Books -- reading and writing.
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And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Oh Those Sixties!

Yes, the 1960s were turbulent, colorful, musical, scary, exciting, and almost any other word you can come up with. 

Also fodder for quite a few novels that examine the time period from varying lenses. And really, the 60s were not only about the civil rights movement, the Cuban missile crisis also took over the news, and we landed a man on the moon. Oh, yeah, the Beatles and Elvis. I could go on and on.

To borrow a quote from a new book written about a slightly earlier time in our history: 
"History is memory researched. 
Historical fiction is memory brought to life."
(Avi, from his Author's Note to Catch You Later, Traitor)

At least two of these authors do write from memory, and readily admit that's what inspired them.

First up? Jackson native Taylor Kitchings', debut middle-grade novel,  
YARD WAR, set in 1964 Mississippi. Published this summer from Wendy Lamb Books/ Random House, the book is filled with memories and research from the 1960s, of boys being boys and often not thinking, of things never said out loud, of people who may have been ignored and overlooked while trying their best during very difficult days.

CLICK HERE for an excellent interview with Mr. Kitchings.

Much as I love the cover image, this book is about so much more than football.

There's a lot of truth in this interview question and this quote from the book.

Trip’s parents’ attitudes change greatly by the end of the book, as they ponder if they should give up on living in Mississippi. Trip’s father explains it like this: “Trip, it’s like one day God took the best of what’s good and the worst of what’s bad, stirred it all up, and dumped it between Memphis and New Orleans. You can’t move away from a place like that. You have to help keep the good in the mix.” Please explain that thought. 

Mississippi is so complex and mysterious, I think you have to grow up here to understand it at all. I don’t claim to understand it, I just know it’s essential to me. “The best of what’s good” goes beyond the food and the music and the sports and everything of which Mississippians are justly proud; it’s the way people care about each other. We know what it is to feel with, and a person doesn’t have to be our best friend in order for us to feel it. Even when it’s formal or fairly surface, it is well-intentioned and the prevalent inclination to be kind here adds a sweetness to life that I do think is rare. For the “worst of what’s bad,” check the latest statistics.

Order this novel from all the usual suspects or you can go right to Lemuria and get a signed copy.  
HERE's the link: 

 But wait, my list runneth over! Or is it runneths?

FULL CICADA MOON, Marilyn Hilton's newest novel (Penguin Random House, September 2015), is a delight. Told in free verse poems, this novel explores both the civil rights history of the 60s and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. 

Beautifully written, strong characterization, a lovely novel in every way. The narrator, Mimi Yoshiko Oliver is smart and wise, a fierce female character in a time when it wasn't easy to be. I especially love the act of civil disobedience involving shop class.

This School Library Journal starred review highly recommends the book. I heartily concur. 


COLD WAR ON MAPLEWOOD STREET (Putnam, 2015) by Gayle Rosengren is obviously- and truthfully as explained in the Author's Note- a story pulled from a strong memory. The Cuban missile crisis is most likely unfamiliar to young readers. This new novel feels very authentic to the days surrounding that event. 

I absolutely adore this cover image. Hats off to the book designers here. 

I also just reviewed THE SEVENTH MOST IMPORTANT THING for the Christian Science Monitor. You can read all about it. Set in the 60s but a very fresh story that could take place any time, and such good writing.

For more middle-grade book reviews, giveaways, and all sorts of goodies, check out the links every Monday on Shannon Messenger's blog: MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY, right here. 

For my own Pinterest board and possible inclusion in future presentation handouts, I'm compiling a list of middle-grade novels set during the 1960s. What are your favorites?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

This is the story of my goat.

Question:  do teachers and librarians reserve a soft spot in our hearts for the first schools we ever  worked in?

I know I do.

My very first school library position was in East Point, GA. I loved that school!
It was part of the Fulton County system, a star in the school library world.
A Title I school, back in the day when there was all sorts of funding to support kids who needed it. (One of my very first blogposts was about that experience.)

Part of the funding went for art.
Can you imagine? We actually had reproductions, small sculptures, all sorts of wonderful things. Lots of brand new books! As a new librarian, I thought that would be the norm for the rest of my career.

In that Georgia school's library, Picasso's goat greeted my students.

The real one resides at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

This was a hefty, table-top reproduction. 
There was just something about that goat that really appealed to kids.

Today I learned that many of the pieces Picasso created during that period were influenced by his young family. The fabulous exhibit at MOMA now has a whole room of them. 

Little Girl Jumping Rope
Baboon and Young

My goat has been moved inside for the occasion. 
Here she is, early this spring, in the museum's sculpture garden.

His shiny bronze nose shines from years of rubbing.

Seeing She-Goat always takes me right back to those first years as a school librarian. 

I learned as much as I taught.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Thinking and walking

Via Sara Zarr's fabulous THIS CREATIVE LIFE podcasts.

Are you a listener?

Today I had to stop near the end. I wanted to write something down.
Varian Johnson talked about how to figure out exactly what a book would be.

This is exactly what I'd been thinking about while reading some of the submissions from my Florida critique group. What's the tone? The VOICE of the novel? Who's the intended reader?

(Or, as our buddy Greg Neri loves to say: A book will be what it wants to be.)

Now I'm off to a wonderful HIGHLIGHTS UNWorkshop with two of my best writing buddies. 

Signing off the internet for a while. 
Taking time to figure out what a book wants to be. 
And other important things. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Happy birthday, Ruby Bridges.

Thanks to John Schu's wonderful Book Calendar, I now know that September 8 is Ruby Bridges' birthday.

Her story inspired me to begin my own novel.
She spoke to the student body at Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, where I worked at the time. As I walked back to the library with a group of fifth graders, they were astounded. And in awe. And surprised by all she said.

Ruby Bridges was the first African American child to integrate the public schools in New Orleans.

Many knew I'd grown up in the South. A few asked if I had any of the same experiences.
I hadn't.
But I did have other memories.

That night I started scribbling some of my memories.
Almost ten years later, my book, GLORY BE, was sold.

That's a long journey!

But what a great inspiration. Thank you and happy birthday, Ruby Bridges.