Friday, October 1, 2010

Soapbox about Audio Books

I'm not a super black and white person. I see lots of shades of gray and I really like it that way. It works for me and it always has. Having kids has made me see more black and whites. I remember even noticing it when I was pregnant. I started feeling certain about things, as they related to me and our little growing familia. When my kids were born I took a position on several things. I would breast-feed as long as I could, when my kids became able-bodied they would do regular and often rigorous chores, and (this one felt like a biggie) getting on the floor a lot with them when they were little was of supreme importance. In my mind there were *getting on the floor* people and *not getting on the floor people*. I wanted my kids to know they were worth getting on the floor for, plus is sounded like fun.

I was also staunchly opposed to videos players in cars, car rides are for fighting with brothers, talking, occasionally singing together but mostly kids should be bored in car rides, short ones and long ones, staring at trees. I felt religious about this one. To add fuel to my already burning flame, more recently, I took the Oprah "no phone zone" pledge so why should they be haplessly entertained when I am giving up a vice?
My mother-in-law has a video player in her red van, she extols the virtues of silent kiddos in the back for hours on end. In her defense, she has lots of grandkids and does lots of kid-watching. When I am a Grandma, I will fully embrace technology too, I will let my grandchildren teleport themselves to Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island on a whim, or even dabble in time travel, if we are doing an overnight.

But, right here, right now, I thought, these are my kids, and I get to do it my way and I said no TV in our cars.

When I am in the red van, riding shotgun with Grandma, I turn around to see their faces. They are the same TV faces I see at home- eyes locked, mouth slightly gaped and occasionally wincing or chewing on a shirt collar. It sometimes looks painful.

Enter the book on audio. There was a whole wall of them at the library, and we had a six hour drive to Northern California to complete. It's a friendly stranger reading them a story, right? Gotta love it. What I didn't fully appreciate is this stranger sounds like a cast of 40, able to change in and out of voices like that crazy couple of TV with more layers of clothes than a homeless man in Buffalo. 

Then I realized, when listening to a book on audio, they have this awesome serene look on their faces, even during some pretty scary stuff. And they are looking out the window of the car, looking at those trees I was so intent they see. But truthfully, I'm not sure exactly what they are looking at. I have to keep my wits about me and drive, but there is still some sort of invisible screen out there, or inside of their little minds.

To me their eyes seem to be doing a little dance, their mouth quivering slightly, sometimes re-mouthing a funny line just blurted out by the gutsy hero. My favorite boy to watch is my middle one (be careful, driving and watching your children for entertainment can be hazardous). He acts out movements described by the author, at least one little gesture a page. It's that predictable.

Yesterday was my favorite one of all times. It was a line from Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli,

"Grayson's smile was so big you had to break it into pieces to fit it through the door."

My seven year old's fingers patted the corners of his lips and he practiced a few quick smiles, like he was testing the elasticity of a new rubber-band. Then he tugged side-ways on his cheeks. Could his smile really block a doorway? How would you then break that smile down, to get on through that door? He smiled again and shook his head.

Aah, the glorious wonder of the audio book. Libraries have amazing selections and two weeks is the perfect window for a short novel from start to finish just zipping around town. And beware of the extra big smiles that come along for the ride!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I am really excited about a new post I should be able to write in about a week. My plan is for it to be the first of many in a monthly recurring post. It's going to be called... Are you ready? Are you really ready? Flashback Newbery!

I have so many *Hall of Shame" Newbery books I haven't read. I was especially shamed when I read a post by a blogger who has read ALL the Newbery Honor books since 1926! She did it systematically (a la Julie and Julia). That's impressive. But why would someone want to go back in time? Especially when life has changed so much in the past 100 years? Won't the stories in these books be dusty and boring? I feel called to do a fearless and searching inventory of some of these hallowed books!

A Marty McFly for Newberys!

Because my oldest has hit fourth grade and my day from 3:00 involves wearing many hats including but not limited to homework whip-cracker, short-order cook, chauffer, dog-catcher (our new rescue dog is a houdini) etc... And day-time is filled with work, plus stuff so boring to list it will put you to sleep. So you get it- I need to use my reading time wisely. If that's the case, why would I want to get in a time machine and read old childrens' books especially when so many great ones are coming out every single month? (I'm reading those too, but that is not the point here!)
This is why. Because getting in a time machine and going back to some early Newbery winners has been SO MUCH FUN!  More details to follow SOON!
*This is Uncle Rico's time machine from Napoleon Dynamite. Remember? Nerdelicious.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pablo Neruda- The Dreamer

Pamela Munoz Ryan is one of my favorite authors, so when I heard that she had written a fictionalized story about the life of poet Pablo Neruda, I knew I had to get my hands on the book. The Dreamer was not what I expected, but it was a perfect homage to Neruda and was a delight to read. 
I was expecting a young adult book, or at the very least a book for upper middle-grade. Pablo Neruda is a sophisticated romantic (read racy) Chilean poet. The book is suggested for a wide middle-grade audience from grade 4 to grade 9, dipping down low into fourth grade was not what I'd anticipated. The book itself is weighty and long, 384 pages. But it is filled with gorgeous drawings, whimsical poetry and light-hearted visual imagery that seem to match the character of the fictionalized Chilean boy, Neftali Reyes who sees, hears and feels poetry all around him from an early age. The story is hefty enough to engage an older reader but the drawings that hint at the story ahead are engaging enough to draw in younger readers who will be intrigued by Neftali and want to know why such drawings are on the page, and wonder where the drawings will lead them.  
As NeftalĂ­ grows into a teen, he becomes increasingly aware of the plight of the indigenous Mapuche in his Chilean homeland. Pamela Munoz Ryan does a wonderful job of integrating these themes of social injustice, neither overwhelming nor becoming secondary to NeftalĂ­’s story.

For any readers who loved Pamela Munoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising or (my own personal favorite) Becoming Naomi Leon, her fans, here, will be equally entranced by her writing and storytelling, and moved by Sis' illustrations. The Dreamer would also be appreciated by any young reader (or old!) who doesn't feel like a natural fit in traditional academic surroundings or who likes to color outside of the lines. Feeling, seeing and hearing creatively all around you can feel like a curse if your surroundings are asking you to behave, but Pablo Neruda and The Dreamer teach us to not snuff out the candle, the world needs to see and be warmed by that special and unique light!  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I heart Taylor

So I just had to post a link to this blog entry by Cheryl Klein because not only do I love almost every post on her blog, this one is particularly eerie to me because in it I learned that I am not the only person who lays awake at night dissecting Taylor Swift lyrics!

There is a line in Taylor's song Mine that I listened over and over again so I could write it down and figure out why it sounded so so beautiful and why a few short words made up an entire story. I loved reading Cheryl's post today and seeing that I am not the only person who thinks her words are sheer perfection when it comes to teens and getting to the heart of the matter.

One thing Cheryl didn't bring up was the beautiful song Taylor sang at the VMAs earlier this week. Someone said to me that she really put "Kanye in his place." Huh? What? I didn't feel that way at all! Listening to the song, it felt like an olive branch. Didn't you think?

I looked online and there seems to be great controversy about her intent. So let me set this straight. I feel like I'm entitled because I couldn't have been prouder of Taylor, I felt like she was my little sis up there teaching a jaded world about forgiveness and quiet grace. It was so not a jab.

And of course she wrote a song about it, that's what Taylor does. She's a teenager and she's Taylor Swift, so if all the adults out there think she should've just taken it in stride and moved on, they clearly don't remember what it means to be a teen. Millions of young girls (and boys) listen to her music and if they haven't lived through an experience that required an act of forgiveness yet, they soon will. I love that Taylor wasn't about revenge and payback.

Because I have a mental catalog of her music, I feel like I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Taylor can't let go of the past without learning from it. How cool is that? Keep writing Tay Tay. Whether or not you agree with all her messages is one thing (I personally don't), but there is no denying that she set a glorious example of forgiveness and turning the other cheek. I heart Taylor.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Boy-friendly Newbery Medal Winners-Gold, Silver and Bronze!

Newbery Award winning books are considered the best of the best in the middle-grade division of childrens' books. Each January, one Newbery Medal book is chosen as the winner. One to three Newbery Honor books may be chosen as well. The judges are librarians from all around the country who know their middle-grade fiction like a cat knows a canary, so when a new crop of books come on the scene each year, and a few rise to the top, the books are scrutinized and thoroughly dissected.

That golden seal means a lot. It means little dreamy girls who journal a lot will rub their fingers over the bas relief circle and dream that some day someone will cozy up in a corner somewhere and read her words (oops, that slipped out). Out of my dream state and back to reality! What it really means that every book store and library in the United States and beyond will order and shelve that book, and although many will agree with all the accolades and hearty praise, there will also be voices of dissension claiming that book had no place as the King of the Hill. The voices will try to push the book off its throne, dirty its knees and make its author cry.

In my recommendation of awesome boy-friendly Newberys, I do in no way mean to make this list exclusive. I am sure there are many Newberys able to make a boy smile and giggle. But this summer my son happened to read three that made his heart soar. Yesterday his fourth grade teacher announced that each person in the class needed to be on the look-out for a Newbery to read this year. He said boys moaned and groaned around the room and he was hoping that he could slip them a copy of his favorites so they could know that this task wasn't nearly as painful as they were anticipating.

So, in keeping with the 2010 Summer Olympics, here are the Gold, Silver and Bronze of Boy-Friendly Newberys according to my favorite fourth-grader:


HOOT by Carl Hiassen

Hoot is an eco-adventure starring an imminently likable main character, Roy, and a barefoot boy who catches fish with his bare hands. Their quest involves saving a species of burrowing owls from certain extinction by fighting the corporate machine, Paula's Pancake House. Paula's company is trying to build on the owls' sacred breeding ground. Some people feel "boy" books do not have the character-development offered in "girl" books. Not true with Carl Hiaason. His characters jump off the page, wave you toward them with enthusiasm, twinkle and don't let you go until the very last page. My son says Roy is his favorite character in a book, ever! He says if the other two books in the trilogy, Scat and Flush, were Newberys, they might bump the other two out of their medals. Maybe.

*Both Hoot and Holes are movies (no surprise there). Fortunately we hadn't seen either movie before we found these books. After reading both books, we rented the movies. Of course neither movie lived up to the movie he'd "already seen in his head"! 

The Silver

HOLES by Louis Sachar

Stanley is sentenced to hard time at a labor camp/detention center for boys. His days with his fellow inmates are spent digging holes for the warden. This one is hard to sum up without getting into anything that might take away from the experience. There is a wonderful historical component Sachar weaves in back and forth along with Stanley's story. It sounds confusing, but it's not. And my son seemed to enjoy both storylines which eventually blend to create a satisfying and exciting read. Stanley and his buddies were phenomenal characters, creating the perfect blend of people and plot to keep you hooked!

The Bronze

MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli

I love Jerry Spinelli. Star Girl is one of my all-time favorite books, so I had high-hopes for Jerry's ability to connect with my son. Jeffrey Maniac Magee has a lot of the sweet, naivete and allure I found in StarGirl and my son warmed up to him just as I had hoped. This is the oldest book of the three, having won the Newbery in 1990. This book deals with racial tension, prejudice, tolerance and acceptance. After reading this one, the whole family listened to the audio book while on a trip and not only did it have us all laughing, it created an opportunity for open and important dialogue about stereotyping and cultural differences. I personally think Jerry Spinelli is one of the greats in middle-grade fiction and I am surprised this one is not a movie along with Hoot and Holes.

Caveat: Once you hear the audio book, your family may have a hard time not chanting the jump rope song written about the legendary Maniac Magee by young girls who lived in the neighborhood! 

Now that I've completed this post, I realize that all three books were penned by male authors. Hmmm.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation

I didn't plan this. I really did just finish  The Last Best Days of Summer. It's been in a pile since I bought it in May, but I got side-tracked by Suzanne Collins maniaville, (go Katniss!) and a bunch of other books in the heap. Cut to September, now my boys start school in a few days, the season is winding to a close and I find myself writing about a wonderful book called The Last Best Days of Summer. Finishing this sweet hopeful book and knowing the last week of a glorious summer is slipping out of reach seems meant to be. Finishing a near-perfect book and a near-perfect summer is always bittersweet.

Twelve-year-old Lucy thinks August is the most perfect time of the year. August is when she spends time with Grams at the lake house. Grams is the person Lucy feels most known by. The person who makes her feel safe and centered. That is, until this summer. Grams is a different person this summer and it couldn't be happening at a more confusing time. Lucy's best friend sends her off with a stack of teen magazines, hoping Lucy will study up on how to increase their popularity and Lucy eagerly leaves behind Eddie, a friend with Down's Syndrome who she enjoys but only will admit it deep down inside. How can Grams be losing it when Lucy desperately needs her so much.

I love Valerie Hobbs' simple straightforward writing. She lured me in with Defiance (Imagine bringing together an eleven year old boy with cancer, a spunky old neighbor lady and a cow named Blossom. Are you hooked yet?) I have been eagerly awaiting this one and it did not disappoint. Once again she brings together characters who are so different from one another and manages to create this amazing harmony. Stuff that really does happen in life, but often feels artificial in print. With Hobbs it feels anything but artificial. My heart went out to sweet Lucy, grappling with the indescribable pain of losing her childhood, coupled with her beloved Grams, losing her memory, drifting away from Lucy when she needed her most. And innocent Eddie, who was so very unaware of the difficulties around him, but who added so much to the story and to Lucy's growth throughout the book.

This book has that "girlfriend" quality I remember longing for and looking for in books as a young reader. A book that provided a friend hidden in the pages. Someone who could articulate her frustration like I often could not, someone who's life felt a little out of control but she was muddling through anyway. This book will touch many girls' hearts. I know I will recommending it and giving it to many!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation- Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth

"Stay here, starve here," Gopal's father sums up the family's reality in a few small words. Eleven year-old Gopal lives in rural India where his family's survival is deeply tied to their land. As is typical in most third world countries, a bad crop, a family illness or any number of small turns could force a family away from their life in the country, toward a life in the city where job opportunity hopefully awaits. Gopal’s father (Baba) decides to move the family to Mumbai where they can be helped by relatives and Baba can find work. The first half of the book walks through many tenuous situations in the family's travels to find Gopal’s Uncle Jama. These situations allow the reader to see the beauty and goodness of people in India and the love Gopal's family has for one another. The second half of the book follows through on what is described on the back cover, life in a sweatshop. I was grateful for the time the author spent grounding me in Gopal's family life and his sense of self, investing me all the more in my desire to see him escape the conditions and dangers of his life locked up in a  sweatshop building where he is forced to work all day with no pay and little food.

In the sweatshop, Gopal meets the other child laborers who do not give their names. Throughout the story they are known as: Dimple Chin, Gray Cloud (GC), Rocking Boy, Night Chatterer and Thick Fingers. The names breathed life and new dimension into these characters, much like Stanley's imprisoned buddies in Holes by Louis Sachar. Gopal's relationships with the wounded boys build slowly and tentatively and created what was my favorite part of the book. Over time, Gopal realizes he has a gift the other boys have not been given, years of love from his family and the confidence and sense of self that provides. Slowly, the author develops Gopal's realization that he must use his strong foundation of love and security provided by his upbringing to engender the trust of these wary boys. Only then can they can create a connection that will allow them to do more than merely survive within the walls of the building- create a plan to escape!

Gopal quickly realizes storytelling is his best means to forge a bond with the other laborers. The theme of storytelling is central to this book. First, Gopal uses storytelling to entertain himself and his younger siblings in their life in the Indian countryside. Then Gopal turns to storytelling as a way to insert hope into the desperation of his family's life as they travel through India and lose Baba. Finally, Gopal uses story as a way to connect with the other boys within the walls of their sweatshop. Evenings of story-telling became the highlight of the boys evenings together on their bunks and ultimately is what bonded them.

Gopal's stories are sweet and endearing. I loved the slow build of hope he infused into the lives of the boys who had not known joy inside or outside the walls of their sweatshop.

The abuse the boys suffered included beatings, ladders taken away in the night so they could not use the bathroom, and being forced to hold their ankles for hours. It didn't get much worse than that. It felt authentic in its depiction of the types of evils that a child might endure in this environment, although I am sure Sheth only provided the milder forms of abuse, so that this could be palatable for a middle grade reader. In the acknowledgments in the back of the book, the author discussed that the basis for many of the characters and situations were founded on experiences she had while traveling in India doing extensive research on this subject matter.

Jacqueline Woodson's blurb on the cover of the book sums up my feelings about this book, I will let her say it for me! "Boys Without Names is not a heartbreaking story, even if there are moments that break the heart. Instead, it is a story about growing up, about learning and relearning the meaning of family. This is one of the best books I've read this year."

There were definitely moments that broke my heart. It is beyond difficult hearing any detail of abuse inflicted on children. Sheth does a beautiful job providing enough to create an authentic story, and yet not too much so as to take the book out of the middle-grade range of appropriate subject matter and detail.

This book would be great for male or female middle grade readers, either to read on their own or as a class read aloud. I can imagine the class discussions would be rich with "aha" moments for children who may not appreciate the comfort and ease with which they go about their days. I will be eagerly awaiting any future work by Kashmira Sheth. I am now a huge fan.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Not Exactly Kid's Lit, but So Very Cool!

My son is taking a Stop-Motion Animation Class this week at an amazing local art studio. The ceilings go up and up forever and just being in the building I feel like I'm wearing a beret and holding a little art pallette with a thumb hole. I can't even imagine how artsy the kids must feel. 

After class, we've spent a lot of time online looking at ideas for his projects. It's amazing all the crazy household items people can make fly, reach summit, swim and puke! This Friday (day 5 of his class) is the Stop Motion Animation Jamboree where his film will be released to the public (his classmates, their four or five moms and me)! OK, so maybe so far his project is mostly whirling q-tips, flying pennies and a tiny wooden cross from an Easter egg but look where this burst of creative energy could lead!!! So much creativity and precision in this amazing work of art- Hooray for artists!!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fickle Fickle Fiction Fan

I love a good mystery. As a kid, I loved Harriet the Spy, The Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and my favorite boy sleuth, Encyclopedia Brown. Mystery is a tricky genre, but when an author proves they can master the beast, readers will follow them anywhere! When my oldest son devoured all the Encyclopedia Browns in one summer, and read all the A-Z mysteries (from A to Z!), I knew we needed some new gumshoes. We've covered serious ground, but there is one super sleuth who deserves today's spotlight because she has captured my attention in a big way and I know little me would have loved her as much as big me does. (And my sons love her too, which is saying something when you can appeal to both boys and girls!)

Who is this girl wonder you ask?

Sammy Keyes! She is sassy, adventurous, intrepid and smart. She will get the job done and you (even as an adult) will not solve this one! I read the first book (in the wee hours of the night) over Christmas break and loved it. It twists and turns with plot and sub-plots galore.This past Memorial Day weekend I checked the audio book out at the library and we listened to the CDs in the car- two hours up and two hours back. A test of the crime-solving abilities of the men in my life. As we pulled into the parking lot of the Pasadena Islands, after a completely mesmorized vehicle of five made it's way back through the Memorial Day traffic (starving for lunch), the last CD revealed Sammy's mystery's solution. (Picture me squealing with delight as my husband picked a red herring as the ending). No one saw it coming.

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief is the first in the series of ten books. Wendeline Van Drannan won the prestigious Edgar award for this first installation and it is well-deserved. I can't wait to see what else she has in store in books 2-10. This morning at breakfast, my oldest son was reading chapter nine of the second book and left for school this morning with it tucked in his backpack. I think he's hooked too! 

While reading Sammy, something sort of random dawned on me. As a kid, I loved that Encyclopedia Brown always solved the mystery and did it all on foot, walking all over Idaville to get his man. I could do what Encyclopedia does, couldn't I? All I need is a garage office and someone willing to plunk a quarter into the gas can so I can solve their case. Nancy Drew, on the other hand, needed her little blue convertible, and by extension, a driver's license and the ripe old age driving requires. Sammy and Encyclopedia were far from driving, a skateboard or a bike would be the best mode of transport they could dream up, and yet no crime was impossible to solve, nothing was out of reach. For this reason alone, three cheers for Sammy and non-driving girls everywhere who have mystery dragons to slay. And what girl doesn't, right?

Monday, April 26, 2010

In which I give you a poem in lieu of a book recommendation

Walking to our Saturday School Fair this weekend, my oldest son, who has never failed to notice every bit of nature God puts in his path, looked at a weed pushing up through some broken pavement and said, "Look, Mom, nature and God always win."

His observation reminded me of an old journal I'd found earlier in the week, and of one poem in particular, by Mary Oliver.

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones
just pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate,
this isn't a contest but a doorway
into thanks, and a
silence in which another voice can speak

-Mary Oliver

Ann Lamott says that all writers should have a copy of Mary Oliver's poem, Wild Geese, taped to their computer monitor. I'm not sure if my flat screen is considered a monitor? I like a clean uncluttered computer screen, but Wild Geese does rock, as does Anne Lamott. Maybe I'll try it, just for a bit.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Westing Game Treasure Trove

For all you Westing Game junkies (the 1979 Newbery Medal winner), this post is for you!

Ellen Raskin, author of The Westing Game, very graciously donated all her early writings, thoughts, editor's notes and musings about her wonderful book for all the world to enjoy.They are housed in Wisconsin, but nearly everything is available online.

If you haven't yet read The Westing Game, pick up a copy and settle in. It's an amazing ride. For me, it was the bridge that connected the incessant playing of the board game *Clue* with my brothers to reading the wonderful world of mystery-genre novels.

The nutshell version with no spoilers goes like this: The sixteen heirs of magnate Sam Westing were all called upon at the reading of his will to unravel the secret of his death. They all lived together at the Sunset Tower and were given $10,000 just to play the game, with the hopes of solving the mystery and ultimately winning $2 million dollars.

I haven't read this wonderful book for several decades, but I remember loving young teenage Turtle and her skillful ability to deduce logical conclusions from the evidence.There was a lot to love (and hate) about the other 15 players too, but young Turtle sticks out in my mind.

When you visit this site you will see the extravaganza of fun:  copies of early drafts,  later copies of final manuscripts, working notes, book design and even an audio-tape of Ellen herself talking you through all her stuff. A treasure trove for book-nerds and writers alike! Awesome!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation !

Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur

I just have to warn you from the get-go, this book is sad. Sad, sad, sad. But I beg you, give it a chance. The writing is so beautiful, Aubrey's voice is so sweet and ultimately, it is a book of hope, resiliency and triumph.

Amazon has a good summary that doesn't give anything important away so I'll start with that: Something terrible has happened. 11 yr old Aubrey is on her own. She's determined to hide away, and take care of herself because facing the the truth is too much to bear. But will the love of her Grandma and the letters she writes to her family help Aubrey to see that even though she has lost everything not all is lost?

Suzanne LaFleur writes about loss and grief brilliantly. I was reduced to tears more than a few times and I'm not sappy like that. The shattered innocence of Aubrey really takes your breath away and even though its so sad (I mentioned that right?), it feels so authentic you want to keep reading to see how this precious little girl fares. I've heard a few people say this book is more of a YA, I really don't get that at all. Aubrey is 11 and LaFleur has written her perfectly there. There are no issues or storylines that would take this into a YA subject matter, it all feels very middle grade to me. I think because it is, let's all say it together now, sad- some people may think it is more suited to an older audience. I disagree. I know a few fourth grade girls who would appreciate and enjoy this book.

**if you are considering this as an audio book, I know someone who both read it and listened to it on a trip with their children, she thought the "audio book Aubrey" had an overly-depressed tone to her voice that took away from the writing. I haven't heard the audio book, but I can imagine that would be annoying. Aubrey is a resilient optimistic girl by nature who was thrown into awful circumstances, I don't think the tone of her voice would bring you down. She's not that girl.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Drum Roll Please

And once again, I give you Betsy Bird...

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Betsy is counting down the top 100 middle grade novels of all time. Today Betsy lists my favorite book of all time- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson in the #13 spot. Not even in the top ten! For shame!

Betsy found a copy of the original cover (how does she do it?) This one I believe is the current paperback.

I couldn't bring myself to see the movie. I didn't want it to mess up the movie that already lives in my head. Did you know that's why Madeline L'Engle books have never been set to film? She didn't want to do that to her readers. Love Madeline.  

I was one of the three- only three!?- who put this life-changing book in the number one slot. I can't wait to see what the remaining twelve are. Will my life be changed yet again? We shall see!

I love some of the quotes Betsy includes:

"It made me cry in fifth grade. And again in high school, and again and again and again each time I read it" (me too!)

"It made me feel older and wiser." (Again, me too!)

*An interesting note in Betsy's post is that Bridge to Terabithia is on the librarian's *death list*, meaning the book addresses the topic of death and as such, it falls on this list. (in the good company of Charlotte's Web) What makes Bridge different from Charlotte is you don't see it coming, which I think contributes to the young reader's feeling of being "older and wiser" upon completing the book. I think 5th grade is a perfect time for this one.  

Click here for the post

And check back with Betsy over the next few weeks for the remaining 12, SO FUN!!!!!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Three Quotes to Float your Boat

When you're in a rut, sometimes a great quote can really inspire. To me, when you combine a great quote with an old black and white photo, it's like being visited by an other-worldly muse. A muse who can push you on to greater heights in your belief that all this pen-to-paper stuff really matters.

I present, your muses- a few of my favorite legendary children's writers:

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it difficult to plan the day."
-E.B. White
author of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little and Trumpet of the Swan

"We write by the light of every book we've ever read."
-Richard Peck
author of A Season of Gifts, A Long Way from Chicago, A Year Down Yonder

"You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it's going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children."
-Madeline L'Engle
author of A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Now get to work, whatever beautiful work that may be!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Won't Sit Down, Won't Shut up

So apparently having 3 boys under 10 is affecting me, because I love this video and I like to play it loud and I feel it in my bones. And I'm singing from the perspective of the boys, not the shutter-upper. Go ahead and crank up the volume, you will love it too!

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation #10

Twelve year old Lucy is a natural problem solver. When the distraught homecoming queen comes crashing through the doors of the family pharmacy with a hair disaster, Lucy knows just what to do. But if she is such a problem-solver why can't she help Gram and Mom get the pharmacy back on its feet, back to when it was the center of town and where everyone used to shop? Once news of the homecoming queen's salvaged hair hits the streets, girls start coming to the pharmacy for all sorts of help- makeovers, proms, bat mitvahs.  Will Lucy be able to capitalize on this and save the pharmacy? 

I loved girly girl books and this is one of them. And I love the cover! Lucy's spunk and optimism permeates the whole book and I think this book will be a huge hit with young girls. There is also a very sweet friendship between Lucy and her closest friend Sunny. I love books with tight gal pal friendships on a mission!   

Monday, March 8, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation #9- Also Known As Harper

Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal

Winnie Rae Early followed ten steps behind me the entire way home from school. It was hard not to fall into rhythm with the noisy sniff she took every third step. I knew without turning around that she was doing what she'd done all day long at school, lifting her arm up and wiping at the chapped underside of her nose with the underside of her wrist.

And so begins Also Known As Harper in one of the many complicated yet tender relationships in this book. The lives of Harper (named after Harper Lee) and her brother Hem (Hemingway) have been recently turned upside down. Hem sits on the porch each day waiting for Daddy's truck to pull in the drive, and big sister Harper knows that it won't but the worst part is, she doesn't want it to.

Harper is a poet. Words come to her unexpectedly and she has to get them down on paper. She loves her poetry and wants to share it with the world. Last year she missed the annual poetry recital because her Dad refused to sign the permission slip. Missing the recital broke her heart and this year her family's eviction and the fact she needs to be with Hem while her Mom works, will most likely mean she'll miss it again. What will their new homelessness do to the dreams that mean so much to Harper?

I've read several books this year dealing with families experiencing economic difficulties, but this one seems to take it a step deeper. Real issues of poverty, homelessness, its affect on children, are all grappled with in a very authentic way. It's a fresh take at looking at our belongings (all that stuff!) and our physical place in this world. If all our stuff is gone, and even the roof over our heads disappears, who are we? Who are we as individuals? Who are we as a family? It is an important book and I really grew to love the characters. I think you will too.

Friday, March 5, 2010

When You Reach Me- Tell the Truth

Have I mentioned yet how much I loved Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me? I haven't written the book recommendation yet because the book is still percolating in my head, I still think about bits and pieces from time to time as I go throughout my day. I think I'm also afraid I might let an important bit of the plot leak out, like a review or two did when I read them, and I don't want to be a spoiler! I can mention that Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is an important piece in the overall puzzle, which I am sure is only a huge draw to those of you who grew up in the 70s and 80s as I did! Meg was a heroine easy to love.

I wanted to write about When You Reach Me when it won the Newbery Medal a few weeks ago, but I still felt like I didn't have anything new to add to the conversation. Everyone loves it, everyone is talking about it and has been all year. It is quite simply, a marvelous read.

Instead of writing a review/recommendation, I want to give you this link to Rebecca Stead's blog. It caught my eye because it references the movie Fantastic Mr. Fox (which I loved, by the way, click here to see why).

Rebecca's comments sum up what I believe to be true about children's literature. Tell the truth, the kids want you to. Most people who feel called to writing for children have a child-like sensitivity and will deliver in a like-manner. Children are aching for it. God Bless you Madeline L'Engle, Roald Dahl and so many others. Let's try to tell the truth, it feels so good to be trusted with it. here it is.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Seussical Protegee Spotlight


OK, so I hope this isn't sacrilegious, but do you know P.D. Eastman? I know Dr Seuss would be OK with me doing this because they were friends. P.D. was Theodor Geisel's protegee, they were buddies! You've seen P.D.'s books, they even have the Cat in the Hat on the spine because they are part of the Dr Seuss Library. Heck, you might have even thought Dr. Seuss wrote them. But he didn't, P.D. did, or at least he illustrated them and some he wrote/illustrated. And they are incredible. Here's a few:

And that is just for starters! If you have these books in your house, I guarantee you will read them until they fall apart and you have to buy another copy. Oh, and I guarantee the pictures will stick in your kids heads for their whole life and they will have to buy them for their kids because they just can't get enough. 
(OK, maybe that part is just me:)

I know this is way tiny and blurry, but don't you remember just getting lost in this spread? Those dogs really know how to party! Kick your feet up and read Go Dog Go today in honor of Dr. Seuss, he won't mind! He taught P.D. everything he knew!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation #8!- The Year The Swallows Came Early

The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Eleven-year old Groovy Robinson is one of the most adorable and compelling voices I've met this year.

Right from the get-go we learn "We lived in a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific, with a lime tree in the backyard and pink and yellow roses gone wild around a picket fence. But that wasn't enough to keep my daddy from going to jail that year I turned eleven. I told my best friend, Frankie, that is was hard to tell what something was like on the inside just by looking at the outside. And that our house was like one of those See's candies with beautiful swirled chocolate on the outside, but sometimes hiding coconut flakes on the inside, all gritty and hard, like undercooked white rice." 

Groovy loves to cook, in fact going to professional chef school is definitely in the plans. But when her Dad gets arrested, right there in front of the Swallows Shop and Ferry, things get complicated. Groovy doesn't know why he's arrested, though she does know "Daddy seemed to get the kind of bosses who ended up firing him." Groovy's endearing relationships with her Mom (who owns one-quarter of the small town beauty shop), her Dad, and her friends Marisol and Frankie are heart-warming and real. Groovy encounters surprise after surprise as no one and no situation is exactly as Groovy has believed them to be. This book will please and delight its target audience - 8-12 year olds- as well as their parents!

The sunny seaside setting of San Juan Capistrano and the swallows returning home theme add a beautiful layer of place to this special book.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fire Petal Book Auction

Reading the fabulous blog of Young Adult author Sara Zarr, I learned that there is an amazing auction going on.
 Fire Petal books is an up-and-coming independent bookstore in Utah and the auction is a fund-raiser. (Having just visited a Borders at our local mall with it's aisles littered with ripped up books and not a clerk in sight made me realize all the more how much I value and need my local bookstore havens- Vromans and La Canada Flintridge Books).

So, in an effort to help an indie bookstore on the rise (and pick up a great book or writerly opportunity to meet an editor, author or agent) check out this site.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Great Links- Writing for BOYS!

I really wanted to be able to follow through on my promise to do a great middle grade book review every Monday, but Mondays are coming so fast!

So in lieu of a new Freshly Brewed Monday Book Recommendation today, I am going to give you something different, something fun, something, well easier for me to do...

But you are going to LOVE it, I promise!

If you are a writer (especially for boys!)....
I went to a fantastic Writer to Writer Event at the Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada Flintridge. (Yeah, the one the semi-truck drive thru last year coming down Angeles Crest Hwy) Yikes! Catherine Linka plans these amazing opportunities for aspiring writers to hear agents, authors and editors speak on really inspiring topics.

The store is all fixed and is really one of the very best independent book stores in the San Gabriel Valley, if not LA proper, so you should stop by if you can.

So here's the scoop/link- Another blogger wrote this fantastic post about the event given by Michael Reisman and Ben Esch I attended on Superbowl Sunday regarding writing for boys. Every wonderful detail is here and all you have to do is click on the above!

Simon Bloom, the Gravity Keeper by Michael Reisman

Sophomore Undercover by Ben Esch

I haven't read either book. The Gravity Keeper is a middle-grade book (8-12) and Sophmore Undercover is Young Adult (13 and up). I have heard The Gravity Keeper is great for any science-minded, adventure-seeker reader/middle-grader and that Sophmore Undercover is strong in its off-beat humor. I hope to read and review The Gravity Keeper very soon.

Really whether you write for boys or not, this post is for you because we all need our boy characters to ring true, so click and enjoy!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Raise Your Hand If You Love Betsy Bird!

The Double Life of Betsy Bird-

Raise your hand if you love Betsy Bird. (For those of you not fully-entrenched in childrens' literature, if that was said at anything kid-litish- the whole room is standing, cheering, holding up their lighters, doing the wave, you get the idea...) All children's literature fans NEED to know about Betsy Bird. I've referenced her in previous posts and she is the well-deserved recipient of this spot-light article!

Read on! 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation #7- Operation Redwood

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French

I was initally drawn to this book because I thought it might have some similarities to the middle-grade manuscript I am working on. Mine is a botanical adventure/mystery of sorts with a multi-cultural cast of characters and Operation Redwood is well, a botanical adventure/mystery of sorts with a multi-cultural cast of characters!

But, as is often the case, two people do not write the same book and the similarities pretty much start and end in the one sentence I described above. After I got over my fear that the books might be too similar (which happened on page one), I thoroughly enjoyed this fun and exciting book. The setting spanned from San Francisco to the Redwood Forests to a quiet homeschooling kitchen and lots of places in between. I loved it's strong sense of place and the voice of all three of the mystery-solving team: Julian, Danny and Robin.

Twelve year old Julian intercepts a hostile email sent to his Uncle Sibley and thus begins his place in the middle of the fight to save some of the oldest trees in the world. Along with his loyal and hilarious friend Danny, Julian joins forces with people he has never met, travels to places he's never been and sleeps in a tree all to stand up for what he believes in. This is a great book for any 9-12 year-old, boy or girl, who loves realistic adventure/mystery and it has the added take-away of fascinating information regarding deforestation and the Redwoods. 

Can you imagine a treehouse in this beast of a tree? The setting  imagery in my mind, as I read the forest scenes, reminded me of how it felt to read Bridge to Terabithia for the first time. I felt like I was right there with Jess and Leslie, swinging on ropes in our own private hideaway forest. This book is really special and I hope you all read it!

And to boot, can't you just see how great this book would be as part of a late elementary/middle school curriculum on the environment, forests, science, history, you could weave it into basically anything!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Listmania: Go Ahead and Click, it's FUN

Do you like lists? I used to LOVE them. When I was single I would make them and leave them on little slips of paper all over the apartment:

1. Get nails done
2. Call X to plan lunch
3. Call Y to plan when to go to beach on Sat.

Those were the days! Now that I'm a housebound mommy and my lists are longer than my arm and beyond boring, I decided to not even make them anymore. I'm over the whole list thing. I'm not sure when I stopped but the sky's not falling so I guess everything's OK. That means sometimes I forget to do things, but so be it. Anyway, someone told me lists are great on blogs, so I am going to resurrect my old love of lists and try to incorporate it here! (spoiler alert: this list is not bookish, I'm just warming up to lists again and decided to color outside the lines of my usual blog fare)

I was a child of the 80's and I have a brother who is exactly one year older than me. When we were tweenagers (altho no one knew what that meant back then) music videos were born. I'll never forget watching MTV for the first time. My brother knew every band and when the name of the band and song would pop up in the lower left he would give me a few details about said band and we would sit mesmorized.

The first video I remember was Oliver's Army by Elvis Costello. We thought it was breathtaking. I have since learned that MTV aired for the first time on August 1, 1981, and that Oliver's Army was shown on that first day. It would be just like my brother to know that was the day of MTV's launching and I'm pretty sure that summer day was when I first saw this. It is so beautifully 1981 that I just had to show it to you:

Did you see Elvis dialing the phone by making his finger go in small circles??? Yikes!

These days I don't get to watch many videos; however, because two can still qualify as a list, I am going to give you THE BEST VIDEOS OF 2009 according to me. Please keep in mind, I am an aspiring writer who sits at home in t-shirts and sweats and writes all day/mother of 3 who no longer watches MTV. Therefore, these videos found me, through whatever channels and I LOVE THEM, In fact, I love them so much I am going to bestow them with award titles.

also known as the *best-be-boppy-stick-in-your-head-fun-summer-song* video

Don't you LOVE it? Go ahead, listen to it again while you brush your teeth, or scrub the sink, it just makes everything more fun! It has a little Traveling Wilburys thing going on, right? By the way, I didn't do the talking bubbles, they were just annoyingly there.

AND NOW, drumroll........

also known as the *sheer adorableness factor* video

If you haven't seen 500 Days of Summer yet, you may not thoroughly appreciate this. I loved these characters in the movie and wanted more. And here they is, all set to this catchy little tune by *She & Him.*

Aren't lists fun???

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fuse #8 Top 100 Middle Grade Book Poll

I was thrilled when Betsy Bird, librarian and Fuse #8 blogger, asked her readers to vote for their top ten (in order) middle grade books of all time. I dutifully cast my votes and received a very nice email back thanking me. (I almost printed the email, it felt a bit like a celebrity autograph!)

Middle grade was when so many of us fell down into the rabbit hole of reading and many of us have never climbed back out. I couldn't wait to see the picks! So far Betsy has listed books 81-100.

But this is much more than a list, dear friends. In true Betsy Bird form, she has over-delivered and I am over the moon! If you haven't checked out this list, what are you waiting for? Not only does Betsy give us background on the authors, a synopsis of the book and insights into the characters, Betsy also provides us with copies of every cover ever published.
Today's post has books 81-85. Who knew that #85 On The Banks Of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder has had 6 different covers! Way to go Half-Pint! Which one did you read? Was this one your favorite? This is the cover I had and I loved it. Remember the *dugout* house? I was so jealous. Why didn't Ma and the girls properly appreciate the dugout? Why did Pa have to buy all those building supplies on credit for a two-story regular old boring house when they had a perfectly good dugout? And it is when Nellie Oleson came on the scene, the ultimate prarie foe. I don't remember disliking her in the book as much as I did on the TV show. I am looking forward to seeing which 80 are in still to be revealed! Thanks Betsy!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation #6!- The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis

A Small Adventure is a wonderful thing.

"Mom, where are our set-up army guys?"

The set-up army guys aren't really all army guys. They are mostly army guys (some green and some tan), with a few civil war soldiers (some blue some gray) and a couple of yellow and red Native American Indians. The cowboys are gone. And all the guys are tiny, plastic and their feet melt into a small puddle that helps them stand steady, sort of.

My three boys, sometimes with a friend or two, strategically place all the set-up guys throughout a dry dirt path that winds its way through a massive amount of ivy in our backyard. Once everyone agrees that all the set-up guys are in the right place- in the creek-bed, on a flat rock, under a droopy leaf, the faucet gets cranked on and the hose introduces a whole new element into the game. Sometimes it's a slow drip, sometimes its more torrential but it's always fun and they never tire of it.  

 The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis is about finding something to do. Something different, something unusual, something that makes today special. Popeye lives a slow-paced life in Fayette, North Carolina with his Grandma Velma who "he needed not to crack up because no one else was very good at taking care of things. Not his father who lived in Chatanooga and sold smoke-damaged rugs out of the back of a pick-up truck. Not his mother who came and went but never told anbody where she came from or where she went to. And definitely not Uncle Dooley, who lived in a rusty trailer in the backyard and sometimes worked at the meatpacking plant and sometimes sold aluminum siding and sometimes watched TV all day."

When a Holiday Rambler, filled with a boisterous excitable family, gets stuck in the mud while cruising through town, Popeye meets his new friend, Elvis. The two decide that what they need is a small adventure, and soon the boys come upon boats made out of paper yoo-hoo cartons floating down a creek with hidden messages tucked inside. The boys must figure out what the notes mean, who is sending them and they must do it fast, before the Holiday Rambler is out of the mud and Elvis's family rolls on out of Fayette.

The simplicity of Barbara O'Connor's writing is refreshing and clean. This is a great little new book that feels like classic. In my opinion, that is a hard find for an early chapter book that appeals to boys. A hidden little perk are the vocabulary words Popeye's Grandma Velma is memorizing: cajole, divert and connive just to name a few.

My 9 yr. old and 6 yr. old both loved it as a read-aloud. Plenty to giggle about with a touch a mystery. It might even inspire you to set out on a small adventure of you own, something that might even be more fun than the army set-up guys!   

Friday, February 5, 2010

In Which Neil Gaiman reads me a bedtime story

He did! He really did! My husband was sitting next to me and so were hundreds of other people at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus, but last night Neil Gaiman read excerpts of The Graveyard Book to me! The show started at 8 and ended around 10 and I am often asleep by then so it was like an honest-to-goodness bedtime story!

Wow!! Thanks Neil!!! It's nice to be read to for once. Could we do that again sometime?

He also read a bit of something new he's working on- a piece about horror and English Seaside Hotels. It was not-surprisingly amazing and creepy and funny and very Neil Gaiman.

Hooked already? I know, right?  

Jason and I agreed that our favorite was an excerpt about a story of a crippled boy, a bear, a fox and an eagle, entitled Odd and the Frost Giants, that he wrote as a "world book." What is a world book you ask? Neil explained that world books are part of a charitable initiative in the UK and Ireland focused on providing children with the experience of going into a bookstore, choosing and purchasing a book. The organization responsible for this chooses authors and asks them to write a children's book, no longer than 100 pages. The authors receive no payment for these books and the publisher publishes them at no cost. Each school-age child is given 2 tokens. Each world book costs 1 token and children go crazy picking out their two new books. Children in the UK and Ireland love this time of year, when the new world books are issued, and its easy to understand why when Neil Gaiman represents the caliber of authors to pen these books. 

The last half hour was a Q & A. My favorite quote of the night was in response to a question. Someone asked Neil if he outlines or just starts writing and keeps writing until he's done. He said, without a doubt, he just writes. He said he realized that "to some that seems like jumping out of a plane and then knitting your parachute on the way down" but that's how he's always done it and that's what works best.

Being a parachute-knitter myself, I loved that answer!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Beta Readers!

I'm going to indulge the writer-me and tell a little bit about my journey. My middle grade novel first draft is complete. I guess I should call it a first draft. But in reality I have combed over the entire 225 pages at least 7 or eight times. Re-configuring things, moving scenes to and fro, turning narrative portions into dialogue and just generally obsessing.

What's weird about this process is that one day I can read the whole manuscript in one sitting and go, "That was amazing! Some agent/editor is going to LOVE this. Maybe? Right?" And then the very next day, I can read a few pages and go, "That is so ridiculously bad I can't believe I even call myself a writer!" It is a lonely, head-spinning way to spend your days.

That is until you get to the beta reader phase. What is a beta reader you ask? A beta reader is the first humanoid, other than yourself, who gets to read your stuff. And boy, is it weird to serve yourself up on a platter. Just like that. Here I am. All my best thoughts, efforts, words strung together as sentences, sentences strung together as scenes, scenes strung together as chapters and chapters strung together as if a cohesive plot really lives in those pages. I love to world build and create something out of nothing, but what if its a heap of dung beetle stew?

So that's where I am.

My manuscript is out there- with Beta #1 and Beta #2, who shall remain nameless. I am eternally grateful that they exist on this planet simultaneous to my existence because handing over my book felt ok and safe, but I'm waiting on pins and needles to get the book back!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Magic for Haiti!

I am one proud Mama today. After watching a bit of the Haiti telethon and the different musicians who were performing, my oldest son said, "I could do something like that, I could perform magic for Haiti." That night, by bedtime, "Magic for Haiti' had moved from a little idea to a fully-fleshed out plan. My nine-year old would perform the magic, my six-year old would be in charge or refreshments and my four year old would cheer for one brother and help the other one by eating.

We picked Partners in Health (PIH) because $.92 of each dollar goes to immediate relief efforts. PIH already had hundreds of staff in Haiti and 12 hospitals that were unaffected by the earthquake. We made flyers and if we had looked over the PIH website more carefully, could have used their evite system. But the handmade orange paper ones were fun too.

We also used the PIH thank you notes and posters to decorate the backyard.

The turn-out was incredible- neighbors, friends, family filled the backyard and the Magic Show was perfect! Two buddies from school joined the Main Magician on the stage and added a few fun tricks to the mix and all the tricks brought oohs and aahs from the enthusiastic crowd! At the end we raised $515.75- and as my boys like to point out... But what does that equal, Mom? That equals 1719 hot meals, 171 warm blankets or 51 medical kits!

The next morning my magician woke up and said, "Mom, tell me when there's another disaster and we can do another show, OK?"


That's my boy. THANK YOU EVERYBODY!!!!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation #5!- Melonhead

This has nothing at all to do with the book, but it's funny, right?

Melonhead? Get it?

Here's the Real Melonhead!

Melonhead by Katy Kelly

This book is silly. Silly, Silly Silly. I knew it made me giggle as I read it to my three boys but when my husband wanted in on the action and took over at Chapter 14, I could not believe the joyous squeals and yeehs of glee coming from their bedroom. Laughter is good for the soul and we all need more of it. Introducing Melonhead.

Melonhead, starring Adam Melon, is a spin-off from Katy Kelly's popular series about Lucy Rose. Nine-year old Melonhead and his friend Sam have a way of finding trouble and the book jumps right in. Melonhead's foot is stuck in a tree and he must be rescued by firefighters and eventually a cherry-picker with the "jaws of life." Adam has a goofy sense of humor that permeates the book and all his relationships. This book will likely appeal to kids who enjoy Stink and Fudge and other books in the "troublemaker" vein. The only comment I have that is less than positive is that the boys always seemed to have pockets full of name-brand candy and cereal. It just didn't seem necessary to mention the sugar fuel and the name brands. But that is a very small drawback for an otherwise funny, silly, feel-good type book.  

I also loved that it was set in Washington D.C. and there are several very interesting supporting characters.