Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Project Dilemma

I spent two hours in the library this afternoon and cranked out over two thousand words. (For you math people, that's 16 words per minute!) I was rollin! It felt really good, and that's really what I came to Hollins for in the first place.

But here's the dilemma that I technically already know the answer to. (It's just not the answer my creative brain likes.)

What writing project do I work on?

I have this newly inspired project that I worked on today. A dark dystopian/sci-fi piece.
Standing at only 3500 words

I have my lovely original project inspired by the ocean which I let my students read the last week of school. (They loved it!)
Standing at 22,000 words

I have an exciting project inspired by Greek Mythology.
Standing at 14,000 words

Then I have a cute little fairy tale.
Standing at 9500 words

As you can see I have a problem with starting new projects. It's lovely that I have no lack of ideas, but I need to set about finishing something. I know exactly which project I should finish. The original. It's not that I don't like working on it.

It's just that each idea is one of my children and I love them all, though they're each different and unique. But you're making me spend time with just one and all the rest are sulking and neglected in a corner. That may be a bit melodramatic but that's really how I feel.

I can't hop around and write a little of each when the mood is right or inspiration strikes because I'll honestly never finish anything that way. So I know I have to buckle down and focus on one.

I just don't like it.

But I will. Because I'm desperate to get a draft done this summer.

Craft Day 4

After discussing the book Loud Silence of Francine Green we moved on to another writing exercise. I'd been hoping we'd get to read the piece we'd revised as homework because I'd made some pretty big changes and revisions and I was curious what my peers would think. So I was a little disappointed when we didn't do that.

Instead we wrote something completely new. And the prompt was very difficult for me to apply to my character. My character's biggest trait is her fearless and fiesty attitude. The prompt was: Have your character confront a challenge and not make the brave decision.

Well, if you have a fearless and fiesty character, that presents a problem. My character is not a coward in the least bit. So I tried to work through my frustration with the prompt by brainstorming things my heroine may be scared of. I came up with three things: getting caught, trusting people, and losing her younger brother.

Then I knew at some point they were going to run away, so I wrote about some hypothetical situation where they were running away and ran into people, and "Jane" made a decision not to trust them. It wasn't my best writing. It was a very cliche scenario. And so now, after I finish this post, I'll write for fun without a prompt.

And at some point today... I'll read Alice in Wonderland.

The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman

Surprisingly enjoyed this book. Had to read it for a grad class. Loved the voice and style initially, but then after I'd read some of the other selections for class, the voice didn't stand out as much.

Francine is a young teenage girl growing up during the 1950's. She is obsessed with movie stars and likes to read. She meets the outgoing and outrageous Sophie and experiences her first best friend. She attends an all-girl Catholic school in Los Angeles where she keeps quiet and stays out of trouble with the evil Sister Basil. However, the nation is frightened and paranoid about communists and the atomic bomb. Francine is trying to figure out the truth in a confusing world where not even the adults around her know what the truth is.

My only criticism for this book is today's teens might not have enough background to understand and relate to Francine. I can't see any of my students getting into this book. Though, I do think my mom would love it... My favorite chapter is the one towards the beginning about paper dolls. :)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe


Wataru suddenly finds his world broken apart when his father leaves his mother for another woman. But after a series of mysterious happenings at an abandoned construction site in the neighborhood, Wataru discovers that he can enter a fantasy world called Vision. In this world full of both friendly creatures and evil doings, Wataru must collect 5 gemstones in order to change his fate in the real world. If he collects the 5 gemstones, he can make one wish to the Goddess, and Wataru wants to wish for his family to be put back together. But the journey Wataru goes on will be long and difficult and may lead him to discover things about himself that he didn't know.

This book is an amazing work of translation (originally in Japanese), and it won the Batchelder award which recognizes translations in children's literature.


Liked this book but it was sooooooo long. It didn't fly by like a chunky Harry Potter book. I've passed my copy on to one of my favorite students from this past year, and I found myself wondering today if she's started it yet.

I really liked the clarity and beauty of the author's descriptions. You really feel like you traveled to the world of Vision by the end of the book. There were some amazing similes that I want to go back and find and write down somewhere.

Wataru was an incredibly likable character. Lots of great supporting characters. The ending was satisfying. Some people say they thought the beginning 200 pages were slow, but I flew through that part of the book and really liked it.

My brother is reading this book right now too, and really likes it. The book has lots of similarities to a fantasy video game plot, and anyone familiar with video game storytelling would probably really enjoy this book. And my brother isn't complaining about the book being so long, so maybe he's more engrossed by the fantasy. Maybe Tolkein lovers would enjoy this one?

Hist. & Crit. Day 3

Today was only marginally better than past classes. I think my other classmates are just as tired of listening to the professor talk for 3 hours, and so they were trying to chime in and talk about other stuff. Which made class a little better, though if you asked me what I learned today or talked about... I can't tell you a thing.

Though the professor is very nice. He said he would like to have our class up to his cabin for a cookout one weekend towards the end of July.

Next class we will finally move away from theory and discuss Alice in Wonderland. Hopefully, class will get more interesting on Thursday.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Today's Class and Season of Gifts

A Season of Gifts was my first encounter with proclaimed author Richard Peck, and supposedly it's not his finest work, but I enjoyed it just the same.


A preacher's kid named Bob Barnhardt and his family move to a small southern town. The family isn't welcomed all that warmly, and they learn that they are living next to the town kook: Mrs. Dowdel. Over time, Mrs. Dowdel plays an integral part in their being accepted into the town.

My Review

The book is brimming with Southern expressions and culture of the 1950s. Richard Peck has a tremendous voice as an author and a fantastic sense of humor. For example, here's a line from the book: “The sorority was Iota Nu Beta, which some people said stood for I Outta Know Better.”

The one criticism of the book is that it is much more character driven and not action driven. There is no definable climax. Though the novel is character driven, the protagonist, Bob, is a very bland character and not as fleshed out as some of the others. In fact many of the other characters, such as Ruth Ann, Phyllis, and Roscoe Burdick make a much more dynamic transformation and were much more interesting characters. And then there was Mrs. Dowdel who is just such a larger than life character and known to be one of Peck's greatest.

Overall I really enjoyed this book!

Today's Class:

After discussing Season of Gifts, we did two writing exercises. Last class we created a character. Today we had to describe that character's hands. It was a fun way to get your brain rolling.

Next, she let us write for 20 minutes straight and our only job was to create a scene. I love, love, love what I got out in those 20 minutes. It was suspenseful and mysterious and filled with strong imagery. They loved my first sentence which was:

Jane felt safe when she had sweat rolling down her back.

Jane actually isn't the character's name. I substituted for now. It won't be any chore at all to revise/polish it up and maybe expand on it a little!

I'm kind of tired because I was up til 1:30 last night working on schoolwork, but I was having a blast doing it, so it's all good!

Why hadn't I heard of this guy???

Taken from book flap:

Described by the Washington Post as "America's best living author for young adults," Richard Peck is the first children's writer ever to have been awarded a National Humanities Medal. His extensive list of honors includes the Newbery Medal, a Newbery Honor, the Margaret A. Edwards award, the Scott O'Dell Award, and the Christopher Medal. He has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award.

I just finished the book A Season of Gifts which I'll be discussing in class tomorrow. (Full post after discussion) Loved the book and I have no idea how this guy has avoided my Kid Lit radar!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Golden Books Speaker

We had the pleasure of hearing Diane Muldrow, editor of Golden Books at Random House, speak yesterday. She mostly went over the history of Golden Books, which was fascinating. The lecture almost made me want to write a picture book... but I don't think that is going straight on my to-do list for now.

Some cool info I learned:

The Poky Little Puppy is the bestselling children's book of all time.

Golden Books revolutionized children's publishing because they were the first reasonably priced children's book series. Before that, children's books were expensive, glossy paged, handcrafted things that people would only buy around the holidays. The first 12 book run of Golden Books were 25 cents each.

Golden Books are featured in the Smithsonian because they are considered an American Icon.

Many Golden Book illustrators also worked at one time as Disney animators. Golden Books and Disney have a long history of working together, and Disney actually approached Golden Books about doing books that tie in to their movie releases. There is a whole Disney division at Golden Books

If you want to read more about how Little Golden Books changed the face of children's publishing and became an American icon, check out the book "Golden Legacy."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Unwind by Neal Schusterman

I read this book last summer and it really stuck with me. A bunch of my more mature 7th graders read it over the school year and voted it as their favorite book of the year.

This book was nominated for the 2009-10 Maryland Black Eyed Susan award. I wouldn't call it a light read. Very serious subject matter and there is one very disturbing chapter.

The book's premise is that instead of abortion, children can be "unwound" between the ages of 13-18 if they have not proved themselves useful to society. Unwinding means surgically cutting the teens up into "parts" which are then used like organ donations--every part of each teen is used.

This was the kind of book that makes you think. You rooted for the characters and kept turning pages to find out if they'd make it to the end without getting "unwound." I think it's pretty mature subject matter for middle schoolers, but would be more appropriate for high school aged kids. However it was definitely an original sci-fi concept and I haven't read anything like it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Craft of Writing Day 2

I am going to LOVE my Craft of Writing for Children class. The teacher is so lovable, which may in part be due to the fact that she has mannerisms that remind me of my grandmother who recently passed away. (Her middle name is even Ruth, which was my grandmother's name.)

Today we had a fantastic discussion about the book When You Reach Me (see previous post). Then we did a writing exercise. I'd done this particular exercise before. It's where you essentially create a biography of your character. You answer everything from the age and gender to their favorite color and music. She told us to think of a character, and then for half an hour she asked us questions like, "What kind of childhood did they have?" or "How do they react to conflict?" I filled 4 handwritten pages with information on one character.

This is a fantastic exercise when you are just beginning a writing project, and I hadn't done it in awhile because I have several projects that I've been working on for awhile. I did the exercise on an entirely new character for an entirely new project that had been brewing in the back of my mind. I really don't think there is a better feeling for a writer than that first time you work on a new project. It's like electricity charges your brain and you can't write or type fast enough.

I have a student whose name I love, and I'd told her I might use her name someday in a story. Her name got me going. Then the story idea is going to be a science fiction/dystopian/survival story. I've been reading a lot of that type of stuff lately, and love the action and sense of urgency those plots create.

If you want to read some great sci-fi/dystopian/survival stories, here are a few:

-Life As We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
-Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
-Atherton series by Patrick Carman
-Unwind by Neal Schusterman

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This year's Newbery winner was When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. I was not that impressed when I finished the book, but following my discussion in class, I developed a greater appreciation for the book and can see why it was chosen.

Summary (without giving too much away):

A twelve year old girl in 1970s New York City is helping her single mom prepare for the gameshow $20,000 Pyramid. She deals with losing friends and making friends, but the mystery that will grab the reader from the beginning is Miranda begins to receive mysterious and desperate notes asking for her help.

Why did this book win the Newbery?

According to Newbery's criteria, “The book should display respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations.”

I think the voice of Miranda was both accurate and credible. Her views of New York, adults, friendship are all typical of a child her age and voiced in such a way that you believe everything she says. The book showed a lot of progression in how Miranda views the world, particularly through her relationships with her friends and where she fits into the world. Many of the ways and words in which Miranda expresses herself are distinctly child views, but not childish. Just a first understanding of how things work. For example, the chapter about the dentist. Miranda expresses that it’s weird to go to the dentist in school, is lectured by Wheelie, and then thinks about what her mother would do if she knew about a free dentist at school. Miranda reveals her innocence, learns a lesson, and then uses her parent as reference to frame the information, which is typical of a child. Miranda also has a fantastic sense of humor, and makes countless wry statements that will have you smiling to yourself, if not laughing out loud.

The well-knit ending probably earned this book the quality of being “individually distinct.” I don't want to ruin anything, but the ending brings the whole book together, and you see that EVERY SINGLE MOMENT had a specific purpose within the story.

Why I didn't like the book initially:

It irked me that we, the readers, were purposely left out of the loop when it was clear the narrator knew the whole story at points. I realize this would have ruined the surprise ending, but I don’t like that the author withheld information known to the narrator. I think this is a cheap suspense technique that only confuses and frustrates your reader.

My favorite part of the book:

The similes. The author created some really fresh and original images through the use of similes. This book had some really memorable images that will stick with you after you finish. For example: There was one description of a girl who needed to use the restroom in class: “Alice Evans was squirming in her chair like she was doing the hula dance.” That part made me giggle!

I'd love to hear what other people thought of this book!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

The sequel to this book is coming out in about a month, and I'm hoping I can get it on my Kindle like I did the first one.

The book is a cool twist on werewolves. When you're bit, you have a certain number of years that you'll be able to change back to human. Transformations are caused by cold temperatures, so you are human in the summer and change back to wolf when it gets cold again. It was a fantastic way to create tension because you wanted Sam to stay human and the author constantly put him in situations that threatened him with cold.

Cute love story. Wanted to recommend it to my middle school kids who love Twilight, but then there was sex and I couldn't justify recommending a book to a class of 12 year olds with teen sex. Oh well.

Maggie Stiefvater is a new fav and I'll be looking for the sequel Linger next. Her blog is super cute and I read it often. Check it out here:

Hist. & Crit. Day 2

I wondered if this mandatory intro class (History and Criticism of Children's Literature) would be the kind of class where you do the reading, but then come to class and the professor rehashes everything you read, thinking he's giving you new insight.

Today's class was pretty much that. Our teacher is knowledgeable and had all these notes he'd taken on the text and an outline for the lecture, but then he just talked for 3 hours. He went over what we'd already read in a more confusing way, told a lot of stories from his own life, talked about The Hobbit a lot, bragged some more about how he's friends with the author of the book.

Let's just say I didn't leave class today feeling enlightened. In fact, I needed a nap.

If you want to know the History of Children's Lit, I can break it down for you real fast:

1600s-1800s = Children's Literature was heavily influenced by religion. Things written for children were didactic and strove to teach children religion and moral life lessons. It was pretty boring stuff.

1800s = People start to get the idea that maybe children's literature should be entertaining. Though, it's more along the lines of "If we write something entertaining, maybe the didactic message we are trying to send will reach more children and sink in."

1900s = The period before WWII saw many of the current classics: Alice in Wonderland, Pooh, Nancy Drew, Wizard of Oz, Little Women, Secret Garden, Beatrix Potter, the list could go on forever. Marketing and commercial publishing of children's lit didn't really come about until the baby boomers started demanding things to read to their children. And the Young Adult Market didn't really start to define itself until the 60s, with a slew of controversial teen stories coming out in the 70s and 80s.

Granted, that was a rough and brief timeline, but I personally think it's all you need to know...

I'm hoping this class will get better when we start talking about the actual books themselves. But it looks like I'm going to love my Craft class better.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

This was fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone, a great summer read. Probably my favorite Shannon Hale book, which is saying a lot as I enjoyed both Princess Academy and Goose Girl.

This Mongolian/Chinese fairy tale is a cross between Rapunzel and Cinderella. The story is told in diary form by a maid named Dashti who agrees to be locked in a tower for seven years with the Lady she serves. Dashti became such a real character through the diary and is a heroine that is worthy of respect and admiration. Shannon Hale always has strong female characters, but Dashti now has a special place in my heart.

The story is told beautifully. The characters are memorable. The setting is thoroughly unique and believable. (In fact, I thought the story was based on real legends/mythology and was shocked to discover Hale made most of it up!) The plot is seamless. The resolution is satisfying.

I highly recommend this book to girls both young and old. Wonderful book!

2nd Day of Class

The second class I'm taking is "Craft of Writing for Children" and we met for the first time today. I think this is going to be my favorite class despite the fact that I wasn't a huge fan of the reading list.

Here's the story behind the class: It was supposed to be taught by Professor L, but Prof. L couldn't teach it. However, the reading list had already been distributed to students and student had already ordered the books. Professor P agreed to teach the class and consented to use the original reading list.

So what's wrong with the reading list? It's almost all realistic fiction, with the exception of two books that are historical fiction. I'm not a big reader of realistic fiction. I prefer, fantasy, science fiction, adventure, and mystery. Many of the books on the reading list dealt with topics like drugs, abuse, depression, eating disorders, suicide, etc. And if you know me at all, you know that's not my cup of tea. I read books to escape the real world, not read about real world problems.

However, I think I'm going to like this class because the teacher recognized the fact that the reading list was focused on just one genre, so she's letting us explore other genres through individual presentations. And she's a nurturing "mom" type teacher, but at the same time VERY knowledgeable about the subject matter.

Though she's a bit obsessive compulsive about how we keep our notes. She wants us to set up a binder with sheet protectors and have our notes color coded with highlighters. I spent $40 at Staples on supplies for her class...

I have lots of work to do for tomorrow's class that I should get started on. Peter Hunt's Intro to Children's Lit will put you to sleep, and already has for me...

On being in the South

I have never seen more mullets, missing teeth, or pick-up trucks than I have in the last few days. I've seen men twice my age with hair as long as mine.

HOWEVER-- the customer service and politeness everywhere I go is refreshing. Please, thank you, my pleasure, and smiles have been my experience at every store and fast food chain I've been to.

So, southern hospitality is definitely a reality.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Atherton series by Patrick Carman

Inspired by my last post, here's a bit about the Atherton series by Patrick Carman!

In the future, Earth is too dirty to support human life. A genius scientist created a satellite world that orbits Earth called Atherton. However, the people of Atherton don't realize they are part of an experiment. Chaos breaks loose when the center of Atherton begins to sink into the core of the satellite.

Atherton: House of Power

Read on the recommendation of two students and I'm very glad I did! An exciting story in a fascinating world. In fact, the world steals the show! The setting is a character in itself, and while completely unfamiliar, Carman has masterfully crafted a world that anyone can picture, smell, and taste. Characters were memorable and spunky. Great science fiction for kids!

This was the first book I read on my Kindle! :)

Atherton: Rivers of Fire

The author has a clever imagination, and the worlds he creates are unique a vivid. The sequel to "House of Power" was well-done and satisfying. I sometimes get a little annoyed by the 3rd person omniscient point-of-view, and would prefer a 3rd person limited. Perhaps it bothers me because not many authors write in that point-of-view for children/YA, and sometimes it felt like Carman was "telling not showing." This series was supposedly inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which I am starting to see, though it makes me want to do a fresh read of Frankenstein to see if there are closer similarities.

I think these books would be fantastic to use in schools...

Can't wait to read the last one!

First Day of Classes

I've entered a Graduate studies program in Children's Literature. I'll be getting an MFA (Masters in Fine Arts) degree which essentially means I'll have to produce a novel as my thesis.

I had my first class today: History and Criticism of Children's Literature. It's basically the introductory course. The class was scheduled to be 3 hours, but based on my experiences in undergrad... I figured on the first day we wouldn't meet the whole time. I was wrong.

I also received my first assignment which will be a presentation to the class focused on a certain approach of literary criticism. We drew our "brand of criticism" at random, and I got.... *drumroll* .... MARXIST. This was kind of the one I didn't want, but it's easy and I already have an idea.

I think I'm going to apply Marxist criticism to Patrick Carman's Atherton series. I've read the first two books in the series, and have been wanting to read the third (in fact I already downloaded it on my Kindle).

I need to put the finishing touches on my homework for tomorrow's class (Craft of Children's Lit). We had to take notes on this year's Newbery Winner When You Reach Me.

I'll let you know my thoughts on the book after we discuss it tomorrow!