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?

Vacation Reflections

Back in May, I posted about a trip I took the month before. I had every intention of writing more posts about the events and experiences but got caught up in other things. So, a few months later, here’s one of the highlights.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the upper west side of Manhattan and is the largest cathedral in the world. It was amazing, inside and out. My sister, who’s been in Notre Dame, was thoroughly impressed with the brightness and beauty. I loved the Poet’s Corner (hello, Hawthorne!) and the way so many religious and historic icons were worked in to the décor.

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Adding to the experience was the youth choirs singing in the main area. The side chapels were just as awe inspiring as the central one. I was disappointed that the chapel housing the memorial for Madeleine L’Engle (one of my favorite authors) was closed for repairs and the library in which she was the writer in residence for many years was closed for a meeting as well, but we had one of her fabulous granddaughters as our personal tour guide. Thank, again, Léna Roy!

 

Hangin’ In

Whoops. It’s been over a month since I’ve posted a blog. Much of what’s happened already feels like distant memories. Here’s the quick recap.

 
The end of April I spent several days in Morristown, New Jersey, and New York City with my big sister. We went to concerts, a Broadway show, and sightseeing in places like the Guggenheim Museum and Cathedral of St. John the Divine (which was a special treat because I got to be with buddy Léna Roy, again.)

Word of advice: if you ever make it to NYC, go to the Russian Tea Room and order cheesecake. I’ll blog more about my adventures on the vacation in the near future. Lots of adventures to share!

 
May brought another birthday—I’m older and wiser now—plus I was re-elected as president of Mobile Writer Guild for another year. The new board members are beginning to plan the next season’s events and it sounds like it’s going to be better than ever.

 

Besides the above, I’m still homeschooling the kidlets and trying to keep up with family and friends.

 
Oh, and writing! I’m about one third of the way through my rewrite of Corroded. Hope to finish this draft by the end of June. Then, I’d like to find a new set of eyes to give it a read through before I think about querying. It’s been a labor of time and love.

Reading by the Numbers

This morning I went out with the kidlets and friends on an alligator hunt and spied three gators.

It’s always fun to see animals in their natural habitat—especially from a safe vantage point.
This was our first week of summer break. Although I’m not officially starting back to homeschooling until mid-July, I’ve started the middle child on learning to read and the eldest with typing skills. It’s been a little slack these first few days, but I think we all needed some off time to refuel.
On a literary note, I’ve done next to nothing in the past three weeks on my WIP. My goal for this weekend is to get back on track. I need to finish the last tidbit of the first draft so I can better home into the poignant scenes in the beginning.
My reading the past few weeks:

Very insightful!

Fluffy fun–already passed on to a friend.

Still digesting this one. Full of GREAT information and advice. (Thanks for the loan, Joyce!)
Lately, I’ve been analyzing my reading habits and book collection. Though I’m not huge on numbers, I do love a good pie graph. Thanks to mathwarehouse.com for the pie making abilities.

These are my firm TOP TEN contemporary writers—authors who I’ve read five or more books by that have had new books out within the past decade. Otherwise I’d add in Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Beverly Cleary… you get the picture!
Middle Readers: Richard Peck (he might have some “teen”, but nearly all are middle readers that I know of), Gail Carson Levine (?), Susan Cooper (?), Katherine Paterson (but not exclusively—she’s written early readers and picture books, too…)
Young Adult: Laurie Halse Anderson (no, she does picture books and middle readers also…), Shannon Hale (NOPE- sometimes she’s found in middle readers—hello, Newbery Honor—and she has two adult books which I adore), Sarah Dessen (might be the only single genre writer on my list)
Adult: Terry Brooks (though many teens read his fantasy books), Beverly Lewis (no, wait… she does picture books, middle readers, and teen, too!)
Cross-overs:Madeleine L’Engle is all over the literary map—in a good way—but then again… it looks like 90% of my favorites are!

What would your pie graph look like?
To gather my thoughts in a parting gesture, I’d like to use a quote the lovely Léna Roy used on her own blog today, which was spoken by her grandmother:
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” -Madeleine L’Engle

Do You Love a Banned Book?

It’s banned books week!
http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/index.cfm
Some of my favorite authors have banned books and books that have attempted to be banned from schools and libraries. Katherine Paterson, Madeleine L’Engle, and Laurie Halse Anderson are three that come to mind.
Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is my favorite novel of all-time. Some parents have concerns about it because the main character has a crush on his young female music teacher (what kid hasn’t had a crush on a teacher?) and also because a death in the book. No spoiler beyond that- just READ it. It won the Newbery Award for a reason!
Madeleine L’Engle ranks in the top five Christian fiction writers of the last century- I’m talking with the likes of Tolkien and Lewis, may they all rest in peace. Some people are scared of the book A Wrinkle in Time because it doesn’t meet their ideal of religion- that it’s too “new age”. If you want correct doctrine don’t go looking for it in a novel… but you can find universal truths in the symbolism therein.
The most recent attempts at banning were blogged about by by Laurie Halse Anderson at her site last week. http://halseanderson.livejournal.com/264680.html Twisted, one of her novels on the chopping block, is possibly the most eye-opening novel I’ve read. As a parent it made me fear for my boys upcoming teen years. Heavy, yes. Uncomfortable at times, yes. Worth it for the learning experience, yes! It’s a novel I’ll allow my children to read once they reach a level of maturity in which the topics can be digested properly. A wonderful talking point to encourage conversation between parents and children.
Parents need to read what their children are reading. Literature can be a gateway in which scary, tough, and heavy topics can be approached in a safe, third person way. Books are tools, learn how to use them appropriately.

Literary Defeat

I’ve lost a battle with a book. Not just any book, but a classic. A standard from this past century in the literary library of the greats. One of the most referenced works I’ve come across in articles and books about the craft of writing. And I quit!
My brain was having too much trouble wrapping around a text which is out-numbered by footnotes on many of the pages. In the five to ten minutes of reading time I get here and there throughout the day it was too difficult to keep track of the train of thought an hour or two later with such detailed references. Nearly impossible to grasp the details while being pulled at by one child and questioned by another.
But I need the information from this book- which has been sitting on my shelf for nearly a decade. Plot is my weakest link and I believe the knowledge in this book will help me with plotting my stories. I finally dusted off the book two weeks ago but have accepted defeat on page twenty-six.
Instead, I cheated.
I goggled “Hero’s Journey” to find a tidy outline of the steps in the travels of a character rather than trying to trudge through The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. And I found a gem on an educational website which translated nicely to be printed out on two pages in document format. It now rests on my desk; encased in an archival page protector. The crisp page glaring like a white flag.
I’ve surrendered the fight, for now. I’ll try it again when my brain functions better.
P.S. I try to stick with nonfiction reading during the day. So now I’m rereading Herself by Madeleine L’Engle (one of my favorites). The collection of quotes is just the thing to be able to read a few pages here and there. Plus it’s uplifting and empowering. And at night I’m reading Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson.