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Okay, neither do I… not really. This was published long before I was born.
But I had a lot of books as a kid that had been my mom’s, and my dad’s, and belonged to their parents before them, or come to them from used book stores. So I remember what it felt like to read and read, and wait for the next amazing color plate. Or skip to it, because I couldn’t wait for the pretty shiny picture.
Like the one above.
Or like this one.
Little Women! Treasure Island! The Happy Prince! East O the Sun and West O the Moon! The Cuckoo Clock! These books all had amazing color plates in them, and I carry those pictures with me to this day.
I wonder if some evil wizard or conjurer has stolen all the art away? WHAT OTHER EXPLANATION CAN THERE POSSIBLY BE?
This morning I’m thinking about how graphic novels are hugely HUGELY popular.
And I’m thinking about how big visual glowing movies like Hugo or Hunger Games or Narnia are being made from middle grade books.
And I’m thinking about how often I hear people lament about “What can we do to get the kids reading?”
And I’m thinking about how, last night, Mose and Lew asked me to read picture books instead of starting a new readaloud novel. ”Because we like the pictures.”
And I’m wondering… WHY ARE WE REMOVING ALL THE INTERIOR ART FROM THE MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS?
I mean, I know full color plates are too expensive to consider, but I so so so so love books with art in them. Who decided that only baby books should have pictures?
WAS IT YOU?
By: Angela Muse,
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Welcome to our holiday hop!
We are so excited about our latest book, The Christmas Owl, that we are giving away two prizes to one lucky winner. Our prize is a 5-inch stuffed owl and a signed hardcover version of The Christmas Owl. This story follows a Barred owl becomes injured and must ask others for help. He promises to give back to those who have a generous heart and he is true to his word. This colorful holiday tale is perfect for children aged eight and under.
This giveaway ends on December 13th at midnight so ENTER today.
Click to see the other blogs participating in our holiday hop hosted by Youth Literature Reviews and Mother Daughter Book Reviews.
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Last night I noticed that Geek Dad had posted his favorite picture books, and so I popped over to check out the list. And was shocked to find that they were almost all by men. This made me cranky. But I figured, “Eh, he’s just one guy.”
Then, this morning, I noticed that the Goodreads ”Best of” is also virtually all men. And that… is more complicated. Because WE made that list. We, the readers of the world.
Now, if there weren’t a ton of amazing 2013 picture books by women, I could maybe accept this. But there TOTALLY are. Which begs the question… WHAT’S GOING ON?
Do men actually just make better picture books than women? Do men get better marketing and publicity budgets than women for picture books? Or… as I’m beginning to fear… do we, the (largely) women who buy and blog about picture books have a tendency to elevate books by men?
I want to make a list to post today, of the 2013 BEST PICTURE BOOKS BY WOMEN. Help me out? What’s your favorite? I’ll add them later.
A few of mine, for starters:
City Cat, by Lauren Castillo
Jane, the Fox, and Me, by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault
If You Want to See a Whale, by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead
Seriously, add them up! We’ll make a Goodreads list later, and I’ll add the covers here too…
And I’d like to add that I’m a HUGE FAN of the books on Geek Dad’s list. These are some of my favorite authors and illustrators too. But the list is incomplete.
Let’s fix that.
Ready to have your mind blown?
So… I have this friend named Aaron. We’ve known each other a long long looooong time. Since before I could write a full sentence or he knew not to stick his paintbrush in his ear.
Nowadays, he’s busy making the most beautiful wordless picture books you’ve ever seen. But years ago, before either of us had published a book, he and I tried to collaborate.
First, on a picture book that will never exist, called Lily and the Wily Corn Bears…
And then on Inside the Slidy Diner, which would become my first picture book, though with other art.
I guess the world just wasn’t ready for us *yet…
But Aaron found these old images on a CDRom today. Isn’t that cool?
*in fact, Aaron DID do the cover of my adult anthology, Half/Life, but adult books don’t count. Everyone knows that.
“Everything is the same color–one enormous listless gray world where not a breath stirs and the birds don’t sing.”
(the Storm Book)
I’m sad tonight. Charlotte Zolotow has died.
I’ll leave it to someone else to talk about Zolotow’s contribution to children’s literature. I can only speak to how much she contributed to me, personally.
My grandmother loved her books, and I have a handful of signed first editions that she got for me. They entered my life when I was just the right age for them.
Zolotow’s books were special to me. Different from other books. Calm. Complex,
I loved The Storm Book.
I loved Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present. Deeply.
“She likes birds in trees.”
But wow. I loved My Grandson Lew best of all.
I had a grandpa who died when I was little myself. And I think Zolotow captured something in that book… the memory, the sense of loss, the vague memory. But the presence of a death, as well as the absence.
Somehow, I got that, as a kid…
Though as an adult… I see it differently.
(My Lew with Zolotow’s Lew)
So I am going to sit down tonight, and read CZ’s books to my kids, and think about the power of a good book at the right time.
Not a joke. Not a “hook.” Not a product. But a book.
The right book. Speaking in a calm ture voice to the people who need to hear it…
Just the way a grandfather might speak. With a crinkled eye, and a quiet laugh, or a wistful smile.
So that he can’t possibly be forgotten.
Not even when he’s gone.
we will remember him together
and neither of us
will be so lonely
as we would be
if we had to remember him
(My Grandson Lew)
When a drama rings true I want to cry.
I do, it’s true, I confess, I’m hopeless, when the story rings true I just can’t help it.
But in my defense let me put a finer point on this “ringing” business—I’m starting to say that the story has come true. The protagonist has come true. He or she has had a radical change of heart.
There’s a word for that—METANOIA—look it up. It really means a profound “change of mind.” A no-going-back-to-the-way-things-were-before shift in worldview. A new way of seeing things.
Take The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. (What, you haven’t seen it?)
An extreme narcissist is dragged (literally) through the Siera Madre mountains of Mexico to his agonizing undoing in the film’s penultimate scene. It is so truly acted that there is no doubt in my mind that I am in the presence of the human organizm experiencing a universal repentance—a metanoia.
Here is a character so utterly disillusioned, so emptied of his personal bullshit that he finds himself escaping the gravity field of his small self. I’m sorry, but when I am present to anyone (virtual or not) breaking free, I weep with joy.
Now, you might want to argue about how growth occurs. It’s the old geological issue—evolution by infinitesimal increment over millennia, or through cataclysm. Well, both as it turns out. But the notion of sudden, terrifying, and radical metanoia is relatively new, and it still challenges many writers.
Of course, explosive change is nothing new to Eastern traditions. Zen monks, by their austere practices, cultivate the essential condition of “emptiness” that invites a new way of seeing things. Even Christian mystics claim that true poverty of spirit “requires that man shall be emptied of god and all his works.” ~ Meister Eckhart
My new best friend, the famous American Trappist monk Thomas Merton, went spelunking into this emptiness and returned with an appreciation of the mysterious Tao.
According to Merton, we can’t begin to understand the nature of this charitable void “without a complete transformation, a change of heart, which Christianity would call metanoia. Zen of course envisaged this problem, and studied how to arrive at satori, or the explosive rediscovery of the hidden and lost reality within us.”
Discovering their hidden selves, always painfully, this is what the best fictional protagonists do. And by doing so—by freeing themselves—they make the human story come true.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada came true for me in a scene I can’t forget.
The narcissist (and who isn’t one, really?), on his knees, emptied of his outmoded self, opens his arms to accept whatever punishment or grace existence may have in store for him. This kind of surrender—whether explosive or discreet—is where we’re all headed.
When I am witness to anyone breaking free, I am in profound sympathy with them. It’s happening to me, there’s nothing vicarious about it!
So let me ask you this—what if this was fiction’s function—to give us a taste of our own story coming true.
Emma Walton Hamilton
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“What I need is someone who will make me do what I can.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Would you like to finish a middle grade or YA novel, or complete four picture books by the end of next year, and start submitting to agents and editors? What if you could be mentored by an award-winning children’s book author who would give you the structure, support and accountability to do just that?
Enter the Children’s Literature Fellows, a one-year certificate program launched last year by Stony Brook Southampton’s esteemed MFA in Creative Writing and Literature, and now accepting applications for 2014. Admission to the program is highly selective; only twelve applicants are selected each year – and the application deadline for 2014 is December 1, so you’ll need to act fast if you’re interested.
My colleagues and I at Stony Brook Southampton developed this year-long course of instruction – accomplished mostly in distance learning format – to offer children’s book writers a more affordable and flexible option than matriculation in a two- or three-year MFA program. Because not all writers who want to complete projects have the time or the funds to complete a full degree program, the Children’s Literature Fellows do their work within a framework tailored to their needs. The program bears 16 graduate level credits, and is customized, affordable, comprehensive, and professionally useful.
Fellows work independently with the gifted writers who make up Stony Brook Southampton’s outstanding faculty – including Patricia McCormick, Maryrose Wood, Jules Feiffer, Kate and Jim McMullan, Tor Seidler, Cindy Kane, Rachel Cohen, myself and others – in a highly individualized curriculum that is accomplished from home. Twice a year, they come together as a cohort: once in July during the Summer Conference and a second time in January for a special Publishing and Editing Conference, during which they have the chance to meet with editors, agents and other members of the publishing industry.
Picture book author Julie Gribble, a 2013 Children’s Lit Fellow, says, “Being a Children’s Lit Fellow is like having a guided tour of a city you’d always wanted to explore – you learn so much more than you could traveling about on your own!”
“The Children’s Literature Fellowship is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself,” says middle grade novelist Janas Byrd. “It is a one-on-one mentorship with awarding winning authors who are also brilliant teachers. As a middle school teacher and mother of two, time is a hot commodity. This fellowship allows me the flexibility to write when it is most convenient for me. I will finish and polish my novel in nine months, a feat that would not have been possible to accomplish on my own.”
For more information about the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Fellows program and the application process, go to http://childrenslitfellows.org or visit http://www.stonybrook.edu/mfa and click on Children’s Lit Fellows.
But do it quickly! December 1 is just two weeks away!
Today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday book is about the nephew of the popular poet, Emily Dickinson and the special relationship they had.
Title – My Uncle Emily
Author – Jane Yolen Illustrator – Nancy Carpenter
Publisher – Philomel Books (Penguin Young Readers Group)
Year 2009 Ages
Synopsis – This is a semi fictional tale told from the perspective of poet Emily Dickinson’s nephew. It is a warm tale of love, telling the truth, adversity, and loyalty. The classic style of the art pulls you back into time, where the special relationship between an Aunt and a boy is revealed.
Themes – love, telling the truth, adversity, family, loyalty, history.
Emily Dickinson museum’s kids page http://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/for%20kids
Emily Dickinson museum’s fun & games page http://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/fun_and_games
Poetry lessons for kids http://www.poetry4kids.com/blog/lessons/poetry-writing-lessons/
What I liked about this book – Since I now live in Amherst, MA I have become very aware of Emily Dickinson and the impact she has had on her fans. When we went to the cemetery in which she is buried, we found numerous people at her grave site. Upon reaching it, we saw that many people had left tokens, pencils & pens, tablets, small notes with writing on them, and poems. It was very touching. The community here also has a poetry week in which a couple of the days she is honored. I think this book is a wonderful way to introduce children to this interesting and talented poet.
Perfect Picture Book Fridays are a weekly blog event where participants review some of their favorite picture books. The posts are compiled on author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website. They are categorized by theme to help parents, educators and readers find the perfect picture book easily. To learn more, please visit Susanna’s site where you will find the complete PPBF’s library.
First completed illustration for Julie Hedlund’s “My Love for You is the Sun”
My friend, fellow writer and editing client, Julie Foster Hedlund, is conducting a unique experiment in hybrid publishing – a process that may well become a model to help small publishers increase their lists and authors and illustrators find opportunities beyond self-publishing. She’s launched a Kickstarter campaign to pre-fund the production, publication and printing of one of her picture books – even though she has a traditional publisher committed to the project.
The book is a beauty – one I’m proud to say I served as editor for. “My Love for You is the Sun” is a love letter from parent to child, written in verse and expressing that timeless and unconditional love through metaphors from the natural world. My Love for You is the Sun, a Tree, the Rain, a River… but of course, it’s also about more than familial or parental love, it’s about the universal, infinite nature of love itself, and as such, will hold crossover appeal for all ages. The book is being illustrated by Susan Eaddy, whose three-dimensional clay illustrations provide extraordinary depth and texture. Julie’s goal is for the end result to be a beautiful book in every way – from design to paper to binding, worthy of becoming a family keepsake for generations. If her crowdfunding efforts are successful, I have no doubt this will be the case.
This hybrid publishing concept is very intriguing, and in my view may well become an industry standard in the very near future. Stacey Williams-Ng, editor and art director at Little Bahalia - a small indie publisher with a laser focus on quality – liked ”My Love for You is the Sun” and wanted to publish it, but her list was full. Julie proposed the idea of crowdfunding the initial production and printing costs, and a new contract model was created.
What’s really interesting about this project, though, is that Julie is documenting her process to help other authors and illustrators. A couple of weeks ago, she posted a five-part series on “Why Crowdfunding?” on her blog, and recently shared the Top Five lessons she’s learned so far, as follows:
- If you are going to crowdfund, make it count. Select a project you are passionate about so your passion permeates every aspect of the campaign.
- Crowdfunding is a TON of work and is by no means an “easy route” to publishing. Another reason why having passion for your project is critical.
- WHY are you crowdfunding? Know the answer to that question, because you will be asked to answer it hundreds of times.
- Give yourself way more time than you think you need to pull everything together. Everything I did to prepare for the launch took longer than I expected, and there is SO much more I wish I could have done.
- Build a team. Even if you are crowdfunding a self-publishing project (mine is hybrid), pull together a group of people who will give you timely feedback on your video, your rewards, and your project description/pitch. You’d never publish a book without critiques and edits, so don’t launch a crowdfunding project without them either.
The good news is that within 24 hours of launching her Kickstarter campaign, Julie was already 60% funded – so it looks like this is going to fly.
If you are remotely interested in self- or hybrid publishing, it’s well worth following this project. You can find out more and become a part of Julie’s team (not to mention get an advance copy of this beautiful book once its published) here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1022559326/my-love-for-you-is-the-sun-a-picture-book
Thanks, Publisher’s Weekly!
“Snyder returns with a story that, like her Bigger Than a Breadbox (2011), offers a relatable heroine and a touch of magic. When 12-year-old Annie Jaffin and her mother visit Annie’s estranged, dying grandmother in the shuttered Baltimore hotel she grew up in, the woman Annie encounters is angry and aggressive. After a strange storm, however, Annie wakes up 50 years earlier, in 1937, where she meets her grandmother as a curious, kind, and deeply isolated child. Molly spends her days cloistered away in her “Lonely Room” because of her asthma; she wished for a friend and has no clue that Annie is actually her granddaughter. Because Annie knows that Molly will live to old age, they escape Molly’s locked room via the fire escape and seize the day. Through their adventures, Molly’s eyes gradually open to the realities outside the hotel walls, while Annie worries about getting home and whether she’s changing the future for better or worse. Friendship, connection, and understanding are at the heart of this warm, introspective story about the events that shape a person. Ages 8–12. Agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. (Jan.)”
By: Angela Muse,
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The Christmas Owl
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We are thrilled to announce the release of our latest children’s book, The Christmas Owl. This ebook is available at a special discounted price of $.99 through November 14th on Amazon. We have also released this book on Barnes & Noble. A Barred owl becomes injured and must ask others for help. He promises to give back to those who have a generous heart and he is true to his word.
Okay, so I generally try to avoid the hard sell. But this seems to be the time of year when people actually really want Jewish book recommendations, for Hanukkah gifts…
SO at the risk of offending absolutely everyone, may I suggest that your kids might appreciate one of my own titles?
While waiting for the bus, a man tells Baxter the pig about the joys of Shabbat dinner. But before Baxter can find out how he, too, can join in the fun, the man has boarded the bus. Soon after, Baxter learns that he certainly cannot be a part of Shabbat dinner because he’s not Kosher. So begins one pig’s misguided quest to become Kosher. Will Baxter succeed or will his dreams of taking part in Shabbat dinner remain unfulfilled? Readers will cheer as a series of misunderstandings leads to a warm message of welcome and community.
Learning—and using—Yiddish is fun for the whole family, from the youngest mamaleh to the oldest bubbe and zaideh. Introduced to America as the mother tongue of millions of Jewish immigrants, Yiddish has made its way into everyday English. The sprightly, rhyming text follows a toddler through a busy day and is peppered from beginning to end with Yiddish words. Oy!—will everybody kvell when they hear their little ones spouting words from this most expressive of languages. Here are just a few that are included in this sturdy board book: bissel—little bit; ess—eat; kibitz—joke around, chat; klutz—clumsy one; kvell—burst with pride, gush; kvetchy—dissatisfied, whiny.
A family trip turns into an adventure of discovery for a curious and carefree sister and brother. While the two explore the natural wonders of the seashore, woods, and fields, their parents plant trees as an offering of thanks for all they have received. In Jewish tradition, this is called tikkun olam, or repairing the world. As the children settle down to sleep, they are lulled by the soothing sounds around them that become the refrain: “good night, laila tov”—the same comforting words in English and Hebrew that their parents recite to them every night at bedtime.
Of course, there are lots of amazing Jewish picture books I didn’t write. And for those of you who really want a Hanukkah title, the very best one is, in my opinion, this gem:
Latkes are potato pancakes served at Hanukkah, and Lemony Snicket is an alleged children’s author. For the first time in literary history, these two elements are combined in one book. A particularly irate latke is the star of The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming, but many other holiday icons appear and even speak: flashing colored lights, cane-shaped candy, a pine tree. Santa Claus is briefly discussed as well. The ending is happy, at least for some. People who are interested in any or all of these things will find this book so enjoyable it will feel as though Hanukkah were being celebrated for several years, rather than eight nights.
And for those of you looking for something less Jewishly direct, may I direct you over here… to my own list of books about books for people of the book…
Just so you read!!!
It is PiBoIdMo Day 3! After completing today’s idea, which involved a bear, a rabbit and the sun, I took out my picture books I picked out from the Jones Library. I love my new library! It is amazing how small it looks from the front, but how huge it is inside! I can’t wait to go back and discover more.
Jones Library, Amherst, MA
The picture books I chose were ones that I had known of (from reviews on Perfect Picture Books) but hadn’t had the resources or time to read. Suzanne Collins‘ autobiographical tale “Year of the Jungle” about her dad going to Viet Nam was very good. Kudos to James Proimos for his lively illustrations. “Plant A Kiss” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by one of my favorite picture book artists, Peter H. Reynolds, was whimsical and sweet. I also found “My Brothers Book” by the legendary Maurice Sendak. This tale was deep and rich with fascinating illustrations. He truly was the master of the story. Finally, I chose a book of which I will do for Perfect Picture Book Friday. A tale by New England author, Jane Yolen, that has yet to be put on the PPBF list. I can’t wait to review it! Check back Friday! Have a great week!
Artist, Joyce Wan
The first week of PiBo is always a productive one for me. This year was no exception as yesterday I came up with a great idea and this morning I came up with one that was so exciting to me that I went on to write a very rough draft! Thanks to author Tammi Sauer’s wonderful post yesterday, I was able to come up with 5 titles that I thought were fun and exciting. One of those inspired the idea and then the rough draft. Awesome! Here are some (very rough) sketches from yesterday and today’s sketchbook. I hope all of my writer/illustrator friends are having as much creativity flowing! Have a great weekend!
Day One : Squirrel crazy!
Day 2: A kiss and a dragon
I am proud to be a 2013 Picture Book Month Champion!
My guest post for the month-long celebration will be featured on November 7th at www.picturebookmonth.com, and I’m truly honored to be participating in this important initiative alongside so many of my picture book heroes.
Schools, libraries, booksellers, and book lovers around the world will come together throughout the month of November to celebrate print picture books. Now in its third year, the event has become a viral phenomenon. Thousands join the celebration, from the United States to Australia, Hungary, India, Jamaica, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Bloggers write about their favorite picture books using the daily themes on the Picture Book Month Calendar, created by Elizabeth O. Dulemba. Last year, a school in Budapest, Hungary, read over 6,000 picture books during the 2012 Picture Book Month celebration!
PictureBookMonth.com features daily essays from thought leaders in the children’s literature community. My fellow 2013 Picture Book Month Champions are: David Adler, Dianna Aston, Rick Anderson, Larry Dane Brimner, Julie Danielson, Carmen Agra Deedy, Tomie dePaola, Rebecca Emberly, Sue Fliess, Zarah Gagatiga, Candace Fleming, Lee Harper, Jannie Ho, Steve Jenkins, Daniel Kirk, Jesse Klausmeier, Mercer Mayer, Bobbi Miller, Wendell Minor, Hazel G. Mitchell, Jerry Pinkney, Robert Quackenbush, April Pulley Sayre, Rob Scotton, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Michael Shoulders, Wendi Silvano, Heidi Stemple, and Rosemary Wells.
Downloadable certificates, posters, and bookmarks created by Joyce Wan are available on the website, along with a new Teacher’s Guide created by Marcie Colleen. The initiative is supported by the American Booksellers Association, the Children’s Book Council, Reading is Fundamental, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, among others, as well as industry trade journals such as Hornbook and School Library Journal.
To top it off, Katie Davis’s “Brain Burps About Books” Podcast – the #1 kidlit podcast on iTunes – is dedicating the entire month of November to Picture Book Month… and Katie has created a lovely video celebrating what picture books mean to a number of beloved children’s authors and illustrators. Join the celebration!
I have signed up for Picture Book Idea Month, and today, November 1 is Day 1. I have my idea written down this a.m. in my journal, and I will post a small scan of it when I get back home from work (I always have a drawing or two with an idea).
PiBo was started in 2009 by author, Tara Lazar. PiBoIdMo is a challenge to write a picture book idea every day for the 30 days of November. It has grown so much in participation since the first year (in which I was one of the random winners of the grand prizes). Now, we have over 300 participants and loads of wonderfully inspirational posts every day on Tara’s blog by accomplished writers, authors, and literary creatives. It has grown into a wonderful community that inspires not only through out November, but the rest of the year as well via Facebook and Twitter. I wish all of my fellow participants good luck! To my fans, please check back for updates and new sketches related to PiBo. Have a great weekend!
Isn’t this little illo adorable? This years artwork and badge were created
by artist, Joyce Wan. Check her art out, it’s so sweet!
“There will be nothing left.”
(Spoken like a wolf about to strip the meat from the bones of a sheep.)
I’m always looking for a more visceral tease into the ideas I’ve laid down in “Story Structure to Die for,” and this one perfectly describes the tragic trajectory of every good protagonist.
“There will be nothing left.”
I tried it out this week. I began my presentation with it and kept returning to it. It’s from the Oscar-winning screenplay, Moonstruck.
Loretta Castorini (Cher) is newly engaged to a momma’s boy. Then she meets her fiancé’s estranged younger brother. Ronnie (Nicholas Cage) is an animal, a “wolf” she calls him. Ronnie is what Loretta needs. But she is playing it safe in love. She’s been hurt before. Loretta is all about playing it safe. But now, in Ronnie’s apartment, after a disagreement, he picks up his brother’s bride-to-be and drops her on the bed.
“Take everything!” she cries, “leave nothing for him to marry,” to which Ronnie replies, “There will be nothing left.”
End of Act I.
This is the writer telling us where the story is going. I love it when that happens!
This is the writer preparing us for the heart of the story. This is the writer telling us about the fate of every good fictional protagonist—she will be left with nothing. She will be stripped of everything she believes in. Why? Because belief systems are prisons. Prisons we chose to live inside.
Every good story ushers the protagonist to her moment of truth where she is set free.
Nothingness may be our most precious possession
I’m always making a pitch for failure, but it’s a hard, hard sell. Damned if people aren’t always clamouring for success. Sure, all conventionally good stories depict a protagonist on a journey to accomplish something. Something that will grace her life with more truth, independence, or freedom.
But it turns out that freedom isn’t a function of acquiring anything. It’s about losing, escaping, surrendering. All good protagonists, after much suffering, come to understand this.
The worthy protagonist discovers that freedom is about shedding what is false about him/herself. Which is everything.
“There will be nothing left.”
At the moment of disillusionment, the hero realizes that his whole life has been a bad habit, “the heavy curtain of habit,” says Marcel Proust, “which conceals from us almost the whole universe.”
Or “the luminosity of what is always there,” according to American poet Jim Harrison.
Or “the inexhaustible world that exists beyond our selves,” as novelist John Gray puts it.
“This nothingness may be our most precious possession,” says Gray, “since it opens to us the inexhaustible world that exists beyond ourselves.”
Story structure exists to deliver protagonists to this precious moment. But they can’t see it coming, never do, never will. Not even if the writer throws the hero on a bed and stands over her and growls:
“There will be nothing left.”
Readers pay to live vicariously through this nothingness. It’s terrifying. It is (arguably) the supreme human accomplishment.
Dare I say it…? It’s…it’s…
This dispatch comes to you from the hour of the wolf.
Not that I can’t sleep, no, the last thing I want to do is fall back to sleep. My brilliant idea would vanish. It came to me as I emerged from dreamland. You know, “when the mind is too weak to tell itself lies.”
When the mind is too weak to tell itself lies.*
The Holy Grail of altered states.
Here it is, pre-dawn, black bear still foraging for garbage in the alley below my office window, while my fingers prance around the keyboard as if they’ve broken out of jail.
The mind is too weak to tell itself lies! Write quick, PJ!
Conventional wisdom would appear to have no traction in the crepuscular hours. My principles aren’t up and running yet, they can’t obscure the truth. You might say that, having not yet showered or checked my email, I’m not quite me.
Trust me, I’m writing as fast as I can.
If this is an ode to early-morning drowsiness, we should hear from more writers. Novelist Nicholson Baker likes to arise with the birds because he finds “the mind is newly cleansed, but it’s also befuddled.” He discovered that he “wrote differently then.”
Joy Williams—I’ve quoted her before—she says,“A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the light.” She reminds me of artists who say they see better in the dark.
Marcel Proust took opium to induce the desired effect. Charles Bukowski drank. Some writers practice “morning pages,” streams of bafflegab becoming ever more truthful. At least that’s the idea. You shovel hard with great faith—and doubt!—endless shovelfuls of gravel, superficial overburden, tons of it. Somewhere down there lies the bedrock of meaning. Maybe.
What about monks? Every night at three a.m. the search begins anew for…what? Meaning? God? Freedom? A monk’s life is a Zen koan, a cosmic question. Never mind an answer—beware the answer!—just show up. Faithfully. Doubt keeps us coming back for more.
Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk-poet-existentialist. Here’s what he says about faith and doubt:
“Faith means doubt. Faith is not the suppression of doubt. It is the overcoming of doubt, and you overcome doubt by going through it.”
That’s it, that’s the truth. We have to push through. At dawn, my mind is too weak to warn me away.
Ah! The eastern sky is lightening. I gotta go.
An hour from now my best interests will be hijacked by appearances and the everyday mind, and I will be buried under gravel, again.
* “When the mind is too weak to tell itself lies,” is a line from The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paulo Giordano.]
Hi Bookshelf Confessioners,
Today, October 1 2013, marks Bookshelf Confessions' SECOND YEAR in BLOGGING- REVIEWING BOOKS/MOVIES, PARTICIPATING IN GIVEAWAY HOPS, BLOG TOURS,COVER REVEALS AND PROMOTIONS, INTERVIEWING AUTHORS AND INTERACTING WITH READERS.
This year also marks milestones I never thought would happen:
Bookshelf Confessions now has:
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In every blogger/book reviewer, is a book that started it all for her/him. In my case, I started to be very interested in reading back in late 2010. A friend of mine bought a book called Twilight. What I know is it's a vampire story--that's it, I wasn't a little bit interested even in it's cover. But this friend left it to me at lunch, and from that hour-break, I opened the book and read its first chapter, the next thing I know I've read the whole series.
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So… I’m scribbling a ton of new picture books. Most of them won’t work out.
One or two might.
But as I’m working, I’m flip-flopping about tone, and I wondered if you might chime in and vote.
Conventional wisdom is that editors hate rhyming manuscripts. I have not found this to actually be true, but in a lot of cases, rhyme distracts from a book, or undercuts humor. And of course, if it’s done poorly, rhyme is horrible.
if you had a choice between these two bits of text, which would you prefer?
On velvet paws he slunk downstairs
And much against her wishes,
Jim gobbled up his mother dear.
She really was delicious!
Jim went downstairs.
And ate his mother up, in three quick bites.
Please leave your vote in the comments! I really would love to know how people feel about this.
Review is on Page 21.
Link to On line magazine. http://digital.turn-page.com/i/187959
I finished reading Ghost Hawk this fall, and now I’m seeing a fair amount of conversation about the historical accuracy issues surrounding the book, as we head into Newbery season. (I’ll admit, I thought it was wonderful until the very end, though I’m woefully incapable of determining how true to history it is).
At the same time, I’m wandering around the stores, and seeing that there are beginning to be “Indian” items around, in advance of Thanksgiving. Feathers and teepees. I find myself assuming, based on the comments surrounding Ghost Hawk, that the way schools approach Thanksgiving has changed a lot since I was a kid. That they no longer dress up in loosely arranged feathers and play out the story of “Pilgrims and Indians.” I’m wondering what they offer instead. How much of the story?
So as we head into the Thanksgiving season, I’m thinking about how we educate our kids (or don’t), how we give them (or don’t) actual information, as opposed to myth. I’m thinking I have some work to do myself.
All my life, I’ve known versions of the Pilgrim/Indian story, of course. I’ve watched the Peanuts and Pocahantas. I’ve argued the merits of telling that story in a benign way with kids, and I’ve argued the age at which kids can learn the real story. But shamefully, in all those years, I’ve never learned about the TRIBE. The actual tribe. How is that possible? At the very least, Ghost Hawk pushed me out of that complacency. And the conversation surrounding the book is having an even stronger impact on me in that way.
They weren’t “Indians.” And “Native Americans” doesn’t cut it either in this day and age. They were The Wampanoag. And while I’m aware that they didn’t actually share a turkey with “us” (says this Irishy/Jewishy girl with no Mayflower blood in her at all, but who was still somehow taught the language of us/them), I know absolutely nothing about The Wampanoag.
I think, this year, Mose and Lew will try to learn about the tribe. Which is not to say “Indians.” We’ll read about their culture and language, about Massoit and Squanto/Somoset, and about King Philip’s War. I hope this will help the boys navigate the myth/truth of this season (and me too!). So often, specificity helps us see people as people. Because the more general we get, the easier it is to slip into stereotypes.
What does your school teach in this season? How much do you know about the Wampanoag?
(For the record, we’ll still be eating turkey. Because… you know, turkey.)
Many aspiring children’s book authors are confused about the difference between young adult (YA) and middle grade novels. Aren’t all teens and pre-teens young adults? But within the industry, middle grade and YA are two totally separate genres, and it’s important to be able to differentiate between the two, to know where your manuscript fits in the marketplace.
Below is a chart highlighting some essential differences:
YOUNG ADULT (YA)
||Hero is usually 13 or younger, and in middle school (grades 4-8.) Age of reader is approximately 8-12.
||Hero is mid-to late teens; in high school (grades 9-12) Age of reader is 13 and up.
||Themes focus on the challenges of youth and ‘coming of age.’
||May be multi-themed; often not written according to popular themes, but what the author knows or has researched.
|Novels emphasize character and his/her emotional struggle, or coming of age, more than plot.
||More complicated, plot-wise. Hero experiences internal change, often triggered by external events. Adult problems encountered for the first time.
| SECONDARY / ADULT CHARACTERS
||Parents or other significant adults are often strong secondary characters.
||Adult characters play a backseat role.
||Stories generally resolve happily, or if not, it’s bittersweet – there is a strong sense of hope.
||Stories don’t always have happy endings, though resilience and hope are still evident.
| LANGUAGE & EDGY “CONTENT”
||Little to no profanity. Think ‘darn’ vs. ‘damn.’ Also little violence or substance abuse. If any, usually involves ‘friend’ or secondary character, rather than hero.
||May include a lot of profanity. May also include violence, substance abuse, or any ‘edgy’ content relevant to teens today.
||Often (though not always) told in 3rd person narrative form – though usually close 3rd person, i.e. always ‘with’ the protagonist.
||Often told from the viewpoint of or in the 1st person voice of the young adult hero, as opposed to a 3rd person narrator. Language may be more lyrical/poetic – may even be in verse.
|ROMANCE / SEX
||Romance is largely innocent and sexuality is at a minimum. Think “first kiss” or hand holding, if anything at all.
||Romance and sexuality abound – though sex scenes are not usually graphic. (Save that for adult fiction.)
| FOCUS / PERSPECTIVE
||Perspective is internal; focused on self-growth and hero discovering who he/she is in the world.
||Perspective becomes external. Hero notices world around them and how they fit in. Often moves from more selfish developmental stage to awareness of feelings and circumstances of others.
| SUBJECT MATTER
||Most MG kids’ lives are still controlled by adults – so fantasy and magic are popular.
||Characters are old enough to be independent and get into trouble, so grittiness and realism abounds.
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The story is really heating up. It has now moved to France. The end is in sight, then comes the fun part: The re-write.