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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodby 2013, Hello 2014!

How did we get here?
Way too fast!

A few days ago I saw a great blog post about cleaning up your writing space to get ready for the new year. I like tidy work spaces, so mine doesn't need a lot of clearing out. But that blogger's before and after were quite revealing.

Unlike my desk, my bulletin board gets really messy though.

So today I took some of the "extras" off my Bulletin Board. It's not too big to begin with. There's no room for stuff I don't need to read, be inspired by, and laugh about on a fairly regular basis.

Here's the 2013 version:

Taking up most of the space is the FACT SHEET I've been working on. Finished today, taken down.

All those little notes to the side are inspirational quotes. The Rose Window, from the National Cathedral, reminds me of how much I love that church. The little wooden cross is from a trip we took with our friends Frank and Ivy, to New Mexico. Although I don't need anything to remind me of Paris, I always have the EiffelTower.

Here's the 2014, streamlined version. I kept some of my nametags. Especially the frilly one on top. That's from my very first Tampa Bay Critique Group, organized by Sue Laneve, hostessed by Sylvia Salsbury-- two writers who are still my friends. My Blue Angels postcard, buried by the end of 2013, has re-emerged!
With my new Motto Calendar, my "crutch words" postcard from last January's SCBWI Miami conference, I am ready to write.
Oh, and I'll never lose the little inspirational notes.

The cartoon, now years old, says
"Master, how will I know which direction to take?" 
"Easy. Begin with the end in mind."

Not a bad idea for writing a book either.

May all your writing dreams have great beginnings, middles and ends.
And may 2014 be the best year ever!

(I'd love to hear of your efforts to get ready for the new year. New desk? New storage bins? New manuscript? All of the above?!)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Quaker Motto Calendar

Some of you may know of the Scattergood connection to this wonderful little wall calendar.

They are small. They hang perfectly over a writer's desk, a kitchen drawer, a bedroom chest. Or they tuck nicely into notebooks, totes, briefcases. 

The quotes are pretty ecumenical. You know those Quakers.
Everybody from Sirach (I'm sorry. I had to google that. I was raised in the Episcopal church and we didn't know much about Bibles...If all my friends hadn't been Baptists and Methodists and I hadn't regularly attended BTU and MYF and VBS, who knows if I'd ever learned a thing.):

"May the Lord grant you wisdom of mind to judge his people with justice."

Maya Angelou: "Let nothing dim the light that shines from within."

I've blogged about these before. Several times. 

For example

And guess what? I over-ordered this year. I have a few motto calendars to spare.
If you'd like one, leave me a comment. I'll see what I can do!

(Depending on how many comment, I may have to draw names. Or see if my amazing sister-in-law, Marion Scattergood Ballard, has any extras to share.)

Let's let this run from right now until December 31st. Comment here or on FACEBOOK, and I'll add your name to the hat.

Thanks, and have a happy, healthy, productive, fun 2014!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The End, Pt. 3

As we wind down into 2014, I'm once again pondering a few writing things.

Isn't today a good day to think about ENDINGS?
Those perfect final sentences that make readers go Ahhhhh.

I've pulled out my favorite books to how some of the best authors pull it off. Not just what they say, but the way they say it. How the words look on the page, how they sound.

Listen to a few. Try reading them aloud.  Last sentences are often magical and poetic.

BEHOLDING BEE by Kimberly Newton Fusco.
(I'm secretly pulling for this one to win the Newbery next month.)

Chapter 126. Yes, you read that right. 126 chapters.
Only 329 pages. A lot of short chapters, including the final one which is not quite two pages long.

"And then, in the blink of an eye, they are gone.
Just like they said they would be."

PINNED by Sharon Flake.

"At the fountain by the bridge, drinking at the same time. Our lips ice-cold and warm. I think I hear him say, 'I love you, Autumn Knight.'"


FLORA & ULYSSES. by Kate DiCamillo

The very last lines are from the Epilogue.
Here's part of the poem Ulysses the squirrel has type-written: Words for Flora.

are the ever-expanding 
to me

Finally,  another new favorite of mine.
The entire last chapter reflects back to the first chapter in OUT OF MY MIND, by Sharon Draper.

(I know, I know. Late to this party. I may be the only person who's just now reading this one.
I liked this story so much. Such a perfect book on many levels. Kidlike. Great voice. Surprising plot twist.)

The last sentence unexpectedly took my breath away. What a perfect way to end, as she began:

"I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old..."

Two of my previous ponderings on writing endings can be found

And Here:

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas to All!

This is not a new post. But this time of year, I always think of my grandmother, Carrie Byrd Russel, reading Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to my brother, sister, and me.

Today I'm sharing this short post from Christmases past
(December 15, 2009 to be exact) while I look at my little decorated, fake tree, and the palm tree reflecting the bright sunshine outside the window. 

It is so not beginning to look a lot like Christmas. 

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 real thing, 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

Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

(my tree, with Blue Suede Shoes ornament)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Why Read?

While hanging out on Laurie Halse Anderson's excellent blog, perusing her advice on revision, I clicked over to her recommended link, a Washington Post article mostly about what kids are reading and why, or why not.

James Blasingame is an English professor at Arizona State, among other things. And he's reporting in from the recent National Council of Teachers of English conference. Great posting, including a couple of gems like this:

We read books for many reasons. Sometimes we read books to access information and to broaden our knowledge.
Sometimes we read books just for fun, to escape from the world for awhile and indulge our imaginations.
And sometimes we read to make sense of our lives, to better understand the world and our place in it.

And from one of my favorite writers of all-time:
Katherine Paterson, United States Library of Congress Living Legend Award winner, once explained that literature allows young people to prepare for life’s difficulties by experiencing them from the safe distance of reading.

The Safe Distance of Reading. Don't you just love that?

Here's hoping Santa brings you and yours lots of wonderful reading this holiday season!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Oh What Fun

I don't often have a chance to really and truly focus on fabulous picture books.
Not like the Olden Days of school librarianship when I'd read a book over and over, plan activities, share with teachers. Not even like reading aloud at bedtime to little ones, the same book begged for each night.

So it was a treat to get to review these. (My usual assignment is Middle Grade novels.) I adored each of these gorgeous books in different ways.

And I'm still thinking about Brownie.

(An aside: it always cracks me up to see what some Cyber Brain thinks are "if you liked that, try this." Salted caramel brownies? Yummy, yes. But PLEASE. Do not eat Brownie Groundhog. Not even close to the same thing.)

Monday, December 16, 2013

What I'm Reading

THE YEAR OF THE BOOK, by Andrea Cheng.

I'm picking a few Sunshine Young Reader Books and giving them a whirl. When I visit schools in Florida, I often ask the kids what they're reading. And if it's 3-5th grades and the students are getting ready for Battle of the Books, the answers are frequently "Battle" books. AKA Sunshine Readers.

THE YEAR OF THE BOOK is a perfect little middle-grade read. 
What I like about it:
1. The way it looks and feels when you pick it up!
>146 pages
>Just enough illustrations scattered throughout, including a bookshelf at the chapter headings.

2. The main character. Not too good, not too bad, Anna is just right.

3. The quiet story. Yes, quiet is not for everybody. But I've heard from enough readers to know they like these complicated friendships, the school scenes, the family story. 

4. The title. Titles are important. This one fits the book. 

5. The books Anna reads. I love it when an author sneaks kids' books into the story. In one illustration, Anna is reading From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In a bathtub. Every detail, including the cover art from my favorite, well-loved hardcover edition of The Mixed-Up Files is perfect.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What Fun!

Skype. I love it.
And I especially love it when the kids are well prepared, bright, articulate.
Like this group of third graders from Gwin Oaks Elementary School in Gwinnett County, GA.

Ms. Sharon Amolo always takes pictures of the Skype screen 
and a select group of kids. That's me back there holding up GLORY BE.
Kind of like being there!

They asked some very challenging questions.

For example:
What part of the book changed after it was sent to the publisher and before it became a book?
Is there anything you'd write differently if you had to do it all over again?
Besides being a librarian and writer, what other jobs did you have?

They asked questions for the entire period. 
There were over 100 of these smart cookies!
I had to really pay attention and think hard.

Thank you, amazing teachers and librarians, for all the work you do to prepare kids to Meet The Author!

Here's a link to the school's blog. Check out those kids stepping up to the microphone. Such poise. I'm impressed!

Here's my earlier post about Skyping, with pictures of my flipflops, as well as a link to a good post by author Kate Messner about Authors Who Skype for free:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Shopping and Remembering

Today the UPS guy showed up with a box from Scholastic. 

Yes, hard to believe if you could see my bookshelves, but maybe I ordered a few books. They were such a great deal. It was hard to resist. 

I ordered DUKE by my friend Kirby Larson.
World War II. Dog story. I know just the person!
(I'm proud to say that Kirby and I now actually know each other, in person. Unlike so many author friends that I think I've spent time schmoozing with when all I've done is chat on Facebook and Twitter. But I digress...)

Back to my shopping.
Black Friday, Scholastic Store. Deals were to be had!

When the box arrived and I saw the Jefferson City, MO return address, 
I had to smile.
Remembering my trip to "Jeff City"!
All those nice people packing our holiday purchases? 
I might have met one or two!

(Here's the link to my 24 hours in Missouri post.)

In case you're wondering, I've also bought books from 
Barnes & Noble and Inkwood Books this holiday season. 
Some to donate, some to wrap, one to read.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Books for All

Did you see the Wall Street Journal article about grownup readers embracing Middle-Grade novels?

If not, take a minute and CLICK RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

(Clever title: "See Grownups Read." Wish I'd thought of that.)

Of course, most everybody knows about the Wonder phenom.  
I've recommended that book to plenty of friends who possibly haven't read a kids' book since they were or had kids. And they've been bowled over.

It sure makes my job easy, fun, and hardly like work that part of the requirement to write for kids is to read for them.

But I often feel a tad guilty when someone asks me for a recommendation and all I can give them is novels for ages "ten and up."
Or maybe ages 9-12.
Because that's what I'm mostly reading. 
And that ten and up, I'm usually quick to point out, means Way Up.

Recently I've read or am reading a ton of books that span the ages, so to speak.

Counting by 7s features a couple of adult characters that outshine any in a novel written for adults.

Even the decidedly child-friendly newest from Kate DiCamillo, Flora & Ulysses, I'd easily recommend to child-less adults. And by that I mean those with no current connections. You may not have taught, parented, or written for kids in the past ten years, but you'll love this novel.

Perhaps historical fiction falls into a category of its own here. But so much I've read truly defies age categorization. Check out these novels and I challenge you to say they are "only" written for middle-grade readers.

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl

Hattie Ever After 

Whistle in the Dark

What I Came to Tell You

CLICK HERE for an interview with the author, Tommy Hays
("I did set out to write a novel that my children would relate to, but I didn’t think to myself this is going to be a YA novel or a middle grade novel, which is actually how it’s technically classified.  I set out to write the best novel I could for whoever would like to read it.  I consider it a novel as much for adults as children.  I just met a wonderful author named Holly Sloan who has a wonderful middle grade novel out called Counting by 7s.  We presented together at the Southern Festival of the Book.  And she said she wrote her book the same way ..)

I could go on and on. But you get the drift.

I'm not saying this is a new development in the world of reading. And I'm not talking about the Young Adult crossover books that we know are being read by adults and "new adults."

But these days, aren't there are more older-than-Middle-Grade readers out there adding their names to the reserve lists at libraries, downloading them to their e-readers, or buying them as gifts but reading them first?

My humble opinion? Yes, there are. 


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How To Write

Pretty much everything you need to know about writing is 
RIGHT HERE.  ☜ (click this link)
(Well, almost.)

Love this. One of my favorites.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Or as my friend Caroline Starr Rose calls it, Fake-o-NaNo.

Click HERE to see what she has to say about National Novel Writing Month. Good stuff. 

Three years ago, when I was between projects and needed to jumpstart something new, I did NaNoWriMo. 
Mine, too, was Fake-o.

Here I am, back fiddling with that "Azalea" project. 
For the zillionth time.
But if you're a writer who needs inspiration. Or wants to try something new, give it a whirl.
Promise a friend cookies, team up with an online writing partner, or heck- just bake your own cookies and don't admit to a single soul what you're up to. Don't sweat it if what turns up is unreadable.

Or as Caroline says:
The "draft" I finished with is quite possibly the messiest, worst thing I've ever written.

But it's a beginning. And sometimes that's all it takes to create something worth revising. And revising. Over and over again.

Check these links. And next year, maybe you'll give it a try?

Oh, and a big congrats to those of you who finished NaNoWriMo! 
Any great wisdom learned from your month?

The official National Novel Writing Month site. 
For those brave enough to admit you're in.

Good stuff via MEDIA BISTRO, with links to previous posts on The Month.

Here's a little of my own fake NaNo.