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Results 1 - 25 of 165
1. Environmental Book Club

How does a cookbook fit in with my interest in environmental books that provide an immersion in some kind of natural  experience? Pam McElroy, one of the editors of The Green Teen Cookbook, Recipes for all Seasons Written by Teens, for Teens, (Laurane Marchive is the other) writes that "When it comes to food, going green" is, in great part, about shopping seasonally and buying locally. That's a lifestyle, a daily experience. McElroy also says, "Our eating habits form such an important part of our daily lives that questions of what we eat are transformed into questions of who we are. We don't say, 'I eat a vegetarian diet.' We say, 'I am a vegetarian.'"

This cookbook actually includes essays. In my experience, you have to be a bit of a foodie to read essays on cooking, and I don't know how many teenagers have that much of a commitment yet. But I very much like that editors McElroy and Marchive respect their potential readers enough to include them. They also do some neat things with taking the same recipe and changing it according to the seasons and the availability of fresh ingredients.

The recipes here include basics like French toast and tuna salad, swing into your more veggie type things (fried tofu with peanut dipping sauce), and take a shot at what some of us think of as more demanding fare (risotto with arugula pesto). The Green Teen Cookbook is a classy work that takes its subject seriously while also recognizing that people need to know how to cook regular food.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

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2. Environmental Book Club

I've said before that my idea of an environmental book is one that immerses readers in some kind of natural experience. I'm not sure that Lifetime, by Lola M. Schaefer with illustrations by Christopher Silas Neal,  really does that. As the Kirkus reviewer said of it, "Is this book about the natural world? Counting? Statistics? Solving math word problems?" But the natural world is in there.

I can't say I know a lot about math. But what seems to be going on in Lifetime is an introduction to the concept of counting as well as the recognition that counting things is part of life. This isn't a traditional counting book, as in "1 papery egg sac," "2 caribou," "3 alpacas." It's just about counting. You can count the number of antlers a caribou will grow and shed in a lifetime. (10) You can count the number of beads a rattlesnake will add to its rattle. (40)

There are all kinds of animals out there, and you can count things related to them.

Hmm. Maybe there is an immersive experience here, one in which we take a human created activity and apply it to the natural world that animals live in.

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3. Vacation Reading

I blew through the two most recent issues of The Horn Book while riding in the car off and on for more than two weeks last month.

The July/August issue was also the annual awards issue. This is never one of my favorites, but this year it ran an article by Elissa Gershowitz called Newbery 2014 that was essentially about books that didn't make the cut. It has just a little bit of the tone I saw this past year in articles about why the hell Tatiana Maslany didn't get an Emmy nomination for every clone she plays on Orphan Black. Usually the awards coverage in The Horn Book is incredibly respectful and, um, maybe just a little bit warm and fuzzy? I liked this change of pace.

Reviews I found interesting:

A Girl Called Fearless by Catherine Linka. I was reading the review and thought, Gee, this sounds like The Handmaid's Tale. The reviewer thought so, too. That's not a bad thing.

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang. Because it's by Gene Luen Yang.

Hi, Koo! by Jon J. Muth. I liked the panda.

The September/October Horn Book carried a story on Robert McCloskey by Leonard Marcus and Folklore vs. Fakelore by Jane Yolen.


The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy. Maybe The Penderwicks for guys?

Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy, illustrations by Sue Heap.  A toddler Red Riding Hood. Hahahahahah.

Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh, illustrations by Wendell Minor. I like art books. I saw a couple of Hoppers at the Carnegie Museum of Art, though, and I was kind of disappointed. Does Minor do him better?

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4. Because I Loved Historical Fiction

I picked up A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller as a sort of return to my teen reading when I was into historical fiction. Mad, Wicked Folly was a bit of a roller coaster experience in which I went "I'm loving this," "No, it's a torn-between lovers scenario," "Wait, something different is going on here," "Yes, I love the art stuff."

Vicky is the child of upper middle class parents in 19 ought England. These are rigid folks who have specific expectations of their daughters. Vicky, however, has a talent for art and a willingness to study it. I loved the art aspect of this book. I don't have any desire to create art, myself, my interest is in its historical and cultural aspects. I loved all that in this book. I knew nothing about the pre-Raphaelites. Now I'm beginning to know something about them.

Vicky also becomes involved with the suffragist movement in England. Loved that, too. Waller uses the term "suffragette" instead of "suffragist," which always annoys me because I learned that the "ette"ending is derogatory. However, in her end notes she explains the suffragist/suffragette issue, definitely to my satisfaction.

The torn-between-two-lovers thing, which was a little predictable to this experienced reader, was far more palatable to me because of the great art and feminist world that it existed in.The teenage Gail who read historical romances would have been far more appreciative.

Reading this book made me realize that there is a way to get me to read romance. Have some really good content of another nature in the book.

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5. More On Susan Juby

I liked Alice, I Think by Susan Juby very much, but I'm not sure what the story is here. This may be one of those books you have to be zenny about and just experience.

Alice is the offspring of crunchy parents who homeschooled her because on her first day of traditional first grade (she didn't attend kindergarten), she showed up dressed as a character from The Hobbit. Things didn't go well for her. One could say that learning to read early leads to no good.

I was never a hundred percent sure why Alice was seeing a therapist, unless it had something to do with poor socialization because she was homeschooled. It was probably one of her parents' ideas. Alice heads out to regular school at fifteen, inspired by her younger brother who has always attended school. He may have been too bright for their parents and had some instinctual knowledge that you just don't dress up in costumes for school. Alice says outright that she has no problem with playing favorites. She definitely prefers her brother to her mother and father.

Oh, and Alice aspires to be a cultural critic.That is a fantastic aspect of the book.

Juby describes Alice, I Think as a Teen/Adult book, and I think that's very apt. There are aspects of this book that adults are going to find more entertaining than I think teens will. The section on the people holding some kind of memorial to the late, lamented Princess of Wales, for instance, is probably far more meaningful to adults than the younger than seventeen-year-olds who don't remember the world-wide mourning at her death. As much as I liked the cultural critic business, that might be for your more sophisticated teen readers, too.

Some of you may remember that my first Juby book was Home to Woefield, definitely an adult novel published in 2010. Next I read her teen book Getting the Girl, published in 2008.  I thought the main character was wonderful, "like a younger, less raunchy, undamaged Seth from Home to Woefield." Alice, I Think was published in 2003, and I think the young girl in the 2010 Woefield might be a variation on her.

Interesting to read so much of an author's work and see her world.

Alice, I Think has a sequel. In addition, a one-season TV series was made in Canada. Yes, I may try to get hold of it. If I watch it, you can be sure I'll let you know.

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6. A Possible New Reading Plan For Serials

Roger Sutton recently had a post at Read Roger in which he expressed frustration over reading books and finding out, without warning, that they aren't complete. They're the first in a serial. Oh, yes. I've had that happen so many times. He concludes, "Thank goodness Tolkien had already finished The Lord of the Rings before I got to the end of The Two Towers and “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy.”

I didn't have that experience with The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood. I had that experience with The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling, which was the first book in this serial. The Interrupted Tale is the fourth. I've liked them all, but The Interrupted Tale took a long time to get into. These books have a very distinctive voice, one I enjoy, but it's not a very natural one.

I enjoy binge-reading adult mystery series. While I was reading The Interrupted Tale, I started thinking that binging might be the way to read serials, too. How great it would have been if I could have read all The Incorrigible Children books one right after another. There would have been no "getting to know you" period for each book. I could have just lived in the serial.

So what do those of us who enjoy binge-reading a serial after it's concluded or a series after there's plenty to binge on need to do? As Roger pointed out, we often don't know that a book we're reading isn't a complete story. Once we've accidentally stumbled into a serial, do we just put reading the rest on hold for years until the serial has been completed? And when we are aware of a "new trilogy," do we avoid it and make a list for sometime in the future?

Hmm. Perhaps I'll have more on this in the future. 

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7. Diana Wynne Jones, My Spiritual Sister

Last week during my tai chi class, I trained with a more experienced student. At the end of the class, my instructor informed me that I should tell my classmate, "Thank you, older sister" (in Chinese), not because Susan is older than I am, but because she's more experienced. I will spare you the details of how meaningful I find this in terms of the distinction between taekwondo and tai chi culture. I'm just mentioning it to explain why I was dwelling on the sister issue while reading Reflections on the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones this past week.

Reflections is a collection of Wynne Jones' short nonfiction pieces written for magazines, speeches, and professional groups over several decades. She collected them herself a few months before she died, meaning these articles were ones she felt had particular significance. One of the things I like about this collection is that because it isn't written and edited all in one piece, there is repetition here. The repetition creates recurring themes related to Wynne Jones' attitudes about her work.

But I really like about this collection is that so many of Wynne Jones' attitudes are ones I share. She talks about creating experiences with her writing. I've thought of writing as creating worlds. She objects to writing that is supposed to instruct. Dear heavens, how I hate that. Over and over again I'm finding things in this book that make me feel that I've found some kind of soulmate.

Oh, and though there are a couple of chapters here on heroes, if Wynne Jones even mentions The Hero's Journey, I missed it.

And, finally, the book concludes with an address one of her son's gave at her funeral in which he talks about the tweets they'd seen recently about his mother's books being comfort books for this one or that one. Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci novels are my Number One comfort books.

There's just been an amazing amount for me, personally, in this book, making me feel an incredible connection to this woman I will never know.

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8. Maybe Too Much Going On?

I like books that stay on task, as I always put it. It may be that as a reader I get distracted if there are too many different things going on. I found the cookery part of Getting the Girl, A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery by Susan Juby distracting.

Sherman Mack is a wonderful character, like a younger, less raunchy, undamaged Seth from Home to Woefield. The mystery he's investigating, who singles out girls to be turned on by the general population, is a serious one, if maybe a little over the top. Sherm's interest in cooking ties in to the mystery by the end, but it seems unconnected until then. Same with his out-there Mom and the neighbor guy who serves as a father figure for Sherm.

Juby does a couple of interesting things here. First, she does a neat twist on the cliched mean girls stereotype. She also has created a world in which every popular kid in school, whether they earned their popularity with their looks, their athletic prowess, or something else, isn't hateful. They certainly aren't heroic or particularly positive in their behavior, but, again, they aren't the evil stereotype we're used to seeing.

I have another one of Juby's books here that I hope to get to in the next few weeks. 

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9. A Book for All Readers

I Kill the Mockingbird
by Paul Acampora
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
review copy from the public library, but I'll be buying a copy so I can transfer all my dog-eared pages

We rarely review YA books, but exceptions can be made.

This is a book for book lovers.

Three good friends on the brink of high school hatch a fake conspiracy to ensure that everyone will actually read their summer reading assignment -- To Kill a Mockingbird.

There's a romance subplot, a cancer subplot, and a poke-mild-fun-at-Catholics subplot. There are literary allusions to children's literature right and left (the three good friends are, and have always been Readers).

Oh, and there's a teaching subplot. Mr. Nowak, Fat Bob, has these words of wisdom before he dies of a massive coronary:
"It's not enough to know what all the words mean," he continued. "A good reader starts to see what an enritre book is trying to say. And then a good reader will have something to say in return. If you're reading well," he told us, "you're having a conversation." 
I raised my hand. "A conversation with who?"
"With the characters in the book," said Mr. Nowak. "With the author. With friends and fellow readers. A book connects you to the universe like a cell phone connects you to the Internet."
Mr. Nowak's the one who inspires the three culprits who hatch the I Kill the Mockingbird plan. And in the end,
"All the teachers are talking about it...If you're a teacher, you dream about having students who will try to change the world someday because of something you do or say in the classroom."

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10. I Shouldn't Have Tried To Guess What This Girl Is About

Early on in Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty with illustrations by David Roberts, young Rosie creates something that fails. And she feels bad about it. And I thought, Oh, this is going to be a girl self-esteem book. While this late twentieth century feminist is all for young girls having good self-esteem, I've read about it before.

But I was  wrong. This isn't a girl self-esteem book. This is an importance of failure book. There's something I haven't seen a lot of. The main character is a female because the main character had to be something. She could have been a genderless anthropomorphic bear, that's how little sex roles have to do with this story.

Rosie Revere deals specifically with the value of failure in engineering. In many such tech fields, failure brings practitioners closer to reaching their goals because it narrows the field of things to try. I think you could argue that failure is an important part of many fields. I could also do an old coot rant about how our educational system values artificial success (A's! Check pluses!) over the reality of work. Hey, but I'm not going to get all wound up.

How important is the basic premise of Rosie Revere, Engineer? According to the engineer I eat with most nights and twice on Sundays, failure was how those people worked a century or two ago. Those were the days before engineers had adequate knowledge of properties of materials, and may not have had much in the way of materials, for that matter. So if they built a bridge and it failed, they built another, differently. No, it doesn't sound very efficient or economical and wouldn't have made a great movie. Progress is a very fine thing, isn't it? No one would want a bridge to go down during rush hour just because failure is how you move forward toward success.

Nonetheless, failure before you get to the bridge point, in the early invention period that Rosie Revere, Engineer deals with, is another thing. Accepting failure and understanding its uses is an old idea that's due for a comeback.

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11. An Adult Book About Cheerleaders

If you've heard lots of good things about Dare Me by Megan Abbott, believe them. This is a terrific adult thriller about those YA cliches, bitchy cheerleaders.

Main character Addy is the beta female in a cheerleader squad. She serves her alpha "captain," Beth, and initially seems very comfortable in that spot in the hierarchy and with her relationship with the traditionally awful Beth. The two of them are tight, tight, tight. Their world is disturbed right off the bat when a new cheer leading coach comes in, one as badass as Beth. I wondered, myself, if she wasn't a former Beth, reliving the good old days as best she can. To do it, though, she has to battle Beth. Among the things they're battling for is the beta, Addy.

Oh, yeah. And there's a guy.

Whenever I read an adult book with a young protagonist, my immediate question is Why? Why is this an adult book, not a YA or children's book? Theme, I was told once, is an important factor in what makes YA YA. Dare Me falls well within the noir genre, and the noir themes that apply here are far more adult than YA. Okay, my understanding of noir is shaky. But I've been reading about themes involving a fate that can't be avoided, as well as despair, darkness, and obsession. None of the cheerleaders in Dare Me are made happy by anything they do or achieve. And their coach? She knows things aren't going to get any better.

Is this all there is? How's that for a theme? It's not one traditionally associated with YA, which usually deals with  moving into the adult world, finding a place in society, etc.

I felt the homoerotic touch was unnecessary. It risked making the story just a common all-about-love thing. On the other hand, don't noir protagonists often have at least a sexual attraction to a femme fatale? In which case, Dare Me was giving a neat twist to classic noir.

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12. Environmental Book Club

Spring Blossoms by Carole Gerber with illustrations by Leslie Evans is another one of these experiential books I'm fond of. With this one, you just sink into the experience of spring by focusing only on flowering trees.

The early part of the books involves just how some flowering trees look. After you get used to that, you move on to trees that bear both male and female blooms. Moving on, we come to pollen moving from male blooms to female blooms on balsam firs. There's a progression from less sophisticated information to more sophisticated.

I'm aware that I've been focusing a lot on picture books for this environmental book club. I'm working on that.

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13. Books 5 And 6. "Boxers" And "Saints" By Gene Luen Yang

My last two Book Challenge books.

First off, this is a two volume set. Be sure to read Boxers first.

Boxers and Saints are Gene Luen Yang's terrific historical graphic novels about the Boxer Rebellion. They're treated as one work because the books treat the same material from different points of view. I knew nothing about the Boxer Rebellion before 3:00 this afternoon. By 8:00 this evening, I had a working knowledge!

So in 1900 a secret organization in China called the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists led an uprising of  peasants against western foreign influence, including the spread of Christianity. They were known as "Boxers" to the west because they practiced exercises they believed would give them powers. Presumably westerners thought they looked as if they were boxing. The Boxers fought against and killed "western devils" and "secondary devils"--those Chinese who either worked for westerners or accepted Christianity, the western devil's faith.

Boxers deals with the experience of a young villager named Little Bao who becomes the leader of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists. Saints deals with the experience of Four-Girl, a young villager who becomes a Christian. One of the particular pleasures in these books is that Four-Girl, the protagonist in Saints, is a minor character in Boxers. Little Bao, the star of Boxers, is a minor character in Saints.

Though, really, neither of them could be called minor.

Earlier today I had trouble with the long descriptions in Haters. The thing with a good graphic novel, and these are good graphic novels, is that the graphic images carry the descriptions and even some of the action. The author doesn't have to stop everything to tell readers how someone is dressed or what their surroundings look like. You can just suck in basic story, character, information.

Reading a good graphic novel is such a rush because you can take in so much so fast.

I am out of books, but it's 9:00 PM on Sunday, anyway. I'm ending this year's 48 Hour Book Challenge on a definite high.

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14. Book 4. "Haters" By Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Haters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez was a rough, slow read for me. This is a boys-boys-I-like-cute-boys, shopping-and-clothes, and mean-girls book. That just is not a story situation that holds my attention. I had to start skimming the long paragraphs describing clothes and houses. Also a chapter on shopping and some dating sections. I am very aware, however, that there are many, many of these kinds of books in YA, meaning that there are plenty of people who do like reading them. Those readers may embrace Haters.

So Haters is a boys-boys-I-like-cute-boys, shopping-and-clothes, and mean-girls book with ethnic characters. It's also a kind of teenage fairy tale with all good things coming to main character Paski. A couple of interesting points:

In this LA world, beauty and money are great equalizers. Being Hispanic, Vietnamese, or any variation of African-American isn't an issue for people who are beautiful and rich. That's probably the case in real life.

In one of the magical realism episodes, Paski is visited in a vision by a child who will become the grandmother of her Japanese/African-American classmates/neighbors. This child has the knowledge of the adult she will become and of the world after she leaves it. She says something to the effect (and I'm paraphrasing here), I put in time in a Japanese internment camp as a child here in America so that my grandsons could be treated like crap when they get to high school not because they're Japanese but because they're chess geeks and just middle class? What the hell? With ya on that one, gram.

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15. A Future That Is Not Dystopian

Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel by K. A. Holt is a nominee this year for Connecticut's Nutmeg Award, which is how I found out about it. It was on the Nutmeg Shelf at my local library.

Nerves of Steel is a mystery in a science fiction setting that is more Jetsons than Hunger Games. Mike Stellar is suddenly hauled off on a space mission by his parents who were accused of being responsible for the failure of an earlier trip into the great unknown. Right away Mike thinks there's something odd going on. In traditional kid story fashion, he is all over it.

I found Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel slow getting going. And slow in other places. I hate to admit it, but I found the plot confusing in places, too. But there came a point when I did think that child Gail would have bought into a kid being able to save the day, no matter how improbable.

As Charlotte of Charlotte's Library said of this book when it was published, "This probably isn't a book that will appeal to grown-up fans of science-fiction, for whom the plot and its concomitant technology might seem simplistic. But, since they aren't the target audience, so what." Well, maybe I shouldn't say "As Charlotte...said" because I didn't find the plot simplistic. But you get what I'm going for here. This book isn't for people like me.

A big plus: Civilization hasn't fallen in this book. Oh, my gosh, I am so tired of post-apocalyptic misery.

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16. Sometimes A Woman Just Has To Read A Graphic Novel

I am a fan of of Faith Erin Hicks' graphic novels. She has a very distinctive style that I am drawn to. So, yes,  I had to snatch Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Hicks and Prudence Shen off my library's shelf.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is the story of a robotics team clashing with a cheerleading squad over funding. Unless it is the story of a teenager clashing with his parents who gets involved with the robotics team members and cheerleaders. When I finished the book, I wondered if there were two stories here or if I'd missed the main show. Mainly I wondered about this because if the robotics team/cheerleaders is the real story, it didn't take off until the mid-point.

But graphically this book has what I like about graphic novels. With a good graphic novel, I can just suck in, absorb a story. The images carry so much of the action, and I can whip through them and take in what's happening so quickly. I love the rush. In fact, I hunted through the graphic novels at the library because I was feeling a GN urge.

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17. Time Management Tuesday: Preparing To Do More With The Time I Have

Last week I wrote about my plan to try to up my word count during my May Days project. My idea is that one way to manage time is to do more with the time you have, rather than to try to create more time. This past week I read 2,000 to 10,000 How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron to help me get prepped for writing faster.

First off, I'd just like to say that this is a self-published eBook. In my experience, self-publishing, particularly of eBooks, has made it possible for writers and bloggers to toss together any kind of thoughts relating to a subject and publish them as if they're some kind of authority, when, once you've read a chapter or two, you realize they most definitely are not. That is not the case with 2,000 to 10,000! This is a very good book, and it only costs ninety-nine cents! Seriously, when I can find the time, I'm going to throw away some of the stodgy, academic writing books I've picked up here and there because the author was a well-known professor or a family member had to buy them for a college course and they made their way to me. I can see them on the shelf above my computer.

My only reservation about this book is that it might be more useful to writers with some experience, people who have struggled with writing, recognize problems, and can see how Aaron's solutions can help them. A total newbie might not be as taken with 2,000 to 10,000 as I am.

Aaron says there are three elements to increasing word count.  The one I'm going to dwell on today is knowing what you're going to write before you get started. Over the course of my career, I cannot tell you how many times I've sat down to start a book with only the vaguest idea of what I was going to say. With my last two books (which, I must admit, I haven't sold) I stumbled upon some of Aaron's suggestions on my own because I was hunting for ways to plot ahead of time and cut down on the number of drafts I have to write.

Some of her suggestions, and what I've done with them in the past:

  • Write down what you already know about the idea you've chosen to write about.
    • A problem I've had in the past is that I didn't know enough about my idea. It was a situation, not a story idea in which something happens to somebody. Perhaps if I'd tried this step, I would have realized I didn't have a story to tell. Or the act of writing what I did know down would have helped generate a story.
  • Do some work on characters, plot, and setting.
    • For characters this can involve any kind of character chart. These things are all over the Internet. I have used them, and I think you can go overboard and overwhelm yourself with too much info. Nonetheless, I have found them helpful because when you've worked out info about your characters, you get ideas for things they could end up doing and that's plot, something I've already admitted I have a lot of trouble with. Character has been a sort of back door into plot for me.
    • For plot this can involve listing the scenes you're going to write. Aaron can do this for the entire book. I am happy if I can come up with a list of what's known as candy bar scenes and can get them in order. Aaron also talks about knowing your ending before you start. For the first time, I do have an ending in mind for the book I'm going to be working on next month.
    • For setting this could involve creating maps. I have sketched out the floor plans of buildings. I find knowing about setting early on useful because setting has helped me with plot. Certain things can happen in some places that can't happen in others.
Over the next month, I'll discuss more about what Aaron has to say in her book and how I'm using that information.

Some more points I want to make:
  1. Aaron talks about spending a couple of days on the kind of planning she writes about. I've spent weeks or months doing this kind of thing.
  2. I believe it's a rare day when I've written 2,000 words, so I'm not starting at the same baseline she's talking about. We'll figure out my baseline next week.
In case you didn't notice, that's a Time Management Tuesday logo on the left at the top of the page. We're into logos here right now.

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18. This Should Have Been Part Of A Binge Read

I am a long-time fan of the Skulduggery Pleasant series. Nonetheless, I'm finding the books becoming more and more...mmm...what word am I looking for? Slog is too extreme. Too much may be what I'm going for here.

And yet the final volume, Armageddon Outta Here,  comes out later this year, and I'll be getting my copy in from Great Britain. I kind of wish, though, that I'd found these books after they were all published. Then I could have read them in a binge and wouldn't have experienced some of the problems I encountered, particularly with Last Stand.

Knowing what happened in earlier books is crucial to getting the most out of this one. These books are very much a serial, not a series.  I've been reading them over six years. My mind's just not that good. I was lucky if I could put together a vague idea of some of the past events. Reading all eight books, one after the other, would have helped with that.

And while there are many witty characters in Last Stand, they tend to be witty in the same way, sounding a lot alike. Reading the books in a binge might have made the sameness even more obvious or it might have made the characters easier to follow because you could carry them from book to book.

Apart from that, this particular volume in the series is interesting because of all the point of view switches. In the first half of the book, it would be easy to argue that Skulduggery and, more importantly, Valkyrie Cain, aren't the main characters. It could be argued that there is no main character. The early book comes across a bit like World War Z, in which the war is really the character. The point of view switches also slow things down.

Another interesting aspect of the book is the question of just why it's YA. Valkyrie Cain turns 18. She's never had a lot of traditional teen experiences, anyway, though she was often childish acting over the course of the series. In Last Stand, she is all about being a warrior. Character and situation aren't too YA-like. But theme is. Valkyrie (and another character) are evolving, sometimes trying to control who they will become. The themes of transition and life choices mark the book as YA.

So that's it on Skulduggery, until this fall.

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19. I Don't Think I Can Read About Noah Anymore

I think I may have mentioned Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean recently. If not, let's just say that it totally changed my perception of the Noah's Ark story, which I pretty much only knew about from teaching preschool Sunday school. To this day, I don't think I've read the Bible passages that refer to it.

Yesterday I did a little Noah reading with a young family member.We began with On Noah's Ark by Jan Brett. Beautiful book. It began with "Grandpa Noah says that the rains are coming. Soon the land will be covered with water. Grandpa Noah is building an ark for our family and the animals to live on until it stops raining." Our family is chilling to me now. Because we're talking only our family. The last page includes a lovely rainbow, though it doesn't mention anything about the rainbow in the text. I know that the rainbow is supposed to represent God's promise to never destroy the world with water again. (According to preschool stories, at least.) That's comforting, I suppose. But doesn't it leave you to wonder, How will you destroy it?

We went on to Peter Spier's Noah's Ark. Another beautiful book, a Caldecott winner. This is a wordless volume. Nonetheless, when I got to the page with the elephants left in the rain watching the ark that they've been shut out of...eek. And then the page with the four columns showing the ark floating above a building and a whole village? Okay, there were no bodies. But, also, there was nobody.

Thank goodness my Sunday school teaching days are behind me.

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20. Environmental Book Club

Last week I said that I wasn't stumbling over environmental books on-line now that this year's Earth Day is past. I did, however, stumble upon some at my local library. This week I have a terrific book for our club.

First off, I must say that I am not fond of haiku. That is not a random thought, by the way. Look at this book's title. Anyway, I find haiku kind of confining because of that business of counting the number of syllables and so many syllables per line and three lines and multiply this by that and then divide something, raise to another power, and maybe there's a percentage in there somewhere. I don't actually know.

Jon Muth says he didn't confine himself to the pattern I think of as haiku in Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons. Instead, he treats haiku "like an instant captured in words--using sensory images." And his sensory images are fantastic.

Now this book is more about children's (and pandas') experience of the different seasons than a hardcore "this is autumn" sort of thing. But we live within nature, too. Leaves that need to be swept up, snow falling off branches, birds making nests, fireflies...every season has something new for kids to do. And the changing events definitely get across the idea of change. And that's seasons, for you. Change, change, change.

And for really young kids, who aren't ready for picking up on ideas, there's Muth's terrific panda.

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21. An Odyssey For Those Of Us Who Don't Care For The Odyssey

I'm not a big fan of The Odyssey. Nasty folks in that story, doing nasty things. The Cyclops has all my sympathy. I appreciate The Odyssey's impact on literature and culture...in a creepy sort of way...but perhaps you can understand why I didn't rush out to read Stickman Odyssey by Christopher Ford.

But Stickman may be my kind of Odyssey. Main character Zozimos is an Odysseus-type in that he is pretty objectionable while managing to pull his sorry, and stick-like, backside out of one mess after another. And there are some references to familiar Odyssey scenes. But there's a great deal that's new here, too. This is quite a different story, if I remember The Odyssey correctly. For instance, I don't think there were any golems in the original work from ancient Greece.

David Elzey compared the Stickman books to Rocky and Bullwinkle's Fractured Fairy Tales. A neat idea.

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22. Environmental Book Club

I found another good book for our club.

I didn't expect to like Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor with illustrations by Laura Beingessner as much as I did. Picture book bios are often problematic to me. They sometimes seem too old for picture book folks, too young for older ones, so who are they for? This one, not so much. Definitely for mid-grade school readers. Maybe third or fourth grade.

The first thing that struck me about this book is that very early on we hear that Rachel as a child explored the outdoors by herself and had a mother who had an interest in nature. This child got her start without any formal environmental instruction, such as we would want for children these days, and, yet, she turned into Rachel Carson.

Another thing I liked about this book, and, yes, this is just me, is that it describes a woman's story. Carson as a young woman had needy family to deal with. As often happens with achieving women of her era, she had help. In her case, her mother hustled to pull together money for school. She was encouraged by a female college professor. A male superior at the Bureau of Fisheries advised her to submit work to The Atlantic. She was a professional woman without a personal family. If you read the Epilogue, you'll find that after Silent Spring was published critics referred to her as "an hysterical woman." Someone asked "why a spinster with no children was so concerned about genetics."

Okay, so maybe I got into this story because of the feminist angle I read into it. But, really, the part in the beginning about simply growing up enjoying the outdoors was very significant, too.

Love the period illustrations, too.

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23. Book 1. "Life Is Fine" By Allison Whittenberg

My 48 Hour Book Challenge weekend started a little around 3:00 this afternoon, and I just finished my book around 4:45.

I always like to have a theme for 48HBCs, and this year I accepted the official 48HBC theme as my own. Diversity. I haven't done any reading of the many, many things that have been written on the subject these past couple of months. When selecting my books, I didn't even use any book lists. I had a chance to hit a couple of libraries this past month and for the most part just picked up whatever I found that seemed to fit the bill.

Life is Fine by Allison Whittenberg (who needs a website) was an interesting read for me because I picked it up nearly a month ago. By the time I started reading it today, I no longer remembered what it was about. I like when that happens.

I want to get one thing straight right away. I liked this book. I think one could make an argument that there were a lot of cliched problem novel elements in this thing--neglected child with a single mom who needs men in her life, illness and the specter of death turns up, literature changes lives--and, yet, I liked it. I think main character Samara has a little bit of attitude that shows up not so much in her first-person narration but in her interactions with people. I liked very much the way race was handled here. There are no characters wearing metaphorical signs saying "I'm the African American character!" "I'm the Puerto Rican character!" Yet they are there. Now this may be why you want to see books by ethnic writers. They may be able to create ethnic characters who just are.

Now, after all this, I will tell you the really neat thing about this book. Teenage Samara falls for her substitute teacher--who is seventy, if he's a day. I would have loved to have seen a lot more about that.

I definitely would be interested in reading more of Whittenberg's work.

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24. Book 3. "Josephine" By Patricia Hruby Powell And Christian Robinson

When I first heard about Josephine Baker, way back in my youth, I found her fascinating. I don't know if it was the banana costume, the gyrating hips, or the life in France, but I was impressed. So when I heard there was a picture book bio, I decided to keep an eye out for it.

Josephine, The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell with illustrations by Christian Robinson is a sharp and arty book.  It's written in free verse that is both effortless to read and expressive and intense. Many picture book bios don't cover an entire lifetime. This one does. I think Hurby Powell is able to do that because she uses dance and Baker's experiences with the segregated world she was born into as threads that keep her focused.

Baker's experience with segregation and work as a civil rights activist give this book another level of interest. As with Persepolis, it doesn't feel as if the reader (this reader, at least) is being instructed. A segregated world is just the well-defined setting for the book.

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25. Book 2. "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi

Oh, my gosh. How could I have waited so long to read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi? How soon can I get hold of the second volume?

I probably would have been even more blown away by this memoir of living through the fall of the Shah of Iran, the fundamentalist takeover of that country, and its war with Iraq if I hadn't read Reading Lolita in Tehran, which deals with some of the same period but from an adult's experience.  What's amazing in both cases is the way people living under those conditions tried to maintain normality, continuing with their social gatherings in secret, collecting western pop culture trinkets. Oh, my gosh.

No wonder I see this book on my local schools' summer reading lists so often. But this isn't instructive, you-ought-to-learn-about-this-culture stuff. This is simply little Marjane's life, and she has quite a character. She's a very little revolutionary at first, but when the revolution leads to a fundamentalist takeover, she doesn't buckle under to that.

I wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did. Very pleased. Maybe a gift for my brother-in-law, who likes history but probably has never read a graphic novel.

My only complaint--the print seemed small at first. But once I was into the book, I no longer noticed.

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