Saturday, April 28, 2012

My Favorite Verse Novels, Part Two: BECAUSE I AM FURNITURE


From the back of the book:
Anke's father is abusive to her brother and sister. But not her. Because to him, she is like furniture--part of the background, invisible. Then Anke makes the school volleyball team.
As Anke learns to call for the ball on the court, she finds a voice that she never knew she had. For the first time, Anke is making herself seen and heard, working toward the day that she will be able to speak up loud enough to rescue everyone at home--including herself.
 I love this book, first of all, because of the writing. Thalia Chaltas' use of language is vivid and breathtaking. In one poem I am blown away by her imagery:
bouncing through the neon rays of sunset

In the next I am shocked by the horrors she is able paint with so few words:
and for his own reasons
goes to my sister's room 
before he goes
to his own bed.

I was also struck by the contrasts in Anke's story. At home, she lives in fear for her sister and brother and in fear that her father will notice her. But at the same time, she is jealous. She wants her father's attention and wonders if something, even if it is horrible, is better than nothing.

BECAUSE I AM FURNITURE is hard to read, but even harder to put down. Even my second time reading this book, I could hardly stop. I was completely captivated by Anke's story, and the journey she takes to finally get to a place where she can speak out.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

National Poetry Month bullets

  • I am going to begin reading BECAUSE I AM FURNITURE today. I've read it before, but I decided to read it again during poetry month. This will be my third verse novel read during the month of April.
  • I checked out two poetry collections from the library yesterday. Maybe I can get my kids (even the two teenagers) to sit down and listen to me read some of Jack Prelutsky's THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN RIDES TONIGHT.
  • Check out my guest post over at Caroline by Line, in which I share how I came to know and love the verse novel.
What about you? Read any good poems or verse novels lately?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Author Interview: Caroline Starr Rose

A big welcome to Caroline Starr Rose, author of the historical novel in verse, May B (Schwartz and Wade, January 2012). I read this book as part of Caroline's National Poetry Month challenge to read three verse novels during the month of April. It is a wonderful book and I recommend it for anyone who loves verse novels, and especially for anyone who has never dared try one before!

Now, on with the goods.

Tell us a little bit about your book, MAY B.

From the jacket flap:

I watch the wagon
until I see nothing on the open plain.  
For the first time ever,
I am alone. 

May is helping out on a neighbor’s homestead—just until Christmas, her pa promises. But when a terrible turn of events leaves her all alone, she must try to find food and fuel—and courage—to make it through the approaching winter. 

This gorgeous novel in verse by Caroline Starr Rose will transport you to the Kansas prairie—to the endless grassland, and to the suffocating closeness of the sod house where May is stranded. 

May’s eloquent yet straightforward voice, and her bravery, determination, and willingness to risk it all will capture your heart. 

What inspired you to write this book?

There are a couple of reasons I wanted to write May B.: I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series and wanted to create my own strong pioneer girl. I also was interested in creating a HATCHET-like survival story with a girl protagonist (and was fascinated by the challenge solitude would present in telling a story). Ultimately, though, I wanted to examine the concept of worth -- how so often who we are becomes based on what others tell us about ourselves or on what we’re able to do.

Like May, I think all of us in some way feel we don’t measure up. I hope many readers will be able to relate to and find confidence and courage from her story.

Do you have anything in common with your main character, May?

May is much braver than I! I wouldn’t have made it longer than a few days on my own. My experiences living overseas and then returning home have often left me as an outsider -- first in my new culture and then in my own. Maybe this is one thing May and I have in common -- lives where we’ve both been the different ones.

What is your writing process? Are you a “pantser” or a planner?

I’m a bit of both. I feel like I need to understand my protagonist and setting before I begin and need a general sense of the storyline. Everything is always subject to change!

How drastically did May’s story change between draft one and published book?
Without giving too much away, elements of the ending changed (or the steps in the third act that lead to the ending). I added more flashbacks to flesh out May’s school experiences and wrote more poems about her reading. My editor also suggested I add some sort of external conflict to help balance all the internal angst. That’s when the wolf came in.

I went through eight editorial rounds. So far, I hold a middle-grade record, from what I can tell!

Why the verse format?

Verse is something that found me. When I started working with May B., I was frustrated at the distance I felt between what I wanted to convey and what was actually on the page. I spent some time looking back over first-hand accounts of pioneer women and noticed in their writing the spare word choice and the matter-of-fact presentation of events (some mundane, some heartbreaking). With this in mind, I immediately wrote what is now poem 2 in May B., choosing to let the words and May’s bleak situation speak for themselves. The experience was magical; I’d felt like I’d found some hidden formula to finally tell the story in the most honest way possible.

Verse also worked as a way to show what May experienced when trying to decipher words. Using unconventional line breaks and running words together helped me, at least, see her struggles fully.

What is the biggest challenge in writing a verse novel?

Writing a verse novel is not a speedy endeavor. May B. has simultaneously been the most and least difficult book I’ve ever written. Once I found May’s voice, the writing was alive and real. Getting the words out, however, took hard work.

What is your favorite verse novel (besides your own)?

The first I ever read, Karen Hesse’s OUT OF THE DUST.

Any advice for aspiring verse novelists?

I’d encourage aspiring verse novelists to really pay attention to language -- the words that are fun to say, the words that are strange, the ones that grate, the ones that fly. Much of what I do is word play, honestly. I am telling a story by wringing everything out of the words I use.

Back in my teaching days, I used to tell my students poetry should be seen and heard. In order to appreciate and understand the art form most fully, it is helpful to see it and hear it at the same time. Poets use more than language to convey meaning; they use structure, too. Read your work aloud to get a sense of rhythm, flow, and meaning.

Do you have any other books forthcoming, or in the works?

I have a picture book called OVER IN THE WETLANDS coming out sometime in 2014. It follows animals of the Louisiana shoreline as they prepare for and withstand a hurricane. After Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill, the time felt right to showcase this part of the country, its unique flora and fauna, and (through the back matter), the problems with coastal erosion.

I’m also working on another historical verse novel and have some old manuscripts my agent and I are in various stages of reviving!

Thanks for hosting me today. :)

It was my pleasure, Caroline! I look forward reading more of your work in the future.

You can learn more about Caroline Starr Rose at her website, and you might want to follow her blog too!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

National Poetry Month progress

We're slightly more than halfway through National Poetry Month and I've read TWO novels in verse so far. I will be reading Because I am Furniture (technically re-reading) sometime this week and then sharing some thoughts on the book. I know you are all anxiously awaiting that post!

In the mean time, I hope you will come back tomorrow because I have a treat in store for you. An interview with Caroline Starr Rose. Do come back and check it out!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

National Poetry Month: Locomotion

The other day
I read a little book
about a little boy
coping with the challenges brought on by
a tragedy.
A fire
that ravaged his family

As I read
and learned
and grew
with that boy
I remembered being a little girl,
frightened because of
a fire
that burned in the attic,

It reminded me how easily
that night
could have turned out so very
and made me wonder if I
would have been as strong
as that little boy
in this little book
if our fires had turned out
the same.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Favorite Verse Novels, part one: Love that Dog

Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech, is the most wonderfully darling book I have ever read. It is the story of a boy named Jack who is struggling to learn to write poetry, and he finds that the best way to express himself through his poems is to dig down deep and write about his love for a small yellow dog.

I love this book because every little poem, every line in this book packs such a punch! I love how Sharon gets the story across so succinctly, with so few words. I love the imagery. I love that I feel emotionally connected to a little boy named Jack.

If you haven't read this book, you should. If you have never read a novel in verse, if you never thought you would enjoy a novel in verse, you should begin with this one. Maybe you will fall in love with it, like I did. And then read its sequel, Hate that Cat. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

National Poetry Month: An Easter poem

In observance of Poetry Month, an acrostic to celebrate my risen Savior:

Eternal life is
A gift to all who believe in our
Everyone about the

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

National Poetry Month: MAY B.

On Sunday I moseyed over to our local independent book store and bought their last copy of May B., a historical novel in verse by Caroline Starr Rose. I finished it that night.

I am not always good at articulating why I love a book, but I do love (yes, LOVE) May B. 

The story is engrossing, the voice compelling. But what I loved most about it was the main character, May B. She just seemed so...real. And isn't that how we all want our characters to be?

I wonder what we can expect next from Caroline Starr Rose. You can bet I will be waiting for her next book!