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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

He Had a Dream

Today's Book of the Day.
(Thanks to Random House for the review copy.)

Besides the stunningly beautiful paintings of Kadir Nelson which illustrate this oversized picture book, there's a CD of the speech included. A perfect book to share with your family or your classroom.

Click HERE to read a complete review.

If you are a writer or a reader considering the ways you can honor Dr. King's legacy, you might want to participate in the discussion of Race in Children's Books on Roger Sutton's blog. 

To see the Horn Book blog and the over 100 comments, so far, 
go HERE:

Links to other posts on the topic are HERE:

Sunday, August 25, 2013


You just never know when or how you'll run into a really good book. This one came to me via the author's cousin. But she didn't say enough about it or possibly I didn't pay attention, and I let it slip under my radar.

I did scribble myself a note, however.

Then I walked into my local library, and there the book was. In the children's room, on the New Books shelf.
Miraculously the title rang a bit of a bell. I brought it home. I sat on my deck. I read all afternoon.

A perfect, funny, touching story for boys. And we all know there just aren't enough of those.
THE SATURDAY BOY has the whiz bam and superheros to keep them reading until they get hooked on the story. By the time they get to the parts that left me reading tearfully, they won't want to put the book down. But girls will also love this book. I predict they will nod in recognition about the idiotic things boys in Middle School dare to do.

Really, our hero, Derek is a kid to love. He's funny, he's different, he's got a knack for getting himself in trouble. Climbing tall trees, markers on bathroom walls--that kind of trouble. Pulling a towel out of the closet and they all topple over. Fights in the hall. In other words, big trouble and little trouble.

But Derek can seem clueless about relationships. His buddy, Budgie, is no longer his best friend. His friend who's a girl has a certain attraction. But he can't quite figure any of this out.
Just like real boys.

There's a depth to this book that's more than just mean kids and bathroom jokes. Derek's dad flies Apache helicopters in the Army. He's stationed in Afghanistan. Derek and his mom, as well as his funny, full-of-life tattoo artist aunt manage to get through the days without him. Barely.

The relationship with his dad is particularly powerful. When his former friend Budgie hears Derek's dad has written him 91 letters he says, "Your dad was like a million miles away and you still knew what he was doing and he still knew what you were doing. My dad's just down the hall and I don't think he even knows my middle name."

Sadly for Derek, Budgie is not the kind of friend who'll stand by him no matter what. But Derek eventually, mostly, figures this out. I kind of felt bad for Budgie. I hadn't thought about it before but maybe he was the way he was because otherwise he'd be one of the ones to get picked on. After all, he was what my dad once jokingly called a "target-rich environment." 

Now here's a spoiler alert. Stop here if you don't want to know the sad part.

Derek's dad dies. But as far as a book about death goes, this one's head and shoulders over most I've read for middle-schoolers. Yes, it's sad. But there are so many good things to take from the way Derek and his mom handle this. There's support from his remarkable teacher. His friends are both awkward and kind. I hope David Fleming revisits these kids, or some who are equally well-drawn and interesting and fun.

Just a super book that I'm so glad I spent the afternoon with.

David Fleming's website is here:

Friday, August 23, 2013

Katherine Paterson, on Characters

There is, finally, something mysterious about the life of one's characters. In my secret hart, I almost believe that one of these days I'll meet Jesse Aarons walking toward me on a downtown street. I'll recognize him at once, although he will have grown to manhood, and I'll ask him what he's been doing in the years since he built that bridge across Lark Creek.

On second thought, I probably won't ask. I'll smile and he'll nod, but I won't pry. Years ago he let me eavesdrop on his soul, but that time is past. He's entitled to his privacy now. Still, I can't help wondering.

(Katherine Paterson, People I Have Known in The Writer, April 1987)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What I'm Reading Now: MISTER MAX

The title of this post should be What I'm Loving Now.
MISTER MAX: The Book of Lost Things
 (Thanks to an ARC from the publisher.)

If the stickies and scribbled notes are any indication-- and they are-- this is one fantastic story!
And I get to read it all over again before I write my review.
Coming soon.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Elizabeth George

My go-to recreational, grownup reading!

I read her latest as a NetGalley eBook and loved it. And now BELIEVING THE LIE is all over the bookstores. Just out in paperback.
Barbara Havers' role in this new novel is both funny and poignant. Great character.

And guess what? A new Inspector Lynley book is coming in October.
Check out HER WEBSITE for all sorts of goodies.

If you haven't read George's novels, try hard to start at the beginning. You don't want to miss a thing.

Click here for an interview with the author. 

A few highlights:
"I have always been fascinated with abhorrent behavior."
"I like to write what I like to read."

That's me! Not the abhorrent behavior, but the what-I-like-to-read. Though I don't think I could ever write a true mystery. All that plotting. Yikes.

If you're interested in Elizabeth George, detective fiction, mysteries, psychological thrillers, or just plain good writing, be sure to listen to the end of that interview for what she says about humility.

May I also recommend her truly helpful book on writing craft: WRITE AWAY. 

Click here for excerpts, including the chapter on plotting

And here's another blogger reporting in on Elizabeth George's writing process. Fascinating, of course.

Excuse me while I click off and think long and hard on her plotting suggestions. Will they work for you? I do love thinking about characters and place before action!

Saturday, August 17, 2013


I haven't given away anything lately. Well, anything to read, that is. And this is just the right book to end your summer beach reading.
A page-turner, pardon my cliché.

(For once, I'm reading and sharing a grown-up novel.)

JUSTICE FOR SARA by NYT  bestselling author, Erica Spindler. The author lives outside New Orleans and sets her thriller/ mystery/ detective novel there.

The murder of a sister, a police chief with the wrong suspect, maybe. An interesting love interest. Well-drawn characters. Lots of great plotting.

What else could you want in a just-published novel.

All you need to do is leave me a comment and I'll draw a winner this week.
In fact, since summer's speeding by, let's make this one fast.

I'll draw a winner on TUESDAY, August 20th. 
Quick, leave me a message. Here or on Facebook, please.

(Thank you, St. Martin's Press for the review copy.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

One More Word about TITLES

I don't think Book Titles have always been so important to choosing just the right book. Think about all those very old books you read. Zippy titles? Funny? A play on words? Maybe not.

But I know a whole lot of authors who can't begin to write without a really, really great title to their manuscript. Working title? Nah. They cling to that title.

Because my Critique Group has been pondering what makes a great title this week, I shared this link to an interesting piece from a Publishers Weekly blog, re: titles:

Good pointers.

And this:

We had a few laughs plugging titles into this. Harry Potter not a bestseller? Hmmm.

Be sure to fill in all the drop-downs to get your title scored. 
Take it with a grain of salt, of course.

Here's a previous post, with links, to my Title Thoughts... 

I laughed out loud when I read that. 2008. 
I was just starting the manuscript that I'm now editing.
And the title has changed twice since then.
To me, obviously, titles are elusive.

Despite that, I sometimes obsess over them.
(Here I am again, 2 years later, still titling a blogpost Title Picking.)

As we say down south, Whoo Boy.
Or Hoo Boy. (Wonder how that would go over as a title?)

Pulling hair out over titles might be worth it. When you find the perfect title, it sings! 
And kids will remember your book. So choose wisely.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Boy on the Bridge

I finished Natalie Standiford's newest YA novel just in time for the party!

And what a terrific book launch it was. So much fun at McNally Jackson Books on a Sunday evening that I forgot to take pictures.
But there was cake and Bingo. A really big crowd.
Natalie read rexcerpts from her high school diary. Hair, clothing, friendships were revealed...
Proving once again that all writers notice important details at an early age, right?

I'm a big fan of her previous books, especially HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT. Which I blogged about here.

Natalie bases her new novel, a romance with a hint of mystery, on her own experiences as a U.S. college student, studying in Leningrad in the early 1980s.

Check out these pictures!

Those specific details Natalie's so great at kept me turning pages, wondering how the heroine would resolve her dilemma. I was completely captivated by THE BOY ON THE BRIDGE.

How's this for a quick character reveal:
"Binky Binkowsky, the yellow-haired girl with the moon boots..."

or this, for a perfectly-painted picture:
"Alyosha lived on the outskirts of the city, the second-to-last metro stop on the Red Line. He led her past an empty supermarket, down a winding path lined with piles of grey snow like Styrofoam..."

Don't you feel like you're right there? I predict teen readers will adore this book. 

Related posts: Baltimore

My review of another of Natalie's books, in which I reveal I'm a family friend.
And here's a photo I took on a recent visit to friends and family back in Baltimore. Kind of says a lot about my former hometown. I know Natalie would approve.
(And besides, I don't have any pictures taken at the Book Party. Or of Leningrad. For that, and to buy the book, check that link up there to Natalie's website, please.)

(Thanks to our publisher, Scholastic Press, for the review copy.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

On Writing and Courage: Katherine Paterson

From my own notes upon hearing Katherine Paterson speak to readers, teachers, writers:
It's hard to choose what you are going to write about. Books are years in the making.
(You said it, Katherine!)

And from Writer Magazine:
 ...a book for young readers has to tell a story. This may seem self evident, but the truth is some people ignore it because plotting is very hard work. When I hear myself being introduced as a "great natural storyteller," it is all I can do to keep from leaping to my feet to object. "Great natural storytellers" don't spend countless days hewing a story line out of rock with a straight pin, now do they?

and this:

I will not take a young reader through a story and in the end abandon him. That is, I will not write a book that closes in despair. I cannot, will not, withhold from my young readers the harsh realities of human hunger and suffering and loss, but neither will I neglect to plant that stubborn seed of hope that has enabled our race to outlast wars and famines and the destruction of death.
Katherine Paterson. Creativity Limited, in The Writer, December 1980 
(treasures discovered deep in my own files)

I think I'm onto something here. A theme maybe?
Check out this post by literary agent Peter Knapp, quite beautiful and challenging to us writers. Courage, all! And thanks for sharing, Caroline Starr Rose.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Today's Rediscovery: Judy Freeman

Yes, I know. I stepped away from my fabulous school library career over a decade ago.
But I saved a whole lot of files.
This week, I've been clearing them out. Buying newer, nicer folders to fill up with more stuff.
(Pictured, file folders from The Container Store. Love that place.)

But still, there are some things I can't bear to toss.

Like some of the handouts from the Amazing Judy Freeman Workshops.
(I added that Amazing.)

The Best New Books and How to Use Them.
Taught by Judy.
I think she still does it. I no longer have an excuse to sign up.

Here are a few tidbits, not always entirely about the best books of the year. I brought home such gems from that workshop!

1. There are 293 ways to make change for a dollar.

2. The name for Oz in the Wizard of Oz was thought up when the creator, Frank Baum, looked at his filing cabinet and saw and A-N, and O-Z. Hence, Oz.

3. The longest one-syllable word in the English language is SCREECHED.

(Man, I've used that one in writing, for sure.)

4. The word SET has more definitions than any other word in the English language.

I could go on and on. Maybe I will in another post, on another day. Check back.
Who knows what treasures I'll find in these file cabinets.
Maybe a name for a character.

Here's Judy's website:

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Library

Some of my Facebook and Pinterest friends may have surmised from my many postings that I'm cleaning out very old files this week. 

Just as some of my teacher and librarian friends ready their rooms for a new school year, I suppose I'm organizing my office for a new writing project.

I found this gem, from one of my students, upon my leaving a treasured library career after a whole lot of years.

 The note on the back says 
"From Suryea, 2nd grade- I don't know exactly what it means but it's about the library."

Here's the entire poem, in case you can't read the fabulously illustrated copy from Suryea.

No need even
To take out
A book: only
Go inside
And savor
The heady
Dry breath of
Ink and paper,
Or stand and
Listen to the
Silent twitter
Of a billion
Tiny busy
Black words.
From All the Small Poems and Fourteen More by Valerie Worth
(New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

When the Butterflies Came

I'm so excited to hear that my friend Kimberley Griffiths Little's new book has been chosen for Scholastic's Mother Daughter Book Club.

Here's the link to the Discussion Guide. Great questions!
(And wow on the recipe, too.)

If your daughter's in a Book Club, or if she just loves a good book, check it out.
(Ages 8-12) Here's a little about the book:

When mysterious butterflies begin to arrive shortly after Grammy Claire’s funeral, Tara just knows her grandmother has left her a final mystery to solve. A stack of keys, notes from the beyond, and an ominous secret allow Tara to come to terms with her grandmother’s death, the complexities of her family, and the powers of love and redemption.

PS- Don't you love how we refer to our Facebook and emailing friends as if they are lifelong friends? It's kind of like my penpals of yore. Maybe there should be a different category, but Kimberley feels exactly like a real friend. And I'm very impressed with her ability to write so many books, so well.

Good call, Scholastic! Perfect book for your Mother Daughter Book Club.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Words, Words, Words!

I'm a big fan of words.
(Coming soon: my take on the newly-issued Richard Scarry books. So many words for kids!)

But even though I was a Spelling Bee champ in 4th grade, for the first 15 years of my life, I didn't know how to spell this word.

Okay, maybe I could have figured it out, but it just wasn't a word I ever required in writing.
Though we said it almost every day, didn't you?

Of course, we pronounced it SPICKET.
Or maybe spikket.

Turn on that spicket, would you?

Or Watch you don't run into the spikket with your bike, honey.

    Imagine my surprise when I eventually discovered this strange spelling.

Word of the Day for Saturday, August 3, 2013

spigot \SPIG-uht\, noun:
1. a small peg or plug for stopping the vent of a cask.
2. a peg or plug for stopping the passage of liquid in a faucet or cock.
3. a faucet or cock for controlling the flow of liquid from a pipe or the like.
4. the end of a pipe that enters the enlarged end of another pipe to form a joint.

Kind of like this...
Second Base in our Backyard Baseball Games.

A little more about words, via a great post on WORDS THAT DRIVE YOUR EDITOR CRAZY: 

Thanks to fellow critique group member, Susan Banghart for sharing that link!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sunday Afternoon Diversion: The Treasures of Old Houses

You never know what you'll find on the bookshelves of very old houses.

This house celebrated its 100th Birthday last summer.
But I've only been coming for 40 of those years.
A relative newcomer.

Until this week, I'd never noticed this book. Published soon after the house was built.

Inside, the name of the little girl who read it. Margaret Chase Scattergood.
Or maybe her mom, Mariah Chase.
(Or is it Maria. I never can remember. I'm only an inlaw... but it's pronounced like Mariah.)

Cool, no?

The pages could almost be taken from a book published today. I loved this one.

The two Manatee drawings were especially funny to the Florida girls reading the book.

Here's a better view of that Peacockle!

 Here's our paper collage version of peacocks, decorating the modern-day kitchen (circa 1960s maybe), propped up on the honeycomb. (Quite a conversation piece. And delish honey.)

Yes, you just never know what treasures you'll find in old houses.

Or how many books you can read when there are no TVs to distract you.
Here's hoping your summer vacation reading is progressing perfectly!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Blogging About Books.

True Confessions? I would have to read all day to get through every book I'd like to read.
Those of us who receive an endless supply of brand new books to review, titles we Must Read, books from friends, books from smart people we've never met, occasionally ignore our To Do piles.

 (An Older To Do Pile, featuring Rocky the Wonder Dog giving me a dirty look...)

Or at least I do. Perhaps if I don't see that ARC that's been sitting on my desk for a week, it will magically get read? It's even worse when you start a book and just can't get into it! Others rave, but it's not grabbing you right now.

And even when I read a great book, sometimes it gets lost in space before I find time to post a review. Even short reviews, if done properly, can be difficult to write.

(Thinking guiltily about at least three great books at the bottom of my stack right this minute, awaiting my comments.)

So when somebody takes the time to write a thoughtful, articulate review of your own book, thanks are in order.

That's how I feel about this blog I stumbled upon this morning.
(Okay, true confessions, my google alert stumbled upon it.)

Thank you, bookpeepwonders, Mom and Teen reviewers.