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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Save the Cat

I never quite understood the relationship between screenwriting and novel writing.Then fellow blogger Karin Gillespie over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find recommended, actually raved about, Save the Cat. So I did what anybody trying to figure out the whole structure thing would do, I bought the book. Karin's right. Not only is is easy to read and tremendously helpful, it's written in a way that even the thickest-headed writer-by-the- seats-of-your-pants can understand.

I'll never write a screenplay, or anything other than what I'm doing right now, but the ideas in that book are worth thinking on.

A recent post by the Story Fix Guy echoed why this approach works. Screenwriting to novel writing, that is. Here's a bit of what he says. Click here to read the rest:

Some writers, especially organic writers, fear that the application of principles, rules, criteria and structural guidelines somehow suppresses the creative process and compromises the end product. That particular fear will kill your publishing dream. To publish, you need to believe the exact opposite. To publish, your story must be wildly original, creative, compelling and fresh in a way that it reinvents whatever genre you are writing in. But… you need to do all that within a box. Within the constraints of, and in disciplined accordance with, the principles of storytelling. If you don’t have complete command of those principles, you won’t publish. Because your story, however wild and compelling and fresh, won’t fly without them.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reliable Narrators

What do you do when someone, your critique group, a professional, your sister or best friend, says to be careful that your main character is likable? How do you create a character readers will actually want to read about because s/he's funny, intriguing, smart-assed, whatever it takes, yet also appealing?

Enter the Reliable Narrator. A character kids want to know. She may not be lovable but she should be interesting in some way. Oddball, quirky (that much disparaged word), spunky, full of life.

One of my favorite books to read and hardest to get my head around and write about was this year's much-discussed novel for middle graders, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. So I liked this Story Sleuth posting about the narrator, Miranda, being a character kids really wanted to get to know. Here's a bit of the post. Click here to read more:

I’ve been thinking about what grips me about this story, why I’m so engaged. I think it’s largely because the narrator, Miranda, is so appealing. She feels like a real kid. Stead set the story in pre-cell phone, pre-email 1979. Miranda is a 12 year old 6th grader living on the Upper West Side of New York City with her single mom, who works in a law office. Miranda navigates her school as an office monitor, and her street as a “latchkey child.” (p. 3) Her best friend from day care grows away from her, and she seeks new friendships in her class, friendships that are strained, broken, and ultimately healed. What draws me into this story, in addition to the underlying mystery, is Miranda’s reliability as a narrator. I trust her, because she admits to feeling sad, and mad, and lonely, even mean and jealous. When her friend, Annemarie, hopes that a rose left on the doormat might have been left by Colin, the boy Miranda also likes, Miranda suggests to Annemarie that the rose might have been left by her dad. “Your dad is so nice. It has to be him.” (p. 112) Then the narrator Miranda describes her own feelings: “I was miserable, sitting on the edge of her bed in that puddle of meanness. But I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want Annemarie’s rose to be from Colin.”

Related post: Book Reviewing

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My List

Inspired by the St. Petersburg Times Book Editor, Colette Bancroft's list, I'm making my own. Hers is a list of books that made a deep impression on her during the decade.

I thought about a list of my favorites, a short Best Books of the Year list. But rather than mere Best Books, how about my most impressive, most unforgettable, most re-considered Books of 2009 list?

New (to me) Series I'm Most Looking Forward to Continuing to Enjoy:
Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels

Easiest Novel to Recommend to Young Readers: The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis

Book I Can't Wait to Share with my Youngest Reader Friends and Family: Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales

Book I Read in Two Days and am Still Mulling Over: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.

Young Adult Book I Never Expected to Be So Taken With: Hunger Games
(OK, I know it was published in 2008, but it took me a while to get to it.)
I just never dreamed I'd actually love a book set in the future, a game of kill or be killed, a world so outside my reality that I couldn't stop reading it. Now I'm reading the 2009 sequel, Catching Fire.)

Now you know looking back at books that stick with you is more fun than reconsidering all those resolutions you never quite got to, right?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Ho Ho Ho

Merry Christmas to all!
Time to snuggle up with those books you found under your tree.

So, what great books were waiting in your Christmas stockings?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Books into Movies

Just read over at the Christian Science Monitor's book blog that The Help is being fast-tracked to moviedom. No surprises, but can't wait to hear more. Lots of weeks on the best seller list, the novel has movie written all over it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Soup's On

This is my last post about snow and cold weather, promise. Well, I'll try.

Today, in honor of my friends and family Up North shoveling snow, I made soup. Not just any soup but Alice's Vegetable Soup. This is comfort food to the max. Alice Moore cooked for my family, raised my brother, sister and me, sang to us, read Nancy Drew books with me, was an all-around good person. Not to mention the most fabulous baker of pies and homemade bread ever to wield a flour sifter. Fried chicken, fried okra, fried tomatoes, cornbread sizzling in a black iron cornbread stick pan (which I own but rarely use, a pound of butter not being at the top of my food groups)- she cooked them all.

But her soup is very healthy, very comforting, very warm. And you can pretty much throw the kitchen sink at it, vegetable-wise, and it always works. Alice used potatoes, but rice will also do. Even brown rice, though she's turning over in her grave as I type that B Word in front of rice.

For some reason, I came away with more of Alice's secret ingredients than my siblings did, but I'm always happy to share. So here's the secret ingredient in her Homemade Vegetable Soup. Remember, this was before the days of canned stock. She made her own beef stock with a soup bone and lots of onions and celery. I sometimes add canned stock, a short cut worth taking.

But Alice's final flavoring, maybe with a dash of Tabasco, was V-8 Juice. Great soup base for a cold rainy day when you need soup in a hurry.

And again, I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Eudora Welty's EYE OF THE STORY.
To make a friend’s fine recipe is to celebrate her once more.

Related posts: Popeye's Biscuits
Stirring the Pot

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Not sure why I'm feeling so nostalgic for December snow.

Those December storms were the best, making everything feel like Christmas. But when friends and family "up north" (that's what people in Florida call everything above Georgia, I've decided- Ha. What would my Mississippi grandmother say about that? Come to think of it, she thought North Carolina was Up North, so maybe nothing.), send their pictures, I actually miss all that snow.

Well, I miss looking out the window at it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Remembering Snow in New Jersey

This is where I'm not today. And glad of it, truly. Though I do miss looking out the window, seeing my neighbor with the snowblower or the birds on the feeder. The kids sledding. Sigh.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thought for the Day

Tossing out last year's Quaker Motto Calendar and realizing there are some thoughts that need remembering, especially this busy, holiday time of year-

Many people will walk in and out of your life.
But only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Related post: Quaker Motto Calendar

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Good Thing for the Holidays

If you've sent your cards, decorated your tree, lit your candles, inflated the fat snowmen and reindeer, shopped till you dropped and enjoyed a drop of eggnog, here's one last thing some of my friends and I have done.

Click here to send a card to a veteran, compliments of Xerox. Simple to do. Takes 10 seconds. Worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More Books for Giving

Lisa Von Drasek, Super Librarian, has penned this terrific list of kids' books, with commentary. Lots of great suggestions, including YUMMY and THE LITTLE DUMP TRUCK, which are already wrapped and under my tree waiting for my youngest family readers. I wish I had a teen to buy Libba Bray's Going Bovine for. Instead, I'll just read it myself.

Here's what Lisa has to say about what seems to be one of the most talked about Young Adult books of the year:

The most atypical young adult novel is Going Bovine by Libba Bray. Part Tom Robbins, part Fast Times at Ridgemont High and part Wizard of Oz. One would not expect a book about a slacker sixteen-year-old who is diagnosed with a fatal illness to be laugh-aloud funny. Go figure. At times surrealistic, other moments more real than real, this is one of the best of the year.

So what are you waiting for? Get thee to a bookstore!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Christmas Carol

When my brother, sister and I were quite young, our grandmother started a Christmas tradition. Thinking about it now, I'm astounded at the number of years we continued this, not to mention how quietly we sat and listened. But each December, she read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol aloud to us.

When I discovered that you can actually see the manuscript online, each page in Dickens' own handwriting or the typed version, I clicked right over. All 66 pages are right here for your viewing.

I've seen the actual manuscript at the Morgan Library in New York. To be more precise, I've seen one page. The Library puts just one page each year on public display. Of course, seeing the online version isn't quite the same as seeing the book, but still well worth the view if you love the story as I do.

All those ghosts, all those frightening people, appropriate for young children? But a grandmother reading a story with a happy ending? A perfect Christmas tradition!

"It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour." - A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Monday, December 14, 2009

Last Minute Shopping? Give Books!

Recently I wrote about book-related gifts but admonished you all to check in at your local bookstore for the Real Deal (books, not teeshirts). Now here are my own personal favorites, with a link or two to what fellow bloggers and writers are recommending for gift-giving this season.
(Note: If some are less well-known than the average Best Seller variety, all the better.)

For my New York city kids and those who love a good story, with twists and turns, backwards and forward in time:
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

A really funny book, for that often hard to buy for older middle grader:
Al Capone Shines My Shoes

For the youngest lovers of fairy and folk tales (not for the faint of heart? But what true folk tale is!):
Yummy by Lucy Cousins

For you aunts and uncles who want a delightful story with a real Southern flavor, a gift in many ways to your younger friends, ages 8 and up, especially if you offer to read it together:
The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O'Connor

A grownup book even the most avid reader may not have heard of (and it's a trilogy!) Start with Case Histories and go in order to enjoy all of Kate Atkinson's mysteries.

Remember that Action Figure Librarian from my blog post the other day? She's a real, retired librarian and here are some of her choices.

And then there's the link to the New York Times Bests of the Year, fiction and non-fiction.
And if at all possible, shop at your local independent bookstore.

So what books are you gifting this holiday season?

Related post: Independent Bookstores

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Collecting Data

Ever wonder where truly great writers get their ideas? Click here and then on the button on the left of the NPR site to listen to one of my favorite authors, Kate DiCamillo, talk about her notebooks. And her jottings from a visit to the National Gallery in Washington.

Yesterday I spent some time at an absolutely breathtaking, mind-expanding exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown St. Petersburg, viewing the huge Lesley Dill installation and collecting painting titles. All inspirational. Dill's art leaves at the end of December so if you're in the Tampa Bay area, rush right over, quick.

(But the museum and the painting titles and the art are always there!)

Here's a virtual tour of the exhibit, for those of you too far away to see the real thing.

Related posts: The Magician's Elephant
And from my group blog:
Watching for Birds

Thursday, December 10, 2009

For Your Holiday Shopping Pleasure...

For the readers and writers on your list:

Book Related Athletic T-shirts (click and look at the pictures carefully to really get it)

Though personally, I'm rather fond of this one:

A thank-you note styled after the library cards we all knew and loved (which have mostly gone the way of library catalog cards...replaced by higher technology)-

The Book Lovers Calendar

All sorts of things from the Library of Congress bookstore, including the ever popular Librarian Action Figure. (Hmm. Note to friends and family. Don't get me this.)

And of course, all the best books, from your favorite bookstore.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Going Home Again

If you can just figure out exactly where Home is, you can definitely go home, despite what Thomas Wolfe famously said. And one of my favorite places to call home is the city of Baltimore. Baltimore seems to me a kind of Norm's Cheers Bar, where everybody knows your name. That is, everybody who ever knew it in the first place. An Old Friends kind of place. So I got to go back to my home turf recently to visit Bryn Mawr School, one of the most exciting, energizing, fun libraries and schools I've worked in (and there have been a few, let me tell you). The building was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1972, before I arrived. As you might expect, it was a wide open, sunny place, free of walls. But all that open space, though difficult to teach quietly in, had the end result of everybody getting along pretty well. A truly challenging and exciting place for a librarian. I loved it. Now the space has been rethought, in a very good way. And I got to go "home" again to see the school and the many old friends who reconvened there.

While in Baltimore, I also ate numerous Berger Cookies, one of my favorite foods.

If I ever were to write about that Charm City, this church in Hampden would for sure be a player...See that sign? Church times listed with a greeting: Peace be with you, Hon.

Photos courtesy of K.S. Marino

A fun trip down memory lane, with old friends. And lots of ideas percolating.
Thanks, Hons!

Monday, December 7, 2009

New (to me) Word Today

Not only do I get a French word-a-day (thanks, Julie), I still get Anu Garg's A.Word.A.Day emails. Today's word is ROPALIC, and there's even a contest! Oh, you don't use ropalic on a daily basis? Click on over there and find out about the contest- a poetry writing challenge. But hurry, the contest ends this Friday.

And if you're wondering? Ropalic=Having each successive word longer by a letter or syllable.

Here's an example from the New York Times:
"Soapy fired off a rhopalic sentence, that is, one in which each word is one letter longer than the word that precedes it: I am the only dummy player, perhaps, planning maneuvers calculated brilliantly, nevertheless outstandingly pachydermatous, notwithstanding unconstitutional unprofessionalism.'"
Alan Truscott; Talking About Behavior; The New York Times; Oct 26, 1986.

Related posts: Word a Day

Words Each Day

Friday, December 4, 2009

Get Me Re-Write!

Did anybody out there take part in NaNoWriMo- National Novel Writing Month? So, now what? After spending the month of November frantically writing a truly bad draft (AKA Zero Draft), you must figure out if it's worth spending/wasting time fiddling with.

If you've been struggling with rewriting, maybe you're focusing too much on line editing and not enough on STRUCTURE, the big picture. At least that's the advice in this great posting by Justine Larbalestier. You may know her from her newest YA novel, Liar, the one with the controversy surrounding the cover. I know her from her funny, helpful, interesting blog. I'm planning to read the book as soon as my reserve comes up at the library (popular book!). But during NaNoWriMo, she and Scott Westerfeld shared writing tips aimed at anybody foolish enough to think they could actually write a novel in a month. So if you've at least made headway and written that truly bad draft, check out her revision techniques on the link above.

Or put it in a drawer for a rainy day.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What is it about The Moon?

So this is a story I heard told by the piano player at Chez Josephine Tuesday night. May or may not be urban legend. He swears it's true. But he was telling it to a diner sitting a few tables away so I only heard snatches, not the entire story.

In the 1930s, Rodgers and Hart were writing the music for a movie. When they presented a song to the studio heads, they were told they needed to write a more romantic tune. The studio guy then threw out the words he thought were best for love songs. Rodgers and Hart, almost in defiant jest (according to the young piano player at our restaurant), took every one of the clichéd words and threw them together to make the lyrics and thus was born Blue Moon, that song we all learned to play by ear on the piano and knew every single word to sing along.

Still can:
Blue Moon, You Saw Me Standing Alone, Without a Dream in my Heart, Without a Love of My Own...

Yep. Every single word, made to rhyme, sappy as can be. Doncha just love it though?

I thought it was appropriate that as we walked from 42nd to 44th streets, there was a moon over Manhattan... (that's that completely round ball hanging in the sky. And it's not a streetlight.)

Related posts: Waterfalls and Food

A Day in the City: the Highline

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rejection, etc.

Do you ever get tired of hearing how many times Now Famous Writer (fill in the blank) was rejected before finally having a book published? The stories are legend. And I've heard them all. But somehow as I was driving in the grey rain just now and listening to the radio, this was nice to hear. Even though- true confessions- I wasn't a huge fan of Anne of Green Gables, I've always appreciated her popularity and love it when an author has a following of young fans like she does.

So, it's Lucy Maud Montgomery's birthday, and here's what I heard on the radio. (Click here to see what Garrison Keillor has to say about other writers today, especially Oscar Wilde. Now I'm curious about that Paris hotel...) :

It's the birthday of Canadian children's writer L.M. Montgomery, born Lucy Maud Montgomery in Clifton, Prince Edward Island, in 1874. Her mother died when she was a toddler, and her father sent her to live with her mother's parents. There were no other children around, just Lucy and her grandparents, and she spent a lot of time reading and writing poems. She left home for a few years to teach, but when her grandfather died, she came home to live with her grandmother, and she stayed with her for the next 13 years. And during that time, she wrote her first novel, about an orphan girl with bright red hair who gets sent to live with a couple from Prince Edward Island who were hoping for a boy instead. It got rejected over and over, so she put the manuscript away in a hatbox and turned to other things. But eventually, she got it back out, read it, decided it wasn't that bad after all, and sent it out again. This time it got accepted, and in 1908, Anne of Green Gables was published and became a classic children's book.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Turkey, the Last Words

Jury still out on the Cajun roasted turkey. But sometimes you do what you have to in the face of a small oven and lots of side dishes.

But the turkey on the apple pie was perfection!

Now, back to Reading and Writing Words. Enough with the cooking and eating chatter...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Quote for Turkey Day +1

This was on my Facebook friend and fabulous writer, Deborah Wiles' FB status just now and I'm enjoying the thought. Hope you are too. Not to mention the turkey sandwich...

She posted-
He forgot about the turkey sandwich:
"If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need." Cicero

Related Posts: Southerners Writing Books

Beautiful Libraries

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Writing Quote for Today

No one has ever had an idea in a dress suit.
- Sir Frederick G. Banting

(Does that also work for dresses?)

So stay in your jammies whether you're cooking the turkey or catching up on your reading.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Story Structure

In my voyage to uncover whether I'm a pantster (write by the seat of your pants) or a plotter (self-explanatory), I discovered the Story Fix blog.

My friend Lee had already sent me the recent Wall Street Journal article, How To Write a Great Novel. (I'm not sure you can still read it online from that link, but all you need is this StoryFix blog entry to take you right there.) Then I found the Story Fix guy, Larry Brooks, who analyzes and takes apart the original article and tells us why it doesn't exactly work out that way.

Still, the WSJ had some good points. And when I read this quote, it reminded me to read the book that just won the National Book Award:

To research his 2009 novel "Let the Great World Spin," which is set in New York in the 1970s and is a finalist for the National Book Award, Mr. McCann went on rounds with homicide and housing cops, read oral histories of prostitutes from the era and watched archival film footage.

One thing always leads to another in this blogging world. Read the Wall Street Journal article just for fun. Then click on over to see Larry Brooks' opinion on why it's important to know the ending before we begin. And if all this talk of story structure sends you running in another direction, pick up one of the books mentioned in the article. Knowing a writer reads his characters' lines out loud, or tears up a million beginnings, just might make the book-- if it doesn't completely destroy the reading experience-- a lot more interesting.

Related posts: Beginnings
Great Writing Advice

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Dreaded Cliché.

Over at the Through the Tollbooth blog, there's a great posting about clichés. And you won't be surprised by the list, even though it's already a year old. I guess a cliché becomes a cliché when it's overused, over time. Right?

So here's the list. Take note, the source is Oxford University (the one in England) and they're not really calling them clichés, just overused phrases. But be sure to click on over to Carrie Jones' posting on The Tollbooth to see her thoughts about clichés in writing.

What do you think? Got any others that really bug you? (How about the verb forms of bug...)

Oh, and check out #8. And I always thought that was a Southern thing. Then again, we Southerners learned how to talk from our British/Scottish/Irish forebears, didn't we.

Top 10 Overused Phrases
1 - At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique (oxymoron)
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science

Thursday, November 19, 2009

National Book Award

FYI-This year's National Book Award for Young People's Literature was just announced. The winner? A nonfiction book about Claudette Colvin, a young teen whose actions during a very important part of our country's history were largely unknown by contemporary young readers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Potato Peel Pie Society

Am I the last reader on earth to pick up this book? And why did it take me so long? What a terrific story. And my goodness, hairbow ties? Is that really why they're called that? How could I not have know this.
My friend Julie tells me it's one of her favorite audio books to listen to also.

My former Book Group just read it and often I try to keep up with what they've chosen, so thanks Melissa for sending me on this journey, for telling me to google the book. I love this blog posting by writer Annie Barrows. I'd never thought about the concept of literary meandering, following one book as it leads to another. But it's true, isn't it. A clue in one book, a reference, a name, will send you off meandering to find connections. The whole Charles Lamb thing in this book sent me off to those college literature tomes gathering dust on the bookshelves.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is written as a series of letters, and here's a quote from one of Juliet's letters to Dawsey:
Have you ever noticed that when your mind is awakened or drawn to someone new, that person's name suddenly pops up everywhere you go? My friend Sophie calls it coincidence, and Mr. Simpless, my parson friend, calls it Grace. He thinks that if one cares deeply about someone or something new one throws a kind of energy out into the world, and "fruitfulness" is drawn in.

Oh, and just in case you wondered. Despite my love of book related food items and as much as I adore beets, I have no interest in making the potato pie recipe.

Related post: Indie Awards

Monday, November 16, 2009

What's Your Definiton of Children's Books?

In the current discussion over at the School Library Journal's Mock Newbery blog, the point is being raised about the whole definition of "childhood," as it pertains to books eligible for the award. This quote from E.L. Konigsburg's book of essays and speeches, TalkTalk, makes a lot of sense to someone who's been there for both worlds: the backyard neighborhood and the TV screen...

As I was growing up, I always had the feeling that I understood a lot more than I knew. When I listen to my grandchildren, I think they know a lot more than they understand. The difference is exposure. Even before starting school, they see more and hear more than I did as a high-school graduate. Perhaps, saying overseen more and overheard more is a better expression because they have been exposed to a great panorama on a very small scale. Their big world is a small place--the size of a television screen. My small world was a big place--my neighborhood.
E.L. Konigsburg

Today's Mock Newbery post is about one of my favorite books of this award season: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. While I didn't particularly agree with the analysis on the posting, she has a point and makes it well. Guess we'll just have to wait until January to see what the "real" Newbery committee comes up with.

Related post: Calpurnia Tate

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Best Blogs for Kids, and Why Bother?

I'll bookmark this article for sure. Not just because Elizabeth Bird pulls together links to some of my favorite book bloggers (her Top Ten), but also because she says some important things about why blogging is important, whether it's making a difference, and who the heck reads blogs about kids' books anyhow.

Here's one of her questions, posed early in the article:
Sometimes I wonder if this is just a case of bloggers reading one another's posts, commenting on one another's blogs, contributing to an insular community that doesn't have much impact on the outside world. Do kids' lit bloggers influence publishing decisions? Are library systems basing their purchasing decisions on our recommendations? Should they? And to what extent is a blog about literature for youth a reliable source of information?

There's a happy ending to her posting, I'm glad to report. We blog about kids' books because we love the literature and love the connections our blogs give us to other like minds. If people who buy the books listen in, all the better.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Last Newspaper Boy in America

Such an appealing cover. And Sue Corbett really knows how to write for middle grade readers. But honestly, newspaper boys? Would kids care? Should they? Or is the whole newspaper thing something the next generation, the Youth of Today, finds totally beyond them. And while I'm at it, how many young readers still spread out the funnypapers (i.e. comics to you Yankees) all over the floor every afternoon to read?

So I put this one in the To Read pile. But the cover kept speaking to me.

Then I opened the book and got to know 12-year-old Wil David and his slightly oddball family. And I really really loved this book. There's adventure, mystery, even a budding love interest of sorts. A county fair with its own con artist. A mother who loves to read. The small town setting is the perfect venue. Just one good thing after another.

The Last Newspaper Boy in America is such a terrific read that it doesn't really matter whether kids have a clue what a newpaper boy/ girl is. Though they should. And after reading Sue Corbett's latest novel, they'll know for sure about delivering newspapers in America.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I'm working very hard to learn to see better. No, I'm not getting new eyeglasses. But I've learned since I slid over from the very bookish world of a school library into the more creative side of my brain that I'm much too literal. It's hard work to see things in a different way. I know, I know, sometimes a rose is just a rose. But then there are those days when you need to think of "what if" over and over until just the perfect scene comes into your story. And that's when it pays to have an artist on the other end of your emails. And if she's an artist who also writes, all the better.

So I've been missing my friend Leslie Guccione's sage advice. Her ability to point her writing students in new directions and tell us what we're missing, where to look next for a character or a plot point. I've also been missing her funny, funny stories this week. Leslie's husband died of the most terrible disease, ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. Joe and Leslie were a perfect couple, devoted, encouraging, loving to each other.

Yesterday as I walked on the beach, I remembered when they visited us and we laughed that Joe was bringing his foul weather gear to the Gulf of Mexico. Didn't he know that Florida in the early spring was nothing like the coast of Massachusetts, where his own boat was moored? Leslie and I rolled our eyes. But Joe had the last laugh. The day we ventured down the canals, Joe was the only one warm enough to enjoy the trip. The weather had turned and the wind was blowing. Nothing like New England. But nothing like Florida either.

I'd never seen beach glass until I visited their beach. Now I walk and hope I'll find a tiny specimen on our soft white sand. Yesterday I thought I had. Turned out to be just a clear-as-glass jingle shell. I picked it up anyway. I stared at it and thought about how it might fit into a story. How the perfect round shape might mean something more than just a shell found on a walk on the beach. I know Leslie would create a history of how many times it had been trampled upon, and by whom. It would be a funny story, characters who love each other but fight just the same, flawed, as characters should be, but so worth the telling.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Refrigerator Poetry anyone?

I love this kid lit posting. I do so need a break.

Refrigerator poetry! What great ways to waste time (or jiggle your brain or whatever you want to call it). So many excuses to sit on the computer. Check out this one in particular.

Then get outside and take a walk..

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Writing Quote of the Day

"A story knows what it wants to be...
Your job is to step back and let the characters become real."

G. Neri, St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading
October, 2009

Related posts: Boys Love Books
Quote for the Day

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wing Nut

Now isn't that just about the best title ever for a middle grade novel? Actually this one might fall into the "Tween" category, ages 10-14. I like so much about Wing Nut. Here's what I had to say on my Goodreads page:

I picked Wing Nut up from the display shelf of my local library's Florida Sunshine Reader Awards and from the beginning I was hooked. A kid, his mom, a hippie commune, an old man, his purple martins- such disparate elements weave into a story that is just plain fun to read. The developing relationship of 12-year-old Grady and what seems to be a grumpy old man is an important element that's never sentimental, often humorous. I loved the writing, the story, the characters, the title- everything about this one.

A couple of thoughts about the book:
It was peopled mostly with grown-ups, defying one of the rules of writing for kids. And I didn't even notice, the story was so strong. Then upon rereading, I discovered other kids, mostly as described by Grady. One reviewer thought the fact that he was homeschooled and very critical of his public school experiences was a tad harsh. But some of the bullies Grady remembers from his past experiences seemed pretty true. And they made for interesting kid characters.

So do you think it's OK, to fill a teen/tween story with grownups, if all the adults in the book are as interesting and well-told as these characters?

I was also going to say I loved the book jacket photo. Then I noticed, as is often the case, oh no! They changed the cover on the paperback edition. Not crazy about that one. But here's the original. Wouldn't this make a kid want to read Wing Nut?

Oh, and just for comparison- here's the paperback's cover. More or less kid-friendly?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Best Book Blogs?

Great, extensive, useful list of Book Blogs right here. The list is broken into categories: Picture books, Teens and Tweens, etc. This is all you'll ever need to follow in order to know all there is about writing, reading, sharing kids' books.

Bookmark the list and try to get through it in an afternoon... Impossible!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quote for the Day

If there is a writing Easy Street, he's got it nailed.

"The road to Easy Street goes through the dumps."
John Madden
(as quoted on Sunday Night Football, Giants vs. Cardinals)

Related post: Writing Quotes

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spiders in Teacups and Swans on Tables

Just in time for Halloween. Check out Play With Your Food and make some critters like my friend Julie's.

Photo courtesy of Juliette Eastwick

And these from her co-conspirator:

Photos courtesy of Susan Tinanoff

Or if you prefer to eat your table decorations this Halloween, try a ladyfinger cookie decorated with red almond nails or a delicious chow mein noodle black spider, recipes and instructions from Ghoulish Goodies.

Happy Halloween fun to all you creative types out there in blogland!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Writing Inspiration...

Well, I just love this. Made my day. Many thanks to author Barbara O'Connor for her terrific contribution to the National Gallery of Writing.

And I know just what your reader means. I so appreciate his writing tip:

Erik to Mrs. O'Connor: Thank you for sharing your writing techniques with us. My technique is to stare at trees.

Thanks, Erik. Now, back to staring at the really great trees outside my window...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New York Times Book Review

Often a book review appeals to me more than the book. With good writing and an interesting topic, I learn all I need to know just from the review. That's the case with Ben Yagoda review of The Tyranny of E-Mail. I may or may not look at the book, but I learned a lot from the review.

1. The "average corporate worker" gets about 200 e-mail messages a day.
2. 62% of Americans read and answer work e-mail on vacations. (Bet it's more than that!)
3. E-mail is highly prone to being misinterpreted. (Oh, really?)
4. Don't "debate complex or sensitive matters by e-mail." (Again, this shouldn't be news to anybody.)
5. E-mail is an instantaneous, demanding, borderline addictive medium.

That's what the author of the book has to say.

Yagoda has some thoughts on the topic also.
E-mail has "flaws and limitations, but they have also served as cleansing agents for prose..they may disinhibit inappropriate declarations, they also inhibit dull, abstract wordiness."

Took me a minute to work that out, but I think I agree.

The review concludes that "every day I get a half-dozen or more fine e-mail messages: short, (often) witty, (usually) pointed, (sometimes) thoughtful, and always written in that correspondent's particular register."

I suspect I get a few that are just as witty, pointed, thoughtful, and certainly written in a way that there's no mistaking the writer.

Maybe not all bad, this addiction of ours?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not Millionaires...

I'm laughing while reading this posting over at the Southern Writers' Blog. Read the whole thing before deciding to take this advice because there are a lot of good things about writing, many mentioned by the end of the blog. But, still, there's truth in what poster Sarah Shaber says:

A young man at a school where I was speaking once asked me how much of the $23.95 price of my newest book did I get to keep. Oh, I said, maybe $2.00. He passed my book to another student with a look that indicated he’d be going into a different business. Novelist Lawrence Block, who’s written many books on writing, likes to tell anyone who is interested in becoming an author that they “should take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and hope the feeling goes away.”

Of course, don't a lot of us know that feeling's not going away any time soon, even with aspirin?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Libraries I Have Loved

None of the group touring our alma mater on a recent fall weekend remembered that much about the Wilson Library and its resources. Details were fuzzy. We poked around the Rare Books room, wandered up and down stairs, tried to picture the place filled with undergraduates. But it is a different place now, and it's been a while since any of us studied for that last exam.

The beautifully renovated Rare Books room looked vaguely familiar as a place we'd hide out and study during exam week or possibly a place for a nap cloistered behind a study carrel. On this October day, the words closed study and stacks and Shakespeare 101 were bandied about like the fading memories they are. But the outside of the Wilson Library looked familiar and even a few of the nooks and crannies inside.

We spent some time in the Rare Books room and took a picture with our forbidden cellphone until the librarian hushed SOME of the group up and sent him outside to finish his phone call.

Among the displays- a glass case of banned books.

And this Ray Bradbury quote:
“You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

Related posts: Beautiful Bookmarks One Good Librarian

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More Bumper Stickers

Seen on a bumper sticker (Florida, of course):

Am I getting older or has the supermarket begun playing great music...

(For past bumper sticker viewings, click here and here and here.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Calpurnia Tate

Yes, I know. Everybody and his brother has weighed in on this first novel by Jacqueline Kelly. Set in Texas at the turn of the century, the book is told by an 11-year-old sister with 6 brothers. Her interests are scientific, something she shares with her slightly eccentric grandfather. She's intrigued with Darwin's Origin of the Species. She fills a notebook with observations on her own natural world. She's a likable character, no shrinking violet, who holds her own with those brothers.

Although I don't know a lot about Texas or this time period, I do read historical fiction, and I've read a lot about writing historical fiction. And yet I'm still not sure if this book will appeal to a wide range of young readers. I know I loved it. I'd love to know if actual kids are reading it.

There's a good discussion going on over at the Mock Newbery blog run by the folks at School Library Journal. At least one of the bloggers thinks Calpurnia is too boring to win the Newbery. Scroll down that blog to read about The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, but don't miss some of the other books they're scratching their heads about. I always love the pre-January dither writers, readers and librarians get themselves into over this very prestigious award. Let the Newbery chatter begin!

Here's a passage describing Calpurnia's terror at performing in her piano recital, an event I totally related to (having once fainted dead away at a recital held in a 90+ degree Women's Club hall where my friends and I were performing in the heat of a Mississippi summer):

Miss Brown walked to the edge of the stage...She gave a small speech about this splendid occasion, about Culture making inroads in Caldwell County...and how she hoped the parents there would appreciate her hard work in molding their children to value the Finer Things in Life, since we were still living, after all, almost on the edge of the Wild Frontier. She sat down to more applause, and then we got up, one by one, in varying states of misplaced confidence or paralyzing terror.

That's probably Calpurnia's last musical performance, but she's on a different career path. Her wise grandfather's advice often conflicts with the norms of the day, which can present a dilemma for Calpurnia. When her grandfather tells her it's more important to understand something than to like it, that's a lesson we all could take away.

Lucky for readers, we get to watch her evolution, hear her observations of the times and places around her. Sounds like a winner to me. But I'd still like to talk to an actual reader under the age of 20 who gets this one. I hope there are a lot of them out there, passing the book around, admiring the very appealing book jacket (check out the animals scrolling at the bottom!), noting the differences between Calpurnia's world and their own.

Although by the book's end, I still wasn't completely convinced that Calpurnia wouldn't end up like her mother, with a brood of young Texans and tea parties to plan. And perhaps that was the most realistic part of the story. At that time, in that place, it did seem likely that Calpurnia Tate might not follow her dreams and her grandfather's footsteps, and perhaps that's what Jacqueline Kelly wants us to come away with. Though after reading this very well written and certainly thoroughly researched novel, readers will surely feel if anybody could do it, this heroine could.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blood on the Forehead

Scrambling around looking for writing inspiration early this morning, I pulled out this book of writing advice, novel excerpts and short stories by YA/ Middle grade writer M.E. Kerr:

A few quotes, worth sharing.

Cut! Cut! Cut! Your reader has a life.

Easy reading is hard writing.

When a writer chooses names for characters, she has to believe they couldn't be called anything else.

A novel gives you a legitimate way to have a little world of your own creation.

(Quoting Somerset Maugham)
"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are."

And my own personal favorite discovery this morning?

After about thirty pages, you should find your voice (or voices), and when you do, your characters will begin to speak and act on their own.

Whew. Thirty pages. Don't give up on those voices too soon.

Related post: Voice

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Quaker Motto Calendar

Please note: there are newer entries, with updated information for ordering! Click here for 2013 info.

This morning, a few days late, I turned to October in my favorite calendar, and the quote seemed apt. I'd just spent several sunny afternoons last week watching the monarchs migrate through North Carolina.

Here's a Nathaniel Hawthorne quotation from October's calendar:

Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly may light upon you.

In 1884 Thomas Scattergood initiated these little gems known to many as "Quaker Motto Calendars." My sisters-in-law have continued the family tradition of compiling them. Although the old address still works for a while, this year there's a new address for ordering the 2010 calendars.

THE MOTTO CALENDARPO Box 1383 Pottstown, PA 19464

They are the perfect size to fit into a large Christmas or greeting card. They are exceptionally realistically priced:
25 envelopes and calendars for $28.00
(without envelopes, $25.00)

If you order 50, the price goes down to $46 and $40! You can order as few as 10 ($15) but why would you?
And if you order soon, you are assured delivery by early December.

And, for my writing colleagues, they are perfect little calendars to tuck away near a desk or on a bulletin board where the sayings will inspire you every day. Like this one from September:

Don't cry because it is over. Smile because it happened.
Dr. Seuss

And here's a sneak preview - February 2010:

Monday, October 12, 2009


How hard is it for you to begin a writing project? I know, I know-- tons of words have already been written on this topic. But I'm beginning anew, and beginnings are hard, especially if you don't know where they are going or how they'll get there. So do you put characters on the pages and let them sort it out? Outline first? I do a little of each. (Any excuse to outline or diagram- after all I was the Queen of Sentence Diagramming in 8th grade English class...)

This morning I opened a book by Carole Burns- OFF THE PAGE: Writers Talk about Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in Between- and reread how some of my favorite writers bring their stories to life.

Alice McDermott mostly writes about Irish Catholics. While doing a reading, she once was asked "Is this your family you're writing about?" and from the back of the room, someone shouted, "No, it's mine!"

Now off I go with a new set of characters, created totally from my imagination, with a few composites plucked from friends, family, newspapers, kids I once knew.

So, all you writers out there- where do you begin? Characters? Outlines? Venn diagrams? Spiderwebs? Journaling? A time or a place? Reading everything you can get your hands on about the most obscure subject in the world? OK, then where did that topic appear from? A box of newspaper clippings like Elizabeth Glaver's? And then, like Joanna Scott, do you get to that arbitrary point- hers is page 100- and tell yourself that "no matter what happens I'm going to finish that book...I have to see it out."

Related post: Plot Will follow

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Two Favorite Quotes for Today

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."
E.B. White

"Songwriters talk a lot about 'writing' songs, but it seems to me like I spend most of my time 'waiting' for songs. Writing is just something I do to kill the time until they get here..."
Iris DeMent

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Challenge of Plotting

Last week on the Southern Writers' Blog, my day was up. I was at a loss for words (truly). So I wrote about something I'd like to know more about: I wrote a few words about Plotting.

It's best to learn from the experts, right? So I'm rereading a Writer Magazine article about plot, featuring Dennis Lehane, Gayle Lynds and Stuart Woods, three who know of which they speak. Dennis is in charge of the Eckerd College Writers in Paradise conference- a fantastic week in St. Petersburg, Florida, in January just when the weather should be at its best. He spoke to us last year throughout the week, and let me just say I was hanging on most of his words. So when I found the Writer Magazine interview I'd saved, I reread it. And it is full of gems.

Lehane on plotting:
I put a character on the page and I have him want something-it could be as simple as a cup of coffee-and he goes out to get that thing. And hopefully, he bumps into another character and then another and conflict will gradually develop. I'm not a good plotter in the early stage of a novel. The trick is to remind yourself that no one's ever going to see those early stages of a book, so let yourself loose and let your characters loose and see what happens. Then go back and rewrite it all to make it look fluid.

Whew. Great advice. Now I can begin something new, messy and disorganized, without fear of anyone peeping...

Related posts: Writers in Paradise, 2009
The Dreaded Plot

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Twitter/ Tweet/ Twriter

OK, I'm not a twitterer/ tweeter/ twriter, but I loved this comment:

Twitter has been called "The Seinfeld of the Internet — a site about nothing."

It came from a very old email I just uncovered, sent from Ann Wylie's newsletter. The newsletter basically has nothing to do with the kind of writing I read, or write for that matter. But I frequently uncover a gem of advice, so I keep on reading. Even if I don't open the July email until October...

And actually, I did find the greatest site by following her link to Word Spy, the Word Lovers' Guide to New Words:
(Forget Twitter, there's a place I could spend/ waste a whole lot of time.)

"Social notworking
pp. Surfing a social networking site instead of working. Also: social not-working — social notworker n."

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Good Blog is Hard to Find

Every six weeks or so, my assignment over at the group blog made up of some really great Southern writers is due. Today was that day. The topic this "term" was book signings or writing process. Or whatever we want to blog about, writing wise. It's a stretch to say I wrote about my writing process. Actually, I went for the "whatever" option. Come to think about it, I could have written about book signings but that would have been from the other side of the desk, from my librarian days. Hmmm. That might be a worthy topic for next time.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

It's Cybils Time Again

October 1 is the date to begin nominating your favorite kids' book.
Check out the categories and get out there and nominate your favorite book of the year. This is an award worth watching in the Kids' Book World. Nominations by actual reader/bloggers- you can't beat that.

Related post: Last year's winners

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Returning to Writing from a 3-day Hiatus...

Even the best writers get distracted some days:

Returning the Pencil to Its Tray

Everything is fine---
the first bits of sun are on
the yellow flowers behind the low wall,
people in cars are on their way to work,
and I will never have to write again.

Just looking around
will suffice from here on in.

Who said I had to always play
the secretary of the interior?

And I am getting good at being blank,
staring at all the zeroes in the air.

It must have been all the time spent
in the kayak this summer
that brought this out,

the yellow one that went
nicely with the pale blue life jacket---

the sudden, tippy
buoyancy of the launch,
then the exertion, striking
into the wind against the short waves,

but the best was drifting back,
the paddle resting athwart the craft,
and me mindless in the middle of time.

Not even that dark cormorant
perched on the NO WAKE sign,
his narrow head raised
as if he were looking over something,

not even that inquisitive little fellow
could bring me to write another word.

---Billy Collins

Related posts: Poetry Day

Friday, September 25, 2009

Forest for the Trees

I always forget about this blog. And then I spend an entire afternoon catching up with her. Not sure why it's such fun to read. Perhaps it's Betsy Lerner's venting about publishing (her words, not mine) and advice about writing (I scrolled all the way down to the post about Page Breaks. That I enjoyed it shows how strange my reading has become).

So it was fun reading the True Confessions from editors about "the ones that got away." Check it out. Along Came a Spider? Prep? Cold Mountain, rejected because it didn't ring true to a publisher who claimed she knew her Civil War sites?

That's where I'm headed. Back for more distractions. Kind of like the proverbial fly on the wall, listening in.

I voted!

Check out the National Book Foundation's website and vote for your favorite collection of Short Stories. So far, Flannery O'Connor is in the lead. It was a tough decision, but I had to cast my vote for Miss Eudora...

Related posts: Don't Mess With Flannery

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Before the day ends, it just wouldn't be right not to acknowledge what we've all been celebrating today:



Yay! Check out that website and learn lots about commas and the rest of the gang!

All You Need to Know About Publishing and Publicity...

Just ran across this LIVE blog from the Writers' Digest conference on publishing. Whew. My mind is wheeling with a lot of information. After scrolling down through most of the posts, I feel a little like I was there. Or at least somebody I knew was there, telling me about it, breathlessly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Magician's Elephant

Kate DiCamillo has a new book, just out. I loved Because of Winn-Dixie, the minute I read it. Some of her other books have taken me a while to warm up to, but I always end up being a huge fan. I read The Magician's Elephant more than once, but it captivated me each time. Here's my review, in today's Christian Science Monitor.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wasting time...

OK, everybody, up from your desks! Rush right down to the refrigerator.

Hmm. On second thought, just click right here and have some fun wasting time with REFRIGERATOR POETRY!

Need another time waster? Let's call it jiggling the brain and make it worth while. You know you love that refrigerator poetry.

Whew. I'm feeling smarter already.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Voice

On the question of voice in writing, I've heard lots of advice:
"Channel your character." "Write a letter in the character's voice." "Read it aloud till it sounds right."
Lots of workshops, many articles, entire books devoted to that mysterious concept of Voice. But what, really, is voice in a novel or a picture book?

Honestly, I haven't really tried to figure it out, and maybe that's because I hear my characters speaking to me, and I'm afraid if I think too hard on it, they might disappear. Many sound distinctively southern, but they all sound as if they are talking. Does that make sense?

I know voice is more than that. And here is a really good explanation by a writer who knows what she's talking about. Still, I'm glad to read that it does little good to think about it while you are writing. Good to know.

Read Marion Dane Bauer's interview on Through the Tollbooth:

I don’t think we are born with our voice. It does come ...through reading and the practice of writing. I do think, however, that our voice rises up out of who we are and that it does little good to think about voice when you are writing.
Concentrate on knowing your character. Your perceiving character will impact your voice in every story even when you are writing in third person. And concentrate on writing the very best you can. Voice will simply be part of the package. You will know you have fallen into the voice that is right for you when you can feel the energy behind the words.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Field Trips

My stay in New Jersey this summer and fall has been marked by field trips. Not the kind I used to make with third grade classes to Waterloo Village and the aquarium at Coney Island, or with the fourth graders to Ellis Island. And not even the story-gathering kind, those trips down Memory Lane with my sister and brother and my Mississippi friends.

Nope, this year I've been venturing out to places I've never been before. Thanks to Al and Barbara for taking me to Bayonne New Jersey's own 9-11 Memorial.

Like any good field tripper, I did my research in advance, which led me to the New Yorker article on the link above.
Love this line:
(After a Jersey City arts organization rejected it) turned out that Bayonne, a city where artists do not exert undue influence, was in the market for a 9/11 memorial.

The Memorial is not without controversy. In fact, that's how I first heard about it. An email claimed it was the memorial that some folks wanted to sweep under the rug, that nobody knows about it, that it was a gift of the people of Russia. Which turns out to be partially true. It is a gift from Russia. But nobody's trying to sweep it anywhere. There are numerous 9-11 Memorials in many little boroughs and small cities all over New Jersey. And a lot of them are not that well known, even though they are very impressive.

Bayonne's memorial is breathtaking actually. To get to the site, we were happy to have a GPS. But once there, we were in awe, first of all, of the setting. The view of the NYC skyline is exactly where the Twin Towers once stood, directly across the river.

The sun reflects off the monument and turns it golden in the late afternoon. The monument depicts a teardrop and is impressive in its size. You can't help but feel moved standing there, looking up and looking across.

Bayonne has a lot to be proud of.

And that line about Bayonne from the New Yorker? Fuhgeddaboudit. Bayonne may not be Jersey City or Hoboken, or even any kind of arts center, but they've got at least one terrific Italian restaurant. Pasta to die for. Cheesecake that made me want to order a whole one to bring home. Chicken so tender and so well prepared that I will forever hold it as a gauge to measure all other chicken dishes by. All this and 50% off the menu during the week. We almost fainted when the check arrived.

Now that's the kind of field trip I hope to repeat before departing the Garden State this winter.

Photos courtesy of Jay Scattergood

Related posts: Chatham's 9-11 Memorial

Monday, September 14, 2009

Just Another Day in the City

It was dreary and sprinkled rain most of the day on Saturday, but we decided that just kept the crowds off the High Line. And we loved walking the entire length of the restored train tracks in the drizzle. With views over the street and into the adjoining windows, the New York City High Line is a perfect window into the city.

And what a fascinating setting for a story. I mean, how can you not love a place with a history that documents the last freight carried:

1980-The last train runs on the High Line pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys.

Little boys especially, and maybe a few big ones, were captivated by the chaises on wheels. "Look, Mom, tinkertoys!"

Although not completely evident in this rain-soaked photo, the wheels did have a tinkertoy-ish look.

I can't wait to go back on a dryer day, take up residence on a comfy chaise and open my notebook. What a great place to write and to read.

The summer wildflowers have almost ended, but there will be more next summer. After all, who would dare tamper with the blossoms after reading the signs?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Al Capone

September is new book time. For kids in school and for book reviewers like me. I love opening the mail and seeing my special review copies, knowing I get to have an opinion and write about it before it even hits the bookstores. Much more fun than writing about books and authors and all those other assignments from my own school days.

Whenever possible, I review books I love. And if I had my way, most would be kids' books, especially middle grade and YA fiction. And this fall there are so many to love!

My review of AL CAPONE SHINES MY SHOES appeared this weekend in the Christian Science Monitor. What a great book! The kind of story you can recommend totally without reservation to a whole host of kids. Not one reason not to love this book. Sometimes I have to frame my personal recommendations, when asked, with a clarification. There are no "yes, buts" when you describe this one. Not this one and not the other "Al Capone" story-- Al Capone Does My Shirts.

These two novels by Gennifer Choldenko are totally not about Al Capone. They just happen to take place on Alcatraz Island, the prison where Capone and his cronies were sent in the 1030s. And he is in the story. But so is baseball, autism, friendships, moral dilemma, and lots of food references. Which of course, I love. Pass the the cannolis, please!

But the story belongs to Moose Flanagan, his friends and family. Just a great voice, a funny story, perfectly told and perfect for middle grade readers, older kids, and even parents and teachers.

Go ahead. Put it on your wish list. Reserve it at the library. Buy it for your favorite niece or nephew. Best aunt/uncle/ grandma/grandpa award, coming right up!