Thursday, September 22, 2005

Do Not Adjust Your Dial

I'm not going to be posting for more than a week because I have to finish going over the copy editing for Happy Kid!, and then I will be traveling. When I get back I hope to have read many books and have a few interesting thoughts to share. Or a few thoughts, interesting or not.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

And the 53rd Book of the Year Was...

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby! The exclamation point is because I liked the book.

Remember a few weeks back when I told you all about the books I brought home from the library? And the ones I wanted to bring home, but didn't? Well, Nick Hornby does a column every month for The Believer in which he talks about the books he bought the preceding month and the books he read. They're not necessarily one and the same. His reading interests are all over the place, which I rather like. When he writes about your more literary books, he does so in a very nonpretentious way; and when he writes about genre books, he doesn't act as if he's slumming. I love this guy!

Though I'm not a hundred percent certain what the title means. The Polysyllabic Spree is how he refers to the people who run The Believer. They seem to have an attitude about book criticism. I won't go so far as to say they want it to be positive. It's more that they don't want it to be snarky. I won't get into all that.

I will say, though, that the Polysyllabic Spree should be grateful to be represented by the likes of Nick Hornby. I'm going to check out their magazine now. Just because of him.

Now, you're probably saying, that's all very nice, Gail, but what does any of this have to do with children's literature, the so-called topic of your blog? Okay, I can make a connectinon.

You see, Nick Hornby wrote a book called About a Boy, which also doesn't technically have anything to do with children's literature, the so-called topic of my blog. However, About a Boy involves a twelve-year-old boy who suffers terribly because he just doesn't get cool. He doesn't understand how to be cool. About a Boy also involves a thirty-something man who does get cool. He doesn't understand much of anything except how to be cool. I think About a Boy would make a good "adult book for young adults." Especially for young adult guys. When I see adult books on, say, high school reading lists, so many of them are womany-type books. This is a guy book.

Okay, it's been a few years since I've read About a Boy, and I suppose it might contain some druggin' and sex talk, if not real sexual activity. But, I ask you, have you read any YA books lately? I don't think there's anything in About a Boy that would damage high school students, and they may find some good stuff in it.

So there. I made a connection.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Movie and TV Connections

For some reason or another all the middle-aged women guests at the company Christmas party last year were squealing over The Princess Diaries 2. I don't think they'd seen it. I watched it on DVD this past weekend. Oh, my goodness. The ending of the movie definitely sounds like the end of the line for that series, and it's a darn good thing, in my humble opinion.

I'd still be willing to give the books a shot, but my library never has the first volume around when I think to look for it.

This past weekend (last night to be exact) I also saw the second episode of the third season of Foyle's War. Now, Foyle's War has absolutely nothing to do with children's or YA literature. However, it was created and written by Anthony Horowitz, who writes the Alex Rider series. I'm not crazy about Alex Rider, but I'm a big Foyle fan.

Maybe it's because, heaven help me, I've reached an age where I find men like Michael Kitchen attractive. Hey! It takes a lot of guts to wear a hat like that!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The 52nd Book of the Year

Writing Stories by David L. Harrison was the 52nd book I read this year. As you can probably guess from the title, it's a book on writing.

Now, writing books tend to be really dull no matter who they're written for. Lately, I've preferred reading books on creativity, myself. But Writing Stories was shelved with the new children's books at my library, so I decided to give it a try.

The book is a mixed bag. Among the positive things I found in the book was an explanation of how a writer moves from a memory to a story that is close to my experience as a writer. The description of how journals can be used was good, too. I know I could never bring myself to keep a journal as a teenager because the idea of writing down what happened during my day seemed deadly. And my kids hated them as grade schoolers. But journals can be anything you want them to be, and Harrison describes all the many things that can go into them. I like the way he describes genre, too, explaining that the things that happen in a fantasy or science fiction novel must be believable within the world that the author has created in his book. (I'm going to take notes in my journal on some of what Harrison has to say about genre.) Revising is different from rewriting, according to Harrison, something that I'd never heard before, but he convinced me.

On the negative side, though, Harrison talks about 11 tools, 4 techniques, and 25 writing secrets. Perhaps I'm just overly sensitive because I'm still slogging my way through How to Read a Book, which is filled with detailed rules. However, I find so many tools, techniques, and secrets overwhelming. Some of Harrison's terminology doesn't conform to the standard elements of fiction taught in schools, either. There's probably nothing particularly wrong with using his own terminology, but I found it confusing. A child who had not yet learned the standard terminology might not be bothered by Harrison's, though.

I think a child would have to be extremely motivated to read this book. I can't imagine a child who struggles with writing sticking with it for very long. A teacher could find some useful help in here, though.

And Harrison ends his book with something I liked. "Only those who write become writers." That's something new writers of all ages often have trouble accepting.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

This Seems Like a Good Idea...

...but I shudder to think what would have happened if I'd suggested it when my kids were young.

The September issue of Better Homes and Gardens has an article on a parent-child book club for families. Families as in more than one at a time. Families as in more than one parent. Nancy Christie, the author of the article, suggests that four or five family groups (no more than eight to ten people) read the same book and get together at a location inspired by the book to discuss it.

Now, I love to discuss books. And I would love to discuss books with my kids. The problem with this whole plan would turn up if I made the suggestion to anyone--family members, friends, neighbors. This just wouldn't have happened.

However, if a teacher created a family book club, it would be a whole different story. Or maybe a librarian. No, a teacher would have better luck. People will do things for teachers they won't do for other people.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

"Read her when you're 13 but then forget about her"

No, the person being quoted in this BBC News article was not talking about me, but Agatha Christie. And yes, I believe she is read by many in their early teens. I read her throughout my teenage years and even beyond and am a fan of both the recent and more recent Miss Marples that have aired on PBS.

Only a Month and a Half--or so--Until November

That means it's almost NaNoWriMo time again! If I'm going to take part in National Novel Writing Month this year, I've got to finish a draft of a book for younger kids by the end of October. Perhaps NaNoWriMo will provide the motivation I need.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Fifty-first Book

I finished reading my fifty-first book of the year this morning before getting out of bed. The Gate to Women's Country is not a children's or YA book even though the main character is a child in various points in the story. I mention this because a children's book must have a child as a main character. But a book with a child main character is not necessarily a children's book. One tipoff is if the main character is an adult recalling her childhood, as is the case with Women's Country. Lots of times you get the feeling that the adult is recalling her childhood because, as an adult, she recognizes some event as significant. Thus there is an adult point of view having its way with the story somehow.

And Another Literary Event

If memory serves me, just yesterday I said something about being unable to spit without hitting a literary event of some sort. And sure enough, I heard about another one today. A group called The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance is sponsoring In Celebration: A Conversation with the NCBLA Authors and Illustrators on December 10th at the Mount Holyoke College campus in South Hadley, Massachusetts. It's described as "an informal, freewheeling, and highly entertaining conversation on writing, illustration, children’s literature, the arts, reading rights, and citizen activism."

The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance says at its website that its "main goal is to make issues related to young people's literacy, literature, and libraries an ongoing priority on our national agenda. We act as a freelance, nonpartisan advocate, creating and developing special projects and events that promote literacy, literature, libraries, and the arts; educating the public about practical literacy and education solutions; and ensuring young people's right to read."

I thought I'd heard of The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, but I may be getting it confused with Children's Literature New England, which exists "to promote awareness of the significance of literature in the lives of children." Though according to its website, it won't be existing for long, since it plans to close-up shop in 2006.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A Festival at my Old Stomping Ground

Burlington, Vermont will be hosting the first Burlington Literary Festival on September 23 through 25. None of the links to the Festival's website are working. However, according to Chicken Spaghetti, Steven Kellogg and Julius Lester will both be there, as well as adult writers.

Burlington is, of course, the home of The University of Vermont, which can lay claim to having provided me with a higher education. It can lay claim to having educated me, though I don't think it often does.

The next Buy a Friend a Book Week is coming up the first week of October. It comes four times a year--the first weeks of January, April, July, and October. I just missed one of the earlier ones and am delighted to have another chance to take part. All you have to do is buy a friend a book for no reason. This is not a time to get started on your Christmas shopping! Just buy!

One of the things I like about Buy a Friend a Book Week is that it gives us readers an opportunity to take a stand against all the doom-and-gloom sayers who insist no one is reading, bookselling is going to hell in a handbasket, the sky is falling, and civilization is on its way out. How can things be that bad when you can't spit without hitting a literary festival like the one I just wrote about above? People are interested in reading and books. Buy a Friend a Book Week is a chance to prove it.

Oh, my gosh! I can't believe it! I inserted an image, and it worked! This could be the start of fantastic things to come!

Or not.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Passing the Fifty-Book Mark

A couple of days ago I finished reading my fiftieth book of the year. Freddyand Fredericka isn't YA, but I did enjoy it, anyway. Except for the epilogue. I hate epilogues.

Last year I read sixty books. I have three and a half months to read ten more books to hit last year's mark. I think I should be able to do it, because I have a week's vacation the end of the month and should be spending some time in a car. I need to find me a bunch of short books!

And Still More On My Not-so-Stellar College Experience

I was writing a couple of days ago about things I learned in college in classes taught by uninspiring--or worse--professors. In thinking about college, I have to say I can't remember any outstanding professors. No one changed my life. I read Lord Jim, though, and actually liked it. I started listening to classical music because there were no words to distract me while I was studying. I still listen to it, unencumbered by any actual knowledge of the stuff. I was an English and history major, which in those days meant a lot of reading and lectures, so I became a compulsive book highlighter and note taker. Today I'll underscore articles in magazines and take notes while I'm talking to my mother on the phone.

Not only can I not remember any outstanding professors, in many cases I can't remember professors at all. I remember books and...stuff. The folkstories about Ethan Allen I came upon while researching something else. Novels by Robertson Davies and Mordecai Richler. I read their work for decades after I got out of school and no longer had to. My junior year I watched The Rowdyman, a famous Canadian movie no one down here has heard of, with a classroom full of students I didn't know. That's a lot liking watching a movie by yourself. Being by yourself is the best way to watch a moving that's going to leave you stunned the way The Rowdyman left me.

Maybe going to college isn't about the teachers, good or bad. Maybe it's about the experiences you'll have. Maybe it's not about someone teaching you something. Maybe it's about you learning something. Which is quite a different thing.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What's Going on Out There?

Hurray! I'm Going to Know What's Going on in England Again!: For a couple of months I've been unable to access Achockablog. Turns out it was totally my fault. Stupidity. My bad. I'm connecting again in time to catch a link to the Telegraph on Philip Pullman. Pullman has gone on record as being against school drills that enable kids to get good grades that will make the school look good. Children should not be "going to school in order to get qualifications so that the school doesn't fall down the league table, rather they should be "going to school for something interesting, for a first acquaintance with a delight that will last you a lifetime".

Of course I agree with him. The question is, though, how do you do that?

Pullman also says, "I was lucky enough to grow up at a time and go to church at a time when the King James Bible, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and Hymns Ancient and Modern were the three great texts."

I've heard others rave about The King Jamesversion of the Bible. In fact, once after hearing Madeline L'Engle rave about it at a public talk, I was inspired to stop at the mall on the way home and buy a copy.

I definitely didn't get what all the buzz was about.

Don't All Teenagers Read Pride and Prejudice?: I know I did. So that means it's okay for me to report that Jane Austen is big business in her home country. Sounds like something out of a Jasper Ffordenovel, doesn't it? Thanks to Arts for the link.

The Outsiders is Going to Be Re-released! Personally, I'm not that excited about it. I saw the movie on video when a young relative was an enthusiastic fan of the book. He read the book well over ten times and became interested in Robert Frost because Hinton quoted one of his poems. I respect all that, but my biggest memory of watching the movie is sitting in my living room, looking at the clock on the mantel, and thinking, "Dear God, how much more of this will I have to take?"

However, I understand that many people are delighted the movie will get a limited re-release and is coming out on DVD. They should also be interested in The New York Times interview with S.E. Hinton.

Somehow, I didn't expect her to be older than I am.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

What I Learned in College; And I Did Learn Something

College students are back on campus, and I've been talking with young relatives about their boring classes and unpleasant professors. So now I'm dwelling on happy memories of the objectionable profs I was forced to spend time with many years ago.

Two people are standouts from the miserable first semester of my miserable freshman year. One taught English, the other history. Conincidentally, those were my two best subjects.

The English professor taught some kind of introductory writing course. He was a pompous, arrogant male. He was very fond of himself. I remember thinking, is this what happens to the smart boys I was so attracted to in high school? They turn into this? However, this guy had us buy The New York Sunday Times each week, which is how I came to know The New York Times Book Review. Over the next ten or fifteen years or so I would learn more about writing from reading The New York Times Book Review than I ever learned in any writing course I ever took.

I didn't know that was going to happen, though, while I was that professor's student. I definitely didn't feel I was learning anything from him, and I came to despise him. He wasn't fond of me, either. I don't know. Maybe it was something I said. In all honesty, I tended to be kind of mouthy and know-it-allish back then.

Well, one day this professor praised my writing in class and said that if I worked hard, I would accomplish something with it. I felt, whether justified or not, that in some way I had forced him to make that admission. Right there on the spot I learned that by being good at something, you could sort of...vindicate yourself. Doing well was a kind of revenge.

That philosophy stuck with me. More than twenty years later, it would become part of my second book, A Year with Butch and Spike.

Now the history professor from freshman year had a lot of...odd...physical and verbal mannerisms. In addition, he liked to wear very thin, white dress shirts with nothing under them--a look that to this day creeps me out. If this guy taught us anything about world history, I sure couldn't figure out what it was. I did well in his class, but didn't know how I was doing it. Either he was brilliant, and I was lost, or we really weren't doing much of anything, and I was lost.

One day this professor told us about his license plate. Yeah, professors tend to ramble. But, believe it or not, this one wasn't. He told us he had a vanity plate with the word "Bodo" on it. Bodo was the name of a peasant who lived in St. Germaine de Pres (somewhere around Paris) in the middle ages. His existence has been documented, and you can read about it the way I had to. The professor drove a car with the name "Bodo" on it to remind his students that history is not just about the high and the mighty; it's mainly about people who are just the opposite.

And ever since the knowledge that history is about just plain folks has became my guiding thought in studying it or just reading it. That thought was a big, big factor when I was writing The Hero of Ticonderoga.

If I didn't believe that blogs should be short, I'd tell you about my Canadian lit and expository writing classes. Didn't learn much in either of those, but they've had a big impact on my life.

So, you see, boys and girls, that even the worst professors have something to offer in their own weird, twisted ways. It will just take you half a lifetime to figure out what it is.

I'm still waiting to see what I'm going to get from that political science class I took junior year.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

An Update on an Update

If you missed the movie version of Speak, you'll have another chance on September 13 at 7:00 pm.

I thought the movie was good and the actress who played the main character was excellent. However, if memory serves me, the main character was in much worse shape in the book, barely speaking at all. And the rapist was a more unpleasant character while still being the big man around school. He definitely was a little weak in the movie.

Nonetheless, if you're a fan of the book, the movie is worth a look.

And Speaking of Movies...

...I've fallen way behind on ironing again, so I'm watching I Capture the Castle while trying to catch up. The original book was written by Dodie Smith who also wrote The Hundred and One Dalmations. I don't know if I Capture the Castle is considered YA (I don't believe anyone knew what YA was back in its day), but the main character is a seventeen-year-old girl, so it's okay to be mentioning it here.

Oh, and as a little pop culture aside, the guy who played Buffy the Vampire Slayer'scollege boyfriend is in this movie.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Updates on Some Recent Reading

Gregor News

I just learned that Suzanne Collins, who wrote Gregor the Overlander and Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, which I was just raving about here recently, is going to be at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair in November. I want to go hear her speak, but I'm wondering if I should. People who are more successful than I am for writing books that I actually like and admire often leave me feeling very down on myself. If I really, really tried, I could write better and more popular books, right? It's all my own fault?

Nonetheless, I have penciled the fair dates on my calendar

Messenger News

Markus Zusak, who wrote I am the Messenger, which I was talking about here recently, has a new book out called The Book Thief. I heard at a listserv that it was an adult book, but I've seen it classified as juvenile fiction at some sites.

Speak News

The movie version of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson will be starting in about twenty minutes. Speak is a problem novel that I actually liked, so I have to go clean off the couch so I'll have a place to sit and watch it.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Somebody's Working

I suppose I could have accomplished less this week, but I would have had to try awfully hard.

Others, however, work harder than I do. Particularly people who publish their books in nontraditional ways.

Libby Koponen began writing a novel on-line and ended up with between 600 and 800 readers a day--or more--before publishing her book Blow Out the Moon with Little, Brown.

And Jonathan Pearce, a reader of this blog, started his own publishing company for his books. Imagine how much more work he does than I do.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Now That Was a Good Book

Man, I loved Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins. I stayed up until twenty after twelve one night to finish it.

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane is the second in what is supposed to be a five-part series called The Underland Chronicles. It's called Underland because the stories take place...uh...under the land. Under New York City to be exact. The Scholastic author's bio makes a comparison to Alice in Wonderland. I totally missed the connection when I was reading this book and its predecessor, Gregor the Overlander. But now that it's been pointed out to me, I can see it. Except the Underland Chronicles are more logical and realistic. Once you've accepted that people can live undetected well below ground and once you've accepted the existence of giant intelligent rats, bats, and fireflies, of course. I didn't have any problem doing that. It worked for me.

The Underland Chronicles are very intense and I guess I'd have to say even violent books. They are journey stories and the journeys are dangerous. Characters die. One death in The Propecy of Bane was just plain breathtaking.

Collins writes as much as she has to. Her books are not bloated with unnecessary detail and scenes that don't move the story along like those of She Who Must Not Be Named. In just a few lines of dialogue Collins can portray a character. And her characters and the world they live in are unique.

Of course I can find some little flaws, because I can always find flaws. I am the master of flaw finding. Nonetheless, the third volume in the series came out this summer. I cannot wait to read it.

Fly you high, faithful readers.