Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Catching Up on a Monday

I love these Monday, IT'S MONDAY WHAT ARE YOU READING posts. Because it makes me actually think about what I've been reading. 
Since I'm no longer a librarian with a host of young readers waiting to share their next great book recommendations and talk about how they love the characters, I mostly read to see how they're written. Does that make sense?

So I did a little re-reading this week. 
How many of your kids have read (and loved?)  HOLES?
Wow. Talk about a fast, fun read. 

(That's a totally awesome cover, isn't it? It's not the one I'm familiar with but it's sufficiently creepy while artistic, and I really like it.
Don't get me started on the importance of cover design!)

My buddy Barbara O'Connor recently shared that HOLES was edited by Frances Foster (now deceased), her long-time FSG editor. Since Frances is basically known as a dream editor and brilliant, I took a closer look, trying my best to "read like a writer."

Speaking of closer. THIRD PERSON CLOSE is the point-of-view and man, does Louis Sachar nail it. I love reading third person close, but I've struggled to write it. In fact, I tried with THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY. Started that story in what I "hoped" was a Close Third Person point-of-view.
Nope, wasn't happening. While journaling in first person to get into the head of my main character, Theo, I realized it was working better in first person and I switched. 

If you haven't read HOLES in a while but want to see what I mean and don't have the book handy, check out this preview from the beginning 30 pages. The physical description of Stanley and how "close" you are inside his head. Perfect. I not only felt like I knew him from the get-go, I knew how he was being fooled and yet, there was a tiny niggle of a doubt...

If only I were Louis Sachar.
Though I didn't really like the follow-up to that book, did you? True confessions, I skimmed it so maybe I missed something.

I discovered a book I hadn't read by Kevin Henkes. Now, there's a surprise! I'm a big fan of his novels and his picture books. Publisher's Weekly called this one touching and funny, and I totally agree.
It's a book about mini-golf, sort of, which is what originally led me to it. But it's really about families and friendships and all those things that tug at the hearts of kids, big and little. Henkes really knows how to do that. And okay, while searching for an image for this book, I see he's written a couple of novels I didn't even know about. More to read! 

Can't wait to see what my teacher and librarian friends have been reading as their summers wind down!

Thanks for reading!

 A card from a student, saved from my years as a librarian.
Who would have expected I'd write three books of my own. Not me. Not in a million years.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Reading Craft Book(s). Or not.

My friend Joyce Sweeney once said--and I'm sure I'm slightly paraphrasing: "Craft books are for when things aren't going well."

But, Joyce, I have a big shelf of them!
She's right though. That's way too-much-information unless something's going wrong. Start with your story. Begin with your characters. Keep writing till you get bogged down.
That's the time to see what's helped others, to explore lots of What ifs?, to find a trick to get you out of the Muddy Middle.

Before we took off to find a place to escape Florida's summer heat (which is turning out to be very hard this week), I grabbed a book by one of my favorite writers and teachers, ANN HOOD. I brought CREATING CHARACTER EMOTIONS with me. 
It's a perfect book for dipping into.

(And pictured, also, is the very cool notebook our Critique Group leader, Teddie Aggeles, gave us! I'm filling mine up fast.)

One interesting thing about this re-reading is finding little notes scribbled in the margins (Yes, I do dog-ear, scribble, sticky-note books if they're mine- don't you?). 
I've found thoughts about characters from two of my previous books and one WIP that may be "in progress" for a very long time! 

I grappled with emotions, especially for Theo and Azalea, and now smile-out-loud reading my notes.

I bought this book in January of 2008 when I was lucky enough to study under Ann at the fabulous Writers-in-Paradise conference. I love her examples, which have made me want to seek out some of the short stories and novels she references. Her exercises are excellent. She picks emotions like fear or happiness or grief, and shares things that work and things to avoid. This is a good choice to pick up with your writing notebook, to sit under a shade tree without your computer or your story racing through your fingers.

And since it's MONDAY and everybody is sharing what they're reading, I also re-read a picture book tucked away on my shelf. (I love picture books.)

Have you read Brian Lies's BATS AT THE BALLGAME. Hey, it's baseball season, people! Read all the baseball books you love. Right?

Re-reading this book makes me want to stop by the library and check out another favorite from Brian (truthfully, they all are favorites. I'm a big fan): BATS AT THE BEACH. 

This is what I said when I first shared this in a gift-buying blogpost: 
"When the grownup reading it continues the story even after the two-year-old lapchild wandered off, you know the book's a winner."

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Historical fiction lives!

And we know this because of THE SURVEY just posted by my friend Caroline Starr Rose.

Here's what she concluded:

Historical fiction is still seen as meaningful.
While it might be a “hard sell,” historical fiction isn’t dead! Many adults are sharing titles with young people. Many kids are reading.

I've been reading historical fiction most of my life. Come to think of it, even the stories I heard growing up were probably mostly fiction and definitely historical. 

These are the books I cut my reading teeth on. We thought they were true! Even librarians classified them as biographies. No longer. Now most agree- there's a whole lot of storytelling going on in the Childhood of Famous Americans series.

(I've never seen these early editions. The titles haven't changed, 
but the ones I read were mostly turquoise!)

Don't forget to click on the link to Caroline's blog up there. 
It's a very interesting survey. 
So, what do you think? Is historical fiction dead? Do kids still read the genre?

Monday, June 10, 2019

It's Monday and I'm Reading


(Full disclosure: I've met the author at two terrific Maryland SCBWI conferences over the years, where I connected with two great agents and was signed by Linda Pratt so naturally I've always had a soft spot in my heart for those events' organizers, and Naomi was there. And speaking of events, if you're in NYC or MA or MD, CLICK HERE TO SEE where you can actually meet Naomi Milliner and ask her about this fun, important, beautifully-written story.)

But #IMWAYR is all about reading and sharing. 
And people, you do not want to miss this one:

There are so many reasons to buy this book. I bought it because I have a reader in the family who's into magic. He's a little young for middle-grade novels, but give him another year and I predict this will be a favorite. 

So there's magic and Jake's a magician, obviously (great cover image!). And he's funny. Perfect, right?
BUT this book is so much more. 
The brothers' connection is perfectly written. Big brother Ethan is a narrator to love. He's funny. He's mad. He's caring. He's a normal kid. 

There are three boys in the family. One is Jake, the baby brother with special needs. Jake is special in many ways, and this is another reason to own this book. 

Parents are important to the story, but they don't rule the world. I can vouch for the difficulty of having adults in the room, so to speak. It's a tricky balance. Of course, kids have parents and teachers (Jake has a really good one, striking the right balance between listening with a chocolate bar and letting a kid find his own way). But I think kids love reading the parts of a story where kids interact with their friends (and enemies!), where school scenes ring true, where birthday parties don't always turn out exactly as planned. Yep, that's Jake and his brothers and their friends. Ethan's difficult decisions feel authentic. Oh how well the author understands her characters!

There is a whole lot of truth inside these pages. You know those reviews that say "I laughed, I cried"? Well, I truly did while reading SUPER JAKE & THE KING OF CHAOS.
Well done, Naomi Milliner.

I'm sharing another book today: LEAVING GEE'S BEND

Okay, today I re-read parts of it. I've read it more than once. 
I was inspired to dip into this story by Kirby Larson's FRIEND FRIDAY blogpost with Irene
Irene shares some very powerful, very personal remarks about writing outside your own culture. She has a new picture book about an African American boy, MEET MISS FANCY. Check out Kirby's blog to find out more about this book. 

I've been traveling and reading a whole bunch of grown-up books on my Kindle, via my wonderful public library, but I finished one middle-grade novel and reread parts of another, and I call that a top ten day!

Happy summer to my librarian and teacher friends. Here's to joyful, lazy, feet-up, sweet tea reading days!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Kids write the MOST WONDERFUL things

Remember that (very) old TV show: Kids Say the Darnedest Things?

I have an update. Yes, they say funny things. They ask crazy questions. They often have no filters.
But they also write really great, really delightful things, and answering their letters makes me smile. A lot.

Yesterday, I opened four envelopes filled with letters from third grade classes about my novel, GLORY BE. There were so, so many thoughtful questions.

The first letter began this way: "At school, my fellow classmates and I have indulged ourselves in the literary feast that is Glory Be." 
Be still my heart. I love this kid already.

AND- it actually went UP-hill from there.

One student explained why he needed to know the answers to his questions about the Beatles v. Elvis. "I wanna know what best fits your personality."
He also added that I needed to write him back because he'd spent a lot of time on his letter and his "pencil got worn out."

Another starts off with a bang. The first sentence announces, "I like to eat hot dogs."
(and now I'm laughing and hungry.)

Another shared that her favorite part was how the girls lied a lot to Emma and to the dad. 
Another remarked that GLORY BE made her and her classmates laugh, and that was her favorite thing, the laughing together. 
Teachers, I've read a lot of books to kids over the years and I love remembering the books that made us laugh.

And in case my head is swelling from all the lovely things they say? Andre adds this, "When I first was reading, I thought it was boring but then it started to be exciting."

A writer's worst nightmare. Starting out boring. I'll work on that, Andre.
Oh, he ended his note with, "Mrs. Scattergood, you are probably the best author I know so far. I want answers."
A veiled threat? He's jumping ship if I don't answer? 
See, these kids absolutely crack me up.

Teachers don't always have time to comment, and I totally understand this. I was a school media specialist for a very long time. 
I understand how busy everybody is, especially at the end of the year.
I'm just flattered when they take the time and effort to share my book with a class. They don't need to write.
But Mrs. Arnold said such lovely things, I'm going to quote her. 

"Your book gave us so many chances for deep discussions not only about this period in our country's history, but also about the way people should be treated in the present."

And Mr. Blank from the Bethlehem Lutheran School thanked me for bringing to life this period of the South during segregation. 

It's hard writing books, but this is very writer's dream.

As the school year winds down, I'd like to thank all of you who've shared so many books with your kids this year.  Picture books, non-fiction, poetry-- It really does make a difference. You make a difference.

Now, here are some of these bright young students. 
Seeing them holding my books, I'm over the moon! 

(Kids at the Vernon Hill School in Worcester, MA. Love those smiles!)

Monday, April 1, 2019

It's MONDAY again. What are you reading?

I've sadly neglected reporting on the great books I've read recently.

Let me jump right in!

Hot off the presses, a brand new middle-grade debut. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this, but now everybody can buy, request from your library, read and share.

This new novel has FOUR starred reviews, and that's not surprising.  I loved Lyndie's personality, her sheer joy in research and facts, how she doesn't give up. I loved the 1980s southern setting, the Vietnam War connection via her veteran dad, the gorgeous language and strong characters. Such a good book!

Another middle-grade novel, just out: Cynthia Lord's BECAUSE OF THE RABBIT.
(Click HERE for a post I wrote ages ago and one of my favorite quotes about fantasy, via Cynthia.)
Check out this tres cool cover!

What young reader wouldn't line up to read this one?

If there's a teacher or librarian out there who hasn't read it or has a special student just meant for this middle grade novel, I'd love to send my ARC to you. Leave me a comment and I'll pick someone and zip it off.
One thing I liked about this novel (there were many) was how accessible it is. Less than 200 pages, easy reading, appealing story-- this could be that gateway book for a reader who's been challenged by longer books and has not yet found the perfect novel to love.

The third book I recently finished is Sharon Draper's BLENDED.
Yes, there were many "issues" covered in Izzy's story. She's biracial, her parents are divorcing, and then the normal pre-teen things every kid worries about. There is also a strong theme of race, obviously, and a scene where Izzy is stopped by the police.
But they were handled reasonably well and could provide food for thought and discussion. 

I can't sign off without strongly recommending a book that's NOT middle-grade. GRADLE BIRD is really an adult book, but the narrator is a teen so I can see this one having readership among "new adults," if that's even a thing anymore.

The writing is beautiful, the characters beyond quirky, the story so unusual and funny and sad at the same time-- a must-read for many of my friends. Especially my southern friends, or those who love books set in the deep south, with all the hilarious and unique trappings of our heart-homes. I bought this book because it wasn't in my local public library. I'm recommending they buy it. So good.

Can't wait to hear what my #IMWAYR friends are up to today. Do tell!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Kids are the best!

I just finished a Skype visit with The Learning Center for the Deaf. I've Skyped with this school before and it's always such fun.

(This was one of my free Skypes, 15 minutes or so of Q&A with students who've read my book. Easy Peasy, I do it whenever I can.)

But y'all, I wanted to talk all day to these two.

Their teacher had gently cautioned me that they might need a little extra time. There would be an interpreter signing my answers. The boys were nervous about meeting an author in "real life."
Because really we're pretty scary!

Their questions about GLORY BE were thought-provoking; I'm still pondering my answers.

They wanted to see my office. (I showed them the palm trees out my window. I know, mean. They were cold up there. I'm pretty warm down here.) 

They wanted to know why there's no "Glory Be 2." (I get that a lot.)

They made a movie signing GLORY- a first! Their teacher explained that they used the sign for "laughing" because they think a lot of what she does is fun!

They sent me a thank-you letter. Which cracks me up. I hope my sister sees it.

This is truly why authors spend all those hours figuring out their stories. Mining our characters for depth and emotion, ARCS and DIALOG and INNER WISDOM. 
And then you send that book into the universe and you get this back. Kind of makes it all worthwhile, no?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Thank you, readers!

So many fun/funny/smart things in this new year of 2019!

This week I visited a local Book Group that had just finished GLORY BE. We had a "continental breakfast" and Q&A. A donut and a book, as one boy noted, "doesn't get much better than that."

The questions were a blast. 
One of my favorites? "Do you have any family members who've read this book?"
Oh boy, do I!
Here we are, disguised as copies of GLORY BE. Fun times!

I love sharing books with kids, so when they asked me who'd inspired me and also if I could recommend another book for them to discuss, I mentioned Barbara O'Connor and WISH. The librarian hustled himself off to the library and came back with this. WISH is on the current Sunshine Readers. Win win!

And then there was the mail.
A librarian in Texas had emailed to ask my mailing address. She had a student who'd read my novel, the first book she'd completed on her own. 
Writers, this is why we spend (so so many!) years trying to publish a book. Or writing a book. Or trying to publish multiple books. It's all about the readers.

On the second page of the letter, the P.S., Isabella tells me she wants to grow up and be just like me. 
I hope that means she's going to find another book to read all by herself. 
Of course, I answered her. And of course, I mentioned a few more books she might also love.

While tidying up my files, I found a group of letters from a school in Washington state.
I'd filed them away for when I worry that nobody's paying attention. And let me tell you, that happens to all writers!
Finding them today was a gift.

"When we stopped at a chapter, I wanted to keep reading!"

"Did you have a bossy sister? Did you have a friend like Frankie? Did you live a life like Glory?"

And what librarian-turned-author wouldn't cherish a picture of the library in GLORY BE? She even remembered the "Back Room."

Did I say it doesn't get much better than this lovely way to start the New Year? 
Here's hoping you've all had a little joy in your mailboxes, too.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

To Blog or Not to Blog

That is the question.

About this time eleven years ago, I considered starting a blog. I was publishing a lot of book reviews and a few personal essays and I wanted a place to share the links. I hoped to write fiction, and I loved finding things to share about books.
The advice then was that if you were trying to find an agent or an editor, many of them would check to see if you had an online presence. Facebook and Twitter were barely on the horizon. Or at least my horizon.
So off I traveled to Blog City.

My new critique group friend Lee Hilton started SPOON AND INK then, her fabulous food blog.
Fun times in the blogosphere, no? We thought so.

But I don't read too many blogs now, and I wonder if anybody's reading this.

(Hellooooo out there! Anybody home?)

And then today I discovered an author I admire has a really great blog, and reading it inspired me to write this.

When I still worked as a school librarian, Claudia Mills's books were very popular in my school. I remember hearing her on a panel about publishing at the New School when I first thought about writing. I had those notes forever! Probably still do!
Here's the link. I'm going to make it extra large and obvious.
Please visit. You can thank me later.

Another blogger I try to follow is Caroline Starr Rose.  
She never fails to inspire me, teach me, or make me smile. 
When I clicked over there to get her link, I see she has a lovely photo and a quote I'm going to remember:

Learn to respect the pages the reader will never see.
— Joshua Mohr

I sorry to say I don't know Joshua Mohr, but I sure like that quote. I also love seeing the pictures she shares, mostly of the American Southwest which seems light years and many miles from my own vistas.
Thanks, Caroline!

(Aside: here's a nifty trick! Caroline turned one of her blogposts into a short article you can read in the current WRITERS DIGEST magazine.)

Inspired by Caroline and Claudia, here's my first blog photo of 2019 and a quote from the new Quaker Motto Calendar!

"There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship."  
Thomas Aquinas.