series since Harry Potter!
  • Olivia recommends Magyk by Angie SageIt’s a very well-written story with a very unique look at magic.
  • Chloe recommends Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry PratchettFirst off, it’s by two brilliant writers and it’s a fun, interesting view of the end of the world. It also has hilarious and dynamic characters. 
  • Dominic recommends The Percy Jackson series by Rick RiordanIt is full of adventures, comedy, and action. The main character, Percy, needs to figure out how to overcome problems like fighting monsters. As long as you don’t watch the movies, the books will be fine.
  • Maryam recommends Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements.  It’s a good, quick read about a kid who turns invisible.
  • Lou recommends World War Z by Max BrooksI don’t even like zombies and this is my favorite book. It’s funny, intense, realistic and amazingly well-written. Read it!!!
  • John and Alexis recommend The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsIt’s a thrilling, action-packed joy ride of betrayal, violence, and complicated romance. It’s a tale of courage, strength, surviving, and triumph.
  • Lucy recommends The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. A heart-breaking tale of romance that will leave you wanting to read more until the end.
  • Hope recommends Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. A high-fantasy book that it great as its own novel, but also a really good start to a fantastic series. Its protagonist is one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever read — who can hold her own and carry the story. 
  • Perlita recommends Cirque Du Freak #1 by Darren ShanIt’s so exciting it makes you want to read all of the books. It’s filled with unexpected twists, action, and vampires…an amazing start to a series!
  • Jamie (coach) recommends We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. It’s hard to describe what the book is about without giving everything away, but you won’t regret this quick summer read. 
  • Noel (coach) recommends Wildwood by Colin MeloyThis is a fantastical tale of a young girl, her friend, and her brother, who stumble upon a magical world of talking animals, beginning-of-time mystics, and the age-old struggle of good vs. evil.
  • Kaira (coach) recommends American Splendor by Harvey Pekar. Reading Harvey Pekar always reminds us that everyone’s life can be a comic book, and that real life can be just as interesting as a super hero. 

Want more guidance? Read last year’s recommendations!

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