Book Review Wednesday: Jumper by Melanie Crowder

Blair Scott is in her second season as a wildland firefighter when the Forest Service puts out a call for an additional class of smokejumpers. She and her best friend Jason both apply, though neither expects to get in since they’re only nineteen. But it’s been a devastating fire season, and they are both accepted. But going to training camp is only the first step—everyone expects the teenage rookies will wash out in the first week. Blair has always been touchy about people telling her she isn’t good enough, so she begins taking unnecessary risks to prove herself. It doesn’t take long before everything spins out of control, leaving Blair struggling to cope. 

Penguin Random House (2022)

There are very few YA books that I read in a day, but Melanie Crowder’s JUMPER wouldn’t let me go. Perhaps it was the characters. Blair Scott is a young woman with a medical secret. A daughter driven to achieve everything with her body when her mother would prefer she be careful and cautious. Aunt Cate, a single, smart, scientific, woman who lives in the woods. Jason. Ah. Sweet, strong, incredible Jason. All of us want a friend like Jason. Two smart, salty, veteran firefighting instructors and a cadre of firefighting candidates, each with their own carefully drawn personalities and experiences.

Perhaps it was the setting and the action. The textures of Montana range, mountains, and forests are beautifully drawn on the page. It is a ripped-from-the-headlines setting where Blair and Jason train to contain and fight fires that most of us would run from. But, the big fires aren’t the only ones burning and they aren’t the focus for Blair, Jason, and their smoke-jumper colleagues. The smoke-jumpers parachute into the woods to tamp out and contain smaller, hard-to-get-to fires. Crowder keeps the reader on the edge of their comfy reading cushion as the firefighters strategize to battle the intensity of the flames while keeping their egos and personal struggles in check.

Perhaps what kept me reading was the structure. For an East Coast reader, a lot of this was new information, but Crowder had that covered as well. Careful and intentional insertions of firefighting orders, “watchouts,” and vocabulary kept me informed and foreshadowed the action, urging me on.

Perhaps it was the timeliness. In just the last couple of weeks, four fires have broken out in Montana and in a California heat wave, the Oak Fire in Yosemite (the photos in this TIME magazine article are jaw-dropping) expanded to 28 square miles (19,000 acres). Climate change has expanded the fire season so much that for some places, there’s no more season at all. Fires happen all. The. Time. (Take a look at this fire and smoke map.) Upon finishing the book, I ran into this tweet reminding us that those who run toward the fires to save our lives and property are often volunteers and underpaid workers.

But wait…I can’t forget the emotional arcs of each of the characters. Crowder writes emotion so well. You’re going to swoon, you’re going to cry, you’re going to be destroyed in all the best ways.

Get the book. Just get the book.

Summer Reading TBR

With the humidity, it feels as if it’s over 90ºF here in the DMV. So find yourself some AC, a fan, and a cold glass of lemonade and get busy reading some phenomenal books. (I’m hoping that my students read at least one this summer!)

Here are some middle-grade and YA that I’ve loved over the past few weeks. If there’s a date on it, that means it’s an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy). A few of those won’t be out for purchase until the fall.

Here’s my To Be Read (TBR) pile. It keeps getting bigger, but I’m trying to use the library too. Some came out last year and some are brand new. If you read any, leave me a message and tell me what you thought.

Happy Reading!

Moxie

Last night I gathered some of my most supportive women for a Moxie watch party to celebrate where we are now–in life, in our careers, in our parenting, and in our feminism. I had loved the book by Jennifer Mathieu and have been eager to see the film since I’d heard that Amy Poehler would be directing it.

We filled up the chat bar with our texts–cheers for the young women as they fight the patriarchy and transform, eye rolling when the stupid adults were stupid, cheers for the romantic male lead, boos for the villain and the administrator who ignores her duties, fists raised for the inclusion of intersectional feminism and LGBTQ representation, gasps when the inevitable shocking plot-twist appeared. Perhaps it was, as this NYT reviewer says, “unfocused and too often unbelievable,” but for us, that was the point.

We can all point to too many real-life f-ed up news stories (Brock Turner, Brett Kavanaugh, Trump) that I saw symbolized by Patrick Schwarzenegger’s beautiful villain in Netflix’s Moxie. Everyday there are new #metoo situations in the news and others that we only hear about in whisper campaigns. As a parent I have felt ineffectual when I heard after-the-fact that sexual assault and harassment issues infected the schools to which I sent my own children. These stories and the patriarchy have beaten us down over the years taking away our hope that anything will be better anytime soon. As a white-woman I am tired of losing, yet when I feel that I have lost, I know that there are others that have lost even more. So I was absolutely fine, buoyed in fact, when I could lose myself in this feminist Quasi-Fantasy*, with my glass of wine and my girlfriends. Says one girlfriend:

Anna, is there a word for quasi-fantasy*?  That’s how it felt to me. Simplistic kind of on purpose, just giving us the gift of more ease since we live the BS of reality. Quasi-Buffy but instead of slaying vampires they slayed football players with Zines.  

The alternative reality that props us up for another day.  Shows like Madame Secretary make me feel that way too, or Wonder Woman.  Just a bit where we get to pretend the work could be easier and we could get our vindication and dance party at the end of the damn day

-K.C.S.

YES! Let me stand akimbo with my lasso of truth. I am aching for that dance party where I can thrash about, that catharsis when in the movie when Lucy challenges the book list, that passionate release when Lucy and Amaya kiss, how sexy it is when Seth asks for consent, the power when Vivian finds her voice, and the chilling hope when the students who walk out scream in chorus.

The book Moxie and others you might like (Dress Coded, Fighting Words, Maybe He Just Likes You) tell stories that are more nuanced than the Netflix version. I highly recommend them to both adults and young readers. For educators and parents, please take a look at the resource: 100 School Districts: A Call to Action for School Districts Across the Country to Address Sexual Harassment Through Inclusive Policies and Practices from the National Women’s Law Center.

If you are experiencing or have experienced sexual assault, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

My Book Birthday! This Pup Steps Up! A dog book for kids.

Arf, yip, yap, bark! Today is my book birthday for This Pup Steps Up! A dog book for kids.

After a long social media roll-out with a cover reveal…

Happy Birthday Book Baby!

…and a puppy countdown…

The print book is available!!!

Shamrock is twirling for joy! Thanks Shamrock!

In my last post, I discussed how I compose my rhyme. It’s a tricky thing to get rhyme right and it doesn’t just appear fully formed on the page. I showed this image of my notes:

This scribble with cross-outs, word lists, and prose eventually (with a lot of reading aloud) turned into this:

The rhyming couplets are rhythmic and great for early learners (0-3) as well emergent readers (3-6).

While my editors and I are responsible for the text, I couldn’t be more pleased with the design and photo illustrations. I’m grateful to the graphic designers at Callisto Media and Rockridge Press for making this book diverse, fun, and engaging for young readers.

The book is currently available on Amazon but if you are a bookseller or book buyer at an independent bookstore, please contact me and I’ll put you in touch with the right people!

Please follow me on my Author Page or on Instagram where I’ll be sharing a few more spreads from the book. If you purchase a book, (especially with a dog or young reader) I’d love for you to tag me @annawritedraw or use #thispupstepsup!

Book Review: The Librarian of Auschwitz

I received this ARC through a MacMillan/Shelf Awareness giveaway. The book is scheduled for an October 10th launch!

LibrarianAuschwitz_JKT_FINAL.indd

The Librarian of Auschwitz is marketed as a novel but it reads as creative nonfiction in the journalistic style of Susan Orlean. Author Antonio Iturbe’s interviews with the real Dita Kraus and information from the interviews with Rudolph Rosenberg make the novel more true than not. Anne Frank and her sister show up in the book as well. The narrative quality of the writing makes it a little difficult to ascertain what portions of the book are fictitious (but we can assume that specific conversations, some scenes, character actions and reactions have been embellished for the story). I would have liked an author’s note that makes clear to teen readers what is true and what is not.

The book was originally written in Spanish and is translated by Lilit Thwaites.

The specifics of the Holocaust are horrendously and horrifically true, yet teenager Dita’s amazing story as protectorate of books for the children of the “family camp” school was new to me. Her strength and the strength of those around her in the face of their inhumane treatment is inspiring and humbling. Dita, the other children, and their teachers find refuge in the stories and facts from the eight illicit books they have and hide. It is this refuge, that allows Dita to hold on to her own humanity and to stand up for others. The novel is truly an ode to the power of books. If you liked “The Book Thief,” “The Librarian of Auschwitz” will keep you up all night reading.

I read a lot of YA and children’s Holocaust literature in my late 20s but haven’t been able to stomach it until recently. Perhaps my renewed interest comes from our current xenophobic and racist policies, the rise of authoritarian governments, the lack of concern from our young people regarding “democratic legitimacy,” or the Syrian atrocities and others going on right under our noses that make the cry “Never Again” a fallacy. Nevertheless, I am interested now. Here are some excellent pairings to go with The Librarian of Auschwitz. (There are many, many more.)

From those who were there or had family members there:
Night, Elie Wiesel
The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Maus,(1 & 2) Art Spiegelman
I never saw another butterfly, poetry from the children of Terezin edited by Hana Volavková

Also:
The Devil’s Arithmetic, Jane Yolen
Briar Rose, Jane Yolen
The Book Thief, Marcus Zuzak
Paper Hearts, Meg Wiviott
Milkweed, Jerry Spinelli

Younger children:
Number the Stars, Lois Lowry
Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, Meg Wiviott
The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, Carmen Agra Deedy

Henry Holt/MacMillan has a  The Librarian of Auschwitz teacher’s guide.

A Reading Rumpus

It’s been a reading rumpus here.

The other day I spent a good long time at my local AMAZING library (Curtis Memorial Library) with our incredible Youth Services Librarians and my Goodreads TBR list. Of course my eyes are way bigger than my metaphorical reading stomach can handle. The mathematical equation of my relationship with library books looks like this:

Check out time allowed – my reading speed = not enough time for everything I took.

Sometimes that doesn’t matter because truthfully, there’s nothing like the feeling of walking out of the library with a massive pile of books and more on the way from Interlibrary Loan (A Psalm for Lost Girls by Katie Bayerl).

After the library, I finally (how did it get to be August) excavated my patio chaise lounge from the back of the garage (still haven’t gotten to my bike *covers head in shame*), dusted off the cobwebs, and set it in the Maine sunshine to read.

The picture book haul was excellent. For me, Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin (Random House Kids) was a delight. It is wordless and uses sequential art and framing as in a graphic novel. Reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz, the blue-grey monochromatic palette gives way to full color as the main characters travel from the real to the fantasy world through an topiary archway.  I was “reading” the book to my man-children and they were frustrated with my narration of the silent story. (Mom. We can see what’s happening.) Perhaps the book is best for consuming on one’s own or allowing the child to tell you what is happening.

My review of Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes on Goodreads. More to come. I will renew books if necessary by golly.

Escape
by Anna E. Jordan

Consuming story
The pile never shrinks
More hours in the day please

 

 

 

The Revision Cave: All In

As a middle school educator I taught the writing process as a series of steps that separated “revision” from “editing.” Revision, I told my students had to do with answering the big questions that a reader had about your work. It was the writer’s chance to go deeper, be more specific, cut what didn’t work, be clear. Editing on the other hand was about the conventions: spelling, grammar, etc. (By the way if you teach writing I highly recommend Kate Messner’s, REAL REVISION)

At some point in the journey of my writing career, someone at some conference or workshop or lecture pointed out the obvious that the word revision is re-vision or “to see again in a new way.” I took on this definition as my mantra and thus, each revision has turned into a massive undertaking where I basically re-write a manuscript.

It doesn’t start that way. It usually starts with finding a better beginning. Beginnings are hard and many writers talk about a necessary writing to the end in order to fine tune a beginning again (and again). Of course, my fine tuning sets off a ripple effect throughout the entire manuscript. When faced with a section of manuscript that doesn’t work, I pinpoint the problem, I brainstorm solutions then I try it. (“Try it”–is another good piece of advice that can be an entrance to a revision blackhole.) How about a whole new character, Anna? And what if you add an epistolary element? What if, what if, what if…?

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been making steady progress in the revision cave for the last two weeks! My word count each day has hovered around 1000 as I reorder, rewrite, and rediscover the story I am trying to tell. I am going deeper, being more specific, cutting what didn’t work, being clear. Here are a few other things that I’m working on that you might notice in your work:

Where Does the Scene End:
I often end a scene where it will make a good chapter ending–one that doesn’t let the arc of that scene come to resolution, one that keeps the reader a little on their toes. This is a good thing unless, I haven’t given the reader everything they need. When I haven’t, I seem to start the next scene with a quick summation of what the reader missed. Sometimes this info is crucial to the emotional arc of the character. It should have happened “in-scene.” I am looking for these places in the work and rewriting to show the emotions instead.

Tension Makes Me Tense:
I am a pantser by nature but recent workshops with David Macinnis Gill and re-readings of Vogler’s,THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, and McKee’s, STORY have reminded me that plotting and outlining helps. I struggle to make the tension rise throughout a story and sometimes fall into and episodic (good fodder for another post) form of story telling. In this revision, I’ve listed the steps of the hero’s journey and jotted down the scenes that will happen at each of these crucial points. This organizing tool has been incredibly helpful. I’ve also written out what I see as my MC’s controlling belief (an idea I gleaned from Kathi Appelt and Franny Billingsley ) and I’ve added to that a question that describes her emotional arc. I make sure that each scene addresses in someway my MC’s belief and question (and desire but that’s also another post). This forces me to stay on track in the plotting.
Controlling belief: My mother left because she thought I was ugly and useless.
Question: Am I worthy of people’s love?

I guess these are similar but it has helped me.

Who Hates You Baby:
As students we learned the different types of conflict: man v. man, man v. self, man v. society, man v. nature, man v. machine. (Man! We’ll assume that is short for human.)
I was convinced that my book was MC v. self but part of the lack of tension in my manuscript came from the lack of a clear antagonist. I struggled with this idea, but in this revision I’ve chosen to clarify the antagonist and amp up the adversarial nature of their relationship.

I’ll be back in the revision cave come Monday but for now… out of the cave and into the mountains!

Copyright: fredlyfish4 / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: fredlyfish4 / 123RF Stock Photo