September 30, 2007

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: Out Rocking Robin Hood

In "a distant time and far-off place," Cynthia Voight created a dynamic and intense character in a complex society. Unlike her more well-known Tillerman series, where the young Dicey is acting as father and mother for a brood, Voight’s character, Gwyn, has parents - they’re innkeepers at the Ram’s Head, and for peasants, they are fairly prosperous. They have their place in the rigidly controlled medieval hierarchy. In that structure, a woman’s burden is solid and soul-destroying, and completely controlled by the men in the village. Men, whom Gwyn regards with a sort of hopeless and tired envy, have far more choices than women, but even their choices are constricted.

Into her narrow world, a young Lord comes. Separated from his father in a snowstorm, Gadrian, together with Gwyn, is stranded in an abandoned cabin. In the intervening days as they have no other company but their own, from Gadrian Gwyn learns of a whole world beyond the mountains. They learn from each other, at first in small snatches, then in the larger give and take of friendship, she teaches him to fight like a peasant; he teaches her the elegance of the swords. Gwyn teaches him woodcraft, Gadrian teaches Gwyn to read. Little by little they move toward each other as brothers-in-arms, instead of as Lord and peasant. But trusting yourself to another’s swords goes only so far - they are still not equals. Gwyn is reminded of this forcefully when racing back to the Inn. Getting there first -- without the Lordling she was meant to protect -- leaves Gadrian’s father in fear that his son is dead, and he puts his swords to her throat. From that day, Gwyn loses her trust of the way things work, and that her family can protect her. There needs to be, she sees, another way. People should be free.

There are stories in the village, and in the towns beyond. Stories of a one called Jackaroo, one who shoulders the burdens of the poor, who takes up for the weak, who does not let the Lords fatten upon the lives of the peasants. Such stories are the usual rumors that bring a brief and watery hope to the people, but when Jackaroo finds a gauntlet in the woods like the one worn by Jackaroo, she realizes that he is real… but not in her world. Her world needs a hero, and needs one now. Why can’t she just put on the mask…?

This is a story like Robin Hood, but better, since it's without the icky Maid Marian, who stood around and did nothing but screw things up, and without the blithe mindless I-can-out-clever-you-all-naah-nah of Robin Hood.

It is hard for Gwyn to put on the mask, hard to set aside the ingrained feminine training where men are revered, the gentry are always right, and she does as she is told, panders for attention from eligible males and considers herself in terms of marriage and nothing else. Further, once she has started down that road, there are paradoxes and traps within doing good for others. Do they deserve it? Will they, in turn, do good to others, or will they simply expect more? Is good, in itself, enough? Why does she have to order people to do right? Why won’t they, as freed people, act in good conscience freely?

I relished the moral implications Voight explored. It’s not easy to ride in and be the hero, yet too often in fiction it is produced as a simple solution. Though the whole thing started as a lark, as a way to take on the Lords and be daring, Gwyn realizes before long that she is ill-prepared for what she has to do, and the people are completely unprepared to be assisted, to change their own lives. And what then?

There were too many like Am among the people, too many who gave up the fight. But what could you expect, when all of life was so hard and hopeless? How could someone fight and know he never would win? And who was the enemy? Could a man fight off a long winter or a dry summer? No more than he could fight against the Lords. Aye, the people could not manage without the Lords, they were children unable to take care of themselves…. Why should Jackaroo take such risks, for such people…. Aye, she had no choice in the matter any more. (p. 226)

The novel ends with several rapid twists of plot that may confuse the reader who isn't following closely. Mistaken identities crop up, as suddenly Gwyn is not the only masked rider - there's more than one Jackaroo, and they're all riding for their own reasons. The Lords want someone to hang for it, though, and hang someone will. Will she be in time to save everyone? Does everyone need to be saved? Is there truly a purpose to wearing the mask?

Well, you’ve got to read the story to know for sure. One promise, though: it’s wicked cool.

'O' is for Obviously Otherworldly: October in the Kidlitosphere

Well, the kidlitosphere hoi polloi have posted their Conference schedule. Those of us sulking at home expect a full report next weekend, people, including all the juicy bits. All right? All RIGHT!?

It's OCTOBER! So, so, SO much happens this month! (Okay: technically, I'm a day
early. But I'm in the UK. And A LOT HAPPENS, okay? I had to start a day early!!) First, you MUST CHECK OUT the scoop on 31 Flavors -- the readergirlz have done themselves quite proud on this one. The readergirlz will host NIGHTLY bookshats from 5 PM PST/8 PM EST (exception on Halloween, when it's at midnight or 9 PM PST/12 AM EST -- with Stephanie Meyers of vampiric fame... Lovely, YA books - and not a day of books, not a week of books, a month -- and a LONG month at that. The readergirlz rock the stratosphere. Thirty-one flavors of awesome, ladies!

The Cybils nominations start TOMORROW!!!!! Please note the fabulous new addition of a Cybils link on the side of our blog (and if it's still on that picture of Kelly from Big A little a, ignore the serious expression. She smiles. Lots. We've seen her.). Wonderland will become busy-busy as A.F. serves with graphics and both of us delve into Sci-Fi and Fantasy books. If you're not involved this year as a panel nominator or a judge, don't forget that there's a place for you at regardless -- we'd have no books to read and discuss if YOU didn't nominate them. So, get out there and do your thing! One fantabulous book nominated per category, per person, and thank you for playing.

There is nothing like a month to name a mood. Autumn eases us into a thoughtful place with crisp mornings and woodsmoke-scented afternoons. Here in the UK, the light is dying, and now all of the university classes which begin at 11 a.m. are beginning to make sense, as the noise of the city begins later and later in the day. Keep your eyes open for October Country, this month's kidlitosphere salute to all things dessicated and leathery, waning and ebbing, autumnal, dying, and dead. This is what autumn gives us: the
opposite side of the coin that is the natural living world; a slowly, colorfully dying one. What books or stories put you in mind of October?

Last year I did a huge thing for Banned Books week. I won't spend as much time highlighting it this year, but I wanted to be sure and point out a couple of reasons why people who talk about banning should keep talking, and not let censorship fade from their attention. First of all, because because narrow minded people still exist. Secondly because sometimes -- sometimes, right wins. Drop by ASIF this week to see what other goodies are in store.

Each year, the Jimmy Fund of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has a fundraiser to raise awareness and cash to cure cancer. This year, the kidlitosphere will be honoring the life of Robert Mercer and participating in Robert's Snow, an auction of children's book illustrator decorated snowflakes, by showing the artwork up for
auction at our site. We'll be talking a little about the artists, discussing their techniques, and how they got involved. Wonderland may not really do much with picture books, but we love them, and we have an Actual Illustrator Type on staff. This will be good, we promise!

At squeetus blog, Shannon Hale is interviewing Megan Whalen Turner, author of some fabulous books. I was amused to hear that she doesn't introduce herself to the neighbors as a writer. Indeed, when on says 'writer for children and young adults,' people do tend to back away slowly... An interesting first part to a three part interview. Check it out.

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books comin' at ya tomorrow. Have a lovely last Sunday in September, roll on October!

September 29, 2007

Coming Soon!

I have a handful of events for you, but before I get to the linkage, I wanted to post a quick reminder of our first-ever Finding Wonderland Toon Thursday Contest. Photo of grand prize coming soon.

Okay. If you're going to be in the San Francisco area tomorrow evening, Cody's Books on Fourth Street in Berkeley is presenting a reading by Gennifer Choldenko, whose new book is entitled If A Tree Falls at Lunch Period. Choldenko is the author of the Newbery Honor Book Al Capone Does My Shirts.

2007 Banned Books Week: Ahoy! Treasure Your Freedom to Read and Get Hooked on a Banned BookBanned Books Week starts TODAY, Sept. 29, and runs through Oct. 6. Show your support by reading a frequently challenged book. For more ideas on celebrating Banned Books Week, click here. And don't miss this video preview from AS IF! with Carolyn Mackler and Chris Crutcher, two authors whose books for teens made it to the top ten most challenged books list for 2006.

Also, Teen Read Week is coming up Oct. 14 - 20. For some great booklists that will make you Laugh Out Loud, check the Teen Reads site.

September 28, 2007

A Weekend in Books

There was an article in the Guardian today about the unseasonably early snow in the Highlands, and Scottish ski resorts rejoicing.
I feel like I'll need to stack in the books and prepare for an autumn spent dashing indoors and reading. (Well, actually even if it was a consistent seventy-five, I'd be doing that anyway...)

The Chronicle has a plethora of children's autumn books, including the Mercy Watson series -- as the review says, how can you go wrong with a pig in a pink tutu? Non-fiction gets a nod, as photographer's biographies are highlighted. Chronicle staff writer Reyhan Harmanci does her usual thorough job of reviewing for YA, this time on taking Sherman Alexie's newest. Unlike most YA novels, she says that success in this one doesn't equal a happy ending, and in Alexies's usual m.o., he doesn't hold back on the details.

More common here than in the States, Jasper Fforde's books are a central part of the comic literary canon. Here's a review of his sequel to The Eyre Affair, and a few more in the fantastic fiction genre that should interest.

PS - This is a rare plug for adult fiction - the title, One Drop piqued my interest, and the book was featured on NPR's Fresh Air. Imaging being twenty-four and finding out that your father has an African American heritage that he never claimed. Would that make a difference? Does race really matter? It looks to be interesting reading.

And now back to my book!

Poetry Friday: Rhyming Nonsense

Traditional Children's "Counting Out" rhymes.

Inter mitzy titzy tool
ira dira dominu
oker poker dominoker
out goes you

Intery mintery cutery corn
apple seed and briar thorn
wire briar limber lock
five geese in a flock
sit and sing by a spring
O U T and in again

When I went up the apple tree,
All the apples fell on me,
Bake a pudding, bake a pie,
Did you ever tell a lie?
Yes, you did,
You know you did,
You broke your mother's teapot lid,
L-I-D spells "lid"
And out goes you!

Monkey, Monkey, bottle of beer,
How many monkeys are there here?
One is far, one is near,
And you are the one
Who is out, my dear.

Wire, briar, limberlock,
Three geese in a flock,
One flew east, one flew west,
One flew over the cuckoo's nest.
The clock fell down,
The mouse ran around,
Scared all the people in the town—
And out goes she
With a dirty dishrag
On her knee!

- Author unknown

I ran across these and loved them, though I must say I don't know to whose tradition they belong. I keep an ear out for counting rhymes because they always carry some sort of regional flavor that belongs uniquely to that neighborhood, that school district or that time. 'Ol' Mary Mac, all dressed in black, with silver buttons all down her back,' asks her mother in one song for fifteen cents to "see the elephants jump the fence." Elsewhere she wants to see "the presidents." (Fence-jumping elephants, however, infinitely more exciting.) One of my favorite from older years -- is the chemistry rhyme, definitely started in a school somewhere:

Johnny had a little drink
But Johnny drinks no more
Because what he thought was H2O
Was H2SO4

You will now never forget the formula for sulfuric acid, will you?

Childhood. Strange days of spontaneous, playground poetry.

I remember my sisters and I weeping with laughter over my father's childhood hide-and-seek counting chant, "Three, six, nine, the goose drank wine, the monkey chewed tobacco by the streetcar line..." and then hearing the words in a reggae song years later (not, sadly, followed by the shout, "Are ya all hid?"). We were sure he'd made that up, but apparently a Pensacola childhood is... like a reggae song? Who knows. Who knows...

There are more piquant and unexpected pleasures at Poetry Friday, hosted for the very first time at AmoXcalli. Happy weekend to you, may you, in some way, rediscover a portion of childhood...

September 27, 2007

Toon Thursday...and CONTEST

Okay, so we are having our first CONTEST here on Finding Wonderland! It is not an incredibly exciting contest, and I just came up with it five minutes ago; plus it's a shameless ploy to get all of you to do my thinking for me!

Have you ever wished you could spout some clever one-liner in response to people asking you where you get your ideas? Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to think of your own snappy answer to that question. Three finalists will get their answers immortalized in cartoon form, similar to the example above. The grand prize winner will receive a handmade blank book (great for jotting down writing ideas!) inscribed to you and signed by a. fortis.

This contest will run until Thursday, October 11--that's two weeks from now--and winners will be announced the following week. Until deliberations have taken place, Toon Thursday will feature famous writers' examples of snappy answers. Sometime between today and next Thursday, I'll post a picture of the blank book grand prize.

So: where do YOU get your ideas?

It's not just because he wears a sleek black jacket -- Neil Gaiman is an otter because otters -- are just way cool. Completely unteachable, and apt to do a new thing every other moment, an otter is probably a very appropriate metaphor for Gaiman's writing style.

Another brief newslet from this side of the bog, apparently pink books don't attract boys. Ya don't say. Though publishers insist they choose 'non-targeted' covers, it's apparent that most don't really mind when books have the look that would appeal to mostly girls -- after all, girls buy more books. Hmmm...

I'm late out of the gate with this one, but the guy who discovered J.K. Rowling has not only started his own imprint, he's launched a children's fiction contest. Because everyone wants to be... the next... Okay, never mind. I'm just telling you, in case you're interested.

I am still endlessly fascinated by the idea of Stephen Hawking and his daughter, Lucy, collaborating on a children's book. This interview talks about how it went, and gives a more personal, family view of a man of extraordinary brainpower.

September 26, 2007

Upcoming Events Update

As opening day for the 2007 Cybils nominating process draws near (October 1), more and more info is gradually being revealed about the fantastic crop of panelists, organizers, and henchwomen involved in making the awards run smoothly. You can find out about all the category organizers on the profiles page (including way too much info about me--evidently I was a blabbermouth when I wrote that). The nominations and judging panelists have also been announced, and you can find my wonderful crew of people right here. I've visited everyone's blogs (some on a regular basis!) and I'm so excited to be working with them and I'm so not worthy. But I'm looking forward to the process. TadMack and I are also on the nominating panel for Science Fiction and Fantasy, so we're both eagerly anticipating some good reads over the next couple of months!

Here's another upcoming fall event: National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, kicks off on November 1, and the site officially relaunches on October 1. I'm a little undecided about participating this year, since I'll be on vacation for just over a week of November, but NaNoWriMo worked out so well for me last current YA novel, whose proposal is in the hands of two agencies right now, is a result of last year's National Novel Writing Month. So who knows. Maybe if I come up with my plan beforehand and am totally ready to just write starting November 1...

Okay, one more event. San Francisco's annual literary festival, Litquake, is taking place October 6 - 13. Having helped out as a volunteer a couple of years ago, I can tell you that it's a very exciting event full of great readings and literary luminaries. There are a few offerings of YA-interest, too. On Sunday of the opening weekend is Find Your Inner Teen: Authors Teens Love and So Will You, featuring Malin Alegria, Wendy Lichtman, Michael Cadnum, Melodie Bowsher, Derek Kirk Kim, and Gene Luen Yang. On Tuesday, the Youth Speaks All-Stars includes a number of teen poetry slam champions. Also, if poetry slams aren't your thing, Not Your Mother’s Book Club presents Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier at Books Inc. Wednesday is Kidquake, with a number of children's authors and illustrators in two separate groups for grades K - 2 and 3 - 5. That same evening, Jane Smiley has a conversation with Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket. There's a lot to interest kidlit folks, so if you're in the area, check it out. The NYMBC presentation is awfully tempting...

Friendship...A Force of Nature

Nina Bermudez, Avery Dekker, and Mel Forrest have been best friends since childhood--they even have a secret Bermudez Triangle chant. And though they've grown to have very distinct personalities, now that they're almost seniors their friendship is as strong as ever.

At least, until Nina spends the summer away at a Stanford leadership program, and Avery and Mel stay in town to work at a restaurant. While Nina is away, she meets the uber-granola, socially-conscious Steve. And Avery and Mel...unexpectedly find each other. When Nina returns, she can tell things are different somehow. And weird. Meanwhile, quiet, pixie-like Mel is discovering that she has somehow always known she was different. Avery, on the other hand, finds that she's not quite sure what to think. And all three of them have school to deal with, their fellow students' gossip, and college applications on top of it all.

Like the triangle in this book's title (which I'm not entirely in love with, but oh well), author Maureen Johnson tells the story from all three girls' viewpoints in an alternating fashion. At first I wasn't sure I would like that, but it turned out to be nicely done, fun and clever. The three characters have distinct personalities, and each of them reacts very differently to the complications in their lives. Their friendship becomes a choppy ocean for a while, but this is ultimately a hopeful story--even though the ending is less of a happily-ever-after and more of a things-will-be-different-from-now-on-but-we're-going-to-weather-this-storm.

Odd Lots

In school I bonded with a girl over our shared love for the classic The Dark Crystal movie -- and our love for David Bowie in Labyrinth. (Oh, admit it. You were all about David Bowie, too.) Today I had to email her, because via Bookshelves of Doom, I discovered that there's more Dark Crystal -- manga style. Whoo! Tell me you don't recognize those pointy Muppet ears! If ever a storyline was perfect for the medium -- The Dark Crystal is it. I think they should go ahead and do the Labyrinth, too... because who doesn't like a good Goblin King?

Via The Guardian blog, all writers should write -- outside of the house. Viva la shed! Or, as the case may be, the coffee shop... That never has worked for me -- I'm far too nosy. But apparently all the 'greats' don't write at home. Maybe I have a greater ability to ignore piles of laundry than the average person?

The library here had a great display with Before I Die featured prominently on the shelf... Of course, I snatched it up. Stay tuned for my response to the book, but as for my thoughts on Shaken & Stirred's (and others) comments on the stupid Entertainment Weekly quotes - who on earth really believes that a novel is "handicapped" by being put in a YA category? I mean, who seriously, really and truly believes that? I can't help but think this was the author's moment to just make a cheap shot at YA because it's supposed to be for children or something.

There are enough issues in book classification otherwise to make a snark about YA just pointless. What about all of the books written by authors of a certain ethnicity, which get shelved by ethnic group instead of topic? Talk about a "handicap." At least a YA label means the book will still. Get. Read... (Eye rolling sigh.)

Like Big A, little a, I was heartsick over author Siohban Dowd's untimely death, and unlike that intrepid blogger, I can't quite bring myself to read Dowd's book. (No. That doesn't make sense. I know, I know. It's on my pile, but I'm wincing, for some reason.) Anyway - check out the review at Big A, little a, written by Bigger A -- Big A's MOM. I tell ya, that blogger manages to get more of her family working! Occasionally there's a 'little a' review, and I think there's even a 'Big A' on a Cybils team...

I was SO JEALOUS of S.E. Hinton when I was a kid. I mean, who was she to have written a novel when she was like, seventeen? And why couldn't I? And here it is, forty years later, and The Outsiders is still a book that sucks you in. I can only hope that forty years from now, that's still true of what I write!

September 24, 2007

The Scientist Just Gets Better

Last year, I was amused to discover The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle, by UK author Catherine Webb. Webb's unusual imagination began early in her career, as her first book was accepted for publication when she was only fourteen. She's written a number of books which I'm hoping will be easier to find, now that I am in the UK.

The Obsidian Dagger, Being the Further Extraordinary Adventures of Horatio Lyle, is another novel of twists and turns. Horatio just wants a break. There was that whole thing with the cathedral roof blowing off last time, people with unearthly pale skin and glowing green eyes, and a whole lot of running away. With his cohorts, the larcenous Tess, the overly serious Thomas, and his prosaic hound, Tate, Horatio just wants to explore scientific happenings and dabble along in his workshop. He's got a flying machine (which Thomas privately calls Icarus), and he's got more things to do than run around trying to solve bizarre happenings the police are too silly to figure out.

But His Grace, Lord Lincoln is ...scary. And somehow disturbingly persuasive, and Horatio, Tess and Thomas find themselves hock deep in another adventure. Something -- huge and heavy -- has killed two of Lord Lincoln's agents. Something,which has previously been kept on board a ship in a stone casket. Something... which is, in fact, left handed. Or maybe right handed. Or --?

People are dying, evidence is going missing, and Lord Lincoln wants answers.

And while it's exciting to get to use the flying machine -- it would be better to use it while the whole of London stone wasn't after you, trying to kill you...

It's another day in the life of Horatio Lyle. Pick it up - you'll be well entertained for a foggy afternoon!

September 23, 2007

Thrown to the Lions... er, Dragons

It's a normal Poetry Slam -- Paul thinks so, anyway. He, of course, strides in, shows off his good looks, reels off some of the poetry his Granddad taught him, and make away with a pretty girl.

Another night in the life, right?

And a pretty girl comes -- she's really pretty, this one -- stunning, in fact. And she's amazingly insistent, grabbing his arm and saying he should come outside with her. Paul is just about having to shove back giggles, he's so pleased with himself. He goes outside, tries to nudge her toward a dark corner, but she's not having any of that. She wants him right in the middle of the courtyard. She stands close to him -- And that's just about where everything starts to go startlingly... wrong.

See, Paul's not just a poet in his own mind anymore. He's not even a poet in his own neighborhood. He's not in the neighborhood. He's in some Kingdom Far, Far Away, and now he's ... a bard. And he's been kidnapped. By a Court Sorceress. And she claims there's a real need for fresh talent in the poetry department in the kingdom, time to bring in some new blood. Emphasis on the words "fresh" and "blood."

Of course, the Sorceress works for a King. Of course, the King she works for only happens to be a poetry obsessed ...dragon king.

Suddenly being a heartthrob poet isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Foiling the Dragon
is a quick, funny read with a wry twist at the end that will leave you smiling.

It's The End of the World as We Know It...

Eschatology is the study of end-of-world events, a belief which many religious groups share. It's a belief in the eventual end of the age of mankind, and the purposeful rebuilding of another homeland – whether here on a renewed Earth, or a celestial kingdom above the stars. Timothy Carter has a wry and cynical view of eschatological issues, and Epoch is his tongue-in-cheek tribute to believers and belief.

Fourteen-year-old Vincent and his brother, Max are members of the Church of the Triumvirate. Their family activities include such things as enthusiastic family viewing the movie Left Out (remind you of anything like 'Left Behind?') which is about the end of the world, protesting movies starring boy wizards (any boy wizards come to mind?), and passing out leaflets at the school science fair. It's okay for a family of believers to do this together... but... Vincent is not as ardent a Triumvirate as his family, and because of this, he’s the family misfit – always in trouble with his Dad who locks him in the basement “Chapel” to pray, and always a disappointment to his mother. At the science fair, Vincent becomes a lot bigger of a misfit. At the science fair, Vincent sees… an elf.

Seeing elves, pixies, demons and trolls soon becomes the least of Vincent’s worries. As he soon finds out, the world is going to END in two days. TWO DAY! Humanity should have been called to escape via the Portal Gates, but humanity doesn't know WHAT the heck a portal gate is, much less knows where one is -- and horrifically enough, neither do any of the non-humans. It falls to Vincent, in an uneasy alliance with an elf and two pixies, to save mankind -- and the nonmankind -- and since the elves keep kicking him, the demons want to eat him, and the pixies are just about microscopic…they’re gonna need just a little help.

A quick, easy read, this book might be ideal for readers who like fast-paced adventure books with dry wit and wry, snappy dialogue. Epoch’s heavy-handed depiction of religious people as homogeneously two-dimensional, judgmental, and idiotic was disappointing; but, once the reader gets through the first few pages, the action and dialogue move the storyline along.

Seeing Through the Trees

A perfect read for a breezy Sunday afternoon, The Edge of the Forest is a timely online children's literature magazines, and it's on virtual bookshelves now.

September's issue has something for everyone - the aspiring writer won't want to miss 'A Day in the Life' and the 'Blogging Writer' interviews, for the endlessly curious, there's a chat with a noted NY librarian, and the reviews this month run the gamut of picture book to YA, and back. There's even a podcast from the people at Just One More Book.

A lot of work from all kinds of talented writers and bloggers and editors goes into each issue of EotF -- scuff on over there through the leaves and begin absorbing the goodness.

September 21, 2007


I used to be appalled at how long authors said it took to get a book from start to finish. Now I know myself to be lucky that it only took a little less than a year. Thanks, A.F., for going over and over and over and over it, until it was done.

And now, while I sit here and think, "What now!?" a word from Our Jane:

A writer has many successes:

Each new word captured.
Each completed sentence.
Each rounded paragraph leading into the next.
Each idea that sustains and then develops.
Each character who, like a wayward adolescent, leaves home and finds a life.
Each new metaphor that, like the exact error it is, some how works.
Each new book that ends--and so begins.

Selling the piece is only an exclamation point, a spot of punctuation.

© 2000 by Jane Yolen

Poetry Friday: Running Down a Dream

This woman's poetry has the ability to make me just hoot with laughter, and blink with a sudden, quiet understanding. I have deep respect for the pared down forms and perfect word choices of Lucille Clifton.

I Am Running into a New Year

i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twentysix and thirtysix
even thirtysix but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

lucille clifton
Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980, BOA Editions (Brockport, NY), 1987.
Here's to new beginnings, whatever the time of year. Find more of the beautifully stated poetic with Sara at Read Write Believe.

September 20, 2007

Toon Thursday: The Truth Comes Out

Yes, much as I would like to have a personal assistant on hand to pour me champagne when I write my daily masterpieces, that's not usually how it goes. However, if you DO find yourself with a few masterpieces burning a hole in your desk, there are a few contest deadlines coming up--Glimmer Train's Short Story Award competition for this fall closes on Sept. 30, and the Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Awards have a closing date of Nov. 1 (and some excellent prizes, including manuscript critiques). Go to it! I might go for Glimmer Train, though I had sworn never to enter another contest of theirs (only because I kept entering and getting discouraged). However, for the first time, I entered an audio contest recently, which was interesting. We'll see how that goes. Writers, don't be shy--get your work out there!


How do I love Shrinking Violet Promotions? Let me but count the ways... You know, it IS true that most people who write are not the people who are having trouble tearing themselves away from the party to sit down and type. As Kurt Vonnegut is quoted as saying, "Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center." Writers seem to hover a bit at the edge, in view of the action, but not usually right in the middle... Many of us are introverts, and being an introvert in this society really is seen as... some kind of social disease. Yet the Violets assure me that I can "promote [my] work with success" so I'm hoping that what they've said is true! Stay tuned as I try and delve into their secrets to surviving the spotlight! Also, stay tuned for wise words from Robin Brande, who is now schmoozing with the televisionistas. (Is there nothing this Kidlitosphere Conference organizing, backpacking, dog-walking, novel-writing dynamo cannot do?)

Via the ever-interesting Anastasia: who do you know who can review your YA book? Know of a high school newspaper?? Ypulse is the land of great ideas today!

From Bottom Shelf Books -- a small donation of time will raise a dollar per person for literacy with Jumpstart's Read for the Record campaign. Today, just... read Ferdinand the Bull. Sign up and say you will or have. And that's Maybe you won't be joined by 'hundreds of thousands,' but you can be an army of one... go here to record your read.

I have Irish friends who are mad -- spitting mad (as opposed to 'barking mad'
which they are as well) about the portrayal of the kidlit favorite, Paddington Bear on UK TV. Previously as stuck on marmalade as Pooh Bear is stuck on 'hunny,' Paddington Bear is now taking in the dreaded yeasty spread, Marmite. Many people have very strong feelings about media using literary characters for the sake of advertising. I must admit that though the commercial is quite funny, I'd be a bit annoyed if Winnie the Pooh was pimping chunky peanut butter or something... on the other hand, this happens all the time in the U.S., doesn't it? I mean, is there anything Shrek or Aladdin or other Disneyfied characters haven't been on? I mean, couldn't you imagine (with disgust) Harriet the Spy pimping for KFC? Does it make more of a difference to the national disgust level if it's a character from a book?

National Book Award finalist Patricia McCormick is chatting with the readergirlz -- tonight! Last call to be there!

Man alive. 'Tis the season, apparently: once school starts, it's open season on books. I don't know how the teachers and librarians in these towns can take it - we're sending you courage, people! Hang in there...

September 18, 2007

Checking In...

I just found out that I'm slow and apparently I missed the deadline to register for Teen Read Week (this year's theme is Laugh Out Loud - LOL - and don't miss the awesome-looking website). Via Jen Robinson's Book Page comes all the info.

In Cybils news, the 2007 website is taking shape, and for the next couple of weeks on the Cybils blog you can read introductions to all the category organizers, including yours truly (as if you didn't get enough of me already! Hee!). And, on a side note (but a relevant one, since I'm organizing the Graphic Novels category), a friend forwarded me a link to boldtype, whose current issue #47 is all about comics, though not YA-specific (in fact, several of them are most definitely NOT YA...).

Okay...last but not least, I have a highly amusing Most Egregious Misuse to entertain you all. I was driving around town running errands, when I drove past a jewelry pawnshop I've driven past probably a million times; but I'd never closely read the sign in the window before, which said (emphasis added):


Okay, so it could have been an unintentional spelling error. But still. It was those sticky letters that you stick onto glass windows. You'd think they would double-check first.

And I feel compelled to point out that, NO, I was not running errands at the pawnshop. This particular strip mall is located at a busy downtown corner and contains a pawnshop, a notary, a palm reader, and a Chinese restaurant. And I was not going to any of them. I was driving past. I swear.

September 17, 2007

(a SMALL squeal)

I just got a note from my editor - she's put my galleys in the mail today.


September 14, 2007

Poetry Friday: Sunshine

Today Glasgow is doing its usual dramatic dance of clear skies and whipping wind and clouds. Several natives have volunteered the information that Glasgow has four seasons a day instead of that boring seasonal calendar, and I'm beginning to be convinced. I have with me a sweater, a hat, a knitted scarf, and ice water -- just in case I have need of either one of them.

This poem reminds me of one of the whimsical pieces found in a third-grade English book - one of the ones that made me wonder about things I'd never considered, and gave me yet another excuse to gaze dreamily out of a window, chewing on my eraser... boy, if that doesn't give you the feeling of the beginning of a school year, I'm not sure what else will help you. Keep looking -- the rest of Poetry Friday is over with V. at HipWriterMama.

Next week my computer gets set up at home -- huzzah. No more lurking in cafés, although that's been a lot of fun (and a lot of tea). Tune in next week -- I'm reading a Scott Westerfeld I'd never seen before. 'Parasite Positive:' could this be a UK retitle of a book we've already gotten in the U.S.? Or had I missed this one?

September 13, 2007

Blogging for a Cure: Robert's Snow

As no two snowflakes are exactly alike, everyone's reaction to catastrophic illness is different. Robert Mercer and Grace Lin's reaction was to fight like heroes to keep cancer from overwhelming them. We honor their fight, and the memory of Robert Mercer, who made a difference.
* * * * * * * *
Awhile back, the 7-Imps interviewed Grace Lin, the driving force behind the Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure fund raising effort after Robert was initially diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. Grace wrote Robert’s Snow (Viking Books; 2004) soon after that diagnosis. The fund raising effort entailed the auctioning off of special snowflakes, created by children’s book illustrators, whom Grace had gathered together in the name of raising money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI). The auction raised a great deal of money in its first year after the publication of this book, which features these illustrators, many of them award-winning, and their creatively and uniquely designed wood snowflakes for the cause. One hundred percent of the royalties from the book’s sale went to the DFCI to support sarcoma research. Robert’s Snow is in its third year and has already raised more than $200,000 for Dana-Farber. (You can see the gorgeous 2005 snowflakes here).

This year, the auction is more important than ever. Cancer isn't going away, and even though Robert Mercer's time on this earth is finished, his and Grace's gift to others whose lives are touched by cancer will continue. The 2007 online auctions for bidding on these hand-painted, five-inch wooden snowflakes will take place in three separate auctions, open to everyone, from November 19 to 23, November 26-30, and December 3-7. The Kidlitosphere will be featuring illustrator's artwork, one at a time, so that everyone can see these unique celebrations of life and snow before the auction, thus raising their profile and hopefully exposing more potential auction participants. 7-Imp organizers Jules & Eisha have explained everything you'll need to know to get involved in showcasing a snowflake at your blog yourself.

Some of you may wonder why we're doing this for Robert, a man most of us have never met, and for Grace, a woman we only know via blogging -- but it's like this: you know someone with cancer. I know someone with cancer. Maybe several someones. This is something we can do for Grace, and for the Graces and Roberts in your life as well; not just hope for a cure, but actively do what we can to help raise money and awareness.

The kidlitosphere is a community. Coming together for the good is what a community does. Hope you can join in.

September 11, 2007

Tad + Mitchell L.= True Love

Now that we are settling into our 'flat' in Scotland, I made a point of making sure I could find the essentials. I am thrilled to be sitting in one of the most awesome libraries ever -- six floors, two 'lifts,' a café. The Mitchell Library boasts the largest collection of archival works in Europe... and the smallest YA and children's section I've seen in awhile.


THAT'S, about to change.

I'm pretty sure the Interlibrary Loan people are going to be shocked very soon at the volume of books being requested, but I hope to find that, like at my library in the States, it eventually expands the collection. I saw a class of children crammed into the tiny corner that made up the Middle Grade/chapter books, and I thought good things at their teacher for bringing them, even though the place was quite small, and she was more than a little bit harried with so many children in such a small space. (And it's remarkable how the words "And put that back RIGHT NOW" come out so very clearly, despite whatever accent or brogue.)

I have been to two libraries in Glasgow now, and though the one in Hillhead is very well stocked, there was only one person sitting and reading. I've only ever seen one kid voluntarily reading since I arrived, except for magazines. There is a big grant and a push going to get Scotland reading... what a great time to be here, no? Because I can surely lend some enthusiasm.

Six floors. I am so in love...

September 10, 2007

Get Cybil-ized!!

Yup, the second annual Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards are starting to get underway--the planning, anyway--and not least among the updates for the 2007 awards is a brand-new site redesign and that nifty award logo you see over to the right. Finding Wonderland is also very excited because this year a. fortis is going to be the category organizer for Graphic Novels. Yay! I might also be involved in other ways, and I'm really looking forward to helping out more this year. Co-founders Anne and Kelly H. both rock! (This is how much Kelly H. rocks--I just now found out that she's putting together a wiki children's book! How cool is that?)

A couple of conferences, both via Gina of AmoXcalli: First up is the F1rst Pages conference hosted by Juvenile Writers of Kansas City. Says the website: "This is a Revision Workshop Conference for both published and unpublished authors - beginners and experienced." The editorial panel includes Harold Underdown of the Purple Crayon, Adriana Dominguez, Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children's, and more. Also, there's a call for proposals out for the Fourteenth Biennial Conference on Literature and Hawai i's Children, June 26-28, 2008, in Honolulu, Hawaii. If you're a member of the child_lit listserv, you can view the full call for proposals in the archives. At least, I assume you can. I'm not actually a member of the listserv so I can't confirm that fact.

Two awesome links today! First is, an informational resource for children's magazine writers. TadMack and I have often wondered where to find magazine markets for YA short stories that are still open to unsolicited submissions (talkin' to YOU, Cicada!!), and this site promises to be a big help. (Kudos to the CWIM newsletter for the link.) Secondly, via Jen Robinson's Book Page comes a link to Shrinking Violet Promotions, a blog about marketing for introverts (ahem, TadMack...and ahem, me) put together by writers Mary Hershey and Robin LaFevers. Don't miss their great post about Jonathan Rauch's excellent articles. And if you like their site, why not enter their new contest? You could win a mug. Who doesn't want to win a mug? C'mon.

September 07, 2007

Poetry Friday: Late, but in the Home Stretch

Home, Sweet Home

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home;
A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne'er met with elsewhere.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

An exile from home, splendor dazzles in vain;
Oh, give me my lowly thatched cottage again!
The birds singing gayly, that come at my call --
Give me them -- and the peace of mind, dearer than all!
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

I gaze on the moon as I tread the drear wild,
And feel that my mother now thinks of her child,
As she looks on that moon from our own cottage door
Thro' the woodbine, whose fragrance shall cheer me no more.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

How sweet 'tis to sit 'neath a fond father's smile,
And the caress of a mother to soothe and beguile!
Let others delight mid new pleasures to roam,
But give me, oh, give me, the pleasures of home.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

To thee I'll return, overburdened with care;
The heart's dearest solace will smile on me there;
No more from that cottage again will I roam;
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
Home, home, sweet, sweet, home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

John Howard Payne

Normally I despise musicals, but I have an unbelievable fondness for both Technicolor and The King & I, so this song was especially appropriate for Poetry Friday. (Though it is nighttime here, it still counts, right?) I always hear the little voices of Miss Anna's students singing this one, and I will sing it -- with lots of jumping around -- because I now have a house here. Hopefully next Poetry Friday will be ON TIME and in sync with the rest of y'all.

I FOUND two libraries today -- now to find the one closest to my home!

'Til next time...

Sad News

Via AmoXcalli comes the sad news that Madeleine L'Engle has died at the age of 88.

A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers, a reminder to all of us not to give up.

At age 12 or so, I went to my local children's bookstore and waited for ages in a long line to get my copy of A Ring of Endless Light signed by Ms. L'Engle. When I got to the front of the line, she was so kind, and I felt like she really saw me, as opposed to just going through the motions of signing book after book after book. I'll always remember that. It's one of the few book signings I've ever gone to, and I feel so much like I've grown up with her books, grown up with Vicky Austin and Meg Murry and Polly.

Here's to Madeleine L'Engle, and the ring of endless light she's gifted to generations of readers. Cheers!

September 06, 2007

Toon Thursday: Now With Added Linkage!

Yup, Toon Thursday is back after a week's hiatus for the Under Radar Recommendations. I like having an excuse to take a break now and then. Thinking of a funny joke every week is kinda hard. (Can't believe I used to write a humor column every day...) Anyway, today's Toon Thursday is in honor of the fact that I spent what seemed like eons yesterday writing my query letters for my YA novel...and finally sending out proposals to two agents! Yay!

Also, in blog news, Betsy at Fuse #8 has announced her first official podcast edition of A Fuse #8 Production. She wants your feedback, so go check it out! Also, Writer's Digest presents a pretty amusing blog by Kevin Alexander called This Writer's Life about the tribulations of a writer just starting out. I can relate. I particularly like his mock quiz entitled Are You Ever Really Going to Finish that Novel? (Notable quote: "3. Agents like a brief selling handle summing up the book's main plot. Which answer most closely resembles the state of your pitch? ... D. My book will have several chapters and a main character who's probably going to be a woman. Or a man. Definitely one of the two.") Lastly, the editor of Guide to Literary Agents keeps a blog here, with periodic updates and new listings of agents. There's a category for posts related to children's writing, too, though it doesn't seem as lengthy as other categories.

September 04, 2007

Wicked Cool & Coming Soon

I thought of all of my kidlit buddies yesterday, as Wicked Cool Overlooked Books day came... and then I recalled that we weren't doing that sort of thing right on the heels of our kidlitpalooza of overlooked books, our Under Radar Recommendations, but be sure that I have a real favorite picked out for next month. Of course, next month is also the advent of the evocatively named October Country, and I can't wait to play around with some words and images on that score.

Funny how being without consistent internet makes one feel a bit lost from home. Though I'm working on being awake for the last, oh, twenty-two hours? I'm feeling pretty good being back in touch with you.

Some thoughts: Dublin, which my friend Donal, who lives there, calls 'the filthy city' isn't really all that bad, at least not at the airport, and airports are usually the bottom of the barrel. Ireland and Scotland are green, green (foggy, nippy, and downright boot-inspiring) jewels. I look forward to unearthing more stories here, finding a decent bookstore, and a pair of tights... not necessarily in that order. Our reservation has been shifted from one hotel to another, and we're walking asleep, but news of a more bookish sort will emerge shortly... for lo, I have been to Waterstones...


September 02, 2007

NPR Notes: A Surprise Guest

I guess it was probably only a surprise to me, since I so rarely catch Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! on NPR on the weekend (not because I dislike it--quite the opposite--but because I'm not usually driving around town as much, which is my prime NPR listening time). Anyway, on my way back from the grocery store I caught the first part of this week's episode, which included an appearance by the fabulous and hilarious Judy Blume.

She said a few words about how she made some updates to perennial favorites the Fudge series and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret in order to better reflect modern-day technology and such. The Fudge series, for instance, included references to mimeograph machines (barely still in use when I was reading those books), while for Margaret, Blume changed out the parts that referred to belts for maxi pads. I remember having to ask my mom about belts, and her telling me they used those when she was growing up. So anyway, these changes seemed to be of Blume's own free will--as she put it, she wants kids to read these books and feel like she's written them for them--kids of the current generation.

I think this is an acceptable change--both the reasoning behind it, and the fact that the author herself wanted to make the changes. I'd be interested to hear what you all think...Do you think this is the beginning of the end? Is the Great Gatsby next? Is Nick what's-his-face the narrator going to be driving an Audi TT out to East Egg in the next edition of the book? Alternatively, do you think that, within reason and with authorial approval, classic children's or YA books should be tweaked so that the story doesn't jump out as outdated to a modern audience?