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Many kids think of writing as a burden and a chore rather than as a pleasurable experience. Here are some suggestions to help you motivate your students to get them writing. • Professional writers choose their own topics and story ideas; they write about things they care about. In our current test oppressive culture, students have little opportunity to choose their own writing topics. Whenever possible, offer your students choices within a given writing assignment. If, after being given a writing assignment, a student comes up with a legitimately better idea, be flexible; allow them to bend the assignment to meet their interests. • Fight to keep creative writing projects in your classroom and your school’s curriculum. With state testing mandates, many teachers have little time to spend on creative writing projects. Your students need to experience writing for joy and pleasure, just like they need to experience reading and books in a pleasurable atmosphere.
• Introducing kids to rich and entertaining children’s literature is the best way to get kids excited about reading and books. Creating their own stories is one of the best ways you can get your students excited about writing.
• The esteemed writer Virginia Woolf suggested that a writer needs "a room of one’s own." Writers need privacy in order to work and school is, conversely, a communal experience. What’s to be done? First, buck the team work trend and have your students work independently on their own writing projects and assignments. Second, see if there is some way you can allow your students to find their own writing space either in the classroom or in the school library, even if they can only use the space on occasion. Third, contact your students' parents and ask them to help their children find a special place at home to write. You may want to print and make multiple copies of Creating a Home Atmosphere That Supports Great Writing, and give a copy to each of your students’ parents. It will help them create an atmosphere at home to support their children’s writing.
• Be a role model. If you want your students to think that writing is a pleasurable activity, then you should try to write, too, and let them see you writing. Participate yourself in the creative writing projects you give your students and let them hear the results of your attempts, after they have completed their assignments. If you have the courage to share your writing, they will follow your example!
One day in 1668, the English diarist Samuel Pepys went shopping for a book to give his young French-speaking wife. He saw a book he thought she might enjoy, L’École des femmes or The School of Women, “but when I came to look into it, it is the most bawdy, lewd book that ever I saw,” he wrote, “so that I was ashamed of reading in it.” Not so ashamed, however, that he didn’t return to buy it for himself three weeks later — but “in plain binding…because I resolve, as soon as I have read it, to burn it, that it may not stand in the list of books, nor among them, to disgrace them if it should be found.” The next night he stole off to his room to read it, judging it to be “a lewd book, but what doth me no wrong to read for information sake (but it did hazer my prick para stand all the while, and una vez to decharger); and after I had done it, I burned it, that it might not be among my books to my shame.” Pepys’s coy detours into mock-Spanish or Franglais fail to conceal the orgasmic effect the lewd book had on him, and his is the earliest and most candid report we have of one reader’s bodily response to the reading of pornography. But what is “pornography”? What is its history? Was there even such a thing as “pornography” before the word was coined in the nineteenth century?
The announcement, in early 2013, of the establishment of a new academic journal to be called Porn Studies led to a minor flurry of media reports and set off, predictably, responses ranging from interest to outrage by way of derision. One group, self-titled Stop Porn Culture, circulated a petition denouncing the project, echoing the “porn wars” of the 1970s and 80s which pitted anti-censorship against anti-pornography activists. Those years saw an eruption of heated, if not always illuminating, debate over the meanings and effects of sexual representations; and if the anti-censorship side may seem to have “won” the war, in that sexual representations seem to be inescapable in the age of the internet and social media, the anti-pornography credo that such representations cause cultural, psychological, and physical harm is now so widespread as almost to be taken for granted in the mainstream press.
The brave new world of “sexting” and content-sharing apps may have fueled anxieties about the apparent sexualization of popular culture, and especially of young people, but these anxieties are anything but new; they may, in fact, be as old as culture itself. At the very least, they go back to a period when new print technologies and rising literacy rates first put sexual representations within reach of a wide popular audience in England and elsewhere in Western Europe: the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Most readers did not leave diaries, but Pepys was probably typical in the mixture of shame and excitement he felt when erotic works like L’École des filles began to appear in London bookshops from the 1680s on. Yet as long as such works could only be found in the original French or Italian, British censors took little interest in them, for their readership was limited to a linguistic elite. It was only when translation made such texts available to less privileged readers — women, tradesmen, apprentices, servants — that the agents of the law came to view them as a threat to what the Attorney General, Sir Philip Yorke, in an important 1728 obscenity trial, called the “public order which is morality.” The pornographic or obscene work is one whose sexual representations violate cultural taboos and norms of decency. In doing so it may lend itself to social and political critique, as happened in France in the 1780s and 90s, when obscene texts were used to critique the corruptions of the ancien régime; but the pornographic can also be used as a vehicle of debasement and violence, notably against women — which is one historical reality behind the US porn wars of the 1970s.
Pornography’s critics in the late twentieth or early twenty-first centuries have had less interest in the written word than in visual media; but recurrent campaigns to ban books by such authors as Judy Blume which aim to engage candidly with younger readers on sexual concerns suggest that literature can still be a battleground, as it was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Take, for example, the words of the British attorney general Dudley Ryder in the 1749 obscenity trial of Thomas Cannon’s Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify’d, a paean to male same-sex desire masquerading as an attack. Cannon, Ryder declared, aimed to “Debauch Poison and Infect the Minds of all the Youth of this Kingdom and to Raise Excite and Create in the Minds of all the said Youth most Shocking and Abominable Ideas and Sentiments”; and in so doing, Ryder contends, Cannon aimed to draw readers “into the Love and Practice of that unnatural detestable and odious crime of Sodomy.” Two and a half centuries ago, Ryder set the terms of our ongoing porn wars. Denouncing the recent profusion of sexual representations, he insists that such works create dangerous new desires and inspire their readers to commit sexual crimes of their own.
Then as now, attitudes towards sexuality and sexual representations were almost unbridgeably polarized. A surge in the popularity of pornographic texts was countered by increasingly severe campaigns to suppress them. Ironically, however, those very attempts to suppress could actually bring the offending work to a wider audience, by exciting their curiosity. No copies of Cannon’s “shocking and abominable” work survive in their original form; but the text has been preserved for us to read in the indictment that Ryder prepared for the trial against it. Eighty years earlier, after his encounter with L’École des femmes, Pepys guiltily burned the book, but at the same time immortalized the sensual, shameful experience of reading it. Of such contradictions is the long history of porn wars made.
A little animated GIF fun to shake the dust off the PBAA blog. It's funny how picky different online places are about GIFs. Twitter accepts GIFS - Facebook does not - I thought that Blogger had stopped accepting them, but it turns out they're okay again. Twitter takes a GIF and converts it into a .mov file. Whew!
Plotting is probably the hardest thing I do. I can explain to you 29 different plot templates. And I often write about plotting a novel. Theory, I know. And I know that I can plot a story pretty well. It’s just HARD.
The problem is that there are a series of inter-connected scenes which build to a climax. The structure of events, though, needs to progress from an introduction of a character goal, dramatizing problems and obstacles to getting that goal, and then, finally some resolution, either a happy or sad ending.
OK. I can slot events into a novel structure from a structural viewpoint. For example, at the mid-point of a story, the hero’s journey, the Snowflake method and other plot paradigms might ask you to provide a bleak moment for the main character. There should be a mini-death: the death of hope–the character will never reach your goal; the death of a feeling of safety, and so on.
Knowing that is easy. The exact type of mini-death that is best for the current WIP, and figuring out how to dramatize that event (Show, Don’t Tell), is hard.
Storytellers Statue on Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure Park. One of the most amazing American storytellers that ever lived.
We are in the Business of Storytelling
What’s my answer to this straight-laced method of working? Storytelling.
Several articles recently reminded me that I am not just a writer, but a writer of stories. I am getting way to hung up on the theory and I am forgetting that i can just tell the story and have fun with it. Sure–I know that certain plot elements will make the story stronger, but those things are killing my joy in writing. So, I started telling my story.
Once upon a time, there were two water worlds. One world—Rison by name—was dying, the result of misguided scientists trying to act as God and control the natural forces of the planet. The inhabitants knew their time was limited and sought a refuge, a new home. The other water world—called Earth—caught the Risonian’s attention because the inhabitants only lived on land. Surely, they could share their water, the only place the creatures from the dying world would ask for.
Ah, but therein lies the problem. Sharing.
How do creatures put aside their own fears and self-interest and share? And, how can creatures do so willingly? When would the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term problems.
This could cause a war: if you don’t give us room on your planet, maybe we’ll just take over your planet.
The voice isn’t right. There’s not an opening scene. But right now, none of that matters because I don’t know the story. The first draft is to tell you the story; every draft after that is the question of how to craft the story in the most dramatic and compelling way for your readers. Right now, I’m just trying to tell a story. Crafting that into a novel will come later. Come. Listen to my story. . .
A side note: Did you know that if you have an iPhone, you can ask Siri to tell you a bedtime story. She’s told me so many bedtime stories, that she refuses to do it again–unless I beg.
Douglas Florian is a poet and artist who has created poetry picture books that explore a wide variety of subjects. Over the years I have greatly enjoyed reading these books, and it is interesting to see how he applies his considerable talent to take on a new topic that interests him.
Birds truly are remarkable animals. They come in a dazzling array of colors, live on every continent, and make their homes in all kinds of places. In this wonderful picture book Douglas Florian pairs short poems with his artwork to give readers a true celebration of birds.
Over the millennia birds have evolved to suit many kinds of environments. Some birds, like the egret, sail on water and then rest on the beach making it seem as if there is a “feathered hat” lying on the sand. Dippers love to dip and dive in waterfalls. They are so aquatic that one wonders if they would be happy to “trade / Their oily wings for flippers.” They are such good swimmers that it is possible that the little birds might “think that they are fish.”
Birds come in all shapes and sizes. The spoonbill is tall and thin with a beak that does indeed look like a long-handled spoon. In his poem about this rather odd looking species, Douglas Florian wonders if the spoonbill uses its bill “for stirring tea” or does it “use it as a scoop / For eating peas and drinking soup.”
The stork has a bill that is perfectly suited for the environment it lives in. Wading through shallow water, the bird uses it rapier like bill to stab frogs and other creatures. Woodpeckers also have beaks that are perfectly adapted so that they can get to their chosen food - insects that live in wood and sap that runs through wood. Not only are these beaks perfect for creating holes, but woodpeckers also use them to communicate.
With clever touches of humor and insightful descriptions, this collection of poems will give young readers a colorful picture of twenty-one bird speci
Previously, you learned about what it takes to serve on the Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults committee. Here, some of the current Amazing Audiobooks committee members explain why they love to listen.
Sarah Hashimoto is serving on her first year as a committee member:
I remember listening to The Hunger Games when it first came out on audio in 2008. I was new to audios at the time and was unprepared for how much of an impact they can make. I was listening and gardening when I came to the scene just after Rue has died, when Katniss receives the bread from Rue’s people. It’s such a poignant scene, but the audio version really brought it to life for me. I ended up weeping into my garden gloves, creating a scene of my own!
My favorite audiobook narrators (in no particular order) are:
Kirby Heyborne, so great at producing multiple accents and characterizations.
Fiona Hardingham, who is able to convey nearly palpable emotional anguish.
Lincoln Hoppe, who has a gentle, warm voice that is a pleasure to listen to.
Katherine Kellgren, the narrator of L.A. Meyers’ Bloody Jack series. She does an amazing job in capturing Jacky’s indomitable, feisty spirit.
Allan Corduner, who narrates The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. A perfect fit!
Simon Jones, who has narrated some of my favorite audiobooks, including Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy. He is a virtuoso at conveying sadness, anger, and sly sarcasm.
Cindy Vanderbrink is also serving one her first year as part of the committee:
I clearly remember listening to audiobooks (on cassette!) soon after I became a children’s librarian in the mid 1990’s. I’ve always loved books but audios changed my reading habits forever. The first audiobook I listened to was Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples and narrated by Christina Moore. After tearing through the audio, I was devastated to find that my library’s copy of the sequel, Haveli, was damaged and I had to request an interlibrary loan copy. The wait was excruciating. Once Haveli arrived, I sped through only to be devastated by it ending too quickly. I was so impressed with Christina Moore’s narration, that I listened to several other titles she performed. One of those was Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park. I clearly remember listening to this title in the car. I would be laughing one minute and crying the next. Other drivers must have thought I was certifiable!
Colleen Seisser is the current chair of the Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, and this is her second year serving as a voting member:
I love audios books because I struggle with being a slow reader. I love to read, but am so frustrated when I love a book but it takes me so long to finish. I discovered audiobooks about 8 years ago, when I was working at a middle school library with a librarian who served on the Amazing Audiobooks committee. She was telling me about the audiobook called Twilight, that she just listened to, and that I might also like it. I was hesitant, but it made my summer road trip to South Carolina more enjoyable, so I asked her for more audiobook recommendations. At that time she suggested Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan and Cupid by Julius Lester. Both of these audios are truly amazing productions! And that was the start of my love for audios. I realized that I could listen not only while driving, but I could also listen at home while walking my dog and cleaning. \Listening allowed me to finish books in a more timely manner, and when I listen to audiobooks my attention is always captured and held throughout the book.
When it comes to some of my favorite narrators, I always say that I love a narrator that makes me feel like I am listening to a friend tell me a story. It’s that quality that allows you to be completely engrossed in the story. Recently, I have really enjoyed audios narrated by Fiona Hardingham and Julia Whelan. I have also found it fascinating when I find an author that can really read their work well. A couple example of my favorites are Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens and D.C. Pierson’s Crap Kingdom.
Sylvia Vardell is serving on her second year as an Amazing Audiobooks committee member and has put together this amusing list as to what she likes most about audiobooks:
The Twelve Don’ts of Audiobooks: A Tongue in Cheek List
1. Don’t double your exposure to good books by listening to AND reading books.
2. Don’t let someone else read to you when you can read yourself.
3. Don’t polish your understanding of language by listening to an audiobook.
4. Don’t get exposed to stories from other cultures by listening to them first.
5. Don’t pass the time on long road trips or during difficult hospital stays by listening to a good audiobook.
6. Don’t build your listening vocabulary with audiobooks. You can figure out how words are pronounced just by seeing them.
7. Don’t let reluctant or striving readers get exposed to a whole book by listening to it.
8. Don’t let good or fluent readers get lazy by listening to a good audiobook.
9. Don’t listen to a book that you probably wouldn’t choose to read in the printed version.
10. Don’t let a whole class listen to a good audiobook at the same time.
11. Don’t pay attention to winners and selections of the Odyssey Award, Audie Awards, Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, or Notable Children’s Recordings. What do they know?
12. Don’t expect to lose yourself in a good story. Just avoid movies and music too while you’re at it.
[With a nod to Dean Schneider and Robin Smith for “Unlucky Arithmetic: Thirteen Ways to Raise a Nonreader” which appeared in Horn Book March/April 2001. (Found at http://archive.hbook.com/pdf/articles/13ways.pdf)]
Today is the day the curtain rises on Act III of my life.
Act II ended when I turned in the keys to my philosophy department office at the University of Colorado on the final day of May and ended my 22-year tenure as a professor there. This summer has been one long sweet intermission leading up to this milestone birthday and to this coming Monday, when classes begin again at CU and I won't be there. And now Act III begins, the best act of all.
I started a new little Act III notebook to write my goals for Act III and little bits of wisdom to guide me along the way. Much of the wisdom came to me via my sister, Cheryl, who posts a wonderful quote every day on Facebook from some famous person in honor of his or her birthday. Of late, so many of them have been perfect nuggets of Act III wisdom.
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is give us." Tolkien
"Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year." Emerson
"Look closely at the present you are constructing. It should look like the future you are dreaming." Alice Walker
And this one I clipped from the most recent issue of the Oprah magazine: "On the day I die, will I be glad I did the thing I'm doing now?"
The theme for Act III is the awareness of mortality and how it increases the preciousness of each moment and gives a new urgency to the question of how we spend our days. I no longer have any time to squander.
Now, it's important to be clear on what counts as "squandering." An afternoon spent reading in a hammock is not a wasted afternoon. An evening spent walking with a friend or a dog is not a wasted evening. A morning spent gazing out at the mountains is not a wasted morning. At the end of my life, I'll be glad I did all those things. My four pillars have always been the same, the four things that make every day a joyous one for me: writing, reading, walking, friends. Those will be what structure my third act as well.
But Act III is also a last chance for even bigger adventures. If I'm going to live in a garret in Paris, or go on a walking tour of children's literature sites in England, or write the best book I've ever written, I'd better do it now.
Of course I know that Act III will also bring with it the challenges and undeniable losses that come with age. In case I had forgotten, I got a birthday email this morning from the Boulder Institute for Sports Medicine, where I had my broken foot treated this past spring, a seeming reminder that they're standing ready for my upcoming wrenched shoulders and fractured hips. Thanks for the nudge, Boulder Institute for Sports Medicine, to savor every single day that I can walk unaided, to savor every night that I can sleep without pain. And without challenges and losses, what would be the plot of Act III? Any writer knows that the ending is only sweeter for some struggles along the way.
At least that's what I'm telling myself on this beautiful morning of my 60th birthday, as I await with the excitement of a small child (and the hard-earned wisdom of a woman no longer young) for what the next thirty or forty years will bring.
There’s a reason I got stuck on Patty’s Motor Car when I was reviewing the Patty Fairfield books. A couple of reasons, I guess. And if you want to look at it that way, the reasons’ names are Philip Van Reypen and Christine Farley.
I’m a weirdo who spends a lot of time thinking about things like how Patty Fairfield’s suitors fit into the structure of the series, and I think there’s a turning point here, a two-book transition between between the first seven books of the series and the last eight. Everything through Patty’s Pleasure Trip is about Patty the kid. Then, in Patty’s Success, Wells pushes Patty into the real world by making her deal with the job market. Then she introduces Christine and Phil, apparently for the purpose of splitting up Patty and Mr. Hepworth. This book brings Christine and Phil closer–and for the record, I don’t actually dislike Christine, just what she represents–and moves Patty further into the world by giving her mobility, in the form of an electric car.
I wonder a lot whether Wells seriously considered Phil as a possible endgame suitor for Patty. I find him so consistently awful, but I can’t find any sign that Wells agrees, unless writing him as a reckless, selfish manipulator who thinks he can get away with anything because he always has before counts.
Um, so, yeah. I hate Phil Van Reypen so much. You can take that as a given, although I have no doubt I’ll manage to remind you. Anyway, the next book changes the trajectory of the series a little, but I find it difficult to read these two books that push Patty towards Phil, because he is the worst. I started keeping a journal again shortly before I started rereading this book and now it’s full of “WORST”s in relation to Phil. In fact, if you looked at my journal, you’d think the whole book was instances of Phil being awful alternating with wordless conversations between Patty and Mr. Hepworth. And it is, kind of, but some other stuff happens, too.
So, this car company holds a contest: they put out a book of puzzles and riddles and things, and the person who sends in the most complete and correct set of answers by the deadline wins an electric car. Patty, with a bit of help from Kenneth Harper, a lot of help from Phil, and a bit of important last minute help from Mr. Hepworth, submits a set of answers and–you noticed the title, right?–wins the car.
The Fairfields move to the Jersey shore for the summer, and Patty gets to drive her car around a bunch, and we’re introduced to Mona Galbraith, who Wells never actually describes as nouveau riche. Instead Wells calls her “pushing,” and says her house and her clothes are unnecessarily fancy, but it’s cool, we all know what she means.
But yeah, other than that it’s all Phil getting Patty into scrapes, which he sometimes also gets hor out of, and also there’s a delightfully uncomfortable conversation between Patty and Christine where Christine tries to get Patty to acknowledge that Mr. Hepworth is in love with her and Patty says some stuff that’s one step removed from repeating “I’m not having this conversation,” over and over again. It’s pretty great.
Anyway, I hate Phil Van Reypen, but the rest of this book is pretty fun.
Meet the woman behind Grove Music Online, Anna-Lise Santella. We snagged a bit of Anna-Lise’s time to sit down with her and find out more about her own musical passions and research.
Do you play any musical instruments? Which ones?
My main instrument is violin, which I’ve played since I was eight. I play both classical and Irish fiddle and am currently trying to learn bluegrass. In a previous life I played a lot of pit band for musical theater. I’ve also worked as a singer and choral conductor. These days, though, you’re more likely to find a mandolin or guitar in my hands.
Do you specialize in any particular area or genre of music?
My research interests are pretty broad, which is why I enjoy working in reference so much. Currently I’m working on a history of women’s symphony orchestras in the United States between 1871 and 1945. They were a key route for women seeking admission into formerly all-male orchestras like the Chicago Symphony. After that, I’m hoping to work on a history of the Three Arts Clubs, a network of residential clubs that housed women artists in cities in the US and abroad. The clubs allowed female performers to safely tour or study away from their families by giving them secure places to live while on the road, places to rehearse and practice, and a community of like-minded people to support them. In general, I’m interested in the ways public institutions have affected and responded to women as performers.
What artist do you have on repeat at the moment?
I tend to have my listening on shuffle. I like not being sure what’s coming next. That said, I’ve been listening to Tune-Yards’ (a.k.a. Merill Garbus) latest album an awful lot lately. Neko Case with the New Pornographers and guitarist/songwriter/storyteller extraordinaire Jim White are also in regular rotation.
What was the last concert/gig you went to?
I’m lucky to live not far from the bandshell in Prospect Park and I try to catch as many of the summer concerts there as I can. The last one I attended was Neutral Milk Hotel, although I didn’t stay for the whole thing. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Nickel Creek concert. I love watching Chris Thile play, although he makes me feel totally inadequate as a mandolinist.
How do you listen to most of the music you listen to? On your phone/mp3 player/computer/radio/car radio/CDs?
Mostly on headphones. I’m constantly plugged in, which makes me not a very good citizen, I think. I’m trying to get better about spending some time just listening to the city. But there’s something about the delivery system of headphones to ears that I like – music transmitted straight to your head makes you feel like your life has a soundtrack. I especially like listening on the subway. I’ll often be playing pieces I’m trying to learn on violin or guitar and trying to work out fingerings, which I’m pretty sure makes me look like an insane person. Fortunately insane people are a dime a dozen on the subway.
Do you find that listening to music helps you concentrate while you work, or do you prefer silence?
I like listening while I work, but it has to be music I find fairly innocuous, or I’ll start thinking about it and analyzing it and get distracted from what I’m trying to do. Something beat driven with no vocals is best. My usual office soundtrack is a Pandora station of EDM.
Has there been any recent music research or scholarship on a topic that has caught your eye or that you’ve found particularly innovative?
In general I’m attracted to interdisciplinary work, as I like what happens when ideologies from one field get applied to subject matter of another – it tends make you reevaluate your methods, to shake you out of the routine of your thinking. Right now I’ve become really interested in the way in which we categorize music vs. noise and am reading everything I can on the subject from all kinds of perspectives – music cognition, acoustics, cultural theory. It’s where neuroscience, anthropology, philosophy and musicology all come together, which, come to think of it, sounds like a pretty dangerous intersection. Currently I’m in the middle of The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies (2012) edited by Trevor Pinch and Karin Bijsterveld. At the same time, I’m rereading Jacques Attali’s landmark work Noise: The Political Economy of Music (1977). We have a small music/neuroscience book group made up of several editors who work in music and psychology who have an interest in this area. We’ll be discussing the Attali next month.
Who are a few of your favorite music critics/writers?
There are so many – I’m a bit of a criticism junkie. I work a lot with period music journalism in my own research and I love reading music criticism from the early 20th century. It’s so beautifully candid — at times sexy, cruel, completely inappropriate — in a way that’s rare in contemporary criticism. A lot of the reviews were unsigned or pseudonymous, so I’m not sure I have a favorite I can name. There’s a great book by Mark N. Grant on the history of American music criticism called Maestros of the Pen that I highly recommend as an introduction. For rock criticism, Ellen Willis’columns from the Village Voice are still the benchmark for me, I think. Of people writing currently, I like Mark Gresham (classical) and Sasha Frere-Jones (pop). And I like to argue with Alex Ross and John von Rhein.
I also like reading more literary approaches to musical writing. Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful is a poetic, semi-fictional look at jazz, with a mix of stories about legendary musicians like Duke Ellington and Lester Young interspersed with an analytical look at jazz. And some of my favorite writing about music is found in fiction. Three of my favorite novels use music to tell the story. Richard Powers’ The Time of Our Singing uses Marian Anderson’s 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial as the focal point of a story that alternates between a musical mixed-race family and the story of the Civil Rights movement itself. In The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem writes beautifully about music of the 1970s that mediates between nearly journalistic detail of Brooklyn in the 1970s and magical realism. And Kathryn Davies’ The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf contains some of the best description of compositional process that I’ve come across in fiction. It’s a challenge to evoke sound in prose – it’s an act of translation – and I admire those who can do it well.
The following is a note from our Publisher, Jason Low, published in this month’s e-newsletter:
It’s been a hard few weeks for those of us following the news out of Ferguson, Missouri. While the exact details of Michael Brown’s death remain unknown, we can already see how this latest incident fits into a larger narrative in this country in which people of color are routinely discriminated against and subject to violence based on the color of their skin. Healing and change cannot begin until we as a country acknowledge the role racism plays not just in events like Michael Brown’s death, but in the everyday lived experiences of the 37% of America that is not white.
From a distance, it can seem like our book-filled corner of the world doesn’t have much to do with Michael Brown’s death, but we know better. The need for more diverse books and better representation is urgent. Poor representation doesn’t just damage self-esteem and confidence of children of color, it also perpetuates a skewed version of society as a whole. How can true equality ever exist if we are literallynot even on the same page? Promoting diverse books is about creating a safer space for all children.
There are no easy ways to teach children about what’s happening in Ferguson, but here are couple links we’ve come across that help illuminate the issues and, perhaps, let us find teachable moments:
And so, the wheel turns. My eldest has moved to college. Although my Lovely Wife (LW) tells me we have to keep her room intact because she will still come home, I remember that I never lived at home after I left for college. I am somewhat sad about that, but we’ve been prepping for this and hoping she would take flight someday. It’s just hard to watch the baby condor drop off the ledge knowing the perilous plunge that awaits.
I’m taking it pretty well, actually. LW, not so much. Everything in the house seems to remind her that one of her babies has left the nest. Tears, oh there have been tears. I don’t understand tears, nor do I deal with them very well. I remind LW that she’s always got me… forever… Somehow, that doesn’t seem to help.
After moving our collegian, we had to take our little patient in for treatment where she and mom stayed a few days. While they were gone, I happened into the pantry and realized LW must not have been there since baby condor left. If food packaging could form a face, every piece of junk food in there conspired to draw our missing daughter – even to me and I’m oblivious to the most obvious of things.
This was bad! I couldn’t let LW see this, she would cry for days. It all had to go, but the cheapskate in me said I also couldn’t throw out all of the food. Only one option remained. A 24 hour binge of Munchos and Dr. Pepper.
Have you ever read the nutrition label on those things? DON’T! You can gain 3 pounds just from holding the bag too long. They don’t list things by proportion, otherwise the label would read something like this:
How they bond the ingredients I will never know. Anyway, I polished off the first bag for breakfast and washed it down with three Dr. Peppers. I checked the remaining inventory and was disheartened to discover that LW must have decided to stock up to try to lure the girl to forsake college and stay with us. Either that or she suspected a Y2k15 disaster and wanted to be prepared. Our pantry was like a saferoom.
This is where having many offspring should pay off! I enlisted the help of the remaining children. When I explained the dilemma, I got more “Oh, Dad” eye rolls than the average game of nine-ball. One took a Dr. Pepper before she left, so I was down to hoarder’s surplus minus one. Alone, I dug in for the day.
In the late evening, I was sure a trip the emergency room was in order. The pantry was reverting back to a faceless state, and my stomach was screaming something in Idahoan. I was sweating a substance that looked like maple syrup, which can’t be good. I put in a call to Poison Control where a kind gentleman told me there was no known toxicity in the combination, but urged me to go to the hospital if I felt light-headed. That’s the last thing I remember before passing out amongst the crumbs of the last bag.
When I came to, it was time to go and pick up LW and the youngest. I used the shower squeegee to remove the syrup-sweat and when I arrived, they were ready to go. The trip home was uneventful, I successfully hid the tick and slurred speech caused by sugar intake. While I was unloading the car, LW stopped me.
“Where are the snacks for the party?”
I shrugged my shoulders and grunted. I didn’t ask ‘what party’, I’m sure I’d been told.
“The pantry was full of them.”
“I dunno,” I replied without making eye contact.
“Well, we need more for the party Saturday. Can you go to the store?”
They say never go to the store hungry. I went full! And I bought $57 worth of Dr. Pepper and Munchos, feeling bloated and quite resentful. Even after all the sweets, this was a bitter pill to swallow.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips, a New York Times Bestselling author of over twenty novels, writes about how reading The Boxcar Children as a young girl helped shape her love of reading for pleasure:
The Boxcar Children is the book that changed my life. An exaggeration? Nope. Cross my heart. I was seven years old and in second grade. Learning to read had been a terrible struggle for me, and my seven-year-old brain could not comprehend reading for pleasure. And then Mrs. Martin began reading The Boxcar Children to the class at the end of each school day.
I was enraptured with the story from the first page, and to this day, I remember the sick feeling in my stomach when the school bell rang, and Mrs. Martin closed the book—the story UNFINISHED. Then, the agonizing wait through the next day for the magical moment—would it ever arrive?—when she would open the book again.
After that introduction, how could I not beg my mother—not that it took much begging—to take me to the library to get Surprise Island. And then The Yellow House Mystery. My lifelong love of reading had begun.
I don’t share every letter, as there can be some repetition. But I quite enjoyed this one from Ashley, who, like me, is also a writer. I replied:
It is so nice to hear from a fellow writer – even if, well, you are not exactly a “fellow” at all. I don’t think the “fellow” part is important anyway. But I dither.
I mean to say:
Thank you for your detailed and wildly entertaining letter. I’m grateful that you enjoyed my book, BYSTANDER, and that you took the time to write to me. I realize from the heading that it was your “Summer Reading Letter,” but you obviously didn’t mail it in, so to speak. It felt genuine to me. And, yes, it was mailed.
(Sorry, weird mood.)
You sound a little like my daughter, Maggie, who is entering 8th grade. She plays soccer and basketball and, like you, is a 100% effort type of person. You can’t go wrong when you give your best. I love that about her. She is also sunny and optimistic, like you, whereas I can get a little gloomy at times, often thinking that it’s about to rain.
I’m glad, too, that you realize the importance of teachers. They come in all sizes and shapes, it’s true, and some are great while others are barely bearable, but when we can make a real connection with one, the entire world can open up in a new way. It’s amazing, really. As an adult, I find that I am more and more grateful to those people from long ago, those teachers and mentors, who gave me so much of themselves. They impacted me, they make a difference. Such a powerful gift – and a great, honorable profession.
Of course, I guess there is a message to BYSTANDER, though I sort of hate to see it reduced to that. It’s a story, and I hope for readers to become involved in the characters, to step into their shoes, and see the dynamic from different angles. I want the reader to reach his or her own conclusions.
Since you asked, many readers have asked if I was planning on a sequel. Short answer: no. Longer answer: I just wrote one! Sort of. Not really. It’s a new book coming out in the Fall of 2015, called THE FALL. In it I take on some of the same themes, but go to a darker place. I’m very excited about it.
As for your questions, I guess that Mary, to me, is the key character to the story. Yes, she’s a minor character, but with a small and pivotal role. I think she is the book’s most courageous character.
Thanks again for that awesome letter, Ashley. I really like your spirit.
So not surprisingly, after I did my post where I discovered a trend where most manga publishers have started to stop including right to left diagrams in their manga volumes, I was curious about it. So I asked people working in the industry why this is the case, and if this is something we’re going ... Read more
There's a quiet problem in our country...hunger. What's a kid to do when she discovers her best friend's refrigerator is nearly empty, and that she doesn't drink the milk because she is saving it for her little brother? What's that same kid to do when she promised her best friend that she wouldn't tell anybody about it? MADDI'S FRIDGE written by Lois Brandt and illustrated by Vin Vogel addresses the issue in a light-handed way, through a delightful story of friendship. I'm thrilled to have Lois on my blog today to talk more about it...
Q. Lois - How did you first become aware of the hunger issue? What inspired this story? A. I first became aware of the issue of childhood hunger the same way my character, Sofia, did. I was about 10 years old and was having a great playdate with my best friend. Do you remember those times, playing with your friends and sharing secrets, chasing grasshoppers, swinging on the swings? It was one of those days. I got hungry, ran into my best friend’s house, and opened her refrigerator door. It was empty except for condiments and one small carton of milk, the kind they gave out with school lunches. My friend had saved her milk for her little brother, who was too young to go to school. That image of my friend’s empty refrigerator has stayed with me my entire life.
Q. Lois - This had to be a tricky story to write without being too heavy with the message, yes? How long did it take you? A. I might have written the first draft as long as ten years ago. Boy did I have angry kids in those early drafts. The girls were so mad that at one point they were throwing rocks at a dry creek bed. In another draft they were kicking soccer balls with a vengeance. Maddi and Sofia (and this author) were very upset that we have so many hungry children in our wealthy nation. At some point, after comments from editors (one editor called the story grim – something my husband still teases me about), I began to put some of the magic of best friends into the story. I asked myself: What do these girls like to do when they are having fun? How do they show each other that they care? When I focused on the girls’ friendship, I found the heart of this story.
Q. Lois - Flashlight Press always does such lovely, high quality books. How did you end up getting published by them? A. After many many revisions, I began to get positive responses to MADDI'S FRIDGE and knew the manuscript was close to publishable quality. I reached out to my MFA adviser, Kirby Larson, and she suggested Shari Dash Greenspan at Flashlight Press. The first time I held a Flashlight Press book, Jodi Moore’s WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN, was a wow moment. Flashlight produces stunningly beautiful books. I knew Maddi’s story was in excellent hands.
Q. Lois - A large part of this book seems to be to inspire action, like on your website MaddisFridge.com. How do you spread the word, and how can we help? A. The first thing to do is talk about childhood hunger. Again and again people I meet are surprised by the numbers. 16 million children, 1 in 5, live in families without consistent access to food. MADDI'S FRIDGE is just one story of hunger. There are 16 million stories of childhood hunger happening at this very moment in the United States. We can beat childhood hunger, but we need to accept that this growing problem belongs to all of us. These are our friends and neighbors who are struggling to get food for their children. Find out the facts about hunger in your community and state. Share what you learn. A good place to start is my website or FeedingAmerica.org.
Q. Lois - This is your first book and wow, what a doozie it is! What's been your writing journey? A. I’ve always loved to write, but didn’t get serious until my children forced me to. Like most parents I made up stories at bedtime. We’d read a few books and then I’d tell a story. There was a problem, though. I could never consistently remember all of the details of the stories I told. My oldest son, Alex, called me on it. I started writing down the stories in self-defense, so I could get my own details right. The more I wrote, the more stories bubbled up from inside of me. Many of them, like MADDI'S FRIDGE, came from places close to my heart. I took a class on writing for children from author Peggy King Anderson, formed a critique group with members from that class, and joined SCBWI. That path led me here.
Q. Lois - How are you getting the word out about MADDI'S FRIDGE? A. I visit schools, contact librarians and food banks, and do readings. This has allowed me to meet some of the wonderful people who are working hard in the fight against childhood hunger. The school visits are my favorite activity. Kids get MADDI'S FRIDGE. They get friendship, promises, and helping. If second graders were in charge of the world, there would be no empty refrigerators. When a school holds a food drive, I will Skype or come for a visit at the beginning or end of the drive. During my visit I have the children write or draw with me about a time they helped someone, or a time someone helped them. Their stories illustrate the web of relationships that we all live in – friends helping friends and neighbors helping neighbors.
Q. Vin - I love your characters big eyes and that happy yellow. What is your illustration method? A. Thank you! In general, I make sketches with pencil on paper and scan them. As soon as they are approved, I start working on the final illustrations with a digital tablet. For this book I took photos and used Google Map for reference material. You can find more information about the process here: https://www.facebook.com/vinvogelillustration.
Q. Vin - This isn't your first book - by a longshot! How did you get turned onto Flashlight Press? A. I have illustrated more than 45 books, mostly published in Brazil and Canada. Shari found my website and contacted me. When I read the story I was hooked! I admire Lois and Shari for writing and publishing a picture book about hunger. And discussing hunger in America is even more courageous!
Q. Vin - What was your path into the children's book industry? A. I have worked as a journalist (because I also love writing), as well as a 2D animator and illustrator for advertising. My dream was to write and illustrate picture books. So I started to illustrate PB's in Brazil in 2005 and have never stopped. I have recently started to write my own PB's and my debut book will be launched by Dial in the Fall 2015.
Q. Vin - A you mentioned, you're originally from Brazil. What was the children's book market like there? A. Let's say I wish kids read more in Brazil. Way more.
Q. Vin - Was it exciting to work on a book with such an important message? A. Sure! As I have mentioned before, I was thrilled to illustrate a book about such delicate subject! Plus, the book carries a message of friendship and helping the ones in need. Many times simple solutions are right under our nose: Lois passed the message in a very sweet and effective way.
Q. Lois and Vin - have you met? Or will you be promoting the book together at all? A. Not yet. Lois is promoting the book on the West Coast; I'm the East Coast branch!
Note: Feeding America has declared September as Hunger Action Month, so it's a great opportunity for my readers to get involved and make a difference!
In Moonsilver, the first book of the series The Unicorn’s Secret, we meet Heart Avamir, a young girl who was abandoned at birth and raised by Simon Pratt, a demanding and unloving guardian. Despite this, Heart grows to be a kind, gentle, and hard working girl. When she meets an abandoned and starving white mare in the fields one day, she is instantly devoted and fights to keep the mare. Heart wakes up extra early to gather food for the horse, and enlists the help of the village healer and her only friend to help her nurse the horse back to health. When the mare begins to regain strength, Heart discovers that she is going to have a foal. But the foal turns out to be no ordinary horse, and in order to protect them both Heart must set out on a great adventure.
This beginning chapter book makes a great fantasy introduction, and is also recommended to young horse lovers. This would also make a good read aloud for children not yet ready to read chapters on their own.
Back in April, I queried an agent at a literary agency where guidelines ask you to requery (with a note to that effect) after one month. After a little over a month, I re-queried, but I never did get any response.
The agency invites queries to other agents once one has rejected your MS, but they're also clear that they always respond to queries. I'd really like to query another agent at the same agency, but I'm not sure what to do. I don't particularly want to email that first agent yet again with another reminder, as it just feels silly and pushy, and I'm also not sure it would do any good. Should I query a second agent at that agency? And, if I do, do I mention the no-response? I've been ignoring the other agents at the agency until now because of the no-answer, but as I get further down my query list, I can't help wondering and wishing I hadn't emailed this agent to begin with...
You query the second agent and you don't mention the first. If she's not courteous enough to reply to the initial query or the follow up, then either she didn't get either email, or she's so behind she's not even looking at her email. What this means for you is she doesn't count anymore. It's not a no, nor is it a yes, it's more like a do-over.
I know there are agents who have hundreds of queries stacked up over many months. That's not your problem. If an agent can't get a handle on her inbox and her website says 30 days, you've fulfilled your part of the social contract.
Of course, if the agent you're querying is me, you might want to check Query Letter Diagnostics, cause I'm caught up through yesterday.
Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014
Grades 4 and up
On shelves Aug. 26, 2014
The reviewer received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher.
I read Brown Girl Dreaming on an airplane flying over the midwest on the way home from the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. I devoured it in one sitting then handed the book to Louise who also