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1. Orbiting Jupiter

Orbiting Jupiter. Gary D. Schmidt. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Orbiting Jupiter is a great book: an emotional, compelling, coming-of-age story with an incredible focus on friendship and family and what it means to love someone.

Jack is the narrator of the book, and I absolutely loved, loved, loved him. I loved him from the start. Here's how the book opens: with Jack and his parents getting ready to welcome a very troubled boy into their home. Joseph, Jack's new foster brother, isn't like other eighth graders. He has a daughter he's never been allowed to see. He has a history of violence. And because of the institutions he's been in, he can freak out and overreact a bit. But Jack's family, well, they are good, solid, dependable, patient, heart-wide-open people ready to love and accept. From the day he walks into their home, they see him as family. And there's nothing Jack won't do to help his brother--sometimes that means giving him plenty of space, and not pushing him to talk, sometimes that means reassuring him that he's there for him, that he has his back, that he is not alone anymore.

But not everyone in the community is ready to welcome Joseph. In particular, some of the people at schools--some who should know better, others who probably don't--are not ready for Joseph. Some are openly hostile and just MEAN. Others treat him not as another human being, but, as a spectacle, a freak. But several teachers see through Joseph's past and come to really LOVE him and see that he's more than the choices he's made, that, he is in fact, really smart and capable of good. I both loved and hated the school scenes. There were a few times I was just so angry--like Jack--in Joseph's defense. And there were a few scenes I just found sweet.

Joseph's story slowly but surely unfolds, and, it is intense. I couldn't help liking Joseph and just caring for him and wanting the best for him.

Orbiting Jupiter is a bittersweet coming-of-age story that worked for me for the most part. But oh how I wish I could rewrite the ending! Not because this one doesn't feel good-enough or that it feels completely out-of-place, but, because it's just so achingly bittersweet.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. #747 – ROAR! by Julie Bayless

Roar! Written and illustrated by Julie Bayless Running Press Kids     10/13/2015 978-0-7624-5750-2 32 pages      Age 4—8 “It is nighttime in the savanna, which means that it is time to play for one rambunctious lion cub! The cub tries to make new friends with the hippos and the giraffes, but roaring at …

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3. Thursday catch-up

Emily meets Frida

Whew! We moved Jane back up to college over the weekend and then, back here at home, got to spend an extra day visiting with my parents, who had come to stay with the rest of the gang while we were away. And then it was hustle-like-crazy to catch up from being gone. Which is to say, business as usual.

It’s too late in the day for a nice coherent post, but I wanted to toss down some stories I’ll otherwise forget. Huckisms, mostly…he’s been on a roll. Tonight he wanted me to take dictation for his Christmas list—no moss growing on this kid. I dutifully wrote down his three longed-for items and he leaned over the page, frowning anxiously at my cursive. “What if Santa doesn’t know this fancy writing?”


This morning I read aloud from Child’s History of the World—our tried-and-true first history book for the younger set. Today’s chapter was about Sparta and Athens (mainly Sparta, with a thorough description of what a young Spartan boy’s life might have been like). Huck listened intently to the plight of Spartan seven-year-olds—an age only months around the corner from him—and had lots of interjections to make along the way.

After the chapter, I asked him to narrate in the casual way I generally begin with around age six or seven. Not casual enough. He instantly froze up. My kids have been about half and half with narration: three of them taking to it like ducks to water, and three feeling shy and put on the spot. Huck is one of the latter. He actually ran out of the room and had to be coaxed back by a big sister. I cuddled him into my lap and told him not to worry, it wasn’t a test, I was just curious to know if anything in the story jumped out at him.

Huck, scowling: No.

Me: Do you wish you were a Spartan boy?

Huck, galvanized: No! Because they had to leave their moms when they turned seven, and—

—and he was off, chattering away for a good five or six minutes about all the details in the chapter. This is the way it normally works with my reluctant narrators, and I smiled secretly into the top of his sweaty little head.

Suddenly, mid-sentence, he broke off and reared back to look at me, laughing. “Hey! You tricked me! I just told you all about it!”

We all melted with giggles. He was so honestly amused. All the rest of the day I was cracking up over the shocked, almost admiring tone of his “HEY!”


The other thing that happened this week is that Rilla invented a board game. It’s called “Elemental Escape” and involves players representing Fire, Water, and Electricity (twist!) racing to the finish on a track filled with monsters. She drew a game board and mounted it on cardboard, and the game pieces are all Legos. Pretty fantastic.

board game by Rilla

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4. Come meet me and other local Authors at the Local Authors and Artists Festival in Windsor this Weekend...

0 Comments on Come meet me and other local Authors at the Local Authors and Artists Festival in Windsor this Weekend... as of 1/1/1900
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5. #735 – Scrap City by D. S. Thornton

Scrap City Written by D. S. Thornton Capstone Young Readers    10/01/2015 978-1-62370-297-7  352 pages       Age 10—14    “Beneath a small Texan town lies s city unlike any other . . . “Eleven-year-old Jerome Barnes isn’t expecting to find anything interesting in crazy Wild Willy’s junkyard. But then he discovers Arkie. Arkie …

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6. Arthur, For The Very First Time

Arthur, For The Very First Time. Patricia MacLachlan. Illustrated by Lloyd Bloom. 1980/2002. HarperCollins. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Patricia MacLachlan's Arthur, For the Very First Time. Readers meet a young ten-year old boy, Arthur, and journey with him to his aunt-and-uncle's farm for an eventful summer. Arthur is a somewhat troubled young boy. Troubled being VERY relative of course. He's having trouble communicating with his parents. They still haven't told him that he's to have a little brother or little sister. Though he has figured it out himself. He hasn't exactly told them he knows or how he feels about this "happy" event. Arthur definitely spends time wishing things were different but believing that they can't be different. So how does Arthur spend his time? Well, before visiting Aunt Elda and Uncle Wrisby, he spent most of his time writing in his matter-of-fact journal. He spent a lot of time OBSERVING the world around him, but, not necessarily taking part of it. During his summer vacation, however, things will change for the better. Arthur will start living a little bit more--in some cases, a LOT more.

The book is definitely character-driven. I loved that. I loved meeting Arthur, his aunt and uncle, his new friend Moira. I loved meeting some of the animals as well. Like the chicken, Pauline, whom everyone speaks to in French! It was just a very satisfying read.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. All Will and No Grace – The Drama of Family Provision

The legal wishes of the dead have long been fertile ground for domestic drama. Shakespeare’s As You Like It opens on the theme: “As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion bequeathed me by will”.

The post All Will and No Grace – The Drama of Family Provision appeared first on OUPblog.

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8. take up your happiness

Some thoughts about life, love and happiness, after a few photos from the past two weeks of research, writing, organizing my work (on a chalk wall, no less), a couple of close-by field trips, a book festival (that's my editor, David Levithan, talking with shiny new (amazing) author Will Walton), a bit of teaching, a lot of home-making, a birthday cobbler, some celebrating, lots of gathering with peeps, and the inevitable bringing-in the last of the garden.



When I was a kid, I wanted to be a mom more than anything else. I wanted to sit at a desk and play office. I wanted to scribble on a chalkboard and teach my dolls things I didn't understand yet myself. I wanted to lie on a blanket in the clovered grass, stare at the night sky, and wonder. I wanted to keep house. And I wanted a Prince Charming to come into my life, sweep me off my feet, and love me all the days of my life, and make me happy.

I got all my wishes, in an odd and amazing order that still takes my breath away when I think about it. How perfect it has been, the grime and the glory alike. How lucky that my people are in my life, and that this life is full of good work that I love, and that there is space for wondering and dreaming, still, and that people love me and I love them, and that there really IS someone to sweep me along with devotion, into the later chapters of my life.

Slowly, slowly, I have come to understand, in a deep and steady way, that home is where you make it; that people are complex, nuanced, textured, wonderful puzzles; that work is like that, too; that Uncle Edisto's messy glory is indeed the way we live; and that I am responsible for my own happiness.

Rise up, I say to myself this morning. Take up your happiness and walk into the days ahead.

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9. Autumn is coming so we are going nutts!


We are doing a special promotion through 9/15/15 to coincide with our favorite season.  We’ve teamed up with a bunch of really cool kidlit authors to offer some great free and discounted eBooks.  4EYESBOOKS has discounted The Nutt Family:  An Acorny Adventure on AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooksKobo.  Chess Nutt and his sister Praline are always pretending to have crazy adventures. What happens when these two acorn siblings have an unexpected real life adventure on their own? Things get a little nutty!

Other books in this great promotion will be discounted from 9/11 – 9/15.  Check them out HERE.


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10. Intergenerational Activities for Grandparents Day

Grandparents Day- September 13th- is a great reminder for us all toGrandparentsDayframe show our grandparents how much we love and appreciate them (& their impressive ability to never run out of reasons to send a card). From their tremendous accomplishments and contributions to those warm and magical memories we have, finding a reason to #DoSomethingGrand in their honor is never that hard. Freshly baked cookies, anyone?

But these special bonds between the old and the young do not need to begin and end with the familiar faces that surround your dining room table. Intergenerational opportunities for younger and older generations to come together can be found through partnerships between families and community organizations, senior centers, nursing homes, church groups, and even schools, helping to bring the community together across generations. Best of all, creating these opportunities for younger and older generations to come together has shown to have a number of positive benefits and can really make a difference in each other’s lives:

  • Social and emotional:
    • Respect
    • Empathy and compassion
    • Communication skills
    • Self-esteem
    • Pride
  • Physical activity:
    • Fine/gross motor skills
  • Shared learning:
    • Mental stimulation
    • Problem-solving skills
    • Academic skills (literacy, STEM, history)
    • Cultural diversity
    • Life skills

But what kind of activities can the old and young do together? How do you help these types of relationships grow? According to the Penn State Intergenerational Program (PSIP), it’s important to think about activities that best match their developmental abilities, emphasize learning, promote discussion, and involve sharing skills and insights:

For example, Sunday Shopping, a book about a young girl and her grandmother who go on an imaginative shopping trip together every Sunday, could serve as a great jumping off point for many different activities:

  1. Literacy/Communication Skills: Read Sunday Shopping aloud GrandparentsDay copytogether and then discuss what you each like to buy when you go shopping. First or second reading: Download and print the Sunday Shopping Activity Sheet and use the shopping bag cut-out and items from the story to follow along and add items to the bag as Evie and her grandmother shop in the story.
  2. Literacy/Communication/Fine Motor Skills: Use what you learned from your discussion and browse various catalogs, newspapers, and magazines and circle/cut-out your shopping choices with the listed prices. Cut-out items that you think the other person would be interested in and explain why you chose those items. Then, create a written or typed shopping list of the items you want to buy and go shopping for.
  3. Dramatic Play: With a little imagination and some creative props, such as a shopping bag or cut-out shopping bag from the Sunday Shopping Activity Sheet, pretend to go to all kinds of different stores, putting the cut-out items into your bags. When you’re finished shopping take turns being the cashier.
  4. Math: Choose a budget. Then, with your shopping list and pretend money help keep track of the total while you shop. After shopping, “check-out” and see if you have enough money to pay. If not, use problem-solving to take items off the list, or figure out how much more money he/she needs to pay for their items. Challenge: figure out the price of discounted items or incorporate sales tax; create coupons to use at the checkout.
  5. Art/Fine Motor Skills: Take the cut-out items from your shopping trip and create a collage together.

Intergenerational Program Ideas and Resources:

Grandparents Day Take Action Guide from Generations United: A call to action guide for grandparents/older adults, children/youth, grandfamilies, and intergenerational programs to #DoSomethingGrand not only on Grandparents Day but all year long.

Cool Intergenerational Program Ideas from Generations United: An extensive list of over 50 successful programs that differ in style and practice but share the same meaningful goals. From intergenerational pen-pal programs, schools, camps, pet therapy, community gardens, to foster grandparent opportunities, the ideas are seemingly endless.

Intergenerational Activities Sourcebook from Penn State: 53 detailed activities and learning experiences ranging from getting-to-know-you exercises (if you’ve ever been involved in first-day-icebreakers you’ll be familiar) to crafts, writing tasks, outdoor exploration, games, traditions, technology, and more. Each activity description comes with step-by-step instructions, materials/resources, objectives, and academic/life skill connections.

Across Generations Activities from The Legacy Project: A list of activities organized by category (literacy, art, science, games, food, etc.) to enjoy with grandparents, grandfriends, and beyond.

Youth-led Intergenerational Projects from Generations United: A step-by-step guide on how to create and develop an intergenerational project in the community.

Read & Make an I Love You Book and Book Basket from The Educators Spin on It: Create a DIY ‘I Love You Book’ and book basket for perfect for Grandparents Day (or any day).

Grandparents Day Books: A list of around 40 Lee & Low books to enjoy on Grandparents Day or any other day of the year!

And finally, for the selfie-inclined, don’t forget to #TakeAGrandie of you and your grandparent or grandfriend for Generation United’s “grandie” contest!

veronicabioVeronica has a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking or hanging out with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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11. #730 The Bear’s Surprise by Benjamin Chaud

The Bear’s Surprise Written & Illustrated by Benjamin Chaud Chronicle Books       9/15/2015 978-1-4521-4028-5 32 pages       Age 3—5 “Little Bear is ready for yet another adventure! But, wait! Where is Papa Bear? Never fear, Little Bear will find him! Follow the curious cub through the interactive cut-outs on every page …

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12. A Parent’s Guide To Writing Workshop

Back to School Night is around the corner! When it comes to writing workshop, what do we need families to know?

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13. #727 – The Perfect Percival Priggs by Julie-Anne Graham

The Perfect Percival Priggs
Written and Illustrated by Julie-Anne Graham
Running Press Kids       5/26/2015
978-0-7624 -5506-5
32 pages      Age 4—8

“Percival Priggs wants to be the perfect child in order to please his seemingly perfect parents. But even when Percy gets his family into a mess of a situation, his parents’ love for him remains absolute perfection.” [front jacket]


“Percival Priggs was perfect.
His parents were perfect.
His grandparents were perfect.
Even his pets were perfect.”

Wow! The Priggs are a tremendously perfect family. This puts a lot of pressure on young Percy to be perfect in everything he does. Both parents are professors with shelves of awards between them. Percy has his own shelf that is nearly as filled with shiny trophies and perfect straight-A report cards. But Percy is finding it is tiring to be so perfect all of the time. If he told his parents this, would they love him any less? Percy is afraid they might, and so he keeps his feelings to himself.

2One weekend, Percy has so many competitions to complete he has no idea how he will ever finish on time. He isn’t thrilled about many of the competitions he is entered in, but he must to find a way to finish perfectly before the weekend is over. Percy comes up with a plan to finish faster, only making one small miscalculation . . . that sends everything into a disastrous cavalcade of humorous tumbles. He just knows his parents will be furious. What will happen to Percival Priggs now that he is no longer a Perfect Percival?

ill1_planI love this story. How many of us think we must be perfect and perform all our duties perfectly, never giving ourselves a break? Count me in. Yet, what does that teach our children? I love that Percival’s parents finally open up to their son, showing him that they were never always perfect (and maybe still not). This takes a load off young Percy’s shoulders. The illustrations (pen and ink on drafting film, with textures and backgrounds in Photoshop), are goofy with an old-fashioned sense of style and are extremely appealing. Oddly, there are words embedded in the character’s head, face, and eyeglasses (which all three wear). I’m not sure, but are these people so intent on perfection that they actually were their thoughts? It is an interesting idea and illustration technique.

I love the message from these two imperfect parents: They love Percy for who he is, not what he wins, and they keep on trying for perfection because they love what they do, not because they want to be perfect. They let Percy off the hook, telling him to find out what it is he loves to do, and then do that, no matter the imperfections or failures he will encounter along the way. Percy does just that in a humorous attempt to find out what he loves to do.

percival_spread2Roller-skating . . . nope, he falls too much. A rock star . . . well, no, not a rock star. In the end, Percy’s trophy shelf is as full as ever, but looks a whole lot different. It starts representing the real Percy. And his best trophy, the one he adores the most? Nah, not telling. Read The Perfect Percival Priggs to find out.

THE PERFECT PERCIVAL PRIGGS. Text and illustrations copyright © 2015 by Julie-Anne Graham. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Running Press Kids, Philadelphia, PA.

Purchase The Perfect Percival Priggs at AmazonBook DepositoryIndieBound BooksiTunes BooksRunning Press Kids.

Learn more about The Perfect Percival Priggs HERE.


Find The Perfect Percival Priggs Activity Pack HERE.


Meet the author/illustrator, Julie-Anne Graham, at her website: http://www.julieannegraham.com/
.           .  Twitter: @Ja_Illustrator
Find more picture books at the Running Press Kids’ website: http://www.runningpress.com/rpkids
.             . Running Press Kids is an imprint of Running Press Book Publishers, and a member of the Perseus Group.


Copyright © 2015 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved


Full Disclosure: The Perfect Percival Priggs by Julie-Anne Graham, and received from Running Press Kids, (an imprint of Running Press Book Publishers), is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Filed under: 5stars, Books for Boys, Children's Books, Debut Author, Debut Illustrator, Favorites, Library Donated Books, Picture Book Tagged: family, Julie-Anne Graham, parent-child relationships, perfection, Perseus Group, pressure, Running Press Book Publications, Running Press Kids, The Perfect Percival Priggs, winning

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14. Our Dog, Daisy, Photobombs Maggie’s “Upward Dog”: Hilarity Follows




Backstory: Maggie is entering 9th grade. A talented athlete, she’s encountered more than her fair share of physical setbacks. Three ACL surgeries over the past two years. These are devastating injuries with long and uncertain recovery periods. But the thing about Maggie is she’s unstoppable. Best spirit ever. Unable to play basketball or soccer, she’s recently gotten into yoga and crew. Yesterday a friend took some snaps while Maggie was demonstrating a few positions in the backyard. Our dog, Daisy, got involved. Namaste!

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15. dispatch from mississippi: belonging

I was born in Mobile, Alabama, while my dad was stationed at Brookley Field. He had gone off to the Korean War in 1951, just after he and my mother married, and now here I came, in 1953, on the heels of his return. We lived in Mobile for five years, until the Air Force transferred us to Hawaii. I have always claimed Alabama as the land of my birth, and I also claim Mississippi as home, as it was the land we returned to over and again as I grew up, and as my own children grew up, as my people were there. And so was my heart.

My mother was born in Mississippi and grew up in West Point, MS. My dad was born in Jasper County and grew up there. I grew up there, too, with the wacky grandmother who became Miss Eula in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, and the three maiden aunts who become Ruby's chickens, and all the cousins and aunts and uncles and a decaying town that is even more of a ghost today than it was when I was wandering its one main road and its cemetery and crossing the railroad tracks to visit Aunt Mitt and playing piano in the unlocked Methodist church.

Mississippi doesn't claim me, though. According to book committees who decide these things, I didn't live for five continuous years in Mississippi, so I am not in the club, even though I am a Mississippian by blood and by words.

This is a long story and one I hope to write about at some point, so I can figure out how I feel about choosing home. Home is in Atlanta today, of course, but home will always be where I've hung my hat: Hawaii, Maryland, D.C., South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia.... and Mississippi as well. "What you know first stays with you." I am a Southern Girl, through and through. I am a human being with stories to tell. What does that mean?

Here's what it meant this week, as I took part in the first-ever Mississippi Book Festival, visited that family I love so much (Uncle Jim is our patriarch now, about to turn 92), and that place that defined me as a child -- and as a writer. Photos below of what becomes Aurora County in my books LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER; EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS; and THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS.

And then there is my first book, FREEDOM SUMMER. I have never before posted pictures of the pool and roller skating rink that closed in 1964. The forest is claiming it now. I have taken photos there for many years, and have documented this abandoned place as it goes back to forest land. I wrote FREEDOM SUMMER -- and REVOLUTION -- to understand what happened. To keep this time and place alive, so we remember our history. So young people will know what it was like then. What it is like now.

Dispatch from Mississippi:

Picking up Kerry Madden along the way
downtown Jackson, Mississippi. My folks retired to Jackson after a long military career, and I kept coming to Mississippi with my own kids as they grew up... Mississippi has been a constant in my life, all my life.

With Ellen Ruffin at the Eudora Welty house on Friday night at the author reception
Kimberly Willis Holt, moi, Chris Barton, and Karen Rowell of USM.
Jamie Kornegay and Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi has been such a staunch supporter of my books. Jamie's new novel is SOIL. "It has saturated the South!" Jamie says.
Kelly Kornegay, who (among other things) reads and buys children's at Turnrow. She heard me whining about not being recognized literarily as a Mississippian and said, "Debbie, people who have lived here all their lives are trying to ESCAPE Mississippi!" which made me laugh and gave me perspective. She also said, "Your books are THE quintessential books on what it means to be from Mississippi, to be a Mississippian. You're IN." hahaha.

Fuzzy photo of a bunch of us including Lori Nichols, Ellen Ruffin, Greg Leitich Smith, Susan Eaddy, Kerry Madden
taking in all in. What a lovely evening.
We had to turn people away, in Room 113 of the State Capitol, for the Young People's Literature panel. It was that way on all panels, all day. The turnout was tremendous. HOORAY!
Pontificating. Which I am very good at.
This is what it's about at a Festival.
And this. Clara Martin is the children's book buyer at Lemuria Book in Jackson. Last year on the REVOLUTION tour, she had me sign her copy of LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER that she has had since she was a fourth grader. "My favorite book!"
Chris Barton signing Shark vs Train and John Roy Lynch in the Lemuria tent.
At dinner, Saturday night, with my loves.

My son Jason with his Great-uncle Jim. Both of them jesters.

Two more Jims: mine, and the cousin I have always called Bubba.

If you're a RUBY fan, you recognize this sign!

My grandmother's house, The Pink Palace, in RUBY, Snowberger's Funeral Home in LITTLE BIRD, House Jackson's home in ALL-STARS, and Young Joe's home in FREEDOM SUMMER. This was my world every summer, and the place I longed for when I wasn't there. Still do, I guess.
The back kitchen. Sloped ceiling, lightbulb on a string, Nanny eating buttered toast and milky coffee at the enamel table, closthepins in a bag hanging on the door, a pan of green beans waiting to be snapped. I did dishes in the deep sink with my Aunt Evelyn, who we all called Goodness. Once, when my mother sent me in to dry while Aunt Evelyn washed, Goodness waved me away with, "Go play. I let God dry the dishes."
My friend Howard now lives in Rhiney Boyd's house, across the road from my grandmother's. Rhiney had a son named Luther Rhinehart Boyd, which is where I took Mr. Norwood Boyd's name from in ALL-STARS.

Kerry listens to Merle's stories. Merle now owns my grandmother's house (The Pink Palace, in the background).

I adore Lois. She has just entered the Witness Protection Program. I think she got dressed just for us. "I used to wear all black and brown, but now I wear COLOR all the time." You go, Lois. Go on with your colorful self.
This is where I'm sitting this morning. Back to the pink chair and back to work. Knowing that it doesn't matter if Literary Mississippi claims me or not. I claim me, and those people who are, and who once were: moments, memory, meaning, as I always say when I teach. 

I will never live long enough to write all the stories asking for my attention. They claim me. And for that I am grateful.

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16. My Brother's Secret by Dan Smith

It's summer, 1941 and there is nothing 12 year old Karl Friedmann enjoys more than being part of the Deutsches Jungvolk, anticipating the day he'll be old enough to join the Hitler Youth.  But on the day he wins a badge for achievement during some war games, he is also forced to fight another boy, Johann Weber, whose has just received word that his father was killed in the war.  Suddenly, fighting feels more like bullying.

At home, Karl knows his older brother Stefan is the family rebel, always getting into trouble and was even sent away to a boot camp for a week, where the Gestapo had beaten him and shaved his head.  When Karl notices an embroidered flower sewn into Stefan's jacket, he wants to know what it means.  But before that happens, the Friedmann's receive a telegram that their father has been killed flying for the Luftwaffe.  Their mother falls into a terrible depression, not speaking and refusing to get out of bed, so it is decided that the family would go stay with their grandparents in a village near Cologne.

Once there, Karl is kept out of school to prevent him from participating in Jungvolk activities and it doesn't take Stefan long to hook up with some friends who are also rebellious troublemakers.  One day, Karl decides to go out for a ride on his bike, but he has an accident, colliding with the beloved car of Gestapo Commander Gerhard Wolff.  Luckily, Karl is wearing Jungvolk uniform, but Wolff still seems suspicious of the Friedmann family, anyway.  Karl also makes friends with Lisa, a girl who isn't afraid to let her hatred of Hitler and his whole Nazi regime be known.  And when he notices that the embroidered flower has been cut out of Stefan's jacket, he is more curious than ever about his brother's activities and friends, suspecting anti-Nazi undertakings.

Slowly, Nazi brutality forces Karl to rethink his own beliefs and patriotism.  He learns that Lisa's father was taken away one night because of his beliefs and she has no idea where he is or if he is alive.  Instead of feeling proud that his father sacrificed his life for the Fatherland like he is supposed to, Karl feels grief and sadness, and wonders what was it all for.

Karl's suspicions that Stefan is involved with a resistance group are conformed when his brother's finally confesses to him that he is a member of the Edelweiss Pirates, a loosely bound group of anti-Nazi young people who are trying to enlighten the German people to the truth of Hitler and his ideas.  Unfortunately, Commander Wolff also suspects Stefan of resistance activities and periodically shows up to search the house.  One night, he finds one of the anti-Nazi leaflet that had been dropped by RAF planes in Karl's copy of Hitler's book Mein Kampf.  Stefan is placed under arrest and taken away.

Now, Karl and Lisa decide to become their own Edelweiss Pirates and paint anti-Nazi messages around their village, and to find a way to free Stefan from Gestapo headquarters.  And although they are a resistance group of two, Karl is still wracked with guilt since it is because he chose to save the leaflet without telling anyone and feels it is his fault his brother has been arrested by the Gestapo - again.  

Like Dan Smith's last novel, My Friend the Enemy, My Brother's Secret is a thought-provoking story loaded with action, excitement, and nail-biting tension.  Karl's life felt so simple and straightforward before news of his father's death arrived.  But his hesitant feeling about having to fight Johann Weber at the beginning of the novel, clearly indicates that there exists a slight crack in his loyalty to Hitler and everything the Führer stands for.

There aren't too many books about young people in Nazi Germany who were involved in the Hitler Youth groups, so it was interesting to read this coming of age novel and to witness Karl's complete turnabout as he begins to see and experience the Nazis for the cruel people that they could be if you opposed them.  It is also interesting to see how easily the Nazi could sow an atmosphere of fear, mistrust and suspicion to keep people in line.

Dan Smith always includes nice historical information in his novels which give them such a sense of reality.  There weren't many youth resistance groups in Nazi Germany, besides the White Rose (Weiße Rose) in 1942 Munich, and the Edelweiss Pirates (Edelweißpiraten), who, as Smith demonstrates through Stefan, were not pro-Allies even though they were anti-Nazi.  Like Stefan, many young people who were part of the Edelweiss Pirates quit school in order to avoid having to join the Hitler Youth, which was mandatory.

My Brother's Secret is a well-written, well-researched, eye-opening, gripping novel with a lot of appeal.  Karl is a protagonist that goes from unsympathetic to sympathetic as the action unfolds and as he learns valuable lessons about courage, loyalty, friendship and brotherly love.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC sent to me by the publisher, Chicken House Books

(People tend to think of the Swing Kids (Swingjugend) as a resistance group but they were really a counter-culture group without a political agenda, with a common interest in jazz and dancing.)

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17. The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste

Corrine La Mer is totally at home on her island. She’s not afraid of the woods like most of the kids she knows, so when two village boys tie her late mother’s pendant to the leg of an agouti she simply follows her instincts and dashes into the woods after it. It is all she has of her mother and she needs to get it back.

But once she retrieves the pendant and is not concentrating on the chase, Corrine does start to feel some unease. Her skin prickles as she thinks about the creatures the villagers talk about inhabiting these woods...the jumbies.  Corrine thinks she sees some eyes behind a bush and she hightails it out of the woods straight into the arms of her Papa as he and the rest of the village makes their annual trek to the graveyard to pay respects to those who have passed.
On their way home, a woman stands in the shadows. Corrine’s Papa asks if she needed any help but she refuses.

This is both the end and the beginning.

It is the end of the simple life with the people living on the outside and the jumbies living in the woods. It is the beginning of Corrine’s coming of age. Not only has a jumbie followed her out of the woods, but this particular jumbie has Corrine and her Papa in her sights.

So begins the adventure that will test Corrine’s will.  Even though she has always been strong willed and independent, she must bend a little and learn to ask for help and depend on her friends.  She learns that things aren’t always as they seem, and that adults are very adept at keeping secrets.

One of the most interesting parts of the story is in the way that Baptiste weaves in a narrative about colonialism, and as Betsy Bird put it “us” and “them”. There are some very poignant moments filled with these big ideas that are handled with aplomb and never seem forced.

This book fills several voids for the audience. First, most of the retellings of folklore in novel format that I have read are European in source. The Caribbean setting is a stand out.  Also, this title fits perfectly into the just creepy enough and just scary enough for the audience.  The island is lushly painted with its’ port and marketplace and dense woods.  Corrine and her friends are off on their own most of the time, but the adults in their lives clearly care for and love them deeply. This gives readers the reassurance that things will hopefully come out okay.

I will be booktalking this one as soon as we go back to school!

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18. Review: The Girl Who Rode the Wind by Stacy Gregg

May Contain Spoilers


I noticed The Girl Who Rode the Wind while trolling the shelves of my local library.  How could I ignore a book with a horse on the cover?  When I read that the book features Italy’s Palio, the world’s oldest, most dangerous horse race, I had to check it out.  I had just seen a video short about the race, and I’d read about it when I was a kid.  I have always found the race interesting, so I couldn’t wait to read this.

I have to admit that I was not immediately caught up in the plot, and I thought about putting it down.  But then Lola describes an altercation with a bully, and I was hooked.  After the academic achiever is suspended from school, her grandmother proposes a trip to Italy for the summer.  Her grandmother hasn’t been back to her homeland since just after WWII, and she’s finally ready to face her past.  She rarely discussed her childhood in Siena, and instead focused on the present and the family business; training racehorses.

The story revolves around horses.  Lola wants to work with them when she’s older, but her father won’t hear of it.  With her grades, he expects her to be a doctor or a lawyer.  The only time Lola is happy, however, is when she’s with the horses.  She’s angry because her older brothers are working on the track, training to be jockeys.  Her father was a jockey, and Lola wants to be one, too.  She doesn’t particularly want to go to Italy with her grandmother, but her father is so disappointed with her behavior that he refuses to allow her to help out at track over the summer.  Suddenly, a summer in Siena doesn’t sound so bad!

Lola meets a local boy whose father trains racers for the Palio.  They become friends, and Lola is invited to help work the horses.  As Lola learns about the race and makes friends with the other exercise riders, her grandmother slowly opens up about her own past, and her history with the Palio.  Her family bred horses for the race, and her older brother was a winning jockey several times. Then the war came, along with unbelievable hardships.  The race was canceled, and it was hard to feed themselves, let alone the horses in their care.  Her father was forced to join the army, even though he didn’t believe in the war, and her brother joined the freedom fighters.  By the end of the war, her nonna’s world was torn apart, and she fled Italy for America and the chance to start over.

I did have a few issues with believability.  I found it so difficult to swallow that a 12 year old American girl would be allowed to excise the horses, let alone ride in a dangerous race like the Palio.  Think of the bad press if she was injured, or worse, during the rough, no holds barred race.  Another thing that irked me was that everyone spoke English, a huge convenience for Lola, since she didn’t speak Italian.  This is the second book I’ve read this summer that the youthful protagonist was in another country, and everyone else spoke English.  It wasn’t believable in the first book, and I didn’t like it here, either, but that is a pet peeve of mine.  

Despite the highly unlikely premise, this was an enjoyable read. The horse races were exciting, and Nonna’s acceptance of the past, after so many years of guilt, was touching. Lola’s struggles with bullying rang true, and her father’s insistence that she become a doctor or a lawyer instead of a track rat gave Lola another conflict to solve. There were also great characters, including the horses.

Grade:  B

Review copy borrowed from my local library

About the book:

An epic, emotional story of two girls and their bond with beloved horses, the action sweeping between Italy during the Second World War and present day.

When Lola’s grandmother Loretta takes her to Siena, Italy, for the summer, Lola learns about the town’s historic Palio races – a fast and furious event where riders whip around the Piazza del Campo, and are often thrown from their horses while making the treacherous turns. Lola is amazed to learn her grandmother used to take part in these races – and had the nickname ‘The Daredevil’!

Nonna Loretta tells Lola that she used to race in a rival team to the boy she loved – who was captured by the Nazis in 1941. Lola develops a bond with a beautiful racehorse. She jumps at the chance to enter the Palio – can she win, in honour of her grandmother? And can she uncover the mystery of the boy’s capture and fate all those years ago?

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19. A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano

Pram has never truly been told the tale of her beginnings.  A beginning that started with her still inside her mother, even as she hung from the branch of the tree. Pram was orphaned right from the start, but was taken in by her two no-nonsense aunts. Pram is even short for Pragmatic -- named such because it was deemed sensible for a young lady, and sensible is just what the aunts wanted for Pram.

But Pram has always been the opposite of sensible.  She’s dreamy, and her oldest and best friend is a ghost named Felix who appeared one day in the pond by the home for the aged where she lives with her aunts.

Pram is forced by the state to actually attend school at the age of eleven and this is where Pram meets her first real life friend. She gets into an argument with Clarence before school even starts when he informs her that she is sitting in his desk. By lunch time they have discovered that both of their mothers are dead and with this the seeds of their friendship are planted.

As time goes on, Pram doesn’t tell Clarence that she can speak with ghosts, but she does agree to accompany him to a spiritualist show where he hopes his mother’s spirit will reveal herself. Things don’t go as Clarence hoped and instead the spiritualist is very interested in Pram. What Pram and Clarence cannot know is that the spiritualist is anything but a charlatan, and a girl like Pram is very valuable to her.

What follows is a haunting and frightening ghost story that straddles the world of the living and the dead. Lyrical and tender, DeStefano’s story will scare readers without tipping into horror. This is an achingly beautiful story of love and loss, of friendship and family. A Curious Tale of the In-Between is for the deep reader, and I can see it becoming that touchstone title that ferries readers into more complex and intricate stories.


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20. A Wetlands Story Time in Pictures

Instead of a launch party for Over in the Wetlands, I lead story time at the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library‘s Cherry Hills branch. Think stories, games, coloring pages, and gator cookies.


Reading Wetlands by Cathryn Sill.





Explaining the three things we needed to “make” a hurricane: wind, waves, and rain. Look at that handsome boy of mine on the right!



And the other handsome one! (Incidentally, this is what happens when the Rose boys take over the camera).


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21. High Tide for Huck and Rilla


The other day I mentioned that I was putting together some shelves of books to use for Huck and Rilla this year. Huck is 6 1/2, and Rilla is 9, and according to the boxes I will have to check on the form I file in October, they are in the 1st and 4th grades respectively.

(Of course you know we have more of an Understood Betsy approach to grades around here.)

‘What’s the matter?’ asked the teacher, seeing her bewildered face.

‘Why–why,’ said Elizabeth Ann, ‘I don’t know what I am at all. If I’m second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade am I?’

The teacher laughed. ‘You aren’t any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You’re just yourself, aren’t you? What difference does it make what grade you’re in? And what’s the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don’t know your multiplication table?’

‘Well, for goodness’ sakes!’ ejaculated Elizabeth Ann, feeling very much as though somebody had stood her suddenly on her head.

I don’t think Rilla has any idea what grade she would be in if she went to school…my kids don’t usually pay attention to grade level until they reach an age—usually around 12 or 13—when they want an answer to the question that comes from just about every new adult they encounter.

But back to my booklists. I compiled these selections according to my patented, highly scientific method of Walking Around the House Grabbing Things Off Shelves™. These are books we already own, favorite tomes I have read with the older kids in the past but which my younger set haven’t yet heard or read—due in large part to the abundant inflow of new treasures that have come our way for review. (Oh you guys, I have so many good new books to share.)

I imagine there will be a lot of crossover: Huck will listen in on Rillabook readalouds and vice versa. Both collections also include a good many read-alone possibilities. If you’ve been reading Bonny Glen for a while, then you know that read-alouds are the core of my homeschooling method, especially in the younger years. (But continuing on, you know, into high school. We still read aloud together lots of history, science, and poetry.)

I know a lot of you are as addicted to booklists as I am, so my project this weekend is to type up these collections to share here on the blog. I hope to post them on Sunday or Monday. When they’re ready, I’ll update this post with links.

So what else does high tide look like in my house for ages 6 and 9?

In no particular order:

• Lots and lots of art, especially watercolor painting and Sculpey fun.

I keep watercolors handy on a shelf by the kitchen table for easy access. These days, they are doing a lot with acrylic paints, too—I caught a sale at Michael’s when those little Folk Art bottles were three for a dollar. I grabbed a set of small plastic palettes (six for $2) and filled a jar with our older, more battered brushes. (We reserve the nicer brushes for watercolors.)

I’ve written about this before*, but for watercolor paper I use large sheets I bought in bulk a good many years ago, folded and torn into smaller sizes. And then cheap recycled paper for drawing. Plus everyone has a sketchbook to do whatever they want with.

About 15 years ago (!) I bought half a dozen scratch-and-dent whiteboard seconds from a discount site. We use these as painting boards. Not only do they protect the kitchen table from spatters, but they are large enough that I can stack them on toy blocks to save space while paintings dry.


* In that 2009 post, I mentioned that for littles I use good paper and cheap paints. That was back when Rilla was three years old. ::sniff:: Nowadays we tend to experiment with artist-quality tube watercolors quite often, because that is what I myself am learning to paint with, and both Rilla and I are pretty addicted to color-mixing and the way colo. We still keep basic Crayola or Prang kids’  paint sets around, though, like the ones in the photo, because they’re quick and fun and easy and portable. They’re what the kids use for casual, everyday painting.

Kortney has been posting some wonderful resources for doing art projects with kids. And I have a list of my best suggestions in this post.

• Poetry every day

I pulled some of my favorite anthologies for this year’s Huck and Rilla shelves. They’re also in the room for a good bit of the poetry reading and discussion I do with the older kids. I work in lots of opportunities for low-pressure memorization (if you read the same poem out loud a few days or weeks in a row, before you know it, everyone has it down)—including my recent brainstorm to require Huck to learn a new poem by heart before he gets a new iPad app. :)

• Handwriting practice* with fun materials like dip pens or slates-and-chalk. 

dip pen

I asterisked practice because I need to qualify that term. I subscribe to the John Holt school of thought about the misleading way we often use the word practice. He argued that when you are doing what we call “practicing” piano, you are really playing piano and we ought to think of it like that. You are making music. When I am “practicing” drawing, I am actually drawing. Huck is learning to write. When he sits down with a marker or crayon and makes some letters, he is writing—not some separate intermediate activity that leads up to writing. I think that word “practice” can set up a feeling that what I’m doing right now isn’t real, it doesn’t count. But it all “counts.” If you’re doing it, it’s real. Another way of putting it is that writing letters to friends is a form of handwriting “practice.”

For Rilla, a third year of group piano class 

And yes, despite the above paragraph, you will from time to time hear me ask her if she has practiced yet today. :)

• Nature study and narration. 

My old Charlotte Mason standbys. Re narration: casually for Huck, more deliberately and regularly for Rilla. All oral, still. We add written narration at age ten.

Nature study isn’t something we have to work at. Both Rilla and I enjoy adding new plants and bugs to our sketchbooks. You’ll see a fair number of nature-themed nonfiction on both booklists.

• A little bit of foreign language.

Beanie is ramping up her German studies this year. My younger set pick up whatever the older ones are working on, sponge-style.

• Math.

Via games, money, dice, and daily life for Huck; Math-U-See for Rilla. Works for us.

• Folk songs and other musical fun. 

Including daddy’s guitar-playing. The recorders seem to have made a comeback around here, too; and Rose came home from her Colorado trip with a pair of ocarinas.

• Baking, sewing, and other handcrafty activities. 

Sometimes this is simply a part of daily life; in other cases we may undertake a special project, such as making clothes for a cloth doll with the Dress Up Bunch Club.

• Games of all sorts.

Board games, word games, Wii games, iPad apps, you name it. Together or alone. And lots and lots of Minecraft.

• As much outdoor play as possible!

All the small fry on the block seem to congregate at my house in the afternoons: they know when my kids get their Wii time. 😉 Afterward, they troop outside to bike and scooter and make secret hideouts and chat with passing dogs and help Miss-Joanie-down-the-block rake leaves. (She’s a treasure. She keeps a stash of child-size yard tools in her garage! She saves all those little stickers and calendars and bookmarks that come in junk mail! She has cups labeled for all the kids on our street and sometimes mixes up fruit drinks to fill them with instead of water. Everyone should be so lucky as to grow up down the block from Miss Joanie.)

• What about history and science? 

See above re: readalouds and narration. Lots of good stuff on our booklists. :)

And if I don’t stop gabbing and start compiling, these booklists are never going to get written. More later, my dears. Feel free to fire away with questions below, if you have any!

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22. Your Alien, by Tammi Sauer | Book Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of YOUR ALIEN (Sterling Children’s Books, August 2015), written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Goro Fujita! Giveaway begins August 9, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends September 8, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

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23. Best Friends (2015)

(Peppa Pig) Best Friends. 2015. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Once upon a time, Peppa's best friend, Suzy Sheep, came to play. "I have something to show you," said Suzy. Suzy held up a photograph of a baby sheep. "Look! It's me," said Suzy. "You're not a baby, Suzy," said Peppa, shaking her head. "This is an old photo," Suzy explained. "It was taken when I was a baby." Peppa snorted. She didn't remember Suzy being a baby. That was just silly!

 Premise/plot: Peppa Pig is skeptical that Suzy Sheep and herself were ever, ever babies. The idea is beyond belief. But Suzy's photograph, and the photographs Mummy Pig show her prove her wrong. Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig tell Peppa all about "the olden days" when she was a baby: how she's always been friends with Suzy sheep, and how she's almost always loved jumping in muddy puddles.
"What did we do when we were babies?" asked Suzy. "You cried...you burped...and you laughed!" said Mummy Pig. Suzy and Peppa giggled. It must have been so silly being babies! 
My thoughts: Best Friends is an adaptation of an episode of the Peppa Pig television series. ("The Olden Days.") It is one of the last episodes of the show. And it is probably among my all-time favorite, favorite episodes. Adorable, sweet, precious, and FUNNY.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Story World Building: Social Contracts

The terms of the social contract in Dick and Jane’s world puts pressure on them to behave in certain ways. The constraints can make whatever they have to do to solve the story problem difficult, if not impossible. If Dick and Jane violate the social contract in their world, they pay a price for it.

It is especially important in Fantasy and Science Fiction when writing about alternative worlds that you consider the demands social contracts impose on the people in them. 

In writing historical novels, it is important to understand what the social contract of the time and place required. Morals and practices changed over time and across geography. Small desert tribes had a different social contract than societies in king-ruled Europe and those of hunter-gatherers in Africa.

Studies have suggested that groups of one-hundred or less are pretty good at self-regulation. There isn’t a need for organized law enforcement in such a small community because the members all know each other and are able to keep tabs on one another. If one of the members commits an act that is detrimental to the group, the other 99 are willing and able to correct or punish them. Even in a small community, there are rules that they follow to keep the peace.

It isn’t in the group’s best interest if they can’t trust one another. If someone is lying, stealing, killing, or lusting after someone else’s mate, conflict will ensue and the transgressor will be booted out. It is hard to survive in the world alone, especially if you suck at hunting or gathering.

In groups larger than one-hundred, it is imperative to have some form of social contract with rules that are enforceable and enforced. The golden rule of most societies can be boiled down into the loose statement: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” This isn’t effective if you’re visiting a community of purple people eaters.

Ancient Egyptians had a long list of “I will not ...” statements in their Husia. Jews and Christians embraced commandments which included admonitions to not worship different gods or idols, to not lie or bear false witness against a neighbor, to not murder, commit adultery, steal, or covet their neighbor’s wife.

Hinduism’s rules of dharma encouraged patience, forgiveness, self control, honesty, sanctity, control of senses, reason, knowledge or learning, truthfulness, and absence of anger.

In your story world, your characters will be subject to the rules of their society's contract. If Dick breaks those rules, there will be consequences. He may fight to change the rules or reveal the dark side to one of his society’s rules.

It is considered a plot hole if you apply modern sensibilities to the people from a historic setting. That doesn’t mean you can’t take some artistic license. However, having Victorian girls behave like the cast from a modern reality TV show does not work for most readers, unless you are portraying an alternate universe in Science Fiction or adding a Fantasy twist. 

Errors of this type will, at the very least, make the reader cringe. At worst, your book will go on the to-be-burned pile.

If you write fantasy or Science Fiction, develop your own ten commandments for your story world. How are they enforced? What are the consequences for breaking them? Are some infringements more serious than others? Are some ignored on a routine basis without consequence?

In The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the citizens of District 12 aren’t supposed to hunt outside the fence, yet Gale and Katniss do so regularly. Because they transgress, Katniss is better prepared to survive the Hunger Games. Breaking the social contract benefitted her. Katniss and Peeta break the contract again at the end of their first Hunger Games by refusing to kill each other, which sets up the conflict for the second book in the series.

Think about your story. Have you directly or indirectly explored social contracts in your story world? Have you put it to work for you in terms of complicating your characters’ lives? Have you utilized transgressions and punishments?

For more information on crafting believable obstacles, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict in print or E-book version.

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25. New Use for Old Manuscripts

My boys and I just re-discovered this particular book. Thought it would be fun to share with all of you again!

Cut in half.

Rustle up some silly kids.
Spread out on the kitchen table.
Set up a chart.

Number your pages.

Create a Choose Your Own Adventure Story.

(Ours is called THE BLACK DOOM and includes a haunted castle with a parking lot, an eyeless lifeguard [who later gets olives as eyes], lots of gorillas, a pool full of raspberry Jello, and an annual haunted castle pizza party).



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