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1. Time Cat

Time Cat. Lloyd Alexander. 1963. 206 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Gareth was a black cat with orange eyes.

Premise/plot: Jason is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. But that begins to change when in the midst of complaining out loud to his cat, Gareth, Gareth surprises him by talking back. The cat reveals that he can visit nine different lives--any time, any country--and he can and will be happy to take Jason with him.

The times visited by Jason and Gareth: Egypt 2700 B.C., Rome and Britain 55 B.C., Ireland 411 A.D., Japan 998 A.D., Italy 1468, Peru 1555, The Isle of Man 1588, Germany 1600, America 1775.

If you're a cat lover who also enjoys time travel, this is a GREAT read.

My thoughts: I really, really, really found this to be a GREAT read. I found it entertaining and just FUN.

Here are some of my favorite quotes.
When I was a child, I always had cats. They seemed very fond of me. Then, after I became Pharaoh, they didn't seem to care for me half as much.
Jason thought for a while. "I don't know," he said at last. "Did you wear that headdress and that beard before you got to be king? That might have frightened them. And another thing," he added, "did you shout as much? Cats don't like being shouted at."
Neter-Khet brightened a little. "That might be it."
"Even so," Jason said, "when you weren't shouting, you'd think they'd have come around again."
"Oh, they did," said Neter-Khet. "But they'd never play or purr when I ordered."
"Did you expect them to?" Jason said. "No cat in the world will do that!"
"But I'm Pharaoh," Neter-Khet said. "I'm supposed to give orders."
"That doesn't mean anything to a cat," said Jason. "Didn't anybody ever tell you?"
"Nobody tells me," Neter-Khet said. "I tell them. Besides, they were my cats, weren't they?"
"In a way they were," Jason said, "and in a way they weren't. A cat can belong to you, but you can't own him. There's a difference." (19-20)
The only thing a cat worries about is what's happening right now. As we tell the kittens, you can only wash one paw at a time. (125)
Cats are good at being cats, and that's enough. (127)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Way Back Wednesday Essential Classic: Goldilocks and the Three Bears by James Marshall

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.]

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3. Instagram

The difference between Instagram and Twitter is more than just pictures vs. words.

http://www.adventuresinyapublishing.com/2016/06/great-tips-for-writers-on-using.html

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4. What Can I Be? by Ann Rand & Ingrid Fiksdahl King





Holding What Can I Be? in my hands after reading it, I felt like I had just walked through a gallery at a modern art museum. I knew that there had to be a story behind this book, which was published this year by Princeton Architectural Press, but feels much older. The premise of What Can I Be?which was written by Ann Rand and illustrated by painter and architecture professor Ingrid Fiksdahl King, coauthor of A Pattern Language, one of the most influential books on architecture and planning, is simple, suggestive and playful, presenting readers with a shape and asking what could it be, then encouraging readers to imagine what else that shape could be. Reading this article at the marvelous Brain Pickings, I learned the story behind What Can I Be?









In the 1950s Ann Rand and her husband at the time collaborated on three picture books that are still in print. Her husband, Paul Rand went on to be a legend in the graphic design world, creating many of the corporate logos that are still in use today. Like Fiksdahl King, Ann Rand was an architect and trained under Mies van der Rohe. In the 1970s the two created What Can I Be? but it did not reach publication for forty years. It is always fascinating to me when creative people from different disciplines make picture books, and when it is successful, the results stand out on the shelves, and What Can I Be? is definitely successful.


What could be green and shaped like a triangle? "a Christmas tree / the sail of a boat / a tent / or maybe a kite flying high in a windblown sky." While concept books are, by their very nature, simplistic, Rand and Fiksdahl King add layers of complexity, especially in the illustrations, but also in the text, using words like "splendid," "ruffled" and "windblown." What Can I Be? will definitely appeal to parents with a background in in art, design and architecture, but I believe it will also truly inspire little listeners who will want to hear it read over and over.




Books by Ann & Paul Rand





Source: Review Copy


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5. Just Been To See... Star Trek: Beyond

Well, I had to go at some stage, didn't I? I have loved Star Trek since discovering it in my teens. The original cast are either old or have passed away. So it has been wonderful seeing the new young cast who have grown into their roles over the last three movies.

A friend at work suggested we should go together. Weekends are difficult for me nowadays - family commitments on Saturday and some of Sunday, plus Sunday is the only day I can clean the house and make sure my classes are ready for next day. 

We went, instead, after work to the cinema complex nearest the school. We had something to eat beforehand - in my case just scone and tea, in hers a sandwich - and, on an impulse, decided to go Gold Class - small cinema and you get to have ordered food and drink brought to you as you loll in a comfy chair. I keep Gold Class for special films, but it was my friend's first time. She was delighted. We both ordered gourmet pecan pie-flavoured popcorn and mineral water, but we could have ordered a meal or even cocktails if we'd chosen. To be honest, the popcorn was nice, but not worth what we paid for it. Next time I'll have something more substantial. 

The movie was very enjoyable. I couldn't help noticing that the Enterprise was destroyed AGAIN in the third film of the series, as in The Search For Spock. Not a spoiler, as it happens about ten or fifteen minutes into the movie and the characters have a lot on their plates as the film goes on. I must admit, I found the villain's motivation a bit hard to swallow, as was the reveal about his background, but it was a fast-moving action piece and what I loved best about it was the build-up of our heroes. 

Spock and McCoy have their familiar relationship that we all know and love. Kirk has begun to do that quirky little smile at the corners of his mouth and his personality has also begun to be the familiar  cheeky Kirk not-a-boy-scout one. At the same time, he does the usual Kirk lecture to the villain. Oh, yes, this young man may not look like Bill Shatner, but the script is right and he is getting the mannerisms right too. 

Zachary Quinto's Spock voice is beginning to sound a lot like Leonard Nimoy's, while Karl Urban has been McCoy from the very beginning. I believe DeForest Kelley would have been delighted with him - and with the way the character is drawn, from sharing a (stolen from Chekhov)Scotch with Kirk early in the film to protesting, "I'm a doctor, not a..." as he's whisked off on an away mission he really doesn't want. 

The music was good, by Michael Giacchino, a composer who has done the scores for several movies I enjoyed, including the new Trek movies and Up. There was, of course, the Alexander Courage theme at the end. I'm into film music in a big way and have always been. My brother and I used to collect and share the recordings of our favourite films when we were both living at home. I guess I'll have to keep an eye out for the score to this one.

There was a tribute at the end to the two cast members who have gone since the last film was made. Leonard Nimoy' of course, but it was rather sad to see the young Anton Yelchin as Chekhov and know he would never be back. I believe they have decided not to re-cast the character. 

Chekhov did get to do his line about Scotch having been invented by a little old lady(from Leningrad in the original, in Russia here).

Here's a Creative Commons picture of him I found on Wikipedia. 


Sleep well, Anton! 

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6. First Impressions: The Last Best Kiss, Catching Jordan, Six of Crows

Title: The Last Best Kiss
Author: Claire LaZebnik
Published: 2014
Source: Local Library
Summary: Try as she might, Anna's never been able to forget dorky, sweet Finn, her freshman-year boyfriend that she drove away by not admitting they were dating. Their senior year, he comes back to town, no longer dorky, and no longer at all interested in her.
First Impressions: Awwww. I loved this. Quick read with strong emotional core. And of course it's an Austen retelling so you know I'm all over that.

Title: Catching Jordan
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

Summary: As the only girl and the quarterback, Jordan Woods is in a unique position on her football team. She wants to focus on getting an amazing college scholarship, not on romance - but romance seems determined to find her.
First Impressions: Did not entirely love this one. Not sure why. Maybe it's because neither romance seemed especially fleshed out? The dismissive and scornful way she treated other girls got under my skin, even though it was addressed.

Title: Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library
Summary: A gang of con men and criminals get the biggest job of their career, but will their pasts, both with each other and with the people they're scamming, scotch the whole deal?
First Impressions: This was very unevenly paced, although I enjoyed the characters. But it seemed like we would have action and then this long flashback about each character. I didn't really get into it until the end.
More: Book Nut

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7. POISONED BLADE by Kate Elliott \\ Further Expands The Court of Fives Universe..

Review by Kaitlin... POISONED BLADE By Kate Elliott Series: Court of Fives #2 Hardcover: 418 pages Publisher: Little, Brown (August 16, 2016) Age Range: 12-17 years Grade Level: 7 up Language: English Goodreads | Amazon In this thrilling sequel to World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott's captivating young adult debut, a girl immersed in high-stakes competition holds the fate of

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8. The Price Of (State) Secondary Education

I've just started my new Western Chances applications for two young women in our Year 10 class. They are being nominated for leadership skills. I think I may have posted about Western Chances before, but not recently.

Western Chances is a scholarship aimed at students in the western suburbs of Melbourne, where a lot of kids have very little money and not much chance of going to university, apart from the TAFE colleges and small local universities. TAFE is fine, but what if you want to do medicine or engineering? At one of the bigger universities? In theory, everyone can go if they're willing to repay some of the debt once they get a job that will have enough income to do so. In practice, there are a lot of expenses you might not have expected, and even if you have a job at McDonald's to help with your share house, it may not be enough... And some have up-front fees; I remember a student of ours who got into nursing, but ended up taking a year off to work up the up-front fees.

And then there's the time before you go to university. This wonderful scholarship was set up some years ago by Terry Bracks, wife of a former Victorian Premier. (That's a state Governor for my US readers). It's not a government thing or it would have been long gone. It relies on donations to pay the staff and help get scholarships out to students who are very good at something but who just can't afford the costs of even a state education. I made a donation this year and last, taken from my inheritance of a few thousand dollars from my late friend jan howard finder(lower-case intended), who passed away a couple of years ago. Businesses do their bit and the staff, who are amazing people, get all sorts of goodies for their Western Chances scholars, as well as the money. I get phone calls from them offering a place in an engineering camp or a free camp of some other kind, and when one of my students said she was interested in events management, the lady I deal with said she knew an events manager who could help to mentor the young lady.

But here's the thing: kids change their minds. These two went for counselling from their teachers and were advised on the subjects best for them. And the girl who had planned on events management changed her mind and decided on teaching. Specifically Foods teaching. For that, she plans on doing a VET subject, Hospitality. Which will cost her $400. And probably a textbook.

And General Maths - $88 for the textbook and $200 for a special calculator.

And Business Management - if she does that as a VET subject, it will cost $200. The VCE version(I hope that's what she's planning) will cost less, but there's certainly a textbook involved.

And Health and Human Development(I'm not sure of how much the textbook for that will cost, but it's bound to be $70-80).

And Psychology? $108 for the text and workbook.

In some cases, second-hand books are possible, but not always. Psychology's textbook has changed, so this year books had to be bought new. Even if they can get them second-hand this year, there's still the workbook, which has to be bought new because you write in them.

How on earth do most kids manage? Not all the kids at my school are from poor families, but that doesn't mean they can afford all the textbooks, not to mention calculators (a good reason not to do maths! And now the Federal government is talking about making maths compulsory all the way through).

And kids who are doing the expensive practical subjects(VET) are quite often kids from poorer families.

The other girl is not as complicated as this one, but she too has some expensive subject choices. Maths alone will cost her $288 and she may need tutoring. I said I'd see if I can get her some money for tutoring - there's an inexpensive tutoring service in the area, but it would still be around $200 altogether for 20 sessions. I'm hoping that there will be free reconditioned laptop computers available this year - there wen't last year, which is why the boys I nominated were given the money and told to arrange their own. It worked out, but they had to agree to make that their scholarship gift for the year. It was too dear for anything else. They already have their special calculators, thank heaven!

I may have to say, "If we can't get a reconditioned computer, you'll have to make a choice."

I know that textbook authors do a lot of work and have to be up-to-date, but really, do textbooks have to be quite that expensive?

Ah, well, I think the young ladies might have to settle for help towards their needs; I just don't think I can get them money for the lot. It will depend on how many applications WC gets this year - and it is very popular.

This is one of those things I do when I'm not being a library and English teacher or writing books or short stories. The kids deserve a hand up! And a few hundred a year can make a huge difference.

I'm off work today after a sleepless night; if you work in an office you can sit at your desk and try to focus, but not when you have kids to teach. It's not a job you can get away with being tired. The kids know when you're faking it.

So, off to rest a bit.


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9. Jazz Day

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxanne Orgill illustrated by Francis Vallejo Candlewick, 2016 Grades 2-6 In 1958, fifty-seven jazz musicians gathered on a street in Harlem to pose for a photo for Esquire. The photo entitled "A Great Day in Harlem" became an iconic image from the 20th century, and the story behind the photograph is amazing. In this extended picture book, Roxanne

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10. THREE TRUTHS AND A LIE by Brent Hartinger \\ Maybe Mildly Inappropriate For Average YA Reader?

Review by Sara... THREE TRUTHS AND A LIE By Brent Hartinger Hardcover: 288 pages Publisher: Simon Pulse (August 2, 2016) Grade Level: 9 and up Language: English Goodreads | Amazon A weekend retreat in the woods and an innocent game of three truths and a lie go horribly wrong in this high-octane psychological thriller filled with romantic suspense by a Lambda Award–winning author.Deep in the

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11. The Hotel Mystery

The Hotel Mystery. (Whodunit Detective Agency #2) Martin Widmark. Illustrated by Helena Willis. 2002/2014. 80 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Every year, on the day before Christmas Eve, nearly everyone in the little town of Pleasant Valley does the same thing: They all head to the holiday buffet at the town's hotel, where they find turkey, ham, roasted carrots, and mashed potatoes and gravy, all served on big platters in the beautiful dining room.

Premise/plot: Jerry and Maya are friends and classmates who formed the Whodunit Detective Agency. Over Christmas vacation, these two are working at the town's hotel. (Jerry's uncle works there.) The hotel is in great excitement because the hotel's best and most expensive suite has been rented out to a family, the Braeburn family. Making the new guests HAPPY is to be their top priority. But their stay is not uneventful, and before the book ends, Jerry and Maya will need to solve a crime.

My thoughts: This is the second book in the Whodunit Detective Agency series. It is an early chapter book with a lot of colorful illustrations. These mysteries are simple and straightforward. The characters aren't exactly complex and intriguing. But. I think for the intended age group, these mysteries are fine reading material.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Listening to George, CONCLUSION

This will be the last post for my George Strait Project. I thought I would make a few lists, answer a few questions, etc.

One word to describe George Strait's music: TIMELESS
Some phrases to describe his music: consistently high quality;  forever true to himself, true to tradition; western swing at its best! makes you want to sing and dance!
Was the project fun? Yes, for the most part.
Did I get tired of George by the end of July? More than I thought I would be. I thought it would be impossible to have too much George in your life.
Did I only listen to George Strait? That's how I started out the month. But by the end, I was ready for a little distance and some other artists to listen to.
Would I recommend this project for someone else? Yes. But I would suggest spreading it out throughout a six month or even a year period. You could cover two to three albums per month and get it done in a year.
Would I be interested in doing another chronological project? Yes, probably. I'm not sure WHO at this point. And it will probably not be any time soon. I am also not sure if I'd ever devote that many posts to music at Becky's Book Reviews. Though if it were to be a year-long project, one post per month wouldn't be seen as quite the invasion that George became!!!
Which albums are MUSTS? If you were to only have TWO albums in your collection--say you have zero George Strait at the moment--then definitely 50 Number Ones (2004) and and 22 More Hits (2007). That would give you 72 of his best songs.
Favorite album from the 1980s? Probably Ocean Front Property. I really LOVE that one.
Favorite singles from the 1980s? Fool Hearted Memory, Amarillo by Morning, You Look So Good In Love, The Cowboy Rides Away, The Chair, Nobody In His Right Mind Would Have Left Her, Baby Blue, Ace in the Hole, Am I Blue, Famous Last Words of a Fool, Ocean Front Property, It Ain't Cool To Be Crazy About You, etc.
Favorite songs from the 1980s that were never released as singles? Friday Night Fever, 80 Proof Bottle of Tear Stopper, Dance Time in Texas, My Heart Won't Wander Very Far From You, You Can't Buy Your Way Out of the Blues...
Favorite album from the 1990s? I don't think I could ever, ever, ever choose. I might could come up with a top three albums from the 1990s...Livin' It Up (1990); Lead On (1994); One Step at A Time (1998).
Favorite singles from the 1990s? You Know Me Better Than That; Easy Come, Easy Go; The Big One; Check Yes or No; Lead On; Blue Clear Sky; One Night at a Time; I Just Want To Dance With You; We Really Shouldn't Be Doing This; Write This Down.
Favorite songs from the 1990s never released as singles?  Someone Had to Teach You; She Loves Me (She Don't Love You); Is It Already Time; You're Right, I'm Wrong; Baby Your Baby; Stay Out My Arms; I Wasn't Fooling Around; Nobody Has To Get Hurt; That's Me (Every Chance I Get); Real Good Place to Start; That's Where I Want To Take Our Love; Always Never The Same.
Favorite album from the 2000s? I'm torn between Twang (2009) and Honkytonkville (2003).
Favorite singles from the 2000s? Don't Make Me Comve Over There and Love You, Troubadour, Twang.
Favorite songs from the 2000s that were never released as singles? Honk if You Honky Tonk, I Found Jesus on the Jailhouse Floor, She Used to Say That To Me, Texas Cookin', It Was Me, Where Have I Been All My Life
Favorite album from the 2010s? Cold Beer Conversation
Favorite singles from the 2010s? I Got A Car; Drinkin' Man; Here for a Good Time.
Favorite songs from the 2010s never released as singles? Three Nails and a Cross, I'll Always Remember You, It was Love, Take Me To Texas, It Takes All Kinds.

Country Music Is....
  1. No more late nights, comin' in at daylight, and no more doin' you wrong.
  2. Nickels and dimes, memories and wines - she's on his mind once again.
  3. I ain't rich, but Lord I'm free.
  4. He must have stolen some stars from the sky, and gave them to you to wear in your eyes.
  5. We've been in and out of love and in-between.
  6. With a little mouth to mouth she was ready to go.
  7. Well, thank you, could I drink you a buy?
  8. Even my heart was smart enough to stay behind.
  9. I don't worship the ground you walk on.
  10. A devil when she held me close, an angel when she smiled.
  11. Don't put it all on the line for just one roll.
  12. All the times before she'd break down and cry.
  13. There won't be no more next time doin' me wrong.
  14. Truth be known, you're dyin', cryin', lyin' there in bed.
  15. I miss picnics and blue jeans and buckets of beer.
  16. When you hear twin fiddles and a steel guitar, you're listening to the sound of the American heart.
  17. We tried to work it out a hundred times, ninety-nine it didn't work.
  18. I'm not the hero who will always save the day.
  19. Oh they just don't make hearts like hers anymore.
  20. My heart's the only part of me that's not in love with you.
  21. She said I don't recall seeing you around here you must be new to this town.
  22. But I never felt this feeling with anybody else.
  23. I got my fingers crossed that this goes on and on.
  24. I hit my knees and told God how much I hurt.
  25. I caught you lookin' at me when I looked at you. Yes I did, ain't that true?
  26. We'd each be hurting somebody else if we don't say our good-byes real fast.
  27. That's where I wanna raise the babies that we make.
  28. My heart's been on a long vacation, but now it's beating like a cha, cha, cha
  29. Today I'm right where Mama prayed I'd be.
  30. Some peddle steel whining like a whistle of an old freight train... 
Can you identify which songs these lines are from? 

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. What's On Your Nightstand (July)


The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the fourth Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

Currently reading:

Johnny Cash: The Life. Robert Hilburn. 2014. Little, Brown. 688 pages. [Source: Library]

Why the sudden interest in Johnny Cash? I have no idea really except perhaps my discovery of "Music on Murder Row," and the question what IS country music? I am finding this a very interesting read.


Testament of Youth. Vera Brittain. 1933/2015. Penguin. 672 pages. [Source: Library]

I've been wanting to read this since watching the movie. It's good, but, the chapters are LONG. 

Golf Without Tears: Stories of Golfers and Lovers. P.G. Wodehouse. 1999. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

I am reading this for the VT Reading Challenge (aka Challies) for the "sports" category. For the record, I don't like golf....but I do love Wodehouse. So it is working for me.

Man in White. Johnny Cash. 1986/2006. WestBow. 194 pages. [Source: Library]

I haven't gotten very far in this one. But it's a fiction novel about the Apostle Paul...and I'm interested in reading it in the weeks ahead.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. How to Create Balanced Screen Time in your Home

screen time

Over the past few years I’ve watched the screen debate evolve as families choose between having a “screen-free” or a “screen-filled” home. In our family we’ve carefully chosen what is watched on TV, what Internet sites can be accessed, and enforced a strict “no cellphone until you can drive” policy. Of course, every on-line safety precaution has been taken as well as placing a time-tracker on the family computer.

All of this is fine and good until schools and society started encroaching on my little domestic bubble. Our schools have chosen to embrace technology in a variety of ways from turning in term papers, taking tests, research, and in-school discussions forums.

Our children’s visiting friends come over to our house with a variety of electronic gadgets, and with them come their own rules. My first reaction was to say, “my house, my rules,” but then it dawned on me that the conversation that was not being had was the one about balance.

What does an electronically balanced family look like?

Technology, whether TV, computer, iPad, or cell phone, is a tool and a tool is only as good as the hand that guides it. That hand is only as good as the heart and mind that picks it up as well.

I decided I was tired of feeling like a “screen-cop” so I decided to sit down with my kids and come up with a set of guidelines that we could all agree to. I was really impressed with their perspective and how complete they were in coming up with guidelines for our family.

Guidelines for Screen-Time:

• Get On The Same Page: Begin the talk by discussing with your children why there needs to be limits and talk about computer and Internet safety.

• Priorities: Using computers, TVs, and electronic devices are wwwaaayy down on the priority list and can occur only after homework, music or sports practice, and family time. As one of my children put it, “screen time is a privilege and not a right.”
• Active Engagement: A point that is really important for my husband and myself is that screen time is often a passive activity. One of our Golden Rules of Home is that screen time must engage our children actively. Programs we value are Mindcraft (on our server), STEM computer activities which engage our children into building robots, airplanes, and creative computer games requesting kids to solve math problems, etc.

• Must Add Value: Whether watching a good movie, playing an iPad game, or texting on a cell phone, everything must add value our lives. Is my child learning something? Are they texting for a purpose such as directions or meeting times? Is the screen time

creating a problem solving moment such as building a STEM game? Is what they’re doing on the screen purposeful?

• Be Together: A wonderful way to connect with children and their friends is to set up a game night, and play along with them. We have a Wii and love to play the family-friendly games together. We add one half hour to our game nights so everyone gets a couple of turns and then we change the game to an off-screen one. It’s created a nice balance between on-screen and off -screen games.

• Cell-phones and Friends: Many of my children’s friends are now carrying cell phones. Before they come to our house, I make sure their parents have our land-line and cell phone numbers in case they should need to speak with their child. Near our front door is the cell-phone basket where everyone’s cell phones are turned off, placed inside, and not retrieved until it’s time for our guests to head home. I love this “electronics bin” idea I spotted on Facebook, but unfortunately I don’t know the source.

scree free ideas

• Laptops and Friends: Many friends have laptops and iPads and are usually surprised when they are asked to leave them on the shelf inside our front door. It may sound odd, but I feel I have a responsibility to make sure our kids cannot access inappropriate websites at any time. Balanced screen time applies to everyone who enters our home. After the first couple of times visiting, friends begin automatically leaving their computers by the front door or in their backpacks which, to me, shows great understanding and support.

The best guide that we’ve found for balanced screen time is to model the behavior we want to see. One of the most important steps in creating balanced screen time is for your child to watch you turn off your devices. By creating a balance in your own habits you will help create a natural model for your children to pattern their behavior after. We’ve been very conscious to do this in our own home and have seen similar screen usage results in our growing extended family.

One More Thing…

My Secret Codes, Mysteries and Adventures Activity PDF for kids will keep young minds percolating for HOURS with this screen-free activity!

Inside young super detectives will discover:

*19 pages of sleuthing fun for your family to enjoy.
*Use Pilot Frixion Pens and craft paper to create Invisible Secret Notes!
*Make I Spy Cookies!
*Discover a President of the United States who was a Master Code Creator!

This free activity guide is a great way to encourage kids to pull books off of shelves, discover the power of imagination and build a new excitement and anticipation for reading. Fill out the info below and grab your FREE copy. Enjoy!

secret codes

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15. Return to the Journey


This fall Aaron Becker and Candlewick Press will deliver the conclusion to the gorgeous Journey trilogy.

Remember Journey? It begins with a young girl sitting outside a house with rooms full of people: a sister playing with a tablet, a multitasking mother on the phone and cooking dinner, and a father at work in his office. Though family is home, the girl feels alone.
Can I have a bite?
What are you working on?
Can I have a turn?
...
Alone in her room, when even her cat abandons her, she discovers a red crayon. And draws a door. An escape. Thus begins the journey.

When we meet the girl again she has with her the friends she made on her journey. In Quest the friends set out to collect the crayons needed to free a captive king. He provides them with a map and clues, the rest is up to the friends' imaginations.
Color, action, danger and quick thinking! Gratitude, magic, perseverance and wonder.

Return opens with the same busy father, and the same girl. This time when she returns to her magic world, her father follows! Readers with a sharp eye will enjoy spotting connections to the first two installments.

Books with no words can say so much to us. Perhaps they can say more than books full of words.
What I perceive and what you notice can be wonderfully different.
Beyond enjoying this book alone, consider delving in with one or many children. Writing teachers will see worlds of possibility between the pages. I know I do.
Enjoy!



Pre-order Return, or order any of Becker's other books-signed(!) here.
And be sure to enter below for a chance to win the first two books in the trilogy, Journey and Quest!
Thank you to Candlewick press!
 
Contest closes Tuesday, August 2nd.
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16. Organizing Your Edits

Here's one method to keep your novel's revisions on track.

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/tips-organize-your-novels-edits/

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17. Press Release Fun: A Curious George Documentary on the Horizon

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.01.08 PM

Documentary Following Curious George Creators Hans A. & Margret Rey Announced – Ema Ryan Yamazaki Directorial Debut

New York City, NY – July 26, 2016 – In celebration of the world’s most beloved monkey, who turns seventy-five years old this year, filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki announces the first ever mixed-media documentary about Curious George. Monkey Business delves into the extraordinary lives of Hans and Margret Rey, the authors of the beloved Curious George children’s books. The Reys were of German-Jewish descent and narrowly escaped the Nazis on makeshift bicycles they rode across Europe, carrying the yet-to-be-published Curious George manuscript with them.

To tell this remarkable story, Yamazaki obtained exclusive rights from the Rey’s estate, curated by longtime caretaker to Margret Rey, Ley Lee Ong, gaining access to the over 300 boxes of the Reys’ personal archives at the de Grummond Collection, housed at the University of Southern Mississippi. Through a unique and Rey-inspired technique of animation, as well as archival photographs, the documentary tells the story of the couple’s lives, the birth of George and how the well-loved children’s book character almost didn’t come to fruition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Universal hold the publishing and merchandising rights to the literary and cultural icon, but it is Yamazaki who has been entrusted with documenting this inspiring story of perseverance, adventure, family and what it means to be a world citizen.

Monkey Business: The Curious Adventures of George’s Creators is Yamazaki’s directorial debut, after amassing an impressive editing credit list including collaborations with seasoned storyteller, Sam Pollard (When The Levees Broke). Marc Levin (Chicagoland) is onboard as Executive Producer.

Yamazaki, who claims Japan, the UK and New York as three unique homes, was inspired by the Rey’s journey and philosophy of living. She felt a kinship with the married authors of German-Jewish descent who were also multinationals having made homes in Brazil, Paris and ultimately New York City. With immigration and refugee-crises at the center of current and urgent international debate, Monkey Business reminds us that we are all world-citizens, searching for and deserving of a home.

To fund the post-production costs of Monkey Business, Yamazaki is running an ambitious Kickstarter campaign, releasing timeless original Curious George prints and digital archive downloads as rewards. The Kickstarter is also intended to be an invitation to the world-community to find inspiration in Hans and Margret Rey’s story. How curiosity & imagination gave them the power to overcome life’s greatest challenges. The link to the Kickstarter, which includes personal testimony by Yamazaki about the making of the film, can be found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1344946756/curious-george-documentary?ref=filmpress

ABOUT EMA RYAN YAMAZAKI (Director)

Raised in Japan and England and currently based in New York, Ema has always loved telling stories – first as a dancer, and now as a filmmaker. She has directed documentaries such as MONK BY BLOOD and NEITHER HERE NOR THERE that have been seen around the world. As an editor, Ema’s work has screened on HBO, PBS, CNN at Sundance Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, among others.

MARC LEVIN (Executive Producer)

In his 30+ years as an independent filmmaker, Marc has won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the Camera D’Or at Cannes, National Emmys and duPont-Columbia Awards. His work includes SLAM, HEIR TO AN EXECUTION, and the  BRICK CITY TV-series.

JACOB KAFKA (Animator)

The son of a rabbi and a seismologist, Jacob grew up in Massachusetts and has been making movies since he was five years old. His animated short films BASED ON A TRUE STORY and COLD FEET have played in festivals such as TIFF Kids, Woodstock Film Festival, Animation Block Party, ASIFA-East Animation Festival, and been featured on Cartoon Brew. He developed the animation software “RoughAnimator” for mobile devices, which has been used by thousands of animators around the world.

Photo Credits:

“Colored marker drawing of Curious George on flip chart”, H.A. and Margret Rey Collection, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, University of Southern Mississippi libraries

Hans & Margret Rey, Photo Credit Penny Stearns Palmer

Director Ema Ryan Yamazaki, Photo credit Adam Gundershimer

———————————————
Annie Bush

Curious George Doc title design.png

For More Information:
Annie Bush
annie@pro4use.com

 
 |P|R|O|D|U|C|T|I|O|N| |F|O|R| |U|S|E| 
   5555 N Lamar Blvd. Ste J125
   Austin, TX 78751

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18. Biblical Wives


I met TK Thorne at the 2016 Association of Jewish Libraries conference in Charleston, South Carolina. She is the author of Noah's Wife: 5500 BCE and Angels at the Gate, two award-winning novels about the wives of Biblical figures Noah and Lot. She also writes historical nonfiction about civil rights.

AUDIO:


Or click Mp3 File (15:53)

CREDITS:

Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel 
Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries 
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band 
Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast 
Twitter: @bookoflifepod 

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Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473. 




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19. Notable Women: Author Linda Sue Park

Is summer flying by or WHAT?! Goodness, before we know it we will be reading about “first day of school” booklists!

I’ve been having so much fun with my Notable Women series these last few weeks. I kicked things off American Revolution hero Sybil Ludington, then moved on to favorite author Pam Muñoz Ryan. This week I want to focus on the wonderful works of author Linda Sue Park.

Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park is the author of the Newbery Medal book A Single Shard, many other novels, several picture books, and most recently a book of poetry: Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems). She lives in Rochester, New York, with her family, and is now a devoted fan of the New York Mets. For more infromation visit www.lspark.com

Here are a few of my favorite Linda Sue Park books for kids:

A Long Walk To Water

A Long Walk to Water

The New York Times bestseller A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way.

A Single Shard

A Single Shard

In this Newbery Medal-winning book set in 12th century Korea, Tree-ear, a 13-year-old orphan, lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters’ village famed for delicate celadon ware. He has become fascinated with the potter’s craft; he wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is elated — until he finds obstacles in his path: the backbreaking labor of digging and hauling clay, Min’s irascible temper, and his own ignorance. But Tree-ear is determined to prove himself — even if it means taking a long, solitary journey on foot to present Min’s work in the hope of a royal commission . . . even if it means arriving at the royal court with nothing to show but a single celadon shard.

When My Name was Keoko

Linda Sue park

Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, live in Korea with their parents. Because Korea is under Japanese occupation, the children study Japanese and speak it at school. Their own language, their flag, the folktales Uncle tells them—even their names—are all part of the Korean culture that is now forbidden. When World War II comes to Korea, Sun-hee is surprised that the Japanese expect their Korean subjects to fight on their side. But the greatest shock of all comes when Tae-yul enlists in the Japanese army in an attempt to protect Uncle, who is suspected of aiding the Korean resistance. Sun-hee stays behind, entrusted with the life-and-death secrets of a family at war.

The Kite Fighters

Linda Sue park

In a riveting narrative set in fifteenth-century Korea, two brothers discover a shared passion for kites. Kee-sup can craft a kite unequaled in strength and beauty, but his younger brother, Young-sup, can fly a kite as if he controlled the wind itself. Their combined skills attract the notice of Korea’s young king, who chooses Young-sup to fly the royal kite in the New Year kite-flying competition–an honor that is also an awesome responsibility. Although tradition decrees, and the boys’ father insists, that the older brother represent the family, both brothers know that this time the family’s honor is best left in Young-sup’s hands. This touching and suspenseful story, filled with the authentic detail and flavor of traditional Korean kite fighting, brings a remarkable setting vividly to life. AUTHOR’S NOTE.

Project Mulberry

Project Mulberry

Julia Song and her friend Patrick want to team up to win a blue ribbon at the state fair, but they can’t agree on the perfect project. Then Julia’s mother suggests they raise silkworms as she did years ago in Korea. The optimistic twosome quickly realizes that raising silkworms is a lot tougher than they thought. And Julia never suspected that she’d be discussing the fate of her and Patrick’s project with Ms. Park, the author of this book!

**some of these links are affiliate links

Something To Do

In honor of the amazing Linda Sue Park book Project Mulberry, here are some fun ways to bring this book to life.
As we stood under our mulberry tree remembering this great story, we decided right then and there that we had to grow our own silkworms. I must admit to you that we are at the beginning of this process and are waiting for our little silkworm eggs to arrive. We promise to keep you updated on our progress.

Would you like to join us in growing silk worms? Just leave a comment below and let us know if you will share this experience with us.

Here’s where you can order the silkworms:

The Carolina Company has a silkworm farm kit.

Silkworm kit

They also offer silkworm eggs and food.

A few weeks ago I saw the most interesting TED talk about what they are now using silk for. It’s amazing and is being used in ways one could not even imagine. It is taking science and technology to a new level. This is a great video for kids probably age 8 and older.

Happy Reading!

*************************************************************************

Looking for more ways to not only get your youngsters reading, but get them OUTSIDE as well? Enjoy more month-by-month activities based on the classic children’s tale, The Secret Garden! A Year in the Secret Garden is a delightful children’s book with over 120 pages, with 150 original color illustrations and 48 activities for your family and friends to enjoy, learn, discover and play with together.

SecretGardenCoverLeft-e1407422792456

Grab your copy ASAP and “meet me in the garden!” More details HERE.

A Year in The Secret Garden

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20. Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray. Ruta Sepetys. 2011. Penguin. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: They took me in my nightgown. Thinking back, the signs were there--family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver and jewelry into the lining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning from work. My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions, too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs. Only later did I realize that Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape. We were taken. 

Premise/plot: I'm tempted to not give any premise or plot at all. To just say: READ THIS BOOK. But I'm not sure that's exactly fair. While, I do think this book should be read WIDELY, I think it's only fair to tell you a little bit about what to expect. It's set in 1941 in Lithuania. Lina, the heroine, and her family are in a difficult position. They're trapped between two worst-case-scenarios: Stalin, on one side, and Hitler on the other. No matter which "wins" control over Lithuania, Lina and her family--and so many others--are in great danger.

The book opens with Lina's family being arrested. It doesn't get any cheerier from that point. Lina, her mother, and her brother, Jonas, take the reader on quite an emotional journey. It's an incredible read, partly set in Siberia as well, which is where these 'prisoners' end up.

My thoughts: This was a reread for me. There is a companion book newly released this year starring Lina's cousin Joana. The companion book is set at much closer to the end of World War II. I read Salt to the Sea not really realizing its connection with Between Shades of Gray. It worked. So if you do read the books out of order, that is okay. But definitely I think you'll want to read both books.

I love this one. I do. I love the characterization. I really, really, really love Lina. And I love Andrius as well. Just because there is a tiny bit of romance, don't mistake this one for a proper ROMANCE. It's so much more than that. It's a fight for survival, and, a fight for DIGNITY. It is very bittersweet. But if you're looking for a book you can't put down, this one is it.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Mini Reviews: Personal Stories

Oh dear.  We're quickly approaching the end of July and I am so seriously behind on my reviews that I just don't know how to catch up other than writing a whole bunch of seriously short mini-reviews in a desperate attempt to get there.  I'm gonna just jump right on in with the memoirs:


Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood

Hilarious modern parenting memoir by a man who doesn't take himself or his parenting too seriously.  If I can enjoy it without having kids, it's a pretty good sign that he's not pretentious and that he's highly relatable.  Thoroughly enjoyable on a wide-ranging level, but will appeal most to those who have at least a passing interest in children, obviously.

The V-Word: True Stories About First-Time Sex
A collection of essays from YA authors about losing their virginity.  Their experiences range from frightened to touching to hilarious to heart-breaking.  Some are good, some are awful, most are just plain awkward.  It's a great book to have in any collection that serves teens and a very real approach to first times.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Sound of Gravel
Cults are one of those things I can't not read about.  Any cult memoir that comes across my path is just an automatic read.  I'm just fascinated.  This particular cult was started by the author's grandfather and followed by her mother and father until her father was murdered by his brother.  It is just a heartbreaking story.  I couldn't put it down, but it is incredibly difficult to read and contains all manner of abuse and hardship, so be warned that it is not a light read.

If at Birth You Don't Succeed: My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny
I love Anner's YouTube channel and was delighted when he wrote a memoir about his early life, his time on reality tv, his college years, and what he's doing now.  He's got a great story and he's as funny in his book as he is on video.  I highly recommend reading him and checking him out on YouTube and I'll definitely be watching to see what he comes up with next. (Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review)

Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind
I listened to this one on audio, and it was...wow.  The narrator just really ruined the whole thing.  I mean the writing wasn't spectacular to begin with - almost the entire book is made up of quotes from various actors and directors instead of actual writing.  But what really killed this for me is that the narrator attempted to do impressions of each actor when he'd read their quotes.  And he didn't do them well at all.  Phoenix's life is fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed his story, but the narrator butchered the experience.


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22. Reality Affects


Bonnie Nadzam's recent essay at Literary Hub, "What Should Fiction Do?", is well worth reading, despite the title. (The only accurate answer to the question in the title [which may not be Nadzam's] is: "Lots of stuff, including what it hasn't done yet...") What resonates for me in the essay is Nadzam's attention to the ways reality effects intersect with questions of identity — indeed, with the ways that fictional texts produce ideas about identity and reality. I especially loved Nadzam's discussion of how she teaches writing with such ideas in mind.

Nadzam starts right off with a bang:
An artistic practice that perpetually reinforces my sense of self is not, in my mind, an artistic practice. I’m not talking about rejecting memoir or characters “based on me.” What I mean is I don’t have the stomach for art that purports to “hold up a mirror to nature,” or for what this implies, philosophically, about selfhood and the world in which we live.
This is a statement that avant-gardes have been making since at least the beginning of the 20th century — it is the anti-mimetic school of art, a school at which I have long been a happy pupil. Ronald Sukenick, whose purposes are somewhat different to Nadzam's, wrote in Narralogues that "fiction is a matter of argument rather than of dramatic representation" and "it is the mutability of consciousness through time rather than representation that is the essential element of fiction." Sukenick proposes that all fiction, whether opaquely innovative or blockbuster entertainment, "raises issues, examines situations, meditates solutions, reflects on outcomes" and so is a sort of reasoning and reflection. "The question," he writes, "is only whether a story reflects thoughtfully, or robotically reflects the status quo with no illuminating angle of vision of its own."

Magritte, "The Human Condition", 1933

Sukenick, too, disparages the "mirror to reality" or "mirror to nature" idea: "Once the 'mirror of reality' argument for fiction crumbles, possibilities long submerged in our tradition open up, and in fact a new rationale for fiction becomes necessary."

Nadzam's essay provides some possibilities for remembering what has been submerged in the tradition of fiction and for creating new rationales for fiction's necessity:
I want fiction to bend, for its structure not to mirror the reality I think I see, but for its form and structure to help me peel back and question the way reality seems. The way I seem. I love working with the English language precisely because it fails. Even the most perfect word or phrase or narrative can at best shadow and haunt the phenomena of the world. Words and stories offer a way of experiencing being that is in their most perfect articulation a beat removed from direct experience. And so have I long mistrusted those works in which representation and words function without a hiccup, creating a story that is meant to be utterly believed.
Again, not at all new, but necessary because these ideas so push against dominant assumptions about fiction (and reality) today.

An example of one strain of dominant assumptions: Some readers struggle to separate characters from writers. On Twitter recently, my friend Andrew Mitchell, a writer and editor, expressed frustration with this tendency, saying: "EVERYTHING a character says/does in a story reflects EXACTLY what the writer believes, right? Based on the comments I just read: YES!" As I said to Andrew in reply, this way of thinking results from certain popular types of literary analysis and pedagogy, ones that seek Message from art, ones that want literature to be a paragon of Self Expression, with the Self either a fragile, wounded bird or an allegorical representative of All Such Selfs. It's "write what you know" taken to its logical conclusion: write only what you know about what and who you are. (Good luck writing a story about a serial killer if you're not one.) Such assumptions are anti-imagination and, ultimately, anti-art.

These dominant assumptions aren't limited to classrooms and naive readers. Consider this, from Achy Obejas's foreword to The Art of Friction (ed. Charles Blackstone & Jill Talbot):
When my first book, We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like  This?, was released in 1994, my publishers were ecstatic at the starred review it received in Publishers Weekly.

But though I appreciated the applause, I was a bit dismayed.  The review referred to the seven pieces that comprise the book as “autobiographical essays.” I found this particularly alarming, since six of the seven stories were first-person narrations, mostly Puerto Rican and Mexican voices, while I am Cuban, and one was from the point of view of a white gay man named Tommy who is dying of AIDS.

I’d have thought that the reviewer might have noticed that nationality, race, and gender seemed to shift from story to story—and that is what they were, stories, not essays; fiction, not memoir—but perhaps that reviewer, like many others who followed, felt more comforted in believing that the stories were not products of the imagination but lived experiences.
Imagination is incomprehensible and terrifying. In the classroom, I see this all the time when students read anything even slightly weird — at least one will insist the writer must have been on drugs. When a person reads a work of fiction and their first impulse is to either seek out the autobiographical elements or declare the writer to be a drug addict, then we know that that reader has no experience with or understanding of imagination. For such readers, based on a true story are the five most comforting words to read.

I come back again and again to a brief passage from one of my favorites of Gayatri Spivak's books, Readings:
I am insisting that all teachers, including literary criticism teachers, are activists of the imagination. It is not a question of just producing correct descriptions, which should of course be produced, but which can always be disproved; otherwise nobody can write dissertations. There must be, at the same time, the sense of how to train the imagination, so that it can become something other than Narcissus waiting to see his own powerful image in the eyes of the other. (54)
There must be the sense of how to train the imagination so that it can become something other than Narcissus waiting to see his own powerful image in the eyes of the other.

To return to Bonnie Nadzam's essay: Another dominant force that keeps fiction from becoming too interesting, keeps readers from reading carefully, and prevents the education of literary imagination is mass media (which these days basically means visual/cinematic media). I love mass media and visual media for all sorts of reasons, but if we ignore pernicious effects then we can't adjust for them. Nadzam writes:
...I’ve noticed that with much contemporary fiction, when we read, we’re often not asked to imagine we’re reading a history, biography, diary or anything at all. Often the text doesn’t even ask the reader to be aware of the text as text. With much fiction, we seem to pretend we are watching a movie. And it is supposed to be a good thing if a novel is “cinematic.”
Much fiction today, especially fiction that achieves any level of popularity, seems to me to draw not just structurally but emotionally from television. At its best, it's The Wire (perhaps the great melodrama of our era -- and I mean that as high praise); more commonly, it's a Lifetime movie-of-the-week. TV, like pop songs, knows the emotional moves it needs to pull off to make its audience feel what the audience desires to feel -- make your audience feel something they don't desire to feel, and most of them will turn on you with hate and scorn.

The giveaway, I think, is the narrowness of the prose aesthetic in all fiction that pulls its effects from common wells of emotion, because a complex, unfamiliar prose structure will get in the way of readers drinking up the emotions they desire. Such writing may not itself be inherently rich with emotion; all it needs to do is transmit signs that signal feelings already within the reader's repertoire. Keep the prose structure and style familiar, keep the emotions within the expected range, and the writer only needs to point toward those emotions for the reader to feel them. The reader becomes Pavlov's dog, salivating not over real food, but over the expectation of it. If an identity group exists, then that identity group can train its members toward particular structures of feeling. If the structures are even minimally in place, then members in good standing of an identity group will receive the emotional payoff they desire. Fiction then becomes a confirmation of identity and emotion, not a challenge to it.

(Tangentially: The radical potential of melodrama is to trick audiences into feeling emotions they would not otherwise feel and to complicate expected emotions. This was, for instance, the great achievement of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book that is terribly written in all sorts of ways, but which mobilized -- even weaponized -- sentiment to an extraordinary degree. The same could be said for The Wire, though with significantly less social effect [Linda Williams has some thoughts on this, if I'm remembering her book correctly].)

Anyone who's taught creative writing will tell you that lots of students don't aspire to write for the sake of writing so much as they aspire to write movies on paper. Which is fine, in and of itself, but if students want to write movies, they should take screenwriting and film production courses. And if I want to watch a movie, I'll watch a movie, not read a book.

Movies, TV, and video games are the dominant narrative forms of our time, so it should be no surprise that fiction often resembles those dominant forms. Even the most blockbustery of bestselling novels can't compete for dominance (and almost every bestselling novel these days is a movie-in-a-book, anyway, so they're just contributing to the dominance). Look how excited people get when they find out their favorite book will be turned into a movie. It's like Pinocchio being turned into a real boy!

What gets lost is the literary. Not in some high-falutin' sense of the Great Books, but in the technical sense of what written texts can do that other media either can't or don't do as well. Conversely, other media have things they do that written texts don't do as well, or at all — this is what bugs me when people write about films as if they're novels, for instance, because it loses all sense of what is distinctly cinematic. But that's a topic for another time...

Nadzam discusses how she teaches fiction, and I hope at some point she writes a longer essay about this:
When I do “teach” creative writing, I point out that a work of formal realism (which I neither condemn nor condone) usually adheres to a particular formula: Exposition informs a person’s Psychology, from which arises their Character, out of which certain Motives emerge, based upon which the character takes Action, from which Plot results (EPiC MAP). And what formal realism achieved thereby was answering some of the metaphysical questions raised by Enlightenment thinkers about what the self, or character, might be—a person is a noun. A changing noun, perhaps, but a noun nonetheless—somehow separate from the flux of the world they inhabit. The students I’ve had who want to “be writers” hear about EPiC MAP and diligently set to work. The artists in the class, however—the kindred spirits with the mortal wound—they look at me skeptically. Something about that doesn’t feel right, they say. I don’t want to do it that way, they say. Can we break those rules? And each of their “stories” is a terrible, fascinating mess. Are the stories messes because these writers are breaking with habit, forcing readers to break with expectation, or is the EPiC MAP really an effective mirror? I grant that this is an impossible question to answer, but an essential question to raise. By my lights these students are trying, literally, to re-make the world.
This reminded me of Mac Wellman's longstanding practice of encouraging his playwrighting students to write "bad" plays. The New York Times describes this amusingly:
He asks students to write bad plays, to write plays with their nondominant hands, to write a play that takes five hours to perform and covers a period of seven years. Ms. Satter recalled an exercise in which she had to write a play in a language she barely knew.

“I wrote mine in extremely limited Russian,” she wrote in an email. “Then we translated them back into English and read them aloud. The results were these oddly clarified, quiveringly bizarre mini-gems.”

Mr. Wellman explained: “I’m not trying to teach them how to write a play. I’m trying to teach them to think about what kind of play they want to write.”
Further, from a 1992 interview:
Inevitably, if you start mismatching pronouns, getting your tenses wrong, writing sentences that are too long or too short, you will begin to say things that suggest a subversive political reality.
One of the most effective exercises I do with students (of all levels) is to have them make a list of "writing rules" — the things they have been told or believe to be key to "good writing". I present this to them seriously. I want them to write down what they really believe, which is often what teachers past have taught them. Then, for the next assignment, I tell them to write something in which they break all those rules. Every single one. Some students are thrilled (breaking rules is fun!), some are terrified (we're not supposed to break rules!), but again and again it leads to some fascinating insights for them. It can be liberating, because they discover the freedom of choice in writing, and do things with words that they would never have given themselves permission to do on their own. It's also educative, because they discover that some of the rules, at least for some situations, make sense to them. Then, though, they don't apply those rules ignorantly and unreflectively: when they follow those rules in the future, they do so because the rules make sense to them.

(I make them read Gertrude Stein, too. I make them try to write like Gertrude Stein, especially at her most abstract. [Tender Buttons works well.] It's harder than it looks. They scoff at Stein at first, but once they try to imitate her, they struggle, usually, and discover how wedded their minds are to a particular way of writing and particular assumptions about sense and purpose.)

(I show them Carole Maso's book Break Every Rule. I tell them it's a good motto for a writer.)

To learn new ways to write, to educate our imaginations, we need not only to think about new possibilities but to look at old models, especially the strange and somewhat forgotten ones. Writers who only read what is near at hand are starving themselves, starving their imaginations.

Nadzam returns to 18th century writers, a trove of possibilities:
Fielding thought a crucial and often overlooked aspect of the theatrum mundi metaphor was the emphasis the metaphor puts on the role of the audience, and the audience’s tendency to hastily judge the character of his fellow men. We are not supposed to assume, Fielding’s narrator tells us in Tom Jones, that just because the brilliant 18th-century actor David Garrick plays the fool, Garrick himself is a fool. Nor should we assume that the fool we meet in life is actually—or always—a fool. How then is Fielding’s audience to determine the character of Fielding’s contemporary who plays the part of an actor playing the part of a ghost puppet who represents a real-life individual whose eccentric and condemnable behavior Fielding satirizes? For Fielding, there is no such thing as an un-interpreted experience; an instance of mimetic simulation cannot be considered “truth” (a clear image in a well-polished mirror) because truth itself is the very act of mimetic simulation.
Seeking out writers from before fiction's conventions were conventional helps us see new possibilities. (This is one of the values of Steven Moore's two-volume "alternative history" of the novel, which upends so many received ideas about what novels are and aren't, and when they were what they are or aren't. Also Margaret Anne Doody's The True Story of the Novel. Also so much else.)

Finally, one of the central concerns of Nadzam's essay is the way that assumptions about fiction reproduce and reify assumptions about identity:
...what is now generally accepted as “fiction” emerged out of an essentialism that is oddly consoling in its reduction of each individual to a particular set of characteristics, and the reality they inhabit a background distinct from this self. At worst, behind this form are assumptions about identity and reality that may prevent us from really knowing or loving ourselves or each other, and certainly shield us from mystery.
So much fiction seems to see people as little more than roleplaying game character sheets written in stone. Great mysteries of motivation, great changes in conviction or belief, all these too often get relegated to the realms of the "unrealistic" — and yet the true realism is the one that knows our movement from one day to the next is mostly luck and magic.

Relevant here also is a marvelous essay by Stephen Burt for Los Angeles Review of Books, partly a review of poetry by Andrew Maxwell and Kay Ryan, partly a meditation on how lyric poetry works. More fiction writers ought to learn from poetry. (More fiction reviewers ought to learn from the specificity and attention to language and form in Burt's essay, and in many essays on poetry.) Consider:
A clever resistance to semantic function, an insistence that we just don’t know, that words can turn opaque, pops up every few lines and yet never takes over a reader’s experience: that’s what you get when you try to merge aphorism (general truth) and lyric (personal truth) and Maxwell’s particular line of the North American and European avant-garde (what is truth?). It haunts, it teases, it invites me to return. By the end of the first chapbook, “Quotation or Paternity,” Maxwell has asked whether lyric identification is also escapism: “Trying to identify, it means / Trying to be mistaken / About something else.” Poetic language is, perhaps, the record of a mistake: in somebody else’s terms, we misrecognize ourselves.
And:
We can never be certain how much of our experience resembles other people’s, just as we can’t know if they see our “blue”.... Nor can we know how much of what we believe will fall apart on us next year. ... His poems understand how tough understanding yourself, or understanding anyone else, or predicting their behavior, or putting reflection into words can be, and then forgive us for doing it anyway...
We need more fiction like Stephen Burt's description of Andrew Maxwell's poems: More fiction that understands how tough understanding yourself, or understanding anyone else, or predicting their behavior, or putting reflection into words can be, and then forgives us for doing it anyway.

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23. The Big Five

This handy-dandy chart shows you all the imprints and divisions of the big five publishing companies.

http://almossawi.com/big-five-publishers/

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24. Review of the Day: Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe

Radiant ChildRadiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
By Javaka Steptoe
Little, Brown & Co.
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0-316-21388-2
Ages 5 and up
On shelves October 25th

True Story: I’m working the children’s reference desk of the Children’s Room at 42nd Street of New York Public Library a couple years ago and a family walks in. They go off to read some books and eventually the younger son, I’d say around four years of age, approaches my desk. He walks right up to me, looks me dead in the eye, and says, “I want all your Javaka Steptoe books.” Essentially this child was a living embodiment of my greatest dream for mankind. I wish every single kid in America followed that little boy’s lead. Walk up to your nearest children’s librarian and insist on a full fledged heaping helping of Javaka. Why? Well aside from the fact that he’s essentially children’s book royalty (his father was the groundbreaking African-American picture book author/illustrator John Steptoe) he’s one of the most impressive / too-little-known artists working today. But that little boy knew him and if his latest picture book biography “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat” is even half as good as I think it is, a whole host of children will follow suit. But don’t take my word for it. Take that four-year-old boy’s. That kid knew something good when he saw it.

“Somewhere in Brooklyn, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist, not knowing that one day he will make himself a KING.” That boy is an artist already, though not famous yet. In his house he colors on anything and everything within reach. And the art he makes isn’t pretty. It’s, “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL.” His mother encourages him, teaches him, and gives him an appreciation for all the art in the world. When he’s in a car accident, she’s the one who hands him Gray’s Anatomy to help him cope with what he doesn’t understand. Still, nothing can help him readily understand his own mother’s mental illness, particularly when she’s taken away to live where she can get help. All the same, that boy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, shows her his art, and with determination he grows up, moves to Manhattan, and starts his meteoric rise in the art scene. All this so that when, at long last, he’s at the top of his game, it’s his mother who sits on the throne at his art shows. Additional information about Basquiat appears at the back of the book alongside a key to the motifs in his work, an additional note from Steptoe himself on what Basquiat’s life and work can mean to young readers, and a Bibliography.

radiantchild2Javaka Steptoe apparently doesn’t like to make things easy for himself. If he wanted to, he could illustrate all the usual African-American subjects we see in books every year. Your Martin Luther Kings and Rosa Parks and George Washington Carvers. So what projects does he choose instead? Complicated heroes who led complicated lives. Artists. Jimi Hendrix and guys like that. Because for all that kids should, no, MUST know who Basquiat was, he was an adult with problems. When Steptoe illustrated Gary Golio’s bio of Hendrix (Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow) critics were universal in their praise. And like that book, Steptoe ends his story at the height of Basquiat’s fame. I’ve seen some folks comment that the ending here is “abrupt” and that’s not wrong. But it’s also a natural high, and a real time in the man’s life when he was really and truly happy. When presenting a subject like Basquiat to a young audience you zero in on the good, acknowledge the bad in some way (even if it’s afterwards in an Author’s Note), and do what you can to establish precisely why this person should be mentioned alongside those Martin Luther Kings, Rosa Parks, and George Washington Carvers.

There’s this moment in the film Basquiat when David Bowie (playing Andy Warhol) looks at some of his own art and says off-handedly, “I just don’t know what’s good anymore.” I have days, looking at the art of picture books when I feel the same way. Happily, there wasn’t a minute, not a second, when I felt that way about Radiant Child. Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Do you know what one of the most difficult occupations to illustrate a picture book biography about is? Artist. Because right from the start the illustrator of the book is in a pickle. Are you going to try to replicate the art of this long dead artist? Are you going to grossly insert it into your own images, even if the book isn’t mixed media to begin with? Are you going to try to illustrate the story in that artist’s style alone, relegating images of their actual art to the backmatter? Steptoe addresses all this in his Note at the back of the book. As he says, “Instead of reproducing or including copies of real Basquiat paintings in this book, I chose to create my own interpretations of certain pieces and motifs.” To do this he raided Basquiat’s old haunts around NYC for discarded pieces of wood to paint on. The last time I saw this degree of attention paid to painting on wood in a children’s book was Paul O. Zelinsky’s work on Swamp Angel. In Steptoe’s case, his illustration choice works shockingly well. Look how he manages to give the reader a sense of perspective when he presents Picasso’s “Guernica” at an angle, rather than straight on. Look how the different pieces of wood, brought together, fit, sometimes including characters on the same piece to show their closeness, and sometimes painting them on separate pieces as a family is broken apart. And the remarkable thing is that for all that it’s technically “mixed-media”, after the initial jolt of the art found on the title page (a full wordless image of Basquiat as an adult surrounded by some of his own imagery) you’re all in. You might not even notice that even the borders surrounding these pictures are found wood as well.

radiantchild1The precise age when a child starts to feel that their art is “not good” anymore because it doesn’t look realistic or professional enough is relative. Generally it happens around nine or ten. A book like Radiant Child, however, is aimed at younger kids in the 6-9 year old range. This is good news. For one thing, looking at young Basquiat vs. older Basquiat, it’s possible to see how his art is both childlike and sophisticated all at once. A kid could look at what he’s doing in this book and think, “I could do that!” And in his text, Steptoe drills into the reader the fact that even a kid can be a serious artist. As he says, “In his house you can tell a serious ARTIST dwells.” No bones about it.

How much can a single picture book bio do? Pick a good one apart and you’ll see all the different levels at work. Steptoe isn’t just interested in celebrating Basquiat the artist or encouraging kids to keep working on their art. He also notes at the back of the book that the story of Basquiat’s relationship with his mother, who suffered from mental illness, was very personal to him. And so, Basquiat’s mother remains an influence and an important part of his life throughout the text. You might worry, and with good reason, that the topic of mental illness is too large for a biography about someone else, particularly when that problem is not the focus of the book. How do you properly address such an adult problem (one that kids everywhere have to deal with all the time) while taking care to not draw too much attention away from the book’s real subject? Can that even be done? Sacrifices, one way or another, have to be made. In Radiant Child Steptoe’s solution is to show Jean-Michel within the lens of his art’s relationship to his mother. She talks to him about art, takes him to museums, and encourages him to keep creating. When he sees “Guernica”, it’s while he’s holding her hand. And because Steptoe has taken care to link art + mom, her absence is keenly felt when she’s gone. The book’s borders go a dull brown. Just that single line “His mother’s mind is not well” says it succinctly. Jean-Michel is confused. The kids reading the book might be confused. But the feeling of having a parent you are close to leave you . . . we can all relate to that, regardless of the reason. It’s just going to have a little more poignancy for those kids that have a familiarity with family members that suffer mental illnesses. Says Steptoe, maybe with this book those kids can, “use Basquiat’s story as a catalyst for conversation and healing.”

That’s a lot for a single picture book biography to take on. Yet I truly believe that Radiant Child is up to the task. It’s telling that in the years since I became a children’s librarian I’ve seen a number of Andy Warhol biographies and picture books for kids but the closest thing I ever saw to a Basquiat bio for children was Life Doesn’t Frighten Me as penned by Maya Angelou, illustrated by Jean-Michel. And that wasn’t even really a biography! For a household name, that’s a pretty shabby showing. But maybe it makes sense that only Steptoe could have brought him to proper life and to the attention of a young readership. In such a case as this, it takes an artist to display another artist. Had Basquiat chosen to create his own picture book autobiography, I don’t think he could have done a better job that what Radiant Child has accomplished here. Timely. Telling. Overdue.

On shelves October 25th.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

Professional Reviews:  A star from Kirkus

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25. SISTERS OF SALT AND IRON by Kady Cross \\ Looking For A Good Scare?

Review by Krista... SISTERS OF SALT AND IRON By Kady Cross Series: The Sisters of Blood and Spirit #2 Hardcover: 352 pages Publisher: Harlequin Teen Language: English Goodreads | Amazon Lark Noble is finally happy. She’s trying to move on and put the events of the past behind her: the people who avoided her because she talked to the ghost of her dead twin sister, the parents who

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