October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Hope everybody stays safe, has fun, and enjoys the wonderful fall weather (well, it's wonderful here, anyway)! I've been in the Halloween spirit since last night, when I watched the latest episode of my favorite new TV show, Reaper (directed by Kevin Smith). With a premise like this, how can you go wrong: "On his 21st birthday, Sam discovers his parents sold his soul to the devil before birth and he must now be a bounty hunter for the devil until he dies." Good stuff. And hilarious, in inimitable Kevin Smith fashion. So that's my recommendation for holiday entertainment.

Plus I'm well into a copy of Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy--walking, talking, hilarity-inducing skeletons are definitely great Halloween fare if, like me, you don't much care for horror. So I'll be sitting around, giving kids candy, munching pumpkin seeds, and reading a good book--sounds like fun to me!

Congratulate Minh: The Bottom Shelf Is Booked!

After a seriously complex plan with multi-layered deceit and maps, it looks like our little Minh's getting hitched.


Operation Happily Ever After is a go. Joy to you, Minh. And may the Punk Farm play at your reception.

Could Shawna Tenney be any more adorable?

I am just loving this little glimpse into the ordinary lives of the extraordinarily generous and blessed illustrators that the hosts of the Robert's Snow Blogging for a Cure folks are giving us. Today I've seen the fabulously vast range of Rolandas Kiaulevicus, the Lithuanian illustrator whose snowflake is featured at a wrung sponge. Rolandas came to Connecticut to marry the girl he loved, with only his brushes, his bachelor's degree, and his talent -- and no English. He'd studied German in school, not thinking he'd go to America. But we do many things for love! How fabulous that his generous heart has made room to support the fight against cancer, too.

Kate Messner's blog is where you can see pictures of the adorable Shawna JC Tenney and her family, which includes her graphic designer husband, and two chewy-cheeked little cherubs who must keep her super busy. You will LOVE her work -- and let me tell you, I can't WAIT to see her quirky, whimsical, detailed illustrations in more books. I can just imagine all kinds of fractured fairytales and the like spilling from her accomplished pen. (Just LOOK at those sheep. They're a scream!) Blessed with all that talent, and could she BE any more adorable?

Don't miss the mega Monster Mo' Love at MotherReader's, and the inimitable J.Lo -- in space, no less -- at welcome to my tweendom. Lots of talent from lots of generous souls. A good ending to a great month.

Fun for Kids With an Interest in China

Sacramento Chinese Culture Foundation 沙加緬度中華文化基金會

Families with children from China, or those who have an interest in Asian languages and cultures are invited to the Northern California Wisdom Chinese School and World Journal Children's Book and Gift Faire, November 3, 2007, from 11 a.m. - 4 pm, at the Bethany Presbyterian Church, 5625 – 24th Street in Sacramento (at Fruitridge Rd. and 24th Street, about .8 mi. west of Hwy 99).

Join us for a exciting multicultural children's program. Highlights include:

12:30: Children's author Oliver Chin reads from his newest book, Julie Black Belt.

1:00 pm: Join in a fun, spontaneous dramatization of Adventures of the Treasure Fleet: China Discovers the World, directed by the author of the book, Ann Martin Bowler.

2:00 pm: Hear Li Keng Wong, 81, author of Good Fortune: My Journey to Gold
, talk about her memories of her journey to and her experience living on Angel Island, CA. She will also speak of the hardships and challenges her family faced as immigrants in California. (This, to me, would be the highlight of the day!)

3:00 pm: Free books and games raffle drawing.

Bilingual books, CDs, DVDs and other educational things in Asian and South Asian languages (including Vietnamese, Japanese, Hindi, Urdu, Thai, Hmong, Farsi,and Tagalog) are available from Asia for Kids, Asian American Curriculum Project, and Our Chinese Daughters Foundation. Dolls, toys and games from these cultures will be available as well. This is a great resource for teachers and home-schooling parents as well as multicultural children's lit aficionados, as there are also resources available on teaching immigration history, diversity, tolerance, and racial awareness as well. If you're a Bay Area person interested in learning about growing up in different cultures, and researching family traditions around the world, this is the place for you.

(*courtesy of Ann Martin Bowler, SCBWI NorCal member*)

October 30, 2007

History, MEM's, Odds & Ends

"So why do we teach history to our children? Is it for the glow of pleasure we get when we hear their cherubic little mouths repeating the names and dates of all the kings and queens since Edward the Confessor, each battle they fought, every treaty they signed and every head they (personally) struck from renegade shoulders? Or is history principally about humanity? Understanding when leadership becomes tyranny and why holocausts and genocides happen?"
Beth Webb, author of the fabulous Star Dancer series talks about fiction having just as much importance as fact when children select books on historical fiction. Is there a such thing as misleading children with the fictional aspects of historical fiction?

OH. MY. Can you spot the SINGLE correct usage in this window?!

Harper Lee has been known for years as one of the most reclusive writers in our modern world. Her book was so timely a reminder of the realities of segregation and the equal rights struggle that she seems almost magical, or prophetic - she appeared when she was needed, and has virtually kept her silence ever since. Her Presidental Freedom Award means that she will soon get a chance to meet George Bush, and have a moment in the spotlight once more. Wouldn't it be something if she found something else timely to say to the nation again?

DON'T miss the great cynsations interview with the very complex and thought-provoking Pooja Makhijani. She is, reportedly, "slowly working on a YA novel." Much squealing here!

Oh, yeah, everybody's excited over the tree-topper at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast -- but do YOU have a Hanukkah bush? This would go with it perfectly.

Robert's Snow: Gretel Parker's "Snow Rabbit"

Please see the bottom of this post for today's Robert's Snow schedule!

"I specialise in animal characters and when I was thinking about what to put on my snowflake, I knew almost at once what I would do," says illustrator Gretel Parker about her contribution to the 2007 Robert's Snow Auction, which raises money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "Snow Rabbit," shown at right, nicely showcases Ms. Parker's talent for depicting animal characters which somehow look like the cutest, cuddliest, softest stuffed animals you've ever seen. When I saw on her website that she'd done a version of The Velveteen Rabbit, it made perfect sense to me--her illustrations convey the feeling that these are well-loved and treasured toys.

I live in a lovely part of the English countryside, the Cotswolds, and I often have rural settings in my images. Toys, animals and country are what makes my work tick - they are three lifelong passions which I have held since I was a small child, and it is inevitable that they leak into whatever I depict....

At the moment I have a few potential job offers, and all of them are to do with woodland creatures or animals - it's a good excuse for me to do what I like best, which is roaming the nearby woods, listening to the birds and quietly watching the shy inhabitants. It is, after all, essential research!

It's easy to tell from Ms. Parker's studio blog (whose URL is "allaroundus") that she indeed finds inspiration in the small things that are all around, and from the rural scenes and nature that surround her in her everyday life. I also found out from her blog that she recently acquired a letterpress machine--a fact which makes me (as a printmaker) very jealous! I'm always interested in reading about other artists' process, so if that's something which interests you, too, definitely cruise by her blog. Ms. Parker also kindly said a few words about the process of creating her snowflake:

I was at first worried that watercolour paper wouldn't really work; it is my main medium, so I didn't want to have to use acrylics or oils directly onto the board, just for the sake of it. I did have to repaint the main image twice as when I traced out the snowflake template I turned it round the wrong way. The snowflakes are not exactly symmetrical, so when I came to paste the finished work onto it, I was 'just a bit annoyed' to find it didn't fit and I had to start over.

The reverse side shows a gift with a tag, dated and dedicated to Robert Snow - it was my very tiny way of thanking the good people who organise this excellent event, because it is a gift in itself to be able to contribute something to this worthy cause.

We feel the same way here at Finding Wonderland--it's a pleasure being able to feature wonderful illustrators like Gretel Parker in order to help encourage more people to visit the Robert's Snow auctions. Thanks go out to her for taking the time to talk to us! Ms. Parker's snowflake is featured in the first auction, Nov. 19 - 23. There are a multitude of other gorgeous, individual little pieces of art in the auction, too--like real snowflakes, no two are exactly alike.

The rest of today's featured snowflakes for Tuesday, October 30 are:

October 29, 2007

Just a Little Annoucement...

Have you learned to write 'Chill' in Japanese? Well, why the heck not? The flake fairies today have brought us really pretty lighthouses, gorgeous seabirds, fragments of heartfelt poetry and insouciant penguins. Check the schedule, see the snow.

People! Do you remember the awesomeness that was THE SUMMER BLOG BLAST TOUR? We rocked your socks with the likes of National Book Award winner Gene Yang, newcomer Ysabeau Wilce, graphics guy Kazu Kibushi and such intense YA authors as Chris Crutcher and Julie Anne Peters. We gave you interviews with the phenomenal talent of Justina Chen Headley, and Svetlana Chmakova, and people -- we're doing it again!

And not just us, of course -- the whole gang has been working hard and fast on interviews since the end of the summer, to bring you...

Coming soon to a blog near you!

October 28, 2007

Awesome Art

Don't look now, but in our links at the left, there is a one to a PICTURE BOOK ARTIST. I know. I keep blaming Jules for my descent into board-book nerddom, but the fact is that I am fascinated with art, I blog with an ARTIST, for heaven's sakes, and I dearly wish that my few crayon scribbles resembled anything near as cool as the art of LeUyen Pham! Go check out her Halloween feature today at the 7-Imps Seven Kicks!

Also don't forget to check the flake forecast before you get too far into your weekend. What with dancing bears and Southwester piñatas, there's a lot of color and life to see. Artist Kelly Murphy's snowflake is a tribute to The Greatest Crab Hunter, Connor Ciesielski. Visit Chat Rabbit to see a poignant tribute to a life well-lived.

October 27, 2007

Soup Weather

Where you live, it's probably lovely and warm, but today is soup weather here, and I just chucked two heads of broccoli and a fat head of cauliflower into a pot for soup (with the requisite six cloves of garlic, because let's face it: it's getting to be cold season). While that's simmering, I'm taking a lazy weekend wander through the web before I decide to build a nest of pillows and read my Cybils books.

Since the weather is gray and zestless, Patrick Girouard's snowflake has a lovely amount of action and color. Check it out at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Today there are plenty of snowflakes to match the woolly weather mood -- bunnies in snowstorms, and partnering polar bears and penguins, but my favorite snowflakes today is Abigail Marble's hosted at Please Come Flying. The snowflake's title is "Making Snow," which is the only way we get it usually where I'm from!

I love the suggestions at the bottom of the post about how to show our appreciation of the snowflake. We're encouraged to write the illustrator a note, and say "Thanks!" And so, thank you Ms. Abagail Marble: We love your snowflake, and your use of watercolor somehow makes light and movement happen on a static page.

We have enjoyed paging through the featured illustrator's online portfolios. Abagail Marble's work, whether in acrylic or watercolor is muted and serene, yet has such movement. Each one tells a story. We're very interested in the book she illustrated, titled, My Secret Bully, because no bully should get to be kept a secret. What a great project.

And now the soup is bubbling, and I've got to dash. (Slowly.)
Happy Lazy Weekend. Have some soup!

October 26, 2007

Robert's Snow, A Link, and A Thought

Before I forget--seeing as it's late today already--here is today's schedule for Robert's Snow - Friday, October 26:

Juli Kangas' collage snowflake is not to be missed, and I also want to give a shout-out to Margot Apple for her kitty snowflake, which bears quite a strong resemblance to one of my cats. Except my cat is much fatter, sadly.

So, there's yet another website where you can catalog the books you're reading and see what your friends are reading, and it's called Shelfari. I was invited to join by a friend, but I honestly have no more time to sign up for any more websites. Still, I'm on there, with an empty shelf. (Trust me, that in no way reflects my actual bookshelf here at home.) My favorite part of the Shelfari website is that as a user, you get to be called a Shelfarian. Hee hee.

Lastly, I had a writing-related thought today. (Actually, I had several, but most of them were not profound or of interest to anyone but me...) I was thinking about how, often, when I'm reading a book I enjoy, I can't help thinking to myself, But I could never possibly write something like this. And truly, I usually can't imagine coming up with those ideas, those characters, that complex plot. Today it occurred to me that this shouldn't be something to worry about. After all, all I can write is my work. That's really all any of us can do. And if what I write is nothing like what I read of other people's writing...well, maybe that's a good thing.

Incarceron: Locked Away

This book is a 2007 Fantasy and Science Fiction Cybils Award Nominee.

Who can chart the vastness of Incarceron?
Its halls and viaducts, its chasms?
Only the man who has known freedom
Can define his prison.

-Songs of Sapphique

Finn woke in the prison, frightened and -- blank. And he's been there for three years, living in the underbelly of a filthy, violent, thieving gang, a star seer, taken with strange epileptic fits, dreaming of strange things and a place he believes might be Outside. His venial, charming oathbrother, Keiron, thinks he's quite mad, but keeps him around -- he's useful, after all, and the Sapient, Gildas, seems to truly believe in him.

On the flip side of the coin, a girl named Claudia lives in pampered isolation. She is meant to be a princess, her father has plotted since before she was born to marry her to the prince of the realm. When she was seven, it wasn't so bad -- the prince of the realm was a boy called Giles, whom she actually liked well enough, but his death -- sudden and strange -- seems more than the accident it is claimed. Now the Sia, the Queen, has one other son to be crowned; cruel and shallow and impatient, she believes he will dominate Claudia, while Claudia's father, the Warden of Incarceron, believes otherwise.

Is Giles really dead? Or has the Warden plotted in more treasonous ways than Claudia knows?

Is Finn really from the Outside? Are the memories that convulse through him his -- or someone else's?

Mazes of betrayal and prisons within prisons catch the reader and hold them hostage. Incarceron is much, much more than it seems.

Poetry Friday: What's a spoonful of sugar when you can have a pinch of arsenic?

"When the meaning of a poem is obscure, it is due to one of three causes. Either the author through lack of skill has failed to express his meaning; or he has concealed it intentionally; or he has no meaning either to conceal or express. In none of these cases does he like to be asked about it. In the first case it makes him feel humiliated; in the second it makes him feel embarrassed; in the third it makes him feel found out. The real meaning of a poem is what it means to the reader." -- A. E. Housman

Dr. Howard Hardcastle, he of blessed memory, was my fabulously pithy, taciturn, sardonic English teacher who read this aloud to us one autumn day. I remember him asking us to discuss the poem, and the lengthy silence that followed, as thirty high school juniors thought as hard as they could as fast as they could. We never did quite 'get' it, and he had to spoon feed it to us, line by line. But reading it again... makes me thankful Dr. Hardcastle tried.

Terence, this is stupid stuff

"Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad."

Why, if 'tis dancing you would be
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh, many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie god knows where,
And carried half-way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt

- I tell the tale that I heard told.

Mithridates, he died old.

-- A. E. Housman, from his book, A Shropshire Lad published in 1896

I am hugely melancholic by personality, so the request (possibly by Housman to himself) in this poem to, for goodness sakes, write something cheery! -- amuses me deeply. The request is met with Housman's snarky retort that there are alehouses for that "cheery" thing, and that once you sober up, life's pretty much the same. Housman then suggests his readers prepare for the worst in life -- hope for the best, but be educated and armed against the worst. And then comes my favorite part, where Housman illustrates his theory of being prepared for the worst by taking a bit of bitterness all the time, with the story of 'Mithridates.'

("Mithridates", which is historically spelled "Mithradates", was King Mithradates VI (the Great) of Pontus, in Asia Minor. He reigned for 57 years, from 120 to 63 BCE. The story of the poison comes from Pliny the Elder's Natural History, and is the story of how this king died. Betrayed by his son, he tried to commit suicide, but could not poison himself, so he ordered a mercenary to kill him.)

Maybe the moral of the story is that the world can't make you crazy if you're already mildly insane. And on that cheerfully gloomy note, you should indeed hie yourself over to see what else is cooking in the lighter corners of the poetry world. The party this week is at Literary Safari, which also has a cool feature on the Stephen & Lucy Hawking book. Check it out!

October 25, 2007

Toon Thursday: Another Contest Winner!

Drum roll, please, for the first of the three remaining winners of the Toon Thursday contest! .........

Congratulations to liquidambar for her winning entry! Also, apologies to Matt Groening for Akbar and Jeff's Falafel Hut. And apologies to the Falafel Hut down the street from my house for Akbar and Jeff's Falafel Hut...

Robert's Snow, Day 11

Don't forget to visit today's featured Robert's Snow snowflakes, including the hilarious interview with blogging illustrator Julia Denos (snowflake at right) over at Interactive Reader. Is that snowflake fabulous or what? Also, don't miss:

Rebecca Doughty, featured by Elizabeth Burns at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Brian Floca, featured by Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production

Margaret Chodos-Irvine, featured at readergirlz

Anni Matsick, featured by Peggy King Anderson at A Sound From My Heart

For the latest info on Blogging for a Cure, visit Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast!

October 24, 2007

Cybils Nominations: Turning Up the Heat on the TBR List

GO. Read Mindy's review. I love, love, love finding new little bits of history expanded. Sometimes nonfiction is just so awesome.

Via Original Content, the Young People's Award Nominees from the National Book Awards have been interviewed -- some really interesting things to say about how they write, and what they think helped them make the cut.

"...other writer friends of mine have done it, and we’ve all had the same experience of feeling SO much better–and so much more at ease–dealing with the people from the publisher’s once we’ve shared a meal. Let me add I think it’s also important to do that with your agent. So much of our communication in publishing is by e-mail and phone call, but there’s nothing like spending a few hours with someone and getting to know them–and just as important, letting them get to know you. Publishing is a business of relationships. As those of you who came to the Kidlitosphere Conference know, there’s something way above and beyond about getting to talk to someone face-to-face, even when you think you already know him or her pretty well from all your correspondence. So yes, if you can afford it, send yourself to New York once a year and to wherever your agent is, if that’s someplace different. The cost of airfare and hotel is more than worth the benefit of building the most important relationships you’ll have as a professional writer."

Robin-the-Writer has been talking smart about things like writers and money and other ongoing writer's discussions. This is the kind of stuff people buy books to read, writers. Head over and jump into the conversation.

I'm Copycatting Jules' Post...

...mainly so I can look at this snowflake all day. ASHLEY BRYAN is a beautiful person, so engaging and amusing and lighthearted. You wouldn't know he was in his eighties. You wouldn't know that he had faced discrimination, privation and poverty. You wouldn't know anything except that he is a joyful person, and that joy makes me feel humbled, like I ought to get up and dance more often, or meditate on the vastness of the infinite, and be grateful. The joy he embodies in his art is immense, he's something so special. Should you ever get a chance to attend USF's Multicultural Children's Lit Conference, Reading the World, DO. It's where I got to hear Mr. Bryan, and I have had an illustrator crush on him ever since. He's fabulous, fantastic and fun. One of the other snowflake posts this past weekend mentioned that in Japan, paper sculptors are treated like sports stars. I am ALL about that. Let's get some big rings, high-paying contracts and celebrity commercials for these guys. Wow. Go look at the man's snowflake.

(Okay. After reading this? Jules cannot be blamed for making me a picture book nerd. I mean, the nerddom was already well on its way. Whoa!)

Also: today is awesome lino block/woodcut day. I mean, look at Consie Powell's snowflake over at BLBooks! I love her work anyway. It's so clear, so precise, yet so friendly and accessible. You don't look at her illustrations and think "Eek, science manual," yet they're that painstakingly rendered, that anatomically correct. I grew up with parents who discouraged me from reading books with anthropomorphic animals wearing clothes (*cough* M-I-C-K-E-Y) and so the real has always appealed to me. Great stuff! On the other end of the spectrum is the freeform, light bringing dragon/dinosaur deity guy, which I really like, too. Just a good day in the snowflake world. A good day all 'round.

And YAY for the Cybils SF/F leader, Sheila Ruth! Another great 7-Imps interview where we find out that yet again, if the bloggers in the YA/children's blogosphere all got together some place, we could seriously start our own country -- or run one -- quite well. Meanwhile, Chasing Ray has some good thoughts on the serious -- the political climate, the real issues in the world, vs. literature... I, too, lately have wondered what I am doing with my time and my words. As a writer, these questions have caused me to begin a manuscript for a book about freedom, belief and deception that I never thought I'd be able to write -- and am still not sure that I can. But I, too, want to do something good... so the goal is to try.

Book Bits
O...kay. HarperCollins is collaborating with MySpace to produce... wait for it... a children's book. In one of the more interesting amalgamations I've discovered today, the teens who participate by sharing their ideas will be unpaid, but their usernames and geographic locations will be included. Huh. Got to think about that one...

NOW is the time to submit: Manuscripts must be postmarked after October 1, 2007, but no later than December 31, 2007. The 26th Annual Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel is on.

October 23, 2007

Two More Writing Gems

First, Kimberly Willis Holt is giving away a signed copy of Keeper of the Night, and if you've never read it, it's intense, and amazing; one of my favorites of hers. (Thanks, Cynsations, for the heads up.) Second, there's a piece by Ann Patchett at the Powell's blog all about setting. Worth reading, if you have time. Meanwhile, everyone is digging up their childhoods on Youtube. Well, I warn you: if you value your sanity, you'll avoid the Childhoods of Doom -- it includes sisters, and viral 80's clowns. Don't. Go. There. You have been warned.

On a brighter note: it's STILL snowing, and today's flakes have some unusual appeal. Aside from my favorite, which is Brian Lies' Freefall as posted at Greetings from Nowhere, there's a funky dancing snowman, an exquisite sloth (or "ai" in Scrabbletongue - kind of like Parseltongue, only infinitely cooler) at Bildungsroman, and the precious Chanté, who I am meeting for the first time! Don't miss Yuyi 'lighting up the Night' -- LITERALLY, over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, where you'll find the whole blog tour schedule and all the archives.

Showing vs. Telling, Process & Meaning

When I have a bit of story being looked over by my stalwart writing group, I at times have a rare "Aha!" moment that I am spending a lot of my time explaining my plot to my compatriots. That's a key moment for me to realize that obviously I didn't write what I meant.

Though I hate it when my editor says it, the Show-Don't-Tell school of writing rules state that you allow readers to see what you have to say, and gather meaning from the array of options you've given them. In this way, the reading is interactive, and the reader brings something to the book. If you don't allow your readers this connection, you've generally written a very predictable, dull book that will be put down halfway through the first chapter because credible storylines don't spring to life just because the narrator tells us they're credible. Our intellect has to engage and convince us to suspend our disbelief, and enter into the plot.

Which brings me to my picture, taken the first week I was in the UK. I took this with my camera phone, standing on an island in the middle of the street. "Oh, look," I gushed. "A little book maker. Is that how they do independent press here? I wonder if they print poetry chapbooks." Snap.

Um, no. Bookmaking: as in gambling. Welcome, oh, wet-behind-the-ears-one, to the UK...

I don't know what the moral of my story is except that what works in writing (hey - I was extrapolating meaning, here!) doesn't always work in life.

Jules posed a "brief and burning question" to writers about the nature of process. Does it exist? Apparently, Rosemary Wells says that any good writer will tell you that process doesn't exist.

This strikes me as a little funny because when I was speaking to undergraduates at my alma mater, my professor asked me to talk to the students about process. Swaggering fresh from my... um, folly? after my first publication, I said confidently (disingenuously!)that really, process didn't exist. That I didn't write everyday. That I didn't do all of the proscribed things that other authors did. And look! I sold stuff! Wasn't I smart? Sadly, no. I was delusional, and I wanted everyone to believe I was brilliant, and I was terrified -- and quite sure -- that I was not.

Fact: There is not ONE process that exists that everyone has to use -- we know that from listening to the way Tamora Pierce says she worked, or Walter Dean Meyers said he worked this summer at the SCBWI L.A. Conference. I couldn't work the way either one of them works, but the way I work... works for me. Therefore: there IS such a thing as process. But it changes daily, and it differs wildly. And when you add a readers, in the form of a writing group and/or an editor, it shifts again. Your process has to work for you for the particular piece you're working on, the particular tone you're going for, etc. etc. etc. -- or it's worthless. And you cannot hold onto a process that is a tried-and-true work of art for Mr. Meyers or Lady Pierce, or Our Jane or anybody else -- your process has to be for you, and it's not something to shine up and show off. It's a work thing, a work ethic, and it's kind of ...personal.

Those are my £.02 centavos.

Speaking of Our Jane (and also thanks to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for this), she's chatting with Anne Levy at BookBuds about judging a contest where kids write their own alphabet books (take THAT Steve Martin). Go ye.

The Cybils nominations continue (and if you haven't dropped by to nominate a single book in each category, what's stopping you?). I'm looking forward to reading Extras, the newest Scott Westerfeld. Via Original Content, I've discovered a great piece on Westerfeld, and on the dystopian novel plot being increasingly accepted as upcoming reality. Teens interviewed remark on the artificiality and surreality of the society in which they live, and discuss the rise of the famous-for-being-famous tribe. Some interesting stuff.

Today's writing thought, sent to me by my thoughtful friend, L.:

"I have found that I'm not as good as I thought or as bad as I feared. I am not heroine or villain. I am living with my actual self and seeing what that is. Neither idealizing nor being idealized. It is more painful than I had imagined.

Also more dimensional. I find myself stumbling hand in hand with forgiveness as a much closer entity."
- Sark

Usually I find Sark pretty (painfully) airy, but this quote really brings home to me how writing - for any age group - has to be done from a place of honest and feet-on-the-ground centeredness. Good luck with that today...

October 22, 2007

Aaaargh! MotherReader Where ARE YOU!?!?!?

Another celebrity children's book, MotherReader? Why, yes.
Steve Martin. Obviously. Plain as the nose on your face...

Odds y Ends

Boy, this is a week for fierce discussions. Last week, a review of Wild Girls was under witty debate from various literati. I love what Colleen of Chasing Ray has to say about it today.
"Young girls in particular love to write. They write bad poems, bad stories, notes in class and many many overly dramatic diary entries. Writing is a big deal to them as an age group and it does help in all kinds of ways. In this case, I didn't think that learning to be better writers solved all their problems - the problems were being solved (one way or another) by the adults. What Sarah and Joan had to do was learn how to be brave enough to see their parents as people and not just parents and to share their own thoughts and concerns about the decisions those parents were making."

That's huge. I very much want to read this book!!

Meanwhile, other debates rage... After thinking about it: I still don't much care about the Dumbledore thing, but I do think that it's strange that it matters so much to some people. We are taught, in writing children's books, to have the children take center stage in problem solving and in adventures. I guess if you're done with the series, you can go on and talk about the adults... but why? What Ms. Rowling has done doesn't upset me -- and just for the record, I haven't gotten to the last book yet, (so I don't know if this other wizard guy even shows up -- I assume that he does [which begs the whole question of "Hey! Wasn't Dumbledore dead?!" but Hogwarths wizards don't die, they... go into paintings. Or something.]) and maybe it will make more sense when I do.

It seems to me a lot like the Lemony Snickett thing with the Book Burning parents association -- a kind of Gotcha! Made you look! kind of P.S. to a series of stories. It's not thoroughly pointless, I mean, it makes a lot of sense from a PR standpoint... but like fans who were very offended at Daniel Handler for what they saw as a cheap publicity trick, there are people who feel that the stories needed nothing else, and are upset about additions to what they saw as set in stone, printed, and done.

I'm not sure story ever IS "done" - especially since every reader brings something new to the story, and writers only imagine they've revealed its entire scope. We live in the world of Fan Fiction; Dumbledore's probably been gay a long time ...

The Chronicle has a story on the profits of blogging -- since I know we're all making bank in the YA/Children's blogosphere...

Via Bookshelves O' Doom, I am now addicted to... Free rice, rice, baby! I had to quit after 1100 1840 grains... I was sort of horrified into playing as long as I could. I mean GRAINS of rice?! How many grains in a pound?!

Blogging for a Cure: Robert's Snow Highlights Sharon Vargo

Sharon Hawkins Vargo is a freelance illustrator whose studio is just north of Indiana, where she lives with her husband and four sons. For her creativity and use of a multicultural character, Ms. Vargo received a Bank Street Best Children's Book award in 2002 for SEÑOR FELIPE'S ALPHABET ADVENTURE. This bright and energetic picture book features a toothy bilingual character whose job it is to photograph items to illustrate each letter of el alfabeto Español. With her bright palette and active characters, Ms. Vargo's familiar illustrations are also seen on Play-Doh craft books and on art activity books found in craft stores around the country.

Ms. Vargo has been a participant in the Robert's Snow cancer fund raiser for the past three years, and each snowflake she exhibits for the Robert's Snow is fanciful, unique and colorful in a highly detailed artistic style. Last year's snowflake featured the character Bessie from the picture book Bessie's Bed, a story about a woman who shared her bed with various creatures displaced by a thunderstorm.

Sharon Vargo's 2007 snowflake is brighter and bursting with more detail and action than ever before. Illustrating a poem by Rebecca Kai Dotlich has provided Vargo a platform to showcase her talent for color and movement. "Song for a Prince in Pajamas" is a fun, busy piece. This little prince looks like he's meant to be in bed, but no -- there are bells to ring and phone calls to make instead. The whimsy of telling secrets to toads and writing poems to cupcakes reminds me of a little friend of mine who reads to dogs. This is definitely one of those rollicking, accessible poems written with the true essence of childhood in mind.

Sharon Vargo grew up knowing she was going to be an artist, and knew from the second grade that she wanted to create her own books. As Ms. Vargo lives her dream, her continued participation in Robert's Snow helps to further the dream of a cure for cancer someday soon. Auction One for the Dana-Farber Robert's Snow fund raiser opens for bidding on November 19th. Plan now to bid early and often!

(There is snowflakey goodness all around us, yet this isn't even all of the illustrators! These are only the ones that the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute had ready to go when Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast began organizing this blog PR event. So, don't forget: to see ALL of the snowflakes and find favorite illustrators you might have missed, go check out the auction pages at Robert's Snow.)

Keep up with the snowflakes from the blog tour by visiting tour organizer Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast to find each day's schedule, and look at post archives and interviews.)

October 21, 2007


You know, you've gotta love Original Content. This was worth a good ten minute chuckle.

Meanwhile, Book Moot is BUSTED for her non-reading ways by her patrons! The shame of it!

A lovely lazy weekend of watching the snow, making soup, and reading to my heart's content. Hope you're having a lazy Sunday, too.

October 20, 2007

Flake Envy

MAN, do I wish I were rich.
Not only would I use the money to fund chocolate for all the needy chocoholics I know (I'm lookin' to you, BFF Brande), but I would buy up a metric ton of snowflakes about now.

It may be just as well that I'm not rich, because choosing from among the goodies would right now be KILLING ME. Oh, man. I love me some Skippyjon Jones. The name -- just trips from the tongue and dances around. Skippyjon Jones has his hilarious ears covered over at Kate's Book Blog, but he's just as cute - and surprised looking -- as ever.

Meanwhile, Shelf Elf has me writing and raving about Sally Vitsky's paper sculpting, and in a word -- WOW. I am a pop-up book nerd of the first water, and the idea of a snowflake with a little door to open -- Well. I just want it.

The Clauses are just one of the good causes to check out the snowflake schedule at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast today. Hope your lazy weekend includes snowflake envy too.

October 19, 2007

Drifting Past...

I make a point of a daily visit to the greatness that is the snowflake exhibition in promotion of Robert's Snow, and I know that you probably do too. I thought my favorite snowflake today would be Graeme Base's featured at Just One More Book, because I love getting -- anything, and bright little packages wrapped up with string feature highly on my list of 'favorite things.' (Why, yes, I AM gifting you with yet another wee song to rattle around in your synapses until you run screaming into the yard. Er. Sorry. But there's a song for every sentence, that's just how my mind works.) I also thought it might be Ruth Sanderson's over at Book Moot, but ...well, I won't discuss it, since there's a song attached there, too. However, I was sneak attacked by Jeff Newman's, hosted at A Year of Reading. There might be no song attached with it, but... that guy on the snowflake... has my bedhead. Jeff Newman also is the guy who illustrated that funny hippo/rhino picture book -- go, read the interview.

Stay tuned: Wonderland is going to bust out with our own snowflake madness on Monday!

Poetry Friday: A Divine Madness

In graduate school that first semester, I often had the feeling of Ohhhh, this was a HUGE mistake," and as I delved into my texts for 18th century literature course, I feared I would be permanently lost at sea. Through my reading I discovered Christopher Smart, a man who at first was merely a starving artist -- someone who drank too much and was in debt, but later on developed some kind of a religious mania that was remarked upon by Samuel Johnson and others of his day, as kind of fits of praying, usually in public.

In that exceedingly rational time, Smart's kneeling in prayer in the streets was feared as possibly contagiously insane, and, as there was at that time a backlash against all religious anything, due to the extreme rigid, punitive and narrow religiosity of the past, Smart was institutionalized in Mr. Potter's Madhouse in Bethnal Green, beaten daily (because that's what 18th century people did to the insane -- hurray for modern psychiatry!) and locked up in extreme privation -- yet, he wrote a most amazingly observant poem, a psalm-esque, mostly rational rendering of the mundane, as he considered his cat.

I read this poem slowly, savoring the moment of feeling included. This, I could understand. A crazy cat guy made 18th century literature unforgettably accessible to me -- I hope you enjoy it, too.


from Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, lines 695-768
by Christopher Smart 1722-1771

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.

For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.

For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.

For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.

For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.

For he rolls upon prank to work it in.

For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.

For this he performs in ten degrees.

For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.

For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.

For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.

For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.

For fifthly he washes himself.

For sixthly he rolls upon wash.

For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.

For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.

For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.

For tenthly he goes in quest of food.

For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.

For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.

For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.

For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.

For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.

For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.

For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.

For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.

For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.

For he is of the tribe of Tiger.

For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.

For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.

For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.

For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.

For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.

For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.

For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel

from Egypt.

For every family had one cat at least in the bag.

For the English Cats are the best in Europe.

For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.

For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.

For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.

For he is tenacious of his point.

For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.

For he knows that God is his Saviour.

For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.

For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.

For he is of the Lord's poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry!

poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.

For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.

For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.

For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.

For he is docile and can learn certain things.

For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.

For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.

For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.

For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.

For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.

For he can catch the cork and toss it again.

For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.

For the former is afraid of detection.

For the latter refuses the charge.

For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.

For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.

For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.

For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.

For his ears are so acute that they sting again.

For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.

For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.

For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.

For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the

bodies both of man and beast.

For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.

For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.

For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.

For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.

For he can swim for life.

For he can creep.

Poetry Friday further creeps and pounces on you at Writing & Ruminating, where you are bound to find poems a bit more... sane. But probably not more fun. I don't believe you should miss this original beauty from Read, Write, Believe - but then, my personal poetic credo might not be the same as yours.

October 18, 2007

Wicked Wacky Wonderland

This book is a 2007 Fantasy and Science Fiction Cybils Award Nominee.

Wonderland, the Phantom Tollbooth, Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, the London of Neverwhere...and UnLondon.

In his latest novel, Un Lun Dun, China Miéville has created UnLondon, a fantastical alternate city that is sure to join the list of classic wondrous settings that lie just this side of the reality we know. UnLondon is full of quirky magic, sly humor, and engaging, imaginative personages from the outlandish to the silly--reanimated rubbish that has seeped across the barrier from London, giant flies manned by crews of air-pirates, people with pincushions or diving helmets or occupied birdcages for heads.

But UnLondon is in danger. When twelve-year-old Zanna and her best friend Deeba accidentally stumble upon a secret entrance to UnLondon, they find themselves caught up in a prophecy--one that foretells the coming of a hero to save UnLondon from the toxic, all-consuming Smog. As the Smog feeds itself from the smoke of fires and pollution, it grows, forcing more and more of UnLondon's residents to flee to unoccupied parts of the city. Can Brokkenbroll, head of the broken-umbrella mafia, help fight the Smog? What about the prophecy in the talking book--why does it all seem to be going wrong?

This book is highly imaginative, visually vivid, and just a wee bit strange--and to me, these are ALL good things. Not only that, one of the main characters--Deeba--is South Asian. Woo!! And (tiny spoiler alert here, but nothing that'll ruin the end or anything) Deeba turns out to be the sidekick who steals the show. Ever wondered what would happen to the Chosen Prophesied One...'s best friend? Well, this is the story of that best friend. An unusual and fascinating read.

Toon Thursday: Grand Prize Winner!!

Okay...here comes the moment you've all been waiting for...or probably not, unless you have copious spare hours in your day, but anyway...

The grand prize winner of the inaugural Toon Thursday Contest, with the funniest answer to the question "so where do you get your ideas?", is the hilarious Minh Le of Bottom Shelf Books. As always, click the cartoon to view it larger.

Minh will be receiving a fabulous prize courtesy of Finding Wonderland, and his winning idea has now been immortalized in the above cartoon. Congratulations to Minh!

The other three winning entrants are Sara Lewis Holmes, liquidambar (aka writerjenn), and Little Willow...and we couldn't resist giving an honorable mention to Alkelda the Gleeful, so for the next four weeks you'll be seeing the rest of those snappy answers cartoon-ified. Congrats to all the winners, and thank you to all the entrants--and not just because I now have ready-made ideas for the next four Toon Thursdays! This was a lot of fun--hope you enjoy the results.

Also, a special thank-you goes to my husband, mr. fortis (not his real name), for his assistance in judging the contest entries. I can guarantee you that he was an impartial judge. In fact, when I asked him to help me judge the contest, he claimed I hadn't even mentioned the contest in the first place...which, sadly, is entirely possible.

One last note--don't forget to visit today's wonderful Robert's Snow posts featuring illustrators with much more skill than I possess--a link to today's schedule is in the post below.

Robert's Snow: Blogging for the Cure, Day Four

Don't forget to check out the featured snowflake schedule for today at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, including the cutest little sock monkey snowflake from a previous year's auction. Today's snowflake at Sam Riddleburger's blog, by Erin Eitter Kono, is a winner, too, so go check it out!

If you're behind on illustrator features, you can get the master schedule so far, complete with links, on this page.

Speaking of slowly backing away...

This gives new meaning to the phrase,"To boldly go."


October 17, 2007

"Toon" In Tomorrow

I'm sorry! I'm sorry. I just couldn't help it. I know that pun needs to be dragged out in the street and shot. Go ahead. You have my blessing. The reminder still stands, though--tomorrow, Thursday, October 18, we will post the names of three winners, plus the grand prize winner, for the inaugural Toon Thursday contest. AND--tomorrow's toon will feature the grand-prize-winning entry, so don't miss it.

In the meantime, a couple of tidbits for your amusement. Firstly, I was highly entertained by Jay Asher's photoessay on The Disco Mermaids documenting...Jay returning a copy of his own book to the bookstore. Go read it and find out why. And laugh.

Via AS IF! comes something that's much less of a laughing matter--the Catholic League is up in arms about the Golden Compass movie. Arthur Slade has posted a fascinating and insightful critique of the Catholic League's press release, which claims that Pullman's trilogy was "written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism." However, that criticism is tempered ever-so-slightly by their admission that the upcoming movie is "based on the least offensive of the three books," according to the Catholic League president. Yeeeeaaah. Ooookay. Slowly. Backing. Away.

And now, a word from a WRITER

It's another fine day of snow flurries, as the unique, exquisite flakes continue to drift through the blogosphere. There are plenty of cute animal characters, filled with color and crazy details, and, in Don Tate's case, there's a little bit of a threat! You'd not only "Better DUCK," you'd better move along quickly if you want to bid on any of these snowy beauties for your Christmas list this year. The bidding starts on November 19th for Auction 1, and November 26 for Auction 2. Details on how to play here.

It's YALSA's Teen Read Week and the readergirlz 31 Flavorites continues, in honor of that. Check the schedule, and join the fun!

Alert! Alert! A CYBIL SISTER INTERVIEW! The title we gave each other is now somewhat problematic, as not all of us are on the same committee anymore, but Interactive Reader will always be my Cybil Sister, and I will always love her completely barmy, quirky sense of...everything. It's another 7-Imp Interview. Go! Read!

Periodically A.F. and myself get wrapped up in the multiple good works of blogging, and find that writing -- which is our raison d'être -- isn't what we talk about much. So, lately we've been gently turning down offers to be involved in some truly awesome blog tours and the like in order to, um, write more, and sort of steer our blog occasionally more towards our craft. We keep this blog to connect with each other about writing, and talk about books, and the whole process. We find that other writers do this as well, but to my mind, few do it as well as Read, Write, Believe. I think it's the poet thing -- it's so completely unfair how poets have this ...lyricism thing going, and can talk about writing so beautifully. I mean, today's post, all about freewriting, un-damming the imagination, and tapping into our creativity truly inspired me:
"How long can you look at an apple without calling it an apple? How long can you freewrite about bees without using the word "buzz"? How long can you hear musical notes without framing them as a song?"
If you answered any of the above with "I can't," that's because you haven't learned the trick of delaying in writing. And you can. Sara Lewis Holmes is a writer, and she says so.

October 16, 2007

Looking and Pointing and Saying "Oooh!"

Ooh! Ooh! Via -- somebody's blog the other day, (sorry, have lost the link now - was it Bookshelves of Doom?) I discovered the Powell's Books Blog! (Go, independent booksellers, whoo!) This is an entertaining blog of short reviews and opinions, AND it has YA content and CONTESTS. Yes. Just what you needed: another awesome blog in the blog reader... But go there anyway. It's well worth your time.

The Guardian Arts blog is about YA dystopia. The author mentions Catherine Fisher's Incarceron, and I note its place on my shelf with glee.

Thoroughly non-YA - myriad people read PostSecret, the blog. How many people will read PostSecret, the Book? Now in its fifth volume, the "Extraordinary Confessions of Ordinary People" continue to fascinate. I admit to finding the blog sort of intriguing, but also sort of disturbing. Mostly disturbing. By now I wonder if anyone is really telling real secrets anymore, or has it all become a sort of street theater? Anyway...

Via Ypulse, another visit to the UK's newest cool YA spot - Spinebreakers, where 13-18 year olds celebrate their favorite books by providing author interviews, alternate endings, videos, and interactive content to reach their reading peers. Some excellent interviews with Meg Rosoff, Nick Hornby and others. Since it launched in September, Spinebreakers has really taken on a professional look, and continues to have great content. Penguin Books has outdone itself.

It only seemed impossible until Jules and Eisha coordinated over sixty-five bloggers into a concentrated effort to promote awareness of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute fund raiser called Robert's Snow. Now, it's just what's being discussed over breakfast. Yesterday's count of one hundred and sixty nine blogs talking up the auction was music to our ears. A little effort from everybody, and we can make a difference. Check out the beautiful snowflake at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and find out today's snowflake gallery schedule. It includes the incomparable Selina Alko, hosted at Brooklyn Arden. Alko's art is a new discovery of mine -- so go, go, browse, ooh and aah. Whimsy awaits.

October 15, 2007

Random Internet Searches May Be Hazardous to Your Health.

Okay, so here's what I was doing. Feel free to laugh. It's a long and somewhat bizarre story.

I was finishing up washing some dishes, when a precariously placed cookie sheet leaning against the dish drainer dislodged a very nice ceramic casserole dish that was evidently precariously placed as well, unbeknownst to me, and the casserole dish fell on the floor, dropped, and broke.

I shed a few tears--sad ones for my poor dead casserole dish, and embarrassed, frustrated ones at my propensity for dropping and breaking things, even though we now have linoleum on the kitchen floor instead of tile. I'm sure that in the long run I'm costing us money in terms of frequency of replacing breakables. I actually then had a few moments of total paranoia that there's something seriously wrong with me because of my tendency to drop and break stuff.

So, in my paranoid moment I went online to see if I could Google, like, some kind of support group for people who drop and break stuff a lot. Or perhaps find out if I had some kind of horrible neurological disorder. Somehow, one of the search results was the IMDB entry for Drop Dead Fred (a rather amusing movie). I got distracted, and it occurred to me that I hadn't seen Phoebe Cates in anything in a really long time. I checked her entry and found out that she has "retired" from movies and is now essentially Kevin Kline's kept woman (well, okay, housewife and mother of his three children).

Then I checked Rik Mayall's entry, wondering if he'd done anything else I'd heard of. I noticed that he had been in an episode of the BBC show Jonathan Creek, which I quite liked. I clicked on the entry for the main actor, Alan Davies, who plays the crime-solving magician Jonathan Creek and is cute in a goofy and oblivious sort of way. Now we get to the point of this blog entry.

To my surprise, the first listing under his filmography was a film version, currently in production, of Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, from Louise Rennison's series of Georgia Nicolson novels. Alan Davies plays, I think, Georgia's dad. AND--here's the clincher--the director and co-writer of the screenplay is Gurinder Chadha, who directed Bride and Prejudice, Bend It Like Beckham, and Bhaji on the Beach. Whew! I realize that was a long and roundabout way to find out this information, but I guess I'm...uh...sorta glad I broke the casserole dish and freaked out and looked up Dropping Things Syndrome online? No? No. Kinda, but not really.

Favoring Life Over Death

I love the snowflake up at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast today. Somehow, even though the rabbit is holding a twig with two tiny leaves, the song, When You Wish Upon a Star comes to mind.

Something about the night sky, and his scarf being tugged by the breeze, and his concentration on that tiny bit of tree seems so ...hopeful.

I've looked at Yuyi Morales' snowflake (which I won't link to), and her adorable character, Little Night, who shines and dreams and loves her Mama, Night. Both of these characters remind me that there are pinpricks of light, even in the deepest dark, and today, as the YA/Children's blogosphere promotional effort for Robert's Snow begins, I'm hoping that the the little lights we are shining on a worthy fundraising effort light up the dark -- with hope.

A little bit of hope was also on hand in a New York Times Week in Review article, as a war correspondent remembered the cats he had come across during his time in Iraq.

"As The Times’s bureau chief, part of my routine was to ask, each night, how many cats we had seated for dinner. In a place where we could do little else to relieve the war’s miseries, the tally became a measure of one small thing we could do to favor life over death."

A small thing to do to 'favor life over death.' I think that sounds about right. You'll find the daily snowflake schedule for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute fund raising auction at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Let it snow.

October 13, 2007

Fear of the Unfamiliar...

This book is a 2007 Fantasy and Science Fiction Cybils Award Nominee.

I like being pleasantly surprised by books--picking one at random, or taking a chance on one that doesn't necessarily seem entirely my cup of tea, at least, judging from the cover blurb. Book One of K.V. Johansen's Nightwalker: The Warlocks of Talverdin was one of those pleasant surprises.

Maurey was supposed to be a pupil at the grammar school of Fowler College--his guardian had paid for it, and when she died, she left enough for him to continue his tutelage. But the corrupt masters of the school, including the King's Chancellor, demote him to servant status and turn a blind eye when the other boys torment him. Night-eyes, they call him, or Nightwalker--with his dark hair and dark eyes, he looks a bit like the warlocks of old who were driven out to the far west of the island in a purge that, if you're a history buff, will stir up thoughts of the druids being driven out of Britain by the Romans.

He insists it isn't true--after all, his mother was definitely human. She showed up one night at his guardian's doorstep, and died shortly after Maurey's birth. But is there truth to the rumor after all? His mother never gave her name, nor the name of his father. There's the strange ability Maurey has of seeing in the dark. And then an unexpected discovery reveals a truth Maurey never suspected; a truth that strikes fear and anger into the hearts of the corrupt Chancellor Holden and his cronies. Maurey is sentenced to death, but rescued in the nick of time by a young baroness who doesn't like Chancellor Holden any more than he does. Now they're both on the run, and the only place they can think to go is the forbidden land of the warlocks of Talverdin.

This was a deceptively simple story--an adventure, on the surface, but one in which weighty subjects such as prejudice, misunderstanding, and politics are deftly woven in. It's a fantasy, but one that's appropriately and effectively grounded in realistic themes. Though there isn't anything particularly brand new about the setting or the fantasy elements, it's a well-told and well-written story that leaves me looking forward to Book Two.

Back in Business: The Bindis Go Bollywood

Amber, Jazz, and Geena are at it again. It wasn't enough that they got into loads of trouble last time trying to get rid of Auntie, and marry her off to their dreamy teacher, Mr. Arora. Now they've decided to be good, and do something to get on Auntie's good side. When they find out that Auntie's offered to help host a Bollywood party to raise funds for rebuilding their school, they can't resist putting in an oar -- strictly to help, mind you. Finding out that there is a Bollywood star living right near them, and inviting her to be the honored guest at the party -- though she's retired and a recluse -- seems like one of Amber's greatest Great Ideas.

Naturally, it isn't. For a number of reasons, not the least of which is that former Bollywood star, Molly is not only ancient and a crone, she's just plain EVIL -- ! Amber's going to have to save the day again for the Bollywood Babes.

Another winner from Narinder Dhami, this lighthearted, fast-paced novel has a perfect, sassy bite, and is lots of fun for the wanna-be glamorous middle grade set.

Invasion of the Blue Creatures

Eoin Colfer described his first Artemis Fowl book as "Diehard with fairies." That interesting description would also have worked for The Supernaturalist, another book about being invaded by otherworldly... things, and fighting back. Only, this time, the fight might not really have made that much sense.

The Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys is another for-profit place in the dystopian world of Satellite City, where the boys are used as guinea pigs for product testing of all kinds. Their lifespans are incredibly short, and they often die horrible deaths, and once you're there, the only escape is adoption or death. And who adopts fourteen year olds? Cosmo Hill knows his one chance at escape -- and death -- is all he's got, and he blows it. As he lies dying, a blue creature lands on his chest, looking into his eyes, and he feels no pain. He knows -- this is it -- until somebody rescues him.

The Supernaturalists fight supernatural beings they call the Parasites, and their band of believers makes a place for Cosmo. But things aren't what they seem -- ever -- and quite a few twists are in store for our hero and for readers too. Classic Colfer, there are Brutal Bad Guys and ambivalent good guys, and a great, fun read.

A "Healthy Debate" And Other Weekend Odd Ends

NPR's All Things Considered yesterday had a interesting little piece on the so-called "urban" or "ghetto" literature not meeting favor in all corners, something that has been a bit of a controversy for years. Author Terry McMillian has written a scathing letter to the head editors at Simon & Schuster, excoriating them for elevating hip-hop, street culture, for being complicit in the exploitation of African American girls and women, and for allowing poorly written, barely edited street trash to be promoted beyond more literary novels.

Of course, Terry McMillian has her own reasons for her fury, but I laughed as the pleasant voice of NPR's correspondent said that this would contribute to a "healthy debate" on the topic of urban/ghetto lit. Debate -- what a polite, classroom word! I think she meant to say 'screaming arguments.'

Supporters of urban literature are so enthusiastic about it. They insist that there are no drawbacks to the books; minority teens are now reading. In 2006, a Newsweek report added, "Hip-hop fiction is doing for 15- to 25-year-old African-Americans what 'Harry Potter' did for kids," says Matt Campbell, a buyer for Waldenbooks. "Getting a new audience excited about books."

Written in some cases by incarcerated authors, with titles like Baby Momma Drama, A Gangster's Girl and Project Chick, the tsk-tsk-ing has gotten pretty loud from worried and unhappy urban lit detractors. It reminds me of the anxiety produced by the soap opera-esque Gossip Girls series. People worried then as now that the books glorify a certain trashy lifestyle, make illegalities look attractive, reinforce stereotypes and allow other books by more mature and mainstream authors to be ignored.

That last bit is probably pretty true. The publishing industry seems to revolve on money and marketing, and Urban Lit is a massive money-maker; it sells sex, it sells sizzle, it sells all of the things that are easily accessible in cities, easily digestible, don't require a dictionary, and major publishing companies have leaped to take part in what is seen as a sure thing, in all likelihood ignoring other worthy projects. Unfortunately, that's just kind of the way things go. In many circles the question is brought up, "Is it literature?" but I'm not sure defining the parameters of literature would actually answer the question. What I think people really are asking is this: "Is this appropriate? Is it worthy? Is it okay to like this?"

I've been helping my niece write a novel for the last year. She's just turned eighteen, and is dead serious about this tragic morality play she's creating, where a Good Girl does Bad Things and Pays A Price. It's almost Shakespearean in its simplicity, and it occurs to me that many of the 'urban lit' novels are just the same. After reveling in the drug culture, gambling, pimping and excess, quite a few of the novels end with jail or death -- which might seem a strange end for young adult literature, but it does reveal cause and effect, and the books are being read...

When it comes down to it, young adults read what interests them, and questions about worth and appropriateness will have to be answered individually, as always. As much as I cringe over what I see to be as kind of ...tacky, it's everyone's right to indulge in tacky as much as they want, and we would all fight tooth and nail for that right.

Within urban lit, there are good books, and not so good books, as with any genre. And, frankly, since I haven't read more than a couple of books that come under the heading of "urban," and I haven't yet found anyone in the YA blogosphere who has read any of the KimaniTRU novels, much less reviewed anything else targeted to minority YA's, I can't make a judgment. I do think that the controversy is about to be revved up yet again, however, so I will stay tuned with interest...

Did you see Jules & Eisha went and got all popular and stuff? I mean, I knew they were the YA/MG/Picture Book blogosphere IT girls, but now they're guest blogging at ForeWord Magazine. Eisha's posting on YA novels dealing with depression - right after National Depression Screening Day, and Jules takes it next week. We can now say: we knew them when...

Don't miss Miss Erin's interview with D.M. Cornish, the author of Monster Blood Tattoo, the author-illustrated, complex novel that ended JUST as I was getting into it... And Big A, little a's interview with Eric Luper, author of a really interesting YA book on, of all intriguing things... gambling. Another unusual YA topic!

The Cybils are blazing quite a trail! At last count, there were fifty-six Science Fiction/Fantasy nominations, and I don't know how many in YA, picture books, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction and Poetry. If you haven't' already nominated your limit of one new book per category, what are you waiting for? And consider putting in your two cents at the Cybils Blog on what makes adults able to judge what is 'kid-friendly.' It is a REALLY good question as we, as teens and adults of various ages, set out once again to read for what we hope is an important award.

If you didn't have a chance to read all the way through the Poetry Friday selections, there's still time to check out The Book Mine Set challenge - a difficult, but unique poetic form I'd like to try writing for myself.

Well, there are books calling my name -- and mugs of steaming tea, so happy weekend to you, may you wear sloppy clothes and read to your heart's content.