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1. Rump (2013)

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. 2013. Random House. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

What a fun book! I really, really enjoyed Liesl Shurtliff's Rump which boasts of being, of course, the TRUE story of Rumpelstiltskin. From page one, Rump makes a delightful hero in this middle grade fantasy. Here's the first paragraph: "My mother named me after a cow's rear end. It's the favorite village joke, and probably the only one, but it's not really true. At least I don't think it's true, and neither does Gran. Really, my mother had another name for me, a wonderful name, but no one ever heard it. They only heard the first part. The worst part." Rump lives in a world where your NAME leads to your destiny, so, you can imagine that Rump struggles with what destiny has in store for him since it "blessed" him with a name like that. Rump is NOT friendless, however. His two biggest supporters are his Gran, who has raised him from his birth, and Red, his best friend and sidekick who has a Granny of her own in the forest. The situation is relatively bleak when the novel opens. Rump lives in a poor community that is easily oppressed by the king. The local miller dispenses food to the community based on how much gold the person (family) has contributed. So hunger is a part of life for many. One day, however, Rump discovers something in his Gran's woodpile: his mother's spinning wheel. His Gran is NOT pleased that Rump wants to keep it, to learn to use it. Rump gives it a try, and, he discovers the magic within. Yes, he learns he has the magic inside him to spin straw into gold. But what does NOT come naturally is the wisdom on when to use and when NOT to use magic. He has NOT learned that all magic comes with a price. That his oh-so-delightful talent might come with a big, big price that he won't want to pay.

I love this one. I do. I love the narration. I love the storytelling. I love how the story was adapted and changed. I loved that magic had consequences. I loved seeing Rump grow and mature into Rumpelstiltskin.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. The story of pizza - really!

I have a deep appreciation for family food traditions. From my mother's side (Irish American) we don't have many. (The most enduring is easting Entenmann's Coffee Cake which I don't think really counts but we love it.) On my father's side (French Canadian) there are many because he was a great cook and my memere was as well (especially baking). But in terms of ethnic food, I don't know that anyone really sees something and yells "Oh, look! French Canadian food!" (If you can name any French Canadian food other than syrup right now, you deserve an award.)

About now you probably understand that I spent a large part of my childhood wishing I was Chinese, Mexican or Italian solely for the food.

All of this explains why when I received a copy of the picture book Pizza in Pienza by Susan Fillion, I was delighted by each and every page. It's a very simple story about a girl in Pienza, Italy, who takes readers through her day and across her town. Along the way she shares her love of pizza, ("Even while I'm eating spaghetti, I'm dreaming about the next pizza pie."), and her research into the history of pizza which, as we know it, comes from Naples, Italy. The story comes around to America, where the first pizzeria opened in NYC in 1905 and the final spreads show people enjoying pizza both in the U.S. and Italy which is all kinds of wonderful.

Everyone would like to be a member of the ethnic group that invented pizza, don't you think?

Fillion both wrote and illustrated Pizza in Pienza and the illustrations are large and colorful, with a folk art feel. The story reads as a picture book travel essay and the dual text, with a single line on each page in both English and Italian, fits well in this narrative design. In the final pages the author includes a pronunciation page, a history of pizza and a recipe for Pizza Margherita (including the dough).

This is a decidedly quiet book but it provides a nice lesson about a well known topic while introducing a foreign country in a very accessible way. (That's the part that will appeal to folks looking for educational reads.) For me, it was quite reminiscent of all those delightful Italian memoirs for adults (paging Frances Mayes). It's one of the better ways to bring Italy home to kids and it will likely also spur them to appreciate their pizza even more which is always a good thing. Call this one a nice delightful and tasty trip for younger readers. :)

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3. Goodreads Giveaway! Win a signed paperback of Tales of Ever!

You don’t want to miss out on this one!

Win a signed print copy of Tales of Ever!

Enter now!

(USA and CAN only) Ends May 4th 2014

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Tales of Ever by Jen Wylie

Tales of Ever

by Jen Wylie

Giveaway ends May 04, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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4. Africa is My Home: Interview with Deborah Kalb

I had fun doing an interview with Deborah Kalb and it is now on her blog here.

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5. The Oldest Living Things in the World

The Oldest Living Things in the World was a labor of love for artist and photographer Rachel Sussman—the project, to document and photograph continuously living organisms 2,000 years old and older, has been around in one form or another since 2004. The result is a stunning collection of images that function as much more than eye candy in the realm of flora and fauna—Sussman’s work quietly, and with unimpeachable integrity, makes a case for the living history of our planet: where we’ve come since year zero, what we stand to lose in the future if we don’t change our ways, and why we should commit to a more intuitive relationship with the natural world.

Above you can view a trailer for the book, which hints at the spectacular flora with which Sussman comes into contact: an 80,000-year-old colony of aspen in Utah and a 43,600-year-old self-propagating shrub in Tasmania, among them. Sussman continues to make a name for herself as part of a new wave of interdisciplinary artist-researchers, and was recently named a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow, as well as an inaugural Art + Technology Lab awardee from LACMA.

To explore a bit of the meaning behind the images in the book, here’s a brief clip from the Foreword, by science writer Carl Zimmer:

The durable mystery of longevity makes the species in this book all the more precious, and all the more worthy of being preserved. Looking at an organism that has endured for thousands of years is an awesome experience, because it makes us feel like mere gastrotrichs. But it is an even more awesome experience to recognize the bond we share to a 13,000-year-old Palmer’s oak tree, and to wonder how we evolved such different times on this Earth.

To read more about The Oldest Living Things in the World, click here.

To see sample images from the book, click here.

To visit the book’s website, click here.

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6. Vaclav and Lena/Haley Tanner: The best longest first sentence ever

Last evening, following a full afternoon of extraordinary conversations with my students, I missed the 5:38 PM train by, well—let's just say I got there right as the doors were closing.

All, however, was not lost, for there's always Faber books at 30th Street Station—always the chance to acquire something new.

I had thirty minutes. I bought, at last, Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds. It's the book of the year here in Philadelphia, and it's about time that I get with the program. I'll read it. Soon.

But I also bought a copy of Vaclav and Lena, a debut novel by Haley Tanner. It is one of those books I'd always been meaning to buy, then forgot I'd wanted to buy, then had forgotten altogether as I pursued the next new many things. If I hadn't missed the train, I'd have not met these two immigrant Brooklyn children who want, when we first meet them, to be the best magicians alive.

I'm not finished reading yet, so I can't deliver a full report. I can, however, give you this fragment of the first single wow opening sentence, which I share in honor of one of my students who has captivated us with her voice this year, and who could, I have not a single doubt, cast an instant spell like this one:

"Here I practice, and you practice. Ahem. AH-em. I am Vaclav the Magnificent, with birthday on the sixth of May, the famous day for the generations to celebrate and rejoice, a day in the future years eclipsing Christmas and Hanukkah and Ramadan and all pagan festivals, born in a land far, far, far, far, far, far, far distance from here, a land of ancient and magnificent secrets, a land of enchanted knowledge passed down from the ages and from the ancients, a land of illusion (Russia!), born there in Russia and reappearing here, in America, in New York, in Brooklyn (which is a borough), near Coney Island, which is a famous place of magic in the great land of opportunity (which is, of course, America!), where anyone can become anything, where a hobo today is tomorrow a businessman in a three-piece-suit, and a businessman yesterday is later this afternoon a hobo, Vaclav the Magnificent, who shall, without a doubt, be ask to perform his mighty feats of enchantment for dukes and presidents and czars and ayatollahs, uniting them all in awestruck and dumbstruck, and.....
You get the point? The books we pay attention to are the ones that leap from the page. Vaclav and Lena leaps from mile-long sentence number one.

Voice. Some people have it.

You know who I'm talking about.

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7. 8 is enough

Whirlochre commemorates the occasion.

This interview with John Grisham, produced by ril for anniversary #3, never gets old.

Today Only! PDF file of Evil Editor's The History of the World in Tweets, absolutely free! 
Just email request to evledtr@gmail.com.  

Offer expires when I get sick of sending it.

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8. A Painter's Sampler

Nowadays we might show a prospective client a folder of images on an iPhone. But in 1860, William Trost Richards (1833-1905) created this "Painter’s Sampler," to show what he could do.

Thirteen miniature canvases are mounted up together. They show a range of conventional landscape compositions. I can just image him saying... "I can paint you a Hudson River sunset, or a summer meadow, a nautical, or a cabin in the woods, or a forest interior...."
This comes from a private collection and was exhibited at a Hudson River School exhibition called "American Scenery" at the Dorsky Museum of Art

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Every week someone asks me what stylus I'm using for drawing on my iPad - so I made a video about it!

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10. Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink -- Stephanie Kate Strohm

Pilgrims don't wear pinkI hadn't read a straight-up chick-lit rom-com in ages, and I'd forgotten just how much fun they can be.

Despite the best efforts of her best friend to convince her to go to New York City with him while he interns at a teen fashion magazine, Libby Kelting is leaving Minnesota to spend the summer before her senior year in Camden Harbor, Maine, interning at the Museum of Maine and the Sea. She'll be wearing 1791-era garb, teaching young campers about the daily life of colonial Americans, and hopefully, in her off-time, spending time at the beach in one of the many (many, many, many) cute outfits that she's dragging halfway across the country with her.

Things she didn't count on: an enormously judgmental, slut-shaming roommate; a uniform for when she's not in costume; a super-hot sailor who spouts Shakespeare and looks VERY nice while chopping wood; getting roped into sharing EXTREMELY cramped quarters with a VERY irritating budding journalist who's on a ghost hunt.


  • Oh, where to start? I cackled all the way through this one. For instance:

    "Listen, Garrett—"
    "Why do you keep saying my name like it's in air quotes?" he interrupted.
    "What are you talking about?" I snapped.
    "You keep saying 'Garrett' like it's 
    allegedly my name."
    "Maybe because it's not a name, but a small Parisian attic where writers live?"
    "Oh, as opposed to a brand of canned pumpkin owned by the Nestle corporation?" he shot back.
    We glared at each other.

    Ahahahahahaha. Anyway, she and Garrett are very obviously well-suited to each other, and their sparring is just as entertaining as their inevitable lurrrve-falling. Also, Libby's campers are HILARIOUS. 
  • Libby is a genuine history nerd, and as her focus is on fashion and the domestic arts, there are LOADS of interesting factual tidbits. Also, she's a wonderful example of a character who is a 'girly-girl' AND whip-smart, so yay to Strohm for that. Bonus: When it comes down to it, Libby is perfectly capable of fighting her own battles. Literally. So yay to Strohm for that, too!
  • Along those lines, there are some great threads about being judgemental/making assumptions about people: because Libby is interested in fashion and in boys, her roommate immediately jumps to the conclusion that Libby is an airheaded moron with red bottomosity. At the same time, Libby judges Garrett for his love of science fiction, so no-one is entirely without fault in that departmentwhich is good, because few people are!


  • Cam and most of the rest of the dudebros are totally two-dimensional stereotypes. And actually, Libby's bestie Dev is also pretty two-dimensional, but I gave him a pass because he was rad.



Behind the scenes of Austenland, starring YA characters.



Book source: ILLed through my library.

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11. Creating a Creative Movement in Education

I love any and all TED talks given by Sir Ken Robinson. Take a look at his latest one about education and creativity and I think you’ll understand why:

And if you liked that one, check out this earlier talk that’s still my favorite, on how to nurture creativity.

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12. Earlier this week @KirkusReviews...

Fates...I wrote about Lanie Bross' Fates:

Ten years ago, Corinthe made a huge mistake. Since then, she’s been exiled from her sister Fates, living on Earth among the humans. To earn her way back into the good graces of the Unseen Ones and be allowed to return home, she is tasked with helping humans achieve their destinies: whether that means facilitating meet cutes, making someone late for work, preventing an accident, saving a life...or ending one.

(I couldn't post the link earlier due to the Typepad debacle.)

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13. Reading Bingo Book Clue 12

Reading Bingo

Reading Bingo Day 3 Continues!

Day three of Reading Bingo is well underway! Y’all are doing great! Ready for book clue 12? Here we go!

Book clue 12 is . . .
The Adventures of Captain Underpants

 by Dav Pilkey

The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey book coverBingo square

that it fits in and write in the title.

We’ve got three more clues today. Come back to Ink Splot 26 and also check the Stack Back Message Board

throughout the day to catch them!

Today’s shape is pretty awesome. Have you gotten Bingo yet? Remember, book clues 1-11

also count towards today’s game, so you can fill those in plus today’s book clues. When you get an H-shape, yell BINGO! in the Comments. See ya later!

image from kids.scholastic.com — 

En-Szu, STACKS Staffer

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14. Anthony Doerr: The Powells.com Interview

For months before I read it, coworkers would rave during meetings, send me glowing emails, or stop me in the hall to tell me how much they loved All the Light We Cannot See. We couldn't keep advance reader copies in the office for more than a few hours. I had long been a fan [...]

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15. Book Trailer: Don't Call Me Baby! by Gwendolyn Heasley

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Don't Call Me Baby! by Gwendolyn Heasley (HarperTeen, 2014). From the promotional copy:

All my life, I've been known as the girl on that blog.

Do you know what it's like for everyone to think they know you because of what they read on some stupid website? My mother has been writing an incredibly popular, and incredibly embarrassing, blog about me since before I was born. The thing is, I'm fifteen now, and she is still blogging about me. In gruesome detail.

You can read my life as my mom tells it on mommyliciousmeg.com. But this story is my actual life and about what happened when my BFF Sage and I decided to tell the real truth about our lives under a virtual microscope. Thanks for reading . . . Just don't call me Babylicious.

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16. Anybody want a peanut?

andre the giant Anybody want a peanut?We recently received the (adult) graphic novel biography Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown (May 2014, First Second). As any Princess Bride fan will know, Andre the Giant is the professional-wrestler-turned-actor who played Fezzik in the movie.

Born Andre Rene Roussimoff, he grew up in rural Molien, France, where he was too large to ride the school bus and his father was friends with Samuel Beckett (who knew?). He moved to Paris, became a wrestler, went to Tokyo, and was diagnosed (in Japanese) with acromegaly (“He’ll age prematurely. His brow and jaw will grow more pronounced. His heart and organs won’t be able to keep up with his body. His joints, too. He’ll be a cripple. Then the doctor said he wouldn’t live past forty…”). He made his way to North America, wrestled professionally, drank a ton, got in a lot of fights, was kind of an ass (used the n-word against another wrestler; turned his back on his young daughter), and died at 46. There’s some hero worship on the author’s part (from the intro: “Andre the Giant represents all that is good in professional wrestling”), but the subject’s failings are never sugar-coated. Black-and-white panel illustrations depict all the rock-’em, sock-’em action.

The book is mostly based on anecdotes from friends and colleagues, and there’s a brief section on the Princess Bride filming. Christopher Guest — the six-fingered man — enjoys shaking Andre’s gigantic hand; Andre drapes his huge hand over Robin Wright/Princess Buttercup’s entire head to warm her up; director Rob Reiner balks at a giant $40,000 bar tab. Mandy Patinkin (Fezzik’s brother-from-another-mother Inigo Montoya) is blurbed on the book jacket: “A giant of a man in every way. I am thrilled to see his story finally told!” Princess Bride fans might— and ’70s- and ’80s-professional-wrestling fans will definitely — find a lot to like in this book.

share save 171 16 Anybody want a peanut?

The post Anybody want a peanut? appeared first on The Horn Book.

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17. Spain’s Awesome Romantic Book Holiday

booksandrosesIn honor of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, today is St. George’s Day (La Diada de Sant Jordi in Catalan), a beautiful holiday celebrated in Barcelona through the exchange of books and roses.

Like Valentine’s Day in the U.S., the holiday is meant to be spent with your special someone. According to Catalan tradition, a man buys a rose for a woman and a woman buys a book for a man. In modern times, the tradition is often broken and men and women give books and roses to their special someone. continued…

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18. Current Scratch: Join Us, Opportunities, Vote Now, & Tips for Reading Poetry

In light of poetry month, here's a little treat! I'm not claiming to be a poet, but it was fun anyways! 
Beauty and the Hiss
Across the vast Brazos Valley, fields of wildflowers attract the human eye. Like bees to honey, we're drawn to it. Beauty. Canvasses of bluebonnets, paintbrushes, winecups, and more, we long to frolic and dance upon nature's palette. And while we may fall prey to nature's alluring spells, amongst the wildflowers, a slithering creature dwells. It hisses. It strikes. It slides. It glides. Remember, you're in charge of saving your hide! So, while you're out enjoying nature's bliss,
listen & beware of the dreadful hiss!

Poetry Slam, 10 a.m. April 30, Barnes & Noble, College Station, TX.  Take time this month to create a new poem or revise some old ones using the word prompts below. Then join us at 10 a.m. Wednesday, April 30, in the College Station Barnes & Noble for the slam. Also come early for gentle critique at 9:30 a.m. and/or stay around as the discussion continues over lunch. Join us!

RULES for the Poetry Slam

Our goal is to provide a professional setting for members and friends to present their work. To that end, the following rules will be enforced.

1. The poems must be for children or teens—rated PG-13 or less (look it up).

2. Besides stating your name and the age level and genre of your poem, no other commentary will be allowed during your reading. You may only read your poem(s).

3. You will have 5 minutes. Several short poems within the time span will be allowed. You will receive a one minute warning and a 30 second warning. The time-keeper will stop you at 5 minutes even if you are in mid-word. (Practice timing yourself.)

4. The first 12 poets to sign in will read. (Assuming 5 min. per person. If there's time before the end of the hour, we can do more.)

5. Each poem must include at least four words from the list below. Have fun!


Include at least four words from the following list in each poem presented. Plural forms are allowed.

1. bluebonnet
2. brazos
3. chupacabra
4. family
5. football
6. heat
7. sno cone (counts as one word)

Come early for gentle critique at 9:30 a.m. and/or stay around as the discussion continues over lunch.
Children's Book Lit. Club
This month, we will discuss PROTECTING MARIE by Kevin Henkes at our meeting next Thursday, April 24, 4:30-6 p.m. in the ArtsCenter on Dartmouth. Please bring a picture book by Henkes to share as well.
May 13, 2014, 7:00-8:30 p.m. Don't miss this great opportunity to participate in a SCBWI webinar on craft! Click on the link below to find out all the details.
A chance for picture book submissions, folks! Meegenius Accepting Manuscripts
Are you crafting your poem for our poetry slam on April 30th? Need a few tips for reciting your poem out loud? Voice, physical presence, and more! This link has it all... Poetry Out Loud.
The views expressed here are my own, and not necessarily those of the SCBWI.

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19. A Midwestern Girl at Heart

I thoroughly enjoyed my week of events in the Midwest. I presented the 8th annual lecture on Multicultural Children's Literature at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, hosted by the Murphy Library. Next I headed for Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing to sit on a couple of panels as well as offer a solo talk entitled "It's Just Fiction: Ten Tips on Reading and Writing about Race, Culture, and Power."

In both communities, everyone was so ... nice. I know that can be a bland adjective, but believe me, after living in or near big cities my whole life, I delighted in the courtesies extended to me in these smaller college towns. If it wasn't for the W-word, I'd consider making my home in one of North America's so-called "flyover states." But I dumped my shovels in Boston before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, and I never want to see them again. Besides, I can always visit, right?

Three Great Days in Wisconsin

Welcome bouquet in my hotel room? Nice start!

4th and 5th graders getting settled before my presentation.
Received this book of stories and poems prepared by the students.
Great teachers are the key to successful author visits.

Time for my lectures at the Murphy Library. Good signage, right?
Fielding good questions is more than half the fun.
On my lunch break, I drove up to Grandad Bluff Park to enjoy the view.
The University of Wisconsin—La Crosse from the Bluff.
Patrick Anderson of the LaCrosse Tribune attended and reported about the event.
It takes a village to plan an author visit. Here's the the team of librarians and School of Education leaders at The Waterfront Restaurant (highly recommended for dinner). Thank you, friends!

The route to the airport in St. Paul took me through this town.  Remember who lived here?
Yep, it's the Little House in the Big Woods.

Lake Pepin.

Three Great Days in Wisconsin 

Confession: I love conference swag. This gift bag was waiting in my room at Calvin College's Prince Conference Center, site of the Festival of Faith and Writing.
The Festival kicked off with a talk by Gene Luen Yang, "Is Art Selfish?" Other keynote speakers included James McBride, Miroslav Volf, and Anne Lamott.
Children's and YA authors abounded (From L to R: Swati Avasthi, Pam Muñoz Ryan, and Deborah Heiligman.)
Loved spending time with this brilliant author and listening to her talk about faith and science in her award-winning book, CHARLES AND EMMA. "The Darwins' relationship is a microcosm of how people can talk about different views with deep love," she said.

Newbery honoree Gary Schmidt, who is on the faculty at Calvin, moderated a panel on writing young adult fiction (from L to R: Gary Schmidt, Swati Avasthi, Pam Muñoz Ryan, and me.)
Panel discussion, "Power of the Word: Writing Towards Justice." (From L to R: Moderator Sarina Moore, Uwem Akpan, Ashley Lucas, and me.)
Last but not least, the Festival was full of young talents, including my friend Briana Meade, who writes about young motherhood and faith.

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20. Amazon Chooses ’100 Books to Read in a Lifetime: Mystery & Thriller’

gone girlGone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn; The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown; L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet are among Amazon’s list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime – the Mystery & Thriller Edition.

The list was put together by Amazon Books’ editorial team. Follow this link to explore their recommendations. You can also check out Amazon’s list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime list here.

“There are many different kinds of books that fall under the mystery/thriller umbrella – from police procedurals to murder mysteries to spy thrillers,” explained Sara Nelson, editorial director of Amazon.com in a statement.  ”When we were compiling our list of 100 Mysteries & Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime, we wanted to be sure to include books from all of those sub-categories. The team had plenty of lively arguments, several passionate filibusters, and a number of voting sessions before we came up with the final list.”


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21. Straight From the Source: Sheila O’Connor on Writing Historical Fiction

Sheila O’Connor is the award-winning author of four novels: Keeping Safe the StarsSparrow Road, Where No Gods Came and Tokens of Grace. Her poetry and fiction have been recognized with fellowships from the Bush Foundation, Loft McKnight and the Minnesota State Arts Board. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is a professor in the MFA program at Hamline University where she also serves as fiction editor for Water~Stone Review.  Keeping Safe the Stars has recently been released in paperback.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

I always begin with a character, and from there it is a character in a situation. I’m interested in the character’s trouble—why is their story important?  What are they up against and why? That’s the early work I do on a book.

How do you conduct your research? 

I like to jump into the story, discover the time period, and then ask myself: What elements of that time period are pressing in on the story?  We are all influenced by our historical time and place, and fictional characters are no different.  The world we live in shapes us. Once I’ve settled on the time and place of a novel, I immerse myself in it through books, movies, music, and lots of web research.

You do have a specific system for collecting data? 

I wish I did. I tend to empty the library of materials, and spend too much time on Google. I call people, I ask questions of people who may have lived during that time. I’m especially interested in talking to people that would have been the same age as my characters in that time period.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

Magazine, catalogues, newspapers, books, music, films, photos—anything I can get my hands on. The book I’m working on now has required looking at old baseball cards, Schwinn catalogues, reading obscure articles on psychiatric hospitals in the 1960’s, among other odd activities. I love it all.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love the way the time period determines certain events in the book, the kinds of choices characters have available to them, the way cultural norms of the time period would influence their decisions. My previous novel, KEEPING SAFE THE STARS, was set in 1974, during the week of the Nixon resignation, and there were all kinds of cultural norms at work during that time that helped me discover the story. Beyond that, I think it’s my own particular kind of fantasy, because I’m able to return to a time that no longer exists, and make it real again—which is a fantasy for me. We know our time and place, but the work of fiction allows us to occupy another, and whether it’s an imaginary country, or a small town in Minnesota in 1974, it’s a fiction world I’ve never inhabited.

Why is historical fiction important?

Historical fiction allows us to see the path behind us, to see how we’ve arrived at this moment, and in some ways it allows us to make sense of the world as we know it now. Beyond that, it can teach us things–both major and minor–things we might not otherwise know. I don’t write books to teach, but historical novels are rich opportunities for readers young and old to learn about another time and place, to imagine what it was like to be living in a reality other than our own.



The post Straight From the Source: Sheila O’Connor on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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22. Using Postcard Mailings at Sub It Club - I'm interviewed!

Today, I'm also at Sub It Club - a blog about breaking into the Kidlit Biz. Dana Carey (France's SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator) asked me about sending promotional postcards to get children's book illustration work. (She also gave a lovely shout-out to A BIRD ON WATER STREET.) If you're looking to break into children's book illustration, she asked some pretty in-depth questions, which I think you'll find helpful. So, I hope you'll GO READ!!! (CLICK HERE or the image above.)

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23. Walter W. Skeat (1835-1912) and spelling reform

By Anatoly Liberman

Henry Bradley, while writing his paper (see the previous post), must have looked upon Skeat as his main opponent. This becomes immediately clear from the details. For instance, Skeat lamented the use of the letter c in scissors and Bradley defended it. He even noted, in the supplement to the paper devoted to Spelling Reform, that, all Skeat’s ardor and arguments notwithstanding, in his publications and personal letters he stuck to traditional spelling. This mild taunt was beside the point. Why should Skeat have adopted reformed or simplified spelling before it became the norm?

Skeat’s program paper was delivered in 1906. In modern times, the proposal for simplified spelling was first made in 1881, and the decade before the First World War witnessed an unprecedented and never to be repeated splash of interest in this matter. In the United States, some linguistic journals agreed to print papers with the words having the appearance favored by the reformers. George O. Curme, a distinguished American linguist, published a scholarly article in a leading German periodical using “new orthography” (1914). I needn’t remind anyone that this was the epoch of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, hence the numerous cartoons connecting him and the Reform. In 1910 George B. Shaw believed that England would move toward phonetic spelling in the foreseeable future. Foreign scholars, especially in Sweden and the Netherlands, clamored for action, and offered recipes. English, they pointed out, had become an international language and its written form was the greatest handicap to those who wished to learn it.

The most timid attempt at Spelling Reform

The most timid attempt at Spelling Reform

The war made all such problems irrelevant. Then came the Bolsheviks and the Nazis and another war. In later times, the Chomskyan revolution did a lot of harm to the “cause.” Chomsky’s emphasis on the historical logic of English spelling contributed to the loss of the little enthusiasm scholars might have for Spelling Reform. He taught that one has to distinguish between underlying forms and surface realizations. Archaic English spelling provided Chomsky and his closest ally Morris Halle with a treasure trove of “underlying forms” (for example, we spell take, and the underlying form has “long a,” that is, the vowel of Modern Engl. spa, father, etc., and it is exactly this vowel from which the modern diphthong developed). In that academic battle, Bradley won a decisive victory, a fact to be regretted.

Skeat’s paper runs to eighteen pages. His main point, so cleverly contested by Bradley, is predictable: letters should represent sounds, but English spelling fails to do so. Very funny from our perspective is his suggestion for explaining to boys (naturally!) the true value of English vowels. The English should give up their habit of Anglicizing Latin pronunciation, and, once the boys begin to read Latin approximately as they would read Italian, they will understand the nature of sound change, and it will be easier to explain the correlation between letters and sounds, a major prerequisite for the success of the Reform. Alas and alack, today this recommendation has little value: our “boys” no longer study Latin for six years.

Help from Abroad

Help from Abroad

One of the pioneers of Spelling Reform was the great philologist Henry Sweet, and Skeat supported his ideas. These are the spellings both of them advocated: hav, liv, abov; agreev, aproov, solv, freez, etc. (in the e-less category, only adz and ax gained a foothold, and only in American English); jepardy, bredth; acheev, beleev; cumfort, tuch, cuzin; flurish; batl, ketl, writn; lam, num; lookt, puld; honor, labor (once again the last words will not offend the American eye). Skeat referred to two great gains the Reform would have. The first strikes me as almost humorous, even though offered in dead earnest, the second as vital.

“The first is that those partial reforms would necessarily involve the disuse of a large number of useless letters. In this way more matter would be got into a page, and some labour in the compositions of the type would be saved; and as this would happen in every case, …it might very easily save every printer and publisher a considerable sum of money. It would not be surprising if the aggregate savings, in the course of a year, throughout the British Empire, were to amount to a considerable sum of money. [He projected the economy of thousands of pounds.]… The second is that the task of learning to read would be considerably simplified, and the time taken to achieve that task would be considerably shortened…. In this case there can be no doubt at all that the sums thus saved would be very considerable.”

He devoted several paragraphs to beating this willing horse.

Skeat summarized the situation quite convincingly: English words have turned into hieroglyphs that have to be learned mechanically. With this spelling we are not quite in China (figuratively speaking), because many words are still spelled phonetically, but we are halfway through (I am paraphrasing, not quoting Skeat). Close to the end of the paper he admitted that since 1881 absolutely no progress had been made in reforming English spelling. Publishers and journalists crushed every attempt to tamper with the existing system (“I speak it to our utter shame,” he added). But his explanation of the reasons for the failure is probably wrong. He ascribed the public’s near universal resistance to its ignorance of the most basic facts of linguistics. The obtuseness and ignorance of his countrymen was one of Skeat’s favorite subjects; he had no patience with human stupidity.

However, in this case, it was probably not only ignorance that killed the Reform. We should rather consider the natural wish of human beings to protect their riches, be it material possessions or spiritual property. Someone who has learned the spelling of the noun occurrence (very few have, as far as I can judge), has perhaps been whipped, rapped over the knuckles, or received bad grades for spelling it with -ance or with one r (or one c), will cling to the hard-obtained treasure like grim death. To waste years on such terrible words and give up their spelling? No! Besides, in England honor, labor, ax, and their likes had the stigma of being Americanisms. Who would fall so low as to imitate the Americans? Even after 1918 British periodicals carried blood curdling letters to the editor about the corrupting influence of Americanisms on pure English.

From this point of view, it is curious to read the concluding paragraph of Skeat’s paper.

“If, however, it should come to pass that a real Spelling Reform should previously be effected in America, it may quite possibly be a gain to us; because the history of our language is there more generally known. I lately met with the President of an American university, who said to me (I have no doubt with perfect truth) ‘In our universities English takes the first place’. This is one of those facts of which the ordinary Englishman is entirely ignorant; indeed, it is almost impossible for him to imagine how such a state of things can be possible. I recommend the contemplation of this astounding fact to your serious consideration.”

I am a great fan of Walter Skeat’s and often try to placate his irascible shadow. This time I hasten to reassure the great man that English no longer takes the first place in American universities; at all stages, we teach concepts and critical thinking, not facts. We despise memorization and encourage discussion, ideally group discussion following a PowerPoint presentation. One semester of the history of English is rarely required even of English majors, and for spelling we have spellcheckers. However, it is not good to finish even a grim comedy (that is, a drama in which the protagonists don’t die) on a gloomy note. Perhaps indeed, the stimulus to reform English spelling will come from America; we’ll see. The past is hard to reconstruct, but the future is even harder to predict.

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins And How We Know Them as well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears on the OUPblog each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of blog@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.” Subscribe to Anatoly Liberman’s weekly etymology articles via email or RSS.

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Image credits: (1) Printed in 1911 in the American Transactions of the Philological Association (part of the article by Charles P.G. Scott “Bogus and his Crew”; Scott was the etymologist for The Century Dictionary). (2) A sample of what the Swedes suggested (the Anglic Fund, Uppsala). Both images courtesy of Anatoly Liberman.

The post Walter W. Skeat (1835-1912) and spelling reform appeared first on OUPblog.

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24. Envelope Art

This year I am creating original sketches on all of my orders going out through Etsy. If even just an ACEO (2.5x3.5 inch print) is purchased, the customer will receive an original sketch on the envelope.

With a new baby I don't get a lot of time to just sketch, this has been a great way to get some sketching in while at the same time treating my customers with something special.

My customers mean a lot to me and this is one way I can show them. 

These sketches are not scanned in and saved, or reproduced. They are sketched, photographed for my own documentation, and then mailed off. Who knows, maybe one of them will become a painting some day. Now wouldn't that be fun! :)

 Visit my Facebook Page for a current album of envelope art!
Album here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152367583837472.1073741828.50735862471&type=3

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25. Wednesday Writing Workout: Fibs!

Throughout April (National Poetry Month), I'm posting poetry-themed Wednesday Writing Workouts. Today's form is a Fib, a counted-syllable form with an increasing number of syllables per line, following the Fibonacci sequence. Each number in the series (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on) is formed by adding the two previous numbers. The Fibonacci sequence can “describe an amazing variety of phenomena, in mathematics and science, art and nature.”

Greg Pincus visited the Teaching Authors last year. He explained the origin of the Fib form on his blog. The New York Times article “Fibonacci Poems Multiply on the Web After Blog's Invitation” describes the form’s increasing popularity. According to the Poetry Foundation, “These short, straightforward poems are that rare thing capable of crafting a bridge between the often disparate souls of art and science.”

When I tried writing Fibs, I found that the lengthening lines seemed to suit a subject that unfolds gradually or a conclusion that slowly dawns on a narrator and/or reader.

In this poem, my early drafts stopped at seven lines. Then I realized I had more to say, so I reversed the pattern and counted back down.

Signs of Spring

my dog
through our neighborhood
in spring, when warning signs crop up
on lush green smooth-as-carpet lawns: Pesticides! Keep off!
How on our dear troubled planet did poison become
an acceptable lawn care tool?
Is grass truly green
if nothing
else can

Today is the last day to enter to win one of five Teaching Authors Blogiversary Book Bundles! Details are here.

On my own blog, I'm posting more poetry writing tips and assorted poetry treats on Fridays, including giveaways of Write a Poem Step by Step. Be sure to stop by!

JoAnn Early Macken

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