Wednesday, September 28, 2011

National Book Festival 2011

Here is my annual post on the DC National Book Festival!  Best FREE book event in the country!

Authors I saw speak (in order of appearance):

Sarah Dessen
Teen author, Sarah Dessen
I knew she was popular and has been writing for awhile, but I haven't read anything by her.  I've never been a big reader of teen girl realistic fiction.  She was so charming that I downloaded one of her books on my Kindle while sitting in the audience.  She joked about how she was a very ordinary person and how when she came to events like this, she wanted to bottle up all the wonderful love and adoration from her fans.  Then, when she was home, doing laundry or dealing with crying children, she could be like, "See!  People think I'm amazing!"  She also jokingly said that she owes all her sales success to Mandy Moore.  Once Mandy Moore was on the cover of her movie edition, her books sold like hotcakes.  She joked that her family thanks Mandy Moore for everything in their house.  "We thank Mandy Moore for our refrigerator."  One other cool thing that she does in her books that was a completely new concept to me, is instead of writing the sequels that her fans beg for, she has some of her characters from past books make guest appearances in new novels.  I thought this was such a cool idea!

Katherine Paterson and John Rocco
Illustrator Jon Rocco and author Katherine Paterson
Katherine Paterson is a living legend and John Rocco did the cover art for the Percy Jackson series.  The two of them teamed up to create a gorgeous book with 60 color illustrations.  The Flint Heart is a 1910 fantasy story by Eden Phillpotts retold by Paterson in more modern friendly language with more reader friendly pacing.  I bought this book after hearing them speak, and it is a gorgeous piece of book art!  Katherine Paterson and John Rocco were so cute together, as seen here in this picture:

Jack Gantos
Jack Gantos is quite a character.  Very lively, humorous, and full of outrageous stories.  I think several members of the audience were quite shocked to hear about how he went to jail for drug smuggling (I already knew this bit of back story).  I probably wouldn't have chosen to bring it up at a national event in front of hundreds of people... but that's just me.  Everything came with a dose of humor, and he got quite the round of applause.

Gordon Korman
Middle Grade author, Gordon Korman
Very cool guy.  One of the better speakers of the day.  And this guy's book output is off the charts.  I loved how enthusiastic he was about the research process when writing books.  He said how research brings in some of the best plot ideas because sometimes the real stuff is too good for even the most creative brain to make up.  And he REALLY made me want to read all of the 39 Clues books.  The way they connect adventure to history and artifacts is too cool.  His advice to writers was to write about what makes you excited.  (I agree!)  Gordon Korman had one of the highest kid audiences of the day  :)

Cassandra Clare
Cassandra Clare was probably the biggest disappointment for me of the weekend.  Her books are great fun if you are looking for an action-packed paranormal read with hints of romance.  I was hoping she'd be great fun, too.  She read from a script in a tired, flat voice that suggested she didn't want to be there.  When teen girls flocked to the microphones for the Q&A portion and were showering her with praise... she didn't seem grateful, and didn't thank the readers for the compliments.  And then there was one off-color comment.  One girl asked if there was anything that was taken out of the books that Clare had wished had stayed in.  And Clare responded that there were several scenes detailing the villain, Valentine, killing masses of children.  And she thought that part was pretty cool and wished her editors hadn't made her take it out.  Her editors didn't think people would want to read about children being murdered.  I quite agree with her editors on this one.

Brian Selznick
Author and illustrator, Brian Selznick
Selznick was definitely one of the best speakers of the day.  I wouldn't be surprised if his IQ is in the genius range.  He mostly spoke about how he's trying to do new things with text and pictures through first Hugo Cabret and now with his new book Wonderstruck.  (You should run out and buy Wonderstruck.  It will win awards.)  He spoke of his love of museums and his love of E.L. Konigsburg, which inspired Wonderstruck.  His enthusiasm and innovation really shone through when he spoke about how and why he chose to tell two stories in Wonderstruck.  Two stories are interwoven from two different time periods in Wonderstruck; one story is told through pictures and one story is told through text.  But he thought about WHY a story would or should be told in just pictures and he was inspired by the deaf community who rely so heavily on images.  His speech really blew my mind and I wish it had been recorded (he requested no video recording).  A Hugo Cabret movie by Martin Scorsese is coming out this coming holiday season 2011, and Selznick said Scorsese was diligent in following the book and carried it around on set.  The trailer looks fantastic!

Rita Williams-Garcia
I was really looking forward to hearing Rita Williams-Garcia after reading One Crazy Summer this past weekend, and she did not disappoint!  (I was disappointed at the small crowd, but she was the last speaker of the day and many people were likely tired and hungry.)  Rita was so excited to be at the Book Festival speaking that she literally began by hopping up and down whilst giggling and grinning ear to ear.  She was so full of energy and absolutely adorable.  She said that one thing she loves about storytelling is you don't need anything to tell a story.  Just your brain and your voice.  She described herself as a character driven writer (which doesn't surprise me because her characters were so vivid in OCS).  She said she's asking questions about her characters all the time and constantly thinking about them.  Rita believes that it's the strengths and failings that make real characters.  She spoke about her own mother and how her mother wasn't like other mothers (echoing themes from OCS), and did a hilarious impersonation of her bombshell mother walking into a concert at her school.  She was scared to write middle grade because she always wrote for teens.  And when asked about her writing process, she said she writes the moments of greatest impact first, and then fills in the rest.  I thought this was a really interesting method of writing, but it makes sense.  By writing critical scenes and seeing how your characters react, you get to know your characters on higher level, which would make writing the less crucial scenes easier having established your character's inner workings.

Kazu Kibuishi
This young Asian graphic novelist, creator of Scholastic's Amulet graphic novels, was such a cool speaker.  I want to show his speech to my students.  He spoke of how difficult it was for him to figure out what he wanted to do for a living.  His parents wanted him to be a doctor.  He thought he wanted to be a writer.  He went to film school.  Was hired by Disney, left Disney.  He always denied his love of drawing.  He wanted to tell stories.  But when he finally discovered he could meld his love of storytelling with the love of drawing he'd been suppressing, he discovered his career as a graphic novelist.  I love seeing young, positive male role models for young people, and he definitely was one!
Graphic novelist, Kazu Kibuishi
Kazu drawing characters from Amulet

Rachel Renee Russell
What I didn't realize was that the Dork Diaries series (essentially the Wimpy Kid series but for girls) is done by a mother/daughter team.  Mom does the writing and daughter does the drawing.  The presentation was very cute and kid-friendly.  While mom talked, the daughter was drawing people in the audience in the cartoony style of the books.  Kids were so thrilled to see themselves drawn as cartoons.
Author, Rachel Renee Russell
Russell's daughter, Nikki, drawing a member of the audience

As soon as the book festival was over, I started wondering who I would get to see next year!  Such a great experience!  I'm so lucky to live near DC!

Who do you hope to see next year?  My number one hope for next year's festival: Scott Westerfeld.  Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Peeved on Spelling

Something that's driving me a little bonkers: spelling.

Specifically, the spelling of: Newbery.

The big book award, like the Oscar of children's literature.

It's Newbery.  NOT Newberry.

It's not a type of fruit.

Look it up on the website:

Monday, September 19, 2011

One Crazy Summer

Delphine and her sisters, Vonetta and Fern, travel across the country to see the mother who abandoned them.  They don’t just find a mother during their four week trip, but also an understanding of their cultural identity.

I absolutely loved this book.  In my opinion, this book deserved the Newbery Medal, not just a "Honor" title.  If you like books about mother/daughter relationships or historical fiction during the Civil Rights movement, definitely check this book out!

My Comments:
I agree with School Library Journal that this was an “emotionally challenging” book.  There are two threads that pull at reader’s heartstrings.  The first is the girls’ abandonment by their mother.  This thread is introduced to readers on page 4 when we learn of the young age these girls were left by their mother, “When Cecile left, Fern wasn’t on the bottle. Vonetta could walk but wanted to be picked up. I was four going on five.”  This instantly sets up sympathy and conflict.  It’s clear the girls have been without their mother but are now being sent to visit her for four weeks.  The author maintains this tension as Cecile remains cold and distant towards the children until the very end of the book.

The other emotionally challenging thread in this novel is the racial tension.  We are alerted to this racial tension very early on when Delphine thinks to herself, “The last thing Pa and Big Ma wanted to hear was how we made a grand Negro spectacle of ourselves thirty thousand feet up in the air around all these white people” (2).  This racial tension continues throughout the book.  The girls meet the Black Panthers, Delphine reads their news bulletins, and all three girls prepare for a rally.  The girls develop a growing awareness of racial tension and civil rights issues, but at the expense of their innocence.  The girls learn of the violence and unfairness that surrounds their race, and the author did this through the inclusion of true historical details such as the Black Panthers, jailed founder Huey Newton, and murdered Bobby Hutton.

Both School Library Journal and Booklist noted the strong voices and memorable characters of the three girls.  One of the scenes that I found most revealing of the three girls’ personalities is when Miss Patty Cake is ruined.  Vonetta’s insecurity and need for acceptance is revealed by her actions.  Her shame at Crazy Kelvin’s comment and desire to be accepted by the Ankton girls causes Vonetta do something hurtful to her own sister.  Delphine’s character is revealed in how she attempts to remedy the situation, “I grabbed Miss Patty Cake’s dimpled arms and chubby legs. I went after her cheeks and forehead. I scrubbed every blacked-up piece of plastic, wearing down that Ivory bar from a nearly full cake to nearly half flat. I scrubbed and scrubbed until my knuckles ached” (95-96).  Delphine is again acting like a mother figure, trying to protect and remedy Fern’s broken heart.  Fern reveals her innocence and need for love in how she carries Miss Patty Cake everywhere, but after the incident, we see a new maturity in Fern.  She does not whimper or pout the next day when Miss Patty Cake is gone, but instead, “Fern no longer looked for her doll when we left Cecile’s for breakfast” (97).  The author never said Fern’s heart was broken over the loss of her doll, but you knew it.  The author let actions speak for themselves, and in Fern’s case, actions prompted growth in character.  I really fell in love with these girls during this book, and I think that speaks for their excellent characterization.

Kirkus Reviews said that this story is told with “writing that snaps off the page.”  I completely agree.  There were so many memorable lines that had Delphine’s distinct voice.  A voice that was sharp but metaphoric.  Delphine describes what mother means to her in the beginning of the book,
“Mother is a statement of fact. Cecile Johnson gave birth to us. We came out of Cecile Johnson. In the animal kingdom that makes her our mother. Every mammal on the planet has a mother, dead or alive. Ran off or stayed put. Cecile Johnson—mammal birth giver, alive, an abandoner—is our mother. A statement of fact” (14).  
Delphine uses simple, direct language, and yet by comparing her mother to a mammal in the animal kingdom, she reveals so much about her feelings towards her mother.  Another line I loved and that reveals Delphine’s voice was, “We all have our la-la-la song. The thing we do when the world isn’t singing a nice tune to us. We sing our own nice tune to drown out ugly” (90).  This demonstrates the sharp yet metaphoric quality of the writing.  This statement uses short, simple words: nice, tune, ugly.  But Delphine is making a deep comparison between music and life.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts on Moon Over Manifest

2011 Newbery Winner

Abilene Tucker is left by her father in the town of Manifest with no knowledge of if or when he will return to her.  Abilene begins what will be her summer mission: finding clues of her father’s past in the small town of Manifest. 

Merits of Moon Over Manifest

I agree with School Library Journal that “history and fiction marry beautifully” and that the story’s plots are “artfully intertwined.”  Similarly stated, the BCCB wrote that the book was "ingeniously plotted and gracefully told."  The melding of two different time periods through multiple medias while maintaining flow and clarity is one of the standout features of this novel.  Two years, 1918 and 1936, are woven together to create one cohesive plot strand.  Abilene Tucker hears the story of Ned and Jinx through a variety of modes.  She learns their story through Miss Sadie’s flashbacks, Hattie Mae’s News Auxiliary’s, and Ned’s letters.  The book’s presentation contributed to the clarity of these story forms.  Different fonts and page layouts aided the reader in their comprehension.  To use so many forms and still keep the story organized and clear was quite impressive.

I also agree with Booklist that the story had “believable dialogue, vocabulary and imagery appropriate to time and place.”  Historical novels present quite a challenge.  Authors must spend a significant amount of time doing research, but then it is up to the author in how that research is used to its best advantage in the story.  Vanderpool used many key details from the time period for both accuracy and plot development.  Small details such as food (Shady’s burnt biscuits or Lettie’s ginger snaps) helped create an authentic historical environment, while researched details such as Spanish influenza and immigration provided inspiration for key plot points.

I agree with Kirkus Reviews that the novel had a “deeply gratifying ending.”  I’ll admit that I found this book slow moving at first, but there were so many threads and unsolved mysteries that the reader had to keep moving towards a hopefully gratifying ending.  The revealing of both Gideon’s identity and Gideon’s motive for leaving Abilene really framed the whole story nicely.  Miss Sadie’s story was equally moving and paired well with Gideon’s past, strengthening themes of the power of a parent’s love and the pain of separation.  The interconnectedness of all the plots and subplots left the reader feeling immensely satisfied.

I also believe that one of the major merits of this book was stated by Publishers Weekly: “insight into family and community.”  We witnessed firsthand the sadness that comes from a family’s separation through Gideon/Abilene, but we also witnessed the sadness that comes from a community that has fallen apart.  Manifest had lost its vibrancy and life, but we witness a rebirth as Abilene fosters communication and hope in the community.  This is a unique theme that empowers children by showing them the role they can have in their own community.  This theme was also echoed in Jinx's story when he is able to save the community through his con tricks.  I loved this message of empowering children in their communities and that even children can make a difference.

Things I Wasn't so "Over the Moon" About:

One issue that was never resolved is the issue of Abilene’s mother.  Supposedly she is in hiding, but her identity or reason for disappearance is never resolved.  At one point in the story, I thought that Gideon’s reason for leaving was to find Abilene’s mother because Gideon realized that Abilene was becoming a young lady and would need her mother.  But perhaps Gideon didn’t want Abilene along for the journey in case the mother wasn’t “alright.”

The large cast of secondary characters were a challenge to keep straight despite the nifty cast of characters in the book’s beginning.  While Vanderpool’s motivation was probably to create a true community within her text and to show the passing of generations, I wonder if some weeding would have been beneficiary.  I was taken out of the story due to confusion over a character on more than one occasion.

I heard Clare Vanderpool speak at the 2011 Gaithersburg Book Festival  :)

I hadn’t read the book at the time, so I don’t remember much in the way of plot details.  But she spoke about how the Newbery had changed her life, the impact on her family, how her kids had been supportive, how she had the opportunity to travel, and what it was like to get “the call.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Moon Over Manifest and Typewriters

Boo.  No writing was done today.  Instead I read over 70 pages of Moon Over Manifest of which I have an assignment due Monday at 9am for my online class.

Here's a favorite quote so far:
"The Manifest Herald newspaper office was about centered on Main Street and we walked into a holy mess.  Newspapers were stacked two and three feet tall.  A typewriter sat on a cluttered desk, its keys splayed open with some scattered on the desk like it tried to spell explosion and the explosion happened."  (Page 14)

I sort of have a romantic thing for typewriters.  As you can see by the prints over my desk.

I've never typed on one.  I recently saw a gorgeous, black, very antique-looking and relatively small typewriter for sale at a vintage store by me for $95 and was very tempted to purchase it.  As decoration?  I don't even know.  But it's driving me crazy that I could go back and it won't be there.

I need to read 70 pages a day in order to finish MoM by Saturday night.  Wish me luck!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Short and Long Sentences

Despite a daunting to-do list, I made time to do one writing exercise this morning.  I'm now on the third exercise in Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin, and each day I find myself looking forward to the hour I spend doing her exercises.

I've found that most of the exercises are things I'm already aware of in my writing because of teaching writing to middle schoolers.  Once you've had to teach the 6+1 Traits of Writing, you become more aware of what makes good writing.

But her exercises are still a fun challenge.  And it gets the words flowing faster than if I were to sit down and attempt to continue a manuscript.  And so far, I've been pretty pleased with what the exercises are producing.

Today's exercise was to write a paragraph with short sentences (no more than 7 words) and then write another paragraph that is one long sentence.

Here are my results.  I'm doing every exercise with my Steampunk project in mind.  (And I really don't know if the second sentence is grammatically correct... but it flows alright.  I can check it later if I end up using it in a draft.)

The door closed with a clatter.  She didn’t want me there.  I was a child.  They were adults.  But this room didn’t want me either.  I felt the cold.  I saw the dust stirring.  I knew I was not alone.

The mecha-carriage sputtered to a halt and within seconds the door was swinging open, and a world was revealed to me: a giant stone Mecha Fac with curls of steam rising from pipes like turrets into the misty air, air that was filled with noises--clanking, screeching, clicking, wailing, druming--which filled my overwhelmed ears and matched my overwhelmed eyes which saw more people than I’d encountered in my entire lifetime.

One thing I thought about while doing this exercise is how long a sentence is too long when writing for children?  At what point will the length of sentences shut down your readers?  I'm very alert to pacing and readability in what I write because it's something that I evaluate a text on when choosing appropriate texts for my classroom.  Just something to think about...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Writing with NO punctuation

Today's writing exercise was to write with no punctuation.  No line breaks, paragraphs, nothing.  I thought the exercise would be rather pointless.  I figured it would just make me appreciate commas, periods, etc.  But the exercise caused me to focus on the rhythm of my writing, and I did not expect that.  Because I could not use punctuation, my brain tried to find other ways to make the writing flow smoothly.  After reading the results over, I found I did this two ways:

  • Conjunctions (and, but, then)
  • Repetition of words or phrases
The suggestion was to write about a hurried, hectic, or confused moment.  I chose to write about a character in the middle of a chaotic dream.  I thought whatever I came up with would be useless, but I may be able to rework it so it's usable.  I like the rhythm of it for a dream description.

Here, I'll share a bit of it:

then the dream shifted tilted whirled and I found myself surrounded by flames not warm not comforting but painful malicious burning flames and through the crackling spitting flames was cackling laughter and I knew this was the danger I knew he needed my help I knew I must find him I knew she was evil I knew he was amid the piercing flames I knew I was now strong enough and by my feet were chains hot chains snaking their way through the flames and the chains were my path my clue my link to him and i had to follow the chains

The Universals of Creative Genius

This morning on CBS Sunday Morning, there was a segment on Keith Richards (Rolling Stones guitarist) that I really enjoyed.  He's a far more traditional and normal guy than his reputation makes him out to be.

And while watching this piece, they spoke a bit about his creative process.  He spoke of the hard work, but also how guitar riffs would just come out of his fingers.

In reading bio pieces and watching interviews, I've come to notice three absolutes about creative greats (whether music, art, writing, design, etc.).

  1. The passion, the calling, creating your art is unavoidable.
  2. The process and the way in which great ideas come to your mind is mystifying.  They appear, they feel right, and you don't know quite where they came from.
  3. Hard work.  The true greats spend the hours it takes to get to the top.
I really find creativity fascinating in any form.  Whether music, art, or writing, the process of how your brain creates something from nothing is awe inspiring to me.  :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sound of Writing

I did a writing exercise today from LeGuin's Steering the Craft that turned out really well and got me excited about a Steampunk novel that I'm itching to jump into.

The exercise focused on paying attention to the SOUND of your writing.  You could use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, made-up words, but NOT rhyme or meter.

I chose to write about the major settings in my upcoming Steampunk project:
  1. A Factory
  2. A Gothic Manor
  3. An Abandoned Building
I found I needed to brainstorm before I jumped into writing.  I made lists of sound words for the factory.  For the other two locations I brainstormed descriptive words, but then chose to focus on ones with similar sounds.

The exercise went AWESOME for the factory portion.  The sound words really brought the place to life, and I even created some made-up words that will become terms/jargon in my novel.  The gothic manor didn't go so well.  I couldn't come up with the right sound for that location.  The abandoned building went better because I knew I wanted to focus on soft sounds because the place reminds me of hushed whispers.

I'd read a post earlier today on the blog Operation Awesome where they wanted readers to finish the sentence "I love Harry Potter because..."  One reason I love Harry Potter is because the names, places, and made-up words have such strong sounds that seem to match their intent.  Severus Snape could be no one other than a slippery double agent.  The sound of his name just FITS.  And what could sound more evil than Voldemort?  Rowling had a real ear for sound in her writing.

Maybe if I do this exercise enough, I'll have the same skill she does in the area of SOUND.  :)

Life Gets in the Way

Life has been getting in the way of the more important things in life.  My more important things are reading and writing.

Life includes:

  • Returning to my home that was abandoned for 8 weeks
  • An earthquake
  • Hurricane Irene
  • Two power outages
  • The beginning of a school year that included more meetings and technology issues than any other start of year EVER
Between the largest earthquake the East Coast has seen in 100 years and a hurricane that did billions of dollars in damage and closed schools throughout Maryland.  Between replacing the entire contents of my refrigerator... TWICE.  And negotiating new traffic patterns around downed wires and trees.  And then getting organized for a new school year with a record breaking number of students... (We don't have enough lockers for our current enrollment.)

I've been BUSY.

So on this Labor Day weekend, I'm going to make some time to do the labor I love.  My main goals:
  1. Finish the last book in Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series.
  2. Do some writing exercises from LeGuin's Steering the Craft
  3. Make a 3000 word dent in one of my manuscripts
Other things that may interfere with my main goals:
  1. Online class coursework
  2. Lesson Planning
  3. Recycling
  4. Laundry
  5. Grocery shopping
We'll see how this weekend goes.  Here's to hoping it's a CALM one.