August 30, 2008

Weekends with NPR

Ah, I adore NPR. It's so lovely to have streaming audio and hear those placid voices I've been hearing for years, even though I'm miles from home.

NPR this weekend has quite a few cool things. Anne Trubek, of Oberlin College feels it's time to retire Catcher in the Rye from high school reading lists. Oh, hear, hear. It wasn't contemporary when I was in high school, and though he was perhaps shocking in 1951, I found poor Holden just ...generically whiny. With as many excellent books as have been written in the last ten years, not to mention just this year, surely it's time to reshuffle?

From NPR's Youth Radio: Ebert Elementary School in Denver started the FUNNIEST Book Election last week -- instead of arguing about Democratic contenders (which they did all last year -- it was Obama vs. Clinton on the playground, at high decibel), they're standing behind their favorite books... for sometimes just as lame of reasons as people vote for candidates. "I haven't read any of them," one student confesses.

The ladies at Jezebel trouble the waters at Terabithia. Don't miss Fine Lines.

Jo Walton hates fantasy. Don't let that World Fantasy Award thing fool you.

And mental_floss has a Quick 10 on winning words in Scrabble. Play some this Labor Day weekend!

August 29, 2008

Poetry Friday: Never Doubt? Or Question Everything?

The Microbe
by Hilaire Belloc [1870-1953]

The Microbe is so very small
You cannot make him out at all,
But many sanguine people hope
To see him through a microscope.
His jointed tongue that lies beneath
A hundred curious rows of teeth;
His seven tufted tails with lots
Of lovely pink and purple spots,
On each of which a pattern stands,
Composed of forty separate bands;
His eyebrows of a tender green;
All these have never yet been seen--
But Scientists, who ought to know,
Assure us that they must be so...
Oh! let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about!

The last two lines of this poem are quoted by Gene Wilder in the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Even though I'm pretty sure the whole cast and crew were on drugs when it was filmed, I love that weird old movie; the book is even more strange.

I love that the Wilder's lines, as written by screenwriter David Seltzer, are just packed with poetry, which was fun for both the adults and the kids. I can't think of another non-poetic movie that uses so much poetry, can you?

Poetry Friday today is hosted at Charlotte's Library, hope you drop in and join in the fun.

August 28, 2008

Toon Thursday: Say it in your best monster truck announcer voice...

SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY!! I mean Thursday. But those announcers always seem to publicize events that take place exclusively on Sundays. Why is that? Is it a monster truck thing? Perhaps I really don't want to know.

August 27, 2008

Wednesday Book Links

I've got this small pile of links that I've been saving up and I finally squirreled away enough procrastination time (and dragged myself away from Twitter long enough) to post them. Woo-hoo!

First, Nickelodeon Magazine (which has a rather attractive, if a little scarily busy, website) is putting on its first-ever Best Kids' Graphic Novel awards. The editorial staff will be compiling the list from submissions sent by publishers, and then kids will be voting on them in the December issue. Interesting process...I guess I'm a little more interested in book award processes since the Cybils are coming around again soon, and TadMack and I'll be helping out again.

Readergirlz has launched rgz tv, a YouTube channel that brings author interviews to teen readers. According to the press release, "rgz tv is broadcasting interviews with Rachel Cohn, Jay Asher, Sonya Sones and Paula Yoo. The uploaded videos have been shot and edited by the readergirlz founders and members of the postergirlz." Very cool! Be sure to read the press release if you're interested in becoming a correspondent for rgz tv.

Also in the area of internet TV, Writer's Digest has launched a pay service called, where you can purchase videos of writing conference sessions, workshops, interviews, etc. It's a little steep, though they make the good point that it costs less than the actual conferences and workshops. Still...I can't see myself using the service, but maybe someone else will find it useful.

This one is totally unrelated to writing or books, but check out Stuff On My Cat.

This one IS related to books. There is a truly ginormous weekly roundup of blog book reviews at Semicolon. It might be a good place to post links and drive traffic to your blog, or it might not...but it's an interesting idea. It makes me wonder if someone should do a weekly reviews roundup like this just for the kidlitosphere. Let me point out that I don't want that "someone" to be me. :D Though I guess we already have that, sort of, in the form of Kelly's wiki. But it would be extra cool if, say, there were a weekly roundup page with a Mr. Linky and then those reviews all got added to the wiki. That would be nifty.

Weather Wha?

An acquaintance of mine just got this t-shirt, and I laughed, and laughed.

This is a BBC weather icon -- meaning what, no one quite knows -- but that confused state is what this summer's been like here in Glasgow -- and probably over much of the East Coast.

Happy Wednesday.

August 26, 2008

The Lies of Faerie

Deirdre Monaghan is a harpist -- one of the best in her county. She's all set to perform in the 26th Annual Eastern Virginia Arts Festival with her best friend, James, who is an amazing piper. Of course, it'd all be easier if James wasn't running late, and she wasn't about to puke her guts out in fear. Stage fright. It happens every single time.

What has never happened before is that a guy comes into the bathroom while she's throwing up, and he holds her hair. He's gorgeous, and he's the same guy she saw in her dream last night...

The guy of her dreams? Literally?

The too-good-to-be-true vibe continues as it turns out that Luke is a flautist who is at least as skilled as she is a harpist -- though he says she's not pushing herself to do anything much on her instrument. Together, the two of them win the highest prizes in the Arts Festival, but by the time they hand out the prizes, Deidre knows that there's something more to Luke than what meets the eye. He's... strange.

And strange things happen around him.

For one thing, her dog, Rye, growls at him -- and Rye doesn't growl at anyone. For another thing, Deirdre's Granna doesn't like him. "You reek of Them," she says, and tells Luke to go back to where he came from.

Ever since she's met Luke, Deirdre's met other strange people -- a cute, freckled guy who shows up, smelling of thyme. A strangely beautiful statuesque woman. And thousands upon thousands of perfect and perfectly formed four-leaf clovers.

Deirdre's best friend, James, admits to be slightly psychic, and Deirdre discovers that she's more than slightly telekinetic. Deirdre is a cloverhands, a girl who sees faeries. And Luke is a gallowglass -- a faerie assassin, who's been sent to make sure she sees nothing ever again.

Luke...the boy she thought could change her from being boring and bland, the boy who admits he's fascinated with her.

LAMENT: THE FAERIE QUEEN'S DECEPTION displays a world both larger and less ordinary than Deirdre has ever dreamed.

Luke is an enigma -- at once older than the world, and a regular teen. Fans of the Twilight series will see a bit of Edward in him. The novel has much to offer, but ended before I was ready, and I was left with a mouthful of questions, such as...

Why wasn't Deirdre a bit more curious earlier? What happens to patient, wonderful James, and his uncanny piper's talent? What does it mean to him that he is the soul saved, or does Deirdre tell him? Is only music left between Deirdre and Luke? What happens with Delia and Granna? How could Deirdre forget her family and all she'd ever known if she wasn't fairy-touched, if she could see through the glamor?

Such frustrated questions might well be answered in the sequel! Ballad: The Gathering of Faerie is due out October 2009. And, if you're needing a Maggie Stiefvater fix in between, the author posts short stories every Friday @ the Merry Sisters of Fate, a blog she writes along with some other stupendous writers. You can also see her artwork at Portraits With Character.

Pre-order this book from an independent bookstore near you! Coming soon: October 2009!

For Girls Who Think

From: Porter Welsch []
To: Frances Landau-Banks []
Subject: Hey

Frankie, what's up? Hope your term is going well so far. I want to apologize for what happened with Bess last year.
-- Porter

From: Frances Landau-Banks []
To: Porter Welsch []
Subject: Hey

You mean, you want to apologize, or you are apologizing? Your grammar is indistinct.

Okay -- let's take a moment to remember The Gilmore Girls.

Remember when that TV show was, and not all angsty and impossibly twisted and ridiculous? Remember when Rory actually read books and knew things and was self-conscious and brilliant and brave, all on her own?

Do you miss her?

You don't have to. You can find her younger, stronger, better, smarter sister in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

No, seriously. I've had this book for months and have read and reread it because it puts me in a Gilmore frame of mind.

Rich parents? Check.
Ridiculous clubby secret society? Check.
Gorgeous and literate and word-savy and relentless and bent on completely subverting the system? Check, check, check, and check.

Frankie just wants to be ...something real. But how can she be, when she is her father's "Bunny Rabbit," which brings to mind the image of something that quivers and sniffles and had long, fuzzy ears? How can she, when her mother doesn't trust her to walk on the Boardwalk by herself, and when her feminist sister, away at college, thinks her concerns with boys and such are a little juvenile?

Her Dad's always gone on and on about the Secret Order of the Basset Hounds, and how they changed his world. Frankie's not sure she should be intrigued -- until her sophomore year when she thinks the boy she's crushed on, Matthew Livingston, is part of the club. They're recruiting for new members... but they're only boys.

If only Matthew would just let her in on the things going on with him -- but he won't. He's so good looking, such a great boyfriend, otherwise, but he's just too secretive...and a bit condescending. He doesn't see Frankie as anyone but a pretty little package he is somehow molding; a cute little mind who will soon be kind of mind he wants in the kind of girl wants her to be around. To him, she's just ... a Bunny Rabbit.

Oh, no! Not again!
And, Frankie decides, not ever again.

This is the novel for all the girls who get sick of just waiting quietly and looking meek, gentle, and other bits of someone else's idea of feminine, while the guys get the indulgent "boys will be boys" chat and have all the fun. Frankie manages to be a lady -- smart, good looking, intelligent and well dressed -- and still pull the best pranks of all time anyway.

Some people aren't fond of this book because it's told in third person omniscient, and we're not as close to Frankie as we are to Ruby and some of the other awesome E. Lockhart characters. But I simply adore Frankie, and wasn't put off by the voice, which seems to hover in an invisible helicopter above the pristine campus of Alabaster Prep, seeing all, and making snappy, acerbic comments. I am crossing my fingers that Lockhart isn't through with this character yet.

Nope, I haven't told you much... any more, and I might ruin the plot. Go. Now. Read.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Quotations taken from an uncorrected advanced proof, courtesy of Hyperion.

Completely Un-Book Related

...but you've no doubt heard by now about the possibility of a Veronica Mars movie?

August 25, 2008

Dust. Darkness. Sleepwalking. Spores...

Things are SO not making sense.

Nothing's really been all that great since Elliot's mother was lost at sea, but at least he and his father were ...home. But now his father, the great Dr. Graven, has moved them. He's left a perfectly good practice -- allegedly to help Elliot's allergies -- for a stupid little backwards, backwoods, seaside town. Granted, the disgustingly muddy road and stormy night they come into town didn't help out his mood, but when Elliot practically drowns in the slime and mud trying to find help to unstick their carriage, he's a little unnerved.

Next, there's this ...guy he meets, on the road. He's practically sleepwalking -- no expression, no realization that he's just walked past close enough for Elliot to touch. His slack mouth gives Elliot the willies, for sure. And then, there are the DeLoup's... but at least they have hot water and are keen to help him get clean, even if Mr. DeLoup goes on and on and on and on and ON about military history, and weird little Alice screamed the first time she saw him.

There's all freaks, which is pretty much par for the course with this whole run down, muddy, sticky town. Sporeville. "What kind of name is that?" Elliot wonders. And why is everything so ...lifeless...dull... and filthy?

The Reverend falls asleep mid-word. Elliot finds it strange that everyone is so tired all the time. The whole town is sleepwalking -- and exhausted -- except for an oddly charismatic Southerner named Dr. Strange, and ...the DeLoup's. Even Elliot's father is sleepy... and soon, he's sleepwalking for real.

Like the rest of the town.

Elliot's got to do something.
He can't afford to lose his dad, too.
But finding out what's wrong... is more dangerous than he knows.

As much fun as spending Sunday afternoon watching The Wild, Wild, West reruns, this novel leaps into being with an over-the-top villain, a dark, Gothic looking town, strange noises, bad smells and sharp-faced, disapproving looking people, and a young man with a scientific mind. Fast paced, action-packed, and an insane blend of historical, science, fantasy, and Gothic fiction this is an excellent first book in the Wellborn Conspiracy series, and I sat down and inhaled this novel in a single sitting. You might be confused as to how there can possibly be a sequel, but the last chapter will give you an "Ohhh!" feeling and you'll be glad to know that there are more forthcoming.

This book is classified as "Steampunk," and if you're not sure what that is, read the definition later -- it's the BOOK you need to read. Go. Run, don't walk.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

We Interrupt Your Reading To Say...'s time once again for the readers, lovers, and bloggers of children's literature to get in the game!

The Cybils are looking for a few good men - and women - and young adults - to be part of the judging panels for the 2008 Cybils. Please check out The Cybils Blog to find out the details on what it takes to be involved, and don't forget to be squirreling away your favorite 2008 published nonfiction, science fiction and fantasy, picture books, poetry and graphic novels for the nominations, which open OCTOBER 1st!

Now, back to the Books!

Water World

It's late in the 21st century, and life as we know it has all but disappeared under a rapidly rising ocean. Only scattered civilizations remain on the highlands of the earth, scraping by as what little is left of their farms and villages either drown underwater during the storm season or get moved to higher and higher ground.

On the island of Wing, life is getting more and more dire, but even so, fifteen-year-old Mara holds out some hope. On an ancient computer relic of the drowned world civilization, she's found vestiges of the old network, and tantalizing hints that new cities were built high above the floodwaters of the earth to save humanity from the encroaching oceans.

If she could only convince the other townspeople that they need to leave—that their island will drown with them on it, if they stay—then they could prepare their boats to seek out the closest of these sky cities. But it turns out that convincing people to leave is the least of her problems. Arriving at the city of New Mungo, they find a soaring complex of towers and tunnels—and a huge wall keeping out a floating city of boat people, refugees like the islanders of Wing.

Mara knows the only hope for saving her people is somewhere inside those walls, and she feels responsible, as the one who helped convince everyone to leave. As they cling to survival on their boats, she embarks on a dangerous quest to bring aid to them and the other boat people. Exodus by Julie Bertagna has a fascinating premise, and is a good quick read for fans of dystopian novels. The third-person present tense narration struck me as a little odd, but the cautionary message of this book comes through loud and clear.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Important Life-Altering Decisions

Myth: Garlic repels vampires.
Truth: Try telling that to my dad.

Mina's always known her parents were vampires. But they aren't the evil, scary, blood-draining type of vampires. In fact, they're actually pretty normal, even if they don't need to eat and they have to wear masses of sunblock when they go out in the sun. It's just that, shortly before Mina was born, her Uncle Mortie got turned into a vampire, and not long afterwards he dragged her parents into it.

Still, life is more or less normal, until Mina finds out that her parents have been breaking vampire law—Mina isn't supposed to know about them. They broker a compromise with the regional Vampire Council: Mina has a limited time to decide whether or not to become a vampire herself. In the meantime, she has to take vampire orientation classes with a cast of characters ranging from the Goth-iest of Goths to the ditsiest of cheerleaders.

In between is George, who actually seems pretty normal. The problem is, Mina can't reveal any of her new extracurricular activities to her best friend, Serena—who looks like a Goth but is really just a free spirit who kept the Goth look due to inertia. Without Serena, it's all really hard to cope with: the rules, the potential life (or death) changes, and the complications.

Add in a crush on a school hottie named Nathan, another crush on a super-cute wanna-be vampire boy, and a homicidally jealous Goth chick, and you've got Kimberly Pauley's funny, sardonic, and charming Sucks to Be Me. If you enjoyed the graphic novel Life Sucks, or if you're looking for an anti-Twilight, you might enjoy this look at vampire life through a humorous lens. I did, and I'm not the biggest fan of vampire books. Look for this one to come out later this month from Mirrorstone.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Best. Logo. EVER.

You'll have to go to the Cybil's site and take a look. But OH. Seriously. Cool. Lisa Fuller, plus our own Little Willow (her sister!) and our Anne Levy= Awesome. Can we say T-shirts? Bags? Mugs?

Oh, yeah, and they're looking for a few good bloggers... people, read ALL THE REQUIREMENTS before you sign on.

August 22, 2008

An Imperfectly Depressing Poem


NO, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kist
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of glob├Ęd peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty — Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

— John Keats (The Oxford Book of English Verse:
1919 edition)

How very classy I feel this week! Keats!

Ah, there is nothing so fine as a bout of wakeful anguish, despite the fact that our culture is well-medicated against anguish, melancholia and depression of all kinds. I came across this ode this week and had to read it over and over again. I am for some reason charmed by the spelling in this poem -- words like "kist," "soveran" and "emprisoned" are lovely examples of the indifferent spelling practices of the 19th century.

Keats is like many of the 19th century's British poets, in that he equates pleasure with pain and desire with fear or suffering. It seems their happiness could never be unalloyed; in a time when people died from seasonal bouts of influenza and lovers caught in the Spring rain might mean one of them would die of some hideous fever in June, it's easy to imagine why even joy was something viewed with caution -- these poets were literally waiting for the other shoe to drop. Joy is seen blowing kisses, bidding the poor mortals fond goodbyes, as poison comes to take the place of pleasure. Whee.

Startlingly, it seems that Keats is encouraging his readers to embrace melancholy and seek out its veiled hiding places among the raptures of joy. He wants us to look forward to the sadness soon-to-come sadness. In the very temple of delight lurks melancholy. Seems crazy, no? American's are raised with Puritan ideals, so this sort of ...wallowing in grief and soaking up the sadness isn't something quite tasteful, somehow. We learn pretty early that "suck it up" is the only way to get through. Laugh and the world laughs with you, after all...

An interesting world, where melancholia was prized. Perhaps there used to be a certain nobility in suffering, because it was believed that the sufferer was made melancholy by thought, and thought, of course, is a safely intellectual and highly erudite pursuit. Nowadays, melancholy is shoved rudely aside for bleak depression, which is not the same at all.

If you, as I, were not gifted with a thoroughly classical education, you might not know that Lethe is the River of Oblivion in Greek mythology. Lethe is one of the rivers which flows through the unlovely region of Hades, and the recently dead were required to drink from in, to forget their lives in the living world.

Wolfsbane is not only a flower which allegedly could help identify werewolves, it's also a pretty wicked drink made of bitters, cider, blackcurrant and rum, according to the Wiki. (I have to show off my new knowledge of what "bitters" are -- some distilled herbal thing British people put in drinks in the pub. Still am not quite sure why anyone wants to drink something bitter, and learn.)

You should also know that nightshade has scarlet berries, which are here paralleled to the "ruby grape" of the pomegranate, and every part of the yew tree is deeply poisonous, except the fleshy part of the berry, though its poison was used in medieval medications.

Poetry of a more cheerful countenance can doubtless be discovered at the blog of Read. Imagine. Talk, location of this week's Poetry Friday.

August 21, 2008

Toon Thursday: The Dreaded Book Tour

I had a few links I was going to post, but things are a bit busy tonight, so I'll just leave you with the toon to contemplate. Of course, as an as-yet-unpublished writer (fiction-wise, anyway), even the guy doing the crossword and the 5%-off coupon look pretty good to me right now...

August 20, 2008

Squee! The Imps Have Our Jane!

JANE YOLEN SIGHTING! Go, read the fabulous interview with this incredibly gifted and generous authors. (To whom we once stood close enough to touch but were too geeky to say hello!)

FURTHER SQUEE! Publishers' Weekly just gave C.K. another STARRED REVIEW! Man, she's just raking them in! Mazel tov!

The copy editing package is in the mail! And now I'm going back to bed.

August 19, 2008

Just Ghosting By...

I happened to cruise by Tasha's blog today and found that Our Neil has written a ghost story. Perhaps this is old news, but it's new to me. I think. Not sure. Brain is a bit fried.

Then I was amused by what Neil Gaiman found in the Taipei airport--scroll down to the bottom of the post to find out. Evidently there are daleks.

Did you know that if you take a break from writing to rest your brain, sometimes your brain doesn't want to come back? IT'S TRUE!

Pratchett & Meyers and More

The minute I sit down to write a quick post, the DHL guy is here with a copy editing package. Read this as I wrote it -- full speed ahead, taking only half-breaths at punctuation -- Ready... GO!

NPR has done a fabulous profile on Walter Dean Myers. Anyone who has seen this man in person knows that he is engaging and amusing, and dynamic. This is a great piece, and concludes with a excerpt from his novel GAME. Take a peek.

There's that trademark black hat!

Here's a Pratchett sighting from the Book Festival in Edinburgh. No, not mine, unfortunately -- but a reader and book enthusiast called The Yarn Junkie. Apparently 111 knitters and crocheters (what?! And they didn't ask ME!?) made this loving Discworld tribute in afghan form. Don't you just LOVE IT when books inspire this kind of affection and concern? Yay for the "Pratchgan," indeed Pratchett "aten't dead." Interested parties can go to Yarn Junkie's site and check out the whole project. (Hat tip to SF Signal.)

Okay -- seriously scary [EDITED to add: 19th century] Russian language stories for naughty children, via mental_floss. Lots of sharp teeth!

"Just wanted to try it once?" Seriously? Big A, little a talks copying behavior from YA books... Shoplifting, to be specific.

Okay, writers: is your job to reflect moral behavior or real life? Discuss amongst yourselves... Or something else? Discuss amongst yourselves...

August 18, 2008

Monday Maunderings

I've been closely following Mitali's "Ten Questions," series, which is a list of ten critical questions she encourage readers or filmgoers to ask when they're consuming a story. The questions are really thought-provoking, and have to do with culture, reace and ethnicity, and some of the mind-blowing assumptions we make about them. Check out today's question, which is about accents. Hm...

College guy talks books: Higher Learning @ GuysLitWire.

Laurie Halse Anderson's Mom is doing awesome (Yay, Laurie's Mom!) and she shows off the UK and U.S. versions of her upcoming book, CHAINS. I'm voting for the U.S. -- the raised arms of the slave speak just volumes about struggle, the flag-touched birds, the sepia The UK one is pretty tame. And PINK! Lovely, but is that what the novel is about?

It's the anniversary of Sara Lewis Holmes, America's Child Bride. Twenty-four wha??? No. I don't believe that for a second. She honestly looks exactly the same. Go, look at that picture -- then wish her a happy!

Author Donna Gephart is over at Shrinking Violets talking book promotion. A few painless to work on PR!

Finally, the Bulwer-Lytton contest may be over, but the Henley Bodice Prize for Worst First Lines in a Romance is just beginning...

Happy Week!

August 15, 2008

Poetry Friday: Hissing Sums and Problems Everywhere

Yes! It's Poetry Friday. But I want to be *sure* you get your daily dose of bad writing before we get to the good. San Jose State has published the 26th winner of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, and oh, the delicious horror of the poorly parsed sentence! Oh, the glorious abuse of the adjective! It's good fun indeed.

"Flash Cards" by Rita Frances Dove.

Ms. Dove was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993-1995, the Laureate of Virginia until 2006. She reads with an expressive, controlled voice, and you can hear her poetry (and see Flashcards animated) on YouTube. Yay, internet! Keeping poetry sharing alive since... well, since before Google.

Flash Cards
In math I was the whiz kid, keeper
of oranges and apples. What you don't understand,
, my father said; the faster
I answered, the faster they came.

I could see one bud on the teacher's geranium,
one clear bee sputtering at the wet pane.
The tulip trees always dragged after heavy rain
so I tucked my head as my boots slapped home.

My father put up his feet after work
and relaxed with a highball and The Life of Lincoln.
After supper we drilled and I climbed the dark

-- from Grace Notes, © 1989 W. W. Norton & Company, New York.

Read the remainder of this poem here.

Today's poem is a bittersweet reminder of summer days. When I was a kid, summer meant ...math. My father so wanted to produce a mathelete, and required me to recite my times tables to fifteen -- from memory -- and each day hearing his car come in the drive as he came home for lunch was a misery. I spent the morning pacing my room, chanting sums, and the afternoon dreading being sent back to relearn my thirteens. (Still can't readily remember those. Thirteen, twenty six, thirty-nine, fifty-three...)

This unfortunate combining of math with a fear of punishment and a terror of revealing how stupid I was resulted in barely passing math grades for my entire life. It wasn't until I finished college that I could lose myself in the fun of numbers for the first time, feeling relaxed and content doing long division down to the last zero, confident that at last, some things in life had definite right answers.

In my next life, I'm going to be Pythagoras. Who will you be?

Poetry Friday has come round once again to Big A, little a, who started it all.

August 14, 2008

Mystery to the Power of Four

Wendy Lichtman, author of Secrets, Lies, and Algebra, brings us a new mathematical mystery in the Do the Math series, The Writing on the Wall. Eighth-grader Tess arrives at school one morning with her two best friends and finds some strange graffiti on a wall of the neighboring building…strange mathematical graffiti. It's almost like someone knows she loves math, and is trying to tell her something.

Meanwhile, school itself presents its own dramas—Richard, who's holding a grudge after she got him in trouble, keeps making scary, threatening comments. The new girl, Lucia, is friendly, but mysterious, despite being on the math team with Tess. And then there's cute Damien, who conveniently keeps showing up after class just in time to do things like walk Tess to the bus stop.

Is it worth breaking the rules to risk finding out what the numerical graffiti means? Is the person who wrote it a friend…or an enemy? This is a fun, funny, fast-paced middle-grade mystery that encourages reader participation. If you're a fan of Chasing Vermeer and its sequel by Blue Balliett, you'll enjoy this one—resourceful, smart, but also very normal kids manage to figure things out on their own with just a few hints (and more than a little interference) from the adults in their lives. And, of course, the most significant lesson they figure out is that life can't always be fit into a formula...and that it's usually more interesting that way.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Life During Wartime

Eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan doesn't have a normal life by any stretch of the imagination. For one thing, her full name is Duodecima, and for another, unlike most other girls in 1943, she has a passion for science and engineering. She also doesn't have a mother. When her grandmother goes into a nursing home, Dewey takes the train alone from St. Louis all the way to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where her father is working on a top-secret war project.

"The gadget" is supposed to change everything, and it's exciting to be part of life on the base where all the latest research is taking place and there are actual female scientists, not just men. Dewey spends her free time working on gadgets of her own, cobbled together from junkyard castoffs and extra bits and pieces. It's just too bad that Dewey's father has to go away again, sent to Washington to help translate some documents.

Still, Dewey is excited at the chance to live with Terry Gordon, one of the women scientists working on the gadget, even if her daughter, Suze, doesn't seem to want her around. Suze Gordon and Dewey live in a community that's removed from the rest of the country, and on top of that, each one feels like an outsider in her own way, not really wanting or needing each other's company.

Suze is trying to get by as best she can, despite missing her old life in California. But despite her best efforts, she can't seem to quite become part of the group of girls at school—she's a little too free-spirited, a little too mischievous and adventurous. The last thing she needs is for "Screwy Dewey" to actually come live with her…but maybe, in another way, it's exactly what Suze needs.

With its two engaging and very real main characters, The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages brings the World War II time period and the atmosphere of the Manhattan Project to life, from a point of view you don't often get to hear--that of the families who were directly affected by the research, who lived in its midst but knew next to nothing about it. It's a viewpoint that poignantly brings home the idealism and hope placed in the development of new technologies and weapons at the time; an evocative backdrop for the core story of friendship and family and being an outsider.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

Toon Thursday: While We're on the Topic...

We had a nice discussion in our writing group this past Monday on point of view in fiction, so I got inspired to draw today's cartoon:

Perhaps more exciting than the toon, though, is this fabulous interview with TadMack on Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. Don't miss it! Everything you wanted to know about A La Carte, vegi cooking, and living in a converted church. Oh, and there's also rhubarb jam tarts and spicy cabbage slaw, in case you hadn't already clicked over. Go! Read! Now!

August 13, 2008

Congratulations Debbie!

Debbie Ridpath Ohi, an illustrator whose works I've been following since way back when she ran a writer's resource website called Inkspots, has just heard that she's been nominated for a Hermie. A what, you say? A Hermie! It's the UK awards for the greeting card industry. Who knew!

Of the 15,000 card companies in the running, Debbie and the company that prints her cards are one of FIVE in the finals. Check out a few more of her cute cards and cartoons on her website, and crossed fingers that this opens some children's book illustration doors for her! Congratulations, Debbie!

The Midweek Geekfest

Most of us have probably heard by now that Isaac Asimov's Foundation series is coming to the big screen. And now I'm scared. I, Robot and Bicentennial Man did NOT go well, to my mind. Meanwhile, via Smart B's, Trash B's, tremendously successful SFF author Lois McMasters Bujold talks about genres as blood types.

" In fact, I once fancied a metaphor of genres as blood types, in which mystery was the universal donor, equivalent to blood type O, and science fiction and fantasy the universal receivers, equivalent to type AB."

If young adult literature were a blood type, what type would it be? Are we also AB, a universal recipient? Hm. If we were a dog breed, though... what then?

Finally, my inner geek reveled in Galleycat admitting to a certain adolescent nerdiness. Why not check out your ELF GENE, or check out your biker witch name? No, really? Why not?

I've tossed my last WIP back onto the pile, and am plowing ahead on a long-delayed revision my agent just asked me about... oops. Back to work.

August 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, Coleen Salley

From her website:
At the youthful age of 72, Mrs. Salley published her first children's book "Who's That Tripping Over My Bridge?" illustrated by Amy Dixon (Pelican Publishing). Shortly thereafter we were introduced to the hilarious character in the award winning book "Epossumondas", illustrated by Janet Stevens (Harcourt Inc.). Epossumondas tales continue to delight everyone in "Why Epossumondas Has No Hair On His Tail" and "Epossumondas Saves The Day."

via Laurie Halse Anderson's blog:
Author and children's literature expert Coleen Salley has recently had a down-turn in her health and has entered a retirement home. Coleen wrote the Epossomundas books, helped found the Coleen Salley/Bill Morris Literacy Foundation and spread the good news about children's literature across the world.

She recently had a birthday and would be very cheered by any and all cards. You can send them to her at St. James Retirement, Attn: Coleen Salley, HCE 503, 333 Lee Dr., Baton Rouge, LA 70808. Thank you, Kimberly Willis Holt, for the news.

Seventy-two! And this was in the second half of a full and vibrant life, being a college professor and telling stories. This lady deserves a card, dontcha think? What a life to celebrate.

Don't miss the kaffeeklatch over at Seven Impossible Things and Terri Windling's gorgeous collage illustration for Jane Yolen's Beauty and the Beast. (Via Our Jane's Journal)

I've been struggling writing and revising and wrestling, and have now taken to pacing and reading. I sure hope this story's worth all this trouble! I am relieved that other people have had to wrestle this summer as well -- perhaps someday this pain will be useful to me. Hah.

August 11, 2008

Stop, Look, Listen

...was the name of some reading book I had in elementary school. But it came to mind today.

Stop. Look. Listen. It's amazing what you might find in a dirty old city to see.

I'm feeling end-of-August panic. SUMMER IS ALMOST OVER!!!!!! PLAY HARD!!!!!!!

It's Where All the Cool People Are Going

OH. MY. Color me cold and cranky and jealous. Apparently there was a kidlit event in Austin last week, where people got fangs. (And puncture wounds.) The East Coast contingent often has Kitlit Drink nights, and Little Willow rocked her cute purple at the SCBWI thing while everyone else did red. And now the Portland get-together has a LOGO and Ms. Mac is planning topics, and LAINI TAYLOR IS DESIGNING CAFE PRESS AWESOMENESS.

Waaah! I'm five thousand miles away and have a novel to finish! *sniff!*

Never mind. Ya'll know I would've just held up a wall anyway. Hat tip to Jen for making me all jealous and showing me a bag I might not be able to live without.

August 08, 2008

Here's Arthur. Here, Also, Are Lies

I am not a fan of the great myths and stories of the English tradition. Robinhood and his Merry Men are, well, thieves, and Robin risks his loyal friends over and over and over for petty power plays with a sheriff and for the admiration of a girl who seems always to be in trouble, and too daft to save herself. The mythos of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table has never held much charm, and so it was with glee that I chanced upon Here Lies Arthur, by the inestimable Phillip Reeve. "No one's heard the truth" the cover says, and I thought, "Oh, yeah. Cool."

Gwyna was only a slave girl, fleeing disaster, when she found a new master, Myrddin, who taught her the power of tales. His stories transformed her -- from slave girl to goddess, to apprentice to spy. Each borrowed role fit like a glove as long as Myrddin willed it so, but eventually, the Gwyna who once was wants more thant to play a role in one of Myrddin's magical tales. Is she something aside from Myrddin's dreams and Arthur's ambitions?

There's more to life than legend... isn't there?

An absolutely fantastic book, for which Philip Reeve won the 2008 Carnegie medal. Definitely pick this one up.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

A Swing and A Miss, and An Epic Beginning

The other night, this was on the TV. After a "what the heck was THAT!?" moment, I realized this little piece of animated goodness is the BBC's tribute to the Olympics in Beijing.

BBC's Monkey is apparently based on a traditional Chinese folklore Journey to the West, and is actually pretty cool for an icon whose destiny it is to be made into a plush doll.

All the Olympic madness brought to mind playing games -- and a poem about a favored American game in the spring and summertime.

Assignment #1: Write a poem about Baseball and God

by Philip E. Burnham, Jr

(from Housekeeping: Poems Out of the Ordinary)

And on the ninth day, God

In His infinite playfulness

Grass green grass, sky blue sky,

Separated the infield from the outfield,

Formed a skin of clay,

Assigned bases of safety

On cardinal points of the compass

Circling the mountain of deliverance,

Fashioned a wandering moon

From a horse, a string and a gum tree,

Tempered weapons of ash,

~ find the rest of this poem here.

Assignment #1: Write a poem about Baseball and God, by Philip E. Burnham, Jr. from Housekeeping: Poems Out of the Ordinary. © Ibbetson Street Press, 2005. Poetry Friday is at Beck's Book Reviews, so join the game!

August 07, 2008

Toon Thursday: Immature Artists Imitate; Mature Artists Steal...

Let's just say this one was "inspired by" Tuesday's post on The Joys of Revision, Fairytale Edition.

Sorry. I just couldn't resist. And I'm warning you: there may be more.

In the meantime, while you squirm at the edge of your seat waiting for next week's toon (ha ha), here are some links which crossed my virtual desk. This first one is just some total internet coolness: an animated Chinese scroll--be sure to click on the white-highlighted squares to watch neat little mini-movies bringing to life the scroll's artwork.

I also found out about an online workshop site for aspiring writers called The Writers' Lab, from a British-based publication called Bad Idea Magazine. The most disturbing part of the site is called the Butcher's Shop: "Each month, we take a favourite submission from our Show & Tell section, and put it through The Butcher's Shop, where the massacre that is BAD IDEA's editorial process is laid bare for all to see." Jeepers. Not sure if I want to look...I think I want to save the butchery for when I actually have an agent or an editor.

Tor Blurb

Man, I've really been enjoying Jo Walton's posts at the new She recently wrote about Robert Heinlen's YA books, and view of Earth in those novels, and today she's posted on C.J. Cherry's Atevi novels -- which are some of my favorites, and are good YA crossovers. If you haven't had time to check out the newly shiny Tor website, do, and don't miss Jo Walton.

August 05, 2008

The Joys of Revision, Fairytale Edition

Hat tip to children's author Barbara O'Connor for the funny story:

Some Typical Editorial Concerns, with love to my editor, Erin...and Garrulous Mackenzie!

1) Why is the Mama Bear's porridge too cold when the Papa Bear's porridge is too hot? Didn't they come out of the same cooking pot? Perhaps incorporate a description of the bowls in question, showing that Papa Bear's bowl exposes less surface area so that the porridge is unable to cool. Is there a science lesson to be taught here? (Mama Bear's bowl must be wide and shallow; etc.) Or perhaps Mama Bear's bowl is made of thin porcelain, and Papa Bear's bowl is made of earthenware? Please insert some text explaining this to our readers.

2) What is Goldilocks' motivation for tasting and eating the porridge? Has she perhaps traveled a long distance through the woods? Is she hungry at home? A paragraph or two about what attracts her to the porridge (which may be unknown or unappealing to today's children) may help us "get into her skin".

3) The porridge section of the story seems comparatively static and goes on too long. Try to shorten it, so that we can get on to the more exciting "chair and bedroom" scenes, which deliver more emotional punch to the reader.

4) Is the child's hair color significant? You allude to it in the opening paragraph, and then we don't hear about it any more. We need more mentions of the child's hair and its importance in the story.

5) Is it likely that Papa Bear would notice that the cushions of his chair are wrinkled before all three bears notice that Baby Bear's chair lies in splinters? Reorder for better flow/avoid confusion.

6) Goldilocks' pronouncements of "just right" seem predictable by the time she gets to the bedroom. Perhaps we could have a surprise in this scene--perhaps Mama Bear's bed is the most comfortable! Or, alternatively, Goldilocks could start with the Baby Bear's bed and progress to Papa Bear's bed, carrying out the theme of her insatiable desire to "crib" what belongs to another.

7) Goldilocks' reaction to the bears at the end of the story seems overwrought. Why does she flee from the house? Traditionally bears are considered dangerous, but the bears in this story have many human characteristics. They are vegetarians (as testified to by the porridge) and their house is furnished with chairs, beds, et cetera. In view of this, Goldilocks' flight makes her seem wimpy and old fashioned. Today's children will be more attracted to a spunky, feisty Goldilocks. Please tweak the ending a little!

Illustration from The Project Gutenberg eBook, English Fairy Tales, by Flora Annie Steel, Illustrated by Arthur Rackham

Of claws, loyal spiders, strange plots and swans

Last week, in a moment of exasperation, I referred to an activity I was doing with my writing group as "herding cats." And then I saw this on Ananka's Diary, and just about fell over. Please set down your tea before viewing.

So, here's to you, fellow writers. We may not be able to agree on a single book we've read with any degree of competence, but now we KNOW there's a solution to that...

An awesome sounding book that sounds like a nostril -- Norstrilia, on Guys Lit Wire...

There is nothing, nothing, NOTHING like Charlotte's Web. There is also nothing, nothing, nothing like listening to Charlotte's Web read by E.B. White... hat tip to Jules for the lovely NPR link. Oh, that voice! Oh, that slight East Coast tang... and imagining that voice wavering and clouding with grief, just as all of ours did, when Wilbur was safe, at the end. The words, "No one was with her when she died," which I recall undid my fourth grade teacher, still bring me to tears. I am so grateful that E.B. White left that in, under pressure. Unlike so many of those "Dead Dog" novels, this death didn't ever feel manipulated or loaded with morality -- it just was.

Jules may be right. Best Novel EVER might just be the right description.

Sarah Beth Durst has yet another of her bizarre little obscure fairy tales -- it's those six swans, and they're strange and hilarious.

August 04, 2008

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: FREEDOM

Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation had a blogathon for bloggers to post about freedoms. Themes ranged from the right to be anonymous online to the right to free speech and expression, right of fair use and a vibrant public domain, to read in private, free from government surveillance, and more. (A recap of the whole event will be posted on the EFF blog on August 9th.) I thought this event was a good kicking-off point for Colleen's special emphasis month on books in the political realm for children and young adults. And no, that doesn't just mean books on presidential candidates. (Hat tip to Big A, little a.)

I've never thought of myself as very political -- but what does the word mean, really? Relating to the public affairs or governing of a country, right? I've read a lot about that. And I think a lot about that. Like everyone else, I'm a person with opinions, a person of beliefs and convictions. Growing up, I got some of these things from my parents, as do most of, but I saw their fallibility early, so came to my own opinions sooner rather than later. Those opinions, and the books to which I was exposed, were my early beginnings of having any thoughts about politics.

I remember learning about the Nazis from seeing a dramatization of Corrie ten Boom's life story called The Hiding Place. My new best friend was from Holland, so this story had a special significance to me.

I was horrified that Jewish people were being targeted and made to live in ghettos -- which I thought was something like being made to live in the bad parts of Oakland. I knew Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were doing the right thing, when she and her family helped the Jews, but I was upset that they were caught and sent to a concentration camp. I didn't really "get" what that was, because the word "concentration" I thought meant to think really hard, but the things Corrie had to go through indelibly printed on my mind that Nazis were evil.

I was from that point on the lookout them. Unfortunately (and forgive me 'cause I've probably told this story before), the only German person who could be questioned about this was our next door neighbor, a girl with long red hair and a passion for her hippie boyfriend. When I asked her if she had been a Nazi... well, I was seven.

The neighbor explained that her grandparents (! way to grasp time, huh?) had fled from their homeland, and some had been interned and killed themselves. I was completely embarrassed, a sting which tripled when Petra told the story to my Mom. I was determined to find out more about the topic before I asked anymore potentially humiliating questions. Which book did I discover first? The library had Summer of My German Soldier.

I had to read the book in secret, because it was for way older kids, and my mother would have taken it. I think I was nine or ten when I decided I should have my very own illegal enemy combatant so I could hide and feed him, and kick my mean, sibling-favoring parents to the curb. (Looking back on this one is a tearjerker) The end of the novel broke my heart.

I was a little older when I realized it wasn't only Germans involved in WWII. While my classmates were making dioramas of the First Thanksgiving, I was sneaking my eldest sister's books from English class. I read Farewell to Manzanar... and had to read it again. And again. And then I picked up To Kill A Mockingbird... Eventually my sister caught me, and put an end to me snooping in her room for books, but the point is, these are my first awakenings of interest into the political world, the first books outside of my suburban scope which weren't church related missionary stories or something made up about Native people for the social studies book. These were a.) true, b.) read completely on my own, and c.) changed the way I thought.

No matter that I wouldn't necessarily call The Summer of My German Soldier "wicked cool" or suggest it for any kid looking for books about Nazis, Germans or WWII (not when we have Number the Stars or The Book Thief and many others not confused by so many other issues) this is where I started -- a troubling, controversial book which was banned. Farewell to Manzanar led me to other books on Japanese internment survivors and to a friendship with a woman who was born during her mother's internment, too.

What was the first book that you read which you can think might have been called "political" and gave you a deeper view of America? Was there you read as a young adult which helped you get a grasp on the way the world was run in other countries?

More Wicked Cool Overlooked Books are at Collen's place.

Twilight Insanity plus the SCBWI Conference has kept folks busy this weekend. Sara paints the town red and thinks deeply about all she's learned. Meanwhile, don't miss Miss Erin's hilarious report from the new moonlit, twilit, dawn breaking trenches, and Alkelda's ...retelling of the backstory on, er, Breaking Down, which to me is infinitely preferable to reading the actual novel.

August 02, 2008

The Bond Girl and NPR

I'm an NPR groupie, and an Anne-girl, so it was a special bit of fun to hear that one of our own in the children's lit blogging world was on NPR talking about Anne. Gwenda talks about her favorite things about Anne of Green Gables, and NPR showcases the gorgeous new cover Modern Library has released. The best thing about the cover? No face! We are once again free to experience Anne completely in our imaginations.

What made me a little sad about reading the first chapter excerpt from the book (aside from the fact that I have lost my original green hardbound 1950's copy which I found in library discards in the third or fourth grade - it's probably been "cleaned up" AKA tossed, by my Dad) is that the language -- which thrilled and charmed me and rolled around deliciously in my vocabulary-hungry mouth -- is too hard for a lot of the young readers I know. There are reading group versions of this book, devised to render the archaic language more easily accessible, but the beauty of Anne to me was her love of beautiful words, and her absolute insistence on collecting as many as possible to express her mercurial moods. Without that, this classic orphan tale could be just another Annie, or Pippi Longstockings...

August 01, 2008

Poetry Friday: Not Clever

Getting in Touch with our Feminine Sides

It's morning and it's just the two of us

in the Transit crew-bus, driving out to work,

past dew-hung spruce, in this neck of the woods.

The floor is strewn

with chainsaws, chains, tools, grease-guns, tubes of grease

while the whole van stinks of sap and two-stroke mix.

I would screw my oil stained Maxproof coat up

into a ball

and try to grab some kip but today I just can't sleep.

And it's not the jolting over pot-holed roads

or the flare of light that's keeping me awake –

I'm worried sick.

Geoff is smoking pre-rolled Holborn roll-ups

by the barrow-load. He flicks the greasy butts

out of the narrow window slit and says,

frankly, not much.

The towering Sitka spin by, blue and gorgeous

in the warmth of the brilliant, early morning sun

and it's all so picturesque that I am overcome

with a desire

Read the rest of Tim Turnbull's poem here.

I found this collection of Best Scottish Poems, 2004 just casting about on the Web for modern Scottish poetry. I love the language; "Not clever," is a disparaging phrase I hear often here. This struck me as especially funny as I once made a statement much like this in my teen years, and my father heard me, and there was a great kerfluffle. He thought I was disrespecting my mother, sainted motherhood, something. Still strikes me as all very amusing.

Poetry Friday rolls on! If you're interested in hosting, October dates are available. Today's host is The Well-Read Child.