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

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Quote for the Day

"Literature is born when something in life goes slightly adrift."
Simone de Beauvoir

Related post: Quote for Turkey Day

Friday, February 26, 2010

John Grisham, Kids Lit?

Hmmm. This is interesting. Today's announcement from Publisher's Weekly says John Grisham will be writing a legal thriller for middle graders, a whole bunch of them, it seems. How'd I miss this?

The middle-grade series will focus on 13-year-old Theodore Boone, a legal whiz kid. In the first book, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, Theo gets caught up in a high-profile murder trial in his town. It's scheduled to be released by Dutton Children's Books on May 25.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How To Buy a Coon Dog

Following yesterday's posting about how books never really leave you, I give you Betsy Bird's recent Library Journal blog entry. She's rolling through the top 100 kids' novels of all times, in the opinion of her pollsters. I'll leave those of you with an interest in children's fiction through the ages to head on over to her blog and check out some of the titles.

But today my interest lies in Book #46 on the list: WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS.

The book was published in 1961, and I haven't read it in a while, but one 4th grade teacher who was near and dear to my librarian's heart loved this book and I know the kids in her classes for the many years she taught loved it also.

And this comment from Betsy's blog reminded me of Kathi Appelt's essay from Hunger Mountain:

My 4th grade teacher (30 years ago) read it aloud, and it completely transformed my vision of reading. I revisit the book every few years, and still cry like a baby. I even read it aloud one year to my class-bawling unabashedly several times. They still remember my reaction and love of the book, and (I hope) it made the same indelible mark on them as it did on me. - Tess Alfonsin, Fifth Grade Reading Teacher

Most of the novels on the Top 100 are books that made that kind of impression on readers.

Wondering where I came up with the title for this entry- the coon dog thing? If you read the blog review of Where the Red Fern Grows, you'll see a link to a Mississippi schools classroom study guide. Much as I hate to think about kids reading a book and doing study sheets, it happens. I guess it's better than reading something really boring on a standardized test and answering questions. At least they're reading good literature, and we who love good literature can just hope the questions don't completely turn kids off from reading.

Betsy Bird is a librarian at the New York Public Library so she and some of her pollsters may not see the value in students figuring out how to buy a coon dog, with appropriate links to dog shopping websites. But let me tell you, I think it's brilliant. Or at the very least, fascinating. Whatever works, whatever gets kids reading and remembering.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kathi Appelt's Blurred Lines

Kathi Appelt's recently published Hunger Mountain essay will make you ponder a lot of things: Accelerated Reading (and I mean that with capital letters, the read and test machine), Librarians and Parents as Guardians of the Book Gates, censorship, parenting, lifelong readers, expectations, death, failure, love and loss.

It's a long essay, one I'm not capable of consuming in one swoop. But I plan to read it again, and that's why I'm sharing the link here.

The debate over requiring kids to read and report is long and complicated. Librarians I trust say it's helped immensely with comprehension. Others despise reading requirements, from standardized testing to book reports to reading discussions. I know kids who love to talk about what they read, while others- like the character Miranda in this year's Newbery Award winner- jealously guard favorite books, refusing to share.

But I believe Kathi Appelt's point that books become part of us, that we read at different life stages and take away things on many levels is so true. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she and I remember and love many of the same books, especially those read by our grandmothers.

She writes of her teenage son, and Ferdinand the Bull. How I adore Ferdinand! So does son Cooper -

"Cooper was fifteen, but Ferdinand was still with him. Remember this when you’re writing: We carry these stories with us all of our lives. There is no delineation. We don’t become fifteen and set aside the stories that we grew up with."

The Underneath, her novel about survival and love and the sheer terror of losing those you need, caused a few adult readers to doubt children would get it. I confess to having reviewed it with a caveat that the cover might draw younger readers who were less likely to appreciate it than older kids. I still think the primary audience is for ten and up, but I've always known that lines are blurred when it comes to book appeal.

We teachers and librarians, parents and writers need an occasional reminder, that Ferdinand and The Underneath, The Runaway Bunny, Hunger Games and way too many books to cite here, may impress us when we are young, but they don't leave us when the book goes back to the library or gets packed away in the attic. The Quiet Old Lady Whispering Hush stays with you long after that little mouse has scampered off the page for the last time.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Quote of the Day

(thanks to my friend, Leslie)

“Map out your future - but do it in pencil. The road ahead is as long as you make it. Make it worth the trip.”

Jon Bon Jovi

Related posts: Two Favorite Quotes

Tim McGraw

Thursday, February 18, 2010

MORE Lists

Don't click on this link unless you love books. You'll be lost in lists for the afternoon. Or the day, or even the week. It's MORE Magazine's lists of "Top" books- Fiction, Poetry, Memoir-- and many more-- that Women Should Read.

I've read 9 of the 21 on the Notable Fiction list, but the scary part is that I've not heard of 2 or 3 of them. Not the writer, not the title. Nada. Scary, for a former librarian, lover of books, dabbler in novels.

More for my To Be Read list. Egads, it's growing too fast.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2009 Edgar Award Nominees

Are you a mystery reader? A mystery writer? My friend Kay and I once thought writing mysteries would be a lot of fun. Then I realized how difficult plotting is, and what's a mystery without a plot, right?

But I still love a good mystery, and the Edgar Awards nominations list is an excellent reading guide. The Edgars are given each year in lots of categories, but, truthfully, I never paid attention to anything other than the books. Now I notice screenplays are on the list! (Yay for THE CLOSER!)

And this book about writing detective fiction, by another all-time fav of mine, P.D. James.

Click here to find all the kids' Edgar nominations. (Thank you to the Kids Lit blog from the Menasha Wisconsin Public Library for that link.)

Click here for the complete list, which includes one of my favorite reviewed books of the year: THE LAST CHILD. If the others in that category hold a candle to John Hart's page-turning and beautifully-written mystery set in North Carolina, I'm in for some good reading.

My To Be Read List is getting very long...

Related posts: First in Line for Last Child

Why Read?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Claudette Colvin

My review of this award-winning book is posted today on writer Joyce Moyer Hostetter's Reading, 'Riting & Research history blog. I liked a lot (I liked everything really) about the book, but I especially appreciated the way the book was laid out with lots of easy-to-read sidebars, great photos and facsimiles from the time of the Montogomery Bus Boycott. Movie (or as they were called in South of the 50s and 60s- Picture Show) tickets that cost 25¢ each. Actual newspaper pages reporting the events of the times. And the first-person narration from Claudette Colvin, who was a mostly forgotten player in one of the biggest stories of the Civil Rights movement.

Be sure to scroll down to Friday's post and watch the book trailer posted on the history blog. Hear author Phillip Hoose talk about his discovery of the story and see their National Book Award acceptance. Two videos, both well worth watching.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Where do you consider home? I've lived in 11 places in my life, unless I missed one or two (OK, I'm counting college and a few Navy deployments with my husband- so what, I lived there) but the only one I really mean when I say "going home" now is the Mississippi Delta.

I won't bother telling you where it is. You either know or you sure can figure it out. It's been called a lot of things. Some not worth repeating in polite company. One merited its own book title: The Most Southern Place on Earth.

I grew up knowing about cotton, mosquitoes, not smoking while standing up, high school football, food (especially barbeque, finger sandwiches, Cokes, caramel cake, beer.. OK, I'll stop now), and a whole bunch of other stuff I've probably forgotten and never needed to know. But it was an interesting place to grow up for many reasons, good and bad.

(For all you Yankees reading this? Cotton in bloom- Ready for picking, late summer/ early fall.)

Click on over to this Delta blogger, photographer Kallie Dreher, to see some really fabulous pictures and read what she just introduced me to: CULTURALLY INTENSE. That says it all about the Delta.

Her pictures are for sale and, although copyrighted, she's kindly allowed me to share a couple here.

I didn't grow up in Good Grief. My little town had a few more than 7 people, 5 dogs and probably even more than 4 grouchy old men.

But the Delta was home and I still love it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When Will There Be Good News?

Finally finished the last of the Jackson Brodie trilogy and fearlessly hoping there's more in the works. (Aha! Amazon UK says there's a 4th, due there in August 2010!)

For now, perhaps I'll try some of Kate Atkinson's earlier books, though I've heard mixed results from friends who've tried and given up on them.

It's not only her writing style I loved in these three books, very literary mysteries with just the right amount of humor to offset the grisly bits. I love the stories and most of the characters.

Jackson, especially, a tired, jaded,former policeman who just can't seem to get his life together. Here's a comment of his as he thinks about Louise, a woman he hoped he might have connected with:
How ironic that both Julia and Louise, the two women he'd felt closest to in his recent past, had both unexpectedly got married, and neither of them to him.

And this from Reggie, another irresistable character, the young, persistent nanny:
She'd identified a dead body, had her flat vandalized, and been threatened by violent idiots, and it wasn't even lunchtime. Reggie hoped the rest of the day would be more uneventful.

You probably want to read these three books in order:
Case Histories
One Good Turn
and then
When Will There Be Good News?

Ah, well. Must return it to the library and cross my fingers it won't take too long for that new book to cross the ocean...

(Word I had to look up while reading and will never use in conversation?

1. image, representation
2. An insubstantial form or semblance of something; trace)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Escape from Snowmageddon

I took a blogging break this weekend to play with my friend Julie, a visitor from The North. We had great fun listening to The Help (terrific recording!) and talking about Olive Kitteridge (which we both adored). Although Julie's very good at prodding my writing along, this time we mostly focused on The Weather. When they cancelled her return flight to Baltimore, I got to keep her for an extra day or two. We shopped, walked in the sunshine, ate, and watched Emma on TV.

(Thanks, Kate and Carl, for the pictures!)

Here's what she escaped.
(Her street in Baltimore County.)

And this is my daughter's street in Bethesda... Had the plow arrived yet? She says not until Monday night. (Actually, this is a nearby street. Hers is still unplowed, deep, undrivable...)

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor... HA!

(No mail for a while, I guess.)At least the sun's shining?

Almost 30 inches? Maybe I'll get Julie until April! Lots of books yet to read and talk about.

(What she's recommending I read next: REMARKABLE CREATURES.
Here's what I'm recommending she read next: the Jackson Brodie trilogy by Kate Atkinson.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Title Picking

I actually have a file in my computer with this name. In it, I've pasted every piece of good advice I've ever read about selecting a title for your writing. It's something I'm not at all good at, picking a really great title, and it's something I think I should be.

When I was a librarian, the youngest kids would ask for "the red book with the dog on the front," but by the time they were old enough to read for themselves and to pay attention to the recommendations of their friends, they usually remembered the title, or at least some part of it. Kind of like me now with Potato Peel Pie Society. See, I can't ever get it all out, but I know enough to find it at the library.

So I think this article in the current Glimmertrain is worth saving in my file. Written by Eric Puchner, it's filled with gems likes these:

"...there seems to be very little correlation between producing something brilliant and the ability to come up with a half-decent name for it. Perhaps it's a different skill set entirely. I sometimes think there should be professional titlers: just as we wouldn't ask a carpenter to tar the roof of our house, we shouldn't expect writers to work outside their m├ętier."

Some people are just plain good at titles, and fortunately I have a few of those in my writing life. Because I agree that it's crucial to have a good one. I mean, would you have loved The Great Gatsby as much by another name?

"..keep in mind it wasn't Fitzergerald's idea. He wanted to call the novel Trimalchio in West Egg, which sounds like something Dr. Seuss might have dreamed up for the Playboy channel."

That's my gift, via Eric Pucher and Glimmertrain, to you today.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Even More on Words, New Words That Is...

No big surprises here.

According to the American Dialect Society, Google is the word of the
decade and tweet is the word of the year.
According to the Oxford University Press, the word of the year is unfriend.

And then there's the whole defriend vs. unfriend thing. Wow. What a way to stir the pot when it comes to picking popular words.

Here's a bit from the American Dialect Society's blog:

In its 20th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted “tweet” (noun, a short message sent via the service, and verb, the act of sending such a message) as the word of the year and “ google” (a generic form of “Google,” meaning “to search the Internet) as its word of the decade.

And did you know that out of the million words available for our use, the average person's vocabulary is fewer than 14,000 words. That's straight from the folks who are tracking words like defriend and twitter. 14,000? That seems excessive. Then again, those are the Brits tracking words, so I'll take it with a grain of salt.

Related post: More on Words