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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bank Street Book List

I think finding your book on this particular list would be a tremendous honor. I've known some of the folks who pick these titles and know how hard they work at it and how discriminating they are. So congrats to all of the writers who made the grade. This is a terrific tool for school librarians, parents, anybody who buys kids' books= a list divided by ages and by genres. Here's how the website describes the book:

One of the most comprehensive annotated book lists for children, aged infant-14. The Committee reviews over 6000 titles each year for accuracy and literary quality and considers their emotional impact on children. It chooses the best 600 books, both fiction and nonfiction, which it lists according to age and category.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Put a Poem in Your Pocket today

Did you know today is National Poem in Your Pocket Day, something that was such fun to celebrate when I was surrounded by enthusiastic kids in my days of school librarianing. Have you shared a poem this month? Do you have a poem in your pocket today?

If I were still strolling the school hallways, carrying a favorite short poem in my pocket, ready to read or share at a moment's notice, this is what it would be, the final verse from So Much Happiness

Since there is no place large enough

To contain so much happiness,

You shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you

Into everything you touch. You are not responsible.

You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit

For the moon, but continues to hold it, and to share it,

And in that way, be known.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye ~

But if I should need a poem to inspire me today, though I hardly need inspiring on a day like this, I might choose this one, from e.e. cummings, to put a thoughtful end to Poetry Month:

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there's never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

~ e.e. cummings ~

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Sky Is Everywhere

Have you ever just not wanted to read a book? Maybe it's the timing. It might be the cover or the publicity material or the subject matter, but you can't seem to get past the title page.

I like Young Adult books, generally speaking, but I had read four in a row, actually five now that I think about it. I'd loved one (Natalie Standiford's How To Say Goodbye in Robot), halfway through I had put one aside to read later (Will Grayson, Will Grayson), I had reviewed one for publication and was zipping through another, a lighter fare for sure.

But this one was about a sister who had died, so even though the publicist who sent it to me and a member of my critique group whose judgment I trust both seemed to think it was going to be a hit, still I resisted. I just wasn't in the mood for a death book about a talented musician and a new boy in town. I couldn't seem to pick it up and read a single page.

Then I did.

Wow. This is without a shade of doubt one of the most beautifully-written novels I've read all spring, bar none. And to think of it as about death just doesn't do the story justice.

I love the way the story unfolds, the poems 17-year-old Lennie leaves on to-go cups, scrawls on tree branches, the backs of flyers--as tributes to her older sister Bailey. Bailey's death is handled tastefully, thoughtfully, almost off-screen as it were. It's what happens to the people who still love her that make the story so touching.

The true love story that's underneath the sad one is possibly the most realistic portrayal of young love I've read in a while. OK, maybe I don't read a ton of YA love stories, but I just sense this one is going to resonate with readers, girls and boys, their parents- anybody who picks up this book and finds themselves unable to put it back down.

Actually, there are many levels of love going on in The Sky is Everywhere. Lennie's grandmother surely must rate as the most intriguing, patient, understanding, interesting grandparent to grace a young readers' book in a while. She totally gets her granddaughter in a way that all inter-generational families wish they could, yet she knows how to let Lennie find her own way. Plus she's just one fascinating lady- an artist, a rose grower, a taker-in of lost and confused souls. And then there's the uncle who completes the family threesome, another multi-dimensional character if ever there was one.

But truly, in this book, it's all about the writing. Like this passage, when Lennie finally goes to the attic where she's packed up her sister's things:

I haven't been up here in years. I don't like the tombishness, the burned smell of the trapped heat, the lack of air. It always seems so sad too, full of everything abandoned and forgotten...This is what I've been avoiding for months now. I take a deep breath, look around. There's only one window, so I decide, despite the fact that the area around it is packed in with boxes and mountains of bric-a-brac, that Bailey's things should go where the sun will at least seep in each day.

Yes, there's teenage angst, a moment or two of sex, an uncle's pot smoking and growing, and a pretty funny night of drinking expensive French wine--normal teen behavior that's not really condoned or criticized by anybody other than the characters it affects most.

At heart this story is tender and--to use an old-fashioned word you don't often hear describing Young Adult novels anymore- even heartfelt.

So now when I receive a book from a publisher that claims it's an "extraordinary debut novel that celebrates love while offering a heartbreakingly articulate portrait of grief," I'll read over grief and focus on the celebrates love part if I'm in a place where reading one more book about a sibling's death isn't what I'm looking for at that moment.

I'm glad I eventually picked this one up. Because once opened, I couldn't put it down.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Doing the Dishes While Writing?

"The best time for planning a book is when you're doing the dishes." -Agatha Christie

I wonder if Christie had a TV in front of her sink like I do.

In the Old Days of Writing, I suspect there was more often a window with a view, perhaps a bird feeder, something outside worth pondering? Maybe mindless TV counts as silence though? If so, I have a lot of that in my life.

For more on the subject, click on over to Kristi Holl's Writer's First Aid blog on savoring silence. There's a link to follow and some good thoughts for writers:

"We live in such a noisy world. Whenever we’re driving or folding laundry or jogging, it’s tempting to always have our iPods or cell phones in our ears, or the TV or radio on in the background. How desperately we avoid having a few moments of silence!”

But these moments of silence are important. So much of the “writing” and “processing” that we do requires silence.

So, what's outside your window? What do you reflect on while washing dishes? I'm going to work on more silence, quiet time for planning writing.

This is my artist friend Eileen's birdhouse. Though it's inside for admiring, not outside her dishwashing window, if it were outside my window, I might be inspired just pondering that doorknob perch.

Related posts: Resolutions
Bookish Birdhouses

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friday Night Lights

Since my absolute favorite TV show started life as a book, I think I can justify this blog post.

I don't know how anybody who grew up under football's Friday bright nights could not love this show. All the drama of those high school games, the handsome quarterback (or in my case running back), the snobby cheerleaders (I was not one and none exist in my memory of our fighting Wildcats), the bands at halftime, the coaches. Oh, wow. If you love a good story, terrific writing and acting--whether you love high school sports or not-- it doesn't matter. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is just the best drama on TV, bar none.

And lucky you who love it as much as I, as the new season is about to begin on NBC, today's New York Times has the most terrific article about the show.

A few memorable lines from today's Times piece, in case you can't get to it:

“Friday Night Lights” stands out in other ways too. In a television world in which network shows are full of speeches, “Friday Night Lights” embraces the silences. “A lot of times on this show, it’s about what we don’t say, or what we are trying to say with our faces, not words, which is sort of how it works in life,” (a quote from one of the young actors)

And this about Coach Taylor and his wife,
And for all of the show’s hotheaded teen romances, it is the chronic love affair called marriage that gets the most air time. The relationship between the Taylors reminds many of the best parts of marriage, in which the injury to the one is felt by both, and victories, sweet and fleeting, are held in common.

Oh, and by the way, I've seen the new season on Direct TV and it may be the best ever. And if you've missed the previous seasons? Rumor has it you can watch on the show's website. But really, it doesn't matter. Just jump in with Season 4 on May 7. You won't be sorry.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Day...

OK, when I started this blog, I promised: No Navel Gazing! No reporting in on what I was eating for lunch, how late I stayed up watching American Idol, or even what I was planting in my garden. I know, I know, I've broken that promise and deviated from my platform. But I've mostly stuck with writing, books, and whatever connection they make to my daily life.

So that's why this cupcake is here.

Today I met my writing cohort Teddie for a cupcake and, as my wonderful Irish friend Edel always says, a chinwag. I love chinwags. We caught up and munched on a red velvet cupcake and a lemon flavored one. We were not overly impressed, but there was a breeze and nobody was around but us and the checkers-playing old guys in front of the cigar shop. So we wagged our chins and enjoyed our day.

Then I came home and spent the rest of the afternoon reading what I predict will be this year's Newbery Award winning book. You heard it here first.

I'm reviewing it for The Christian Science Monitor. It's coming to bookstores May 1. I think the writer is coming to my favorite D.C. bookstore, Politics and Prose, very close to its release date, so if you're there and you want to meet her, check their website. Also, she's signing at Books of Wonder soon, a great kids' bookstore in NYC.

This book is the first of a trilogy of books about the 60s, for middle-grade and older, a documentary novel for kids that truly I couldn't stop reading. It's Deborah Wiles' amazing new book, COUNTDOWN. Wow.

An all-around super nice Friday. Doesn't get much better than that. How about you?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Quote of the Day

"We write by the light of every book we've ever read."
Great quote by a favorite kids' writer, Richard Peck.

Read more from him over at Irene Latham's blog.

Related posts: Gee's Bend by Irene Latham

SCBWI Maryland Weekend

Monday, April 19, 2010


As if in counterpoint to their scathing review of Solar, which I blogged about yesterday, today's New York Times has an amazing story of the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. After reading this longish excerpt of TINKERS, a debut novel published by a small independent press, I'm reserving the book from my library right now.

And of course, the story of its route to publication must give heart to all those rejected writers who are told their book doesn't fit the mold. Hooray for Independent Bookstores who pushed, cajoled, cheerleaded this book to fame.

NB: The New York Times Book Review didn't review this one... Somehow, according to the Review's bloggers, it missed their radar. With today's article, they made up for that, Big Time.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The New York Times Book Review, again

Most of my library career was spent on the East Coast, usually surrounded by readers of the New York Times, in particular, its Book Review. I was frequently influenced to purchase a book for my school library (Pre-school through Grade 5) which ended up a shelf sitter (i.e. never loved by the kids as much as it was loved by the reviewer). This was more often the case with picture books than with books for older kids.

But as a grown-up reader, I read their reviews just for sheer pleasure of the prose. Yes, I frequently find a book there I've never heard of and do read and adore (Case in point, Kate Atkinson's mysteries).

But what better description of Ian McEwan's new book SOLAR than today's review by Walter Kirn who calls it "a book so good-- so ingeniously designed, irreproachably high-minded and skillfully brought off-- that it's actually quite bad... It's impressive to behold but something of a virtuous pain to read." Later in the review he calls the book "a buttery, rich sauce ladled onto overcooked, dry meat."


But I do not need to read a virtuous pain of a book.

I've read another mediocre review of this book so even though I adored Ian McEwan's Atonement and kind of liked a couple of others, I'll wait for somebody to dispute Mr. Kirn's opinion before adding it to my To Read list. Because that review is just so dang fun to read, I have to trust it.

Related posts: The New York Times Book Review
Kate Atkinson, My New Favorite Series

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More Favorite Libraries?

In honor of the end of National Library Week, check out this collection of the Most beautiful Libraries in America. You can even register your vote for your favorites.

Not on the list, but I would have added the Portland (Oregon) Library and the Chicago Public Library's big, new-ish downtown building. I might also have to include the Eudora Welty branch of the Jackson/ Hinds County (Mississippi) public library. Maybe not the most beautiful, but a sentimental favorite.

Related post: Beautiful libraries (be sure to follow the link to the world's most beautiful libraries!)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reason #367

As if I needed a reason to fall off the Healthy Eating Wagon, how's this for a great excuse?

I'm reviewing a cookbook (stay tuned till late May for the link to that, however) and the editor of the online magazine I'm reviewing for says to include a recipe. The review is due next week. I needed a recipe. The book is about barbecue, and I'm not planning to smoke a pork side anytime soon. Also rejected the numerous, delicious-sounding desserts. Somehow Krispy Kreme Donut Bread Pudding didn't seem like it would fit into my attempted Healthy Eating Plan of the Month. Ditto 'Nana Pudding, though both were tempting.

Instead, in anticipation of weekend guests, I made a huge bowl of coleslaw to go along with the two pork roasts I'm marinating.

Guess what? Dinner guests changed their travel plans. I'm stuck with 8 cups of slaw. So I'm sitting here thinking about lunch today. Does anybody remember Hot dogs and Slaw? There's a little ice cream stand near my house with a hot dog with cole slaw on the menu called "Southern Hot Dog" so maybe it's a southern thing? When I was a kid, we actually somehow managed to leave school for lunch (aka noon dinner) and mosey over to Ward's Drug Store where they made these delicious hot dogs, piled with slaw and maybe catsup and mustard. Aha! All those ingredients were in my fridge, having recently entertained little ones who actually eat hot dogs.

Come to think of it, that slaw is extremely healthy. No mayo. Lots of cabbage. Even tomatoes, if you can believe that. Maybe they'll counteract the hot dog? Oops. Ignore the Zapp's Potato Chips I discovered squirreled away, hidden from anybody but me. Still, all in all, maybe not 100% unhealthy?

And the book? Thumbs up! It, and the slaw, get an excellent review.

Little known factoid from the book: The Dutch called it koolsla (cabbage salad) and brought it to Nieuw Amsterdam. The Dutch and Germans called it Krautsalad when they settled in North Carolina. Their descendants put it on the menus of barbecue restaurants.

I do love reviewing cookbooks.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Quote of the Day

Oh, how I love this! And Nancy Thayer's books aren't too shabby either...

"It's never too late, in fiction or in life, to revise." -Nancy Thayer

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gotta Love Your Librarians!

Children's writer Elsa Marston (see below) posted this letter on a librarians' listserv that comes to my email each morning. Since it made my day, I have to share. The letter appeared recently in the Bloomington, Indiana, newspaper:

Dear the government,

I don't like that you're firing our school librarians. I am a first-grader at Childs school, and I think that Ms. Williams is a great librarian. She reads wonderful stories, and her voice goes up when it is supposed to and down when it is supposed to.

She helps me find books and makes me interested in reading and makes books
exciting for me. Ms. Williams makes us feel special. She knows each kid's name.

Childs school will never be the same without Ms. Williams in the library.

Why are you firing our school librarians?

Anna W.

And there you have it, world. Carry on, librarians, and remember to make your voice go up and down according to what it's supposed to do.

(And while I'm at it: I attribute my life-long love of libraries and books to the children's librarian in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, who always had a smile on her face, and who didn't get one bit upset when my sister threw up all over the reading table.)


Monday, April 12, 2010

Happy Library Week!

Did you know it's National Library Week, not to mention School Library Media Month (whatever happened to the simple School Library- oh, never mind, I know that answer)? No matter. Hug a librarian!

Here's an excellent article about libraries, complete with an extensive bibliography of books featuring libraries and librarians, by Sharron McElMeel.

My own writing wouldn't be complete without helpful librarians. I've been powerfully influenced by some of the best. Hats off to all of you- LePoint, Mrs. Walker, Mrs. Powell, Anne Dawson, Helen Paytas, Diane O'Brien, Doris Nubel- my list goes on indefinitely.

Related post: One Good Librarian

Saturday, April 10, 2010

April is Poetry Month!

Oh, my. What fun! Poems out of book spines. Almost makes me wish I were still a school librarian.

Remember those Poetry Magnets? Creating poems out of your book collection is just as much fun. Check out this blogpost and make a few of your own. Feel free to send/post your pictures in my comments or email.

And for all you teachers and librarians reading this- Make it a fun project and click here to post your kids' / library Poetry Spines to the 100 Scope Notes blog.

Or do one yourself. Here's my first effort. (I see myself rearranging all my bookshelves if I'm not careful...) And you thought you weren't poets? Hah. Wait till you get started.

Have fun- it's National Poetry Month!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Another from Gail Carson Levine

Here's a must-read post from that great writer for kids, Gail Carson Levine. Although she writes a lot of fantasy, often set in the Long Ago, the post has some excellent tips for writers of historical fiction also. Check out her online reference sources for looking up words. Top tips for writers whose settings aren't the everyday world of today. Fellow word geeks will love it!

(Did you know why deviled eggs are called "deviled" or why Devil's Food Cake is so named? She'll direct you to the right online reference source.)

Most of her blog posts are long, thought-provoking, smart, and mostly very helpful for writers.

Related post: Maybe My Favorite Writing Blog?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Quote for the Day

"In the course of twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions. I did not wish to lose the early ones. Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again."

Willa Cather,
My Antonia

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, Maya Angelou

Today is the birthday of Maya Angelou. How do I know this? I clicked over to the Writers' Almanac site, looking for my Poem-a-Day for Poetry Month. Yes, April is Poetry Month, one of those events celebrated in schools and on publishers' web pages, but really shouldn't poetry be something we think about- celebrate- every day, not just during April?

Here's my favorite quote by Maya Angelou. I've had it tacked up on various corkboards, as I've moved from state to state, house to house, waiting for each house to become home. That's a close-up of my messy board. That's her quote. Can you see it?

You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right.
~Maya Angelou

I love that thought.

And since I kept on clicking and scrolling down the Writers Almanac website, I learned it's also the birthday of blues great Muddy Watters-- (McKinley Morganfield), born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi (1915), who taught himself to play harmonica and guitar. He played in various bands in bars on the south side of Chicago, and in 1950, he made the first recording for Chess Records, a tune called "Rolling Stone." He later became famous for songs like "Hoochie-Koochie Man" and "Got My Mojo Working."

Rolling Fork, Mississippi, right down the road from my real home.

Related posts: Poetry Month, Poetry Month Pt. 2

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Here is where the Flowers are!

(Forewarned: this is not a post about reading, writing, books, or anything to do with any of them. Time out for flowers! Although I truly think there's a story in here somewhere.)

We came north optimistically expecting spring bulbs in bloom. So far, it's been mostly forsythia. Then again, it hasn't really felt like spring yet, cold and rainy. My friends keep telling me it's only April 1st and my expectations are too high.

But today a trip to the Macy's Flower Show in the 60-plus degree sunshine fixed my yearning for flowers. Wow.

This year's theme featured lots of balloons, large and small. The guide pointed out that this is the yellow in Martha Stewart's new line of bedding...
Well, it was a beautiful creamy yellow.

Just inside the front door, butterflies, high in the sky, greet the thousands of flower show fans. Inside the little glass windows, tiny, beautiful crystals were tucked inside the displays.

English Garden!

The yellow flowers here were my favorite. Our guide wasn't sure what they were. She fessed up to not being a horticulturalist. I think the guides are mostly out-of-work actors. She was very dramatic. And actually pretty good at pointing out a few things.

But thankfully some of the flowers are marked and this one's a Golden Chain Tree.
I need this beauty in my own backyard.

Speaking of dramatic. You can't go to New York without finding a character, a little local color. We're not sure about this dude. He was having fun posing for pictures. His "necklace" says Happy Easter.

A wall of roses! Thousands of real roses. Perfume bottles suspended in the air!

Upstairs on the 8th floor, tabletop decorations. I don't think the daisy is edible but it sure looked gorgeous.

Macy's employee, making sure the flowers are replaced if they begin to wilt. Those are white orchids in the foreground and white roses on the table. Magnificent!

Did you know the wooden elevators in Macy's are the last department store elevators of their kind in the city?

The Macy's Flower Show is an annual event, the week before and the week after Easter. This year's really was one of the best I remember. Then again, it's been a long, cold winter.