October 2016 Archives

Towers Falling

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

towers-falling-book.pngTowers Falling (Little, Brown and Company, 2016) by Jewell Parker Rhodes is such a good book. Kids born after 9/11 don't know the stories and don't know why they should care.

Fifth grader Dèja is having enough trouble in her life without worrying about something that happened before she was born. She's starting a new school, she and her family are living in a shelter, and Pop won't get a job. How can Dèja's new teacher expect her to write about her summer vacation when her family has never had a vacation? How can Dèja fit in when all she knows is Brooklyn and not the stuff in Manhattan which the class can see from their window? And how can something that isn't there anymore affect any of the kids?

This is a moving and well-done story. Jewell is the author of Ninth Ward, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children's Book Award--I wouldn't be surprised to find Towers Falling wins awards, too! She's written many other books as well. For more details check out her website.



Your passion for the character

Your passion for the character has to be so deep that you make the reader passionate too.
Marion Dane Bauer

Public Speaking Phobia

cartoon-1300891_1280.jpgRecently I've seen a number of writers almost panicking about being asked to speak. I understand. I am an innately shy introvert. As a kid I wouldn't call the library to see if they were open. (Obviously before internet days.) I didn't take debate or go out for drama in high school. At church as an adult I remember reading a portion of a letter in front of the small congregation and afterwards being afraid I wouldn't be able to return to my seat as my knees were shaking so hard.

I think we approach public speaking all wrong. We're all storytellers. Who hasn't been with a group of friends, or at the dinner table, and told a funny story of something that happened that day? Or when someone else tells a story of a kid/pet/work, been able to contribute a story of your own? We share what excites us, amuses us, annoys us all the time.

Think of a funny story right now and tell it! Ack. The pressure's on. I'm writing this and I can't even come up with one! That's because it is a command performance. We think about public speaking as command performances. What if instead we thought of it as talking to friends? A conversation. A conversation with a focused topic.

No one knows your book(s) better than you. You know your process, your struggles, your successes, your mistakes. You know what motivated you to write. Those are things the friends in your prospective audience want to know. Those are things you can share.

"But I hate speeches!" So don't do a speech. There are other options. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Have someone interview you. Ask someone to collect questions from the audience ahead of time. Or create questions yourself. Or find a list of commonly asked author questions on the internet. In either case, take the questions, decide which ones you like and put those on your list. Order the questions in an order that makes sense to you. If there are questions that can be answered with "yes or no" mentally add "why?"
  2. Have a conversation. Ask the group a question or two. Answer too. For example, I started out writing magazine pieces, so when I went into a classroom, I asked, "Do you like to read magazines?" Of course, some of the students said yes or raised their hands. "What magazines do you like to read?" I called on specific kids. I told them magazines I like. Then I told them what I like about reading magazines. I explained the different ways magazines get their stories and articles. I might ask "What's the difference between a story and an article?" A student or two answers. I agree. I tell them what I like to write best. I might show them some of my stories or articles. Read one. I might ask if they've ever gotten a grade they weren't happy about on their writing. I tell them writers get rejections and explain how that feels like a failing grade.
  3. Do a reading from your book or a wip. Follow it up with an interview or Q&A.
  4. Do a show and tell with slides or PowerPoint. You can start with your bio. Students like seeing pictures of you when you were young, where you lived, where you write, your pets, etc. If you did research for your book, show pictures of places you went, stacks of books from the library, people you interviewed. Show them rejections. Read portions from discouraging ones and encouraging ones. Show them a stack of manuscript pages. Show them a critiqued page with writing all over it. Show them an editorial letter.
  5. Act it out. Have you ever acted out a scene from your story or done an action trying to figure out how to write it? Show the audience that process. Encourage them to try writing some action so others know what the action is. Or in a classroom have students act out various actions and see if the others can guess the action. (I've provided actions on strips of paper for kids to choose from.)

Wow, I've gone on much longer than I had intended. So next time, I'll talk about preparation and practice.

Writing is an act of

Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.
E.B. White

Writing fiction feels like an

Writing fiction feels like an adventurous act, nudging aside reality a word at a time.
James Van Pelt

Echo

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

ECHO-medal-693x1024.jpgEcho (Scholastic Press, 2015) by Pam Muñoz Ryan is a 2016 Newbery Honor book--my vote is for the top award as it is so amazing.

Four stories, four different time periods, different cultures, and a prophecy, a promise and a harmonica are all woven together in an unexpected way. Otto's story is very short, but it kicks off with mystery when he gets lost in the forest. He must pass the harmonica on at the right time. Over sixty years later we meet Friedrich struggling with hiding his birthmark in a country gone crazy labeling someone like him a defective--welcome to Nazi Germany. He finds and passes on the harmonica. Next we jump two years later to an orphanage for destitute children in Pennsylvania to be with Mike who is trying to make sure he and his little brother stay together . . . somehow. Again, the harmonica plays an important part. Seven years later we meet Ivy in California dealing with prejudice for her Hispanic background and another family's Japanese heritage. The harmonica comes to her, too.

Each of the three main stories were heart-jerking and so important for kids (and adults) today to hear. I love how the book is resolved. This really is a must read! (It's also a New York Times bestseller.)

The author is an eclectic writer with books in the following categories: novels, picture books, early readers, and short stories in anthologies. Learn more about her here.


Write Rewrite When not writing

Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.
Larry L. King

The Seventh Wish

theseventhw.jpgI've been a fan of Kate Messner's since I read The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, Her newest novel The Seventh Wish (Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2016) doesn't disappoint as it explores the old phrase of "be careful what you wish for."

Charlie Brennan is originally on the ice fishing to earn money for a fancy Irish dancing dress, but when she pulls up a magical talking fish, she starts wishing for a lot of different things. The wishes don't work out as Charlie had hoped. Then her life gets seriously messed up when her college age sister has a crisis that cancels her trip to the feis (dance competition.)

Readers will sympathize with twelve-year-old Charlie and enjoy meeting her friends and discovering their problems. Flour babies, anyone? I now know a lot more about ice fishing and Irish dance than I ever have before--love those bonuses when reading a story.

Sadly, this book experienced some censorship earlier this year. It blows my mind that it did. Here's an interview with Kate on the topic.

A fun place to visit on Kate Messner's website is her photo gallery. There you can see places where she did research, items she tasted or touched for research, and more.