Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Let the Dog Live!

I finished a neat book today--No More Dead Dogs by Gordan Korman.

The book is a light-hearted take on a subject I've talked about recently--downer books for kids. The basic story begins when a very honest boy writes a report on a book called Old Shep, My Pal, complaining that it's boring. He also says he knew the dog in the story was going to die before he even began the book "because the dog always dies."

As luck would have it, I was reading the July/August edition of The Horn Book, which carries an advertisement for a book called Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas. There's a picture of a dog on the cover. Any bets as to what happens?

No More Dead Dogs is written from shifting points of view, which I feel is a little overdone in kids' books. But Korman does it well. The story really does progress as each kid is telling it. The main character gets himself into realistic trouble. The letters to Julia Roberts, which could have been sappy, aren't. The ending is both modestly unexpected and believable.

And I'm sure a lot of kids will like this book even more than I did.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Once Again, Exactly What Is YA Literature?

Hooray for me. I finished the May/June 2004 issue of The Horn Book, which means that I am now only two issues behind. Again I'm going to tell you about a great article by Patty Campbell. (See 4/25/03 and 9/29/03 blog entries.)

In an article called Our Side of the Fence Campbell talks about definitions for YA literature, something she has done before. She says:

The central theme of YA fiction is becoming an adult, finding the answer to the question "Who am I, and what am I going to do about it?"

Whether it is told in first or third (or even second person), to be a YA novel a book must have a teen protagonist speaking from an adolescent point of view, with all the limitations of understanding this implies.

To be a YA novel, then, a book must have a climactic epiphany of new maturity as the subtext and be told in the YA voice from the limited adolescent viewpoint. In addition, it must be relevant to the lives of young readers in some way.

I couldn't agree more, especially regarding the central theme of YA fiction. And what could be a more important theme, at any point in life? I think the central theme for a lot of books about mid-life is the other side of the same coin. "Who am I, and what have I done about it?" The major theme of adolescence then, is linked to a major theme throughout literature.

I also agree that a good teen protagonist isn't all knowing in a mature sophisticated way because most adolescents aren't that way. That's a major complaint for me when reading books for young people.

And as far as "it must be relevant to the lives of young readers in some way" is concerned, well, yeah, it's about the kid. A lot of writers do forget that.

It's always a great pleasure to read an essay in which the author agrees with you on almost everything.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Something New

I thought this article about English novelist Philip Kerr (also known as P.B. Kerr) author of Children of the Lamp was just lovely. I think he sounds like a charming man.

Don't I sound like an old coot?

I enjoyed the article even though Kerr talks about being driven by limo to his school appearances while I must haul myself from place to place with only MapQuest to guide me.

As my constant readers are well aware, I'm not a huge fan of fantasy. Nonetheless, I believe I'll read Children of the Lamp at some point. Of course, since I have that problem, which I've discussed before, with always being late, it will probably be some years from now.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Something Old...Again

I know I am always way behind the curve with trying things (though I did see Shaun of the Dead while it was still in the theater. Unfortunately, it was too cool and hip for most of the people I know to have heard about)and I thought I'd accepted that about myself, but since I've been trying to do a decent job at maintaining this blog it's begun to get me down. Nonetheless, this morning I finished reading Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas who is this Rob Thomas not this Rob Thomas. I bought Rats Saw God maybe six or seven years ago as a gift for a young male relative. This was a really neat thing for me to do, since I now know the book has a pretty juicy sex scene.

I liked Thomas's book Slave Day and the television show Cupid on which he was an executive producer. He also wrote a book for younger kids called Green Thumb, which I personally found kind of preachy.

Well, what about Rats Saw God? You know, I think teenagers may like this. For the sex, if nothing else. But it just seemed sort of...oh, just another teen suffering story. I don't mean a true horrible problem book. Just run of the mill teen suffering. I lost my girlfriend to my teacher. I didn't like my father when I was younger but now he's not so bad. I was sort skimming stuff because there was nothing there that really grabbed me.

But wait! I just found out that Rob Thomas is involved with the new show Veronica Mars ! (Boy, Thomas's website is really, really out of date. I feel a lot better about mine.) I'd wondered what that show was doing in my TV listings. One on-line site compared it to Buffy. I will take a look for that reason alone.

I hope I get to it before it's off the air and in syndication somewhere.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Yikes! It's Almost National Novel Writing Month!

I have signed up to take part in National Novel Writing Month. What is it, you may ask? I'll let the NaNoWriMo folks explain in their own words.

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

I happen to be finishing up the sixth and final draft before copy editing of my next book. (I actually made a huge attempt at getting it done in say, four or five. Ha!) So this would be a good time for me to try something new. I see this as an opportunity to force me to structure my time better and control my inner editor. (Writer talk. Forgive me.) I've had an adult book idea kicking around for some time, I've actually done two drafts of the first seven pages and kept a notebook of ideas, so I'm in good shape for this project. Plus, since I have a really poor track record at selling adult fiction, I'd only be sacrificing one month of time to this project before getting started on my next kid book.

Now, Blogger, which is the...what? software? mysterious genie?...that makes my weblog possible is getting involved with this, too. Some of their staff are going to do NaNoWriMo and they are suggesting that people blog their November manuscripts. I will have to think about that.

I have massive amounts of work to do in the next week so that I can clear the decks, as they say, for this next project.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I'm Not Through Talking About Vacation Yet

While I was up in Canada, I bought a copy of Canadian Children's Book News. The article I was particularly interested in was A New Breed of Book Club by Lisa Doucet who writes book reviews for CM: Canadian Review of Materials. Her article in Children's Book News was about a book club for adult readers of YA literature. Its members are librarians and others connected with young readers as well as adults who just like to read YA literature.

I bought the magazine in a Chapters, which is very much like a Borders or a Barnes & Noble. I've been to a few of those stores on various trips to Canada. I'm always looking around in them for books by Canadian authors. This trip, I was walking around these stores, looking for Canadian books, and thinking how weird it must be to be in a store in your own country that's just full of books from another country, namely, the United States. (Books you have to pay a couple of dollars more for, by the way, then Americans do when they're buying them down here.) And then when you find a book by a real Canadian, it costs a bundle. I was seeing paperback Canadian books for over twenty dollars.

I think I would feel very odd about that if I were Canadian.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Another Day

So here's the deal on Anne of Green Gables, in my humble opinion:

Anne Shirley is terrific. As soon as she appears on the scene--around Chapter 4, I believe--she packs a wallop. She's a really strong character. She's a chatterbox and melodramatic and fanciful. And then she grows up and becomes a conforming young woman who sacrifices her education to do the right thing. I brought Anne up with the professorial- and librarian-types at Child_Lit and the feeling there seemed to be that this kind of conforming to expectations ending was common in books of the period.

I wonder if Anne of Green Gables would find a publisher today. Not because of the conformity. Plenty of today's books are conforming, they just conform to something different. No, I wonder if it would be published today because my understanding of kidlit is that the publishing world likes a strong plot rather than strong characters. The only plot in Anne of Green Gables is that Anne grows up. I also don't think the lengthy descriptions would go over well with the publishing world. I'm not saying kids wouldn't like them. I've asked around and kids seem to still be reading Anne, so it doesn't bother them. But I think it bothers the adults who make publishing decisions.

I forgot to mention in my earlier post that there is an L.M. Montgomery Institute at the University of Prince Edward Island (or UPEI, to those of us in the know)where you can find out all kinds of stuff about Lucy Maude Montgomery, Anne's creator. I also just learned today about the Kindred Spirits listserv where you can go to talk about Anne and Maude. Lo and behold! The Kindred Spirits listserv is part of the L.M.Montgomery Institute.

So now you know a lot about what I did and thought about on my vacation. Aren't you glad?

Friday, October 15, 2004

The Land of Anne

Back to my vacation, which I am sure you are all anxiously waiting to hear about.

So, we went to the Maritime Provinces, or at least some of them. Since Prince Edward Island (or P.E.I., to those of us in the know) was one of them, I decided to read Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery.

By the time I started reading the book we were in New Brunswick. We started seeing Anne of Green Gables dolls in gift shops. As soon as we got over the bridge onto P.E.I. we stopped at the first tourist area and found an entire shop full of Anne paraphernalia. Anne of Green Gables the Musical was playing in Charlottetown when we got there. Evidently, it's been playing in Charlottetown every summer since 1965. There is an Anne of Green Gables gift shop in the city as well as an Anne of Green Gables Chocolate Shop.

Then we went to Cavendish, where we visited Green Gables.

No, I did not have too much Anne.

Another day I'll talk about the book itself.

For more Anne of Green Gables images, check out my Land of Anne Pinterest board.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Fascinating Turnpike Reading

I should be writing about all fascinating things relating to my vacation before all that becomes too old. However, yesterday afternoon while waiting for an hour and a half at a rest area on the MassPike for someone I was supposed to meet (doesn't that sound creepy?), I read this incredibly interesting article in School Library Journal. I found a hard copy on my desk. I have no idea how I was originally directed to the thing.

Anyway, the article was called Why Johnny Won't Readby Michael Sullivan. I suppose I should have known what Sullivan says in this article but it still seemed like news. In short, Sullivan says that boys' brains are wired differently than girls. "...boys' brains engage in less cross-hemisphere activity than girls. In other words, boys use only half of their brain at any given time. That means when boys read, they need an extra jolt of sound, color, motion, or some physical stimulation to get their brains up to speed." This explains why they like books about activities--sports, adventures, fantasies that involve adventures. They also model themselves on their fathers who tend to read more newspapers and informational materials that tell them how to do things because, remember, their dads are big boys with that same kind of brain wiring. So both physically and culturally, boys are different in terms of their reading.

However, Sullivan says, schools promote girl-type books--books that involve relationships, books that require internal reflection rather than action, books that emphasize the emotional rather than the physical. When boys never see the kinds of things they're interested in reading taught or on reading lists, they come to think that reading isn't something for them.

I can give you an example of this happening with an older boy. He was a great reader as a grade schooler and even in middle school. So good, in fact, that he ended up taking honors and AP English courses all through high school. And what kinds of things did he read there? The Awakening by Kat Chopin. To the Lighthouse by Ginnie Wolfe. And Belovedby Toni Morri. Those books are too girlie for a lot of women, forget an adolescent boy. And, yes, he gave up reading by the time he was a junior in high school.

I so hope I haven't written anything that turns boys off reading.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I'm B-a-a-a-ck

I'm totally refreshed and not feeling the least bit stressed because I'm so far behind reading my favorite blogs and my messages at Child_Lit and Readerville and the continuing saga at Jane Yolen's On-line Journal.

I have so much to write about, too. I hardly know where to begin. So, I've decided to start with a book I read on vacation because it's overdue at the library.

I read E.L. Konigsburg's Silent to the Bone even though I wasn't crazy about her later book, The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, which is sort of connected since it's about the childhood of an adult character in Silent. Hope you followed that.

Anyway, I liked Silent to the Bone much better. Nonetheless, I can't say I'm a huge fan. Silent is one of those books adults like because it exposes kids to the titles of adult books or psychological theories or other smart stuff. It also includes some psychic leaps that I couldn't quite follow. For instance, the main character's sister writes a letter that everyone raves about, but it was way too subtle for me. And I felt that Connor, the main character, had way too much power in the story. Adults were way too willing to talk to this kid.

However, the central event, the central relationship between the au pair and her charge I felt was very well done and very believable. I'm guessing there's going to be a whole generation of kids who've read this book who will never allow an au pair in their homes.