Lost in nonfiction…and loving it

There are some who never venture past the alphabetized-by-author’s-last-name fiction section of our library. These people never ascend the stairs, say hello to the research librarian, or wander the stacks with their lengthy strings of numbers.

181.45 .F423sha c.2
The Shambhala guide to yoga

CRAFTS 746.432 .D794 eth 2007
Ethnic knitting discovery : the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and the Andes

741 Knight
Animal drawing : anatomy and action for artists

306.81 .G464 com 2010
Committed : a skeptic makes peace with marriage

641.65655 .M182 this
This can’t be tofu! : 75 recipes to cook something you never thought you would–and love every bite

I try not to go into the nonfiction section with any specific agenda but on my most recent nonfiction adventure, I was looking for the tofu cookbook above. (Is there any way to get my children to eat tofu? Answer from cookbook: hide it in a smoothie.) Once that book was pulled off the shelf and safely in my pile, I start to explore.

I like to run my finger along a row of books with eyes closed then stop, and take a look at what I’ve found. Usually one book leads my brain to make another connection, another subject that once flitted across my brain as I drove children from school to activity to home. Sometimes the topic took root while I listened to a story on NPR, or it was mentioned by a kiddo in a carpool, or suggested by an image I’ve seen. Sometimes it plants a seed for a story I’d like to tell. Sometimes it’s just a random web of one thing leading to another until I find myself sitting on the floor, back against the shelves, reading a chapter of some topic I never knew existed. The best part about being lost in nonfiction is that curiosity and lifetime learning is part of my job as a writer. 

Shhh…I’m working.

Everybody’s doin’ it!

Everybody’s doin’ it– READ! I’m a little late on my best-of lists for 2012, but I have gotten some questions from local parents and others about my favorite reads so in keeping with the trend…

I realize that not all of these are 2012 releases, these are just some of my favorite books that I read last year.  *= don’t miss

*The Night Circus
Rin Tin Tin
State of Wonder
*The Submission
*The Red Rose Crew
The Glass Castle

Young Adult:
*Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Marcelo in the Real World
*Code Name Verity
Jersey Tomatoes are the Best
*See You at Harry’s
The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind

Middle Grade:
*Dead End in Norvelt
*The One and Only Ivan
A Long Walk to Water
One for the Murphy’s

Picture Book:
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story (NF)
Citizen Scientists (NF)
Duck Sock Hop
Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors (poetry)
Here come the Girlscouts
One Cool Friend

Some of these are reviewed in depth on my blog. Just search in the right side bar for the title. Often I’ll do a short review in my Goodreads account. Feel free to connect with me there too!

Member Monday: Read, read, read!

When the rain fell all last week, I holed up on the couch and read. When the sun came out, I dug the folding chair out of the garage, set it up in the sunshine and read. At the end of the day I felt a little guilty. There I was making dinner and I had limited writing or revising minutes to boast. In fact, I’d hardly done anything but read.

While I was in my MFA program, I didn’t feel guilty about reading. I was comfortable saying to my kids, “Mommy’s working.” I loved going to the library and coming home with a stack of books then reading them one after another or sometimes two at a time.

I know that reading is indeed part of my job. I need to know what books are on the market, and what books kids love. More important, I need to read critically. When I read, I’m constantly asking myself why. Why did the author make this word choice? How is the author going to weave these subplots together? When will this detail be relevant again and if it isn’t, why is it in the book at all? I question why a story doesn’t work and why it does. Good writers read.

Shop Indie Bookstores

Because I am such a critical reader, it is harder to find books that are pure escape but I love searching for them. Today, I pushed away my guilt, took my Goodreads App to the library, and took out a small pile of books.

Sure, I’m still revising but if you see me with my nose in a book, please do not disturb… I’m working.

Poem in Your Pocket Day!!!

If you didn’t already know, it’s Poem in Your Pocket Day. Since September, I’ve been working with two other community organizers, planning events, applying for grants, finding sponsors, designing posters and social networking around this fabulous, stupendous day!

Today I walked Maine Street in Brunswick with a bag of poem and stickers and handed them out to anyone who would take them. I visited the Little Dog Café, The Bohemian Coffee House, Frosty’s and Wild Oats. Some folks said they had heard about Poem in Your Pocket Day on the radio. Maybe this story. The smiles that I got in exchange for the poems made my day. My favorite interactions occurred when a few people told me they didn’t need one of my poems because they already had poems of their own! Listening to them read was lightness, and sunshine, and warm smiles.

One little girl with her Grandmother took my poem and sticker but the little girl was extremely shy. I left, walked the entire town then came back to my car. “Wait,” I heard. It was the Grandmother. “My granddaughter and I have been looking all over Brunswick for you. She wanted to give you this.” She handed me a poem that they had written out after I’d left. I think they made it up together. It made my day. Here it is:

Tulip in the ground unplanted
We circle ’round and ’round
We wonder where it came from
Growing dizzy, falling down

TONIGHT, April 26th: Open Mic Night, 6:30-8:30, Curtis Memorial Library. Come read one poem. Yours or someone else’s. Must be family friendly. Sign-up when you arrive.

TOMORROW, April 27th: Reading by Wesley McNair, Maine’s Poet Laureate, 6:30-8:30, Curtis Memorial Library. Wes will have some books available for sale.

Poem in your pocket day will soon be gone. Quick, stuff your pocket with poems and share, share, share!

Member Monday: The importance of literacy

It may only be February 13th, but March and two wonderful literacy events, are right around the corner.

March 2nd is Dr. Seuss’s Birthday and the annual National Education Association’s celebration of Read Across America Day.

March 7th is World Read Aloud Day sponsored by LitWorld. SCBWI is an official partner of World Read Aloud Day and Headquarters is encouraging members to get involved. (See the other partners here. ) Both pre-published and published authors can play an important role in advancing literacy. It’s  a great opportunity for members to connect with your local independent bookstore and help promote the SCBWI’s role in literacy.

From the LitWorld website:
Literacy is the foundation for emotional and physical well-being, intellectual growth, and economic security. The right to read and write is a fundamental human right and belongs to all people.

Worldwide at least 793 million people remain illiterate. Two-thirds of them are women. All over the world, children are hungry for learning and for the power it brings. Research shows that children learn to read and write best by writing and telling the stories of their own experiences. Yet it is rare to find safe spaces where children feel fully comfortable to do so.”

It doesn’t matter if your event takes place on the 2nd or the 7th. What’s important is that we take a moment to think of how we can bring literacy to our communities.

What can you do?

  • Organize a read-a-thon with other authors/illustrators in your area. Perhaps a local independent bookstore would open for 24 hours to let people read all night long. Take donations and send them to a literacy organization.
  • Ask your local librarian if you can schedule free readings during library hours during the first week of March. Contact your SCBWI Regional Advisor to help you contact other authors/illustrators in your area.
  • Are you a well-known author with a well-read blog? Auction off a school visit for the first week of March with the procedes going to to a literacy organization.
  • Connect with LitWorld at litworld.org/worldreadalouddaychats to watch video chats and read alouds with special guest. Or do a read aloud video chat with someone far away.
  • Change your avatar on your social networking sites to support Read Across America and World Read Aloud Day.
  • If you live near NYC, attend a Books of Wonder/LitWord event.
  • Dress up as your favorite character.
  • Link to this blog, LitWorld, or NEA

There are more ideas, statistics, and classroom reproducables from LitWorld here.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t keep it to yourself. Both NEA and LitWorld have a place on their websites where you can register your activity. SCBWI members can send their photos and information directly to chelseamosser at scbwi dot org.

Reading Time

The past month I’ve spent reading and preparing for my first Vermont College Residency. Some of the reading is required, some suggested, and some is my own desire to read the books of faculty members so I know them better as I am placed with a faculty advisor for my first semester. I’ve also been reading and enjoying the worksheets (manuscripts) of my workshop group. I’m very excited to meet everyone and can’t wait to hear the conversation of fellow students or the guidance of our instructors.

Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan
Impossible, Nancy Werlin
The Postcards, Tony Abbott
Runt, Marion Dane Bauer
The Underneath, Kathi Appelt

…and because the movie Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince comes out in theatres this month, I read it aloud to I. who has finished books 2-5 on his own. 

There are a few more that I am trying to finish up this week:
Red Butterfly, Deborah Noyes
Criss Cross, Lynn Rae Perkins
Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything In It, Sundee Frazier
Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolf (non-fiction on how we read and how our brains change as humans have learned to read)

Recent Reads

I am embarrassed to say that I am still in my bathrobe. After packing the lunches, signing notes, and buttoning up my children against the wind, I sank back into the covers to read "just one more chapter" of Amy Bloom’s, Away.  Needless to say, it wasn’t one more chapter. It was many and more until the book was done. 

Away, follows the journey of Lillian Leyb, a Jew escaping from the pogroms of Russia to Ellis Island then follows her trip across America to Alaska and back to Russia to find her lost daughter. Bloom’s stream of conscious language sets the rhythm of the twenties, and the rhythm of desperation of the various characters. The characters, from New York Yiddish theatre kings to Seattle Prostitutes, are each flesh and bone and motivation and clothes and relatives and back story and future story and yet… they never take over the story. The reader is always eager to follow Lillian in the next steps of her journey. 

The research for this book must have been fun and hard and long and, I imagine, frustrating at points. The list of acknowledgements is lengthy. I was particularly struck by the symbolism in the text. Scars, in particular. Scars are stories of our pasts and Bloom mines them beautifully. When and to whom do we tell the true stories of our scars? When do we exaggerate? When do we downplay our experiences?Just lovely.

If you have a gift card from a book store, and are looking for a grown-up novel, don’t pass up Away. My husband picked up our copy in the airport and so I waited to read it. Perhaps I was just waiting for a day when no one would stop me from immersing myself in the vibrant world that Bloom creates so skillfully.

Back to work.

Recent Reads

Recently, much of my time alone has been spent working on my freelance writing or reading. Here is a short list with brief notes and thoughts.
Papertowns: This brandy new young adult release from Co-King of Nerdfighteria, John Green debuted on the New York Times Bestsellers list. (With a little help from his brother, Co-King Hank Green and a whole lot of help from the nerdfighters.) Q, the main character, while journeying to find his missing next door neighbor, Margo, also goes on an existential journey to find himself. What do we project to the world? Who are we under our projections? Do we really know the people we call our friends? What are we capable of? How are we connected? Q, tackles all of these questions as he explores a clue that Margo left behind. "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman. John delivers a smart mystery (both the clues and the structure) and his grasp of modern young adult technology and dialogue is spot on. 

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, Wendy Mass: Jeremy Fink also has an existential journey to find out the meaning of life and his place in the world. Jeremy’s father sends him a locked box on his 13th birthday that holds the meaning of life. The problem? Jeremy’s dad died five years ago and the keys are missing. Jeremy and his best friend go on a path that intersects with interesting people and forces them to look at the importance (or irrelevance) of things. This book is best when Mass introduces us (and Jeremy) to interesting characters but I had a hard time believing the structure of the mystery. Without spoiling, it seemed that too many adults were involved in helping Jeremy make the discoveries that were necessary.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: There are few Holocaust/World War II books that I would characterize as light but this is one of them. Let me explain that by light I don’t mean slight or funny but hopeful and accessible. This book is told at the end of the war in letters from a London writer, Juliet Ashton, to her publisher and the inhabitants of Guernsey Island. Their trials and tribulations are made light by Juliet’s positive spirit and the amazing island community into which she is adopted. Readers be warned: there are tears involved. The book was written by Marianne Shaffer who died earlier this year and the task to complete the book was take on by Anne Barrows. A huge thank you to kellyrfineman for reviewing this book and bringing it to my attention. Perhaps she’ll post the link to her review in the comments. There is a video interview with the one of the author’s here.

Audio Books:

Rowan Hood, Nancy Springer: An English adventure is made even more believable with the narration of Emily Gray. Rowan is the daughter of Robin Hood. That is what she’s always been told by her magical mother. But is she? In this swashbuckling coming of age tale, Rowan (Rosemary) reconnects with the spirits of the Earth, the Alpha, and taps her inner strength to become a true outlaw. 

The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman: Perhaps I am the only one to come so late to the His Dark Materials series but I am truly enjoying it. As any good second in a trilogy, (for movies think Empire Strikes Back or Dead Man’s Chest (Pirates of the Carribean)) The Subtle Knife takes us deeper into the characters and defines the hero’s journey more clearly. It also leaves us with an ending that is less than satisfying but leads us deftly into the third book (The Amber Spyglass) and into the inevitable battle. Pullman introduces worlds upon worlds that all have their own set of rules and characters. This full cast recording was fabulous. The voices help you keep the worlds distinct and also make the listener’s imagining more vivd. 

What are your reading?

Guys Read

My husband has three sisters. One has no children, and the other two have three children. Add that to our two and you have some serious "cousining" when they are all together. Eight children under the age of nine and seven of them are boys. On my last visit to one of these homes, my brother in law and I got to talking about books for boys. I thought I’d list some resources for fathers and their boys and hope that the rest of the LJ community will chime in with other ideas. 

The first stop on our Guys Read tour is Guys Read. (funny that) Jon Scieszka, rhymes with Fresca, is the catalyst for the site and funds it with help from the New York Foundation for the Arts.  He is also the newly appointed National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature. The position is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the Children’s Book Council. Use this site with your kids to input your favorite books, and authors to create a list of recommended books for your child.

I’ve found that my boys had a sort of "ah-ha" moment when the stars aligned and the time, book and mood was right and then they took off. Until then, read to them, read with them (page for page, or paragraph for paragraph.) A great resource for this is the We Both Read series. 

Boys tend to be infokids. They love to learn about new subjects and learn more about what they already know. I’m sure many of us have seen our child check the same dinosaur, baseball, volcano book from the library a million times. We roll our eyes and wonder why they don’t want something new. Fugedaboudit! Let them take out that book and pack yet another dry bologna and American cheese sandwich and just watch them smile. To learn about interesting nonfiction for kids check out I.N.K.

Penguin group also has an early version of the Guys Read reading list here
A mom and pop site is here.
An internet "hotlist" with links on the subject and reading lists here.
Another blog "Books and Boys" with great links here.
A Random House book list is here.

If you have a teenage boy, make sure they bookmark Guys Lit Wire. This blog generally posts on Mondays and Fridays from a stable of contributors including our own kellyrfineman . Here you’ll find  YA reviews, discussions, news and books, books, books. 

(Necessary disclaimer: As always, please check out any internet site to make sure you think it is appropriate for your child.)

Remember that there are a lot of ways to enjoy books and reading. The sports page of the newspaper? Sure. Comic books? Absolutely. Humor or subjects that you might not enjoy yourself? Even better because they feel independent. Audiobooks? Yes, yes, let them enjoy these stories however they can access them. Trips to the library? All the time! Meeting authors? Whenever you can. Online book extensions and author websites? Please do. All of these experiences will bring your boys enjoyment when they read, and that’s the goal.