November 30, 2007

Poetry Friday: Shades of Gray

Youth and age. Big and Small. Black and White. Heavy and Light. The opposing ends of any given spectrum become obvious to us early on, as the difference between on and off, yes and no, stop and go are introduced to us before preschool.

It's less easy to understand when we encounter shades of gray, things that don't belong so sharply divided. It's having my eyes opened to degrees of right and wrong that so made the fiction of Chris Crutcher so impactive for me. And so my poems today are from both edges of the spectrum in multiple ways. The first poem I memorized in high school (and I don't think I entirely understood it at the time), the other I first discovered scrawled on a white board in a classroom, and it's struck me with such thoughtfulness that I wrote it for years on other white boards in empty classrooms, hoping that it encouraged someone else to think as I had.

The Veteran

When I was young and bold and strong,
Oh, right was right, and wrong was wrong!
My plume on high, my flag unfurled,
I rode away to right the world.
"Come out, you dogs, and fight!" said I,
And wept there was but once to die.

But I am old; and good and bad
Are woven in a crazy plaid.
I sit and say, "The world is so;
And he is wise who lets it go.
A battle lost, a battle won-
The difference is small, my son."

Inertia rides and riddles me;
The which is called Philosophy.

- Dorothy Parker

In Men Whom Men Condemn As Ill

In men whom men condemn as ill,
I find so much of goodness still.
In men whom men pronounce divine
I see so much of sin and blot
I hesitate to draw a line
Between the two
Where God has not.

- Joaquin Miller, 1837-1913

It's all a matter of balance and perspective, isn't it? In life as in art: balance and perspective...

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Two Writing Teachers. Enjoy your weekend.

November 29, 2007

Toon Thursday Is Back!!

Woo hoo! Toon Thursday is back, bringing you the two remaining contest winners this week and next week. (For the other contest winners, click here, here, and here. Thanks and congrats to Little Willow for this week's entry.

In other news, in case you've been following the fascinating discussion on Chasing Ray about the NEA report on reading in the U.S., you might be interested in the segment from today's Talk of the Nation radio program, which featured the NEA chair talking about the report.

Last little bits from today

Read Roger talks about "also-rans" in terms of book awards, and wonders if a book is nominated another award -- say, for instance the Coretta Scott King Award or the Pura Belpré Medal, do Newbery and Caldecott people unconsciously discount them, figuring they can win "something else." After all, wasn't it the relative lack of award attention ... that brought these new awards into existence in the first place?" Kind of a good question...

I got a little "squee!" (as Jackie says) from reading Chicken Spaghetti's post about multicultural sci-fi and fantasy. I have had people suggest various books to me over time, and I have a someday hope of writing YA fantasy -- a dim someday hope, granted, because my agent hates fantasy, and I'd have to do a bit of work to convince him that it was a good idea. Anyway, Susan has reposted, with permission of Prof. Craig Svonkin and the others at Child_Lit a list of multicultural and ethnic fantasy which includes dystopia, time travel and others in the loosely categorized genre. I don't know about you, people, but as SOON as my readings for Cybils are done, I shall begin tracking down ALL of these gems for the bedside reading table. (Yes, yes, I know in theory I'll be revising a manuscript by then. When I drop everything and get into bed with a bowl of popcorn and a book I'll call it... um, research...)

It's unbelievable that we are reaching the end of the month! Congratulations to everyone slogging away at National Novel Writing/Reading/Blogging Month -- hope it was fun, at least... Sometimes it's also fun to abstain from shoving yet one more thing into an over-packed month, too!


"Apparently, instead of eating an apple from the Tree of Knowledge, all you have to do is buy a pair of slacks from Banana Republic."

As always, Minh at Bottom Shelf Books has the skinny on what's really up with children's literature -- today is Disney v. Seinfeld... and it's disturbing, let me tell you, how much Minnie Mouse and Julia Dreyfuss have in common.

Meanwhile, OH MY GOSH have my peeps moved into some exalted circles. First Jenn Robinson has gotten the label of "Expert" emblazoned across her superhero outfit. She's helping grow bookworms all over the place.

And I hear Mitali is also part of the judging panel for the 2008 Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship, along with Christopher Paul Curtis and Sid Fleischman. Way to go, Mitali! If you're at all interested in nominating a fellow writer for the fellowship, hop on over to the site for information on how to apply -- you only have until January 14, so hurry. It's a tremendous gift to be able to share with a fellow writer.

And CONGRATULATIONS are in order for illustrator Irisz Agocs of Artista Blog who has just received the first copy of her first picture book illustration. This artist was listed in someone's 7-Kicks ages ago, and I loved her work (Picturebook Nerd Alert!) so much I've kind of kept up with her, even though her posts aren't always in English. So, yay Ms. Agocs!

Stay tuned for 'Toon Thursday...

November 28, 2007

The Dutton Writers' Room

Many writers spend a lot of time wondering what publishers want. Dutton has answered that question by coming up with the Dutton Writers' Room, which includes guidelines and writer's tips to help authors give them what they need for their various publishing lines.

Also, there is an interesting Guide to Literary Agents on the web now, put out by F&W Publications. You can sign up for their free newsletter, and they have a place specifically to talk about children's book agents, too.

Oh, And One More Thing...

Forgot to link to Mindy's great post on Jeanette Rankin. Had you not heard of her? She is on my Heroines List: as Congresswoman Barbara Lee spoke out, as the choking clouds of dust and debris from the collapsed towers was still hanging in the air, so did Jeanette Rankin speak while the name Pearl Harbor was on the front page of every newspaper.

Pacifist she was, right or wrong, and she stuck with it when people wanted to KILL HER for her opinions.

From her beginnings to her life as a suffragist, to her outspokenness against wars, this woman was a trailblazer whose story should be taught in every school. And now you've heard of her, too!

Just another awesome book nominated for the Cybils Award in Young Adult Nonfiction. Go, read.

November 27, 2007

The Darker Side of Fairies

illustration by Arthur Rackham
Just recently on Readers' Rants I had remarked on the surge in popularity of books with fairy themes or characters. Many of these explore the darker side of faerie, but that's nothing new, as I was reminded today by a fascinating essay in The Guardian by AS Byatt. Her article explores the more conflicted and even menacing side to some of the great artworks produced in the Victorian and Edwardian eras in England (featured in an exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London--making me wish I had money for another trip abroad...). Byatt points out that

The British, at the beginning of the 20th century, might be said to have been obsessed by childhood. A reviewer remarked that the great books of the time were arguably those written for children - by writers such as E Nesbit, Rudyard Kipling, JM Barrie and Kenneth Grahame. Children and childhood became very real and very important.

Nevertheless, there is a darker side to both the idea of fairies as well as the authors and artists themselves, and this article reveals some uncomfortable facts about JM Barrie, Kenneth Grahame, and other beloved children's authors--so beware. "The bright Edwardian nursery frieze can be seen with real goblins and greenteeths, wurricoes and strangling willows just visible behind the bright-cheeked children in their aprons with their nice apples and dolls." A deliciously written, fascinating essay. Thanks to Morfablog for the link.

Tour de Blogosphere

All right: I've got my excuses for why I've been blog mum lined right up. First up, Cybils - the great "drop everything and read" days have begun in earnest! Second, just today I've been on a train for two hours, walking through the gorgeous town of St. Andrews for another hour, window-shopping (It's the best way to shop right now; one avoids the caroling, which one DOES NOT WANT TO HEAR UNTIL DECEMBER), and I've been reading blogs for the past two hours, just trying to catch up. What is with you people that you all have something to say the minute I turn my back?! (BTW: this is a picture of Glasgow Uni; don't have my photo-sucking-off-the-cellphone-camera gear here in St. A's. Oh well.)

Had a good laugh over Meg Cabot er, revitalizing Little Women. She tells the story as it's never been told, probably for good reason... I am having to admit a grudging affection for ol' Meg. Drat.

More bizarre-ness comes in the form of the newest Gilda Joyce -- I am SUCH a fan of this wacky sleuthing chick, with her bizarre couture choices, though they worry Gail at Original Content just a bit.

Have you ever heard of The YoungMinds Award? It is sponsored by the ever-amazing Phillip Pullman. YoungMinds is the UK's leading mental health charity, providing information and help for various populations. The book that won the award this year is Still Here With Me, by Suzanne Sjöqvist, which deals with young adults expressing themselves after the loss of a parent. I love that Pullman sponsors this; the premise of the whole award is to recognize "the role that writers can provide in allowing adults to see the world through children's eyes." Fitting.

Poor Mitali bemoans her inability to remove her critical thinking cap when viewing Disney movies. Heck, I can't either -- I tend to get tetchy when I see sexism, racism, and other little bits of intolerance disguised as the status quo. As I've said in the Brown Bookshelf discussion, I think aggressive idealism is needed in this world. If we can point out that things aren't right, using humor and charm, we can support things being different. After watching Aquafortis' suggested film, The Miniature Earth Project, I can only appreciate that point of view even more.

Another interesting thought on ethnicity in the United States comes from Salon, who recently published a piece on the idea that race is dying. This really tied in to some of the discussions in which a group of intrepid thinkers has engaged on the topic. We've talked about what are the markers of "white," and why it seems that authors who portray African American or brown or minority characters in books always seem to portray them as issue stories where their race is a factor. We've talked about the fact that this is often forced upon the writers, but no one has broached the subject of what it might mean to have novels filled with characters who don't make race an issue. No one has discussed what I call "the snack schizophrenia" -- Oreos, Bananas, Crackers... I will always appreciate Justina Chen Headley's Nothing But the Truth (& A Few White Lies), because she fearlessly took on the subject of "acting white," which is such a wearisomely common accusation.

And what does that mean? Isn't that a good question...

Every year I snicker over this "only in the UK" news item -- the Bad Sex Award. YA author Meg Rosoff on why she really doesn't want to ever write a sex scene...

While everybody and Roger Sutton have been fussing about that Kindle thing from Amazon, the Booksellers Association and the Publishers Association have adopted a resolution to reduce their carbon imprint by 10% by 2015. There are some pretty big publishing houses in those two groups, including Penguin and HarperCollins, so it is hoped that this can actually make a difference. The question I have is how it will make a difference to writers. Will publishers and agents finally begin te discussion about electronic rights that has been so long in coming?

Finally, Cloudscome posts a great review on The Daring Book for Girls, and the authors take over at the Powell's Blog for a few more thoughts on girlhood. I now want to learn how to make a willow whistle and read up on their section on dangerous things -- which encompasses high heeled shoes, which I still haven't really learned to navigate, and roller coasters, which I (kind of) have. Here's to girlhood -- if you're not careful, it can fly by too fast. Kind of like childhood, which, as Kim & Jason say, is up to us, this time around.

If I can't make a willow whistle, I'm at least going to try out the high-heels...

November 26, 2007

Monday Miscellanea

Boy, have I collected some links. I've been so busy lately--what with travel and Thanksgiving and getting caught up--that all I've had time to do was shove them into a (virtual) folder for later posting. Well, later is now, guys. Firstly, I wanted to make sure everyone knows about the fabulous customizable Cybils widget that the excellent folks at JacketFlap have created--you can set the colors and even the categories, and what you get is a different Cybils-nominated title each time your web page reloads. It really is cool. I just need to get around to updating our template!

In other Cybils-related news, Colleen has posted an excellent interview with Nick Abadzis, creator of the Cybils Graphic Novel nominee Laika, on Chasing Ray. And, peripherally related (to graphic novels, anyway) comes the announcement (via Publishers Weekly) that Francoise Mouly--wife of Art Spiegelman, the author of Maus--is launching a new publishing venture called TOON Books, focusing on color hardcover comics specifically for young readers 4 and up. Sounds like a great endeavor to me!

Another fun interview: Minh of Bottom Shelf Books brings us some entertainment straight from the mouths of Max and Pinky, characters from the picture book The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Superheroes, as they apply for full-fledged Justice League membership.

After all of the fascinating discussion over the past week about the Brown Bookshelf and issues of ethnicity in publishing and literature, I thought that this movie might give everyone some food for thought about our identity as...well, as a country and as a planet, and remind us of the various literacy initiatives and other worthwhile endeavors, as well as the little ways we all help, that we can all give thanks for.

Got a teeny tiny story? The Writers Digest Short Short Story Competition ends December 3rd. First prize is $3000--not bad for $1500 words or less!

More fun from Publishers Weekly--evidently Libba Bray said that finishing the final book of her trilogy that began with A Great and Terrible Beauty was harder than being in labor: "That was awful, but it was over in seven hours," she said. Click the link above to read more about Bray, her series, and her writing process, and don't forget to cruise by her blog while you're at it.

Phew - I think that's it! Finally caught up with the linkage. This Thursday I'll be back with another toon (another winning contest entry--yay!) and I hope to be more active again in the coming weeks, even though I'm still sulking about having no opportunity to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. Oh well...I guess going to Italy was worth it!! :)

November 25, 2007

Double Seventh, Seventh = Zero

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

Thea feels like a big fat zero. In a family of magic-users, she, the seventh child of two seventh children, can do NO magic at all. Her aunt is deeply sympathetic. Her siblings are disbelieving, but it's her parents that are the worst -- they are deeply, deeply disappointed. Thea's been both pushed and protected all her life, and her only response to her failure is baffled rage. Because it's night right! It's not fair that she's a null -- it's not supposed to be that way!

Thea can't stand anymore to see the look in her father's eyes as he sees her magical homework. She's smart at school - writes great essays and does well, but none of that matters to her father, she's afraid. Her stupid brothers tease her about her inability to even light a candle with her power. Everyone expected such great things of her -- there were beings who wanted to buy part of her power before she even manifested.

But now the cameras have stopped rolling, and Thea has been sent away -- first to Cheveyo, a mage and teacher who may or may not be in the same time as Now, and to The Academy -- where children with no magic at all are sent.

But Thea is finding that what she thought was weakness may be strength.
Maybe it's just in choosing where you choose to display your power that counts.

A fantasy that intertwines many traditions and cultures, Worldweavers: Gift of the Unmage looks to be the first in a long line of fabulous novels that combine coming-of-age stories with stories of finding one's gifts and the power of self-esteem.

Live to Fix: Fix to Live

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

Okay, so he was already brilliant -- when Becker Drane was a third grader, he was already studying biology. He was just interested in things, and the world rewarded his interest by making him really, really smart. Becker was so smart that he took tests for fun, like the cool little aptitude test he'd found in his favorite coffee shop, Chapter 1. It was just a little test for something called The Seems, and there was a question about "what would you do, if you had to remake the world from scratch - what kind of world would you create?" Becker had more than just "an idea" of what kind of world he'd create. Becker's response included charts and diagrams and arrows.

That's why he got the job.

That was all three fast-paced years ago. Becker Drane has been working for The Seems -- the people who work in the background to maintain the world and everything in it, including you, your dreams, your hopes and your sleep, all with trademarked and patent-pending tools. He's been working his way up, and now he's a Fixer -- but already on his first Mission, he's in trouble. Unfortunately, the cool tools aren't always enough. Sometimes, things in The Seems just break down. And that's just it -- there's something wrong in Sleep. It seems that there's a glitch loose in the system, and it may be that The Tide has struck again.

The Tide is a guerrilla organization who believes that The Seems should step aside and let them run The World -- and they may have recruited one of Becker's best friends in The Seems to work with them. How can you work against your best friend? If it's The World that you have to save, however -- how can you not?

The Seems: The Glitch in Sleep looks to be book one of a fascinating series for younger teens. Clever and fast-paced against the background of a benevolent organization who only wants the world to work right, this story has almost an allegorical feel as it pits those on the side of good against the changes that The Tide wants to make. A lighthearted quick adventure and loads of fun.

(P.S. - 20th Century Fox recently optioned the rights to the film version of "The Seems," with Shawn Levy, director of "Night at the Museum," attached to direct. Because this is an action/adventure novel, the potential for this being fun is excellent!)

You Have No Right to be Silent

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

The Zero Tolerance Party: it's no longer just a name or a political theory held by a few. It's invaded Marena's life. It's taken away her mother, and put her father under house arrest. And now it's invading her school.

It wouldn't be so bad if Mr. Greengritch had come to just talk -- everybody at the Spring Valley Re-Dap Community is used to that, just like they're used to fingerprint scans, random body searches, no privacy and no recourse. But, it's still school, and school is always the same, right? The JJ-girls -- jingle-jangle they call themselves, because of their jewelry -- are air-headed and cute, and used to ignoring people in favor of their own prattle. The nukes - new kids - are too scared to listen, separated as they are from their families and sent to the community to learn what Zero Tolerance really means. Marena is used to being able to give her boyfriend a sidelong glance and ignore the static from the adults. But Mr. Greengritch is right there, in their faces. He got their favorite teacher "disappeared." He's brought in vicious people who shave their heads, make them fight for their food, train them until they're at peak physical excellence -- and on the verge of complete physical breakdown. He's told them that it's time to change who they think they are. He does this by telling them they are no one at all.

Marena has already begun to suspect that she was no one at all -- her father has faded into being wallpaper, under the thumb of the Zero Tolerance party, he's not the same person her mother had loved. Her mother had died for her beliefs, why can't Marena's father at least live for his? Marena believes it's all up to her -- to preserve her mother's memory. To act.

She is tired of being one of The Silenced.

This brilliant and terrifying dystopian novel sucks the reader down in one swallow. Based loosely on the history of Sophie Scholl, the young German woman who reisisted the Nazi ideology by forming and participating in the resistance cell called the White Rose, this book is a hopeful and strongly heard clarion call for young people to become active in their beliefs. In the face of tyranny, you have no right to be silent.

Quayles Guide to Adventure: Standard Hero Behavior

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

Mason knows what heroes do: they're great, they save the day and do Heroic Things. Mason's village of Highsmith has a "Hero's Alley" and the names of the greats are on the doors of their homes. There's Roland Warbringer. Cassius Coldhammer. Brendlor Bowbreaker. The names have a sound as amazing as the people who did amazing things like battling orcs, goblins and dragons. Their deeds were memorialized by the Anonymous Warrior Poet of Highsmith, who recorded their fabulous history. Highsmith has a past as bright and bold as solid gold, but it's all in the past. In Highsmith, there are no more enemies. They aren't really needed, according to Duke Darlinger, who single-handedly is hero for the entire village. He decapitates orcs and arm-wrestles goblins, all without letting one blonde curl get mussed.

Mason kind of hates him.
Yet, there's nothing left in Highsmith. The people are poor, and Mason wants a different life than barding for people who haven't got an heroic bone in their bodies.

Mason and his best friend, Cowel know that the age of heroes is over, but they long for adventure anyway, and when it comes to them in its truly terrifying form, they're ready -- at least they try to be. After all, if the Duke can Save the Day, how hard is it to buckle some swash, kill some goblins and get home in time for dinner? Isn't it all just Standard Hero Behavior?

A funny and fast paced adventure for younger teens, this book reveals the true nature of heroes as people who just do a job that needs doing.

November 23, 2007

Poetry Friday: A Cold Day in Fatherland

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line, by Leo Tolstoy

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

“Those Winter Sundays” from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, ©1966.

This is another poem copied in my journal during my high school years. The first time I saw it, it was on a pop quiz where we were supposed to identify themes or some usual English teacher-y thing I can't recall. I do recall I that I cried as I took the test - which isn't actually all that unusual in high school, but I wasn't crying because I was unprepared... This poem resonates with me still because it reflects a conflicted parental relationship -- being so grateful for the sacrifice of someone getting up early when their hands must be just stiff with cold, to coax the house into warmth and life before you have to rise -- but also being unable to voice that gratitude, or even find it very often, because of "the chronic angers of that house." I knew those too well.

Gratitude is just as good the day after Thanksgiving - so I will say I am really appreciating the conversations I am having with some of you who are brave enough to espouse a point of view on ethnicity and race and young adult literature. Thanks for your thoughts. If you'd like some poetic musings, the fun today is at Susan Writes.

November 22, 2007

Thanks Anyway

Wishing You a

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I loved reading the Thanksgiving quote at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and it got me thinking about the indefinite things for which I am thankful. Success in the writing world is not by any means certain, but I'm thankful that I get to try. I'm even thankful for every person who asks me the Seven Deadlies for Writers:

So, what do you do all day while W does XY&Z?
So, how many books have you published?
What's your latest book about?
Where do you get your ideas?
Do you have a set time to write, like every day?
Did you know I started a novel, too?
Could you show my book to your agent?

...because every experience, even the annoying ones, are mine - and no one can take them. I am indeed grateful for my "vague indefinite riches;" and when I am pinched by prickly critiques, rejection letters and unknowingly insensitive responses from editors, I can say thanks anyway.

I love reading Liz in Ink's week long list of thankfulness. So much of what I'm grateful for is hard to articulate easily, and I love that Liz is just doing a little every day. That's a concept to live by right there: a little every day. The indefinite riches will seem a bit less vague that way...

Today I hope everyone indulges in the ways that fit them best. Whether in splendid isolation, or surrounded by friends or family; whether with a near-gluttonous feast or in acetic selectiveness of one favored food. I wish everyone relaxation and warmth and good books and the leisure to read them.

November 21, 2007

An Unlikely Champion

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

There are so many books about faeries (or fairies, or whatever--pick your preferred spelling) these days, and I've been surprised by how many are actually standouts--Steve Augarde's The Various, and Herbie Brennan's Faerie Wars, to name a couple. Laini Taylor's Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer is another unique and charming take on the idea of the fair folk.

Magpie Windwitch is a young lass of a faerie, living a gypsy life with the clan of crows that are like a family of protective older brothers. Her calling, she knows, is to travel the world seeking knowledge and adventure, writing down the rapidly disappearing ancient lore of the faeries...and capturing pesky escaped devils.

As it turns out, faeries were once charged with the noble task of defending the world from devils, back in the early days when the Djinn had first created the world. But the faeries have forgotten their purpose and languish into ever greater obscurity, and all the while, the greatest, most malevolent devil of all has escaped and is gathering strength...

Will Magpie and her clan of crows be enough to stop the inexorable evil of the Blackbringer? Or is it too little, too late? Laini Taylor has created an imaginative mythology for a world of magical creatures that exists side-by-side with the human world. Though there are no human characters in the story, as readers we're fully invested in the fates of her faerie and crow adventurers. The longer I read, the more fascinating and gripping the tale got. And I couldn't help but be reminded of the strange but compelling fairy paintings of Victorian artist Richard Dadd, who often depicted faeries with birds and insects--Taylor is also an artist, and hers is a richly visual world. I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

November 20, 2007

In Which She Espouses Dissenting Opinions

A fellow blogger once jokingly (I think?) compared my commentary to the dulcet tones of an NPR correspondent when referencing the fact that I try to disagree... nicely. Well, for all that I'm trying to still be pleasant, I think I am about to prise open a dirt-encrusted can of worms here.

I have read about the Brown Bookshelf and 28 Days Later at many, MANY blogs, and thus we have not reissued that information here. However, that's not just because everyone else is linking to the project, and not because, overall, the project isn't a good idea. As this is the brainchild of authors and illustrators interested in highlighting some of the 'flying under the radar' best in children's literature written by African Americans, what's not to like? I'm definitely behind that. It's just the euphonious euphemism of the name The Brown Bookshelf that has left a little niggling feeling of discomfort.

It's partially because I am on a quest for names. I had a discussion recently with another blogger who professed a great dislike for the word multicultural -- and while I wholeheartedly took her point about the word usually being substituted for 'a nonspecific racial or ethnic book' and packaged as something of a requirement which people are happy to fill with any old book in order to check it off their reading list, I asked what she wanted books about peoples of the non-dominant culture living their normal lives to be called -- noting that that is far too long a description to put on library shelves. We still haven't come to a firm conclusion on that, but admit that it's the semantics that bother us. Names are words that claim things. Maybe I'm just feeling odd about the claim on the word 'brown.'

Admittedly, that might simply be a California sensibility. Where I'm from, "brown" people are all people of color, in our own peculiar tribe. I am brown with my Chicas and my Pinays, my Desi and my Native friends, and "it's all good," to use the colloquialism. I want to be clear: I am not coming out against this worthy project or the people who are involved and in support of it. (DON'T bother sending me comments on that topic, I will just delete them without giving you the courtesy of a response.) All I am saying is that to ME brown is a bigger word.

I blame Colleen. (Mainly because that's fun, but also because) I credit her with this train of thought, since her post today really struck a chord. Brown people are a part of my tribe. They're African Americans, though they're only part of the circle. My tribe is not just women, certainly, or minorities even. My tribe is vast -- and is represented for me by the word brown. When we talk about promoting the Brown Bookshelf, I think of books for every child who is outside of the dominant culture. We so very much need to be promoting that, to be wary of further splintering and other-ing and marginalizing, even for the best of reasons.

So, I need my tribe of brown people to be bigger than only African Americans.

Those are my two centavos. Despite the post-apocalyptic viral pandemic zombie movie title, 28 Days Later is a great way to extend the traditional five minutes of Black History Month into something a bit more meaningful. Bravo. You know we can only be all for that.

This is, officially, My Two Cents and a Writing Tip, (which, put together, won't even get you a cup of coffee, but what are you going to do?)

"Just because it happened to you doesn't make it interesting."

That is one of my favorite writing quotes and apparently comes from a mid-90's movie about a writer trying to make a book into a film. It was frequently said during my undergraduate days as my English 102 professor tried to explain to us the delicate art of the narrative essay. After I finished laughing (at myself and my ludicrous grade), I wrote the phrase down in the margin of my paper, and I've tried to apply it ever since.

There are some writers who inject a bit of biography into every single work. I can think of a prominent author whose novels are her own life constantly repopulated with different names, towns and outfits -- and with a new cover slapped on -- voilà! a new story. This author's political and spiritual essays sell better than her novels, which tend to be the same song over and over again.

In writing groups I've been in, I've seen writers project themselves so much into their stories (and sometimes the stories of others) that their characters don't have any choice but to act exactly as the author might have acted. That's not really great in terms of letting the creativity flow -- and it begs the question of whether or not the writer is writing fiction. It's a hard lesson to learn, but "just because it happened to you doesn't make it interesting." The key to writing good fiction, I think, is to prune yourself OUT of it.

Does this seem to totally go against the "write what you know" school of thought we all were forced to accept in school? Well... admittedly it does. But I think "write what you know" is one useful as far as writing what you know emotionally. I think the best writers are great big fakes who do a lot of research and immerse themselves into these deeply complex tapestries of a life outside their own experience and then find an emotional truth and write that against the big backdrop of Other. They are then IN the story -- just, not as themselves, no so easily recognizable and didactic and intrusive. To me, just writing what you know can be very, very limiting... maybe that phrase needs to be updated to "write what you imagine you'd like to know."

I love the Albert Camus quote, "Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth." As long as the elemental core of truth is in the story, it doesn't matter how unlike you or your ideal self the characters behave. Fiction isn't really about you after all, is it?

November 19, 2007

Auction One: Sharon Vargo & Gretel Parker

Sharon Vargo and Gretel Parker's snowflakes go up on the auction block between today. Once again, thank-you, ladies, for your artistry and your generosity.

The 2007 Robert's Snow Auction officially kicks off today, and you know our whole purpose in participating in this thing was to raise awareness of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and to get people involved in the win-win kind of fund raising of Robert's Snow. I've checked, and the bidding is wide open. As Sara said, I apologize in advance should I outbid you. It's all for a good cause, right?

November 18, 2007

A Reminder... All Good Things Must End

The Clock is running down...
Hard as it is to believe, the auction for Robert's Snow begins THIS WEEK, and the efforts of those of us Blogging for a Cure are over. I've tried to make a point of seeing every single snowflake (thus increasing my angst that I cannot have them all); if you've missed ANY, take time to see them here - it's the type of generosity that lifts your spirits, and I hope it encourages you to bid!

In just a few days, nominations for the Cybils Awards will also be over. Pretty soon we'll be left with ticker tape and empty streets as the blogosphere parties wind down - and we're left with the usual Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and Christmas and Kwanzaa and New Year's and Hogmanay and Boxing Day fêtes... so act NOW and get in on the bidding and nominations today!

November 16, 2007

Poetry Friday: The Kermesse

The Dance

William Carlos Williams

In Breughel's great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
tipping their bellies, (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash they impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Breughel's great picture, The Kermess

William Carlos Williams reads this one aloud.

My love of this poet comes from my undergrad poetry professor, Dr. Isaac Johnson, who was at least six foot seven, thin, bespectacled, and dark. Though he looked like a ponderous professor, he sounded like Isaac Hayes; though his voice was soporific, his wit was razor sharp and quite dry. He read this poem in his sonorous voice with a irregularly measured cadence that suggested a strange but stately dance. Williams had a much higher voice, a much quicker cadence suggesting that the rollicking gallop is just on the verge of being out of control. The two stylings intersect perfectly to me as dance, just as the picture suggests.

The idea of dance appeals in a world where things have grown a bit dim as of late, and the mind is boggled and bedeviled by the ridiculous and the mundane. Lighten up and cha-cha over to ChatRabbit to see the most amazing dancing snowflake ever, made by the COMPLETELY fabulous Salley Mavor, who has truly provided me with a huge smile today. Visit the Robert's Snow: Blogging for a Cure Blog-a-thon organizers for the entire schedule of today's snowflakes. Then, celebrate at Big A little a for more poetic karma goodness. Happy Friday.

November 15, 2007


HE WON! HE WON, HE WON, HE WON!!!!! And didn't he look CUTE in his suit!?? And in answer to your question at Chasing Ray - we feel ENORMOUSLY lucky, blessed and privileged to have interviewed a National Book Award for Young People's Literature winner -- again. This is #2 for us -- joining our SBBT interview with Gene Luen Yang!

We were SO crossing our fingers for this brilliant and funny and talented man -- and this fabulous book, described to him by one teen as "the Catcher in the Rye for minorities.

Congratulations, Mr. Alexie,
Your fans A.F. and TadMack

November 14, 2007

The Lolita Pippi: A Bridge Too Far

We kvetched earlier this year about Paddington being commercialized and other characters being cheapened by overexposure, but this one takes the cake.

According to Der Spiegel, the Pippi Longstocking character, once the possession of Astrid Lindgren, her creator who published her first adventure in 1945, has been commercialized to the extent that her heirs are in a constant court wrangle. From costumes to CD's to skin creams, the worst of the offenders is an Italian company which is reproducing the doll for this holiday season -- with a womanly figure and see-through panties.


Astrid Lindgren, who died in 2002, would have been 100 today.


Wanna see something cool? The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) have come up with the world's first high-definition image taking of an Earth-rise* by the lunar explorer "KAGUYA" (SELENE). You can't see Earth-rise from the moon, because if you're standing on it (or hovering nearby), the Earth always seems to be in the same place. If you're a satellite orbiting the moon, though, you get a different view. Anyway -- click to see the Earth rise and set (It's not a quick lunar vehicle, though, so be prepared for that), and get ready to see the Earth as a beautifully shining marble hanging in black space. The Earth-set is even better.

Has anyone ever heard of the Alex Rider Snakehead series, by Anthony Horowitz? The author is bitterly disappointed the film version hasn't jumped the pond to the U.S. -- but I'm still in the dark, having never heard of it at all...

Meanwhile, the UK is seriously into Harry Potter. A school in Nottingham has actually divided its students into four houses... and the children put on hats and use wands during math. Whatever else you may want to say about themed education, this seems to be working - they're in the top 25% of all the schools in their district, when only a little while ago, they were in the bottom 25%...

November 13, 2007

Romance and Rebecca

Galleycat reports that Harlequin Books is giving away short stories online. This made me wonder if the field isn't a little broader now for writers who want to dabble in romance -- by way of short stories -- and yes, it is. The company reports that from September to December, they are publishing more than thirty new-to-the-company authors, many of them first-time-ever authors as well. Check out the opportunities -- there are a few for romances intended for teens as well.

Speaking of younger readers, Mitali's got the goods on a contest for young writers. The deadline is the 23rd of this month -- check it out!

e. lockhart, one of our favorite writers, reveals that she's working on two more Ruby novels (!!!!), but to tide you over until they're published, here's an excerpt from THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS, which will be in stores in March of next year. I love the cover! I've always wanted a signet ring to seal my letters with red wax, and for a novel set in modern times, this is pretty original. And the excerpt is delicious...

Those who aren't neck deep in National Novel Writing Month -- and I'm not, I'm neck deep in editing, which is where I spend most of my life -- might be interested in the Great Rebecca Read going on at Bookshelves of Doom. Instead of writing a novel this month, they're reading one, and though I'm not participating there either, because I've already read the book, I'm having fun with the reactions of first-time readers to this strange and strangely compelling gothic tale. Good fun for crisp windy nights!

Rise Up Reading

Rise Up to your Challenges
Rise Up to your Imagination
Rise Up to your Dreams
Rise Up Reading!

Isn't this a great call to action? Props to Little Willow for sending out the word.

There's a lot going on in children's books -- including a heads up on the the sequel to Gideon, the Cutpurse, and NPR's lovely, lovely, LOVELY sci-fi/fantasy recommendations -- one of which is the intriguingly titled, Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians, and the Megan Whalen Turner book, The Thief, which is the sequel to The King of Attolia. (EDIT: Yes, it was wistful thinking on my part that switched those two around!) They even include first chapters to whet your appetite! Maybe someone will nominate these novels for the Cybils Awards. (If you haven't nominated your book selection yet... WHY NOT!?)

I'd like to see a list of what people WISH they had a vote leftover to nominate. Admittedly, I'm still wavering in the poetry section...

Marvel Comics is putting up some of their older strips online. You can't download them, but you can read the older X-men and Spiderman comics. This is in the hopes that those who are only familiar with the characters from the movies will know that the stories go on.

I recall being horrified last week to post about library books being filled with direct marketing ads. Via Bookshelves O' Doom, we now know that you can also get ads from the TV while you're SHOPPING for BOOKS. Because God knows you can't last a second without some external input on what you should want or need. Good grief.

And more about ads: I've been following an interesting conversation at at Ypulse about the commercialization of YA novels. Brand placement is pretty common, and to some people, harmless. I am - in theory, at least - totally against that -- not only does it date books, it makes the writer a shill for all manner of products and I can't stress enough that I think most young adults have enough in their faces with their own peers sort of hinting at what they need to be cool, much less do they need it from adults who are bringing them stories. Anastasia asks, "Is literature more sacred than TV, music, movie or internet content?" What do you YA and children's lit people think? Drop in, and let the conversation continue.

The fabulously informative blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast can now celebrate THIRTY DAYS OF SNOW! I am finding it very hard to believe that the time has flown, and there are just six days until the first auction begins on November 19th. ONE WEEK!!! Have you sent out that email yet? The one that's to your mother, your writing group, the people who forward you jokes? Have you let them know? It didn't click with me until recently that yes -- THOSE are the people we're meant to be telling about this. Not just the people who make the rounds on the web: duh, unless we've been seriously living under concrete, we all know what's going on. But people who don't visit our websites in the actual world need a heads up!!

And those of you who have blogged this and shared this and highlighted this and watched it unfold: we made a difference. We did. Just wait and see. The Jimmy Fund at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute will collect more money this year for cancer research than EVER before. From our mouths to God's ear... Anyway, you havetohavetohaveto go over to the 7-Imps today and look at the little piece on Yuyi Morales' snowflake - people, it has a music box. I don't know why, music boxes make me a little weepy... not only is this snowflake an amazing character from the depths of Yuyi's amazing imagination, it lights up and plays a song called See Me Shine. *sniff* You know you have to love that, right?

Don't miss the gorgeous cut-paper art of Cecily Lang at K. Messner's blog, though my admitted favorite for today is Cynthia Decker's hosted at The Silver Lining. Peace on Earth, indeed! A beautiful new snowflake and the rest of today's schedule is at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

November 09, 2007

Snow Flurries & Winter Blasts...

Oh! A Lady Jane sighting! at Shaken & Stirred! She, together with her son, Adam Stemple, talk about their collaborations. I'm always intrigued by how relatives work together -- a mother and son project, and no one goes away mad? Amazing! Also, don't miss the really cool Alan Gratz @ Interactive Reader -- I'm not sure who's cooler, there - interviewed or interviewer! Lisa Yee's sparkling personality is the subject at Hip Writer Mama's blog -- oh, and her books as well. Find the whole schedule at Chasing Ray, and if you've missed a day, don't worry, she's collecting the posts for the entire week.

Meanwhile, at Robert's Snow Central, the flakes are still falling thick and fast. Don't miss the gorgeous work of Susan Kathleen Hartung at Wild Rose Reader, or the beautifully clean lines of Annette Simon's flake @ Check It Out. Past snowdays can be recaptured here.

Brr! Happy Weekend! Stay Warm!

Poetry Friday: The Story We Know

The Story We Know

The way to begin is always the same. Hello,
Hello. Your hand, your name. So glad, just fine,
and Good bye at the end. That's every story we know,

and why pretend? But lunch tomorrow? No?
Yes? An omelette, salad, chilled white wine?
The way to begin is simple, sane, Hello,

and then it's Sunday, coffee, the Times, a slow
day by the fire, dinner at eight or nine
and Good bye. In the end, this is a story we know

so well we don't turn the page, or look below
the picture, or follow the words to the next line:
The way to begin is always the same Hello.

But one night, through the latticed window, snow
begins to whiten the air, and the tall white pine.
Good bye is the end of every story we know

that night, and when we close the curtains, oh,
we hold each other against that cold white sign
of the way we all begin and end. Hello,
Good bye is the only story. We know, we know.

- Martha Collins, from The Catastrophe of Rainbows (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1985; reissued 1998)

This is another poem I copied down in high school journal, next to the last stanza of Robert Frost's Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. More melancholy verses -- today to be shared with the cyberworld and beyond -- at a wrung sponge.

November 08, 2007

Complaints and Exclamations

Since SOMEBODY just left for EIGHT DAYS IN ITALY, those of us left behind -- okay, left at HOME, since the UK is not really behind in this case -- have to comfort ourselves listening to the Helsinki Complaints Choir -- quite possibly the funniest -- and saddest -- melodic whining I have ever heard. "It's not fair!" indeed.

Cancer: also not fair. The talent of the artists doing the flakes for Robert's Snow: WAY more than fair. Their generosity is the only thing that outshines that. Don't miss the peep show of the beauties on the auction block -- especially the one illustrated by Linda Graves, who is also illustrating a new fairytale from Our Jane. Check with the grrrlz at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for today's schedule, and a recap of the last splendid twenty-five days of art.

Don't miss more of the amazingly deep and genuine responses of Sherman Alexie over at Interactive Reader. We are still so honored and humbled that he allowed us an interview. He's so cool. (Okay, enough with the Fangirl thing.) Further awesomeness to be found at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy with the amazing Ellen Emmerson White. I shrieked, "HARPER LEE!?!?" a little while ago reading the interview at Hip Writer Mama - Kerry Madden, you lucky, lucky woman. Full schedule's at Chasing Ray

November 07, 2007

Winter Blog Blast Tour: Sherman Alexie

If you go to Sherman Alexie's website and read his biography, one thing that's immediately striking is the similarity of his childhood to that of Arnold Spirit, the main character in his recently released novel for young adults, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In that respect, the story is absolutely true. And it's that ring of truth that gives it such power and makes Arnold the character so fully realized. In our review of the book on our sister site Readers' Rants, we wrote:

[This story] reflects the complexity of real life, with painful and haunting details that could only come from real experiences of reservation life--making Junior a sort of every-boy who both suffers greatly and finds strength and friendship in unlikely places.

Of course, Mr. Alexie also has a way with words, injecting keen observations and pithy humor into his writing for adults as well as his YA work. As Publishers Weekly described Absolutely True Diary,

Jazzy syntax and Forney's witty cartoons examining Indian versus White attire and behavior transmute despair into dark humor; Alexie's no-holds-barred jokes have the effect of throwing the seriousness of his themes into high relief.

It's not surprising to find out he's received awards and accolades such as a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction (for his collection of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven), and numerous short-story prizes. And then there are the Sundance Film Festival awards for his film, Smoke Signals, which was based on his short story "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona." Oh, and that little matter of being a finalist for the National Book Award in the category for Young People's Literature. Did we mention that?

I have to admit, when we took on this interview we were really intimidated. Sherman Alexie is a celebrity in the literary world, especially with respect to writers of color. He's a National Book Award Nominee and a Cybils Nominee, for crying out loud. Even though we've interviewed some pretty intimidating people--authors included--between the two of us, I just about gulped when we sent off our list of impudent and nosy questions.

FW: Much of your work written for adult audiences is – adult. Graphically depicted alcoholism, obscenity and profanity is just an everyday – every moment occurrence. Was there any point at which you felt that you could not write for young adults? Did you sense any indrawn breaths or resistance when you broached the topic with agents or publishers?

I really didn't feel the need to censor myself when writing YA. And my agent and publisher also felt no such need. In fact, at one point in the process, my editor Jennifer Hunt asked that I put back in a few curse words that I'd deleted. Teenagers curse. And think and worry about sex and drugs and booze and violence. My previous books for adults have always done well with YA audiences, and have been taught in numerous high schools, and have always been challenged and banned in a few places, so I already knew what to expect with my YA. So far, I haven't heard of any bans or challenges, but I'm sure that's going to change.

FW: Zits, the main character from your novel Flight, is much more hard-edged than Arnold Spirit, from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Both stories end with a message of hope, but Zits and Arnold take very different journeys toward finding that hope. Could you talk a bit about these two teenage characters and the different perspective each one provides about life as a young Indian?

Well, Zits is utterly disconnected and lost, unmoored in identity and in time. This is very much unlike Arnold, who certainly struggles through life, and has many identity questions, but is not unmoored, so to speak. Simply stated, I'd say that Arnold is struggling to reconcile two identities (rez Indian and off-rez Indian) while Zits first has to learn how to be human, rather than a feral orphan. I would bet that Zits would think of Arnold as a very lucky and spoiled whiner!

FW: Arnold has a unique and quirky perspective on his life as a kid with physical difficulties growing up on the reservation, but also as an Indian kid going to an all-white school. What did you hope to convey to your audience—whether white or Indian—about reservation life? About "mainstream white" life as it appears to an outsider?

The reservation system was created to disappear and murder Indians. And I still think to some large degree that reservations still serve that nefarious function. I think Arnold, by leaving the rez, is escaping a slow-motion death trap. But I would also love my readers to recognize that a small white "mainstream" town can be a kind of death trap, too. If you asked Gordie and Penelope, two of Arnold's white friends, I think they'd feel just as trapped by their town and "tribe" as Arnold feels by his. Metaphorically speaking, we all grow up on reservations, don't we?

FW: Where did the character of Arnold come from? What made you want to tell this story through his eyes?

Arnold is me. Well, he's twice as smart and funny as I was at the same age. But he's largely an autobiographical character and I wanted to tell this story for artistic and political reasons. Artistically, I just wanted to write a funny, moving tale. Politically, I want all those folks, Indian and not, who celebrate me to realize that they are also celebrating the fact that I left the rez. All of my books and movies exist because I left.

FW: Could you talk about the role of Ellen Forney's wonderful illustrations in this book? How closely did you work together in bringing Arnold's cartoon visions to life?

I made Arnold a cartoonist about ten minutes into the first page of the first draft of this book, and emailed Ellen a few minutes after that, and asked her if she wanted to be the illustrator, and she sent back her first Arnold drawing just a few minutes after. Ellen and I have been working together since the very beginning. I'd guess that a third of the cartoons were dictated by me, another third were true collaborations, and a third were Ellen's ideas. I've learned that most YA illustrators are brought in after the fact, but that was not the case here.

FW: In your recent NPR interview with Renee Montagne, you said that anyone who thinks that the problem of alcoholism on the reservation is just a stereotype is a "romantic fool"--that it's truly an epidemic. Do you see books with teenage characters as a way to reach young reservation kids before it's too late? As a way to educate mainstream America and rouse them to action? Are you writing for "your community" or for young adults as a whole?

There's really nothing that any book, or any work of art, can do to combat the epidemic of alcoholism in the Indian world. It's really a matter of this one book reaching particular kids, who will find sobriety, inspiration, and love in the words, and let them change their lives. With books, social change happens on a micro level.

FW: In the same interview, we find out that in the beginning of Arnold's story, he feels like he doesn't belong anywhere—either on the reservation or in the all-white high school. By the end, though, he's discovered that he "belongs to more than one tribe." To what extent is this based on your own life experiences? Did you learn the same lessons that Arnold did, or is this something that has changed over time—is the transition between "worlds" easier now, maybe?

For many years, I've said that my two strongest tribal affiliations are not racially-based. My strongest tribes are book nerds and basketball players, and those tribes are as racially, culturally, economically, and spiritually diverse. And, like Arnold, I also belong to a hundred other tribes, based on the things I love to read, watch, do. Ever since 9/11, I have worked hard to be very public about my multi-tribal identity. I think fundamentalism is the mistaken belief that one belongs to only one tribe; I am the opposite of that.

FW: When writing on ethnic issues, the temptation is to be either an apologist or a sensationalist. Do you feel that mainly centering your writing on a subculture, for the consumption of the dominant culture, is risking that your writing will be taken as caricature – writing Indians who fit into the dominant culture's preconceptions about reservation life?

But doesn't everybody belong to a subculture? And doesn't every writer work out of a subculture? John Updike is not universal. He's writing out of a Northeastern American white subculture that is every bit as strange as my Spokane/Coeur d'Alene background. Lorrie Moore's white folks are vastly different than William Faulkner's white folks. Louise Erdrich's Indians are vastly different than my Indians. In fact, as I write, I think William Faulkner's white folks and my Indians are more alike than one would suspect. And for that matter, I also see my reservation in the work of Flannery O'Connor.

FW: Many authors who write about racially charged subjects for young adults run into the attitude that there is a way to talk about race, and at times face a sort of editorial interference as they are urged to talk about it in one way or another. Do you feel that having a touchy subject matter interfered with your editor's ability to give you feedback? Are you willing to talk a little about what your experience has been in this area?

My YA editor, Jennifer Hunt, is African American, and grew up in the very white American West, so she was the perfect editor for this book. She and I can have absolutely frank discussions about race and racism that I might not be able to have with a white editor.

For more information about Sherman Alexie, try the following links:

  • Sherman Alexie's Official Website,

  • An audio excerpt from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

  • 2007 National Book Award Young People's Literature Finalist Interview

  • NPR Interview: "Author Sherman Alexie Targets Young Readers

Don't forget the other fabulous stops on today's Winter Blog Blast Tour:

Lisa Ann Sandell at Interactive Reader

Christopher Barzak at Chasing Ray

Julie Halpern at The Ya Ya Yas

Micol Ostow at Shaken & Stirred

Rick Yancey at Hip Writer Mama

Jane Yolen at Fuse Number 8

Shannon Hale at Bookshelves of Doom

Maureen Johnson at Bildungsroman

David Lubar at Writing & Ruminating

Crazy Flakes and Wintry Blasts

Oh! My word! Did you see that AMAZING cycleflake? Or the Scotland themed one? Or the gorgeous
butterfly? Keep your eyes open - there beauties on the auction block! Check with Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for day Twenty-Four of the Illustrations of Awesomeness known as Robert's Snow.

Writers: If you don't have time to read this today, print the page, bookmark the website, do something. Ypulse's Anastasia has some really awesome tips on how to sell your book sans Ms. Winfrey. (Although, I'm sure she'd take the Oprah Bump should Oprah choose to bump her!)

Today, Salon is excerpting, "Red: The Next Generation of American Writers -- Teenage Girls -- on What Fires Up Their Lives Today," edited by Amy Goldwasser (Hudson Street Press, 2007) Listen to the voices -- tough, cynical, grieving, knowing -- of four teens. Experience from the horse's mouth.

Deborah Davis on teens in the juvenile system -- and their access to books. Colleen has already suggested that juvenile halls are a great place to donate books -- kids doing time have nothing much to entertain them. Books can make a difference here, people.

Yesterday, I heard a poem whose last lines have really stuck with me. "The Hour" by Michael Lind, (from Parallel Lives © Etruscan Press, 2008) closes with these words:

...soon, though the hour
Comes to corrode all your power,
Pleasure and faith, with the damp dread that it daily assigns you.
How you evade it defines you.

That strikes such a chord.
May you be well-defined.

Pssst. We gots cakes...

Smack dab in the middle of WBBT, it's Colleen Mondor's birthday!

Colleen from Chasing Ray organizes and energizes us, and causes us to think. Finding Wonderland wants to give a shout-out to an able interviewer, an astute critic, and an all-round Wonder Woman who does so much work she makes us tired. We as book bloggers are slowly realizing the potential of our voice due to her influence, and hope to find new ways to make a difference in books and reading.

Thanks for the inspiration, Colleen.

November 06, 2007

Explorations in Judaism

Marne can't really get why her mother is so...vague in response to her great idea to spend time with Aunt Carole in Hawaii. Dad tries to explain that Mom's not close to her sister, Aunt Carole, but really, who is Mom close to anymore these days? Since her little sister's disappearance years before, Marne and her family have been in limbo. There's too much work and too much worry and too much left unspoken in Marne's life. She'd love to get away—and Hawaii coincides neatly with her best friend Kim's family vacation as well.

Hawaii is meant to be a relaxing escape to a new world, and it is—there are gorgeous guys, great beaches, the works. Yet, Hawaii is also stressful in unexpected ways. Upon arrival, Marne finds that Aunt Carole isn't Carole anymore—she's Aunt Chaya. She's married to a rabbi, has seven kids, and she's the head of a community of Hasidic women who are a force in their neighborhood like nothing Marne's seen. Marne's family is secular, and don't even attend temple for holidays, so nothing could have prepared her for her adoring girl cousin, who won't look at her because she's "not dressed" when her legs are bare, or for her uncle, with his beard, or for her intense boy cousin and his gorgeous psalm singing. No meat and dairy in the same kitchen? And the whole neighborhood is invited over to Friday night supper?

Hawaii is awash with so much that is new that Marne almost drowns. What has she gotten herself into!? These people are weird. There is nothing cool about how they wear so many clothes while the sun is shining and people are on the beach. Hello? It's Hawaii. And what's wrong with talking to boys? What makes Aunt Chaya think she can tell Marne who she can and can't talk to?

There's a steep learning curve to Marne's summer vacation, and both she and Chaya have to temper their expectations. Marne learns there is something to be said for the Hasidic traditions, and the family's more conservative ways, as she experiences "the sudden quiet, the comfort" that enfolds the family from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, the Shabbat. When Chaya has to call on Marne to lend a hand in an emergency, Marne learns that she is stronger than she believed, and what Chaya does for her community has value.

After weeks of feeling that she is both a stranger and alien, Marne has taken the first steps to fitting in when Kim and her family arrive for their family vacation. Marne is overjoyed, but finds out the hard way that she has changed. Kim is the same as always, but Marne's not on the same wavelength anymore. Finding a place for herself and an identity is what Marne needs, and now she's determined to find a spiritual identity for herself as well.

Strange Relations is the rare book that details the inner life of a religious household in contrast with a more secular world view. Frequently the storyline is lost in explanation, and at times the Hasidic family members seem more like spokespersons for conservative Judaism than characters in a novel, but Marne's struggles are genuine and the search for a spiritual identity is one that will engage serious-minded older teens.

This review was first published in the October '07 Edge of the Forest Children's Literary Journal.

Long Division, Multiplication, Fractions and Complications

Fibonacci, fractal, and tessellation—they all serve to fascinate and bewilder me with lovely repeating equation patterns. Do the Math: Secrets, Lies & Algebra has fabulous mathematical content as well as a well-paced mystery, excellent dialogue and a realistic character in Tess. Tess is smart and thoughtful and an observer—but the best thing of all is that Tess is a girl, and she doesn't act like math is something she can't understand. Tess is a girl who likes answers to things, and math provides solid, knowable answers. Math is useful to express relationships—not just between numbers, but between equals and inferiors or superiors; boys and girls, parents and children. It's a clear-cut universe that Tess enjoys.

Tess thinks mathematically, and from her point of view, it's just possible that the weirdness that is life is something meant to be solved via equations—at least life in her 8th-grade year at Westlake School might start to make more sense if only people worked out as well as numbers. As the school year gets underway, Tess is realizing some new things. First,

a.) Some people are not equal. Mathelete Tess < Popular Richard.
b.) That statement is true, until the variables of:
x= a U.S. Constitution test cheat sheet,
y=3 perfect scores, and
z= a broken friendship
get added into the equation.
c.) Tess's two best friends may or may not be what she thought they
were—perfectly balanced with her—and actually might be something
else: incapable of keeping secrets.

Now Tess isn't sure anything adds up at all.

When her mother hears something very suspicious about the death of an acquaintance, and doesn't go to the police, Tess is left with unsolved equations. What if the only answer is DNE: Does Not Exist?

Is Tess just like her mother?

Are there some times when you should just say what you know, no matter what?

Is there a way to solve for everything?

Math helps Tess express her confusion at the world, her dismay at the shifts between herself and her mother, herself and her friends, and her view of the world. A touching, brilliant passage through the end of childhood into adolescence, Do the Math was pure fun to read.

If I can't be Tess, I want to be Wendy Lichtman, who is the author of this fabulous book about math, murder and mystery. Wendy lives in Berkeley, California, and says she doesn't add up the bill at restaurants any faster than the English majors, despite having been a mathematics major herself. Wendy writes thoughtful personal essays for the Washington Post, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Good Housekeeping and other places. She's been tutoring public school students in algebra for years.

This review was first published in the October '07 Edge of the Forest Children's Literary Journal.


"Aren't you that Monalisa Kent girl?"

NO, Mona wants to answer—but there's no point. Everyone knows who she is, and everyone—yes everyone in the entire town of Muessa Junction hates her.

Once Muessa Junction wasn't just a freeway exit where people filled up on fried fast food and got out of town. Once it was a place where classy furniture was made, where Mona's dad designed gorgeous iron futons that were works of art. All that changed when Mona was six—and the furniture factory that was the town's bread and butter and heart and soul center—burned down.

'Cause Mona torched it.

Okay, so she was only six. And it was AN ACCIDENT. But the eccentric town of Muessa Junction doesn't forgive and forget, and who cares that she was only six? Monalisa Kent killed Muessa Junction. Strangers come up to Mona and blame her for their sad lives, their fried food industry jobs, their low-wage, no-hope circumstances.

And Mona blames herself. Her best friend, Pancho, was with her, only five, and his eyes were damaged in the fire. He hides behind dark shades and sarcasm, and when Mona looks at him, that's all she sees. Binny, once a fireman, lost his nerve in that fire, and now has an existence selling...smoke. Incense. Mona's dad has nothing left, and lives like a hermit, until the tenth anniversary of that fateful fire. Then he rises, puts on a smile, and is the town hero.

He saved his daughter, and his daughter's best friend, when the firemen could not. But he couldn't save the furniture factory. And he didn't save the town.

'That Monalisa Kent' girl could be the most hated girl in the state, but Mona hates her townfolk, too—a lot. She hides behind dyed blue hair in the back rooms of a tattoo parlor, slapping bumper stickers onto her shoes and spouting someone else's wisdom instead of speaking her own. But Mona's own wisdom is speaking to her—loudly. Her flashbacks and nightmares are telling her—the night of the fire isn't quite the way that everybody says it is.

The past. It has a way of sneaking back from the dead, and biting you in the butt.

Full of surreal, eccentric characters, Honk If You Hate Me is a bit unusual. The ending has a twist which is surprising, and leaves the reader slightly dissatisfied, but Mona's feelings of anger and not fitting in are spot on.

This review was first published in the October '07 Edge of the Forest Children's Literary Journal.