Saturday, July 31, 2004

A Rare Saturday Posting

I rarely work on weekends. I figure if God required a day of rest, it only stands to reason that I, a mere mortal, need two. At the very least.

However, I am so into this revision I'm working on. You will all remember, I'm sure, that yesterday I revised three chapters. Well, this morning I got up, went to the computer in my pajamas (not a pretty sight), and revised another. I am pretty close to being in flow now. Energized. Smokin'. I have three chapters left to go. If I can get into one of them tomorrow, is it too much to hope that I can knock off the last two on Monday? Probably, since work has been going way too smoothly lately. I should be running into a roadblock sometime soon.

I believe I owe this surge of creativity and ambition to my personal writing coach, Jane Yolen. Though we have never met--though she, actually, has never even heard of me--her online journal with its descriptions of her superhuman work habits shames my "inner Jane" and makes her work harder.

Hey, Jane, there hasn't been an update in a couple of days. I'm going to crash and burn here if I don't hear from you soon.

And How Do I Fit Into This Story?

The Telegraph
reports that J. K. Rowling's website "receives 27 million "hits" a week, compared with an average for other popular children's sites of one million."

I guess the important word there is "popular."

Friday, July 30, 2004

Ah, Funniest, You Say?

Philip Pullman of The Golden Compass fame (he's famous for other things, too, but The Golden Compass is my favorite) has an essay in Salon this week. Actually, the essay is adapted from his introduction to a book called Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay, and it's called The Funniest Children's Book Ever.

In short, Pullman claims that Magic Pudding is, well, the funniest children's book ever. He says he can't explain why it's funny, and it is true that sometimes humor can't be explained. He also says the language is so "fresh and lively that it might have been written yesterday." Then he gives some examples such as: "Sam Sawnoff's feet were sitting down and his body was standing up, because his feet were so short and his body so long that he had to do both together."

I totally do not get that. Perhaps you had to be there--a hundred years ago when the book was written!

Okay, I most definitely like bringing an old book to the public's attention, even if I personally don't get it. I certainly hope someone is writing introduction to reprints of my books a hundred years from now, whether or not the readers of that generation get me. Pullman says that Lindsay wrote Magic Pudding because "children liked eating and fighting."

I have to agree that that's been my experience, too.

Good News

I revised three chapters today, which is absolutely a massive amount of work for me. I even went back to work on the third chapter after dinner instead of exercising. (I have an exercise obsession.) I have written this entry as well.

I guess it did me a lot of good to read Jane Yolen's journal yesterday.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Just Can't Keep Up

I missed posting yesterday because I'm working on the fourth revision of a book (I mention this because I suspect there are people who think I don't do anything at all), and though it is going well, for a revision, I always get to a point where I am consumed. Not necessarily in the good sense of the word. Even when I'm not working on it, I have trouble doing much of anything else--like ironing, grocery shopping, other types of paperwork. I'm hoping to finish this revision next week and try to get back to what passes for a normal life for me.

I've noticed that Jane Yolen has started an on-line journal. It doesn't seem to be a traditional blog, but a traditional journal maintained on-line. I admire what she's doing, but I don't know if I'll be reading it much because...she does too much work . Her work habits are far better than mine, and I don't want to keep reminding myself.

On the other hand, maybe this is just what I need.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

In the News

So What Do Adult Books Teach?

Jose Saramago, a Nobel literature laureate from Portugal, believes the world would be a better place if adults were forced to read children's books. "They are moral fables that teach values which we consider indispensable like solidarity, respect for others and goodness," he says. (Thanks to Kids Lit)

As a general rule, I don't care much for books that teach me things. However, if adults are forced to read children's books, I hope they are forced to read mine.

Children Live in Terror Because of Books?

The subject of teen problem books came up again in an essay by Rachel Johnson called Read Me a Dirty Story, Mummy in the English paper...magazine...whatever it is...The Spectator. In her essay Johnson says, "It is a well-documented fact that even in stable, loving, smacking households, children live in terror of their parents divorcing or becoming alcoholics or shacking up with a same-sex partner, simply because that is all that seems to happen in many of the books they read."

This essay was discussed for a while at my listserv. No one seemed to know anything about this well-documented fact that Johnson was referring to.

Monday, July 26, 2004


On Saturday I went to visit Fruitlands in...oh, I don't know. Somewhere in Massachusetts. Why should I care, you ask? Well, if you remember one of my entries back in September 2002 or 2003 (hey, I've narrowed it down for you)I have a little thing about Little Men, which means I have a little thing about Louisa May Alcott, its author. One thing does not necessarily lead to another, but in this case it does.

Anyway, Fruitlands is the name of a farm where Louisa's father took the family when she was around 8 (according to the lady who gave us the little talk), hoping to start a commune with this other guy and his son. They may have managed to get as many as eight guests, besides themselves, to sign up for the communal experience but essentially the whole thing went bust in short order.

Believe it or not, I learned about this back in college when I did a paper on Alcott for my History of American Women course.

Years ago I also visited Orchard House, the Alcott's main home. This is the setting for Little Women.

Friday, July 23, 2004

My Trip to Barnes & Noble

I went to Barnes & Noble this week even though I've recently become a big fan of independent bookstores. However, there aren't any independent bookstores around here, and the B&N has attached itself to the mall where it sucks up customers like a black hole. I was one of them.

Near the mall entrance I found a table of new children's books, which I thought was very convenient. (Supposedly books get placed on those tables in the big chains because their publishers have paid for the space.) I found some titles I've already read, meaning that I am getting better at keeping up on what's new, and some new titles I loved--meaning I actually loved the titles. I'd never heard of the books, let alone read them.

Anyway, I found The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place , which I've read and didn't care for, and Inkheart, which I've also read and didn't care for. But my regular readers know that, right?

I also found a new middle grade book by M. T. Anderson called The Game of Sunken Places. I haven't read it, though I'm a fan of his book for older kids, Feed. But my regular readers know that, right?

The two titles I loved the sound of were One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones and The Meanest Doll in the World by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin. I'll be keeping my eye open for them.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

This Doesn't Change Anything

Missed me? I didn't post last night because I was with my writers' group. Good excuse, huh?

Okay, back to work. Yesterday I read an article about Antoine de Saint Exupéry in an English publication called The Telegraph. Saint Exupery is the author of The Little Prince, of course, but in France he is much more. He's a combination war hero and cult figure. I'm not sure if we in the U.S. have anyone whom we can compare to him.

Anyway, for 60 years Saint Exupery has been a mysterious figure because while out on a military mission his plane disappeared. It was found recently and, evidently, the mystery deepens because there are no signs of bullet holes in the wreckage. (Those of us who are afraid of flying are well aware that a plane could easily fall from the sky without being shot down. Why any of them stay up in the sky is the big mystery.)

Well, someone is theorizing that Saint Exupery may have committed suicide by flying his plane into the sea. The article reports that he is believed to have been suicidal before his death, that there are explanations for his feeling that way. It is a theory, and I'm not complaining about it. (The French may be getting a little hot under the collar about it, though.)

I've never really understood The Little Prince. However, when I first read it I was in college, working in the summer at this beautiful college campus in the Green Mountains. I associate the book with that wonderful time. I own English and French editions. (Or I think I still have them.) I read the English version to my kids when they were little. Whenever the French came out with a new book on Saint Exupery (which they seem to do with some regularity) I read the reviews. I got all excited when he appeared as a figure in an IMAX movie I saw years ago.

The possibility that this man may have committed suicide doesn't change anything for me. I don't think the suicide theory can ever be anything but a theory. It just adds a certain je ne sais pas quoi to the Saint Exupery cult. The idea that his death may have been misunderstood for half a century only adds to the tragedy of his shortened life. To pass judgment upon him for a decision he may or may not have made in the last moments of his life and to let that judgment change how his work is perceived would be cruel, not just for him but for fans of his work. This is truly a case where the work should be allowed to stand by itself.

I'm getting all choked up here, folks. Must be the French genes passed down to me through my Canadian ancestors. I'm going to have to go find my copy of The Little Prince and read it again.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Okay, My Take on Summer Reading

My listserv and Kids Lit have been buzzing about a New York Times opinion piece called Summer Reading List Blues by Barbara Feinberg, author of Welcome to Lizard Motel. Feinberg's essay is about mandatory summer reading lists, which, she says, tend to require reading a lot of serious problem novels. She believes the joy is being taken out of summer reading for kids.

The professional reaction to this essay that I have been seeing on-line has been to defend the books Feinberg singles out as potentially distressing for children. In addition, Feinberg's essay has been described as a nostalgia piece written by someone yearning for the experiences of her own childhood.

What's Gail's spin on this whole thing? Since you asked, I think Feinberg's essay is dancing around a whole different issue, an issue related to education rather than reading. Kids, and even parents, have little power in the educational world and that includes what they read. We hear about this more often regarding parents objecting to a book on religious or moral grounds. But do kids ever get a chance to object to what they have to read? They certainly don't get a chance to do much choosing. Their literature is written by adults, edited by adults, published by adults, marketed by adults, and taught by adults.

There used to be a saying about kids learning to read from grades one through three and reading to learn from grades four up. (Now that kids are supposedly learning to read in kindergarten, the saying may no longer be true.) My point is that books are like funnels for kids. All the facts, the believes, everything, comes through them.

I am not a professional educator or librarian. I am a parent, though, and I can say that Feinberg is not the only parent to be concerned about the dark tone of many of the books that are promoted in schools, not just on reading lists but in the classrooms. Will a nice steady diet of books about relatives dying (which was popular when my kiddies were in grade school), children being abandoned by their parents, etc. turn kids into eager readers?

I'm not saying that kids shouldn't be reading serious fiction, but "serious" doesn't have to mean "problem." It could also mean "ideas."

Monday, July 19, 2004

My Fame Spreads--Just A Little

I've been mentioned in another blog! This is the second time this has happened. Check out the May 29th entry in Kids Lit. I feel so in the loop.

I mentioned Kids Lit a while back when I did my search for weblogs dealing with children's literature. (And then, I'm embarrassed to say, I forgot about it.) I really do feel that weblogs are significant. Weblogs dealing with specific subjects are ways for others to stay abreast of what's going on in their field. I've been going to some literary weblogs daily and have felt a loss because they didn't deal with children's literature. I mean there's just a limit to how long I can maintain an interest in that guy who popped the literary critic in the face while they were both in a restaurant.

Kids Lit is kept up to date, and I'm going to be visiting it regularly. I'm guessing you'll be hearing about Kids Lit here again.

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Soul of a Blogger

You know you've gone over the edge with blogging when you surf other blogs and post snide comments about them. Actually, I'm not being snide. I'm being sympathetic about this. I would be really embarrassed if this happened here. Actually, it may have for all I know.

By "this" I refer to a site called bookmunch making an embarrassing error in a title. It did a review of How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague and spelled Jane's name Yolden.

How would I feel if some blogger picked up on my spelling error? Actually, if any other blogger noticed me at all, I'd probably be delighted.

And if you think I'm being familiar by referring to Ms. Yolen as Jane, well, I've almost met her. I've heard her speak at conferences twice, and at one of them I asked her a question. Which she answered. We interacted. She can call me Gail, if she'd like.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

I Wouldn't Dare Do This

I keep reading about authors running contests to help promote new books.  I wouldn't dare.  What if you give a contest and nobody comes? Aren't there enough ways for me to be humiliated in this life?  I do not see any reason why I should go out looking for trouble.

What's Happenin' With Gail This Week
Her manuscript came back from the editor.  I'm going to need to do a fourth draft, but it doesn't look like too rough a job.  Today went okay. 
But guess what?  You know how I started cleaning my desk after I finished the third draft?  Well, I never finished!

Why Doesn't This Kind of Thing Ever Happen With Kidlit Writers?
The literature weblogs have all been abuzz with this story about an author who walked up to a reviewer in a restaurant and popped him in the mouth.  If only a children's writer would do this kind of thing so I could write about it.
After a couple of years of blogging I am finally doing a multiple topic post.  I am so into this.  And wouldn't you know it?  Blogger seems to have changed all its stuff again.  Can't wait to see how this looks when published.


Wednesday, July 14, 2004

And the Award for Best Book About Boogers Goes To...

Marvin Redpost: Why Pick on Me? by Louis Sachar!

If you're a regular reader (yeah, right), you know I've just discovered Sachar's Marvin Redpost series. I've only read two of these books for younger readers, but they were terrific. This guy takes offbeat, yet realistic, things that happen to kids and creates books around them.

I am absolutely in awe of what he did with the subject of boogers in this book.

Yep, classy books like The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place (see yesterday's post) don't make that big an impression on me. But give me a book about boogers...

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Another Series of Improbable Events

The second book I started reading on my trip (and had to finish after I got home) was The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E. L. Konigsburg. Konigsburg has won the Newbery Medal twice, for From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler , which I remember liking when I read it years ago, and The View From Saturday. I liked that book, too, though I found it very adult oriented.

But what about 19 Schuyler Place? you may ask. Well. Well. Well, The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place starts out with one of those wise- beyond-their-years narrators. Adults (myself included)love wise-beyond-their-years narrators, mainly, I think, because we meet so few wise-beyond-their-years kids in real life. So I liked Margaret Rose. But then the mean girls at camp entered the story. And the eccentric uncles. And the big bad lawyers who were going to destroy the uncles' backyard. It just seemed as if I'd read it all before. Then Margaret Rose does all these improbable things to save the day. And more unlikely things happen, too. I just didn't buy it.

There was also lots of talk about art and literature. I have nothing against art and literature talk in kids' books. Really. I'm all for it, in fact. Can't have too much of it. It just seemed so educational here. Not that I'm against education, either. But in a work of fiction, the educational stuff isn't supposed to sound educational.

I liked Margaret Rose, and I would have liked to have read a story about her having a crush on the camp handyman. That was a situation that seemed filled with possibilities but it wasn't pursued all that much.

This is a companion book to Silent to the Bone, which I haven't read. But I will.

Monday, July 12, 2004

My Travel Reading

In twelve plus hours of travel I only read one and a half books. How lame is that?

The one I finished in the car was Target by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson, which has been named a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association. A best book for 2004, by the way, which means I met my goal of reading something very currant.

Well, Target is sort of a Speak for guys. It's about a teenage boy dealing with the aftermath of having been raped by two strange men who attacked him on the street. He's devastated by the experience, of course, and is consumed with anxiety because he's afraid that somehow he did something that made him a "target." On top of that, he was so stunned by what was happening to him that he didn't put up a fight at the time of the attack, even though he was a big kid. This leads the investigating cop and the reporter who covers the story to suggest that he didn't really object or was having some kind of conflict with a male lover. (He was seriously beaten, by the way.) The emergency room doctor is repulsed by what happened to him and his parents are ashamed. He can barely speak or eat, and is clearly wasting away.

This is an interesting setup. However, a series of improbable events leads to the conclusion. He changes schools and happens to meet a wiseguy African American kid who takes an interest in him as well as an overweight girl and a gay boy. The connections just don't seem very likely.

Plus, this is the 21st Century. It seems unlikely that so many of the adults who should have been helping him--police, doctor, parents--would have such unenlightened attitudes. One or two, maybe. But everyone? Having the adults shunning their responsibilities toward the main character makes it possible for the kids in his life to take over, of course. Still, it seems like an artificial situation.

Grady, the main character, is suffering horribly and readers ought to feel for him. But it's hard to believe that someone in such bad shape would be ignored by all the seemingly decent, middle class adults around him.

Target is a readable but not believable book for older teen readers.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

My Plans for the Immediate Future

Meaning the next few days. Tomorrow I leave for a three-day trip, the first and last day of which will involve six hours in a car. Though I will get stuck doing my share of the driving, that will leave me with some chunks of time for reading. So in my quest to keep up with what's going on in the kidlit world, I made a trip to the library Saturday and picked up a bunch of books from the YA section with "New" labels on them. They had to say "New" with a date sometime in 2004. Sometimes libraries will trick you by putting a new label on and leaving it on long, long past the time anyone would have considered the book new. I am on to them.

So I already have a stack of books out in the car, a few of which I hope to polish off while I'm riding in the car with nothing to do but listen to the AM radio station one of the other drivers is...sadly...devoted to.

Reading in the car is a big, exciting deal for me because up until maybe five or six years ago I couldn't read in a moving vehicle. Yup. Travel sickness. Then, on a long trip, perhaps along the whole east coast, maybe just to Virginia, I don't know, I "trained" myself to read. The trick, I've learned, is to try not to read while the car is speeding up or slowing down. I'm passing that on.

I try not to be bitter about all the years of reading time that were lost while I couldn't read in a car without wanting to toss my cookies.

Monday, July 05, 2004

How I Spent My Holiday Weekend

Well, I didn't see any fireworks but I did see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And I actually liked it. Can you believe it? Because I really didn't care for the first movie at all.

The Prisoner of Azkaban happens to be my favorite of the Potter books because I really liked Sirius. (Imagine how I feel about the most recent one--Order of the This or That). Even so, not being a Potter uber-fan I couldn't remember every detail. This actually added to my viewing pleasure because there were surprises for me. For instance, I'd forgotten all the messing around with time at the end. I enjoyed that part of the movie quite a bit.

I saw two good previews, too. One was for The Polar Express, a classy-looking animated version of the picture book. The other was for A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I thought also looked good.

Speaking of the Lemony one, I've been told that there is a baby on my street whose pediatrician's daughter is married to the one and only Lemony Snicket. It's almost as's almost as if I have a connection to him, isn't it?

Friday, July 02, 2004

Keeping Up on What's Happening

As I said in yesterday's post, I see no reason in the world why older books shouldn't be discussed in the media. However, I do worry that I, myself, don't keep up to date the way I should. I mean, I ought to more than that there's a new Harry Potter book in the works and that the title has been released, right?

So to help me keep up on what's happening, last month I subscribed to's and's newsletters. These are both sites I've linked to many times over the years. I'm hoping that having them nudge me each month with something in my e-mail will keep me au courant. (Sure hope I spelled that right.)

Anyway, reports that Janet Tashjian has a sequel to The Gospel According to Larry called Vote for Larry. Now, I wasn't a wild fan of the first Larry book. I found it a little preachy (mmm, maybe a lot preachy) even though I very much liked the anti-consumer sermon. However, I am very much in the minority. The Gospel According to Larry was well-reviewed and I'm aware that it was popular with a lot of teen readers. And since they are the people the book was written for, their opinion should count more than mine.

So Vote for Larry should be worth a look. Even I will look at it.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Perhaps Someone Should Try This in Other Cities?

I was ego-surfing this spring (something I don't do all that often because, really, I don't find that much about me) when I stumbled upon a review of one of my books in a publication called is a 'zine that describes itself as a local newspaper for kids between the ages of 8 and 13 living in the St. Louis area and a tool adults can use to help kids become better readers. In addition to news articles on kids in the area, it has book and movie reviews, games, and articles on things to do in St. Louis. For adults it has lesson plans around the articles in the current issue, which I thought was interesting.

As a writer, I found the book reviews interesting, too, because the staff members don't limit themselves to new releases. This month's issue includes a review of A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck, which has been out for a few years. But it's a very decent book (yes, I actually liked it) and why shouldn't it be brought to the attention of people who've never heard of it or may have missed it when it was fresh off the press?

There's lots of talk among book people about the short window of opportunity for selling new books. We're talking months, here. I think that's sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. People in the book business believe they have only a few months to bring a book to the publics' attention so that's what they do--spend a few months on a book and move on to something else. But publications like can keep titles out in front of the public indefinitely. So long as journalists read something and want to write about it, they can.