Library Love

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“In the library, time is dammed up – not just stopped but saved. The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever.”

I just finished reading Susan Orlean’s latest nonfiction, The Library Book, which got me reminiscing about the magical childhood hours I spent at the Carl Sandburg Library. I can still see the famous poet’s bronze statue staring down at me each time I approached the circulation desk.  I remember the conspiratorial smile the librarian gave me when I checked out my first book from the Adult Section: How to Increase Your Intelligence in 30 Days. ( Yes, even back then, little Evelyn was on the path to self-improvement.)

The Library Book (Simon & Schuster 2018) is an ode to libraries past and present. It is a thoroughly researched and captivating story of the catastrophic fire that engulfed the Los Angeles Library on April 28, 1986. Orlean’s vivid description, along with eye-witness  accounts, bring this devastating day and its aftermath to life.

“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned.”

Ordinarily, I don’t like books about fires, but The Library Book contains so much more. In trying to decipher the mystery of the library (arson is suspected), Orlean takes us on a journey of fascinating real-life characters, political intrigue, romance, library architecture, book love, and the evolution of the library itself going back to the 1800’s.

“A library is a good place to soften solitude; a place where you feel part of a conversation that has gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years even when you’re all alone.”

Sprinkled into this rich story are Orlean’s own fond childhood reminiscences of visiting the library with her mother who now has dementia.

I highly recommend the Library Book to library lovers and bibliophiles who also enjoy history and true crime mysteries. 

Growing up, the library was my oasis. It still is. When I find myself in new areas, I often look for the local library. From the sparkling modern to the creaking historical—I love them all. 

Here are a few of my favorites.

1.  Johnson Public Library,  Johnson Vermont.

Only library in town. Tiny but cozy, with a sunny reading nook. Friendly staff. Great poetry collection. Near the Vermont Studio Center artist residence.

IMG_7769.jpeg“In times of trouble, libraries are sanctuaries.”

2. Harold Washington Library, Chicago

A huge library with stunning architecture. A variety of interesting artwork on each of the 11 floors. Beautiful roof top garden atrium. You can easily spend a day here.

Harold Library

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“The library is a whispering post. You don`t need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you..”

2. Memorial Library, Booth Bay Harbor, Maine

This Greek-revival style library has been remodeled since its 1906 inception. Behind the library is a porched Friends Store–a treasure trove of bargain books. Wonderful children’s space.

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Heidi Kirn

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“Public libraries in the United States outnumber McDonald’s; they outnumber retail bookstores two to one.”

4. Providence Atheneum, Providence, Rhode Island

An independent, member-supported library open to the public since 1838. Near campus of Brown University. Its Greek temple style architecture and high ceilings make this small library feel spacious. Special antique and first edition collections of children’s books, nature, art, and British and American literature.

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Nat Rae. ProvidenceAnthenuem.org

5. Fogg Library, S. Weymouth, MA

Renaissance Revival stone library built in 1897.  The historical building houses a children’s library and lovely upstairs study space.

 

 

 

“The library is a prerequisite to let citizens make use of their right to information and freedom of speech. Free access to information is necessary in a democratic society, for open debate and creation of public opinion.”

6. Eldredge Library, Chatham, MA

Small-town historic library on Cape Cod. Its stain-glass windows, oak wainscoting, marble foyer, and large wooden mantle fireplace take you back in time.

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7. West Bloomfield Township Library, W. Bloomfield, MI

A National Medal modern library with inviting spaces for all. Fabulous children’s area. Garden terrace with tables. A gift shop, too!

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8. Ames Free Library, Easton, MA

An architectural gem, opened 1883. A spiral staircase connects the two floors. Peaceful landscaped gardens with pond and fountain. Truly a sanctuary.

Ames (North_Easton,_

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9. New York Public Library, 42nd Street and Fifth Ave.

While not exactly a cozy reading library in my mind, it’s not to be missed. Take a free tour. Enjoy the famous “between the lions” steps, the grand foyer, impressive architecture, art collection, classic reading room, map room, and special exhibits. (Walt Whitman:American Poet through 8/30/19). The gift shop is my favorite!

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“The number of books destroyed or spoiled was equal to the entirety of fifteen typical branch libraries. It was the greatest loss to any public library in the history of the United States.”

10.  My Secret Library Writing Room

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Which library do you love?

 

 

Happy Pi Day!

Pi Day

From PiDay.org

Happy Pi Day!

In case you’re scratching your head…Pi Day falls on March 14. It’s as a celebration of the first 3 significant numbers of  the math constant represented by the Greek letter π—3.14

Remember calculating the area of a circle? 

Divide any circle’s circumference by its diameter; the answer (whether for a pie plate or a planet) is always approximately 3.14.

Pi has a rich history beginning in the ancient world.  Some attributed magical meaning to  π.  For a few thousand years, mathematicians have been scratching their heads over its properties.

Pi Day is celebrated around the globe with pie eating, math chats, contests, and related activities.  MIT has been known to send out its admission decisions on March 14. San Francisco’s Exploratorium has an entire exhibit devoted to this mysterious number.

Could you compete in a Pi memorization contest? 

This is a particularly impressive feat as there appears to be no repeating pattern in the constant.   

Kids (and grownups, too) are fascinated by the idea that Pi never ends! In other words, if you write it out as a decimal, you’re going to need a ton paper.

3.1415926535897932384626433…

Maybe your children, or grandchildren, are lucky to have a school celebration today for this irrational number.

When my kids were home, I baked a pie on March 14.  We explored circle art and puzzles. 

Pi Day Cherry and Apple Pies

From 74million.org

As an educator, I’m passionate about helping kids see math as more than arithmetic.  As a private tutor, I’m often dismayed by the dull and relentless worksheets kids get for math homework.

And don’t get me started on the state of math education.

I advise parents not to leave their child’s math learning to school. Supplement and augment. 

Kids need to develop a strong number sense.  Make math a part of your daily life together: cooking, building, measuring, counting, estimating, banking, graphing, calculating, sorting, scoring, and shopping.

Introduce the language of math to little ones. No need to keep negative numbers a secret until sixth grade.  Hey, it’s minus ten degrees in Boston!   

Play with polygons and trapezoids and tessellations.

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Audrey’s Geometric Display.

Read your kids and grandkids fun math-related picture books:

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi (A Math Adventure)T

The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang

Circle, Square, Moose by Kelly Bingham.

Count the Monkeys by Mack Barnett

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker

My favorite, for older readers–The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensburger

In my middle-grade novel, One Is Not A Lonely Number, Talia, the 13-year-old narrator, is a math whiz who sees numbers in color with distinct personalities. While the story is about friendship, family, and faith, math plays an important role. I wanted to offer young readers a good story while presenting a girl’s love of numbers in a unique way. Kids write to me saying they enjoyed this aspect of the book.

. One Is Not A Lonely Number

How do you feel about math?  What color is your favorite number?

 

How to Write a Great Ending: (Why Endings Matter in Fiction and Life)

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Why is it we can forgive a book’s slow start, a meandering middle, but not a bad ending?

Some endings leave you feeling cheated. Or disappointed. Or plain confused.

You’ve invested your time, money, and heart and you want a payoff at the end.  Endings matter to readers and movie-goers. A lot.  The highly ambiguous ending to the 2014 movie Birdman ignited an intense online debate about what actually happened. Some loved the ending, others hated it.

For years after publishing Gone with the Wind, author Margaret Mitchell was deluged with reader requests for a sequel. Mitchell adamantly refused, saying she purposely left the ending ambiguous because she had no idea whether or not Scarlet and Rhett would be reunited.

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So what makes a bad ending? 

I asked my friends and family. Their answers aligned with the advice you’d get in a basic writing workshop.

-Confusing

-Based on coincidence

-It was all a dream

-Contrived

-Too many loose ends

-The hero dies without achieving or seeing his goal/dream

-Manipulative

-Unrealistic

-Too Sad

There’s a great scene in the movie The Silver Lining Playbook when the main character Pat, upon finishing Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, throws the book out the window. Pat then wakes his sleeping parents and launches into a rant over the love story’s bleak ending.

“…She dies, Dad! I mean, the world’s hard enough as it is, guys…Can’t somebody say, “Hey, let’s be positive? Let’s have a good ending to the story?”

Turns out, Hemingway considered at least 40 possible endings to the classic 1928 novel. If your curious, a 2012 Library Edition exists containing these alternative endings. 

This brings to mind the wacky physics theory of “parallel universes.   I won’t get into the scientific details behind the controversial concept, but basically, it explores the possibility that other versions of ourselves, our histories, and our outcomes exist simultaneously in multiple universes. (A premise portrayed many a time in science fiction tales.) 

So, let’s say you’re feeling sad and regretful about letting a lover go. Perhaps you can take comfort in the idea that somewhere out there your replica is enjoying life with this missed love.

In the 1980s and 90s, the widely popular children series, Choose Your Own Adventure, allowed readers to assume the role of the protagonist.  Every few pages,  the reader gets to make choices that determine the outcome. The fun part is getting the chance to explore several possible endings.

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Each book’s introduction affirms the power the reader holds. 

“There are dangers, choices, adventures, and consequences…but don’t despair at anytime YOU can go back and alter the path of your story, and change its results. 

If only real life were like that.

 

How do writers craft the perfect ending to their story?

Some decide on the ending at the very beginning and fill in the rest. Others follow a detailed outline which builds to a specified ending. Others writers like to journey with their characters and allow the ending to unfold. The process becomes an exciting discovery.

Best-selling thriller writers Lee Child and Lisa Scottoline described this process in a recent NYT podcast. After getting a feel for the tone of the book, Lee Child just sits down to write and sees what happens.  Lisa Scottoline knows only the beginning when she starts writing a novel. As she reaches each new point, Lisa asks herself, “Okay, now what?”  The prolific author says this process mirrors life.

I rarely know the ending of a story before I write. Even if I have a sense of the story’s conclusion, I often change my mind or consider alternatives. In my novel, One Is Not A Lonely Number, one of the characters reveals a secret toward the end.  I didn’t even know what it was until I got there. 

In my new short story, “When We Were Bad”, I knew one of the characters would end up in the wrong place at the right time but wasn’t sure if she’d get out alive. Making that decision ultimately changed the final paragraph which I rewrote several times.

But even when you decide on the ending of your story, how do you know it works?

What makes a good ending?

This is a trickier question than what makes a bad ending. According to the character Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye,

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”

I love this quote and have experienced the feeling myself.

The answers my friends gave me regarding a good ending were more about emotion–how a story ending left them feeling.

-Happy(ish)

-Enlightened

-Moved

-Astonished

-Transformed

-Curious

-Wishing it never ended

The most common answer was satisfied.  Hmm. Makes me think of a good meal. What is satisfying to one reader may cause another to toss the book out the window.

. If-you-want-a-happy-ending-that-depends-of-course-on-where-you-stop-your-story.-Orson-Welles

So how does a writer choose?

A while back, I came across an answer. 

A good ending to a plot must be both inevitable yet surprising. 

I’ve been pondering this paradoxical advice since ever since.

Thriller writer, Meg Gardiner, (also interviewed in the NYT Podcast) summed up the above axiom in her 2015 blog post as: 

Amazing! Not what I expected, but exactly what I expected.

Try putting your favorite books and movies to this test.

For me, this played out in the novel Me Before You by Jojo Moyes(Don’t bother with the movie version.) It’s a contemporary romance between an unlikely pair who seem to hate each other at first then fall deeply in love. At the end of the book, one of the characters makes a choice that made me cry.  I thought about it for days. At first, I was sure it was the wrong ending. But as I reflected  (and debated with a friend), I could see the author had planted the seeds for what was to come. The reader doesn’t want this ending, is hoping until the last page that it won’t happen, but it does.  The conclusion is unsettling, thought-provoking and, indeed, “inevitable, yet unexpected.”

Few endings, in fiction or life, are perfect.

Story endings can leave us sad and still be a good ending. Or, perhaps, the right ending.

What are your favorite or worst book/movie endings? 

If you’re a writer, do you plan the ending ahead of time?

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Turning Darkness to Light

 

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“One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life, I think, is to have a happy childhood.”  ~ Agatha Christie

“Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving it.”  ~Maurice Sendak

What first comes to mind when you hear the word “childhood”?

I’m guessing you might answer: innocence, joy, play, fun, laughter, silliness, or wonder.

What about the word “depression”?

Childhood depression should be an oxymoron. But it is a reality for too many children and the parents who love them.

One of the special characteristics of children is that, unlike grownups, they don’t stay mad or sad very long. But some children are born with a brain chemistry, genetic makeup, or nature that make it difficult to experience the lightness and joy of childhood, no matter how loving and stable their home.

“We naturally want and expect children to be happy,” my writer friend Irene says, “and when they’re not, we try to do something about it. We buy them a new toy, do a fun activity, talk, give hugs. But sometimes we can’t fix the unhappiness, and this feels awful.”

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Irene knows a lot about childhood depression. Her only son, now a young adult, showed symptoms of rage, frustration, sadness, and suicidal thinking by age eight. 

When other parents complained about their children’s everyday woes— not being picked for the travel team, not getting the lead in a play, having a squabble with a friend, being too shy—Irene was struggling to keep her child from despair. “I couldn’t relate to these parents. I felt alienated,” she said. “My son and I lived in a bubble of silence outside the norm.”  Irene’s parenting world revolved around psychiatrists, therapy appointments, hospitalizations, and various medications. She fought to protect her son in public school where he was often mistreated and misunderstood. “While some teachers were invested in him, others lost patience.”  Irene advocated tirelessly on her son’s behalf to keep him safe. “There were times,” she told me tearfully, “when I honestly didn’t know if I was going to lose him.” 

I met Irene a year and a half ago at a local meet-up of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator).  She’s a petite powerhouse who radiates energy and warmth. We immediately connected.  As we got to know one and other, we shared, not only our writing goals but our personal journeys of struggle and growth. Listening to Irene’s story, I marveled at her ability to exude such a love for life.

Irene has turned her painful experience into a passion project to help others. She wants to shed light on childhood depression, to open the uncomfortable discussion, and to let other parents and children know they are not alone. 


She translated this desire into action by writing and illustrating a small book with a big message. Celia and the Little Boy is the story of two children trapped in the darkness, and what it took for them to find their way out.”  Illustrated with child-like pencil drawings, this timeless tale is for readers ages 8 to 98. img_69311.jpg

Last week, I attended Irene’s book launch at the Canton Public Library. Speaking to a room full of supporters, Irene shared the story’s journey from inspiration to draft to published book. Irene’s son, now an adult, fully approved of her sharing his story, which is also his mother’s story.  Irene read the Celia and the Little Boy aloud while the pages were projected on a large screen.  I could just feel the overwhelming emotion of the audience as Irene read the last, hopeful sentence. 

The next step in Irene’s passion project is to connect with parents, teachers, pediatricians, and therapists.  Irene wants to offer, not only hope but information on this devastating illness that impacts families and communities at both the personal and national level.

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We can all learn from people like Irene who, rather than allowing themselves to be pulled under, reach toward the light. They turn pain into healing and meaning. They become activists, mentors, volunteers, writers, and spokespersons driven by a sense of purpose. They use the lessons gleaned from their loss, grief, or struggle to help ease another’s burden.

Now I think I know how Irene maintains her inner joy. Like her book character, Celia, Irene feels the struggle, yet is still able to see the world as a “truly wondrous place”.  As she so eloquently writes in her dedication:  For all the children who dwell alone in the darkness and those who can see them.”

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For more information on Celia and the Little Boy Irenebuchine.com

 

 

POETRY WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE

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“Poems are made from the lives lived, borne out of experiences and shaped by solitary thought.” ~ Jill Bialosky

I just finished reading a wonderful new book that I picked up solely because of its intriguing title: Poetry Will Save Your Life by Jill Bialosky (Atria Books 2017). The  Kirkus Review sums it up well: “An emotional, sometimes-wrenching account of how lines of poetry can be lifelines.” 

This short memoir is centered on specific poems that have brought the author comfort, meaning, inspiration, or understanding during pivotal moments in her life. Bialosky organizes the book by themes such as Shame, Memory, Escape, Passion, First Love, and Mortality. A brief bio for each poet is included which deepens our awareness of the poem’s meaning. Each poignant chapter could stand alone. 

Throughout the book, Bialosky reflects on the profound lessons and meaning poetry can offer us. “Poems are composed of our own language disordered, reconfigured, reimagined, and compressed in ways that offer a heightened sense of reality and embrace a common humanity.”

Whether you are a poetry lover or haven’t read a poem since high school, there is something in this book for everyone. 

Ms. Bialosky, an award-winning poet, novelist, and book editor, never veers off into English professor mode when reflecting on the poems. Rather, she selects key phrases or themes that connect with her experience. Here she examines a stanza of E.E. Cummings poem, somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond.                

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
                 

Bialosky explains that the “use of the word voice as a modifier for eyes allows the reader to experience how much the speaker of this poem “sees” into his subject. Then she intuits the poet’s question:  How is it that one person can unlock something private within us? Or awaken things in us we fear?” 

Bialosky writes about the death of her first child shortly after birth. She shares the never-ending pain of her beloved young sister’s suicide.  In the chapter of grief, Bialosky comments on Auden’s poem, Musee Des Beaux Arts. 

“W.H. Auden documents the otherworldly state of grief and tragedy; how it strikes families while others are doing the dishes or taking the dog for a walk. Even dogs continue on their doggy life.” 

Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one can connect to this paradoxical state of being: How can everyone else just go about their business when my beloved is gone? 

Bialosky says, “I will spend years trying to capture the experience of suicide in a prose work…Poems remain a sustaining source of comfort.

Like Jill Bialowsky, words, too, have been an integral part of my healing after losing my father—words shared with a therapist, words of comfort from family and friends, words I have written, and words of those who have crawled through the tunnel of trauma and grief and come out the other side.

It has been exactly two years since my father’s tragic death. In some ways, this is unfathomable.  How could two years have passed?  This disbelief has me thinking more about the elusive nature of time. If time is constant, why do our brains perceive it so differently? Why does time slow down when we grieve and speed up when we are happy?  Why when we are waiting excitedly for a special event, do the days not move fast enough?          

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For centuries, poets have pondered time’s mystery. Consider Henry Van Dyke’s poem, Time Is.

Time is
Too Slow for those who Wait,
Too Swift for those who Fear,
Too Long for those who Grieve,
Too Short for those who Rejoice;
But for those who Love,
Time is eternity.

Emily Dickinson expresses this idea of expectation and waiting in her poem, If You Were Coming In The Fall.  Although the agoraphobic poet spent most of her life inside her Amherst, MA home, Dickinson enjoyed her share of romantic interests. The following poem is thought to be attributed to a family friend, Judge Otis Phillips Lord, who died 2 years before Emily.

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If you were coming in the Fall,

I’d brush the Summer by

With half a smile, and half a spurn,

As Housewives do, a Fly.

If I could see you in a year,

I’d wind the months in balls—

And put them each in separate Drawers,

For fear the numbers fuse—

If only Centuries, delayed,

I’d count them on my Hand,

Subtracting, till my fingers dropped

Into Van Dieman’s Land,

If certain, when this life was out—

That yours and mine, should be

I’d toss it yonder, like a Rind,

And take Eternity—

But, now, uncertain of the length

Of this, that is between,

It goads me, like the Goblin Bee—

That will not state— its sting.

                                            ~

Jill Bialowsy concludes that “poetry gives shape to those empty spaces within us that we have no words for until we find them in a poem.”  

Do you have a favorite poem or one that holds special meaning?

Summer Reading for Teens 2013

It’s Book Bucket time again!

My daughter is just finishing up her homeschooling projects, so I haven’t yet presented her summer book bucket. Meanwhile, my Writing Workshop students have asked for summer reading recommendations.  So here you are:

Wonder

by R. J. Palacio

Knoph

Wonder

I fell in love with this book.  I listened to the audio version which was fantastic.  This story has heart, humor, and wit. It is the kind of book you want to talk to someone about after reading.  The story is told in multiple perspectives–from the main character, August, a fifth grader, his classmates, and  his sister in tenth grade.  So there is a wide range of interest here. Auggie has struggled all his life with a facial deformity which prevented him from attending school.  When he begins Beecher Prep, he hopes to be treated like a normal kid and to make friends. The story deals with friendship, bullying, empathy, teachers, and how a family copes with adversity and illness.  The author called her debut book, “a mediation in kindness”. I’d recommend it for both girl and boys ages 10-14, but adults will love it, too.  Wonder has been on many top ten lists this year. Don’t miss it.

Summer and Bird

by Katherine Catmull

Dutton 2012

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A beautifully written fairy-tale about two sisters, Summer and Bird, who awake one morning to find their parents missing. They embark on a mysterious quest through a forest to find them.  The girls are then pulled into a fantastical bird world called Down, where birds speak and connect with humans.  The sisters alternate chapters in telling the story.  This is a great book for girls who enjoy fantasy, nature, and relationship stories. It has emotional intensity and dangerous situations. Ages 12 and up.

The Agency, Book 1

 Y.S. Lee

Candlewick Press, 2011

the agency

It is the 1850‘s London and twelve-year-old Mary Quinn is sentenced to hang for stealing. In the nick of time, she is secretly rescued by a member of the covert spy group called The Agency.  Working under the guise of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, the all female agency trains young females to be spies. Mary’s first assignment is to disguise herself as a lady’s companion and infiltrate a rich merachant’s home in order to uncover the mystery of some disappearing cargo ships. This is a great book for more sophisticated readers who enjoy historical fiction with romance and suspense. The lush details will transport you back to Victorian-era London.  Recommended for ages 12-18.

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein

Hyperian 2012

Code name verity

This Printz Honor book has made a number of top ten lists. It will keep you hooked to the very end. After surviving a plane crash, “Verity”, a young female spy, is captured in  Nazi-occupied France. In exchange for a lesser form a torture and a stay of execution, Verity agrees to write her confessions about her espionage work. We learn the story of how she crossed paths with Maddie, the young pilot of the plane and why Verity abandoned her after the crash. Will trading secrets with the enemy save Verity’s life? This multi-layered adventure story is quite a grown-up one, so I recommend it for 14 to adult.

Close to Famous

by Joan Baur

Viking 2011

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Twelve-year-old Foster dreams of growing up to become a celebrity chef despite her reading disability. Set in a rural town of West Virginia, where Foster and her mother move to escape an abusive boyfriend, the story is full of odd and memorable characters. You’ll fall in love with Foster, the narrator, with her big heart and pillowcase full of secrets. Can the quirky townsfolk of tiny Culpepper help Foster realize her delicious dreams?  Ages 10 and up.

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

by Wendy Wan-Lon Shang

Scholastic 2011

great wall of lucy wu

Lucy Wu is a sixth-grade girl with a strong will and great ambition. This girl has plans for her future which include becoming a basketball player  and an interior decorator. Alas, everything seems to get in the way, from having to share her room with Yi Po, her grandmother’s sister, to dealing with the school bully. Then there is the dreaded Chinese school her parents force her to attend. Lucy will make you laugh as she navigates her bi-cultural life with flair. Ages 9-12.

Legend

By Marie Lu

Putnam, 2011

legend What would a summer reading list be with out a dystopian thriller? Seems like some young readers can’t get enough.  If that’s the case, Legend, first in a trilogy set in futuristic Los Angeles, should satisfy.  It’s a roller coaster ride that doesn’t stop. Though predictable and familiar at many points, it has emotion and compelling characters. The story alternates between fifteen-year-old June, a prodigy from the wealthy district, and fifteen-year-old Day, a wanted criminal born into the slums. This highly-visual book seems destined for the big screen. For boys and girls ages 12 and up.

Has your child you enjoyed any of these titles? What are you reading this summer?  

A Great Teacher Gift

Looking for a last-minute gift for that special teacher? A gift that she/he probably doesn’t already have?

I recommend the beautiful picture book , Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom & Wishes by Susan V. Bosak.  Published in 2004, this gem has received numerous awards.  The book poetically explores hopes and dreamsthroughout the arc of one’s lifetime.

Dreams cover

The story is multi-layered and can be appreciated by young children and older teens as well.  Aspiring artists will appreciate the full-color illustrations by 15 top world illustrators.  Each page has an inspirational quote and a hidden star for the reader to find.

The narrator not only encourages young people to dream but to to action: “You need the Believe of childhood, the Do of youth, and the Think of experience.”

As a teacher, this is just the kind of gift book I’d love to receive.  It works for multi-age groups and can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom. Dream was published as a part of the Legacy Project’s LifeDreams program. The website offers terrific ideas for literacy and cross-curricular activities.

I discovered  Dream a few years ago when I began searching for projects to inspire kids to set goals and imagine their future. Now I use the book as part of my writing workshops and presentations. At my latest educational workshop: Raising Girls to Dream Big, a young couple showed up with their newborn daughter. I was thrilled to have these first-time parents in attendance.  I congratulated them for getting an early start on raising a child with hopes and dreams.

So now I’ve adding Dreams to my list of meaningful baby gifts, as well as teacher gifts.

Happy Holidays!

Recovering from Perfectionism

This book may save my life!

I have always been a perfectionist, but it wasn’t until about 6 years ago, that I really understood how this mental malady was wreaking havoc on my life.  Still,  awareness alone wasn’t enough to turn me into an easy-going, go-with-the-flow, realistic goal-setter, mistake-forgiver type of person.  I felt powerless to overcome perfectionism’s relentless hold on me.

Eventually, I came to view my perfectionism as a chronic condition in need of management and care.  It might go into “remission” for a while, then flare-up. Occasionally, I will an experience acute episode and really have to take therapeutic measures.  I now consider myself “in recovery”, a state that requires vigilance, self-care, and self-awareness.

Buy I can’t do it alone.

That is why I was so excited to discover a terrific book called, The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block by Hillary Rettig.  Hillary shows how perfectionism is more than a “destructive habit or way of thinking”.  Her book demonstrates perfectionism’s toxic effects on your view of “yourself, your work, and the world.”

As soon as the author began describing the characteristics and behaviors of perfectionists, my eyes popped.  Hey, this woman really knows me!   I downloaded the 182 -page book in the summer and still haven’t finished it (and that is okay!).  Rettig’s book is not meant to be read in one sitting.  It is a step-by-step guide and you don’t go to the next step until you have made progress. There are clear steps to take, exercises to do, behaviors to practice, and practical changes to make. I was going to wait until I finished to blog about this wonderful book, but every page of her book just keeps getting better. So, I thought I’d share it with you today, and then write about my progress in future blogs.

By the way, this book is aimed at writers, but anyone who is trying to finish a major project or has difficulty with output due to procrastination will benefit.  And speaking of procrastination…did you know that Perfectionism is at its root?

I will leave you with one defining characteristic from Secrets of the Prolific:

“Perfectionists hold unrealistic definitions of success and punish themselves harshly for the inevitable failures.”

Yup, that’s me.

Are you a perfectionist?  What tactics have you taken to tame this unruly condition?  What guides or programs have you found helpful? 

Summer Reading

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I live for summer.

As a sufferer of SAD,(seasonal affective disorder) the spring clock change kicks me into gear.  By June, I’m ready to fly. The summer break from my teaching job allows for more intense writing time.  These long stretches of time bring its own challenges and pressures.  Produce! Publish!

My self-imposed writing regimen also conflicts with another desire: to read a ton of books. In my world, one of the small pleasures in life  is coming home from the library on a Friday afternoon with a bag full of new books.  I’ve heard some writers say that they don’t read fiction while working on their novels.  This would be a hard practice for me to follow.  I find that reading certain authors inspire my own work.

When I was working on my YA novel, One Is Not A Lonely Number, I read  children’s novels with female narrators, like in my own story.  If I am working on a short story, I turn to my favorite writers for inspiration in language and voice. One of my favorite collections is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  The plotting, dialogue, insights, and language just blows me away.

When I get stuck, I reread my writing bibles: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont, On Writing by Stephen King, and Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. As for those beach books–they are my reward for putting in chair time, for typing those 1000 words.  So this summer I hope to read:  Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, More Cake and Lots of Candles by Anna Quindlen, Canada by Richard Ford, and Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner.

What’s on your list?