World Book Night

It’s World Book Night and I’m a proud book giver. I got a jump on my giving so the twenty copies of Bridge to Terabithia that I had are already gone, thanks to an afternoon visit to a local elementary school.
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When I drove around the block, looking for the entrance to the parking lot, I was sad to see weedy lots with ugly gray buildings, complete with rusty barbed-wire fencing, directly behind the property. If anyone needs an escape, it’s kids having views like this out their windows for most of the day.
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But Maryvale Elementary itself is a lovely campus with shady trees and updated buildings, not far from where I spent my vacation time with my grandparents and great aunts in my younger years. I found out that one of my relatives even taught school there way back in the olden days… you know, before CDs—let alone MP3s—were invented.
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I was ready with my spiffy Word Book Night tote bag (full of books!) and my shiny Book Giver button.
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I thought I was mentally ready, but as I was signing in at the office, Ms. Gillespiee (from Metro Mobile Reading Council’s Young Author program) entered the building and my heart rate settled immediately. Ms. McShan, the school’s reading coach who set-up my visit called her in to attend my presentation. Having a familiar face in a new setting is great, and when the group conversation quieted down, she was there to spur more questions from the students.
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It was a great thirty minutes—and it went by fast! Happy reading, Maryvale students!

Love books? Sign-up to be a giver in 2015 and we’ll paint the town READ because geeking out over books is awesome!

I Banned a Book

Ever since my oldest began his love of reading, I’ve opened my book collection to him. He’ll finish a book, draw the cover in his reading journal, and head to the bookcase to trade in for a new one. Oh, and let’s not forget adding a leaf to the reading tree. 100_4650

My teen with autism has read everything from (most recently) Kirby Larson’s Hattie Ever After to The Old Man and the Sea. After he chooses a book, he brings it to me to share. If he’s gone for something like Caddie Woodlawn’s Family, I’ll first steer him to Caddie Woodlawn, explaining that this books is about the same family, but it’s best to read this one first and he’s fine with that. But the other night I had to say no to a book.

Not just any book—a special bookcase book. (That means one of my favorite authors. No, they don’t all fit in this little area, but many do.) 100_2048

He wanted Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and I said no.

He’s not ready for it.

Is he old enough? Physically, yes. Emotionally/mentally, no.

I adore tough books. They’re awesome springboards for conversations and I have oodles of books I can’t wait to discuss with my kids—when they’re ready.

So, yes, I banned a book. Temporarily.

I pointed to the other Laurie Halse Anderson novels he could read and he went to bed that night with the first Vet Volunteer book instead, but I think Laurie will understand.

Three Confessions

Confession #1: I have a lot of books.
Confession #2: I have a lot of bookshelves (but I could always use more.)
Confession #3: I keep my most treasured books behind closed doors.

I first started hiding my books after my eldest child started to “wear out” his own books. Lift-the-flap books with no flaps to lift. Using books as bridges, literally walking on them across the floor, was a favorite activity. And with his books, spines were optional. I feared for my beloved books, as well as my husband’s collection.

Our favorite books went from the top shelves—he could scale the bookshelves—to high levels inside cabinets. I could hear the cabinet doors opening, but I didn’t always hear him at the bookcases until it was too late.

In the past three years that I’ve been homeschooling, the book population has hit overdrive.

The main wall of books--about a third of what we have.

The main wall of books–about a third of what we have.

The non-fiction area has doubled and the sum of the middle grade novels that my oldest son reads every night is greater than anything I ever held as the lone reader of them. My youngest has a two shelf bookcase of picture books and all things pink while the middle child hoards The Magic Tree House and military history.
Last year I wrote a post about my oldest turning into a reader and he hasn’t slowed down. The other night, when he came looking for another book amid the post holiday explosion, I realized he hasn’t read Bridge to Terabithia or A Wrinkle in Time. All of the Katherine Paterson, Madeleine L’Engle, Laurie Halse Anderson, Terry Brooks, and Orson Scott Card books are behind closed doors. Not to mention Narnia, Green Gables, Hogwarts, and The Shire.
Parenting fail!
So, my goal this month—hopefully this week—is to get these books out and into circulation among my household. No more restricted section in the family library. I’ll document this effort with photos, so stayed tuned!

All for Love: A Middle Grade Reader Romance

In celebration of attending my first SCBWI conference this weekend, I’d like to share my love of literature with you. I’ve been reading middle grade novels since I was of age—I never grew out of the genre. Even though I thought I was writing a young adult novel, on the sixth draft I discovered it was actually MG. It makes sense because my absolute FAVORITE novels are all categorized as MG, and more often than not, they are marked with “Ages 10 and up” or “10-14” for the reading level.

There are MG books marketed for eight to twelve year olds. Those novels are typically set in upper elementary school grades and are slightly longer than chapter books (think Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and How to Eat Fried Worms.) But what I’m focusing on today are those magical coming-of-age novels that have universal themes that related to everyone from tweens to adults.

Well beyond the first three Harry Potter books—which did make it socially acceptable for adults to venture into the children’s section—there is a plethora of life-changing literature to be found in the fiction section for younger readers. These books are deep and rich with truths of life and death.

The following list is my challenge books. I dare friends and family who “don’t read kids books” to read one and no one has been disappointed. Most of these titles are award winners and the majority won the Newbery Medal. Trust that honor—the children’s librarians at ALA know what they’re doing! I’ve divided my list of the TOP TEN MIDDLE GRADE NOVELS into three sub-genres to make it easier to find what might interest you the most.

Historical (pre-1950s):

  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (This book captures the emotions of slavery in New England during the American Revolution. It is cross-merchandized in the YA section because of its heavy subject matter, but is listed as ages 10 and up.)    
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (An awesome sea adventure set in the 1830s.)
  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (A novel in verse about the dust bowl in Oklahoma beginning in 1934.)
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (Haven’t you always wanted to know what it was like to live on Alcatraz? A son of a guardsman in 1935 shares his story.)
  • A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (Spend 1937 in the middle of nowhere Illinois with a hillbilly granny. Hilariously funny. You could cheat and listen to the audio—it’s brilliant.)

Science Fiction edge:

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Classic. Enough said.)
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (Futuristic/dystopian—before it was trendy—and deeply moving.)

Contemporary:

  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (My favorite novel of all time.)

  • Holes by Louis Sachar (Amazingly crafted, and supports a historical story within the present-day plot. Double bonus points!)
  • Listen by Stephanie S. Tolan (I just found this one about a year ago. Deceptively quiet, but so very tender. Great for dog lovers.)

Have you read any of these? If not, I dare you to read one!

What would you put on your list of favorite middle grade novels?

September Madness

“The Month of Madness” is what September 2011 shall be known as in my life.
The month when this homebody was away as often as home during regular hours. The month that forced this shy lady into several public speaking events.
The month my kids cried because I left them so often. The month the grandparents were taken advantage of for free childcare. (Thanks, Nana and Grandpa!)
And right in the middle of the month the little princess celebrated her third birthday with a yard full of friends for an “Easter” party. Egg hunt, duckies, butterflies… and frilly dresses, too! I’d post pictures here, but, yeah, you know. I don’t do that at this point.
Reading has been a lifesaver, once again. You can tell how crazy my life is by how much reading I’m doing. The only way to escape and unwind. I have to read myself to sleep, otherwise I’d just think myself into a frenzy every night. Anxiety sucks but it is good for increasing my reading progress.

A Need so Beautiful was a loaner book from a good friend. It took me a while to get into the character/voice, which isn’t unusual for me—it just took over half the book instead of a few chapters this time. Loved the ending.

I reread Summer of the Swans, a classic Newbery winner. Loved it, once again. Most of my favorite novels are “middle readers”, usually the 10-14 age range.

And because I wanted to read more Joan Bauer books (see last post) I checked out Squashed and Close to Famous(her newest—still reading this one) from the local library.

I’ve also been reading Homeschool Your Child for Free (great purchase) and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (thank you Mobile Public Library) during the daytime, when I’m not running the roads. Which has been next to nothing this past week.

September 24 is the start of Banned Books Week. Search my blog for previous posts on this topic.

If you’re on Facebook, you can find a public fan page for me and my writing. http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#!/pages/Carrie-Cox/182006808539156 But if you know me personally, I’ll accept you as a friend on my “private” page. And feel free to link to my blog whenever. I appreciate all 20 of the listed followers here!

Turning a New Page in Life

My somber previous post has scared me away from blogging. But there’s now a (leaky) cap on the gushing BP oil well, so that’s a bit of an improvement. Enough said, there isn’t much Pollyanna in me about that issue. But here is a link to a haunting song by Mithril, inspired by the oil spill. The images on the video are all from better days gone by on local beaches. (My three kids each have a picture included.)

This week marks my first attempt at homeschooling my twelve-year-old son. He has a Neuro Immune Dysfunction, which causes autistic behaviors and has been receiving special services through the public school system since he was three. But there is no way I am going to send my sweet, innocent boy into the whirlwind of middle school. I’ve known I was going to homeschool him for the past year—and have been studying all I can on the subject and networking as much as possible for this socially awkward mother—but I spent most of my free time (amid numerous events and sick children) last week charting out an actual weekly planning page—a hybrid of a dozen I’ve looked at—and choosing the first week’s goals. And, I must admit, I also zoned out on Free Cell several times. I wrote absolutely nothing on my WIP and barely logged one journal entry in my notebook.
There is a time and a season for everything, and right now I need to restructure my day to fit it all in. I need to decide if I’ll write in the morning before the kids wake, which has been my exercise time, or attempt writing at night, when my mind is mostly mush, since quiet time might need to be used for one-on-one with the eldest. It’s a good thing Laurie Halse Anderson’s WFMAD is next month—I need some motivation!
Back to the homeschooling experience. Day One=Field trip! Community experiences at the post office, pediatrician’s office, pharmacy, and mall. Walking the mall was the fitness time for the day, too. At home, we took turns reading two books about farmers and pigs, and I let him flip through a third. Our unit study/theme is farms, which is something he loves. He copied twelve spelling words (taken from the farm books) three times and did thirty-five addition problems as part of a math review. And there were no meltdowns—success!
I praised him throughout the day and before bed I asked him if he liked doing work at home. He said yes and smiled. A warm fuzzy!
On a personal note, I’ve finally gotten around to some lighter–but deep–reading.


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Still many more books on my library list and on my own shelves to read.
In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee I’m closing with one of a series of five poems I wrote for a freshman high school report. Each poem had to be from a different character’s perspective. Give me a break, I was only fourteen….
Personal Guide
Watching you grow up, that’s what it’s all about. Teaching you, watching you learn. No matter what you do, I’ll always be here for you.
I was put on Earth to guide you. So come, little children, stay close to my side. It’s a wicked world and I don’t want to lose you to its powerful influence.
But don’t be afraid, I’ll help you.. If there is any doubt in your mind, just stay close, my child. That’s what I’m ere for; a parent is a guide.

The Great Quandary

I’m a follower of about two dozen blogs. On Mondays I usually scroll through the last week’s postings. It actually took over an hour—about three hours, with hit-and-miss computer time while mothering the little ones—to catch up on all the posts this time. I’m in need of a new strategy to combat the blog information highway. Several of the blogs I’ve just started reading. If they don’t turn out to be what I hope them to be, I’ll quit wasting my time with them. But for now, I think I’ll have to check in at least twice a week to keep my time more manageable.
And my Twitter feed is backing up, too. I’m only following twenty-three people. Mostly writing related, of course. I used to only check in once a day but it’s getting difficult to keep up with those as well.
I won’t even get into Facebook… well, maybe. I keep my friend list small. I’d like to keep it under a hundred always, it’s in the low eighties right now, but I’ll see how that works out. I have deleted a few people over the past year. Like those who never, ever comment/message me and have over three hundred “friends”. I figure they wouldn’t miss me anyway. FB, since it is my family and friends on there, I try to check twice a day. And even then, it’s usually between a hundred and two hundred updates within the past ten-twelve hours. And that’s with blocking apps!
I deleted my MySpace account months ago. There was only one friend I haven’t found anywhere else—on the sites listed above—that I’d like to keep up with, but it wasn’t worth keeping MySpace open just for him. Well… no!
And, yes, because of my OCD I do feel the need to scroll back through EVERYTHING since I last posted on each site. I just don’t want to miss that one thing that might make the difference to me or be oblivious to the vital information in the life of a loved one.
I’m trying to decide what online tools are the best use of my time. My goal is to build a network of writing related people/information. The Twitter account is great. I mean, the likes of Laurie Halse Anderson and Meg Cabot are following me—can’t beat that! Though I doubt they scroll through all the tweets on their lists… especially Meg Cabot, since she’s close to twenty thousand or something crazy like that. And most of the blogs I’ve started following recently were from links on Twitter. People keep adding me, mostly other writers—I do block the spam/weird ones. I think when other writers/etc see me being followed they are adding me to their network, too.
But since my FB account is private I need a public place to link my blog to—don’t I? Or do those of you reading out there—that linked to this blog via Twitter or Blogger—do you think a blog is necessary for an emerging writer? Can I create a decent enough writer’s space on a Twitter home page? Or should I make a public page for my writing on FB and people can become my fan? (Oh, I feel the ego swelling…)
Please weigh in on this, either in the comment section below or on FB, if you are lucky enough to be my friend, or tweet me.
And while you are at it… do you prefer this blog to be personal (child number three did x, y and z today) or keep it more about reading/writing/etc? Or a mix of both?
Speaking of… in the last post I mentioned I wanted to start listing what I’m reading. Last week I read three little devotional-type books about motherhood plus finished up True Blue Forever by Joyce Sterling Scarbrough. (For those keeping score, I try to read non-fiction during the day and fiction at night to keep myself diversified.)