Thursday, April 17, 2014

National Poetry Month: GONE FISHING review

The first verse novel I picked up this month is Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger. In this middle grade book, Sam is excited to go fishing with his Dad, just the two of them. So, when his sister ends up tagging along at the last minute, he is sure the day will be ruined.

Here is an excerpt from the back of the book:

For fishing tomorrow
it's just us two.
Not mom, not Grandpa
                           not Lucy.
It'll be like playing catch or
painting the garage.
Just Dad and me.

This book is an absolute joy to read. It's a simple story about family relationships and trying to catch just one keeper! What I love most about this book is the variety of poetic forms Ms. Wissinger uses to tell Sam's story. Free verse, list poems, haiku, and so many more. Rhyming and non-rhyming. It's arranged a bit like a collection of poems, and each poem could be enjoyed on its own, but together they tell a charming, satisfying story. The book is filled with fun illustrations by Matthew Cordell.

Gone Fishing is perfect for young reluctant readers, those who are interested in exploring poetry (check out THE POET'S TACKLE BOX at the end), anyone who wants a quick light read, and those, young and old, who simply enjoy this poetic form of storytelling.

A must-have for any poetry-lover's library.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Love This Book!

As my first post for National Poetry Month, here is an excerpt from one of my favorite middle grade verse novels:
made my ears frizzle
All that buzz buzz buzz
pop! pop!
drip and tinkle and trickle--
the sounds are still
buzzing and popping
in my head.
from HATE THAT CAT by Sharon Creech

I love HATE THAT CAT just as much as I love the book that came before it, LOVE THAT DOG. In this book, Jack explores poetry once again, sharing about his "hatred" for a mean black cat, and his surprise as a small black kitten creeps into his heart, and his love for his mother. The plot is simple, but the voice draws me in and tugs at my heart strings.


Monday, March 31, 2014

National Poetry Month begins TOMORROW

Okay, I know I'm a bit of a blogging slacker. But I have a great excuse this time! And that excuse is SPRING BREAK. Two spring breaks, actually. One week for my kids that are in middle and high school, and one week for my daughter who is a freshman in college.

So yeah. The past two weeks have been spent primarily hanging out with my kids. Especially the college kid. I didn't write much. I didn't clean much. I didn't DO much besides whatever it was that my kids wanted to do.

BUT tomorrow is April 1st. For some, that may mean plotting evil tricks to play on their loved ones. Like putting salt in Dad's coffee or tricking Mom into believing there is mouse poop in the silverware drawer. For me, though, April 1st means the beginning of National Poetry Month! I love April because it gives me an excuse to subject my family to poetry readings, buy a couple new verse novels, write poetic (rhyming or not) blog posts, and generally share my love for the beautiful thing that is POETRY both online and in real life.

My plans for this month:

  • Read at least two new verse novels (from this list, maybe?)
  • Explore a few new forms of poetry
  • Have a poetry party with my family
  • Share excerpts of favorite poems on my blog, twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Write at least four blog posts, verse style
What about you? Any plans for promoting a passion for poetry this April? 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Manuscripts and Kneadable Erasers

The other day, as I was clearing out the area in which I keep all my artsy-craftsy stuff, I discovered an old, neglected kneadable eraser. The eraser was in a sorry state of stiffness, nearly stone-like in its inflexibility. Useless.

Or was it?

Something in me saw potential in the hardened lump I held in my hand. So rather than toss it into the garbage bag, I set to work on it. My warm, practiced hands pulled at it, stretched it out, rolled it on the desk, ripped it into smaller pieces, and put those pieces back together again. When the work was done, and my fingers were sufficiently sore and tenderized, the once useless eraser was as good as new.

That is how a manuscript can be. Sometimes when a story seems useless, what it needs most is to be ripped apart and put back together again. With an eraser, it will still look like a little gray lump. But it'll work. With a story, it may not be recognizable as the same story when I come back to it. But if it works, if it does what it was originally meant to do, then all the tugging and ripping and piecing back together will be more than worth the struggle.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Why Picture Books are Worth Their List Price

Recently I was talking about my book deal with a friend. She talked about how happy she was for me, and how much she loves picture books, and how she can't wait to buy WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? when it hits the shelves some time next summer. BUT, she also lamented about how expensive picture books are. How she hates spending $18 on a children's book ("...but I will for yours!" she assured me).

I appreciate her enthusiasm for my forthcoming book. But her attitude toward picture books concerns me because it seems to be so common. Friends, family, even book bloggers lament the same issue: picture books are too expensive.

And yet these same people don't seem to give the list price much thought as they run out the door (or navigate to their favorite online bookseller) to buy the new Nicholas Sparks or Janet Evanovich.

Why is that?

Well, because picture books are so short, of course. And they're for kids! And they only take five minutes to read!

Let me pause for a second and say that I totally get that picture books can be pricey. When my kids were little, I bought a lot of paperbacks and didn't hesitate to check the bargain shelves and used book stores. I wanted my kids to have a lot of books and I couldn't afford to buy them all in their glorious, shiny-new hardcover forms. The same has remained true as my kids have grown up and their book needs have changed. We can't always afford the beautiful new hardcover. We buy paperbacks and bargain books and search yard sales and used book stores for our literary treasures. But new hardcovers are the best, and we buy them as often as we can. And yes, that includes picture books.

Because picture books are awesome, and they are worth every penny you spend for them. Even if it is $17.99 plus tax!

You don't want to take my word for it? Then let me convince you!

Why Picture Book are Worth Their List Price:

  • The most important reason is that picture books are often a child's first introduction to the world of books and reading. Fostering a love for reading is one of the most important ways we can help our kids to be happy and successful in school and in life.
  • Picture books encourage family togetherness. Bedtime stories, curling up on the couch on a rainy afternoon, reading with a flashlight inside a blanket fort--these are some of children's (and parents') best moments and fondest memories.
  • They can teach kids so much about the world around them, often without this as their primary focus.
  • Picture books can be fun!
  • They can be sad, or poignant, or educational while still entertaining their audience.
  • Picture books encourage diversity.
  • And free thinking!
  • And creativity!
  • A favorite picture book will be read over and over, often to the point of it falling apart.
  • Picture books are accessible for reluctant readers.
  • They are works of art.
  • They can be shared easily.
  • They may be short, but authors often spend months or years perfecting picture book text.
  • And illustrators spend months and months bringing them to life with pictures.
  • And, of course, they make PERFECT gifts!
So, there you have it. The next time you see that scary little dollar sign on the inside jacket flap of a beautiful, shiny-new picture book, remember what it is you are really paying for. That picture book just might brighten a child's world, and your own along with it!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Diversity in Fiction: Don't Force It

Did you ever see the movie Bedtime Stories, starring Adam Sandler? There is a scene in the movie that shows the main character, Skeeter, saying good night to his niece and nephew. The kids want him to read them a story, so he takes a look at the books that are sitting on the end of the bed. "What do ya got here anyways?" he asks. "RAINBOW ALLIGATOR SAVES THE WETLANDS? Uh, no. ORGANIC SQUIRREL GETS A BIKE HELMET?" Skeeter then sets the books down and exclaims, "I'm not reading these communist books to you guys! Don't you got any real stories?" 

It's a funny moment because, of course, the books are ridiculous. Not because they are about saving the wetlands or wearing a bike helmet, but because they were obviously written to teach specific lessons.

And that is a big fiction writing no-no! 

An author's job isn't to teach lessons, but to write good stories, with complex characters and interesting plots, with layers of meaning and plenty of character-development. Stories that explore what it means to be good or bad or young or old or black or white or male or female or just plain human! Stories that can teach us something about ourselves or (and!) others.

They do this by telling a story and letting the lesson unfold naturally on its own.

People talk about this a lot concerning picture books especially. "Don't write just to teach a lesson!" we picture book authors hear over and over. And rightly so.

But this is just as true of other works of fiction. 

As a reader, I don't want to read a book about addiction if it was written just to show how terrible addiction is. I don't want to read a story about abuse if it was written just to raise awareness about abuse. I don't want to read a story about discrimination if the point is just to teach me how bad bigotry is.

And yet, I see many authors talking about how important diversity is in fiction. And I don't disagree. But the online chatter (on tumblr, twitter, and in blog posts) about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., from fellow authors almost seems as if they are telling me to purposely put more diverse characters into my stories.

But guess what? I don't want to write with an agenda. I want to write the stories that come to me, as they come to me, without wondering if my characters are diverse enough.

So that is what I will continue to do. When a plot concept nags at me, or a new character whispers in my ear, or a situation inspires a series of "what-ifs," I will do what I have always done. I will write. I won't force anything into it.

I will let the story be what it will be.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In Celebration of NOT Meeting Expectations

The year 2013 did not meet my expectations.

You may have read this New Year's Day blog post, in which I talked about how I didn't expect 2013 to be much different than 2012.

I was wrong. So many things that I have been working toward for years finally came to fruition in 2013. Signing that book contract, accepting an offer from an agent, winning NaNoWriMo for the first time. Lots of exciting things have happened in my life over the past 12 months!

And yet, life goes on as it always has. I am the same happy, content person that I was at the end of 2012. A little older, a little wiser, maybe a little more rounded (or is that rounder?).

It has been a good year, filled with mostly ordinary moments, but textured with milestones which make 2013 one of my most memorable. So far.

Thanks for journeying with me for the past twelve months! To celebrate the end of 2013, here is a little photographic glimpse into my life for the past year: