Apr. 22nd, 2014
Today I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. I currently send out the newsletter once every two weeks. (I'm sending one day early right now because TypePad has been a bit unreliable of late, and I want to get it out while I can.)
Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (picture book through young adult) and two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently. I also have a post documenting my Baby Bookworm's plan to turn her bedroom into a library.
Reading Update: In the last two weeks I read four young adult and three adult titles. I skewed towards the older age range because most of this reading took place during a cross-country trip that I took (to attend my college reunion at Duke). A high point of the trip for me was a friend telling me that reading my blog had encouraged her to continue reading aloud to her kids. So nice to have the chance to make a difference (and to hear about it)! Anyway, I read:
- Jennifer Brown: Hate List. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Young Adult. Completed April 10, 2014, on Kindle (library copy).
- Meg Rosoff: Picture Me Gone. Putnam Juvenile. Young Adult. Completed April 11, 2014, on Kindle (library copy).
- Ashley Elston: The Rules for Breaking. Disney-Hyperion. Young Adult. Completed April 13, 2014, digital ARC on Kindle. I must admit that I didn't enjoy this one as much as I did the first book: The Rules for Disappearing. But for fans of YA thrillers (including a teen in the witness protection program), this 2-book series is worth a look.
- Stephen Chbosky: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. MTV Books. Young Adult. Completed April 22, 2014, on MP3. I enjoyed this book, but my appreciation was diminished a bit by the fact that I had already seen the movie, and knew how it would end. Both book and movie are well done, though.
- Sue Grafton: S is for Silence (Kinsey Millhone series). Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed April 13, on Kindle (library copy).
- Harlan Coben: Missing You. Dutton. Adult Mystery. Completed April 18, on MP3.
- Sue Grafton: T is for Trespass (Kinsey Millhone series). Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed April 21, 2014, on Kindle (library copy).
I'm currently reading Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the conclusion to Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series on Kindle, and Pieces of Me by Amber Kizer in print. Baby Bookworm's policy these days is to immediately ask to be read aloud any new book that comes into the house, from board books through early readers. You can check out the complete list of books we've read to her this year if you are interested to see more.
What are you and your family reading these days? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms.
|Encourage good citizenship in your kids, and a sense of pride in your lunch staff on May 2nd!|
06:23 pm - Travel Day
Today is a travel day, so here, have a photo of a cute little dog:
She took advantage of the chaos of moving to find a particularly comfortable place to sleep.
09:00 am - The Library in My Daughter's Room
On Sunday the Easter Bunny brought my daughter a book (among other things). When asked how the Easter Bunny could have known that she liked books, she said: "He would just have to look in my room. There's about a million books in there." When her father responded that, yes, she practically had a mini library in their, she got a little gleam in her eye. Without missing a beat she told us: "When I am 10 or 8 I'm going to have a real library in my room."
Over dinner, we fleshed out the whole plan. The requirement to wait until she is 10 or 8 quickly fell by the wayside. Here are some highlights:
- Kids will be able to borrow books Anyone checking out books now will be able to check out four books (because she is four), but by the time she is 25 they will be able to check out 25 books.
- She will hold separate storytimes for boys and for girls (though she plans to read them the same books).
- We discussed sending out invitations to all of her friends to visit the library, and even made a list of which friends would receive invites. (Though we did not actually get to the point of making the invitations.)
When she proposed that we move to the middle of the country, so that it would be easier for her cousins to also visit the library, we decided that things had gotten out of hand, and we moved onto something else. But not before she declared her new "what I'm going to be when I grow up" plan. She's going to be a doctor and a librarian. When she's not busy taking care of patients, she can read books to people.
I thought that those of you who've been following this blog might appreciate this little window into the evolving life of a Baby Bookworm. If you give a kid "about a million" books, and make time to read them, you might end up having to let her open a library one day.
I love poetry, but not like other people love poetry. No.
I mean, I love poetry.
But it's not that I just love it, I think I actually need it. Just as nourishment, and sunlight, and oxygen sustain me—Poetry sustains me. Just as religion, and family, and nature center me—Poetry centers me. Just as writing, and reading, and teaching fulfill me—Poetry fulfills me.
One of my favorite things to do in my classroom is to bring in the poetry.
I love to share great poetry, like "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, "Patterns" by Amy Lowell, and many, many more greatly beloved gems from literature.
However, I also love to share my own poetry with my students. It makes the lesson more valid when I ask them to write, and they see that I am not asking anything of them that I don't ask of myself.
One of my favorite ways to sneak it in poetry is by tying it in with something that's part of my curriculum. It's actually the only way I get away with it these days...oh, how I long for a creative writing class where I can really cut loose and teach the art of writing, but that's a blog for another day!
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958). It wasn't anything spectacular or mind blowing. It was quite a simple little poem, really, but with that one little poem, I taught point of view, poetic structure (including the "twist" at the end) and figurative language like imagery, symbolism, foreshadowing, personification, simile, etc.
As a follow up, I asked students to write a response poem to Nwoye from any other character's point of view in the novel. They really got into the assignment, it was like we were having a dialogue on paper—a poem from them in response to a poem from me in another character's point of view.
Complex and challenging, but fun and uniquely their own!
That's what poetry is for me, and that's what I want my students to discover—a unique, fun way to involve themselves and address poetry in a natural way, a way that speaks about their point of view as they explore literature, nature (including human nature), and life.
Here's a look at that little poem for those of who are interested:
"With a Machete, My Father"
Cut him down, severed the tie
That pulls a man away from himself.
So that he might be seen as
Strong, my father ended my brother’s life.
Ikemefuna’s voice called out.
For help he called, confused, bewildered.
Sunlight filtered through the leaves
of our forest, like an ancestral spirit, witnessing.
It glinted off his blade. Metal moved
quick as lightning, loud as thunder, wet as rain.
I did not see Ikemefuna in death, but I
Felt his shadow walking quietly behind my father.
When he entered his obi, my father
Did not speak, but sat down to drink palm wine.
I know why Okonkwo mourns.
It must be hard, to lose two sons in one day.
—Guadalupe Garcia McCall, February 2014
Another one of my favorite ways to share, discuss, and explore poetry is to bring in excerpts from a small collection of nature poems I have entitled, "On Prairie Road."
They are bits of life, mine and the world around me, and thus, I suspect, they will always be a work in progress.
I use these short little nature poems, these visceral snapshots, to teach theme.
I give my students a handout with three or four poems from the collection. I never know which ones I'll use because I always try to tie them in with the literature we are reading at the time.
When I first ask students to read them, it's a cold read, not really tied in to the book or story we're working with.
"Just read," I say. "Try to figure out what it means...what the poet was thinking...why she wrote it."
(I usually don't tell them I wrote the poems unless they ask if they are mine. Then I don't lie, I say, "Yes, it's part of something I'm working on," and we move on to the lesson).
After they do the cold read, I ask them to think about theme: What is the message behind the poems, what is the author trying to tell you about life? We discuss the first one together; we stir the mud using the well known SIFT strategy (Symbols, Imagery, Figurative Language, and Theme) to try to get to the bottom of it. When we all agree on a theme, we write it down beside the poem, quoting textual evidence, of course, to tie it to the novel/story we are reading.
Next, I ask a student to read the second poem to the class. This time, they talk to their elbow partner and try to SIFT through the poem together to find the theme. When everyone has a theme written down, we share and try to come to consensus as to the theme that best relates to the novel/story.
As a third stage of the lesson, the students read the last poem by themselves, SIFT through the poem, find a theme of their own and relate it to the novel/story.
Once again, we have that dialogue on paper, that back and forth sharing of point of view and ideas between author, teacher, and students—only this time they see that they can find courage and wisdom in nature, and in their own observations of nature and the world around them, to make connections to the text.
This lesson always works because most nature poems are universal enough to fit any novel or story. I can usually find several to match whatever literary piece we are reading at the time.
Before I started writing my own, I used a number of nature poems I loved, anything from well known nature poets like Edna St. Vincent Millay to contemporary poets like Wendy Barker was food for my classroom.
In any event, here are the three poems I used with Things Fall Apart for those of you who might be interested:
"On the Grass"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Two eager grackles walk on stilts.
Raven heads held high. Their golden
Eyes astute, foraging for generous
Seeds to feast upon.
Then, a grub worm, fat and slippery,
Clutched in a black bird’s claw, ripped apart,
Torn open, devoured by one who knows
Its creamy, yellow guts are more substantial.
"Along the Barbed Wire Fence"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
An oak has matured. Its golden heart
Pierced by the barbed wires of the
Barricade it has engulfed. Four lines of
Barbaric fencing, swallowed up, imprisoned
Within one hundred rings of bark. The
Anchoring posts push, pull, tug with
The passing seasons, but the oak is stoic,
Unmoved, its heavy trunk incorrigible.
"Across the Road"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Cows migrate in unison, slowly, quietly,
Plowing against the forceful rains. Heads
Hung low, shoulders determined,
Eyes to the ground, as if in prayer.
They do not wait for the waters to rise,
The lip of the creek to curl up cynically,
Swallow them up, drag them downstream,
They walk steadily, calmly, don’t look back.
Using poetry, our own or anybody else's, to make connections within and across texts is a fun, easy way to expose students to poetry and its value—not only in literature but also in life.
Exposing students to poetry, its depth and beauty, its relationship to the world we inhabit and the way we live and learn, is one of the best things we can do for our students. It goes beyond educating them—hopefully, it leads them to a love of poetry and a true appreciation of it.
Who's to say? It might even someday sustain them.
Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low, 2011), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist and received the Ellen Hopkins Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Reviews’ Best Teen Books of 2011 among many other honors and accolades.
Summer of the Mariposas (Tu, 2012), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction Award, was an Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalist, and was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year.
Her poems for adults have appeared in more than twenty literary journals across the country and abroad, and her poems for children are included in The Poetry Friday Anthology (2012), The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (2013), and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (2014), all by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.
Guadalupe was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems).
She is currently a high school English teacher in the San Antonio area and lives in Somerset with her husband, Jim, two (of three) sons, Steven and Jason, two dogs (Baxter and Blanca), and one cat (Luna).
07:29 am - YOU DO NOT GET TO SIT ON THE SIDELINES OF LIFE AND BITCH ABOUT THE WAY SOMONE ELSE VOLUNTEERS!!!!
I can’t help it. It seems that no matter how hard I try, I have the same rant about volunteerism every year. Mostly it’s the people standing next to me at a soccer field, a dance recital, a free writing event, a PTA endeavor or a community hoopla that have to hear me bitch about it. But today I decided to take it to the blog. Lucky you. I apologize ahead of time for speaking so loudly, but this one makes me yell…
This Rant is Entitled…Don’t be an Ass!
UNLESS THERE IS GROSS NEGLIGENCE INVOLVED OR DELIBERATE CRUELTY OF SOME KIND. YOU DO NOT GET TO SIT ON THE SIDELINES OF LIFE AND BITCH ABOUT THE WAY SOMONE ELSE VOLUNTEERS!!!! IF YOU DON’T LIKE HOW SOMONE ELSE IS DONATING THEIR TIME AND EFFORT FOR FREE YOU HAVE THREE REASONABLE OPTIONS…
1. YOU MAY BECOME A VOLUNTEER AND DO A “BETTER” JOB. (BE PREPARED BECAUSE SOMEONE IS GOING TO BITCH ABOUT WHAT YOU DO, NO MATTER HOW MUCH OF YOUR HEART AND SOUL AND TIME YOU DONATE.)
2. YOU CAN BITCH, MOAN, WHINE AND COMPLAIN ALL YOU WANT TO IN YOUR HEAD WHERE NO ONE ELSE CAN HEAR YOU.
3. YOU CAN STAY HOME AND WATCH REALITY TV.
As we all crawl out of our winter holes of isolation, I’d like to make a preemptive attempt at saying thank you to all the people who volunteer and make my life better. Your volunteerism usually impacts more than just yourself–it effects your family also. That is so kind of you and your loved ones. You get less sleep, have more stress and your charitable efforts cut into your free time. I know I’m not perfect. Sometimes I think before I speak, but I want you to know that it’s wrong. I know I better. I will remind myself to PUT UP OR SHUT UP!
Please use the comments on this blog to right the karmic balance. Give a shout out to some of the most amazing volunteers you know. And please do your part to stop the madness. Not only should our motto be PUT UP OR SHUT UP, but we shouldn’t stand on the sidelines and allow others to trash those who are stepping up. If speaking up isn’t your thing, you can always use the Jedi Mind trick to gently shame the blabber mouths. Defend the volunteers you must.
Apr. 21st, 2014
Book: Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile
Author: Marcia Wells
Illustrator: Marcos Calo
Age Range: 9-12 (lightly illustrated middle grade)
Mystery of the Museum Mile is the first book of the new Eddie Red Undercover series by Marcia Wells. Eddie Red is a code name for Edmund Xavier Lonnrot, a sixth grader with a photographic memory and the ability to draw (well) anyone he has seen. When Eddie's talents are inadvertently discovered by the New York Police Department, he is hired to help on a special case involving art theft. He's only supposed to visit some museums and draw the people he sees, under the guidance of a grouchy but protective cop named Bovano. But of course things get more complicated, and more dangerous, than that.
So, ok, there are a couple of points here requiring suspension of disbelief. The NYPD hiring an 11-year-old? Said 11-year-old's parents going along with it? The photographic memory AND drawing skill? But personally, I found it well worth letting those points go and enjoying the ride.
Edmund (or Eddie Red, as you may prefer to think of him) is a solid character. Smart, sure, but realistically insecure about it. Loyal to his best friend, who has pretty serious OCD. Eddie breaks the rules in order to learn more about the case, but he's nervous about that. He's not your young James Bond, able to do everything. He's more your regular kid who has one particular skill. He desperately wants to solve the case so that he can make enough money to remain in his private school.
Eddie is also pretty matter-of-fact about being a young African-American male in the city. The color of his skin isn't a big deal, but it's not glossed over, either. It's an integral part of who he is, and who his parents are. This, together with his white friend Jonah's quirks, makes this a mystery that should feel relevant to a wider range of kids than many. Eddie does have a very mild love interest, which didn't really feel necessary to me, but there's not enough to it to be off-putting for younger kids.
The mystery involves following clues, putting things together, and applying a bit of geometry (Jonah is helpful here). A fair number of scenes take place in Jonah and Eddie's school for gifted kids, which I found interesting.
Here are a few snippets, to give you a feel for Wells' writing:
"People always ask how to spell my name. It's European and looks pretty unusual, but it's easy to pronounce: Lawn-rot. Some family down south owned my ancestors back in the slave days, and the name stuck." (Page 16)
"I try to follow. Sadie, our cat-who-may-be-an-evil-overlord-in-disgu
"He remains standing, staring out the window. He has quite a pasta/beer belly packed onto his tall body. This man is what my mother would call a touch cookie. Only he's more like a tough loaf of old and angry Italian break, with too much garlic mixed in." (Page 53)
There are also occasional full-page illustrations, representing Eddie's drawings of important characters in the story. Calo's pencil (charcoal?) sketches are a bit professional to actually be created by a sixth grader, but they are a nice addition to book, fleshing out Eddie's talent and giving readers a glimpse of the characters.
All in all, Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile is a nice addition to the ranks of middle grade mysteries. I look forward to Eddie's further adventures. Recommended!
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).
I am fortunate to be friends with several truly amazing poets. One of them is Dan Maguire, a former South Jerseyan who now lives in the Baltimore area. Dan is a fine poet, and also truly great at reading his poems. He will be the featured poet tonight at the Barnes & Noble on Route 70 in Marlton, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
In light of my ongoing dizziness (and therefore my inability to drive), I will not be able to make it to Dan's reading tonight, but those of you who have been privileged to hear Dan before (or who trust my taste in poetry - a smaller group, no doubt) will want to hear Dan read if it's at all possible.
When Cynthia graciously invited me to write a guest post for her blog, she asked if there was a particular writing craft item on my mind. Indeed, there is. And its color is blue.
Blue screen, that is. The kind they use in movie making when they film actors against a blank blue screen and then Cg in the background.
During a blue-screen shoot, the cameras capture the characters delivering their dialogue and action, but they don’t capture the setting. There is none. It’s just blue nothingness.
The scene doesn’t come fully alive until the special effects people go in and add the setting. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something I call “bluescreening” in young adult manuscripts.
I’ve been editing teen/tween manuscripts for more than fifteen years, acting as a bridge between writers and their readers, doing my best to ensure that the story the writer wants to tell is the story that reaches her readers.
In the last few years, I’ve noticed an increasing dearth of setting in the manuscripts crossing my desk. Writers are focusing on voice and plot and character arcs, and on fresh, marketable hooks—and rightly so, as these are all integral storytelling elements.
But our poor little friend, Setting . . . she’s barely there. Such a powerful storytelling tool, yet so overlooked of late. Why? What’s happened? Where did setting go?
In the process, setting—the quiet workhorse of stories—is being short-changed. The characters are dropped in a location—a room, a park, wherever—and then it’s “Onward, ho!” to the action and the dialogue.
Where’s the sense of place? Where’s the feeling that this scene could happen nowhere else but here? Where’s the full reading experience?
Too often, I feel like I’m watching a movie for which the special affects crew has forgotten to generate the background, leaving the characters walking and talking in front of that vast blue nothingness.
That’d be a pretty big boo-boo in a feature film, wouldn’t it? So, too, in a novel.
Think about the YA/middle grade novels we love.
Without setting, we wouldn’t have Beetle’s warm, moiling dung heap sheltering us from the frosty night in Karen Cushman’s Newbery Medal-winning The Midwife’s Apprentice (Clarion, 1995).
We wouldn’t have the terrifying frozen beauty of The North in Philip Pullman’s bestseller The Golden Compass (Knopf, 2006).
We wouldn’t have Kathi Appelt’s National Book Award Finalist The Underneath at all (Atheneum, 2008).
We need setting in our stories. We need the richness that makes up setting, the sensual engagement that can only come from hearing the crunch of frosty grass under the protagonist’s bare feet, or feeling the sudden whispery kiss of a spider’s web dangling from the eaves. We’d just have a girl walking across a lawn and a creepy old house. Where’s the joy in that?
The lovely thing is, lack of setting is an easy boo-boo to fix. And when you bang that nail into place, the overall effect on the manuscript is substantial.
If you write teen/tween novels, take a look at your current work-in-progress. Is it all action and dialogue? Or have you given us enough sensory detail to fill out the space around the characters?
I’m not saying go all Henry James on your audience. Heavens, no! Few can stomach such long-winded descriptions of setting. Certainly not your average teen reader.
Instead of describing or simply naming your setting, show your character interacting with elements of it, manipulating those elements or reacting to them. Give us the sounds and smells and textures and temperatures and sensations that distinguish that particular place by having your character hearing them, smelling them, and feeling them.
Along the way, you will enrich your entire story because:
* setting influences and illuminates characterization
Imagine one character finding solace in the songs of mockingbirds on a flower-covered (and floral-scented) mountaintop, while his friend hunkers under a freeway overpass and loses himself in the sounds of the traffic, the vibrations of the ground, and the fumes of a world too busy to notice him.
* setting figures directly into plot
A dingy, mud-caked window screen blocks a character’s view of a fight outside. He faces a choice: ignore the fight, or leave the safety of his house to watch it—or to stop it.
* setting influences characters’ word choice
Trip-slipping on the gritty asphalt crumbs of a dilapidated road blurred by heat waves…. Tromping through biting snowdrifts…. Both can put foul words into the mouths of saints!
* setting affects pacing and tension
Compare the discomfort of feeling the flesh of strangers’ arms, shoulders, even cheeks, as a character shoves through a busy train station with the caress of a cool breeze on the character’s cheek as he wiggles his toes into the powdery sand of an empty beach.
* setting provides subtext and ambiance
Catholic school vs. public school, anyone? Oh, the sensory details that distinguish each of those settings.
Above all, characters need a sense of place to know how to behave. Don’t just give them somewhere to be; show how that particular place influences their mood and actions. You chose that setting for a reason, mine it so that readers can feel that sense of place for themselves.
For your audience, a rich setting is the difference between watching characters and being there with them. For you, it means more meaningful and satisfying scenes. Improving your use of setting is a win-win deal—and that’s certainly nothing to feel blue about.
|Cyn & Deborah with her sons|
This post was originally published in June 2010. Past posts will be sprinkled into the schedule for the duration of Cyn's revision deadline.
Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me (2007) and Big Mouth (2008)(both Delacorte/Random House) as well as Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (Wiley), Letters to Santa (available via the USPS) and Cyber World, Meltdown and Robotic World (Rubicon's REMIX series).
She edited picture books and teen novels for Harcourt Books for ten years before leaving to write books full-time.
Deborah lives with her husband and triplet sons in San Diego, California, where she also runs her writers’ advice website Dear-Editor.com and freelance edits fiction and nonfiction for both published authors and writers seeking their first book deals.
Apr. 20th, 2014
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of staying at Thurber House, where humorist/author James Thurber spent part of his youth.
It was a homecoming of sorts for me, having been the 2007 Thurber House Children's Writer-in-Residence. It was so wonderful to see my old friends (as in I've known them for seven years) Pat Shannon and Meg Brown . . .
I stayed in the attic apartment, and since Pat had gifted me with a pack of purple marshmallow Peeps, it was only fitting that I blow them up in the microwave -- with an assist from James Thurber and Peepy . . .
But first, this. Near Thurber House, in the Germantown section for Columbus, OH, is a most marvelous used/new bookstore, The Book Loft.
And here's Thurber House . . .
Here are some of the authors who have visited Thurber House . . .
Now, in honor of Easter Peeps and Spring and whatnot, there's this . . .
Want to see a video of Peeps being blown up in the microwave? Here's one!
Oh, look! If you'd like an autographed book, order from Vroman's, tell them who you'd like me to sign it to, and they will mail it to you!"
Disclaimer: No proofreaders were harmed (or even used) in the creation of this blog.
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