Saturday, December 31, 2005

Guess Not

I was thinking this would be a good time to announce that I read 72 books this year, which is up from sixty-something last year. However, Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy read 256 and Suzi at Words, words, words read 366. So I guess maybe I shouldn't mention it at all.

Too late.

Another Fine Plan

When I was a child, up into my grade school years, I loved a book called 365 Bedtime Stories by Nan Gilbert. The stories were each a page long, though a big page, and they involved contemporary children and their neighbors living on Oh What a Jolly Street. Holidays would be worked into the stories, the family vacations, etc.

For years I've thought about trying to write something along the same idea--one page stories, interconnected, some stuff about holidays. This past year I came up with an idea to work with and just yesterday I came up with an idea for the January 1st story.

So I'm thinking, a one page story should be...what? two or three hundred words?...couldn't I do a rough draft of a story every day this next year? So I'd have a little something for each day?

Oh! Oh! I just had another idea! I could revise the book during National Novel Writing Month next November!

The book would practically write itself, wouldn't it?

That's always been my fantasy...a book that would write itself. By me.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Laundromat Musings

So I was in the Laundromat yesterday, and I was thinking about how i live now, which just happened to be what I was talking about in my last post. I was thinking about the relationship in the book that is freaking out some readers and how I didn't think it was necessary to include it at all.

And then I thought that maybe how i live now is another example of a book that tries to be about too many things. I've noticed this happening in other books like Al Capone Does My Shirts, and a few others I can't recall right now.

how i live now is about a teenager with anorexia who is thrown into a dangerous, intense situation in which she becomes responsible for a younger person. That is a very compelling story line all by itself. The book didn't need the relationship that appears to be a stumbling block for some younger readers. That relationship was big enough and intense enough to be in another book.

But both elements were thrown together in the same story. It's as if the author--and the editor--couldn't pick one situation to create a story line around. They couldn't make up their minds, they couldn't stay on task.

As I've said before, I've been noticing this happening for a while now. I can't say I've been aware of it in adult novels.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A New Term For Me

In the November 28th issue of The New Yorker (Yeah, that's right. I'm behind in my reading. What else is new?) Tom Reiss writes about "invasion novels." In "Imagining the Worst" Reiss describes the history of this literary genre I'd read but never actually heard described in those words.

According to Reiss, invasion novels appear to have been particularly popular in England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The public held them in high regard not as literature but as cautionary tales. This was before the days of H. G. Wells. The alien invaders weren't from outer space but from more mundane places like Germany.

Invasion novels exist in the kidlit world, also. The two that come immediately to my mind are When the Tripods Came and how i live now.

When the Tripods Came by John Christopher is a bit of a War of the Worlds knockoff, though I did enjoy it more than the trilogy for which it is a sequel.

The much more recent how i live now by Meg Rosoff won the 2005 Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature. The book has been discussed just this past week at the adbooks listserv.

Some of us who post there really liked this book. However, a few of the professors who've assigned the book to their undergraduates have found younger readers less enthusiastic. A person at adbooks who runs a young adult reading book had a similar experience with some of her readers. Many of these readers are fixating on a certain relationship in the book.

I have to admit, if I hadn't heard ahead of time that the relationship would be there, I might have been shocked and turned off by it, too. I definitely don't think it was necessary for the story, and it's unfortunate that it's there since it seems to be a stumbling block for readers.

Today I stopped at my local library to try to snag a copy of the book so I could force it on the college students who are hanging at my house during semester break so I could see what they thought of it. Unfortunately, the book was checked out so my plot came to nothing.

I will try again another time.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. Merry Christmas

I am getting over the self-loathing I felt last night after an absolute orgy of gift swapping and a meal that was obscenely large. Next year I'm going to be more spiritual. Really.

I received copies of Bookmarks and Pages, both of which I asked for because I like sampling new magazines. At least magazines that are new to me. I also received a copy of When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops, which I'm sure is not at all child appropriate.

Next On My Mental Agenda

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions because you can only make them once a year. If you drop the ball, you're toast until January comes again.

If you've ever tried meditating with a coach, say, a yoga or martial arts instructor, for instance, you will recall that the instructors did not say, "If you find your mind wandering away, you've blown it. You're done until next class when I certainly hope you will do better, you cretin." No, the instructors say, "If you find your mind wandering, gently call it back and continue."

You just keep continuing.

I am into setting goals, creating objectives, and writing To Do Lists. I'm into calling myself back and continuing. Yeah, I know. Ommmm.

So instead of making a New Year's resolution to go to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, I'm putting making a vist there on my list of things to do. You can see that that is a totally different thing.

In March the museum will have an exhibit on contemporary illustration from the Netherlands. This is not a subject that I would have expected to feel much excitement about. However, included in the illustrators whose work will be exhibited is Dick Bruna, who created the Miffy books.

I only remember my family owning one of them, but it made quite an impression. On me.

Thanks to Big A little a for tipping me off about that exhibit. Kelly has been the source of a lot of kidlit info lately. She didn't let the holidays distract her at all. She called her mind back and continued!

Friday, December 23, 2005


Last night I dreamed about work, a sure sign that I've had too much Christmas and not enough press-your-butt-to-the-chair and write time.

In the dream someone at the publishing house where I've recently submitted a manuscript told my editor that my submission was exactly the kind of fiction they should be publishing. However, this and this and this was wrong with it so they should reject it. One of the "thises" had something to do with the ending. In the dream, I came up with an easy fix and changed it so I could submit it again.

Needless to say, I can't remember it now.

Gail's Selling Herself

In her December 20th journal entry, Jane Yolen discusses whether or not writing is a democratic profession in which one is judged solely on one's work. Jane says no. " adult publishing these days, and feeding into children's publishing as well, there are pockets in which race, beauty, gender, country of origin, and celebrity count far more than does mere talent. It has to do with the selling of a product rather than merely the writing of a book. Often an author's backstory trumps their actual writing ability."

I have to say she may be on to something here. Some really fine books get noticed solely on the basis of their merits. But I do think newspapers, in particular, don't find books very newsworthy. They want something else. An author with a "backstory," as Jane says, has a chance of getting into the Living Section of the paper where human interest stories live, which is a good thing since the Book Sections carry fewer and fewer book reviews. And Book Sections tend to carry the same old, same old stuff--name authors or authors who are getting a lot of buzz in other publications at the moment.

This explains why I am promoting next spring's book, Happy Kid!, a little differently. The book includes a subplot about a martial art, and I am a martial arts student. I am a female, middle aged martial arts student. In approaching general publications, I am playing the age card, God help me. This time I have a "backstory" to sell (a baby boomer with a black belt!), something I've never had with any of my other books.

I feel really cheap and manipulative about this. If it doesn't work, I'm going to feel really trashy. If it does work, I'll still feel trashy, but it won't bother me nearly so much.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Love Them Vikings

I believe I mentioned a few days back that I was reading The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer. Well, I finished it.

As I said earlier, I found the first part of the book, where the main character, Jack, is studying with a Bard, ho-hum and run-of-the-mill. In fact, if I hadn't been reading this with an on-line reading group, I might have given up. However, Jack finally is kidnapped by Vikings and things picked up.

I did research on Vikings many years ago for a book that never materialized. I grew rather fond of them, taking into consideration that they were violent thieves and murderers and all.

Sea of Trolls is strongest on Vikings and one in particular is a marvelous, powerful character. Olaf Onebrow is a genial monster and none too bright. The book comes alive when he's on the page.

He raises a question for me, though, because I think children's books should be strongest on kid characters or at least, as in the case of the Underland Chronicles, strong on characters who aren't human adults. I worked with the same children's book editor for many years, and I suspect she would have objected to my putting Olaf in a children's book.

Nonetheless, he is marvelous. I enjoyed everything about the Vikings in the book, as a matter of fact.

I think your response to The Sea of Trolls is going to depend on how experienced a reader you are. There were some aspects of the book (the crow, Olaf's wife's vision) that seemed really obvious to me. A young reader, though, might not have picked up on them.

The dialogue seemed a little too obviously twenty-first century, which, of course, makes it much more accessible to a twenty-first century reader. I feel foolish picking up on that since, as a general rule, I don't care for attempts to make dialogue historically accurate, either. There's just no satisfying me, I guess.

I definitely admire Farmer for doing an adventure/quest story after a dystopian futuristic book. She is the author of The House of the Scorpion--which I liked, by the way. The quest book on top of the dystopian book really shows range. I also appreciate that Trolls was written in the third person. I'm sure that I've mentioned before that I think first person books have been done to death.

So, over all, for a young reader, I think this book is a go.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Is This Flow? Bliss? An Altered State?

For several hours this morning I worked steadily, in an unhurried, calm manner that left me feeling as if I could work forever. No frustration over things not going the way I wanted them to. No wasting time on the Internet. It was incredible.

Unfortunately, I was baking, not writing.

December is often a bust for me professionally, unless I'm working under a deadline, in which case it's just miserable, period. This month I had two professional goals. I wanted to get a new manuscript out to my editor, and I wanted to send out two arcs with a press release and pictures. I sent out the manuscript and tomorrow I'm sending out a third and fourth arc. So I actually overshot my goal.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I can't wait for the holidays to be over so I can be frustrated and miserable in front of my word processor again. I'd love to just write in my journal.

Another Pre-Potter Wizard School

Ursula LeGuin was interviewed for a Guardian article.

I always forget that LeGuin is a YA writer because I discovered her through The Left Hand of Darkness and Lathe of Heaven soon after those books were first published. However, she's written books for younger people, including A Wizard of Earthsea, in which a character is sent to a school for wizards.

Sound familiar?

In the Guardian article, LeGuin says of J. K. Rowling, "I didn't feel she ripped me off, as some people did...though she could have been more gracious about her predecessors. My incredulity was at the critics who found the first book wonderfully original. She has many virtues, but originality isn't one of them."


LeGuin isn't the only author whose work may be a "predecessor" to Rowling's. Jane Yolen also had a book published before the Potter stories in which a character goes off to wizard school. I haven't read either LeGuin's or Yolen's books, and I still found Harry Potter unoriginal. Kids going off to wizard or witch schools just seemed to be something I'd heard before.

The feeling was even stronger when I saw the movie version of the first book. I remember sitting in the theater and thinking, I've seen this before. Don't know where, don't know when.

As far as the critics who found the first books original are concerned, well, many of the people writing magazine articles on Rowling are not versed in kidlit or fantasy for any age group. If they don't know the field, then, yeah, they probably do find Potter original.

Thanks to Big A little a for the link.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Now This Is How You Write About Your Own Writing

I finally got around to reading the November/December issue of The Horn Book, which is a good thing since I'm sure the next issue will be turning up soon. My favorite article was JonScieszka's Zena Sutherland Lecture, "What's So Funny, Mr. Scieszka?"

Recently I've talked in this blog about the way writers and readers of different genres often become defensive and lash out at one another. Chick lit vs. lit lit, is the case in point. Well, in his lecture, Scieszka talked about writing humor, which is what he does. He said that he believes humor doesn't get the respect it deserves, but, that being said, he did not go on to attack other types of writing.

Instead, he made a very interesting point. "Teachers love to dig into tragedies and problem novels, in part because they can be explained and illuminated by discussion." A few paragraphs later he said, "But it's much more difficult to explain or discuss what's so funny about anything. The very nature of humor works against explanation. In many cases, the old adage is true--you either 'get it' or you don't."

Never once did he attack writers of tragedies and problem novels. Never did he try to build up what he does by knocking down what someone else does. Instead, he simply explained the situation.

I suspect that if you really understand what you, yourself, are doing, you don't have to talk about it in relation to what anyone else does. You can just talk about your work. Period. Scieszka sounds as if he understands what he's doing. He gave what looks on paper to be a fascinating lecture on humor and the influences on his own writing.

I've never been a big Scieszka fan, myself, finding his humor a little forced. However, this article was so good that I'm going to hit the library after Christmas and haul home a whole stack of his books and give him another try.

I can't say enough about how much I appreciate a well-written, intelligible piece of nonfiction.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Fates Are Working Against Me

Last week, as I may or may not have mentioned, an editor said she'd be happy to look at a new manuscript I've completed. I've been struggling to put some finishing touches on the thing so I could get it out in the mail to her. I was printing it just now guessed it...the ink cartridge gave up the ghost. Unfortunately, the only way I can make my printer stop printing is to turn it off. Sounds simple, right? Except there doesn't seem to be any way to give the thing instructions. So when it is thwarted, it goes over the edge. When it's turned on again, it spits out pages with lines of gibberish. I try rebooting. I try rebooting again. Sometimes a day of rest makes it feel better.

Yes, I know I need a new printer. I am not a big fan of shopping, and shopping for a new printer? The word deadly has got to describe the experience.

It's That Time of Year Again

No, I don't mean Christmas. I'm already sick of that. I mean Buy A Friend A Book Week. It comes around four times a year, and the next one is the first week of January.

Remember, this isn't about birthday presents, anniversaries, or anything like that. It's about buying a book you otherwise wouldn't have bought. It's about going out and putting out some cold, hard cash for a book that you think would be the perfect match for someone.

Yeah, you're right. This is a made up event like Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day...I could go on and on. But it's also a chance to support an industry that's supposed to be struggling these days. (Oh, please tell me I don't sound like a fundraiser for National Public Radio.)

Here's the thing--if we do enough to promote Buy A Friend A Book Week, maybe at some point friends will start buying books for us. And it's not as if we aren't out spending a fortune on gifts this month, anyway. What's one more?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

If Only Lindsay Lohan Were Six Years Old

Ramona Quimby is going to be in a movie.

This series of children's books is so old that I should have been reading them when I was a kid. Instead I was introduced to them much later while reading with young relatives. I can't say I was ever terribly attracted to young Ramona, but the younger members of my family were very fond of her.

All of Beverly Cleary's Ramona books will be rereleased in honor of her (Cleary's) 90th birthday. I've got a birthday coming up. I hope I get something like that, though I'm really just expecting a new CD or a magazine subcription. (Thanks to Book Moot for the link.)

Now You, Too, Can Hear J.K. Rowling

BBC Radio 4 carried an interview with J.K. Rowling. I haven't listened to it yet because it's 30 minutes long.

She is interviewed by Stephen Frye who is the voice of the Harry Potter audio books. (At least the ones sold in England.) He is also an author of a couple of novels, one of which I read and enjoyed. It was a book about a school boy that is totally inappropriate for schoolboys to read. (Thanks to Kids Lit for the link.)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Treading Water

I'm not getting a whole lot done on any front. I do hope to get a new manuscript out to an editor this week and to send ARCs to three magazines. Those are my total writing goals. Tragic, just tragic.

I'm reading The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer. I was finding it flat and disappointing and only kept slogging along because it's this month selection in the YA Forum at Readerville. Then the Vikings came. I'm much happier now.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Can't We All Get Along?

Check out the November 30th and December 2 entries in Meg's Diary, as in Meg Cabot of The Princess Diaries and other books. She clearly has her knickers in a twist over literary novelists. I've never been clear on what literary novels are, though Meg Cabot would argue that they're books with unhappy endings.

Meg gets the ball rolling by complaining that Curtis Sittenfeld called Melissa Bank's book The Wonder Spot chick lit in a review. Them's fighting words!

She seems to think Sittenfeld is a literary author (also fighting words, at least to Meg) though I'm not sure why. Because Sittenfeld's book Prep is about a private school and not a public one? Because she's a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop? It can't be because Prep has an unhappy ending because Meg hasn't read it so she doesn't know how it ends.

I want to be clear here that I haven't read Prep, either. Not because I don't like literary novels, but because I don't like books about private schools. Looking for Alaska was the last straw.

But back to Meg. She quotes Sittenfeld as saying in her review of The Wonder Spot "“To suggest that another woman's ostensibly literary novel is chick lit feels catty, not unlike calling another woman a slut -- doesn't the term basically bring down all of us? And yet, with ''The Wonder Spot,'' it's hard to resist.”" Then Meg says that she's pretty sure that Sittenfeld inferred that Melissa Bank is a slut.

If I were being catty, I'd point out that I'm pretty sure (though not positive) that Meg used "inferred" incorrectly. But I hate it when someone makes a big deal about pointing out another person's slip-ups with words. I also hate the whole chick lit vs literary lit battle. Also the highbrow literature vs lowbrow literature battle. All readers are important, valuable people. What they choose to read is what makes a piece of literature valuable, if only to them. We don't have a right to knock readers' taste by disparaging what they choose to read as chick lit or...what? Shall we call it lit lit?

The whole chick lit/lit lit and highbrow/lowbrow argument isn't about books. It's about authors' egos. Everyone wants to be better than someone else. Or, at least, not worse than someone else. Name calling (chick lit, lit lit, slut) does not make anyone a winner. This is a battle that can't be won. Let it go.

Of course, I'm speaking as someone whose work has never been accused of being chick lit or literary.

Thanks to A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy for the link.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Does This Sound Familiar to Anyone Else?

In The Fiction Machine, The Workshop and the Hacks Sam Sacks says of Best New American Voices 2006"All but one of them are written in the first person; a similar percentage hinge upon the narrator's difficulties with dysfunctional or deceased members of his or her family, or with ex-lovers. The tone is always confessional and saturated with self-pity.

Isn't this a common complaint of YA fiction? Perhaps it's not a problem specific to YA but to fiction in general. (Thanks to for the link.)

Maybe the Book is Different

Yesterday I watched Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen while I was ironing clothes. I haven't read the book of the same name by Dyan Sheldon. I definitely liked the main character, but I think it's fair to describe the movie as a formula high school story. Not very subtle in the message department, either.

Sheldon also wrote Planet Janet, which I couldn't get through because it seemed like too much of a clone of the Georgia Nicholson books.

Speaking of which, the Georgia book in which she goes to Hamburger-a-go-go Land is waiting for me in my To Be Read basket.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Let's Visit Some Other Bloggers

Pooja Makhijani, author of Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America, has a page at her website called South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora in Children's Literature. Fortunately for me, she defines "diaspora."

I lost the URL for this site and tried googling "South Asian Children's Literature." I only came up with two pages. So there's not a lot of information out there on this subject.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned Your Fairy Bookmother here before. It's one of the kidlit blogs that I'm watching. She has an entry Goodbye wardrobe, my old friend that, thank goodness, doesn't address the religious aspects of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Instead, she talks about the quality of the writing. She also makes a distinction between fancy and fantasy, which I found rather interesting. Especially since I'd never heard of writing described as fancy. At least, not the kind of fancy Bookmother is talking about.

An Interesting Evening

Last night I had to spend the evening reading over a hundred pages of a book that was overdue at the library and that I couldn't renew again. I stretched out on the couch next to the woodstove, listened to the radio, drank a cup of hot chocolate...It wasn't a bad time. What's more, out of the blue I came up with a way to end the new book I'm working on. Maybe those people who insist we should all turn off our televisions are on to something.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Here's Something Different

youngadultARCs is a website devoted to sharing ARCs. ARCs are advanced reader copies (my publisher refers to them as bound galleys) that are distributed before publication to reviewers, librarians, booksellers, etc. The idea is to give reviewers an opportunity to read the books and write a review that will be published around publication time, to give librarians an opportuntity to decide whether or not they want to purchase the book for their collections, to give booksellers...well, you get the point.

ARCs are not for resale or for use in library collections. They are bound from uncorrected galleys so there may be all kinds of printers' errors, the authors and editors may make changes, and they may not include illustrations. To treat these as a finished book is unjust both to the author and publisher and to the reading public. The book just isn't finished.

So what should people with access to arcs do with them after they've read them? Well, the folks at this website came up with an idea for sharing them. The site looks as if it serves primarily young adult librarians. It looks to me as if this is an attempt to pass arcs around to exactly the people who should be reading them.

Arcs shouldn't be sold on ebay, people!!! They shouldn't be shelved with library collections!!! (I saw 3 arcs on the new book shelf at a nearby library last September. One of them wasn't going to be published until next month.) They should be passed along to librarians, teachers, booksellers, anyone who is in the business of talking up books.

Good luck, youngadultARCs.

I found youngadultARCs through bookshelves of doom, which I found through Kids Lit.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kidlit in the News

The Brits are still going on and on about Narnia. Perhaps nothing much is happening over there right now.

We, on the other hand, tend to drone on and on about what children's literature should be. In Reading Kids Books Without the Kids in The New York Times, Edward Rothstein objects to what he calls teen pulp.

He quotes Dr. Alison Gopnik, who he says is a cognitive scientist who has studied children's learning, as saying "that children read the way scientists work: they experiment with different ways of ordering the world, exploring alternate modes of understanding." But then he objects to teen pulp (which he doesn't actually define, by the way), because "Those books are meant to be close reflections of their readers, mirrors of their fantasies. The characters are just different enough from the readers to spur curiosity and sexual interest, and just similar enough to guarantee identification."

If by teen pulp Rothstein is talking about "realistic" teen fiction or what Moira Redmond at Slate calls dreadlit, then I think he's got it totally wrong. Books about teen angst and suffering definitely give teen readers an opportunity to explore alternative lives. Come on, how many real kids live like the teens in Looking for Alaska?

In the very next paragraph of his New York Times article, Rothstein says, "A great children's book, though, does not reflect the world or its reader. It plays within the world. It explores possibilities. It confounds expectations." Maybe to an adult that's a great children's book, but don't kids want to read about people like themselves just the way adults want to read about people like themselves? They may enjoy having their expectations confounded, but so do adults. We're not talking about something unique to children here.

Rothstein's take on kidlit seems like another example of romanticizing children and their reading. And there's something about romanticizing children that seems both patronizing and controlling to me.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I Don't Know Why I'm Doing This

For someone who didn't get The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I'm spending an awful lot of time reading about its author. This article doesn't seem to have anything new to say as far as I can tell.

I Do Know Why I Did This

As part of my never ending quest to become a better human being (by which I mean a more productive one), I just finished skimming Organizing for Your Brain Type: Finding Your Own Solution to Managing Time, Paper, and Stuff by Lanna Nakone. I don't know if reading the book is going to help me (one family member suggested that instead of reading it I should have used the time to clean the kitchen counter), but it may have clarified my problems with disorganization.

According to Nakone, there are four brain types. I took the quiz in her book, and the results indicate that I am a maintaining style. That means I am "organized--in the traditional sense of the word." (Does anyone else get the feeling that that is a bad thing?) Maintaining style types like myself have all kinds of wonderful characteristics--we're detail-oriented, practical, accurate, disciplined, able to think ahead. I could go on and on about how wonderful we are.

All of which leads me to wonder--how come I'm not writing a book a year, cranking out publishable essays and short stories, and coming up with highly original and successful marketing schemes for my writing?

Here's my theory: The quiz showed that I have a lot of characteristics of the innovating style thinker. I'm artistic and all that, but I'm also easily distracted when I'm not too absorbed in one thing. (Usually something like reading magazines or surfing the net.)

So what I think is happening is that my innovating style self is torturing my maintaining style self.

Nakone talks a lot about to do lists and calendars. Hey, she doesn't have to convince me. A couple of years ago I had about six weeks when I was really organized and doing well. I was working with three to do lists--a weekly list for the house and family, a weekly list for work, and and a daily list that combined both. I also had two calendars--one for the house and one for my purse. I'm going to try to go back to that system, but add a third calendar dedicated specifically to work.

Today I will be able to finish all but one item on my to do list. That was figuring out what we're going to be eating this week so I'll be prepared and not have to take time making the decision each day. If you can't get to one item on your to do list, that's the one it should be. Because who are we kidding? Of course you're going to eat every day anyway, right?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I Guess I Won't Tell You About That After All

I was going to tell you about how my bound galleys for Happy Kid! arrived today and my plans for publicizing the book. But then I went to The folks there linked to a San Francisco Chronicle article that included the following: "Writing is not an inherently interesting profession. It's very boring to watch...It's paint drying." So I thought better of my plan.

The author of The Chronicle article also said, "Writers do not dress well, and they frequently mumble." All too true, I'm sorry to say.

Perhaps Not the Best Time to be Writing a Picture Book

Over a year ago, my editor rejected my picture book submission saying it wasn't a good time for picture books. Publisher Weekly says she wasn't just blowing me off. As luck would have it, in the next week or two I'll be contacting my new editor to see if she's interested in taking a look at the chapter book that picture book manuscript evolved into. Oops! More boring writer stuff. (Thanks to Chicken Spaghetti for the link.)

Sometimes a Kid Just Isn't in the Mood for Art

Yesterday I was getting all teary-eyed while writing about my family's experiences with The Berenstain Bears. Bet the guy who wrote this "appreciation" didn't have that problem.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Report on a Hissing Match with a Dead Guy

For the Love of Narnia in The Chronicle of Education is being talked about at Child_Lit today. In Love of Narnia, Michael Nelson (a poli sci professor???) responds to criticism of C.S. Lewis from Philip Pullman.

Most of the quoted complaints from Pullman I've read before, though I can't remember where. I think I must have read the original article Nelson is responding to. Reading Pullman's opinions on anything can be fun because he isn't exactly a subtle debater. You don't have to guess where he stands on any subject.

In his article, Nelson places Lewis and Pullman at opposing ends of...uh...I don't know...the spectrum of religious writers for kids? Lewis is described as an "outspoken defender of the faith," meaning Christianity. Pullman is called "avowedly atheistic." "The Christian religion," one of Pullman's main characters blandly explains," (according to Nelson) "is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all."

What I find so intriguing about all this is that, as I've admitted before, I totally didn't get Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is supposed to be a Christian fable. Nor did I get the second two books in Pullman's anti-Christian His Dark Materials trilogy.

They both lost me.

I Know Some Adults Who Are Going to be Really Upset About This

Stan Berenstain, co-creator of the Berenstain Bears, has died after a long and, I hope, very happy life.

The obit carried by
The New York Times included some of the complaints made about the books over the years. As usual, I missed a lot of that stuff while I was reading them to and with my boys. We used to pick up new Bear books after long trips to the grocery store. We've got a stack of them up in our attic now.

Once upon a time, happiness was a shiny, new Berenstain Bear book. If only that were still the case.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Consolation of Reading

The last two days haven't been stellar (though I did get an offer to speak at an AAUW luncheon), but today, when I got home from a disappointing class, I knew I had a good book to finish reading. I just sat down with A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb and read until I was done.

A Certain Slant of Light is the story of Helen, a woman in her twenties, who has been dead for over a hundred years. Though she can't recall much about her life, she knows she did something horrible.

To get away from her suffering in the afterlife, she clings to human hosts to whom she also becomes emotionally attached. She must follow them wherever they go or she'll descend back into what to her is a dark, cold hell. Though they are totally unaware of her existence, she reads over their shoulders, learns through them about life in the generations after hers is over, and hopes she can follow them into heaven when they die.

Clearly that never happens, because she's on, I believe, her fifth host, a high school teacher, when our story begins. One day she's in his classroom with him when she realizes that a boy can see her. This boy's body, it turns out, was near death when it was inhabited by a spirit like herself. Soon Helen is inhabiting the body of a teenage girl who was spiritually near death.

And so begins their intense love story as these two out-of-place souls try to deal with the families of the bodies they now are living in and the guilt they are carrying with them regarding the lives they lived before but can't quite remember.

If a writer is really good, I've realized this past year, she can compensate for slip-ups in her story. I never quite understood how James came to inhabit his body in the first place. Why weren't most of the humans in the story inhabited by the spirits of the dead? And there's some kind of evil thing that tries to take possession of bodies that I never understood, either.

But it just didn't matter. Whitcomb is able to write emotion so well that every character in the book is real. Even the fundamentalist family is saved from being a stereotype by the pain and suffering the mother experiences.

Nothing is wasted in this book. If a character is introduced, he or she has an important part to play at some point in the story.

I do wonder why the book is being marketed as YA, though. The main characters are the adult spirits in the book, not the teenage bodies they inhabit. And the guilt that has kept Helen in hell all these years involves the fear of an adult woman, not a teenage girl.

I tend to be a little jaded, of course, so I wonder if the decision to market the book as YA wasn't made because the two teenage bodies engage in a lot of sex, some of the best sex I've ever seen in a YA book. Teens like sex? Adults won't be interested in sex if the bodies involved are teenagers?

This is a great book. It should definitely become a crossover for any age group.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A New Way to Waste Time

Jane Yolen has been talking in her on-line journal about a game called
, which she has been finding a little addicting. I was hoping for something a little more sophisticated, something that would be about books and not spelling. But spelling did keep my attention for an hour or so today. And here's a hint--you actually do have to link the letters. They have to be touching. You can't just go all over the board hitting letters in order and figure you've made a word. Come on! Don't try to tell me that no one else thought that was how you played the game.

A New Way to Make Good Use of Time

The day after Thanksgiving I thought I was going to have some time to do some reading and do some outlining/planning. Instead I ended up spending two hours putting plastic up on a relative's windows. I couldn't believe it.

The next day I went to the Laundromat with a book and a notebook and slam! bam! I sat down and ideas immediately started coming. We've been having water problems here for the last month so I've been at the Laundromat a lot. Looking back, I realize I've done a lot of good work there. One day I brought a rough draft, made all kinds of changes and wrote a new piece to go with it.

Needless to say, I love the Laundromat.

Someone is coming out next Monday to fix our water system. What will I do then? I'm thinking of just going down to the Laundromat and hanging a few times a week. They have a soda machine, and there's a Chinese takeout right next door. I could go down, do lunch, and get some work done.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Narnia in The New Yorker

About a week ago, kidlit blogs were buzzing about The Prisoner of Narnia by Adam Gopnik in the Nov. 21 issue of The New Yorker. "Buzzing" is defined here as "announcing that an article about C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was in the Nov. 21 issue of The New Yorker." Original Content will give you more. Though not much.

As it turns out, I actually have that issue of The New Yorker because I subscribed to the magazine early this year. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that I really don't care for it very much. I'm two, maybe three, issues behind in reading the things. But I made a point of keeping the Nov. 21 issue out of the heap of periodicals and catalogs in my living room and actually read the article in question.

Prisoner of Narnia includes a lot of information about Lewis's religious attitudes and how he came by them. Don't panic! This is a kidlit blog so I'm not going to go on and on about that. What really interested me about the article appeared on the very first page, anyway, though I did read the whole thing. Honest.

Gopnik starts his article by talking about how Lewis is viewed differently in America and Britain. Then he says "None of this would matter much if it weren't for Narnia. The seven tales of the English children who cross over, through a wardrobe, into a land where animals speak and lions rule, which Lewis began in the late nineteen-forties, are classics in the only sense that matters--books that are read a full generation after their author is gone."

Point One: Lewis, an academic man who wrote a number of books, is known for his children's books. His children's books have kept his name in front of readers. I am moved.

Point Two: Ever wondered what a "classic" book is? "...books that are read a full generation after their author is gone." Whether they're good, whether they're bad, people want to read them. There's a democratic, power-to-the-people aspect to that definition that I love.

Makes me wish I'd liked The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a whole lot more than I did.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Not Thinking of Myself for Once

I had an interesting experience while reading Walking With the Dead by L.M. Falcone. I was actually able to stop thinking about what I like and think, for a moment, about what a kid might like.

I've been talking about doing a mummy book for some time so when I saw Walking With the Dead, which I thought involved a mummy, at a local library, I worried that someone had beat me to my story. I immediately checked it out. I was reassured when I found out that this mummy appeared to be Greek, not Egyptian, so, of course, we were talking about two totally different things. I was also reassured because I didn't care for the book much. The realistic parts of the story seemed farfetched and weak, with the characters just walking from one incident to another.

However, once the book got to the "walking with the dead" part, things became more interesting. Alex, the main character, and his cousin, end up going to the Underworld as it is portrayed in Greek mythology. This should have been the really improbable part, but I liked it much better. I don't mind improbable things when they should be improbable.

I was reading along, recognizing some figures from my youthful studies of Greek mythology, when I suddenly experienced what for me was a deep insight: If I were a youthful person who was studying Greek mythology, I might really enjoy this book. To see a modern day kid interacting with all this old stuff that I was having to learn might make it much more attractive to me.

Not that mythology is unattractive. I seem to remember liking it when I was young. However, I haven't retained all that much, so I can't vouch for Falcone's accuracy. Nonetheless, this might be a title teachers and school librarians should take a look at and have on hand for students who find the Greeks a snooze. And even those who don't.

This book was published just this year. I mention that because as a general rule I miss new titles.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving Reading

I often feel badly because I can't begin to keep up with reading all the new children's and YA books that are published each year. I try to bolster my self-esteem with the knowledge that because I often read older books, I'm able to give some attention here to titles that aren't getting much press any longer. Today's post is a case in point.

I'm sure everyone recalls that yesterday was Thanksgiving. While other relatives prepared the meal, I was able to hunt through my six-year-old niece's book collection. I found a couple of incredible gems that were purchased long before the little girl was born.

Zoom Away and Zoom Upstream are two beautiful picture books written by Tim Wynne-Jones and illustrated by Ken Nutt. They both involve the adventures of a cat named Zoom and a human woman named Maria. They are the second and third installments of a trilogy (my niece's family doesn't have the first book), and they both involve Zoom and Maria hunting for Zoom's uncle, a sea captain who appears to have been lost at sea. In Zoom Away they search for him in the Arctic, which can be accessed through a room upstairs in Zoom's house. In Zoom Upstream Zoom and Maria head off for Egypt, which, again, they can reach through some spot in Zoom's house. The books are marvelous stories with marvelous award-winning black and white illustrations.

The two books, which I managed to read while I should have been mingling with relatives, were published in the 1980s and early '90s and are now out of print. I've heard of Tim Wynne-Jones, a big noise out of Canada who occasionally writes articles for The Horn Book Magazine. I most definitely will be looking for his other books now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I'm Embarrassed for an Entirely Different Reason

The Superintendent of Public Instruction in Arizona wants to ban The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky because it's supposed to include a hot, steamy scene. I say "supposed to" because the guy calling for the book ban has only read one page of the book. I have read the book, but it was so long ago, and I was so underwhelmed that I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember the scene in question. (Thanks to Blog of B.S. for the link.)

I'm Watching

I have two more kidlit blogs I'll be watching in the next few months--Your Fairy Bookmother and Finding Wonderland: The Writing YA Weblog. I'm not sure exactly what Finding Wonderland is. And, yes, I eliminated another blog from my list when I added these two. There are only so many hours in the day.

It's Not All In My Head

I believe I may have mentioned here that I feel overwhelmed by the number of book awards I've been reading about the last couple of years. Though I will admit that I am easily overwhelmed, it appears that in this case, at least, I have some justification. According to Debating the Rewards of so Many Awards in the L.A. Times, literary awards just in the U.S. are up from around 20 fifty years ago to at least 1,000 today.

With that many awards, shouldn't we all get nominated for something sometime during our careers? Is it an honor to be nominated when there are so many? Does the sheer number of them undermine their value?

I agree with Mary Gaitskill, author of Veronica, which was a finalist for this year's National Book Award. Forget about recognition, forget about honor, forget about feeling one with your fellow writers while you're all attending a nice reception. (All mentioned in the L.A. Times article) Book awards and book award nominations sell books. At the very least, they get your book in general interest publications so the public might see the title.

I know that sounds crass, but there are a huge number of books published these days, while the number of book reviewing spots hasn't budged. It's extremely difficult to get anyone in book publishing to pay attention to a new title. The general reader hears about only a small percentage of the books that are published each year. An award nomination gets your name in the paper, which is what the average reader reads.

An example? My local city paper rarely--rarely--publishes reviews of children's books. No book I have ever written has received any attention from that paper's book editor. However, last year I was nominated for a Connecticut Book Award and at least got a mention in the article on the nominees. Pegi Deitz Shea, who won the award for children's literature that year, actually was given a couple of paragraphs in an article a week or two later.

I know that doesn't sound like much, but in the competition for press, which is as demanding as the competition for awards, we did good.

Thanks to for the L.A. Times link.

Monday, November 21, 2005

November Disaster

No, I'm not talking about an election. I'm talking about my National Novel Writing Month experience. I did much better last year. I hit the 50,000 word goal, though I was nowhere near finishing the novel. I worked away every day, and I was all pumped up.

I got off to a terrible start this year, unable to even start until November 3. (Can't remember why.) I've been unable to work on weekends because of all kinds of family commitments. Relatives seem to be coming out of the woodwork this month. Well, the relatives weren't to blame for that 14 mile hike I did on the Airline Trail, I suppose, but that was only one day. And then there were distressing things going on on the street and appointments and on and on and on.

Of course, I was working on essays this year instead of a novel, which probably means I wasn't doing National Novel Writing Month at all. And therefore I have nothing to feel badly about? I do feel I'm doing some good work, though I've only finished two essays with big chunks done on two more and lots of bits and pieces of others. Here is what I've discovered about's all about the title.

Part of my plan for this month was to try to improve my work habits. To that end, I reread the portions of Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity by Susan K. Perry that I had underscored when I read it the first time. (I'm not linking to Perry's website because it's too cringe worthy.) I had all kinds of great ideas last week, thought I was making real progress, was going to start writing a book a year.

Then today came. I did a little bit of backsliding. Oh, yeah.

The rest of the week is not shaping up well. I'm thinking of throwing in the towel, and if I have any extra time spending it reading. Of course, by next week I'll be so out of essay writing mode that it will take me until December to get back into it.

Next year I think I'm going to do my month-long intense writing experience during a month when there are no holidays. And I'll plan better for it, making sure that I don't make any appointments during that period. Hmmm. That could work. Maybe March or October?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Uh...Who Was Here?

The opening pages of The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman have an elegy-like quality to them that made me think "Uh-oh. I see a dead person coming." I don't think it's giving anything away to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

We've all known people who no one notices. Some of us have been those people. Shusterman plays with the idea of a person (the Schwa) who goes so unnoticed that he's nearly invisible. The situation he creates almost goes too far. In fact, for a long time as I was reading this book, I thought it was science fiction. I was hoping that the Schwa's mother, who has disappeared, had been kidnapped by aliens and that he was the product of a human and alien relationship. Nonetheless, everything about the Schwa is intriguing and workable.

I actually like the Schwa and his friend Anthony, the narrator of this book. I like building a story around people who rarely have books written about them.

My knew it was coming, didn't you? that I felt there were two separate stories in this book. It reminded me of Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts. Both books have a really interesting premise, but then the authors feel they have to add another storyline about family problems. In The Schwa Was Here, it isn't even one of the two main characters'families. The boys get involved with a stereotypical cranky old rich man (a type that goes back to Little Women, and for all I know Alcott got it from someone else) who is isolated in his house. The guy has a spunky granddaughter...who is blind. These complications really had very little to do with the Schwa. They felt like filler.

I'm a big believer in staying on task. Decide what you're going to write about and stick with it.

Read The Schwa Was Here for the Schwa and ignore Old Man Crawley and his granddaughter.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Can't Get Enough Scandal?

Here's what the New York Times has to say about the Clement Hurd brouhaha.

I Feel I Have to Report This

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall has won the National Book Award. You've probably already read that in at least a half a dozen places. I'm overwhelmed by the huge numbers of book awards that are out there, but this is a big one so I thought I should at least indicate that I know what it is.

Here's something you may not have heard, though. Jeanne Birdsall is also a photographer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

On a More Positive Note

At yesterday's book fair I also saw some books I liked. I'm thinking in particular of Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. This year's Caldecott Medal winner is about a kitten who sees a giant bowl of milk up in the sky and sets out to reach it. She is, of course, unsuccessful. But what does she find on the porch when she goes home but a big bowl of milk. The illustrations are simple and in black and white. The text is simple and brief. I'm sure any number of things can be read into the story. Home is where the bowl of milk is. There's no place like home. What you're looking for in life is right on your own front porch. But what I read into it was that a kitten or kid can strike out on her own with the knowledge that she will always be welcomed back home with a bowl of milk. And that's why I bought the book for a baby gift.

In her On-line Journal Jane Yolen has frequently mentioned her How Do Dinosaurs... series. I saw a couple of them at both yesterday's book fair and the one I attended at UConn on Sunday.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a wonderful A&E program (on DVD) on the French Impressionists while I was ironing clothes. I thought, Why didn't my kids learn about these people when they were in school? The Impressionists have a wonderfully dramatic story about people striking out on their own, rejection, and perseverance. And we're talking history and art, too. So when I saw a book called Pierre Auguste Renoir Paintings That Smile by True Kelley I checked it out. It looked so good I bought it. When I'm through with it, I'll pass it on to one of the elementary education majors I know so they can add it to their classroom libraries. The book is part of a series called Smart About Art.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Old Wine in a New Flask

I stopped by my local elementary school book fair this morning and noticed a few titles I thought I might mention. This was the second book fair I've attended in three days. You know I can't be around that many books in that short a space of time without finding something to complain about, so I'm going to do the complaining today and get it over with.

I thumbed through The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke and was a little surprised by what I saw. The book seems to be both didactic and dated. It's a motherless-girl-raised-as-a-tomboy-then-forced-to-become-girlie-in-adolescence story with a very 1970's kind of feminist ending. The main character is the youngest child and only daughter of a king who has a number of sons. Her mother dies at her birth, a very traditional way of getting rid of moms in nineteenth century children's stories. (Why is Mom always dead in stereotypical tomboy stories? Is Mom the great enforcer of female roles?) Dad then raises the young princess like his sons, teaching her how to ride a horse, fight, etc. But once she reaches adolescence, he wants her to suddenly become the conforming princess who gives her hand in marriage to the knight who wins a tournament. (I'm guessing a sociologist/anthropologist/psychiatrist/somebody could give us a little talk about this preadolescent character--having little in the way of outward sexual characteristics to define her gender--being allowed freedom, which she has to sacifice during the transitional period between childhood and adulthood when she physically becomes girlie so that she can take her place in the adult scheme of things.) The teenage princess disguises herself as a knight to take part in the tournament where she beats all the other knights so that she doesn't have to marry any of them. Then, for some reason that remains a mystery to me, she takes off for a while. When she comes home, she marries the gardener's son. So there's a lesson here about sexual and social equality. A twofer!

You can't miss the gender lesson because it is not subtle by any means. I also think it's a dated lesson because while I would never claim that sexual discrimination no longer exists, it is no longer of the you-can't-be-a-knight-because-you're-a-girl variety. It's more of a we'll-let-you-be-a-knight-if-you-work-harder-than-we-do-and-prove-yourself-in-ways-we-guys-don't-have-to kind of thing. Though Funke is supposed to be living in California now, this book may have been written in German originally and would thus reflect a German sensibility. Maybe the social order is different there. But in the U.S., it's now the twenty-first century. Physical education classes in public schools are coeducational. Boys and girls learn the same things. Municipal recreational sports leagues, though they may be made up primarily of boys, are open to girls. Martial arts classes--open to girls and everyone trains together learning the same things. A number of state universities use the slogan: "Where men are men and women are champions" because of their winning women's sports teams. Women are fighting a war side by side with men. (Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the military is supposed to be sexist as all get out. But that doesn't change the fact that women are there.) While I think it's unlikely we'll have two women heading the party tickets in the next presidential race, people are talking about the possibility that Hillary Clinton will go up against Condoleeza Rice.

The world children live in today is not one where girls are overtly told that they can't do things. I imagine a preschool class hearing this story and going "What do you mean her father didn't want her taking part in the tournament?" I also imagine adults really admiring this book because it hits kids over the head with a lesson many of us like. I just don't think it's necessary to preach to the child choir.

We need a new story model for children who do the unexpected. Instead of children fighting the establishment so that they can be free to be who they are, I'd like to see stories about children just going out and being who they are. Let's actually show children gender equality instead of telling them about it through improving lessons.

For a better liberated princess story, try The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.

Monday, November 14, 2005

My Day at the Fair

I've been talking about the Connecticut Children's Book Fair for months. I was not all talk and no action. It was held this past weekend, and I actually went yesterday. I don't make a point of going every year because while the Fair always hosts highly regarded writers, it does seem to focus more on picture book authors and illustrators. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but my own interest is in books for the middle grades and older.

Okay, first I'll talk about the event in general. I have taken part in at least three book fairs (including the Connecticut Children's Book Fair sometime back in the 90s) and additional group signings, and they are all alike. Most of the authors sit alone at tables looking as if they wished they'd stayed home and done their laundry or mowed the lawn while one big name is getting writer's cramp from all the signing he or she is doing. Yesterday was no different, at least during the hour and a half I was there. Lonely authors sat watching shoppers who milled about among the tables of books offered for sale. Until Tomie dePaolo showed up for his signing. He was seated at the far end of a ballroom. The line of people waiting for him to sign books extended the length of the ballroom and out the door. And this was for his second signing of the day.

I can't imagine anyone being envious of an author at a book fair.

Okay, now that you've got the feel for the book fair experience, I will go on to give you the high points on the author presentation I attended--Suzanne Collins's, of course. Her audience filled up about three-fourths of her room, which was far better than the dozen or so people I had when I gave a presentation at that book fair. (I once saw an author at a book fair giving a presentation to three people--believe me, these are rough gigs.) Collins gave an interesting presentation, and she was prepared to address both adults and children, which isn't easy.

I took all kinds of notes during her talk, but I've decided not to relate every detail because what if you have a chance to hear her speak and I've already told you everything she has to say? If I were her, I'd be really ticked off if someone was giving away all my material.

However, she did say one thing that was really significant for me personally, so I'll pass that on. I love The Underland Chronicles, which is strange because I don't care much for fantasy. However, Collins says she doesn't think of them as fantasy. She thinks of them as a war story. That's what she has in mind when she's writing. Perhaps that's what I'm responding to, the war story, not the fantasy.

The fourth book comes out in May, 2006, which means we'll be competing for review space. Shoot. And the fifth book will be coming out the year after. As a reader, I'm glad the books will be coming out so soon. As a writer, I'm chagrined because she can work so much faster than I can. And that's on top of holding down a job as head writer for a children's show, the name of which I can't remember.

I said hello to three acquaintances while I was at the fair. Patricia Hubbell is the only one I think had a clue who I was.

Children's Book Week

Susan at Chicken Spaghetti tipped me off to the fact that this is Children's Book Week. I never seem to know about these things ahead of time. Susan has a list of ways individuals can observe the event. Personally, I'm hitting my local elementary school's book fair tomorrow.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Good Title is the Key to Success

My own personal version of National Novel Writing Month, which involves writing essays for a month, has slowed down the last couple of days after getting off to a weak start a little less than two weeks ago. I have been mulling things over, hoping for a breakout experience, and I think I've had one.

Each of my essays needs a different title. And once I've found the perfect title, I will be able to write the essay effortlessly.

In the meantime, I am reading a YA novel, but slowly while I'm on the treadmill. I'm also reading an adult memoir, which is going slowly, too, not because I'm reading it on the treadmill, but because it is sloooow. But I'm sure I'll be a much better human being when I've finished.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Everyone Loves a List

As reported here earlier, during Teen Read Week teens could vote for their favorite book so the name could be placed on a top ten list. Doesn't seem like a major voting motivator, but someone must have done it because the votes have been counted and, sure enough, there is now a list. (Thanks to KidsLit for the link.)

Publisher's Weekly has a list of the Best Children's Books of 2005, a few of which I've actually read. And a couple I actually liked.

Here's my problem with "Best of the Year" book lists, though: I can't help but wonder about the people who make them. Did they really read all the books published this past year? One of my acquaintances at Adbooks has read 300 YA novels since March, and if they were all published in 2005, I guess she could take a shot at making her own list. But something tells me she's an exceptional reader. (I hope so, because I've only read about 62 books so far this year.) So once I start wondering about how many books the listmaker actually read, I've got to start wondering about all those other books. And then I've got to wonder if Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is really that much better than everything else that's out there, or if the people who made the list just haven't read very much. (Thanks to Adbooks for the link.)

Kidlit Scandal! Yes!!!

Clement Hurd smoked! Who knew?

This is a big enough deal that I've read about it in more than one place in recent days. (This particular link came from Read Roger.) I'm not jumping up and down about it, myself, because deleting that cigarette is not censoring Goodnight Moon,which Hurd illustrated, since neither the cigarette, nor this picture of Hurd, appear in the book. I do agree, though, that when a publisher changes historical fact, it raises questions about what else it is willing to change. Just who can you trust?

The folks at HarperCollins certainly did clean that picture up nicely, though, didn't they? Clement Hurd was kind of hot.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Another Take on Why Adults Read Children's Books

Over the weekend several children's literature weblogs mentioned William Flesch's article The Way We Were: Why Are Adult Readers So Drawn to Children's Literature at Thank you very much, folks, because adult readers of kidlit just happens to be a subject that interests me.

A recent issue of The Horn Book included an article on the BBC program in which a number of British writers worried that their civilization was falling because adults were reading children's books. They blamed the schools, of course, claiming the poor state of education leaves British citizens ill-equipped to read anything but children's literature.

Flesch has a more thoughtful and thought-provoking theory. In his article, a commentary on The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature, which has just been published, he suggests that nostalgia and melancholy lead adults to children's books. "All great children's literature reminds adults of the ephemerality of childhood," he writes, and "in reading children's literature we suspend disbelief, on the child's behalf, in the permance of the world. But we know that this suspension is itself impermanent."

I don't know that I totally agree with Flesch, mainly because I don't think children's literature should be written "by and for (emphasis mine) adults thinking hard about their own lost childhoods even as they interact with real childen." Instead, I think that children's literature should be written for children and reflect what is going on in their lives to the extent that the adult writer understands it.

However, I do recognize that Flesch can come up with titles to support his claim. In Anne of Green Gables the lively and charming child Anne grows up to become a conforming young woman. Peter Pan and the much more recent The Polar Express are pretty clear that children lose something by growing up. And every teenage coming-of-age novel ever written focuses on the loss of innocence as a young person enters the adult world by coming to terms with a fact of life--usually sex or death or sex and death. Childhood in these books is definitely ephemeral. It's also superior to adulthood.

Though Flesch may be correct that many adults like to read a type of children's literature that takes them back to a time before they knew that life sucks and then you die, it's a type of children's literature that romanticizes childhood. Those adults are looking for something quite different from kids' books than I think kids look for. I think kids are looking for themselves as they are now. They aren't looking backward. I also think kids' books should be about kids. When Flesch says "What can make children's literature great is that it makes us think more consciously about what it was once like to respond as a child to literature, and what it must be like now for the child-reader implied by the book," I can't help but feel that child-readers should have a much bigger say in determining the greatness of their literature than the us referred to in that statement.

But Flesch treats his subject with respect, and while I have my doubts about some of what he has to say, I appreciate the way he says it. Why didn't the BBC invite some like him to be part of its panel last year?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

True Confessions

I've been reading about The Chronicles of Narniamovie and feeling totally out of it because I did not get The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at all. I'd heard it was supposed to have some kind of Christian significance so back when I was teaching sixth-grade Sunday school, I decided we'd read a little of the book at the end of each class. I was hoping to make my students love coming to church because I knew that if I could read something besides the Bible or the hymnal during service, I would certainly be more eager to show up on Sunday morning.

We tried reading the book aloud for a few weeks, during which time I brought in homemade Turkish taffy, which must have figured in the story somehow, though I can't remember now. (By the way, I don't recommend making Turkish taffy at home. Or maybe eating it at all.) Finally, I had to say to the kids, "Can someone explain this book to me? I don't see what this has to do with religion."

One girl, whose mother was the Christian education director for the church, had already read the book. She said, "The lion is Jesus."

I hope this doesn't ruin the movie for anyone. After all, there are lots of other characters in the book who aren't Jesus. And we are just taking a sixth grader's word for it about the lion.

Today's National Essay Writing Month Activity

One thousand, eight hundred and sixty-eight words, for a total of nine thousand, five hundred and sixty-two.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Some New Links

Quite some time ago I was whining here about all the new kidlit blogs that keep appearing and how I don't have time to keep up with them. However, I only had four links listed on my own weblog, and only three of them were kidlit. Which I'm sure left people wondering why I couldn't keep up with just three blogs.

Well, I do check out more than three a day. I just don't have the skill to change my blog template myself and had to pull my wits together so I could ask my computer guy to do it for me and then give him all the instructions. As you can see, I finally managed to do it.

Big A little a and Chicken Spaghetti (no, I have no idea where either of those names came from) are both less than a year old. Both sites are attractive (not that looks matter), they do a good job at staying on topic, and I'm embarrassed to say that both their keepers are doing a better job than I am at keeping up with new books.

Read Roger is even newer. I'm including it with my links because Roger Sutton is editor of The Horn Book and since I like to react to his writers' articles here, it seemed only fair to send people his way so they can hear what he has to say, too. The new issue of The Horn Book is floating around my living room, by the way. It will probably be next month before I can get to it.

I've included Telling the True: A Writer's Journal, because, as my long-time readers know (if I have any), I am obsessed with it. Jane Yolen doesn't stay on topic in Telling the True, but she also isn't writing a blog. She's keeping a journal, so she gets to tell us about her doctors' appointments and dinner engagements. Read her journal and you, too, will become obsessed with the mystery of how a woman who gets as little work done as she claims she does, manage to publish as much as she does. Or even get rejected as often as she says she is. Remember, you've got to write something down before editors can say they don't want it.

I've recently (as in this weekend) discovered Art& Soul, an illustrator's site that I'll be keeping an eye on. This is another kidlit site that is less than a year old.

I have deleted some blogs from my daily list in order to make time for these new ones: sites that weren't being updated, and a couple of general library sites that didn't have that much to do with children's literature. I may have to make a rule that I won't start reading a new blog regularly unless I drop an old one. Harsh, I know, but I'm easily overwhelmed.

How are Things Going With NEssWriMo, Gail?

Since you asked, 1700 plus words today, meaning I made the minimum daily allowance. Unfortunately, I haven't been doing so this past week so my total is only 7,694 words. But since I'm working on essays instead of a novel and now have drafts of three essays completed, I'm feeling...calm.

Remember, you can't have work rejected if you don't write it in the first place.


I'm sorry this didn't get posted on Monday, the 7th. I'm having a lot of trouble posting on Blogger in the evening, and I forgot to put it up this morning.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Twenty Not So Random Things About Me

On October 29, Kelly, of Big A little a said she'd like to hear from me regarding "Twenty Random Things About Myself." She had been "tagged" with the list request by another blogger, who had received it from another blogger, and evidently you can trace this back quite a ways, if you have the time.

I was interested in the passing of this Random List request among children's bloggers because it seemed a way of creating a community of people interested in kidlit, just as I was writing about a few day's back. However, I really want to keep this blog focused on children's literature. I try to only talk about myself in relation to my being a children's writer and children's book reader. So I'm going to do the random list thing, because I don't want to be left out, but it has to be a focused random list.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Twenty Not So Random Things About Me:

1. I was an English major and history minor in the College of Education at the University of Vermont.

2. I never actually taught school.

3. I did teach Sunday school for eleven years (can you believe it?), served as an elementary school classroom volunteer for three years, and presently do author talks in elementary schools and assist with a junior taekwondo class.

4. School settings are of great interest to me, and I used them in three of my books.

5. I taught Sunday school in a Congregational church.

6. Congregational churches were originally Puritan churches, and I once prepared a lesson plan on Puritan history for my sixth-grade class. (Yeah, everyone loved having me for a teacher.)

6. The Puritans came up again when I was writing The Hero of Ticonderoga because Ethan Allen was the anti-Puritan.

7. When I got out of college, I worked in a department at the University of Connecticut that did management development and personnel management training.

8. As a result, I'm probably a little more open to business and management-related ideas than I would otherwise be.

8. For instance, I once led a writing workshop that was developed around using goals and objectives in writing.

9. I always use French surnames in my books.

10. I like reading books on creativity and how to be more productive as a writer.

11. Such books haven't done me a lot of good.

12. I wish I knew more about grammar and usage.

13. I worry that the copy editors at G. P. Putnam get together at lunch and laugh at me.

14. I received a letter last week from a fourth grader who asked if I express myself through writing.

15. My first thought on reading that letter was "What? What's she talking about?"

16. Then I realized that absolutely everything we do expresses something about ourselves.

17. I wrote the child a very philosophical reply.

18. Now I worry that the teachers at that school get together at lunch and laugh at me.

19. I suffer from performance anxiety before public appearances and when training with higher-ranked taekwondo students.

20. Last fall I was nominated for a writing award and really didn't mind not winning at all, because I was so worried about having to get up and thank people. Not that I wouldn't have been grateful. It's just that if I expressed my gratitude incorrectly, I could have ruined the whole thing.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

On a Positive and Upbeat Note

NEssWriMo word count for today: 941. That's not even half the minimum I need to do. However, I'm feeling very good about tomorrow. I've got the whole day, and today's work leaves me primed for the next step. Yeah, that's my story. My three day total: 3,771. It should be something like 4,998. Hey, but it's early days. I can still pull ahead.

I found out today that the hardcover edition of The Hero of Ticonderoga is going out of print. I was relieved it was the older Hero and not Saving the Planet & Stuff. Besides the Hero paperback is supposed to still be going strong.

I am either a really sunny, cheerful person or delusional. One or the other.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Don't Adjust Your Sets...Or Maybe You Should

Oh, my gosh! I think I've finally learned how to upload images. Or at least my computer guy has.

As you can see from this beautiful book cover, I have recently finished reading Notes From a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko, who also wrote Al Capone Does My Shirts, a Newbery Honor Book. Please go to her website to see all the great acclaim A Liar and Her Dog has received. I want you to keep that in mind as I'm going to tell you that I wasn't crazy about it. It took me a long time to get through Liar because it wasn't something I just couldn't wait to get back to.

The main character, Antonia, known as Ant, is the oddball in her family and feels that her mother, in particular, treats her as such. This is another first-person story, and Ant is the first person. Her mother is portrayed as a real Cruella DeVil, but by the end of the book I got the feeling that maybe she was just misunderstood. It was hard to tell, though, because we see everything as Ant sees it, and she may not be a reliable narrator, especially since she's a liar. In addition, in real life some mothers are judgmental and demanding. But when they're judgmental and demanding in fiction, they become one-dimensional, cliched, etc.

Everything in this story revolves around the mother and her relationship with the main character. Neither the mother nor the relationship worked for me. I wasn't crazy about the stereotypical quirky male bestfriend, either.

I liked the witchy older sister, though. And what I would really have liked to see developed more was the father, who appeared to have problems sticking with a job. A parent like that is a trial to a child, as well as everyone else in the family. I don't think that particular storyline has been wrung as dry as some others in kidlit.

Experimenting With Headlines, Too. And Catching Up With Local News

I've tried different kinds of subheadings for different topics discussed in the same day's blog. For a while I'm going to try just using a regular headline.

I'm going to mention The Connecticut Children's Book Fair again because the people running the thing have finally posted times for the author/illustrator signings. Notice that Suzanne Collins will be speaking on Sunday? She has also been nominated for a Connecticut Book Award and one of her books is on the reading list for the Nutmeg Award. This is her year in Connecticut. Thank goodness I was nominated for a Connecticut Book Award last year, or I would be bitter and envious. Please, everyone notice how positive and gracious I'm being.

Three days before the Connecticut Children's Book Fair, on Wednesday, Nov. 9, Jack Gantos will be speaking just up the road at Eastern Connecticut State University. That will be at 3 p.m. in the J. Eugene Smith Library.

If I can get ahead on my pseudo National Novel Writing Month work, I'll try to hit both events. Because I began my National Essay Writing Month experience by revising some essays I'd already started, I was able to make up for yesterday's disaster. NEssWriMo total to date: 2,830 words.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Melting Down Over NaNoWriMo

Today is November 1, the first day of National Novel Writing Month (which appears to be having some kind of problem with its website). I didn't formally sign up this year because I'm not going to work on a novel this month. I'm going to work on a series of essays. But I have been very psyched about the project, hoping the intensity of the experience will help me overcome my really lousy work habits. I've been planning to read a couple of appropriate books this month and everything.

However, I had to be away from the house all day today, which didn't get me off to a good start. I've known I had to be away since last week, so I thought maybe I'd get started yesterday to compensate. After all, I'm not formally signed up so I don'thave to follow formal rules, right? Well, I ended up spending all day yesterday proofreading galleys for a book that's coming out next spring. I worked until 9 last night, and I'll have to do some more tomorrow morning.

So what will become of this big exciting writing project I was planning to undertake, hoping for a serious creative experience?

Stay tuned.

Oh, and I think I've been tagged. More about that in the days to come, too.