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Hello Readers, I hope you're all enjoying summer (well, at least those of you in the Northern Hemisphere!). These are definitely not "lazy, hazy days" for me. I spent much of our blogging break working on lesson plans for upcoming classes, including a children's writing camp that begins today. (If you'd like to see my summer class offerings, check out my website.) Today I'm kicking off a series of posts in which we TeachingAuthorstalk about a book we recently read or are currently reading. Thanks to the lovely Linda Baie over at TeacherDance, I know about a meme in the blogging community called "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" hosted at Teach Mentor Texts. I'm happy to have a blog post that qualifies for the roundup!
The book I'd like to discuss is John Green's The Fault in Our Stars(Dutton). Even though this bestseller has been out since 2012 and has been made into a "major motion picture," I didn't get around to reading it till this month. I might not have read it all if it hadn't been selected as one of our Anderson's Bookshop's Not for Kids Only Book Club titles for August.
I'm happy to say that even though I don't typically read or write contemporary young adult novels, I enjoyed this one. I was especially struck by two things right at the beginning:
A. The Author's Note:
In case you haven't read it (or somehow missed the page) the book includes an unusual Author's Note before Chapter One:
This is not so much an author’s note as an author’s reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.
Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.
I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.
This note struck me for two reasons:
It reminded me of a question I'm often asked. Since my novel, Rosa, Sola, is based on events from my own childhood, readers often want to know how much of the novel "really happened." I think many who ask it are disappointed by my answer: None of it "really happened" because my life events happened to me, not to Rosa Bernardi. I don't think I could have written the story if I hadn't been able to separate myself from my character.
Green's note made me think more deeply about the nature of fiction and our purposes in reading/writing it. The note also reminded me of something I read years ago--that fiction is about Universal Truths, or "truth with a capital T." As a writer, I sometimes get so caught up in plot and craft, etc., that I can lose sight of the Truth.
Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
I have to admit--after first reading this sentence I wasn't completely sure Hazel was being sarcastic. After all, this was a book about a girl with cancer. But it soon became apparent that cancer hadn't killed her sense of humor. That surprised me, as did other things about the book. I'm not going to risk spoiling it for those of you who haven't read the novel yet by telling you what those other things were. I'll just say that I enjoyed the book more than I expected. And, reading as a writer, I learned from it.
I wonder how many of you, our readers, have read Green's book. I'd love to know what you thought of it. And if you have any "summer reading" recommendations, do share them with us.
First up, my little sister. My daughter recently had her third birthday so my sis came up with a craft involving what she calls Do It Yourself Cupcakes. Each cupcake sported a teeny tiny cover of one of my child’s favorite books. Then we took them to her daycare where she delightedly set about pointing out all the books she knew. I have zero crafting skills but if you do then you might want to try this sometime. It was kind of friggin’ amazing.
Now in praise of Kevin King. The Kalamazoo Public librarian has long been hailed as one of the best in the country. Fact. Children’s authors and illustrators everywhere know his name. Fact. But when a man attended a summer reading kickoff for Kalamazoo Public Library with a gun, who confronted the fellow and asked him to please leave? Kevin King. So basically, he’s an amazing librarian AND he has the guts to talk to someone packing heat around children. Kevin King, today we salute you. I don’t know that many of us would have the courage to do what you did.
Look, we all talk about how we don’t have enough of one kind of book or not enough of another. But what do we actually DO about it? Credit to Pat Cummings. She doesn’t take these things lying down. Check out the Hero’s Art Journey Scholarship then. As the website says, “The Children’s Book Academy is proud and excited to offer merit scholarships for writers and illustrators of color, identifying as LBGQTI, or having a disability, who are currently underrepresented in the children’s publishing industry. In addition, we are offering scholarships for low income folks who might not be able to take this course otherwise as well as to SCBWI Regional Advisers and Illustrator Coordinators who do so much unpaid work to help our field.” The first and only scholarship of its kind that I’ve certainly seen.
Sometimes it’s just nice to find out about a new blog (even if by “new” you mean it’s been around since 2012). With that in mind, I’d like to give a hat tip and New Blog Alert to The Show Me Librarian. I believe it was Travis Jonker who led me to St. Charles City-County Library District librarian Amy Koester’s site. It doesn’t have a gimmick. It’s just an honestly good children’s librarian blog with great posts like this one on Reader’s Advisory and this one on picture book readalouds. Them’s good reading.
Jules would never alert you to this herself, but don’t miss this interview with the woman behind the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog as conducted by Phil and Erin E. Stead. Even if you know Jules you’ll learn something new. For example, I had no idea she enjoyed Marc Maron’s podcast too.
Speaking of Jules, who is the most tattooed children’s author/illustrator (since we already know the most tattooed bookseller)? The answer may surprise you.
I’m sorry. I apparently buried the lede today. Else I would have begun with the startling, shocking, brilliant news that they’re bringing back Danger Mouse. Where my DM peoples at? Can I get a, “Crumbs!”? That’s right.
I don’t read much YA. Usually I’ll pick out the big YA book of a given year and read it so that I don’t fall completely behind, but that’s as far as I’ll go (right now deciding between We Were Liars and Grasshopper Jungle). But I make exceptions and Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles fall into that gap. Now I hear that Meyer wrote a prequel called Fairest giving her villain some much needed background. That’s cool enough, but the cover? You only WISH you could see more jackets like this:
Speaking of YA, and since, by law, nothing can happen at this moment on the internet without some mention of The Fault in Our Stars at least once, I was rather charmed by Flavorwire’s round-up of some of the odd TFIOS merchandise out there. Favorite phrase: “for the saddest party ever.”
It’s important to remember that school library cuts aren’t an American invention. They’re a worldwide problem, a fact drilled home recently by the most recent post on Playing By the Book. If you’re unaware of the blog it’s run by the wonderful Zoe Toft and is, to my mind, Britain’s best children’s literature blog, bar none. Now Zoe’s facing something familiar to too many school librarians and it’s awful. Does anyone know of a British children’s literary magazine along the lines of a School Library Journal or Horn Book? The fact that her blog hasn’t been picked up by such an outlet is a crime.
“I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.” As a woman with a child too young at the moment to be vaccinated against diseases like measles, every parent that refuses to get their own children vaccinated is a threat to mine. So I read with great interest what Roald Dahl felt about vaccinating your kids. It ran on BoingBoing back in 2009 but this kind of thing never dies.
And the award for Best Summer Reading List of All Time goes to . . . Mike Lewis! His Spirit of Summer Reading list for reluctant readers can only be described in a single word: Beautiful. Designed flawlessly with books that I adore, this is the list I’d be handing to each and every parent who walks in my library door, were I still working a reference desk somewhere. Wowzah.
A whole exhibit on Appalachian children’s literature? See, this is why I need my own private jet. Why has no one ever given me a private jet? Note to Self: Acquire private jet, because it’s exhibits like this one that make me wish I was more mobile. You lucky denizens of Knoxville, TN will be able to attend this exhibit between now and September 14th. Wow. Thanks to Jenny Schwartzberg for the link.
So pleased to see this interview with Nathan Hale on the Comics Alternative podcast. Love that guy’s books, I do. Great listening.
New York certainly does have a lot of nice things. Big green statues in the harbors. Buildings in the shape of irons. Parks that one could call “central”. But one thing we do not have, really, is an annual children’s book trivia event for folks of every stripe (librarians, editors, authors, booksellers, teachers, etc.). You know who does? Boston. Doggone Boston. The Children’s Book Boston trivia event happened the other day and The Horn Book reported the results. One could point out that I could stop my caterwauling and throw such an event myself. Hmm… could work. We could do it at Sharlene’s in Brooklyn… it’s a thought…
There are bookshelves that seem kooky or cool and then there are bookshelves that could serve a VERY useful purpose, if you owned them. Boy howdy, do I wish I owned this because useful is what it is. It’s a “Has Been Read” and “Will Be Read” shelf.
I see not one, but four problems with implementing a rating system. Firstly, books have always been a safe haven for young readers. In the pages of a book they are free “to explore edgier, sensitive, or complicated topics” without judgement. If books are taken away, young people have lost a valuable platform that can help them better understand themselves and the world around them.
Secondly, whose going to decide what is and isn’t appropriate reading material for teenagers. What makes a “nebulous organization” more qualified than your child or you? What criteria are they going to base their decisions on? Is the reading public going to be able to question their decisions?
Thirdly, are librarians now going to be called upon to enforce this system? If so, how? Will students be required to provide some form of identification every time he or she wants to take out a book?
Finally, and most importantly, a rating system is a form of censorship. How is it any different from banning a book? The truth is, it isn’t.
A book on a shelf is meaningless if a reader can’t actually read it.
Back in January I decided to go to my local children’s bookshop to see if they had my new book in stock. Maybe I could sign their copies? Luckily I managed to park just a few yards from their door.
But as soon as I got out of the car I was in agony. My knee was a mass of shrieking nerves. I could hardly walk the few steps to the shop door. I had to hold onto the windows of the neighbouring shops and hop (so determined was I to see my book on the shelves that I didn’t consider giving up).
Once in the shop I was in so much pain that the kind staff had to get me a chair, and, once I’d signed their stock and bought a copy for my uncle, the owner insisted on accompanying me back to my car, which I could drive, fortunately, because it was my left knee and it is an automatic car.
Just under four months later, I am recovering from an operation on a badly torn cartilage. I am suffering less pain every day, doing my physiotherapy exercises, and looking forward to being able to walk for more than 15 minutes at a time.
I wouldn’t say it’s been an entirely negative experience though. The enforced rest which comes after surgery or illness is an unusual experience in today’s busy world. It gave me a chance to reflect on my lifestyle, and how little time I spend away from computer or car. As I read, watched Masterchef and Game of Thrones, listened to music, or just snoozed, I found ideas for my current book blossomed in a way that doesn’t happen when I’m actively trying to focus.
Convalescence and illness are at the heart of some of my favourite children’s books. The long road to recovery for Katy after she fell off a swing in What Katy Did. The scary rocks with eyes in Catherine Storr’s Marianne Dreams. Harriet’s wobbly legs which need building up through ice-skating in Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots, Colin's mysterious illness in The Secret Garden. As a writer I get impatient when I have to nurse a character through an illness or injury, because it slows the book down – I can completely understand why Sally Green plumped for self-healing as a magical gift in her debut Half Bad. But as a reader, as a child, I loved these stories of rest and recovery.
Nowadays some of our most successful children's books are about illness, disability, mental illness and accidents requiring intensive care. Books such as John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and R J Palacio's Wonder have won prizes and become best sellers.
Am I right to think that today's medical dramas are more dramatic than the tales of slow healing from the past? They are more likely to be about death and prejudice, than fresh air and gentle exercise. Are there modern books about overcoming the tedium of not being able to do very much for a while?
My dodgy knee has made me rethink my plans for a study in my house. I have decided to do without a desk and laptop in the room earmarked for me. I have other places where I can go to write - cafes, tables, other people’s houses. The internet is constantly entertaining and informative, and endlessly distracting. What I need is a room with no screens. A place for reading and listening to music. A space to shut out the busy-ness of work and family, to let ideas and characters develop. Somewhere for dreaming, resting, creative thinking. A place to slow down and think.
At the moment this room is full of boxes, and needs redecorating thanks to a leaking roof. But when it’s complete, I promise to report back and tell you if it works for me as I hope.
Hello, friends! I am back this week with another random giveaway. Since The Fault in Our Stars movie is coming out soon, I though it would be fun to give away a copy of the soundtrack album. Looks to be a good one and includes tracks by Ed Sheeran, Birdy, Lykke Li and more. Usual contest rules apply. This is for US residents only and will end the day after the film's release. Good luck!
Open to US residents only.
We are not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged items.
One set of entries per household please.
If you are under 13, please get a parent or guardian's permission to enter, as you will be sharing personal info such as an email address.
Winner will be chosen randomly via Rafflecopter widget a day or two after the contest ends.
Winner will have 48 hours to respond to to the email, otherwise we will pick a new winner.
If you have any questions, feel free to email us. You can review our full contest policy here.
PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE ANY PERSONAL INFO IN THE COMMENTS. Sorry for the caps but we always get people leaving their email in the comments. Rafflecopter will collect all that without having personal info in the comments for all the world (and spambots) to find. Thanks!
Here’s more from Green’s announcement: “I am doing this because 1. I like my readers, and 2. I want to find a way to thank them for choosing to read my books in this media-saturated world, and 3. I can’t tour everywhere, and it seems weird to preference readers who live near big metropolitan areas of the US over other readers, plus 4. I think it will be kind of fun unless my hand falls off.”
Today for Trailer Tuesday, check out these trailers for The Fault in our Stars by John Green and Partials by Dan Wells.
The Fault in our Stars by John Green Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Partials by Dan Wells Recovered from an off-site ParaGen records facility on July 17, 2063, the above archival footage is from an investor reel, dated March 1, 2056.
Don't miss this year's blockbuster novel, where the very concept of what it means to be human is called into question. Check out PARTIALS now!
So, here's a great idea for something to do while dealing with the recuperation of your aging father who is battling lung cancer. Read a book about two teens who are struggling with cancer and fall in love and one of them is certainly going to die but hopefully not in the book. (Hah! You think I'm going to tell you if one of them dies? Read the book yourself.)
I adored books about dying teens when I was a teenager. They - the teens, not the books - were always so noble. And brave. And selfless. Green's characters are also very attractive and intelligent and literary. And brave. And witty. And selfless - sort of. And sarcastic. And irreverent. And in love. Sigh.
There's this whole other character, an author, who turns out to be just...oh wait. I can't tell you what that character turns out to be like because then as you read the book you'll be saying things like, "He's going to save their lives"..or, "She's going to wear clown shoes" or whatever I intimate the author might do. You can't make me say more than I have already said.
Read the book. It will not cheer you up. It might make you grateful. If it doesn't make you grateful, do NOT let me know.
Today’s post comes to us from Youth Advisory Board member Skyanne, who read “The Fault In Our Stars,” a sad yet heartening novel by John Green about two terminilly ill teenagers who meet at a Cancer Kid Support Group and fall in love. The... Read the rest of this post