Being the Red Carpet

Stack Conf 8_16I returned home from the 2016 SCBWI Conference loaded with memories, notes and a come-hither stack of books—lots with stickers on the covers. So far I’ve read seven of them and wanted to tell you about them pronto . . .

So much for pronto. Another week has flown by and I’ve read another book instead of writing. Too much longer and I’ll have to start reading them over again. So here goes.

 

Picture Books

Little Poems 4tinyLittle Poems for Tiny Ears, by Lin Oliver and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, was published by Penguin Books in 2014. I bought two copies—one for a baby due to enter the world right about . . . now

. . . and the other for my favorite one-year old. The poems read as if written with her in mind.

Titles include: “My High Chair,” “The Kitchen Drawer,” “My Daddy’s Beard,” which rhymes with weird.

I can’t wait to see which poems are her favorites.

As a plus, the book “Wraps itself” (helpful as I raced to mail one), and it has a page of stickers in the back.

crayons quitThe Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, and published by Penguin Young Readers’ Books in 2013, manages to be silly and universal. Most children, present and past, have had an intimate relationship with those inanimate objects, We can empathize with their point of view.

We knew the pain of watching our favorite colors grow too short to hold while the ones we didn’t like still had pointy tips. And we stripped and colored with the side of the colors we really, really needed for large areas so we didn’t have to miss recess to get the ocean or sky finished.

Once the paper sleeves were gone, lights colors like yellow left black or purple marks in the sun. Who ever heard of a purple sun?

my crayonsBoxes of more colors signaled more choice in life and often an increase in status. With the move from eight to sixteen colors, the crayons got thinner, more grown-up. We eyed the kids who had boxes of thirty-two wondering if we could talk our moms into an upgrade.

Some kids had boxes of sixty-four. Then we knew envy and felt the kids who had one hundred twenty-eight must be spoiled beyond belief.

The book is great fun although a little long. But each color’s letter of resignation can be read individually, and you’ll find your favorites.

Middle Grade

Monsters ringBruce Coville’s The Monster’s Ring, was originally published in 1982 and republished twenty years later by Random House Children’s Books. The book earned its staying power. Katherine Coville, his wife, is the illustrator.

Russell wants to turn the tables on a bully. Magic finds him one Halloween, and he makes the most of it—although he does forget his mom’s advice about always reading the directions first.

The book entertains and engages as it reveals a hidden layer. Russell learns something about himself and revenge.

Three Books with (Grown-up) Stickers

Teddy MarsMolly B. Burnham won this year’s Sid Fleishman Humor Award for Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker. The book was illustrated by Trevor Spencer and published by Harper Collins in 2015.

Like many kids, Teddy Mars obsesses about The Guinness Book of World Records. But who wants to merely be an observer of other people’s records? How hard could it be to set a record of your own?

The book opens on the third day of the school year. Sign or not? You decide.

 

A single shareI’ve never read a Linda Sue Park book I didn’t want to read again. A Single Shard, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2001, won the Newbery Medal in 2002. There is great emotional depth in this story about Tree-ear, an orphan in twelfth-century Korea. His dreams are bigger than finding enough to eat and a warm spot to survive the winter. Are they even possible for a boy with no family in a culture where occupations pass from father to son?

And don’t skip her acceptance speech for the Newbery at the front of the book.

 

 

Enchanted AirEnchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings, by Margarita Engle and published by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division in 2015, has three stickers on its cover: the Pura Belpre Award, The Golden Kite Award, and a finalist for Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction.

Is it a fascinating story, a book of poetry, History, an addition to diverse literature, or a memoir?

It manages to be all of the above.

Although considered Young Adult, I think older middle grade students would also be enchanted. And, for children who have lived the experience of being pulled by loyalty and love to two cultures, this could be one of those books that functions as an emotional lifesaver.

Young Adult

LegendLegend, written by Marie Lu and published by the Penguin Group in 2011, compels the reader to flip the page—repeatedly in this dystopian novel.

The two main characters, June and Day, are opposites in education, class, and loyalties in a polarized society.

But they are alike and evenly matched in so many other ways including their desires to serve something greater than themselves, protect the people they love, and to seek justice. But what those values mean to each of them puts them on opposing sides . . . and makes for a good read with more good news . . .  there’s a sequel!

97 candles

Ninety-seven pipe cleaner candles to celebrate the day!

In a recent span of fifteen days, my family celebrated three birthdays that spanned four generations and ranged from a first birthday to a ninety-seventh. I’m reminded that rarely does life offer us only one stage at a time.

Oh, and “being the red carpet’? The theme at the SCBWI conference this year was On the Red Carpet. The ball on Saturday always features a costume contest based on the theme. Here’s our San Diego group.

red carpets

We won the costume contest!!!

Ready . . .or Not

I was ready for a busy December. Wrote my post early in the month and told myself I’d do another as soon as the holidays were over.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how busy January became . . .Feb

or how packed with activity the first three weeks of February are.

As I write, roofers remove old shingles and mutter things about “worse than we thought.”

Worse than we thought too. We thought we’d fixed our weak spot before the El Nino storms. My husband patched this summer. For two days of rain we were snug and dry. But the roof was no match for the downpour on the third day.

Don’t you just hate finding your sewing nook transformed into a swamp?

Living stone succulent that just bloomed.

Living stone succulent that just bloomed.

A plumber also works today in our circa early 1900’s bathroom—a companion piece to the roof.

Water news from Southern California is never easy come, nor easy go. But we struggle on and are especially grateful for the roofers working today. It’s expected to get up to the high 80’s or 90’s (seriously? February?).

Hopefully, the next El Nino storm will be tracked inside only after it’s fallen to the ground.

And now to books. Yes, I’ve had time to do a little reading—not a lot, but some.

Year of the Tiger, by Alison Lloyd and published by Holiday House in 2010, is a middle grade novel set in the Han Kingdom of China with a bit of a Prince and the Pauper feel.

Year of TigerHu, a peasant boy, and Ren, the youngest son of a Commander of the Imperial Troops, were both born in the Year of the Tiger. Now, twelve years later, it’s again the year of the Tiger when they meet and slowly form a friendship.

In the first part of the book, I felt I was learning about life in ancient China from both noble and peasant perspectives. As the story progressed, the tension rose. While the troops and their conscripts, Hu’s father included, race to repair the Great Wall before barbarian troops can attack, the growing trust between Hu and Ren is destroyed. Will there ever be the opportunity for it to be rebuilt? At what cost?

About a month ago, I had the opportunity to hear Stephanie Diaz speak at a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting. She talked about world building for your novel. She’s an informative speaker and just an all-round appealing person.Extraction

She wrote her debut YA novel Extraction while a young adult herself. Talk about having your finger on the pulse of your intended audience! She had her first acceptance for publication when she was nineteen years old.

Clearly a writer to watch . . . and read.

So I bought a copy of Extraction, published in 2014 by St. Martin’s Griffin, and got started on the first book of the trilogy. Clementine lives on an earth that has been poisoned—an earth where safety lies deep in the crust rather than on the surface, an earth where children and young people do the labor that needs to be done above.

Clementine’s almost sixteen, the age when she will take a test to see if she’s smart/valuable enough to “extract” from the surface and take to the safety, privileges, and values of underground society. What does Clementine want?

This dystopian novel is a page-turner.

It brings to mind The Hunger Games for comparison. I kept trying to figure out why the writing made it impossible for me to put it down without quite pulling me all the way in. At the beginning, I thought maybe this world was, if possible, a little meaner than the Capitol and the Districts in The Hunger Games.

What I finally decided is, while Clementine has people she loves, there aren’t relationships with quite the same Katniss-Peeta bittersweetness or the Katniss-Prim and Katniss-Rue tenderness . . . yet.

But Diaz’s writing is solid and I can’t wait to read Rebellion and Evolution to see what Clementine does next and the way Stephanie Diaz grows as a writer.

Still more layers to go . . .

Still more layers to go . . .

P.S. The word about the roof is indeed worse than expected. So I’m soothing myself with Margot Zemach’s It Could Always Be Worse, published in 1976 by Harper Collins.Could Be Worse

So what do you see? A rose half-way at its peak or half-way gone? (It did this on its own and lasted several days like this. I didn't pull off petals.)

So what do you see? A rose half-way at its peak or half-way gone? (It did this on its own and lasted several days like this. I didn’t pull off petals.)

When a poor man can no longer stand his crowded, noisy home, he goes to the rabbi. The rabbi gives advice that only makes the situation worse. But by the end of the story the man’s crowded, noisy home seems like a peaceful retreat.

I’m working on a similar attitude adjustment—one that doesn’t require multiple farm animals.

Picture Book Blues

Even in a drought and after a hot summer and fall, you can find something in bloom in the garden. You might have to look high . . .

Even in a drought and after a hot summer and fall, you can find something in bloom in the garden. You might have to look high . . .

What to do with conflicting advice from fellow writers (all whose opinions’ I value) about whether to use the AAB pattern of a blues song or not in one of my manuscripts? Some love the rhythm and the capture of a blues flavor. Others think the repetition of lines will just sound weird to kids.

Normally, I would mentally pace between two or more versions while trying to come to a decision.

A novel idea surfaces. Actual research. How have other picture books handled this?

Presenting some library picture books I found wonderful and useful:

Everybody Gets the Blues, by Leslie Staub, illustrated by R.G. Roth, and published by Harcourt Children’s Books in 2012, has a good message. When he’s sad, a child is visited by the Blues Guy. They find other sad people and sing to help the others feel better. The child thus chases away his own blues.

Everybody BluesThe book doesn’t use the AAB blues pattern. Parts of the text rhyme and parts don’t; but after several readings I still didn’t find a pattern for the switch from rhymed to unrhymed. The shifts in rhythm threw me off as I read it aloud. Overall, I like the book and its message. The illustrations are terrific. If you read it to a child, I suggest practicing to get the pacing that feels right to you.

or low,

or low,

 

My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey, written by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, and published by Marshall Cavendish in 2011, is a biography told, for the most part, in the blues AAB pattern. Bearden was born in the early 1900’s in North Carolina, where his family faced discrimination. They moved to Harlem when Romare was three.

Hands Blues

 

The National Medal of Arts is one of the awards Bearden won in his lifetime. He was mainly known for his collages, one of which is incorporated into this book. This is a picture book for older children that connects to visual and performing arts, diversity, history, and good old inspiration.

 

 

Boycott BluesBoycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by her husband Brian Pinkney, and published by Greenwillow Books in 2008, is excellent—let me repeat, excellent.

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, she is threatened with Jim Crow’s “peck, peck, peck.” Look for the ways Jim Crow is described and illustrated in the book.

 

 

under fleshy succulent leaves

or under fleshy succulent leaves .

The text mixes an inspiring you-are-there quality with the history of the Montgomery bus boycott. “And fight we did. We fought a quiet fight. No slingshots. No weapons. Not even spitballs. We fought with our feet. We said if you don’t, we won’t . . . ride at all.” We, the readers, experience a taste of how long that year-plus felt to the people who walked, walked, walked.

The book doesn’t use the Blues pattern, but the rhythm carries the reader. I can’t think of one spot where I had to back up to adjust the flow. It’s worth your while to find this book.

Baby BluesBaby’s Got the Blues, written by Carol Diggory Shields, illustrated by Lauren Tobia, and published by Candlewick Press in 2014, is a total hoot.

Most books for children feature a protagonist the same age or a little older than the intended reader. A child the same age as the child in the book won’t understand the text but will enjoy the rhyme, rhythm and delight of the adult reader.

If you forget to look at night . . .

If you forget to look at night . . .

Older brothers or sisters might learn laughter is a great way to cope with the annoyances of a younger sibling and might remember some of his or her own baby frustrations.

While it doesn’t have an AAB pattern, I’m going to sing it a couple times more before returning it to the library.

Ol' Bloo

 

If you’re looking for a retelling of The Bremen Town Musicians with down-home flair, Ol’ Bloo’s Boogie-Woogie Band and Blues Ensemble, written by Jan Huling, illustrated, by Henri Sorensen, and published by Peachtree in 2010, will tickle your fancy with lines like:

you'd miss the one-night only ten o'clock show.

you’d miss the one-night only ten o’clock show.

“So Gnarly Dog—whose voice sounded like a guitar bein’ scraped with a washboard—and Ol’ Bloo Donkey—whose voice sounded like an accordion fallin’ down the stairs—continued on down the road, screeching to a boogie-woogie beat.”

What did I learn? The intermittent use of the AAB pattern in my manuscript is one of the ways to write about the blues. My pattern feels right and I’m happy with the story’s rhythm. Now just a tiny more tinkering . . .

Writing this almost 800+ word blog over the course of two days contrasted with the writing and revising of my 350 word manuscript over the course of fourteen months just hit me . . . maybe I’ll know what to say once the book it’s truly finished.

Do you know of any other good picture books featuring the blues?

And there can still be quite a show by your front door.

And there can still be quite a show by your front door.

A Dickens of a Time: Life Punches and Three Books

The best of times and the worst of times—joy and sorrow—a time of souls joining, souls going, and souls coming—life goes on.

Chuppah for Brad and Jessica's wedding. I assembled the messages written on the leaves by family and friends. It will now be made into a quilt.

Chuppah for Brad and Jessica’s wedding. I assembled the messages written on the leaves by family and friends. It will now be made into a quilt.

I miss you, Mary.

I miss you, Mary.

Books have always helped me navigate life—to find solace, direction, joy, strength, empathy. Can books really do all that?

 

Fletcher's Foot

 

 

When my son’s birthdays involved one digit numbers, he always wanted pirate parties—always. I still buy him pirate socks and pick up pirate books.

This year my son asked for a "cake" for his tortoise. I think my son wants to see if I'll take the bait.

This year my son asked for a “cake” for his tortoise.  I think my son wants to see if I’ll take the bait.

Mem Fox’s Tough Boris, illustrated by Kathryn Brown and published by Houghton Mifflin in 1994, is a textbook (without the boring) example of the picture book ballet. Deceivingly simple text and illustrations that tell half the story dance a pas de deux. (Writers and illustrators, take note.)

This is the kind of book that can convince people they can sit down and write a picture book in a couple of hours—tops. Those people probably also believe a dancer can learn to move gracefully en pointe in the same amount of time. It looks effortless, right?

Tough BorisTough Boris will delight you and your child and touch your hearts. I’ve already used more words to tell you about the book than you’ll find in the story. And I didn’t even mention what a lesson in rhythm the book is for me. (Writers, take note. Just listening to Mem Fox read Hattie and the Fox helped me go back to two of my picture book manuscripts and give them needed punch.)

Dad SaysWhen a Dad Says “I Love You” was written by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2013.

Do you read Pickles on the comics page? If so, you are probably giving Earl an A for effort as he tries to say the “I love you” words to his adult daughter.

The dads in this picture book have lots of ways to say “I love you”.

Yaqui DelgadoYaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina and published in 2013, is a young adult book that should make Candlewick Press proud they chose to publish it.

If I said it’s a story about bullying, that would be true. But this diverse book is so much more. For much of the book, Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui Delgado is or why she wants to kick Piddy’s ass. We, the readers, don’t know either.

I’m trying to decide how much to say—not even sure if I should tell you what the book is not. This much is probably okay: The book is not the typical story of taming or beating the bully. Piddy has to look at the way she changes as she tries to deal with the problem of Yaqui Delgado.

Meg Medina’s distinctive voice transcends her specific character to give us a universal every girl. We all have to find how we can stay the person we choose to be while confronting situations or people who beat that person down.

Rabindra Sarkar builds these and takes them down at the end of each day. Different stacks every day. We saw his work at Seaport Village when we were there for a birthday celebration.

Rabindra Sarkar builds these and takes them down at the end of each day. Different stacks every day. We saw his work at Seaport Village when we were there for a birthday celebration.

Which picture books do you know that add up to more than words and pictures of just those words?

First Rocky has to eat her greens.

First Rocky has to eat her greens.

And which books help you deal with life’s challenges? As life goes on . . .

Then she gets dessert.

Then she gets dessert.

Closing Comments: Reviewing My Stack of Books from The Yellow Book Road

Closing comments. No, not from me . . .

The books I bought at the Yellow Book Road.

The books I bought at the Yellow Book Road.

The last post ended with a stack of books purchased from The Yellow Book Road, the wonderful bookstore closing the end of May.

 

Early Picture Books:

Bear on Own                                                                         The first to catch my eye was Bear On His Own, from the “Let’s Go to the Zoo” Smithsonian Institution series and the Trudy Corporation in 2000. Jessie Cohen took the photos of the spectacled bear cub’s day ending with a sweet mama and cub snuggle.

Hey, we need some board books—you know the ones babies chew.

Itsy Bitsy Spider and Baa Baa, Black Sheep! are board books by Annie Kubler, published by Child’s Play International in 2004. Both have illustrations that include simple sign language for some of the words in the songs. Wonderful introduction for teaching babies signing (. . . and singing).BB songs and signs

Also perfect to slip into the pillow quilt for the baby shower.Fletch Q:pillow

So far so good. Next I found The Book of ZZZs, written and photographed by Arlene Alda (stands to reason Alan Alda’s wife is a wonderfully talented woman) and published by Tundra Books in 2005.

Book of ZZZsThis book with it’s photos of sleeping animals including the young human variety will make you think “Awww!” even if you manage not to say it. The text and photos compliment each other and should enchant young children at nap or bedtime.

 

 

A Picture Book for Older Kids:

Then I looked up and saw Bird, a picture book with three award stickers—New Voices Award Honor, Ezra Jack Keats Award, and a Coretta Scott King Award. I had to look. Bird
This picture book, written by Zetta Elliot, illustrated by Shadra Strickland, and published by Lee & Low Books in 2008, is for more mature children.

The heart-breaking and heart-healing story is told by a young boy who mourns the loss of his older brother to drugs and the death of his granddad. Supported by the love of his family and his granddad’s friend, he’s learning to live with what he’s powerless to change and how to claim the power of his own “somethin’.”

The three awards are well-deserved.

You can see that it wasn’t my fault I already had five books I hadn’t intended to buy.

Middle Grade Books by Linda Sue Park:

At that point, I wisely decided to make a bee line for Linda Sue Park’s Keeping Score, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2008. We’d recently had a short Twitter conversation about baseball. I’d also learned helpful things from her presentation at a SCBWI conference. So I wanted that book.

Maggie, the protagonist, is a huge Brooklyn Dodgers fan who learns the notations for box scores and can’t help but root for Willie Mays (Giants, if you’re not a baseball person). Her brother plays baseball, but Maggie doesn’t have that opportunity.

Hey, I was a huge LA Dodgers fan who loved Willie Mays. My ambition in life was to be a short stop. And I learned to keep score for my brother’s Little League team since girls couldn’t play.

Immediate buy-in.Keeping Score and

The book continually deepens and connects to broader issues. The fireman who taught Maggie to score is drafted and sent to fight in the Korean War. Maggie tries to sort out the relationships between faith, prayers, friendships, and baseball.

My husband, who always greets the opening of baseball season with, “Our long national nightmare is over,” is reading it now.

Okay, so five books I hadn’t intended to get and one that I had. Did I mention that right next to Keeping Score stood a slim book with the intriguing title SeeSaw Girl, also by Linda Sue Park and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 1999?

Jade, a seventeenth-century Korean girl, lives the wealthy, proper, and cloistered life of a nobleman’s daughter. But she wants to see the mountains for herself. How? She also longs to see her cousin. How? And how can she live a happy life without bringing dishonor on her family?

Okay, so six books I hadn’t intended to get and one that I had. I looked for another title that would help balance the score a little bit.

One Last Picture Book:

Incredible Painting ofThe Incredible Painting of Felix Closseau, written and illustrated by Jon Agee and published by Harper Collins, Toronto in 1988, is a hoot. Love the art, the story, the jokes, and the twist at the end. If you like the Hogswart paintings, find this book.

Final score, six unplanned purchases to two planned one. Eight winners total.

Without an actual bookstore, an actual children’s bookstore to peruse, I wouldn’t have found six of these must-haves.

So I’m going back to The Yellow Book Road in Liberty Station, San Diego, before it closes at the end of the month. In the next post, I’ll let you know what I found . . . if you don’t beat me to them.

Also next post, a cautionary tale for indie writers.

The other side which has the pocket to hold the folded quilt and make a pillow. The satiny fabric, which I added for the sense of touch, convinced me to stick to cotton the next time.

The other side which has the pocket to hold the folded quilt and make a pillow. The satiny fabric, which I added for the sense of touch, convinced me to stick to cotton the next time.

The quilt I finished on Tuesday. This side has high contrast designs for infant perception.

The quilt I finished on Tuesday. This side has high contrast designs for infant perception.

To Read and To Visit

Two Books to Read

StuckStuck, written by Oliver Jeffers and published by Penguin Young Readers Group in 2011, is a great example of ridiculousness that works.

When you were a kid and got something stuck in a tree, what was the first thing you did? You threw something at it, right?

Floyd just does what any kid (and most adults?) would do. When his kite gets stuck in a tree, he throws something else. Did that always work for you? Doesn’t for Floyd either. But does he give up?

Lucky for readers, no, he doesn’t. And we get to laugh. Jeffers also wrote The Day the Crayons Quit, another hilarious story.

Sarah Tomp spoke at a recent SCBWI meeting. Great presentation on a day I wasn’t Best Everyplanning on spending any money. Then she read the first page in her new YA novel, My Best Everything, published by Little, Brown, and Company in 2015.

I rushed out of the lecture hall after her talk and bought Tomp’s book in hardcover!

Lulu’s plan to escape her small town is torpedoed when her father reveals they don’t have the money she needs for college.

Like Floyd, Lulu doesn’t give up, but she finds danger, love, and consequences in the pursuit of her dream.

The book is written first person in Lulu’s voice and is addressed to the boy she falls in love with—the boy who, because of his love for Lulu, is pulled back into the life where he had been stuck. Moonshine is involved.

The book left me with a haunting bittersweet ache. One line that really struck me reads:

A tree grows in Liberty Station. Do you know what kind it is?

A tree grows in Liberty Station. Do you know what kind it is?

“Easy makes a good sell for meant-to-be.” Good words to remember in times of temptation.

Two Places to Visit in San Diego (one involving future reading)

San Diego, which has been dubbed by some as “America’s finest city,” is just about to be a little less fine. We are losing our last children’s bookstore as another independent folds. The Yellow Book Road has been in my family’s life since my son was a toddler.

When I went to Liberty Station this week, the “Store closing” signs broke my heart. Even though I got some really wonderful books at great prices, I’d rather pay more and have them stay. The owners, Ann and David, and their staff members have become friends over the years. I will truly miss them and their treasure chest of a store.

A sad, sad sight. But there's still gold inside.

A sad, sad sight. But there’s still gold inside.

When I went two days ago, I thought everything might be too picked-over. Even though the inventory is obviously shrinking, they still have many wonderful titles. I will definitely get in a couple more visits before the end of the month. If you live in the San Diego area, go before The Yellow Book Road is only a memory.

Overcast, moisture in the air (even if very little made it to the ground). This is what last Friday and Saturday were like--my favorite kinds of days.

Overcast, moisture in the air (even if very little made it to the ground). This is what last Friday and Saturday were like–my favorite kinds of days.

A week ago, it was overcast with the prediction of spotty rain. It was a beautiful day to take a walk in the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. (Did I ever tell you Seattle is my dream city?) A winding trail crosses bridges and leads down into recently opened parts of the garden.

The walk in the Japanese Friendship Garden.

The walk in the Japanese Friendship Garden.

 

 

My husband and I were able to enter the new Inamori Pavilion. I felt a peaceful calm as soon as we walked inside to view the exhibit of Ichiyo Yamamoto’s ceramics. They are amazingly detailed. For those of us who were taught to simply dip our pots into buckets of glaze, the exhibit is jaw-dropping. Yamamoto uses platinum in his intricate and delicate designs. The exhibit will be there until July 5th.

A small bowl by Ichiyo Yamamoto.

A small bowl by Ichiyo Yamamoto.

How the weather turned on Sunday. It is beautiful ,but I want my May Gray back!

How the weather turned on Sunday. It is beautiful ,but I want my May Gray back!

The books I bought at the Yellow Book Road. Will tell you about them next time!

The books I bought at the Yellow Book Road. Will tell you about them next time!

Diversity

Sandstone lookout at Torrey Pines State Reserve. According to the San Diego Wildfire Education Project, San Diego is the most biodiverse county in North America, and California is in the top ten biodiverse regions in the world.

Sandstone lookout at Torrey Pines State Reserve. According to the San Diego Wildfire Education Project, San Diego is the most biodiverse county in North America, and California is in the top ten biodiverse regions in the world.

A recent tweet from Laurie Halse Anderson (author of Chains and others) quoted Jackie Woodson, “I saw lots & lots of windows and not a whole lot of mirrors. So I said ‘let me write some mirrors.”

The right metaphor is more than a pretty way to say something. It increases understanding.

We hiked at Torrey Pines last week and saw lots of wild blooms from these tiny treasures on the trail to . . .

We hiked at Torrey Pines last week and saw lots of wild blooms from these tiny treasures on the trail to . . .

We need books that mirror ourselves in enough ways to help us see our strengths, weaknesses, and potential. If our gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or some other facet of our personhood is never presented in any but a stereotyped way, our images of ourselves or others may be stunted.

Books that are mirrors for some are windows for others. Some of us live in a world of too many windows and very few mirrors. Others of us, in the same world, have so many mirrors no additional light can enter.

large cactus flowers along the road and the trails.

large cactus flowers along the road and the trails.

We all need both mirrors and windows. We all need diverse books. For too long, the majority has lived in literary houses with mirrors in the places there should be windows. Those of us who have had too many mirrors need to replace some of them with windows.

If we’re going to have those choices for literary diversity, we need to support the authors who give us different world views. I encourage everyone to buy and read books written by people of many backgrounds.

The Torrey Pine is the rarest pine in our country. It only grows here and on Santa Rosa Island.

The Torrey Pine is the rarest pine in our country. It only grows here and on Santa Rosa Island.

My shortest stack of most recently purchased books consists of ten picture books. A couple of days ago, I realized that four of them fit in this discussion.

Lincoln & DouglasLincoln and Douglas: An American Friendship, written by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier, and published by Square Fish in 2008, is a picture book for second through sixth graders. It’s the history of the friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.

The book opens with Lincoln waiting for the arrival of Douglas at a White House reception. Then the book compares and contrasts their early lives and the paths that brought them together. These two great men forged a relationship on shared values and mutual respect. This book taught me things I’m glad I now know.

As a side note, Douglas is one of the “contestants” for the Golden Halo this year in Lent Madness. He’s won two rounds in what is described as the “saintly smack-down.”

These HandsThese Hands, written by Margaret H. Mason, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, and published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children in 2010, is also a picture book gem. It’s a poetic telling of historical events as told to the author by an old friend. Children younger than second grade will also learn from this story.

A grandfather tells his young grandson all the things the grandfather’s hands can and have done, but how those hands were not allowed to help bake the bread at the Wonder Bread factory until after the Civil Rights Act in the mid-1960’s.

Workers banded together to end the discrimination. “Now any hands can mix the bread dough, no matter the color.”

The story ends on what the grandson’s hands can do. Don’t miss the author’s note.

Beatrice's DreamBeatrice’s Dream: A Story of Kibera Slum, written by Karen Lynn Williams, photographed by Wendy Stone, and published by Francis Lincoln Children’s Books in 2011, is the story of Beatrice, who lives in Kibera (Kenya), one of the largest slums in Africa.

The book uses Beatrice’s words at age thirteen. She’s an orphan who lives with her older brother. She has worries and a dream shared by many.

While this story is less lyrical than the first two books, it’s inspiring as a portrait of a life in another place under more difficult circumstances than most of us know. With this book also, check out the author’s note at the end. You’ll smile.

Last Stop on MSAnd now for my favorite: my husband’s Valentine’s Day gift to me—Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt De La Peña, pictures by Christian Robinson, and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 2015.

CJ’s nana helps him learn to find “beautiful where he never even thought to look.” The language creates beautiful images and conveys an important message. And make sure you see the author and illustrator photos on the back flap.

The plan for the next post is to review two adult novels from authors who spoke at Bookfaire last Saturday and add to the diversity discussion . . . just as soon as I read them.

The books I purchased at Bookfaire including the ones for the next post.

The books I purchased at Bookfaire including the ones for the next post.

I can’t believe it! Two kids’ books in Spanish just showed up in our Little Free Library!

Since one of them is the Spanish version of Walter the Farting Dog, I’m not sure it counts as a diverse book. But the other is An Illustrated Treasury of Latino Read-Aloud Stories, both in English and Spanish. The book was edited by Maite Suarez-Rivas, translated by Alma Mora, has multiple authors and illustrators, and was published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers in 2004.

View of the ocean from Razor Point Trail.

View of the ocean from Razor Point Trail.

Look Out, History is Gaining On Us

A toy farm stove of the build-your-own-fire-on-the -inside type.

A toy farm stove of the build-your-own-fire-on-the -inside type. (Just to be clear, much older than I.)

The assignment in the writing class was to read a historical novel. I picked one from the list given to us. It was set in the decade that I came of age.

WHAT??? Historical? I am not a historical artifact!

I just reread two middle-grade books about sustaining a friendship when one of the girls moves away. P.S. Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail No More by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin, published by Scholastic in 1998 and 2000, weren’t written as historical pieces but as contemporary fiction.

PS Longer LaterThe stories are told first in the form of letters between Elizabeth and Tara*Star and then in e-mails as the two authors took the roles of the two characters and wrote back and forth.

The themes in the books are timeless and a testament to people who persevere in their friendships across distance. Elizabeth and Tara*Star change as they grow in different directions and experience drastic changes in family circumstances. But their friendship endures as they continue to share laughs, tears, occasional angry words, and love.Snail Mail No

The books are worth looking for.

Aside from the quality of the stories, what struck me is that people, who came of age when those books were written, can still be in their 30’s. Our everyday technology has changed so much, I guess these count as historical. And history seems to be getting closer all the time.

WHAT??? Niece and nephew are not historical artifacts either!

Yes, some people still handwrite and treasure letters. People still e-mail. But not many kids the age of Elizabeth and Tara*Star still do.

So it seems that not only does history repeat itself because we have yet to learn our lessons, it’s nipping at our heels. And, if we think about it, we probably all have ways our personal history intersected with History and have to ask ourselves if we helped move our collective story forward?

Does anyone know of a book that uses texts or tweets and finds the same emotional depth of P.S. Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail No More?

P.S. Longer post later!

The first freesia to open.

The first freesia to open.

The first California poppy to bloom this year.

The first California poppy to bloom this year.

Nasturtiums growing from the side of a stump. The freesias, poppies, and nasturtiums all volunteer to reseed (or rebulb in the the case of the freesias) every year in the site of their choosing.

Nasturtiums growing from the side of a stump. The freesias, poppies, and nasturtiums all volunteer to reseed (or rebulb in the the case of the freesias) every year in the site of their choosing.

But Enough About My Book (for now), Let’s Talk About Boys

Statue of fishing boy at the entrance to the Whittier Library. That reminds me Bookfaire coming in March to Whittier College!

Statue of fishing boy at the entrance to the Whittier Library. That reminds me Bookfaire coming in March to Whittier College!

When people talk about reluctant readers, they almost always refer to boys. The number of boys who choose reading as a voluntary activity is decreasing.

So here are a few books I think many boys could get into . . . since I’m not a fourth grade boy, I can’t be positive.Spirit animals

The Spirit Animal series, published by Scholastic beginning in 2013. I’ve only read the first one, Wild Born, by Brandon Mull. (Put a bear on the cover and I’ll pick it up.) Hint: I found the number of character names confusing so I had to return to the beginning and keep a list.

The book comes with a code “to unlock huge rewards” in the game at spiritanimals.com I can’t tell you about the game other than, as a parent, I’d tend to trust Scholastic. And maybe with the game and visuals, the names wouldn’t be so confusing.

If a kid is just going to read the book, pay attention to and remember the names of the four main characters who are introduced in the first four chapters—two boys and two girls, the names of their spirit animals, and the names of the Greencloaks. There are only a couple of other names out of sixty I wrote down that resurface in this story. (But perhaps they do in later books.)

I didn’t think the writing was great, but I could see a kid having fun with the adventure of the books and the game.

4th StallChris Rylander’s, The Fourth Stall, (the first in a series) published by Walden Pond Press in 2011. I heard Chris speak a couple of years ago and was very impressed. His goal is to write books he wishes he’d had available to him as a kid. Good reason!

Mac (who reminded me of a machine boss) starts a booming business at his school helping other kids with their problems. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some difficult problems himself. The book is humorous, but my funny bone was only mildly tickled (see above re: title and not the target audience).

For young adults who like adventure, I recommend the adult nonfiction Blind Descent. This book by James M. Tabor, published in 2010 by Random House, is a fascinating account of two very different teams of cave explorers trying to find the deepest cave in the world.blind descent

I was stunned to learn how many kinds of danger super caves present. People crawl through spaces that are unbelievably tight, cliffs plunge hundreds of feet, multiple tunnels dead end. Imagine diving into dark water to look for a drain hole that could lead you further along a submerged tunnel.
This type of exploration has been compared to climbing Everest backwards, but with even less chance of rescue if you get into trouble. The cavers can be as isolated with as much chance of getting help as the Sandra Bullock character in Gravity. Who ya gonna call?

This book had me riveted—twice.

To read more: Porter Anderson wrote a Feb. post on boys and books. It’s a bit long, but interesting and he adds pieces from other people. You can find him at thoughtcatalog.com

With thanks to Elizabeth Spann Craig and her tweets about info for writers.

Two days ago, when a plastic bag flew off the pier, a boy of about eleven cast his line beyond the bag. On his second try, he caught it, reeled it in, admonished the person who lost it, and said, "I like to protect the ocean." He's a hero in my book.

Two days ago, when a plastic bag flew off the pier, a boy of about eleven cast his line beyond the bag. On his second try, he caught it, reeled it in, admonished the person who lost it, and said, “I like to protect the ocean.” He’s a hero in my book.

Secrets of the Flame: Tell the Story You Want to Hear

Ocean view a bit south of the book store.

Ocean view a bit south of the book store.

Scene: Independent bookstore in old craftsman-style house—old craftsman on a bluff, bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean—perfect browsing from room to room.

I pick up a picture book.

Junge Maus, Harry 20, public domain courtesy of Wikimedia

Junge Maus, Harry 20, public domain courtesy of Wikimedia

 

Subject: A family of small rodents care for an orphaned kitten. The story exemplified love for an “other.” Beautiful illustrations.

I remove wallet from purse.

 

 

Problem: How will the mice care for the kitten when he grows up?

"Black Kitten" by Revital Salomon, also Public Domain courtesy of Wikimedia

“Black Kitten” by Revital Salomon, also Public Domain courtesy of Wikimedia

I race to the end of the story certain this is a book to reread and share with other people, small and large.

Resolution: The people in the house adopt the cat who will purge (the book didn’t use that word) all the small rodents, except his adoptive family, from the house.

I return wallet to purse and book to its stack.

Issue: I can’t buy the theme.

Sometimes if you want something done your way, you just have to do it yourself. So I set out to write the story I wanted to hear. It took a loooong time and I learned something valuable:

Tell the story you think you want to hear to find out where it takes you.

intoMore about Secrets of the Flame: The Power to Protect