Sunday, September 30, 2007

Yes, Virgina, Giant Squirrels DO Exist

The Empress's Tomb will be out on Tuesday, so I figured I should spend the next few days answering some of the questions that are bound to arise. I'm labeling this series of posts, "Things You Should Know."

For instance, a few people who've read the latest book have wondered if I "invented" a species of rodent known as the Malaysian Giant Squirrel. I assure you all that I did no such thing. (As if!!) Intrepid travelers who've explored the rainforests of Southeast Asia often report spotting enormous rodents perched in the treetops. Though they look much like American squirrels, these beasts can measure more than three feet in length. Imagine finding something like that in your backyard!

Need more proof? Click here.

I've also heard from certain people who believe that cute, fluffy squirrels (even giant ones) could never be responsible for all the mischief they cause in The Empress's Tomb. For the education of these naive individuals I've provided the following evidence of squirrel-related crimes around the world.

1. The Iranians recently arrested 14 squirrels as spies.
2. Many squirrels have become master thieves.
3. Though they appear innocent, they can attack when you least expect it.
4. Squirrels regularly plunge the world into darkness.
5. They're all masters of disguise.

Read enough?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Befriend Kiki Strike on MySpace

The World's Smallest Park

From Wikipedia:

"Mill Ends Park in Portland, Oregon, United States, is a small park that was created on St. Patrick's Day, 1948, to be a colony for leprechauns and a location for snail races. It is the smallest park in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records, which first granted it this recognition in 1971.

The small circle has featured many unusual items through the decades, including a swimming pool for butterflies (complete with diving board), a horseshoe, a fragment of the Journal building and a miniature Ferris wheel (which was delivered by a regular-sized crane)."

Chat with Your Favorite Authors!

Including Kirsten Miller!

THIS is very cool. Every day in October, the Readergirlz Myspace forum will feature a chat with a different teen author. Some of the biggest names in the world of books will be sitting by their computers just waiting to answer your questions!

All you have to do is go to at 8PM EST/5PM PST.

Here's the calendar of chats. See if any of your favorites are on the list. AND MAKE SURE NOT TO MISS THE CHAT ON OCTOBER 19TH!

10/1 Meg Cabot
10/2 Tiffany Trent
10/3 Brent Hartinger
10/4 Lorie Ann Grover
10/5 K.L. Going
10/6 Nikki Grimes
10/7 Ellen Hopkins
10/8 Justina Chen Headley
10/9 Chris Crutcher
10/10 Ann Brashares
10/11 Sarah Mlynowski
10/12 Cecil Castellucci
10/13 Kirby Larson
10/14 Tanya Lee Stone
10/15 John Green
10/16 Sara Zarr
10/17 Deb Caletti
10/18 Rachel Cohn
10/19 *******KIRSTEN MILLER******
10/20 Mitali Perkins
10/21 Sonya Sones
10/22 Lisa Yee
10/23 Carolyn Mackler 2
10/24 E. Lockhart
10/24 Janet Lee Carey
10/26 Gaby Triana
10/27 Lauren Myracle
10/28 Holly Black
10/29 Cynthia Leitich Smith
10/30 Dia Calhoun
10/31 Stephenie Meyer

Where Do You Think He's Heading?

This enormous statue was erected on the banks of the Thames River in London to promote a new television show . . . about tattoos of all things. Strange. But fun to look at.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Name That Turtle

Come on. How many chances will you have in life to name a two-headed red slider turtle?

Cast your vote here. (Scroll down to see the options.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Stock Your Witch's Kitchen

Aranamuerta recently posted instructions for making your own "Witch Kitchen Jars" for Halloween. (Or all year round if you're a little ghoulish.) Some of the jars are extremely easy to make, and all are downright creepy. (Oozing Grubs, Bat's Blood, and Nightmare Larva to name a few.) How unbelievably creative and inspired! I love it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Anne Frank's Secret Annex

For those of you unfamiliar with the story Anne Frank, I'll give you just a little background. In 1942, when Anne was thirteen years old, she and her family were forced into hiding by the Nazis. In German occupied Holland, Jewish people like the Franks were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps throughout Europe. Rather than endure the horrors of the camps, the Franks and four other people spent more than two years hiding in secret rooms inside the Amsterdam building that had once housed Mr. Frank's office and warehouse.

The "Secret Annex," as Anne called it, could only be accessed by means of a door that was cleverly disguised as a bookcase. Behind it lay a few small chambers and an attic. Every day, the Franks walked on tiptoe and spoke only in whispers, afraid that someone might hear them in the warehouse below. For two years, the Franks and their friends lived without sunlight or fresh air in the hope that the Allied forces (including the Americans) would eventually arrive to drive the Nazis out of Amsterdam. When the Allies finally did march into Amsterdam, it was already too late for Anne and her family. The Nazis had discovered their hiding place in the summer of 1944.

Throughout her years in hiding, Anne wrote at great length in her diary. She documented the daily life of her family (including the many quarrels), kept track of the war, and confided her secret thoughts and desires. After World War II ended, her father--the only member of the family to survive the Holocaust--worked hard to have it published. The resulting book is funny, sweet, thrilling, horrifying--and ultimately heartbreaking. In the more than sixty years since it was written, The Diary of a Young Girl has become one of the most famous books in the world.

On Monday, I visited the house where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis, but I didn't take any pictures. Some rooms seem to remember what's happened in them, and it didn't feel right to snap photos in a place that had witnessed such terror. But I was so inspired by what I'd seen that started rereading The Diary of a Young Girl. It's even better than I remembered--and I recommend it to everyone. Anne was just a teenager, but she managed to create something that has inspired the entire world.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Greetings from Amsterdam

Sorry for the quality of the photo above. I took it with my blackberry. I just arrived in Amsterdam, and I'm completely charmed. Everything about this city is just cute, cute, cute. (In a good way.) It's also quite interesting to see what New York (formerly New Amsterdam) must have looked like before the English showed up and renamed the place.

As luck would have it, I'm staying two blocks away from the Anne Frank House. I plan to visit in the next few days, though the lines are remarkably long. I walked by this afternoon. I'm not sure what I expected, but it's really rather ordinary from the outside. It's hard to believe that it was the site of such hardship and terror.

I'll take more pictures when I pay my respects to one of the greatest girls (and most moving writers) who ever lived. If there's anything you'd like to know about Anne, send me a note, and I'll do my best to find out!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Get That Girl a Reverse Pied Piper!

From designer Gareth Pugh's 2008 Spring collection. Lovely.

If You're in New York . . .

"Teen Authors Read @ Tompkins Square."
Date: Wednesday, October 3 Time: 6:00 PM

You want teen authors? We got teen authors! Come hear about the hottest and brightest voices in teen lit today. Meet Jessica Blank, author of Almost Home, Robert Lipsyte, author of Yellow Flag, Wendy Mass, author of Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall, Kirsten Miller, author of Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb, Megan McCafferty, author of Fourth Comings, Adrienne Vrettos, author of Sight, and Melissa Walker, author of Violet On the Runway. David Levithan hosts. For ages 12-18.

Tompkins Square Branch
331 East 10th Street
(212) 228-4747

Sunday, September 16, 2007

How to Learn English: The Easy Way

Sometimes, there's nothing like a good old blow to the head, as an 18-year-old Czech racecar driver found out recently. After surviving a potentially deadly crash, Matej Kus woke up speaking fluent English--with an English accent. What's strange about that, you ask? Well, before the crash, Matej could barely make sense of the language, and his friends described his abilities as, "basic at best."

As he recovered, Matej's English skills deteriorated. So any of you looking for a way to make it through French class . . . put the sledgehammer away. It's just not worth it.

Read more here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Not to Toot My Own Horn or Anything . . .

But the first reviews of The Empress's Tomb are finally trickling in! And I have to say, the critic at Bookshelves of Doom really has a way with words . . .

"I'm talking a book made of awesome. Made. Of. Awesome."

Yipee! (No, I didn't pay her.)

Artwork by Stephanie Miller for

Nature Goes Nuts

I'm back! And while I was gone, a whole lotta weird stuff happened around the world. So prepare yourself--this post is just the beginning.

A Japanese woman recently found these pretty (and real) bugs hiding out in her flowerbed. Relatives of the katydid, they usually come in unremarkable shades of brown or green. The white one may be an albino, while the pink . . . well the pink is just bizarre.

In 1979, a young student at Bangor University planted the seed of a rare Mexican plant in the university's greenhouse. Known as the Century Plant, the Agave americana was long thought to bloom only once every hundred years. No one expected the plant to fare well in the damp British weather. But a few days ago, university scientists arrived for work and discovered that the plant had grown five feet in a single night, burst through the greenhouse roof, and sprouted thousands of blooms.
Read more here.

The photo above shows a one-of-a-kind creature that has Argentinean scientists baffled. The otherwise ordinary pig has a thick sheep-like fleece that must be sheared every summer to prevent it from suffering in the heat. My favorite part of the article that brought this phenomenon to my attention? According to the farmer, "Other pigs do not trust it."

Last but not least, this photo may well be doctored, but the coconut crab, which lives on islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, is the largest land crab in the world. And apparently quite tasty, too!

Friday, September 7, 2007

This Is Not What You Think It Is

This . . . hold onto your hats . . . is a 500-year-old mummy. All of you who think the Egyptians had a monopoly on mummies, it's time to think again. Whether they were created by man or nature, mummies have been found around the globe--in China, Peru, America, Italy, and countless other countries.

This particular example is known as "la Doncella," or The Maiden. She was fifteen years old when she was sacrificed to the gods and left on the edge of the Llullaillaco volcano on the border of Chile and Argentina. (A great honor, supposedly.)

Thousands of Inca mummies have been discovered over the years, though few are as perfectly preserved as The Maiden. However, a Chinese mummy in a similar condition plays a starring role in The Empress's Tomb. But more on THAT later.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Even I'm Grossed Out By This One

But I feel it's my duty to report the facts (as I find them on the Internet). Seems yamabiru, otherwise known as land leeches, have recently started to invade Japan's cities and villages. The little bloodsuckers ride into town on deer and wild boar, then proceed to drop off and wait for tastier hosts.

Says Shigekazu Tani, director of the Institute for Environmental Culture, "Yamabiru will climb into people's socks and stay for about an hour, growing five to 10 times in size. Unlike with water leeches, people don't immediately realize they've been bitten. Only later when they see their blood-soaked feet, do they realize what has happened."

Whoa. According to this article, the wee beasties start off a half inch in length and can grow to almost six inches. Imagine finding that in your sock!

If I Had a Front Yard

More here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

How (Not) to Catch a Giant Catfish

Things grow pretty darn big in Cambodia's Mekong River. Particularly the catfish (above), which can reach the size of bears.

I don't know how people manage to catch these monsters, though I'm pretty sure a fishing rod's involved. But in the southern US, where the catfish aren't exactly tiny, many people prefer to use their hands. I'm not joking. The "sport" is called noodling and involves sticking your hand in the dark underwater crevices where catfish hide and letting the fish nibble on your fingers until you can get a good enough grip to pull one out of the water.

Sounds fun, right? But apparently even sane-looking girls get involved in the action--as you'll see in this extremely strange video. I apologize in advance for the music.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Your Own Private Flying Saucer

Yep, it's what you think it is. You're looking at a real flying saucer--and it can be yours for around $90,000. Made by a company called Moller International, this remarkable hovercraft can rise straight into the air and travel at 50 miles an hour.

Read more here. Or watch videos of the vehicle (called an M200x) in flight on the Moller website. (Be sure to check out the "Sky Car," too.)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Transforming the Everyday

Artist Tara Donovan takes everyday items and turns them into magical works of art--some large enough to fill an entire room. Below are sculptures made from plastic cups, buttons, and paper plates.

See more pictures of her work here.

Is THIS a Chupacabra?

(Illustration by Michael Lee)

Since 1987, chupacabras have caused a sensation across much of Latin America and the Southwestern US. The legendary beasts have been blamed for the gruesome deaths of thousands of pets and farm animals. When the chupacabra's victims are discovered, it's said that they've been drained of every last drop of blood. It's this unsettling detail that gave rise to the creature's name. In Spanish, chupacabra means "goat sucker."

In recent years, a number of strange-looking creatures have been captured in areas plagued by unusual animal deaths. Though they don't resemble the classic description of a chupacabra, which is said to be "the size of a small bear, with a row of spines reaching from the neck to the base of the tail," they're unusual nonetheless. They resemble hairless dogs, with a blue tinge to their skin and protruding fangs.

Just last month, a rancher from Cuero, Texas discovered the bodies of three such creatures near her property. She's convinced they were responsible for a rash of chicken deaths. And since the chickens had all been drained of their blood, the rancher believes that she may have found the beasts behind the chupacabra legend.

Check out the pictures here.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Japanese Battle of the Bugs!

Beetle battles are a centuries-old tradition in Japan and other parts of Asia, where rhinoceros beetles are often kept as pets. (Hey, at least you don't have to walk them or clean out their litterboxes!) Every year, the biggest, baddest bugs compete in Insect World Battle Championships which are held in Tokyo.

Kids buy their bugs from specialty pet stores or--believe it or not--bizarre vending machines. (OK, not so bizarre when you consider you can also buy dried squid and underwear from vending machines in Japan.) The largest beetle specimens can cost thousands of dollars. (Probably because of all the betting at the tournaments.)

Don't worry, animal lovers. The bugs don't get hurt. The fighting is just their way of looking good for the ladies.

See the battles in action below.

A Texas-Sized Spider Web

Since the summer began, a single enormous spider web has slowly overtaken a park near Dallas, Texas. Home to millions of arachnids, the web is smelly, sticky, and so thick in places that it blocks out the sun. It even seems to emit an eerie whine, as the countless insects it's captured struggle to free themselves.

Scientists can't figure out why the spiders, which are usually loners, decided to build such a remarkable community--or how they managed to do it so quickly.

Read more here.

The Empress's Tomb

Some of you (International Mastermind) have been asking when The Empress's Tomb will be in stores. Well you don't have long to wait! It will be out October 2, and you can already order it on Amazon!