September 30, 2010

Behold The Awesome That Is The TTOS

I would have posted this yesterday, but Blogger was doing its I-hate-you thing, and wouldn't let me post any pictures. No matter, no matter. I'm ready today to announce the Awesome that is the Cybils is being paired with the awesome that is... me.

Okay, "me" being Wonderland, in that A.F. and I are serving as judges for the YA Fantasy/Science Fiction group - I'm a first tier judge, she's a final judge, so while we can't talk SFF books for awhile - it wouldn't be fair in the judging - we're for once both on the same team. Yay!

There are tons of other awesome people with whom I served last year, including brilliant folks like Steve Berman, Gwenda Bond, Charlotte Taylor, and the ever-fab Sheila Ruth. I am pretty much spazzed, though, about getting to serve with Leila Roy again, since she and I don't have as much time for World Domination By Way of Books as we used to, what with her going to library school and me trying to write three novels at once.

What? You missed that whole World Domination thing? Man, that's what we do. I mean, according to This One Dude, that's what we do.

See, This One Dude thinks it's pretty funny that Leila and I are being let loose in the same Cybils group. He said it was like the "Terrible Team of Something" getting together.

We have had Words about this.

But, the whole Team Terrible thing got me to thinking. I mean, if we're the Terrible Team of Something, shouldn't that superpower come with a T-shirt? Leila's usually the one who makes the awesome shirts, but this time... I'm going to jump start us on the design....

I dunno. I think it needs something.
Maybe a cape...


You know the drill: one book per genre per person between October 1 and October 15. Ready... set....

September 26, 2010

Surrealism Sunday?

Welcome to Book Blurbs of September, Part One, or, more accurately, Book Blurbs of August Revisited, because I am SO BEHIND on my book reviews that I have been reading additional books as an escape route from having to tackle the enormous list of books I need to review. Yes, I realize there is something counterproductive about that. Anyway, today I present my impressions of one surreal children's/MG title and one extremely surreal YA title.

I obtained both of these books from the Stanislaus County Library, despite them no longer being open on Friday OR Sunday. Boo on budget cuts.

Firstly, I read an absolutely hysterical and charming middle-grade mystery-ish book entitled The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by fellow blogger, he of multiple names, Sam Riddleburger/Tom Angleberger. And, if you're like me, you'll want to know the answer to one critical question right away—and that answer is YES, there are instructions included for making an origami Yoda. (I checked on this before I even brought the book home from the library. I would have been highly disappointed had there not been origami Yoda instructions.) Anyway, this is a story told in the form of many mini-stories, all of which focus on the main character's quest to understand just what the heck is going on with his classmate, Dwight.

Dwight is the most awkward, troublemaking, goofy kid ever, but for some reason, when he puts Origami Yoda on his finger, he is suddenly able to dispense surprisingly wise advice—despite perpetrating what might be the world's worst Yoda impression. I loved this book, from the silly yet entirely fitting doodles in the margins to the ultimate outcome of origami Yoda's advice. I can't imagine anyone NOT liking this book, and can easily picture parents and their kids reading it together and screaming with laughter. Really. Quite hilarious it is, hmm. And I just found out there will be a sequel, so I'm happy about that.

Buy The Strange Case of Origami Yoda from an independent bookstore near you!

Also in August, I finally read Libba Bray's Going Bovine, which probably everyone else in the universe has already read, but hey, it was new to me. [Note: minor spoilers are about to ensue. I'll give you a moment to cover your eyes, if needed.]

Okay. If you're still here, you don't care about minor spoilers. I read some blurbs or reviews which compared narrator Cameron's adventures to those in The Phantom Tollbooth, which is understandable, but personally, I felt it had a lot more in common with The Wizard of Oz. A disaster (in this case, Cameron's illness with mad cow disease) precipitates an adventure which you're not entirely sure is real, especially since it becomes more and more outlandish and surreal as the story goes on. The adventure is peppered with a number of people from Cameron's real life (remember how the Scarecrow et al. were actually the farmhands for Dorothy's Auntie Em?). One of those people is a loyal sidekick who exists in real life—Gonzo—and then there's a good witch, who happens in this case to be an angel named Dulcie. There's even a mysterious Professor X who may be the only one who can cure Cameron and turn everything back to normal. So, yeah. Wizard of Oz. This was a loopy, madcap magical-realism romp—that's the only way I can describe it. Though in some ways I found the story to be a bit indulgent, on the whole I enjoyed the ride. I don't think this one's for everyone, and some might feel cheated by the way it all wraps up, but if you like adventures that just keep getting wilder and crazier, and don't mind the "is it real? is it not real? is it all in his head?" type of premise, then I'd recommend it.

Buy Going Bovine from an independent bookstore near you!

September 20, 2010

Sit Down and Write Already! But Read This First.

It's still warm in California, but all signs point to fall. Aside from my being allergic to things, it's one of my favorite seasons. I'm hoping to channel some of the general sense of well-being that autumn brings me into my writing--whether the motivation goes into my current work-in-progress, or whether it's new projects like that short story percolating in the back of my head, this fun Halloween Short Story Contest at Literary Asylum, or even a new novel for NaNoWriMo. (Yes, I've got something percolating for that, too...) Maybe I'll even send a story or two to new markets I just heard of, like Read Short Fiction, which advertises their stories on Facebook in order to build a larger audience. (An interesting strategy.)

In any case, I'll continue to remind myself to keep my Butt In Chair, let my imagination go, and, as writerjenn notes, skip the boring parts.

If you're still having trouble getting motivated to write, here are a few sources of additional procrastination. (I help; I hinder.) Barb Langridge of A Book and a Hug has an exhaustive and fabulously searchable database of children's and YA book reviews. Toy with it here. (Maybe one day I'll devote enough time to my OWN procrastination to see if we can get our reviews linked. Though, judging from how often I contributed to the Children's Book Reviews wiki...erm...ahem.)

Okay. Still procrastinating. Why not check out the latest installment of The Secret of Donotalado, the ongoing interactive story brought to you by the Hazardous Players?

Or, get even more incensed in preparation for Banned Books Week: the Stockton, MO school board voted 7-0 to ban Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. And then counter that tidbit of infuriating news with this excellent article by Jim Blasingame, president of ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents), talking about Native American literature for teens, and including Sherman Alexie's comments on censorship and writing for young adults. (Kudos to my mom for forwarding those links in her latest NCTE newsletter.)

September 19, 2010

Banned Books Week Is Starting A Little Early This Year...

Oh, dear.

Reading is so difficult for some people.
It's the books, you see. Filled from cover to cover with words, and ideas -- things which can't be controlled by others.

Sometimes, that fact gives people indigestion. Unfortunately, in this case it's a guy who had access to the opinion page in his newspaper. He called out Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak as soft porn. From his comments, it's obvious that he either spot-landed in the book, turning a page here or there, or he didn't read it at all.

And it makes me ... tired.

Laurie is such a person of genuine integrity, and the book is an honest and raw portrayal of a person who was the victim of an insidious betrayal -- who overcame horror and pain and spoke up about it, in order to raise up others. How the rape that occured can be construed as pornography to this guy - well, none of us want to even go there, do we? What's disturbing to me is that it will probably eventually come out that the man who wrote the opinion piece is running for some sort of public office, and feels that this polarizing rhetoric will help secure him a place in the hearts of those deeply concerned about their kids.

I really hate seeing how people play with other people's fears in order to convince them to do things. It's obscene.

But, I won't mount my soapbox - Laurie has asked for help in speaking to this situation.
First, people are invited to share, on their blogs, their experience with the book.
Second, she invites us to speak to the people of Republic, Missouri.

She also invites us to submit a letter to the editor of the News-Leader,, or write to the superintendent of the Republic School District, Dr. Vern Minor, or to the high school principal, Daren Harris.

If you're feeling brave, you can comment directly to Scroggins’ opinion piece.

Laurie is being gracious about this - but I know it must really be both hurtful and wearying to her. I am sending her a virtual masseuse and a pint of virtual ice cream.

EDITED TO ADD: This strange case has now been covered by, and is receiving national attention, due to Judy Blume to bringing the case to the attention of the National Coalition Against Censorship.

That's another virtual hug, there.

Salon's article reminds us that we've overused the word "porn" oh, way, way a lot... sooo, what is it, really? The author brings up a good point.

September 16, 2010

Congratulations, Lady Jane!

"Why am I working so hard? Going for 400 books, perhaps, but who's really counting? Maybe in 10 years. Maybe if I live long enough. Maybe if I still have a head that works in old age. Maybe if I can just, following the Asimov model, type faster."

How did I miss it? As of yesterday, when the piece showed up in the Huffington Post, Our Jane has written her three hundredth book.
Three hundred. That's a three, two zeros. 300.

I suspect she did not do it by futzing around on the internet much of the day. Which means I'm going to stop typing this in a couple of sentences and get back to work. But -- three hundred. It's a staggering, gobsmacking amount. Poetry. Picture books. Chapter books. Novels. Three hundred books.

And she remembers them all, of course.

However did she do it? Butt in chair, obviously.
Back to work, kids.

x-posted (with much more rambling) @ tanita's blog.

September 14, 2010

Dear Mr. President... the Kidlitosphere Loves You, Right? But...

...a children's book?
You know MotherReader loves you too, right? And so, she's not going to go BACA on your backside over this. But... only because you're the POTUS. Otherwise...

Wellll, maybe you officially get a PASS on this. You published two books before you became president, thus, you're, okay, a writer. Not a celebrity writer. Just ...a writer. Plus, unlike Tyra Banks, you actually know how to write. So, it might even be, like, good.

OKAY, fine. Congratulations on the upcoming publication of Of Thee I Sing. It even has an awesome title. (And score one for my publisher, Knopf! Woot! And illustrator Loren Long.)

::uncertain sigh::

A Glog: Seriously The Coolest Thing Ever. (At least today.)

Please forgive me for starting with my own, but I'd never before heard of Glogster -- an internet app which allows you to create poster-type pages with words, collage art, photographs, video, music, the works -- and when I found out that Hope Smith had done one for Mare's War, I was so intrigued!

If I was still teaching, I'd be tempted to accept a well-done Glog as a novel synopsis or book report for English - like this one for Artemis Fowl. Or, like this one - a social studies project on bullying. For those with more kinesthetic/artistic learning modalities, this would be so much fun. Of course, making an actual collage and getting gluey would work better for some, but still - collages! For credit! (Okay, you can see a.) some days I really miss teaching and b.) I had the type of teachers who had no... flex in terms of what kinds of assignments they accepted. High School: a series of many, many papers...)

And now I'm wondering what blog applications this Glog thing has... instead of your everyday, wordy novel synopsis, I can see book bloggers opening up a whole new dialogue with books. After all, tons of people already have song lists for their books -- why not collage, too?

I couldn't comment on the site, so I'll say here: Thank you, Hope, for making this! It's really cool, and if you're getting graded, I hope your teacher likes it!

September 06, 2010

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: Charlotte Sometimes

 NB: This was supposed to post yesterday, but Blogger evidently hates me now and won't let me schedule posts. So, boo.

So, it could just be that this wicked cool book was only overlooked by me. And I don't know how I missed it, but I know I would have loved this one when I was growing up...if only I'd known it existed.

In fact, I didn't even know until recently (in the past couple of years, maybe) that the classic Cure song "Charlotte Sometimes" was inspired by a children's fantasy/time travel novel from the late 1960s by English author Penelope Farmer. I've always loved the song, and now I know where some of its most compelling lyrics were drawn from. (And, during the entire time I was reading this book, I had to endure the song going through my head on endless repeat...but I digress.)

There's something about this book that reminds me a bit of Madeleine L'Engle—who, of course, wrote her seminal novel A Wrinkle in Time in the early 1960s. I wonder if the genre of time travel for young readers was something new and exciting then. At any rate, as someone who devoured Madeleine L'Engle's books growing up, as well as spookier fare like Lois Duncan and Joan Lowery Nixon, I'm certain I would have consumed this one with similar enthusiasm.

In Charlotte Sometimes, thirteen-year-old Charlotte Makepeace has just begun boarding school, has just started getting used to her new life away from home, her new roommates and her new bed under the window. But when she wakes up the next morning, after her first night sleeping at school, something is strange. Not right. There is a tree out the window that she swears wasn't there before. There's only one roommate in her room, where before there were three. And the nurse who comes in to wake them is wearing the most peculiar clothes—so old-fashioned.

And then the girl in the bed next to her calls her—Clare.

Where is she? WHO is she? The eerieness of this story comes not just from Charlotte's inexplicable traveling back and forth in time, but also from the author's skillful portrayal of Charlotte's identity crisis, as she continues to spend time in 1918 and begins to think of herself, in some ways, as Clare. The contrasting environments—late 1950s vs. 1918—are spare but well-drawn, and the obstacles Charlotte faces are realistic and suspenseful. The what-ifs that come up as a result of Charlotte and Clare's swap are carefully considered, too: What if one girl is better at math? What if somebody notices she's different? What if she gets stuck out of her own time?

This would be a good one for middle-grade readers who enjoy tales of suspense and the supernatural. It has held up well over the years, in my opinion—that is, it doesn't read as particularly dated, and I felt the language and the quick pacing fit in with comparable books of a similar genre. And, thanks in part to Harry Potter, I think today's readers are fairly receptive to English boarding school settings. It's got a very timeless feel. Can't believe I missed this one before, but I'm glad I found it. And there's a companion book!

The only thing I'm not sure about is the cover. My husband asked me if she was floating in the water like Ophelia or what. I had to say, no, I think it's metaphorical floating, not literal floating...

Buy Charlotte Sometimes from an independent bookstore near you!

September 04, 2010

Who, Why, Whither YA?

Another thought-provoking post from Hannah Moskowitz (via Nathan Bransford's Twitter feed), this one on whether/how the internet blogging/writing community is changing the nature of YA: "Are we getting too self-referential to be relevant?" she asks, among other things.

To put it plainly, I'm starting to wonder if YA is turning into something written by/for the internet community under the guise of writing for everyday teenagers, and that who likes you on the internet is more important to your career--or, if not to your career, to your psyche and your perception of your success--than if teenagers are picking up your book.

She also asks, "how closely does our taste reflect that of an actual teenager?" and brings up the thought that "it looks to me like we're letting it become books about teenagers and for adults rather than about teenagers for teenagers, and the way we're going, I don't think that's going to change."

All interesting points. With 76 comments in response, I didn't feel I had the time to read the whole discussion. But I did want to post a few musings of my own, because I'm prickly that way. And speaking of the "not having time" issues, that was one of my reactions: The social aspects of the community are something I love--it's friendly, it's open and it's not out to be exclusive or divisive--but in reference to Hannah's (very valid) question about whether we spend so much time on our kidlitosphere community that we're ultimately writing for one another, to impress or entertain one another and only secondarily for an elusive teenage audience we may or may not be connecting with....well.

I can't speak for others, but honestly, it's ALL I CAN DO to stay on top of just writing the damn books and revising them and doing everything directly connected to trying to get them published or marketed, and then add to that my other freelance projects which take up a lot of time but are necessary because, hey, an income is good; and then the occasional (bi-weekly, if I'm lucky) blog post and, again if I'm lucky, a weekly perusal of a handful of blogs....I mean, it makes me feel like I'm not even a valid member of the community, for one thing. But I also DON'T feel like I'm writing these just to please my peers rather than a potential teen audience. I hate to sound like an idealist, but I'm hardly even writing these to please the teen audience--I'm writing my stories because those are the stories that come out. (And teenagers happen to come out frequently in my stories because a) I never stopped reading YA, b) YA and children's books influenced my thinking heavily as I was growing up, and c)  I am hopelessly immature in many ways.) 

Maybe it's because of my fine art background and because I'm steeped in the "art for art's sake" philosophy, but it's a lot more useful and productive for me to be a little removed from what others are doing. To look at it--to read voraciously--to learn from it what I can, and then let it go. And only THEN, pick up my pen (or keyboard) and go. It's a doubly good strategy for me personally because I have a terrible habit of comparing my work (usually unfavorably) with the work of others, and that's a sure-fire way to keep me from getting any valuable creative work done.

The other reaction I had to this piece was admittedly a little more response to the statement about writing books about teenagers but for adults, I couldn't help thinking that YA, in the grand scheme of the literary landscape, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Even when I was growing up, with most of my heavy YA reading taking place in the late 80s and early 90s, there were far fewer "young adult" books, though the number was growing rapidly already. Even thirty-five, forty years ago you had children's books, Judy Blume, and then you "graduated" to adult books. Adolescence only started to be formally studied in the 1940s, and for all intents and purposes was "invented" in the modern era. And so, even the fact that we can pose the question of whether YA books are written with teenagers sufficiently in mind is, in a sense, progress.

And so I'm actually fairly optimistic about this. That is, if we as writers continue to write with awareness of WHO we want to reach, as well as remaining true to the stories we want to tell, I think we'll muddle through OK. I'm happy to leave it up to historians or librarians or literature PhD's to do the classification and analysis. Speaking for myself--my job, in this life, is just to create.

September 03, 2010

Poetry Friday: Snorting and Inappropriate Laughter

Oh, go ahead and laugh. You know you want to...
Poetry Friday is brought to you by the letters S and Y and the number 3, and is at the blog home of the fabulous Susan Taylor Brown. Check out actual poetry there!

September 02, 2010

September Errata

Goodness, happy September. For those of you off to classrooms again - may you have clean whiteboards, dust-less chalk, and long recesses.

For years, the Society for Children's Book Writers & Illustrators has been a haven for writers and illustrators -- but with a seeming emphasis on writers. Illustration seems to be an even more solitary field than writing, and so it's kind of nice that this year the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Winners have come up with a mentoring blog for fledgling illustrators, to share around illustration tips, let them know who's hiring where, and to assist greater numbers of illustrators to break into the market. This project is fronted by John Deininger, Kimberly Gee, Ashley Mims, Andrea Offermann,Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and Eliza Wheeler. Check out the intelligent blog, including a nice little video from David Small, and pass it on.

At ALA this past summer, I heard about a book called Ruth and the Green Book. I got a bookmark or something about it, looked at it, and frowned. Green book? I thought. Kids: this is just another example of African American history that I knew nothing about, nor had I ever heard about in any history class...

Do you know what the Green Book was?

In a world of Jim Crow laws, it was the best-known travel guide for blacks in America in the 1950s. It listed not the best places for African Americans to stay, but usually the only places which accepted the business of African American travelers, period.

Imagine getting a flat tire in an unfamiliar town. It's 1951, and you're an African American with a family and kids, stuck somewhere in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, with nowhere to sleep, nowhere you can eat or safely buy another tire, and you just hope to God that stopping on the side of the road to sleep in the early dawn (many African Americans traveled the highways at night, as skin color is a lot harder to see in the dark) doesn't end up with you awakening to white-robed figuring yanking you out of the car and stringing you up on the nearest tree. Jim Crow insanity wasn't limited to the South -- there were places in such northerly states such as Ohio and Illinois and Oregon called Sundown Towns were African Americans had to clear out by sunset -- since the police wanted to be sure to clear out the riffraff before it got dark. In a world with those laws on the books, The Green Book would be basically invaluable to your survival.

And, had you ever heard of it?
Me, neither.
The Green Book was named one Victor H. Green, a Harlem postman who, while not writing the first Green Book is the one whose book was the best known. He issued the first book in 1936 just for New York. In the ensuing years, he expanded it to all fifty states, and in 1949 added Alaska, Mexico and Bermuda. By 1956 he'd added all of South America and the West Indies -- places where you'd think anyone would be welcome to travel, but also places where Americans were settling and vacationing - and carrying their prejudices with them.

That just sucks the joy out of the idea of a road trip, doesn't it?

The 1949 edition cost $0.75. On the cover it says, Travel is fatal to prejudice – Mark Twain. You can page through the whole thing and find beauty shops, restaurants, "tourist homes" - which was basically an early edition of couch surfing spots, auto repair places, and more.

Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Ramsey, is coming from Carolrhoda Books this November. Listen to the podcast with illustrator Floyd Cooper and find out a little more about the book.

And in the realm of Really Weird, I have to share this picture with you from the blog Field Day, which is a UK farming blog... Behold, the rhino-cow.

This cow was a little surprise for a farmer in the Hebei Province of China. It seems to be perfectly normal except for that little horn. At least it's not straight - if it were a unicorn horn, we'd have to butcher the poor sucker...

...and on that note...back to work.