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The Website of Jonathan Auxier in which he posts drawings and thoughts about the state of children's books past and present.
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1. A NIGHT GARDENER Soundtrack …

Whenever I start a new book, I try to put together a soundtrack that makes me feel the way I want the story to make me feel. It’s a valuable tool, because at some point I become sick of my own book, and the songs help remind me what I’m aiming for. Screenwriter John August puts it well: A good playlist helps you get started. A great playlist helps you finish.”¬†

I thought I’d share some of the songs that helped me finish The¬†Night Gardener. According to iTunes, I listened to these and a few other tracks more than 300 times …

 










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2. A Children’s Book Week Challenge!

As many of you know, last week was “Children’s Book Week.” Authors were asked to submit 1 min videos talking about books they love. I knew that wasn’t enough time, so I instead made my video into a sort of flashcard challenge:

I got a number of emails from people wanting to know all the book titles, so here’s the master list:

The Little Prince -¬†Alice in Wonderland -¬†The Golden Compass -¬†A Little Princess -¬†Darth Paper -¬†Pinocchio -¬†Rutabaga Stories -¬†Mary Poppins -¬†Bud, not Buddy -¬†The Chocolate War -¬†The White Mountains -¬†The Witch of Blackbird Pond -¬†The One and Only Ivan -¬†Matilda -¬†The High king -¬†Holes -¬†The Higher Power of Lucky -¬†The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles -¬†Five Children and It -¬†The Mysterious Journey of Edward Tulane -¬†Book of the Dun Cow -¬†Howl’s Moving Castle -¬†Peter and Wendy -¬†The Twenty-One Balloons -¬†Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle -¬†A Wrinkle in Time -¬†Little Women -¬†The Princess Academy -¬†The Graveyard Book -¬†Charlotte’s Web -¬†Dominic -¬†Diary of a Wimpy Kid -¬†The Phantom Tollbooth -¬†My Father’s Dragon -¬†The Neddiad -¬†Anne of Green Gables -¬†Redwall -¬†The Man in the Ceiling -¬†The Wonderful Wizard of Oz -¬†Winnie the Pooh -¬†Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone¬†

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3. At Last … THE NIGHT GARDENER!

NightGardener - 3d Cover

After nine long years, The Night Gardener is finally out in the world. I am overjoyed with the support that this book has already found among both readers and reviewers.

If you are so inclined, here are some super easy things to do that will go a long way toward spreading the word:

  • Buy the Book!¬†Either for yourself or for a young reader in your life. Early sales go a long way toward helping a new book break out from the pack!¬†If you‚Äôve read and enjoyed the book, loan it to a friend‚ÄĒthe more people that know about¬†The Night Gardener¬†the better!
  • Come to an event! I‚Äôll be having a¬†launch party¬†at the CC Mellor Library in Pittsburgh on¬†Sat, May 31¬†from¬†2-4pm–children are welcome!¬†Also, if you‚Äôre a bookstore, library, or school in the Pittsburgh area, feel free to¬†contact me¬†about setting up an event!
  • Write a Review!¬†If you read and enjoyed the book, please, please,¬†please¬†take a few minutes to write a review on¬†Amazon¬†and¬†Goodreads‚ÄĒthat kind of feedback goes a long way to help get the word out!
  • Ask Your Local Bookseller for the Book.¬†With so many books out this spring, a lot of smaller bookstores won‚Äôt necessarily have a copy in stock‚ÄĒand that‚Äôs why it is SO IMPORTANT to let stores know that you want to see¬†The Night Gardener¬†on the shelf!¬†Don‚Äôt know where your nearest bookstore is?¬†Click here!
  • Request¬†The Night Gardener¬†at your Library.¬†Same as above, libraries won‚Äôt carry a book unless they know that people will check it out.¬†This has the added advantage of letting you read the book for free!¬†And who doesn‚Äôt like free?
  • Spread the word online!¬†¬†Post a link to the book on your Facebook page or blog.¬†Or you can tweet¬†this announcement.

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4. Early word on THE NIGHT GARDENER!

NG Promotional Banner 3

Reviews are rolling in for The Night Gardener, and things are looking good! Permit me to cheer for Molly and Kip: 

First the book was a Junior Library Guild selection!

Then it was named a Editor’s Pick¬†Best Book for¬†April¬†by Amazon!

Then it was named a “top ten” pick for the American Bookseller’s Association 2014 summer Indie Next list!

And that’s not all. Here are just a few reviews for the book so far:

“Lots of creepiness, memorable characters, a worthy message … make this cautionary tale one readers will not soon forget.”¬†- Kirkus,¬†STARRED REVIEW

“Auxier gives readers a spooky story with depth and dimension.”¬†-¬†School Library Journal,¬†STARRED REVIEW

“an Excellent ghost story for middle grade readers.”¬†- VOYA, “perfect ten” review

“Historical fiction and horror intertwine in this absolutely gripping story …¬†The Night Gardener¬†is the stuff of nightmares.”¬†-¬†Shelf Employed

“Auxier¬†delivers the goods with his precise descriptions of the gothic setting and teasing hints of mystery and suspense”¬†-¬†Horn Book Review

“Auxier achieves an ideal mix of adventure and horror, offering all of it in elegant, atmospheric language that forces the reader to slow down a bit and revel in both the high-quality plot and the storytelling itself.” -¬†Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“The eerie setting, the pacing of the plot and the cast of characters … makes this an ideal family read-aloud and a vacation pleasure.” -¬†Shelf-Awareness

And finally, a review from Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 blog¬†with perhaps my favorite line ever:

“It is almost as if Mr. Auxier took his whimsy, pulled out a long sharp stick, and stabbed it repeatedly in the heart and left it to die in the snow so as to give us a sublimely horrific little novel.”

Woo-hoo! Order your copy today! Or better yet, pick it up from your local bookstore!

 

 

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5. It’s a NIGHT GARDENER Book Party!

 

Click image for details:

Night Gardener Launch Invite

I’m thrilled to announce that¬†I’ll be having a Night Gardener¬†launch party on Saturday, May 31 from 2-4pm. The event will be hosted by the historic CC Mellor Library in¬†Regent Square. There will be snacks and activities¬†for children of all ages–so bring the whole family! The¬†folk¬†from Mystery Lovers Bookshop will be on hand to sell copies of both¬†Peter Nimble¬†and¬†The Night Gardener¬†for signing. Please help spread the word by clicking this link–I’d love to see as many people there as possible!

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6. AFTER THE BOOK DEAL

Banner

The Internet is full of great advice about how to sell a book, but what about after the sale? When my first book came out, I found it was surprisingly hard to find answers to some basic questions. Like most authors, I learned most of the answers through trial and error. And so in anticipation of the launch of my new novel, The Night Gardener, I’ve decided to write down everything I learned so I don’t make the same mistakes twice!

AFTER THE BOOK DEAL is a month-long blog series detailing the twenty things I wish someone had told me before entering the exciting world of children’s publishing. Each weekday from now until MAY 20, I will be posting an article on a different blog. Many of these sites will also be doing Night Gardener giveaways, so please follow along and spread the word!

THE SCHEDULE: 

WEEK ONE: Before Your Book Comes Out 
April 21 – “Finding Your Tribe” @¬†Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe
April 22 – “Do I Really Need a Headshot?” @¬†Novel Novice
April 23 – “I Hate Networking”¬†@¬†Charlotte’s Library
April 24 – “A Night at the Movies”¬†@ The Lost Entwife
April 25 – ¬†“Giveaways!” @ Smack Dab in the Middle

WEEK TWO: Your Book Launch
April 28 – “Can I have Your Autograph?” @ Haunted Orchid
April 29 – ¬†“Cinderella at the Ball” @ The O.W.L.
April 30 – “Being Heard in the Crowd” @ Mundie Moms & Mundie Kids
May 1¬†- “The Loneliest Writer in the World” @ The Misbehavin’ Librarian
May 2 – “Shutting Out the Voices” @ Shelf Employed

WEEK THREE: The Business of Being an Author
May 5 – “Back to the Grindstone” @ Word Spelunking
May 6 – “The Root of All Evil” @ The Compulsive Reader
May 7 – “Care and Feeding of Your Muse” @ Buried in Books
May 8 – “The Green-Eyed Monster” @ The Book Monsters
May 9 – “Death by 1000 Cuts” @ Waking Brain Cells

WEEK FOUR: Keeping Your Book Alive
May 12 – “A Cheering Squad of One” @ So I’m Fifty
May 13 – “This Part is Awkward” @ TBA
May 14 – “School Days” @ There’s a Book
May 15 – “Crowd Control” @ Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
May 16 – “Keeping the Magic Alive” @ Tif Talks Books

 

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7. In Which I Almost Puke in Front of a Class

My wife and I recently had a new baby, which means I have momentarily become terrible at organizing my schedule. ¬†Case in point, a few weeks ago, I had a Skype visit planned with the great Eric Carlson (@buffaloteacher), a Minnesota teacher who has read¬†Peter Nimble¬†to his class for the last three years. ¬†I love Skyping, especially for teachers as awesome as Mr. C! ¬†Here’s a picture I drew of him last year as a zombie:¬†

Mr Carlson 2

So this year we had our annual Skype visit lined up, and Mr. C had his class all excited.  Witness some awesome pictures they drew in preparation: 

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But on the day we were set to Skype … I FORGOT ABOUT IT ENTIRELY!1

Mr Carlson’s class was very forgiving, but I felt like I had to make it up to them. ¬†

So when we had our visit the following week, I added a little “punishment” for myself. ¬†I spread out a whole bunch of food from my fridge along with a bowl and spoon 2.¬†After each kid asked a question, I let them instruct me to put one ingredient into the bowl and promised to eat it at the end. ¬†Here’s what it looked like:

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I had promised to eat the entire bowl, but when push-came-to-shove, I could barely get down a single (heaping) spoonful … I may have even thrown up in my mouth a little bit while saying goodbye. ¬†

All in all, I’d say it was an AWESOME Skype visit!¬†

  1. see previous point about the newborn ‚Ü©
  2. Ingredients: Crispix, milk, maple syrup, soy sauce, catsup, mustard, ranch dressing, chocolate chips, croutons, banana peppers (and juice!), chocolate frosting, parmesan cheese. ↩

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8. Early word on THE NIGHT GARDENER!

kirkus

Well, early reviews are rolling in on The Night Gardener, and things are looking good! Permit me to cheer for Molly and Kip: 

First the book was a Junior Library Guild selection!

Then it got a STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus who said: 

“Lots of creepiness, memorable characters, a worthy message … make this cautionary tale one readers will not soon forget.”

Then it was named a Big Spring Children’s Book by Amazon!¬†

From a review at Shelf Employed: 

“Historical fiction and horror intertwine in this absolutely gripping story …¬†The Night Gardener¬†is the stuff of nightmares.”

And finally, a review from Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 blog¬†with perhaps my favorite line ever:¬†

“It is almost as if Mr. Auxier took his whimsy, pulled out a long sharp stick, and stabbed it repeatedly in the heart and left it to die in the snow so as to give us a sublimely horrific little novel.”

Woo-hoo! Pre-order your copy today! 

NightGardener_cover_final

 

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9. THREE STEPS FOR ASPIRING AUTHORS

Pic - Buried

I often get emails from people looking to break into children’s publishing. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some general advice I find myself giving again and again. Below are three steps, in order of importance, that I think writers should focus on:

1) Write a Really Good Book
First time writers don’t sell books based on partial drafts or outlines. They sell finished manuscripts. And there are a lot of finished manuscripts in the world. That means the first step is completing a book and revising it until it is airtight. Don’t expect an agent or editor to look at a sloppy manuscript and see the potential–that same agent or manager has hundreds (not an exaggeration) of other manuscripts to consider, and they’ll take the one that demonstrates the greatest professionalism and craft. Taking an example from my first book, Peter Nimble, I did about 15 complete re-writes before showing it to an agent … and then did another 3 drafts before the book went to an editor. I have yet to talk to a professional author who didn’t go through the same level of revision before finding a publisher.

2) Join SCBWI
The “Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators” (SCBWI) is a national organization with local chapters all over the country. This group is a fantastic place for both professional and aspiring writers and illustrators to gather and discuss craft and business of children’s publishing. The annual conferences are often attended by agents and editors who are looking for new books. I have a number of author friends whose careers were launched when they met an editor at an SCBWI event who requested to see their really good manuscripts (see above point).

3) Query Agents
If a lot of industries, the “it’s who you know” rule applies. Not so in publishing! Book agents read and consider manuscript submissions from unknown writers all the time–that’s their job. Nearly every writer I’ve ever met was pulled out of the “slush pile” from an agent who discovered them. Your job is to query agents who will best understand your work and be in a position to sell it. This means doing a bit of homework, by reading the Writer’s Market and finding agents who are looking for material like your book. The internet is awash with resources about how to approach agents. A good place to start might be Kidlit.com, a website run by children’s book agent Mary Kole. She answers questions about the dos and don’ts of querying better than anyone!

The above steps aren’t a guarantee of any success, but they are a good place to start! Also, I might as well link to this brief but eloquent video of Neil Gaiman talking about step one (which is really the only step that matters):

 

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10. A Bookish Craft to Help You Track Your Reading…

Too often Mary and I read library books or listen to audiobooks only to forget that we ever read them–without that spine on our bookshelves, it’s easy to forget. ¬†In 2013, Mary and I decided to start keeping a master list of every book we read … and we decided to make it GIGANTIC. We did this by painting over an old piece of thirftstore art with white primer:¬†

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We decided to leave a tree and girl on horseback just for fun: 

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Then we started writing down the titles of books that we read with a black Sharpie. I was House Scrivener because Mary has the handwriting of a serial killer:

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Our rules were pretty simple. Only write each title once (per year). That means if we both read a book or if we re-read something, it wouldn’t clutter our list:¬†

photo 4

One year into the experiment, it’s become a nice ritual. You’d be surprised how the prospect of adding to the list motivates you to finish a book! Here’s the list hanging above our piano in the library:¬†

photo 1

I like the idea that in 30 years, we will have an entire room filled with pictures like this! 

 

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11. Creative Mornings: Childhood as Source Material

Art by Ed Nacional

Art by Ed Nacional

A few weeks ago, I did a Creative Mornings talk at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum on the topic of “Childhood.” This was my attempt to connect children’s literature to a broader audience–specifically talking about what it means to work in an industry where the audience (children) are separate from the buyer (grownups). Of special interest might be the anecdote I tell about Tom Angleberger at minute 15 … an event he has since claimed didn’t occur (it totally did). Also, of course, I finish things off with a yo-yo show!¬†

Enjoy: 

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 11.59.51 AM

 

Creative Mornings is a fantastic organization. Find out about the next event in your own city and check it out! 

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12. Hear Me on Public Radio!

photo-21

Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting down with Paul Guggenheimer of Essential Pittsburgh to talk about Children’s Books. I’m a big fan of public radio, so this was a huge thrill. An excerpt from the transcript:¬†

Dazzled by the bizarre and eccentric characters of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, children’s author Jonathan Auxier has always been fascinated by peculiar storytelling.

Auxier loves his job, but admits it can sometimes be difficult to write for children of different ages because their maturity and ability are so varied.

He says reading aloud is one of the best ways to connect with a child. Not only is the time great for bonding, but reading a more complicated story to a child can expose them to a reading and thought level above their norm. He tries to juxtapose fun plot lines and characters with interesting rhetorical styles in his own work.

‚ÄúSo in the instance of Peter Nimble, the book is actually fairly dense on a word level, it‚Äôs got very complicated language structure. I was working out of a tradition of 18th century neoclassical writers‚Ķbut the story itself has a very childlike sensibility and I love mixing that.‚ÄĚ

You can hear the whole interview (12 min) on the WESA website. 

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13. THIS IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT

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A few weeks ago, I was invited to write a guest post on the website Books4YourKids about my favorite book of 2013: Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli. 

Many might disagree, but I would argue that this is perhaps one of the most important children’s books written in my lifetime.¬†Here’s an excerpt in which I discuss how this book interacts with Peter Pan:¬†

It has been observed that I am somewhat obsessive about JM Barrie‚Äôs¬†Peter Pan. More than once, people have asked me what I think about Pan adaptations and sequels written by contemporary writers. My usual response is that I think those writers could better use their time creating their own characters to discuss similar themes. Spinelli has done just that. The fugitive shadow of Peter Pan skitters all throughout¬†Hokey Pokey¬†without ever once needing to be mentioned. To every person hoping to write an ‚Äúupdated‚ÄĚ version of Oz, or Wonderland, or Grimm‚Äôs Fairy Tales, I would direct them to this book.¬†

The best response to this post came from Tom Angleberger¬†who objected that he didn’t actually think this was a book for kids (Betsy Bird wondered as much in her excellent review¬†… which is what prompted me to pick up the book in the first place). It’s an interesting question, and one that I suspect I’ll be chewing on for a long time.¬†

You can¬†click here¬†to read my full review … better yet, just read Spinelli’s book. Because it’s AWESOME.¬†

 

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14. First Day of Advent …

Having no star or angel, Max decided to crown himself King of the Christmas Tree!

Max on tree

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15. Journal Monster!

Here’s a monster from my journal…

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16. Good times at AASL!

Screen-Shot-2013-11-02-at-2.16.24-PM

I just spent a week at the AASL National Conference — a giant assembly of school librarians and authors. ¬†I had a fantastic time catching up with old friends and meeting a ton of new people. ¬†I was there to moderate a panel about Boys Reading Fantasy with Neal Shusterman, Tony Abbott, Adam Gidwitz, William Alexander, and Jon Scieszka! Here are pictures of them all dressed up as sci-fi/fantasy tropes:¬†

King Aux PrincessShusterman Harry Scieszka Gandalf Abbott 

 

 

 PirateAlexander

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Alien Gidwitz

It was a good time — it mainly consisted of the panelists making fun of me.¬† As it turns out, these five authors had incredible insights into the creation and reading of fantasy.¬† The highlight may have been when Gidwitz paraphrased some seriously brilliant Chesterton:

‚ÄúFairytales don’t tell children that dragons exist; children already know that dragons exist. Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed.‚ÄĚ
 
More pictures below. Huge thanks to MaryAnn Scheuer and Rocco Staino for putting things together! Pics below:

 aasl photo

¬†Up next — I’ll be signing books at NCTE in Boston! Hope to see you there!

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17. Beware . . . THE NIGHT GARDENER!

The time has finally come to unveil the cover of my new book! The Night Gardener¬†will be hitting stores in Spring ’14. The cover was drawn by the brilliant Patrick Arrasmith and designed by Chad Beckerman:

NightGardener_cover_final

From the jacket flap:

This much-anticipated follow-up to Jonathan Auxier’s exceptional debut, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, is a Victorian ghost story with shades of Washington Irving and Henry James. More than just a spooky tale, it’s also a moral fable about human greed and the power of storytelling.

The Night Gardener follows two abandoned Irish siblings who travel to work as servants at a creepy, crumbling English manor house. But the house and its family are not quite what they seem. Soon the children are confronted by a mysterious spectre and an ancient curse that threatens their very lives. With Auxier’s exquisite command of language, The Night Gardener is a mesmerizing read and a classic in the making.

If you are a reviewer, bookseller, or librarian who wants an ARC, please contact me: jonathan@thescop.com

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18. Peter Nimble and the Sequoyah Book Awards!

Just a quick announcement to say that Peter Nimble was shortlisted for the 2014 Sequoyah Book Award–confirming my long-held suspicion that Oklahoma readers have great taste!

For the next few months, I’ll be offering FREE SKYPE VISITS to schools in Oklahoma. If you’re a teacher in OK and want me to Skype with your students, please send me a message.2014 Sequoyah Intermediate¬†

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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19. Won’t You Be my Neighbor?

Please pass the word to any-and-all librarians you know that the historic CC Mellor Library in Pittsburgh is looking for a new children’s librarian!¬† This library is two blocks from my house and it is a truly lovely building in the middle of a charming, safe, historic neighborhood.¬†

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you should know that it is an incredibly livable city — some people (ahem, Forbes Magazine, The Economist) would even say it is the most livable in the United States. Also, it is home to Mr. Rodgers.¬† Try and tell me you don’t want to come to work in a place that looks like this:

Just to sweeten the pot: I’ll take whoever gets the job to D’s Six Pack and Dogs for dinner — you have not lived until you’ve eaten a salad with french fries on top.

You can find all the info about the position here.  Tell your friends!

 

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20. Pictures of Penny

As many of you know, a few months back, my wife and I brought home our very first human baby.¬† In advance of the birth, I had made a point of leaving Mary cute little sketches of what our baby might look like — most all of which she deemed “terrifying.”¬† I thought I’d share them with readers …

 

 

 

 

And now, here’s the real deal!¬† This is Penelope Fern Auxier.¬† Not quite as many fangs as I’d imagined …

 

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21. Reading for Writers …

Since relocating to Pittsburgh, I’ve been invited to teach at the MFA program at Hogwarts Chatham University.  This is a thrill, as my students will be actual creative writers of Children’s Literature!  It will also be a challenge.

The educational needs of creative writers are slightly different from those of straight academics.  The questions/vocabulary/theories that serve scholarship aren’t necessarily the ones that help a writer become better at their craft.1 The goal of this course will be to combine the reading list of an English Lit class with the vocabulary of a creative writing workshop. 

I’ll be writing pieces on this blog about each of the books that we’ll be discussing in class.2 Here’s the first half of our reading list.  You’re welcome to follow along!

http://images.contentreserve.com/ImageType-100/0887-1/%7BC8172072-9801-444B-969C-8C50C4784297%7DImg100.jpgThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum (1900)

I‚Äôm not actually the biggest Baum fan.¬† His books often feel like rambling journeys where each chapter has no relation to the larger story.¬† The first book in his series, however, is a welcome exception.¬† Even better, Baum‚Äôs famous introduction to that book is a great way to start a course on the genre — it‚Äôs the Declaration of Independence of Children‚Äôs Literature.

 

http://www.davidmaybury.ie/journal/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/a6.jpgThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

One of the recurring tropes in Children‚Äôs Literature is the creation of enchanted spaces — especially ones that are controlled by children.¬† What better example of this than a book that manages to create such spaces without needing to resort to magic?3

 

 

http://stevebetz.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/1556525273-huckleberry-finn-cover.jpgThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1885)

Now that last year‚Äôs Huck Finn debacle seems to have blown over, it seemed like it might be fun to explore this book — one of the rare children‚Äôs literature titles that has gained full acceptance in the larger canon.¬† From a writing perspective, it will also provide a chance to examine the quest narrative in greater detail.

 

http://www.thescop.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/peter-pan-peter-and-wendy-and-peter-pan-in-kensington-gardens-14683031.jpegPeter and Wendy by JM Barrie (1911)

My love of this book is well documented.

 

 

 

 

 

¬†http://www.thescop.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/charlottes-web-cover.gifCharlotte’s Web by EB White (1952)

I’m actually more of a Stuart Little guy myself, but with this book recently topping the School Library Journal’s list of Top 100 Children’s Books, I thought it would be worth looking at.¬† One of the things I love about Charlotte’s Web is how (seemingly) effortlessly it manages to combine prosaic American farm life and talking-animal magic — with Charlotte being the nexus between those two worlds.

 

  1. For more on this difference, you can check out my post on poetics vs hermeneutics ‚Ü©
  2. Some readers will remember that I blogged through the Children’s Literature course I taught last year. ↩
  3. My one regret is that I will not have space in the course to pair this book with its natural bookend: Bridge to Terebithia ‚Ü©

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22. Remembering Maxine …

My wife’s grandmother, Maxine Burke Markam, passed away this weekend.¬† Today is her funeral.¬† Maxine was a delightful woman who raised four spectacular children–all of whom were present when she passed.¬† She was smart, beautiful, tough, and the meanest canasta player I have ever seen.¬† Here’s a picture of us cutting a rug at our wedding five years ago:

Death is never a terribly fun thing, but without it, I’m not sure life would seem quite so wonderful.¬† All last week, I couldn’t help but remember two scenes from different plays.¬† The first is Thorton Wilder’s Our Town in which Emily has passed away in childbirth, but has been given one last to look at her old life before disappearing to her grave:¬†

EMILY:¬† It goes so fast.¬† We don’t have time to look at one another. [...] I didn’t realize.¬† So all that was going on and we never noticed.¬† Take me back — up the hill — to my grave.¬† But first:¬† Wait!¬† One more look.¬† Good-by, Good-by, world.¬† Good-by Grover’s Corners. … Mama and Papa.¬† Good-by to clocks ticking … and Mama’s sunflowers.¬† And food and coffee.¬† And new-ironed dresses and hot baths … and sleeping and waking up.¬† Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.

The second is Vladmir’s speech near the end of Waiting for Godot:

VLADMIR:  Astride of a grave and a difficult birth.  Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps.  We have time to grow old.  The air is full of our cries.

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23. Give Irony a Chance

A recent NYT or-ed piece by Christy Wampole entitled “How to Live Without Irony” has been making the rounds online.1¬† The piece is a lament for the millennial generation’s fixation on irony:

The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. [...] He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.

I feel like a piece like this crops up every year or so, and the consistent factor in all these articles is that the author feels left out of a culture that he/she does not belong to.¬† This article feels about as accurate as those that came out of 9/11 declaring that irony was “dead.”¬† If anything, the hipsters I have known have been excessively earnest people … the only way you might think otherwise is if you were extrapolating their entire person from their clothes, facial hair, and twitter feeds.¬† Lady Gaga may wear a meat dress, but she also gives speeches about bullying.¬† Those same smirking “harlequins” were the ones who started the Occupy movement.

More importantly, I disagree with the premise that earnestness is inherently superior to irony.¬† Since when has the ability to laugh — especially at oneself — been a bad thing?2¬† The author points to 4 year-old children and animals as exemplars of earnest behavior.¬† From where I stand, those are not necessarily things for adults to aspire to.¬† To celebrate humanity is to celebrate the ways we are different from animals — irony is one of the ways we can do that.

Sure, there’s a possible danger to too much detachment.¬† And, as I’ve discussed before, it can be used to hurt people.¬† But none of these things are unique to one generation.


  1. You know it’s popular when my father emails it to me. ‚Ü©
  2. Re-reading Something Wicked This Way Comes this October (something I do every year), I was struck anew by the simple idea that evil is powerless in the face of smile. ‚Ü©

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24. Viva Las Vegas!

This weekend, I had the pleasure of hanging out with thousands of English teachers at the NCTE Annual Convention.1¬† I’m not a fan of Vegas, but I am a fan of English teachers, and it was a fun time packed with parties and luncheons and various meet-and-greets.¬† I was able to reconnect with authors like Shannon Hale, Cecil Castellucci, and Jennifer Holm.¬† I may or may not have teared up when I finally got to meet Jon Szieszka.

 

Abrams also had me at their booth signing copies of Peter Nimble, which they were selling at cost.¬† In a convention hall awash in free ARCs, even discounted books are a tough sell — I felt like I needed to find a way to draw passers-by, which led to this:

I had a stack of 11×17″ paper and a pretty steady line of people eager to receive crappy portraits — so much fun!

The highlight of the weekend was getting to finally meet the geniuses behind the Nerdy Book Club! Colby, Donalyn, and Cindy threw a party on Friday, and it was a blast.  The NBC blog has a convention wrap-up, including a video of me doing an impromptu yo-yo show:

 


  1. The event felt very similar to ALA Annual, but with a somewhat smaller publisher presence … which actually made it easier to connect with people. ‚Ü©

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25. Mother’s Day

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d re-post an older piece about how my mum tricked me into becoming a lifelong reader …

 

Last month I wrote a post about how my father shaped me as a reader — so I thought today it would be appropriate to talk about my mum.1 ¬†That’s her in the photo, reading to my cousins … but it’s a pretty accurate picture of my own childhood.

I come from a family of serious readers.¬†¬†When my mother was growing up in the middle of South Dakota farmland, she read every book in her local library. ¬†My parents didn’t have much money growing up, but they did have stacks upon stacks of books. ¬†In fact, it wasn’t until I got to college that I learned that reading at the dinner table was considered rude. ¬†Auxiers were readers — end of story.

Or at least that’s how I remembered it. ¬†But recently, I learned something from my mother that made me take a second look at my upbringing … and made me love her all the more:

It happened right before I entered second grade. ¬†It was the end of summer, just before class would start, and my parents sat me down to explain that I would not be going back to my elementary school. ¬†Instead I would take a year off for something called “home schooling”. ¬†At the time, my mother was completing an MA in Gifted Education, and I suspected at once that this whole home schooling thing was something she had made up. ¬†Not that I objected. ¬†As I recall it, my home school year consisted of playing Construx and memorizing¬†lists of random facts she fed me — art history, prepositions, the presidents, and other things no seven year-old had any business knowing.2¬†¬† At the end of the year, I went back to regular school. ¬†Only I didn’t go into third grade with my former classmates … instead I was put into a second-grade class with kids that were younger. ¬†It was only then that I realized the truth:

I had been held back.

I remember being confused at why my parents might have thought me unfit for the rigors of second grade. ¬†I mean, it’s second grade. ¬†It wasn’t like I couldn’t handle the workload. ¬†So why hold me back? ¬†Whenever I asked my mother, she would just shrug and say that she had wanted to spend some more time with me.

My second try at second grade was a blast. ¬†The big thing I remember was a year-long reading competition.¬†¬†Students were required to fill out little book reports, and the kid with the most book reports at the end of the year got an awesome plastic trophy.3 ¬†My parents, who are some of the least competitive people I’ve ever known, were uncharacteristically invested in the event — there were constant trips to the library, and a gentle-but-unmistakable pressure to make sure I handed in those reports. ¬†All told, I read 88 books that year. ¬†Even better than that trophy (which I totally won), were all the great authors I had discovered! ¬†Over those months, I had transitioned from¬†stupid formulaic mysteries to Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, John Fitzgerald, and Lloyd Alexander.

It wasn’t until almost 20 years later that I made the connection between these two memories.¬†¬†It came while I was teasing my mother for taking me out of school just so¬†I could learn to say all my prepositions in a single breath (which I can still do). ¬†To this she replied: “I couldn’t care less about prepositions … I took you out of school because you didn’t like reading.”

Huh?  I loved reading!  What was she talking about?!

My mother¬†explained that even though I knew¬†how to read as a kid, my teacher had warned her that I didn’t seem to enjoy it very much. ¬†And so she made an executive decision: ¬†pull me out of school and FORCE me to love reading. ¬†Every single day she would sit down and read a book to me, and then she would make me read a book myself. ¬†After that, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted (Construx!).

To this day, I have no memory of this home school reading regiment.  But when I think about the year that followed, about all the wonderful books that I devoured, I start to see that it may have worked.  Thanks, mum.


  1. Yes, Canadians actually say “mum.” Why? Because we’re adorable, that’s why. ‚Ü©
  2. Mary has since informed me that¬†lots of kids are forced to learn prepositions — but nobody can touch¬†this guy for shere awesomeness. ‚Ü©
  3. In my day, you had to earn those dollar-store trophies, damnit! ↩

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