Monday, June 30, 2008

Three Robbers Celebration--More Books For Younger Kids


To celebrate the publication of A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers on Thursday, I'm blogging about other books for younger kids this week.

I came upon the Mr. and Mrs. Green Books by Keith Baker during that period when I was looking for short stories. Like Zelda and Ivy, these stories are for the younger chapter book readers-color illustrations on each page with limited amounts of text. The Mr. and Mrs. Green stories in the two books I read all dealt with common childhood activities, such as camping, eating, going to the fair, taking part in a talent show, and losing things. Though these are common childhood activities, Mr. and Mrs. Green aren't children, but adults. Okay, they're adult alligators, but they're adults.

Children's books are supposed to center on children, but it's not unusual to find adult animals in very young children's books. I, personally, prefer my animal characters to be children, if they're going to be animals at all, and I've wondered why put adults in a kids' book.

Then today I realized that making adults animals really cuts the grown-ups down to size. And when the adult animals are a couple, it's not unusual for the husband to be childlike in addition to being an animal the way Mr. Green is here. Also think poor Dad Berenstain. The wives, on the other hand, are highly efficient caretakers.

So in our culture, the stereotypical male head of family is an imposing, powerful figure. In our animal children's books, we make him childlike if not an out and out bumblioni. In our culture, the stereotypical female co-head of family is a nurturing, loving figure. In our animal children's books, we make her a maternal goddess.

I so wish I'd taken more than Psych 1 so I could figure out what's going on here. Wait! Unle-e-e-essss, the male figure is supposed to be the child--of either sex--who is fearful and sometimes foolish and the female figure is a comforter who makes everything okay. Hmmm. That could work.

In which case, the Mr. and Mrs. Green books could provide young child readers with some easy reads about familiar situations that should make them feel comfortable.

The Three Robbers Blog Tour--Day Two


Day two of the A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers blog tour, is hosted by Sam Riddleburger. Sam is also a writer, so we did a little talking about ARCs and agents and industry trends. I am sure that now that Sam has mentioned Shania Twain once at his blog, he'll be talking about her all the time. Thanks, Sam!

Tomorrow I'll be stopping at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

In the meantime, don't miss your chance to win a copy of A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Three Robbers Celebration--Books For Younger Kids


I don't want my blog tour hosts to carry the entire burden of celebrating A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers' publication this Thursday, so I've tried to plan a few special things for this week, too. Off and on, I'm going to try to bring some attention to other books for younger kids--since that is what Three Robbers is.

I picked up Zelda and Ivy: The Runaways by Laura McGee Kvasnosky before the last 48 Hour Book Challenge because the title turned up while I was searching a library database for short story collections for kids. These three stories are for very young kids. They don't involve a lot of text and every page includes a charming color picture of the slightly mousie- looking fox sisters, Zelda and Ivy.

The last story, about creating a concoction (which I can remember doing when I was somewhere between five and seven years old) is probably the most creative. The first story, The Runaways, is pretty familiar, being about a couple of kids who run away and then come home when no one misses them. But the first two sentences are so fantastic that I was hooked right away.

"Dad's making cucumber sandwiches for lunch," said Ivy.
"Not again!" said Zelda. "That's it. I'm running away."


Talk about not wasting time on tedious exposition! Talk about introducing conflict early! This intro could be an example in a writing textbook.

Sometimes I don't get animals that think they are humans in kids' books. They work best for me when they are like Zelda and Ivy--characters living as realistic children in happy, comfortable situations, who just happen to be foxes or frogs or toads or pigs.

Three earlier Zelda and Ivy adventures appeared in picture book format.

The Three Robbers Blog Tour--Day One


The blog tour for A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers begins today at books together. Anamaria and I discuss ways in which chapter books are distinguished from other kidlit categories, the challenges of writing them, and that monster cat, Buttercup, who appears in both volumes of The Hannah and Brandon Stories. Many thanks to Anamaria for hosting me.

Tomorrow the tour stops at Sam Riddleburger's blog.

A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers will be published this Thursday, July 3rd. Remember you have until the end of that day to enter to win a copy of the book.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

That Weird Repetition Of Never Before Experienced Events

I am sure you all remember my post of this past Monday, not even a week past, in which I mentioned reading of someone named Paul Valery, whom I had never heard of. Ever. Not a word.

Well, yesterday while reading the revision chapter of Writing Fiction, I came upon this line: "'In the first draft is the talent,' said French poet Paul Valery, 'in the second is the art.'"

Come on! What are the chances of that happening?!!!

But that's not all.

Last night I watched the pilot episode of Weeds in which Mary-Louise Parker plays a tough single mom dealing weed to subarbanites to keep her brood together. (Oh, look. I'm talking about my TV viewing.) Then today I saw The Spiderwick Chronicles in which Mary-Louise Parker plays a tough single mom dueling with goblins (I think) to keep her brood together.

The situation in the TV show was only slightly less improbable than that in the movie.

I love it when this weird repetition thing happens.

Friday, June 27, 2008

In Which We Talk About Different Ways Of Not Reading


Pierre Bayard describes in How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read four ways of not reading books:

Books You Don't Know: I don't recall a whole lot about this section. At this point, I was still wondering if Bayard was joking.

Books You Have Skimmed: I have to admit, I've had to do this many times. There are a lot of books out there that I feel I should be familiar with but find really dreadful. So once I decide that I'm too old to be wasting valuable hours of my life reading this dribble, I start skimming so that I have a feel for the work. Seriously, I think it's much better to have a feel for a book then to have no knowledge of it at all. As it turns out, Bayard agrees with me.

Books You Have Heard Of: Reading reviews, articles, and blog posts about books can give you a handle on the books' place in the booky scheme of things, or the collective library, as Bayard calls it.

Books You Have Forgotten: Sadly, we're going to forget a lot of what we read.

You know the way of not reading that Bayard doesn't cover in his book? Books you have read and not understood. Sophie's World comes immediately to my mind. Perhaps Bayard, being a French intellectual and all, has never experienced this kind of not reading.

Just How Much Do Inquiring Minds Want To Know?

In her blog post A Blogger's Challenge: Privacy Vs. Authenticity, Mitali Perkins raises the question of how bloggers (her examples are all authors, but the question could apply to any blogger) balance an authentic voice with privacy. Can they be authentic and genuine without writing about all aspects of their lives?

Well, I think Mitali's question is an interesting one, and I've been dwelling on it since I read her post last night. (Not that it kept me up or anything.) I've recalled how I've noticed that many people become their work. We've known an engineer for many years. Engineering is absolutely a huge part of his identity and has an influence on all his interests. We know musicians who have worked, part-time, as musicians all their adult lives while supporting themselves and their families with day jobs. They are musicians--their lives are built around rehearsals, performances, attending musical events. Their lifestyle had a huge--and positive--impact on how they raised their children.

Over the years, I have become a writer. I think it informs and is connected to nearly everything I do. When you read this blog you really are getting an authentic view of my life because a great deal of my life is thinking about writing--what I'm writing now, what I could write about in the future, what other people have written. If I were to talk here about my children, my TV viewing, my shopping trips, what I make for dinner, you might be getting a less authentic voice, because I would be trying to isolate those portions of my life in order to say, Look, I have kids! I watch TV! I go shopping! Or you would be getting still more writing talk because my kids are a big part of my writing life, I analyze plots and characterization while I'm watching TV, and while I'm shopping I get ideas for stories that I sometimes forget about because I don't write them down or, if I remember that I have a notebook in my purse, I write them down and find them months and months later.

See, I just blogged about shopping and it turned into blogging about writing.

So, my long, drawn out point is that while people may choose to blog about whatever they like, at least in the case of writers, I don't believe we need to blog about anything but writing in order to be authentic.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Giving Away Books

You have one week left to try your luck at winning a copy of A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

I am not the only person giving away books. You have a couple of other chances to win books right now:

Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (I.N.K.) is giving away fifteen signed books--all to one winner. Included in that stash is a book by Karen Romano Young whom I met last month.

Cynsations is giving away a signed set of Mitali Perkins' First Daughter books. Scroll down Cynsations' post to find out how to enter. You only have until June 30th.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thinking About Blogging

Susan at Chicken Spaghetti has a post on "Blogging Thoughts" related to my interview at this month's The Edge of the Forest . She's got a nice little conversation going in the comments.

Read the original interview and read and take part in the conversation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In Which We Talk About Our Collective Library


When Pierre Brayard talks about not reading, he's not talking about reading in the sense of an enjoyable experience, becoming one with a character, or any of that good stuff. He's talking about acquiring knowledge about how a book relates to the rest of the world.

Societies, Brayard suggests, maintain what he calls a "collective library," meaning a virtual collection of books that the culture is familiar with. (You know, the way most Americans are familiar with characters from The Wizard of Oz without having read the book or maybe even having seen the movie.) One of his points is that sometimes a book is more significant for its relationship to other books in the collective library than it is for its own content. If individuals understand or at least know about the book's significance, they can talk about the book in that way. And it would be very legitimate for them to do so.

Imagine, if you will, that it is the year 2057. A turn-of-the-century series of children's books about a kid named Harry Potter is oh, so yesterday. No one reads them, but everyone knows about Harry because of all kinds of literary references, movie references, maybe some song references. Harry Potter, though not read, is part of the collective library.

Say you are a graduate student in the year 2057, and you wouldn't read any of the Harry Potter books on a bet. But you are aware that the appearance of Harry Potter in the 1990s brought masses of adult readers to children's literature, encouraged serial novels, knocked problem novels off their pedestal in kidlit, and popularized fantasy. Knowing the significance of the series in relation to other books is arguably as important as anything in the books and certainly gives you something to discuss if Harry P. comes up when you're trapped in your advisor's office.

In fact, there are probably many books we should know something about even if we haven't read them.

Point Of View And Kidlit

I'm back to studying this week, and today I've been reading in What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. Two juicy bits:

"Too often writers begin a story in the first person because it makes them feel closer to the story, yet the voice isn't unique enough to warrant first person."

Interesting observation. You see the first person a lot in YA and children's books, and often the narrators do all sound the same. So now, after reading that line this afternoon, I'm thinking, yes, first person should sound unique. That should be the determining factor in whether or not to use it and not, Oh, this is a kid/YA book, shove a first-person narrator in there.

In a section on child narrators, the book quotes Christine McDonnell (a children's/YA author with virtually no Internet life as far as I can tell) on adult books with child narrators versus children's books with child narrators:

"In adult fiction, when a story has a child's point of view, usually the child is scrutinizing the adult world, trying to make sense of adult behavior or adult society, as in J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye...the scope of the story is larger than childhood. Children are windows onto a larger picture, and that larger picture is of interest to adults."

I don't know about anyone else, but I find that very helpful. Though I still wonder how adult books like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird moved from being adult books to being considered YA.

Adult writers ought to think about this--Catcher and Mockingbird are probably still in print and relevant today because they were shifted from adult to YA, meaning they are taught in schools and on all kinds of reading lists. The classroom--that's where big sales and even immortality can be found.

Monday, June 23, 2008

In Which We Begin To Talk About A Book We've Read


Pierre Bayard's How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read isn't really about faking it. Au contraire . It's very much about reading. In fact, it's a far more interesting and heartfelt discussion of reading than the "classic" How to Read a Book, which I'm guessing has destroyed the will to read in generations of Americans.

Bayard's tone is often slightly tongue-in-cheek, particularly in the early chapters. In fact, for a while I wondered if he was making up a couple of the authorities he cited early on. But, no, there really was a Robert Musil and a Paul Valery. And I've just admitted I'd never heard of them. Yikes.

But I am talking about them.

One of the many interesting things about this book called How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read is that each chapter includes a discussion of an author or a work that Bayard, if all his footnotes are to be believed, has read. All the books he discusses, either nonfiction or fiction, included a discussion of avoiding reading or a character who is in some kind of situation in which he can be said to have to talk about books he hasn't read. Bayard does more than use this material to support his own arguments. He makes these books sound interesting.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Particularly Terrific Issue

Even if this month's The Edge of the Forest didn't include an interview with a near and dear blogging author, I would think it was a stellar issue. I particularly liked the article on vampire books. Notice the recommendation for Little Vampire by Joan Sfar. The publisher describes it as being for 9 to 12-year-olds, but it sounds as if younger readers would enjoy it, too. I'm also interested in Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett, which would be for a much older crowd.

I also like the articles TEOTF does on what kids are actually reading. Check out Kid Picks and Teen Picks.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Plotting

Plotting is the absolutely most difficult thing for me to do when writing. Thus I found this post, in a blog I just added to my blog reader yesterday, very interesting.

Hope I remember what this guy had to say the next time I'm starting a project.

Captain Kirk's Connection To Kidlit

William Shatner has been in the news a bit lately because he has a new book out. This morning, I was thinking of Little Men, I had been reading about The Shat last week, and all of a sudden the two unrelated mind-threads came together.

Well, by way of Little Women, anyway, because Wild Bill played dear Professor Bhaer back in a 1978 television version of that story. Scroll down at the link I just gave you, and you'll see him in the very first row of images. (Shouldn't he have had a beard?)

If you scroll down to the fourth row, right in the center, you'll see a youngish man talking to a big hat. That's John de Lancie before he played Q on STTNG.

I have actually seen this version of Little Women, though, of course, I was very young at the time.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Idiot Savant Novelist

Justine Larbalestier has a post up on writing and structure in which she refers to herself as an idiot savant novelist. I definitely feel that way about my writing past. I get the feeling, though, that she doesn't feel as badly about being an idiot savant novelist as I do. I want to be better than I am, while she seems to be all whatever. In fact, at one point in her post she actually says, "Whatever."

Perhaps this is the difference between being from Oz and being from northern New England. There's a lot of sun down under, is there not? While when I was in high school I heard that there was a lot of suicide in Vermont because of the long winters. You hear that kind of thing about where you live while you're in your formative years, and it can't help but have an impact on you.

Two Weeks Left

You have two weeks to enter to win a copy of A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers, which will be published two weeks from today.

The festivities for publication week begin on Sunday, June 29th, at books together.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Am Inspired. Maybe.

I think we're all clear on my terrible work habits. Chris Barton at Bartography is working on changing his. Not that I mean Chris has terrible work habits. But he is trying to change his work habits, terrible or not.

For instance, he's started getting up early, bless him. I have rolled out of bed between five and six on occasion, but my gut feeling is that doing it every day can't possibly be good for me.

Chris is also cutting back on Internet time. He seems to be sticking to that plan, too, because recently he's only been posting at his blog on Sundays. That seems as if it could be way too radical a shock to my system. However, I might try to take an Internet break once a week as he's been doing.

This reminds me of a time when I was thinking of taking up fasting. Sure, I thought. I could fast. Yeah. On Sundays. I could fast once a week on Sundays...On Sunday afternoons...Absolutely...On Sunday afternoons from, say, 12, 12:30...Maybe 1 o'clock...Yeah...I could fast on Sundays from 1 o'clock until...hmmm...how about 5:30?...5:00?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tour Prep

I've completed two of the eight interviews (seven for the blog tour and one for The Edge of the Forest) that I'll be doing this month. A third interview arrived today.

I am not yet tired of talking about myself.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Here's Something That Doesn't Happen To Me Every Day

In twelve years as a published writer, I have never whipped out my credit card at a store and had a cashier look at it, gasp, and say, "Are you the Gail Gauthier?" I've never had anyone ask for my driver's license, take one look at it, and go, "Gail Gauthier? The writer? I love your books!"

So imagine my surprise today when I was in the library and the newish librarian, whom I've only seen a couple of times, looked at the computer screen as she checked me out and said, "Are you a writer?"

Okay. In case you can't imagine my surprise, I will tell you that I nearly fell over dead right there in front of the check-out desk. The other librarians have known me forever, and they just don't care. Occasionally, they'll say something like, "Are you still writing?" Implying, I always think, "Haven't you given up on that yet?" Really, this was quite an event for me.

I admitted to the new, most wonderful library lady that I was indeed a writer. She asked what I'd written. I mentioned the two most recent books. She said, "I think I've seen your name on something that was lying around my house. Something my daughter was reading."

So I kept reciting titles, and when I got to A Year with Butch and Spike, she said, "Yes! Yes! That's it!"

She seemed quite happy to meet me.

I'll get that reaction at schools sometimes. Once I sat down in the cafeteria at lunch across from a young girl, who said, "My mother is going to be so excited because I ate with an author!" Then she said, "Who do you like on American Idol?"

I love that girl. I love that librarian.

I think a lot of people aren't all that overwhelmed these days over being in the presence of a writer because there are so very many of us. If it's true that three hundred to four hundred thousand books are published every year, writers are common as mud.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I Could Have Read This Report Myself...

...but I'd much rather let J.L. Bell do it for me. I'm talking about The 2008 Kids and Family Reading Report™ Conducted by Yankelovich and Scholastic.

Is She Talking About Us?

In her review of Leonard Marcus' book, Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature (in the NYT Book Review) Laura Miller says, "Marcus, a charming and nimble writer, makes a valiant effort to keep things interesting, but the editorial shake-ups and new printing technologies will be of interest primarily to historians and people in the industry."

Doesn't that sound as if it's just the book for us?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Stand And Deliver


I can take time travel books or leave them. The mechanics of getting a character from one time period to another require a willing suspension of disbelief that I can only muster up if there's a good story to go along with it. Jack Bolt and the Highwaymen's Hideout by Richard Hamilton did the trick for me. And, according to its publisher, it's written for 7- to 9-year olds, making it a book for that younger reader I've been so interested in this past year.

Jack Bolt is visiting Granny when Lord Henry Vane, gentleman highwayman, and his sidekick cut through the wall, thinking they've merely found some kind of hiding place off a room that no longer exists in Jack's time. When they learn they've been transported 150 years into the future, they couldn't be happier. What better place to store loot than the future?

Fortunately, Lord Henry is, as I said, a gentleman highwayman. He's also one of those colorful, over-the-top characters who sometimes appear in children's books. While kid characters should be the center of attention in children's fiction, these adult scene-stealers work if they are somewhat child-like themselves. And poor Lord Henry is. He's a Prodigal Son who turned to robbing after he spent all his inheritance. The guy lives with his old nanny.

Lord Henry comes forward into the future, where he is an entertaining fish-out-of-water. Jack goes backward into the past, where he helps Lord Henry clean up his act.

The book has plenty of illustrations, a good adventure, and, best of all, there doesn't appear to be any chance of a sequel.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Three Weeks From Today

Oops. I almost forgot to remind you about the Book Giveaway for A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers. You have three weeks left to enter.

I'm accumulating a nice assortment of e-mails from possible winners. What I particularly like is that most of them are from people I'm not familiar with. This is great. It's nice to have friends read my blog, but it's even nicer to know that new people are reading me.

If you're a reader--a newbie or an old faithful--who hasn't commented or made your presence known, don't feel shy about entering for a chance to win a copy of Three Robbers. Writers want to hear from people like you.

A Round Up For Younger Readers

Seven Imps has a post up on books for younger readers. They point out that these books are called different things by different publishers and may even be directed toward slightly different markets. This may be why they don't get more attention--They aren't easily defined the way middle grade and YA fiction is.

Note that D. M. Cornish of Monster Blood Tattoo fame has illustrated one of these books. I have noted it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Gone In Seventy-two Hours--An Author's Point Of View

Have you heard about the concerns regarding KidsBookBuzz.com, a new business, I guess, that will organize blog tours for authors? (Though I'm having trouble finding real information about fees.) From what I can make out from the website, KidsBookBuzz gets paid a fee, and the bloggers it organizes receive free books.

One of the worries voiced regarding this set up is that the bloggers are, in a sense, getting paid to review, that author/publishers are buying reviews. I think a bigger concern is that bloggers aren't getting paid to review. The administrator gets a fee, but the bloggers get only the same book print reviewers receive. Print reviewers are paid--by the journals they work for, not the author/publisher of the book they're reviewing. So while there is definitely the appearance of buying reviews with KidsBookBuzz, the actual reviewer won't be receiving any cold, hard cash. I respect the entrepreneurial spirit, but something doesn't seem quite right here.

That's no skin off my back, though, is it?

No, I have a totally different concern. The KidsBookBuzz website says, "There is another kind of blog tour–the kind we do here–where we have fifty or more bloggers all linking to the same book for two or three days in a row...
This kind of saturation creates a different kind of buzz than the leisurely blog tour where you visit one blog a day. It’s like the difference between several weeks of light rains in the morning and one day of hurricane rains. Which one do you notice? We need the constant light rain, and we’d notice if we didn’t get it, but the hurricane often receives more attention on the evening news."


It's that three-day saturation business that bothers me because I feel book publishing is already way too much like opening weekend for movies. Realistically speaking, a new book has a limited window for getting attention, just a couple of months before publication date and maybe a month or two after. I've read articles in which publicists have advised authors who were looking for attention for a book that came out a few months earlier to give it up and get started on another project. Publishers are worrying about the next catalog. In July reviewers are thinking about books that are coming out in the fall. For spring authors, it is over.

The print journals have to run after the next new thing because that's their mandate. They are supposed to provide information for their readers on what's coming up.

But the blogosphere was a wild frontier where books from last spring, from last year, or from any time in the past were discussed. Readers were reminded of books they'd forgotten or never even heard of. Here in the blogosphere you never knew what you were going to find, but you knew you'd find something besides what everyone else was talking about.

These three-day blog blitzes will make the blogosphere just like the carbon-based world where everyone runs after the next new thing. Only a print journal hangs around for a month. The blog tours will be gone in 72 hours, and everyone will be on to something else. Three-day blog tours will actually speed up the process of being promoted and then forgotten about.

This is not a good thing for writers. I want people to be discussing my books for seven days, not three. To be perfectly honest, I want people to be discussing my books for seven weeks, seven months, seven years. But I'm very much afraid that if these three-day publicity blitzes take off, we'll all be seeing tinier and tinier openings for promotion.

And, believe me, the openings are already tiny enough.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Forget About Summer Vacation And Start Planning For Fall

If you're a resident of that area vaguely known as southern New England, you might want to mark your calendars so you won't miss the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature in Westport, Connecticut on October 23, 24, and 25. This year the Festival will feature picture book authors, including Grace Lin and Mo Willems.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

48 Hour Book Challenge--The Final Summary

Number of Books Read: 8
Number of Pages Read: 1,580
Number of Hours Spent Reading: 22 and 3/4
Number of Hours Spent Blogging: 2 hours and 25 minutes

Someone here is disappointed that I didn't make 24 hours of reading. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's never what you did. It's what you could have done.

This was a satisfying Book Challenge. I feel steeped in the short story. In fact, last week before I even started reading short stories I spent some time reading about writing them in What If? to sort of prepare myself for my weekend.

I'm not sure that I've actually learned anything, though I am very aware that the YA or kidlit short story writer should be concerned with making her piece not just a good short story but good YA/kidlit fiction as well. I just don't know how exactly I should go about doing that.

Nonetheless I'm feeling good tonight.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Eight


Well, folks, I ran out of books of short stories and the one book of essays (my secondary theme for this weekend) I found looked way too long and dull for me to finish before my time is up. So I took a chance on The Quikpick Adventure Society by Sam Riddleburger, which I sprang for a few weeks ago since it wasn't turning up in any libraries around here.

It's too bad it isn't in the local libraries, because it's really good. And different. In a good way.

I had been anxious about reading it because its author stops by my blog occasionally, and I was worried I wasn't going to like his book. I'd heard that the word "poop" appears numerous times in this story of three kids who head out on a quest to visit a sewage treatment plant on Christmas Day. I have no objection to the concept of poop, but I find the word, itself, way too cute. As I've been pointing out to friends and family for years, I am not a woman who does cute.

Well, the word doesn't appear all that often when you consider what a large place sewage has in the story.

Don't think for a minute that this is a tale that panders to young peoples' taste for toilet humor. On the contrary, it's a charming and funny story about three kids who are old enough to be out from under their parents' watchful eyes but still young enough to get psyched over the prospect of free soda. The first person narrator has a wonderful voice. It's the voice of innocence, I decided. His little asides in his report on the Society's adventures are his way of making sure all the truth gets out, and truth sometimes is funny.

So are the poop haiku. None of those short stories I read this weekend made me laugh the way those things did.

There's a lot more going on in this book than just excrement jokes. Riddleburger hits on some of the same things other kids' authors have been covering--friendship, attraction to girls, fitting in--he just makes you feel as if you're not reading the same old, same old. The fact that he can write about WalMart without getting all high and mighty suggests that this man has a future in literature.

I can't wait to pass this book on to BDT for his classroom library.

Reading Time: 1 and 1/4 hours

Number of Pages: 127

Blogging Time: 25 minutes

It's 11 PM. My 48 hours will be over at 7 tomorrow morning. I think it's time for me to call this a weekend. I'll total up my reading and blogging times tomorrow.

48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Seven


I've been on the fence regarding Avi. Years ago I liked his Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? a lot, but other books not so much. Some time ago I read another themed anthology in which his offering was the stand-out by far.

His stories in Strange Happenings, Five Tales of Transformation are all quite good, too--well written, and some of them are very original. Being tales of transformation, they definitely have the change element that is required of short stories.

Some of these are what I think would be called fairy tales, something I don't usually care for. A couple of them don't have child characters. I don't know much about fairy tales or why they are so attractive to children. Perhaps there is some kind of change aspect to fairy tales, and kids, who are going to change, connect for them for that reason. This book is from the library's kids' room, not the teen room, and the stories do seem like good quality work for children.

Reading Time: 1 and 1/2 hours

Number of Pages: 147

Blogging Time: 15 minutes

48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Six


Well, Thirteen, edited by James Howe, is no Necessary Noise, I'm afraid. This book describes itself as being "Thirteen stories that capture the agony and ecstasy of being thirteen," but a lot of the agony and ecstasy covered is pretty stereotypical early-teen angst. (Though I do understand that one person's stereotype is another person's classic situation.) And a lot of the writing of that stereotypical material isn't handled in unique or elegant ways. I have to admit, I had to skim at least a couple of these offerings. One of the stories sounded very much like a video you might see in health class.

Some of my favorites, though, were Thirteen and a Half, Rachel Vail's hysterical piece about exposing the young to death (though I wonder if teen readers will appreciate it as much as I did; I also wonder if there's something wrong with me because I laughed); Jeremy Goldblatt Is So Not Moses, a different approach to the teen uniformity story, both in terms of content and structure, by James Howe, and Angel & Aly, by Ron Koertge, in which we get the parents-don't-pay-enough-attention-to-their-children story without feeling we're being lectured on parenting.

Reading Time: 3 and 1/2 hours

Number of Pages: 278

Blogging Time: 15 minutes

Can I knock off another book before I pass out tonight? Let's see!

48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Five


I finished Necessary Noise (Michael Cart, editor) at 9:30 this morning. Then I had to take five hours off to frolic in the woods. I did refuse to drive to and from the event so I could read 60+ pages of book six, and now I'm back in Book Challenge mode until 7 AM tomorrow morning.

I read one of Michael Cart's anthologies a few years back and liked it. This book, too, has a lot of high quality writing. (Though there is one story I found quite dreadful. But I won't dwell on that.) The variety of subject matter/content here makes for good reading, too. Also, I can see the change thing going on in many of these pieces.

Once again, though, I have to wonder if some of these things are specifically YA. Visit by Walter Dean Myers is fantastic but written from an adult's point of view. A Woman's Touch by Rita Williams-Garcia, also very good, is told from a child's point of view (I can't recall exactly what age), and I can certainly imagine a teenager reading it. But I can also imagine adults reading it in an adult literary journal. It deals with a boy whose mother has moved the family in with her quite butch girlfriend, a woman who is willing to take on the traditional responsibilities of father to this boy, which his biological father is shirking. Perhaps I felt that way because the irony of a woman accepting that role seems like something an adult would appreciate more than a young person. Or maybe the story isn't meant to be ironic at all. I liked Lois Lowry's Snowbound a lot, too, and can even imagine myself reading a novel about this family. But this story seemed very adult to me. It deals with an adult fear and while the point of view switches include the children's points of view, not enough.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with YAs reading adult fiction. They're supposed to. They're supposed to make the transition. But, you know me. I'm always struggling with definitions.

Reading Time: 3 hours

Number of Pages: 239

Blogging Time: 20 minutes

Friday, June 06, 2008

48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Four


I was quite blown away by Richard Peck's Introduction to his book Past Perfect, Present Tense, New and Collected Stories because in it he talks about short stories being about change and the meaning of epiphany in relation to short stories. Do you know how many years...decades...I was writing short stories before I learned either of those things? And here it is in a collection of stories for teenagers.

Though I enjoyed Peck's wry touches of humor, I wasn't as entranced by his actual short stories. Until, that it, I stumbled upon I Go Along. A page or so into the story I recognized it as one I had already read and loved. I'm guessing ten to twelve years ago I came upon it in another collection of short stories (probably Connections) in our middle school library. That's how long I've been reading YA and younger short stories. For what good it's done me.

Anyway, I Go Along is a fine example of epiphany at it's best.

Also, at the end of the book Peck gives Five Helpful Hints (for writing). Hint #4 is about voice. Peck says, "This isn't television. Characters aren't identified by sight but by sound. Particularly in a short story, every word they speak needs to sound like the speaker and move the story along."

I think he makes a good point about voice moving a story along. Voice doesn't exist just for it's own sake. Like everything else in a story, it's supposed to be there for a reason.

Reading Time: 3 and 1/2 hours

Number of Pages: 177

Blogging Time: 20 minutes

48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Three

When I go on these study binges what often happens is that I find myself more and more confused as I am exposed to more and more information.

Book Number Three was Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes. Now I don't know a lot about Gothic literature, though I've certainly read some over the years. In her introduction, Noyes raises the question of whether or not a gothic story is a horror story. I had thought they were dark and creepy but within reality--freaky old houses, mysterious older men, damsels in distress, dark secrets. Noyes says that "...it's probably more accurate to think of gothic as a room within the larger house of horror...In horror stories, the boundaries between innocence and malevolence are often clearly marked in blood. In the gothic, evil frequently triumphs; beauty certainly fades; monks may be wicked and thrive; murderers can and do claim the moral high ground."

It's almost as if there's more justice and closure in horror than in gothic.

Many of these stories in Gothic! did seem like horror or ghost stories to me. That's not to say they were bad. I had just never thought of gothic stories in terms of that, and now I have to.

Regarding the business of whether or not something happens in these stories that changes the protagonist, which is supposed to be the mark of a short story: Well, if you're alive at the beginning and dead at the end, I guess that's a change. If you have a face at the beginning, and you don't at the end, that's a change I suppose.

We these stories, since they are supposed to be YA (in the introduction Noyes says as much), you have to consider what makes them YA. Is it just a teenage protagonist? Or should a gothic story have something thematically about it that makes it YA?

I don't know. This is what I mean by becoming more confused.

I think the best story in terms of being both what I think of as gothic and what I think of as YA is Gregory Maguires' The Prank.

Reading Time: 4 hours

Number of Pages: 234

Blogging Time: 25 minutes

48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Two


I remember ripping through books during Year One of the Book Challenge. Things seem to be going much more slowly this time around.

I read one or two of Jack Gantos's collections of Jack Henry stories years ago and definitely admired them. Today I read Jack Adrift and feel the same way. Gantos writes short stories readers of any age can enjoy.

Most of these short stories, while interconnected, also fit the classic description of a short story in that something happens to the main character that changes him. I think reading these in the class room would give students a pretty good idea of what a short story should be.

One of the things I like about the Jack Henry books is that the parents are struggling yet not dysfunctional. They aren't a sitcom couple, but they're there for their kids.

Reading Time: 3 hours

Number of Pages: 197

Blogging Time: 10 minutes

48 Hour Book Challenge--Book One


Many books of short stories for kids and young adults are "themed books," meaning someone came up with an idea for a book of short stories and then contacted some writers to ask them to write on that theme. Well, Friends, edited by Ann M. Martin and David Levithan, is one of those. It describes itself as "Stories About New Friends, Old Friends, And Unexpectedly True Friends," but it doesn't actually use the term "short stories" anywhere.

That sounds as if I'm nitpicking, but some of these things read like memoirs--memoirs that were dashed off quickly between other writing jobs. Some of the pieces here come across as just telling what happened to me without much filtering or shaping into a piece of literature. Most of the memoir-type pieces don't come off very well, except for Virginia Euwer Wolff's Doll, which is excellent.

Among the better short stories are Shashikala: A Brief History of Love and Khadi by Tanuja Desai Hidier (though it may be a little too sophisticated and difficult for younger readers), The Wild Prince by Brian Selznick, and Flit by Patrick Jennings. I think kid readers would probably find Flit to be the best fit for them.

The reviews at Amazon describe this book as being for the upper elementary grades or middle school students.

Reading Time: 3 Hours

Number of Pages: 181

Blogging Time: 15 minutes

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The 48 Hour Book Challenge

For me the 48 Hour Book Challenge starts tomorrow at 7:00 AM.

I have found the Book Challenge is much more satisfying if I have a theme. Last year I just read off my "To Read" shelves and basket. Not so great as the first year when I read titles I'd collected that were related to magical realism.

So this year I'm reading collections of juvie and YA short stories and the one book of essays for kids that I found. I'm interested in short stories and essays because those are what kids are asked to write in school. Yet I'm not aware of kids being assigned a lot of short stories and essays to read. So I want to see what's out there.

Plus I'm interested in writing short stories and essays for adults, and I have this project in mind for flash fiction for kids. So I'm hoping all this reading will be improving.

I'm also hoping you'll hear from me a couple of times tomorrow as I start knocking off books.

Free Books

The official publication date for A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers is a month from today. That means it's time to give away books!

Go to my homepage to learn how you can win one of the three copies of Three Robbers that I'll be giving away on the 4th of July.

Win a book for yourself, your kids, your school, your local library, your favorite teacher's classroom collection, your school or church fundraiser...There are so many things you can do with a free book.

Kids under the age of thirteen should enter with the consent of a parent, teacher, or some kind of guardian. Because, you know, I am a stranger. Technically.

So go ahead and start entering so you have a chance of celebrating Three Robbers' big day.

I'm also going to be doing a blog tour the week of publication, and I'm going to try to come up with some Three Robbers- or writing process-related material for my blog that week, too.

Oh, yeah. We're going to be festive around here.

Funny And A Real Story, Too


Spunky eleven-year-old characters who save the world can be really annoying, particularly when they have cutie bizarre names like Gratuity. But Gratuity Tucci of The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex transcends her stereotype. She really is tough, funny, and engaging. Even the alien she runs into on her way to the human compound down in Florida can't get enough of her.

Smekday is both funny and scary, a marvelous combination in my humble opinion. Plus it doesn't skimp on a real story in order to crack jokes.

Gratuity is growing up with a somewhat dotty single mom, which explains why she is a little more capable than the average eleven-year-old. Mom is kidnapped by aliens just before they take over the Earth. All Americans are going to be rounded up and sent to Florida because the Boov overlords are colonizing the planet. Instead of heading out by way of Boov transportation, Gratuity decides to drive herself. Her poor driving skills are compensated for by the fact that no one else is on the road because civilization has fallen. (Plus, she's right when she says it should be a relatively easy trip--from Pennsylvania, which is where she's starting, I believe you're on the same highway all the way to Florida.)

Young Gratuity runs into a Boov on the lam from his own people. (We find out why--important plot point.) From there on, we've got a highly entertaining road story. It's sort of like The Defiant Ones without the chain and with plenty of sly and not so sly humor.

The Boov takeover of Earth is definitely supposed to be compared to the European takeover of the New World. The line between an interesting analogy and a pretentious, heavy-handed allegory is very fine, and in a few places Rex teeters along it. But he always manages to save himself, in large part because of Gratuity and J.Lo, two marvelous characters.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Does Anyone Else See A Joke About Listening To Poetry As Punishment In All This?

My Aunt Tessy, who was the first generation of Gauthiers to work at Middlebury College's Bread Loaf Campus kitchen, was outraged when she heard about the vandalism at the nearby Robert Frost home last winter. I think she may have actually seen the inside of the place, whereas I only walked up the road to the yard. I may have looked into some windows once. I did help prepare the food for the annual picnics held there a few times, though. That's kind of a connection to a famous place, isn't it?

Aunt Tessy may have actually heard Robert Frost speak once, which would explain why she got so much more hopped up about this than I did.

Anyway, part of the miscreants' punishment is to take classes on Frost's poetry. Man, I bet they're sorry now. Nothing could be worth having to listen to poetry.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Romance Of Books

Colleen at Chasing Ray did a post a few days ago that referred to someone's personal library. Just now I finished reading The Book Collection That Devoured My Life in The Wall Street Journal.

Both pieces reminded me that I'm not that into books as material objects anymore.

Oh, the house is full of them. We probably have thousands because we have two collectors living here. (Don't look at me.) We have built-in bookcases along each side of the fireplace, and we have close to seventy-five feet of shelving for books in the office, not counting the bookcase filled double deep with Star Trek novels. My "To Read" area includes two shelves and a basket.

I live with a lot of books when you consider that I'm an excellent library patron.

As I've probably said here before, owning books is a lot of work. They get dusty. They get mildewy. They turn brown. Does no one else notice any of that? Seriously, I'm not that clean a person. I can't believe it doesn't bother other people.

Or perhaps they're much better housekeepers than I am.

We have elderly relatives who are always giving me books they've been hoarding, sometimes for half a century. The ones I keep have to be aired outdoors for weeks before they can be put on a shelf. We're going to start bagging and freezing them in hot, humid weather to try to get rid of the nasty things they've acquired over the years.

Many times we have to make the tough decision to toss books that should have been sent on to that library in the sky back in, maybe, 1977. Or even 1955. Outdated technical books may have value to someone, but not anyone I know.

When I was a redneck child growing up in my scenic little hilltown, I dreamed of having a library. I can remember the satisfaction I felt starting it with a few Nancy Drews and maybe a Trixie Beldon. Every spring my sisters and I would spend a few days working on a treehouse out in the woods. It was going to have multiple stories, one of which was going to be a library.

Once I owned a great many books, they lost their fascination as objects. Familiarity breeds contempt, I guess. I can still recognize that they're lovely, but quite honestly I don't reread that often. I have three John Cheevers that I don't think I've cracked in twenty-five years. Come on. Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year. Am I ever going to have time to reread my entire set of The Forsythe Saga?

Over time, I've come to realize that I'm a process person. I'm not interested in owning books, anymore. I just want to read them.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Carnival News

The latest Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Here in the Bonny Glen. Two posts that popped out at me:

Into the Wardrobe's interview with Katie Davis. I met Katie very briefly--just long enough to shake hands--last month.

In Need of Chocolate's post on Gone-Away Lake, which I read a couple of months ago.

Lucky Number Seven

Books Together has just been added to the line-up for my Three Robbers blog tour. Anamaria, who posts at Books Together, is a member of the SCBWI. She's writing but not yet submitting.

So consider who will have a hand in this discussion of chapter books:

June 29th A children's author who is writing but not yet submitting.

June 30th A children's author who has published his first book. (Sam and I are both published by divisions of the Penguin Group.)

So those two bloggers may be covering the subject from a writer's angle or, you could say, a pre-publication angle. But we'll see what happens. It's sort of up to them.

Then we'll have:

July 1 Two librarians.

July 2 A literacy advocate.

July 3 A publisher of an on-line children's literature journal.

July 4 An education professor.

July 5 A librarian.

All those people may be covering the subject from the post-publicaton angle. So, you could say, we may end up going from the act of creating a chapter book to what you do with a chapter book once it's done.

Do you see how linear that is? Have I ever mentioned here that, when I'm actually organized and on task, I crave linearity?