Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Vol. I & II

Taking a lesson from my former Vermont College advisor and writing hero Cynthia Leitich Smith who told me to be brave and talk to other writers, I emailed MT Anderson to ask if he had any advice for aspiring authors. And whaddya know? He emailed me back! I've pasted his response below.
Gayleen: Is there one piece of advice you might have to share with aspiring writers?

MT Anderson: Hmmm ... Well, I'd suggest two things, I guess. One is to read as widely
as possible and as eccentrically as possible. I mean reading not just what
you're trying to write, but also ancient hymns and nineteenth century
novels and medieval mystery-plays and Harlequin romances and technical
manuals for VHS recorders ... Anything and everything. Denaturalize your
sense of language and try to always remind yourself of the thrilling
varieties of approach to language and story-telling that people have had
around the globe and throughout the ages.

Then the second thing I'd say -- completely unconnected -- is DON'T BE
AFRAID to take time off of a project between drafts! Give yourself a month
or two at least, and you'd be surprised what insights you have when you
return to the project!

And I guess also, keep working and good luck!

Isn't that cool? I'm pretty ecstatic that a National Book Award winner emailed me.
And I have a challenge for all of you - take a step out of your comfort zone. Whether it is commenting on a kidlit blog, emailing an author you admire or writing something different.

And, I'm off to take my own advice as I attend the Oklahoma Writers Federation Conference. My goal is to meet at least ten new people this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Writing News

I've been itching to share this news for quite a while, but I was specifically asked not to blog, tweet or facebook about it until today.

The opening chapter of my middle grade mystery BETRAYED won the middle grade/young adult category in the Hook 'em contest at the Dallas/Ft. Worth Writers Conference. My prize - a ten-minute pitch session with agent/contest judge Laurie McLean from the Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency. I was pretty excited about this because unlike most pitch sessions where the agent has no idea whether you can write, Ms. McLean had already seen my writing and liked it. She also already knew what the story is about.
This took a lot of pressure off, since I didn't have to give a perfect pitch. It also allowed me to use my ten minutes to find out more about Ms. McLean - that she is an editorial agent who likes to represent clients for their whole career. She asked to see more of my manuscript and said we were "beginning a dialogue."

My meeting with her was first thing this morning - and an excellent way to celebrate my birthday.

I also picked up this very cool T-shirt at the conference from Angela Whitehead. Her company is Youniquely Yours.
Just for clarification, it says "Writer's Block: When your imaginary friends won't talk to you." Pretty cool, huh?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry

Here are my thoughts about this compelling middle grade novel.

The roundup on Heart of a Shepherd.
Learn more about Rosanne Parry at her website
She is represented by Stephen Fraser at Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.
Jim Thomas at Random House edited the book.

I emailed Rosanne Parry and asked if she had any advice she could share with aspiring writers. Here's her reply:
This is not so much advice as an observation. HEART OF A SHEPHERD is

the book it is, in part, because I thought I'd never sell it. Brother
is such a quirky character and Malhuer County is so far out of the
mainstream, I just assumed no one would want it. As a consequence I
focused on learning as much as I could about how to structure a book
that takes place over a whole year and how to handle a large family
while keeping to focus tightly on just one character. I ended up with
a story unlike anything I'd read recently and not a good match for any
editor or agent's list of "what they are looking for". Which, as it
turned out, was exactly what my editor and agent liked about it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes

Another installment of Book Talk!

More information about Olive's Ocean, a Newbery Honor winner:
Author Kevin Henkes is equally famous for his picture books (and is also an illustrator)
He was lucky enough to work with the same editor, Susan Hirschman, for many years and she wrote a wonderful article about him in the Horn Book.
On the author's website, you can read a four-chapter excerpt
The folks at Greenwillow included pictures of work on his new book on their blog.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book Talk - Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles

Inspired by a number of people, I'm trying something a little different. To add a little more excitement to my blog, I'm testing out short video book recommendations. I plan to post several of these and get some feedback before deciding if it will be permanent feature.

In gathering the information on the editors and agents for the SCBWI conference, I ran into some difficulty in finding which books they had edited. Though it is becoming more and more common for authors to mention editors and agents on the acknowledgments page, that information is still sometimes scarce on the web. To help alleviate that, I plan to list all relevant information I can about each book along with its recommendation.

Here's the scoop on Each Little Bird That Sings.
Deborah Wiles has a website and a blog with a great recent entry on her writing process.
Her agent is Steven Malk at Writer's House
Liz Van Doren edited the book.
And last, but certainly not least, Deborah Wiles is an alum of the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Library Love Support

One of my fellow Vermont College students, Mikki Knudsen, is supporting libraries through a blog challenge - she'll donate $1 for every comment on her her blog. So stop by and speak up if you love libraries.
Mikki's middle grade novel, The Dragon of Trelian, is published by Candlewick Press.

I had a great time at the OKC SCBWI conference and I will post more about that soon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

More Editor Information

Only a couple days left before the SCBWI OK Spring Conference.

In anticipation, I've continued my research on the editors who will be in attendance.

Let's start with Kate Fletcher from Candlewick. Now, Candlewick publishes everything from board books to young adult, but from what I found, it looks like Ms. Fletcher handles mostly picture books. Here is an interview with her from Tina Nichols Coury's blog. She is also editing a bilingual picture book  from Meg Medina called TIA ISA WANTS A CAR, in which the narrator helps her aunt buy a car -- a perfect, shiny-green, used car with a bad radio and no air conditioning, but it will get them to the beach just fine.

A recent release from Candlewick that looks interesting is Wiggens Learns His Manners by author/illustrator Leslie McGuirk.

It looks like a really fun book and it has a devoted website complete with book trailers and lots of other fun things. 

Amy Lennex from Sleeping Bear Press will also be speaking at the conference. One of her recent projects was S is for Story written by Esther Hershenhorn.  This is a delightful story and a must-read for all writers (it is a "writer's alphabet" after all.)
Zachary Pullen is the illustrator and he talks about his experience working with Amy and the rest of the Sleeping Bear team here. It sounds like an ideal artistic situation.

Kerry Martin is the senior designer at Clarion, which is now an imprint of Houghton Mifflin. Now, I have to admit, being a writer, I wasn't completely sure exactly what an art director does. But I certainly did understand illustrator Jerry Bennett's excitement about getting to meet with Kerry at the conference.
I assumed (incorrectly) that a designer would be involved only with picture books. And while it is true that I found a lot of those on Kerry's website, I also found several middle grade and young adult books.
I particularly liked this cover.

I mean, who could resist that face? Certainly makes me want to buy the book. And I guess that explains an art director's primary job.  I'm eager to learn if I'm right about this on Saturday.

So, that's it - three editors, one agent and an art director.
I submitted the opening pages of my manuscript for a critique, but I don't know whether it ended up with the agent or one of the editors. I will be very excited to see what comments they have about it and maybe I'll even be lucky enough to win one of the coveted face-to-face time slots.
We shall see.
In the meantime, I'll be gearing up to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Hope to see you there.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Conference Countdown Continues

Greg Ferguson from Egmont will be one of the featured speakers at the SCBWI Oklahoma Conference on March 27 in Oklahoma City.

This is very exciting because when other traditional publishers are downsizing and laying people off, Egmont is expanding their business. Egmont is a long-established European publisher that give a portion of their profits to children's charities. Here's an interview with Egmont publisher Elizabeth Law from the fabulous Cynthia Leitich Smith at Cynsations.

Here is a blog post from Kathleen Temean from the NJ chapter of SCBWI about Egmont and Greg Ferguson.

A recent book he edited at Egmont is The Dark Divine by Bree Despain.  I haven't read this yet. I am on the waiting list to get it from the library, but there are seven other patrons ahead of me. So, I'm probably not going to get it before the conference. :(

And here is the most exciting bit of news I could find. A couple weeks ago, he acquired a YA dystopian thriller trilogy in a six-figure deal. The author, Ilsa J. Bick, talks about it on her blog, Paperback Writer. So, yes, publishers are still buying books and making advances and that is encouraging given all the negative things we hear so often.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Conference Countdown

In less than one week, I’ll be attending the Oklahoma SCBWI conference in Oklahoma City.
I’m pretty excited about this event. Here is the lineup of speakers:
  • Amy Lennex, Sleeping Bear
  • Greg Ferguson, Egmont
  • Kate Fletcher, Candlewick
  • Agent: Stephen Fraser
  • Art Director: Kerry Martin, Senior Designer, Clarion
I always find that I get the most from a conference when I’ve done a little research on the speakers ahead of time. With author speakers, this means reading their books before the conference. In the case of editors and agents, it’s more a matter of finding out which books they’ve sold or edited.

With Google and Blogs, finding out this information is so much easier than it used to be. Still, I thought I’d share the results of my detective work with others who might be interested.

First up, Agent Stephen Fraser with the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in New York City. stephenfraser  
Before becoming an agent, he worked as an editor at HaperCollins Children’s. There he worked with Mary Engelbreit, Gregory Maguire, Michael Hague, Ann Rinaldi, Kathryn Lasky, Brent Hartinger, Stephen Mitchell, and Dan Gutman.

Though the agency lists clients on their website, it doesn’t delineate which authors are represented by Fraser. So, more investigation….
Here’s a recent interview with him from Carol Lynch Williams’ blog, Throwing up Words. The interview is done by Carol’s daughter, Kyra. Carol Lynch Williams is an alum of Vermont College of Fine Arts and one of Fraser’s clients.

In the interview, he mentions several books he sold that will be coming out this spring: Drum City by Thea Guidone (a pb from Tricycle Press).  two fantasy novels, The Clockwork Three by Matthew Kirby (September, Scholastic) and The Owl Keeper by Christine Brodien-Jones (April, Random House), and Carol Lynch Williams’ novel Glimpse (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon and Schuster).
Here’s another January interview with him from Joy Preble at the Class of 2K9: Debut Middle Grade and YA Authors blog.  In it, he mentions several of his favorite MG books:
Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat (in the Dangerous Angels series); Jack Gantos’ Joey Pigza books; Holes by Louis Sachar; Seedfolks and Whirligig, both by Paul Fleischman; Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia Maclachlan and Missing May by Cynthia Rylant.

And, another interview with him promoting the Pacific Coast Writers Workshop where he talks a little more in depth about what he enjoys in a book.

chosen oneWhen I found out he repped Carol Lynch Williams, I decided to read her novel, The Chosen One. I was completely blown away by this emotionally-charged story about a polygamist family. I found myself really caring about this teenager born into a society so different from mine, yet so geographically and philosophically nearby. Yet, what moved and inspired me the most was how the author so beautifully wove in how important books can be in a person’s life. Kyra learns of the outside world and finds escape in the pages of the books she treasures. This is an amazing book and a must-read for everyone considering writing.  You can find an excerpt from the publisher  here.

Next, up: Greg Ferguson from Egmont.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Break Pact - Achieved my Goals

I'm scheduled to meet shortly with writing buddy Steve Wedel to review the progress we've both made on our novels this week. You'll recall on Monday we both set goals about how much we wanted to get done this week.
I set a very modest goal for myself, aiming for quality rather than quantity. I had hoped to revise 50 pages of Betrayed, my middle grade mystery novel. I was aiming to make my main character be more "emotionally present."
I'm excited to say, I actually ended up 64 pages!
And now, it is time to take a break. I have to slow down and think about what I've written. And ask myself questions: Is this really how this character would behave in this situation? How does she really feel about what's going on? Do the minor events reflect and support the larger events?
I do have an ulterior motive behind all this revision: my ultimate goal for 2010 is to sign with an agent and/or get a book contract. And I intend to put in all the work needed to make that happen.
In the near future, I am attending several conferences where I'll have the opportunity to talk with editors and agents.
The first of these is the Oklahoma SCBWI conference on March 27.
A few months ago, I sent in the opening of Betrayed for a critique from one of the guest speakers. The organizers have arranged for each speaker to have a brief appointment with the two most promising manuscripts from those they critiqued. The competition is fierce - our group has an abundance of talented writers. But if I am lucky enough to get one of those appointments, I want to be able to say that I've made my manuscript the best it can possibly be and the whole thing is worth their time to review.
I'll be blogging more about the SCBWI conference and the other conferences soon. But now, it's time to check in with my pact partner and see how he did this week.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day Two - Inspiration and Perspiration

My main goal this week is to add emotional depth to my characters. Particularly the protagonist of my middle grade mystery, Maple.
Since this is a mystery, Maple doesn't have to be quite as touchy-feely as say, a coming-of-age protagonist might be, but she does need to have emotions and react to situations. Otherwise, she'd be a perfect, crime-solving computer. (hmmm.....there's a future book idea)
When we exchanged what we have so far, Steve also loaned me a book he thought might help me in the character development arena: The Writer's Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein, PhD. The book "includes profiles of human behaviors and personality types." The author is a psychologist, so it is fairly detailed and in depth.
But I have to admit, what intrigues me most is the cover. You've got to check this out.

I know the resolution isn't too good - maybe I'll resort to taking a picture of the actual book.
Talk about identity crisis! But this can happen when writers try to pack too many quirks into one character - you end up with the Queen of England drinking beer and wearing cowboy boots while holding a meat cleaver and playing the guitar. Okay, so probably any writer would notice before it went that far. (the recent reprint has a calm blue background and puzzle pieces coming together to form a woman's eyes - probably sells better, but not nearly as interesting)
But it is something to keep in mind. We are all more than what we appear to be on the surface. (at least I hope I'm more than the frazzled writer who often forgets to put on her makeup and stumbles in high heels)

On to the inspiration part. Last night I attended the OKC SCBWI monthly schmooze. Up and coming illustrator Jerry Bennett shared an illustrator's perspective on picture books and graphic novels. He urged all of us to allow our imaginations to create a sense of atmosphere. He also showed us his portfolio and I was really blown away by his work. I hope I am lucky enough to be paired with someone as talented as Jerry when my book gets published. (even young adult novels have cover illustrations)

And, I was excited to learn....(drum roll) there is someone else reading this blog! Fellow writer Larry Mike Garmon from Altus is accepting the challenge to write more during Spring Break. Welcome to the Pact!

Okay, enough procrastinating, Maple's got a mystery to solve! I've got to get back to work.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Break Writing Pact

What could be more young adult (or middle grade) than making a pact?
Call it what you like - a dare, a bet, a promise. A challenge, even. I hope to call it motivating.
My longtime friend and writing buddy, Steve Wedel has accepted my invitation to participate in an all-out writing week. We'll be plotting, developing characters and pounding the keyboards all week on the way to meeting our respective goals.
I'm focusing on adding emotional depth to a manuscript that is already complete as far as plot goes. Steve is trudging through that soggy middle that plagues so many writers.
Will we triumph?
Check back later in the week for updates.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Eternal - now in paperback

ETERNAL by Cynthia Leitich Smith, published by Candlewick, 2009, paperback 2010.

From the jacket copy:
At last, Miranda is the life of the party: all she had to do was die.

Elevated and adopted by none other than the reigning King of the Mantle of Dracul, Miranda goes from high-school theater wannabe to glamorous royal fiend overnight.

Meanwhile, her reckless and adoring guardian angel, Zachary, demoted to human guise as the princess’s personal assistant, has his work cut out for him trying to save his girl’s soul and plan the Master’s fast-approaching Death Day gala.

In alternating points of view, Miranda and Zachary navigate a cut-throat eternal aristocracy as they play out a dangerous and darkly hilarious love story for the ages.

From July 2009 through January 2010, I had the honor and privilege to work with Cynthia Leitich Smith as my faculty advisor during my second semester at Vermont College in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program. I was a Cynthia fan before I ever started the program. You might think, "well, of course you would choose her as an advisor." But it's not that simple. Advisors are assigned through a type of lottery. Students put down a certain number of faculty - in that case I think it was four or five and somehow a committee of faculty plays matchmaker and assigns a faculty member for each student.
There is a Zen sort of saying associated with the process "you get the advisor you need when you need them."  This was certainly true in my case. With Cynthia's encouragement and keen guidance, I was able to plow through an entire first draft of a young adult historical mystery. Both my confidence and my skills blossomed with Cynthia's enthusiastic tutelage.
(I didn't feel comfortable posting all that praise while she was still my advisor, but now that our semester together is over, I can gush freely.)

And, the paperback release of Eternal gives me a great opportunity to discuss my new favorite subject: alternating point of view.
Everyone loves a secret - whether it is something whispered on a playground or gossip passed on at the water color, we long to have private information. This human predilection for secrets is a key component of all fiction. Whether the secrets are global or personal, matters of state or the human heart. Readers pick up books to see what secrets the author has to share with them. When an author uses alternating point of view to tell a story, the secrets increase.

In Eternal, Mariah is unaware that Zachary is her guardian angel. Of course Zachary knows and Cynthia has shared this secret with her readers, but Mariah is kept deliciously in the dark, amping up the tension and suspense in this smart, witty novel. She does a fabulous job of maintaining point of view and when additional information is neccessary, it is creatively presented through blog entries, newspaper ads and letters. Short chapters and tight story make the pace move quickly.

Cynthia also beautifully pays homage to Bram Stoker - something I really loved because I've had a huge crush on Dracula ever since the Frank Langella movie back in the '70s. (yes, I was in elementary school, but I was still fascinated and when I was just a little bit older, I stayed up late and watched the "Creature Features" on Saturday night withe the black and white monster movies from the '50s. The vampire movies were always my favorites.)

So, here is a book trailer for Eternal.

Eternal Trailer


And here is a picture I took of the hardcover edition at the Barnes & Noble right here in Oklahoma City - along with Need by Vermont College alum Carrie Jones, which also just came out in paperback.

Finally, if you have even the slightest interest in books for young readers, you should check out Cynthia's blog, Cynsations. Every day she has interviews with authors, editors and agents discussing the world of childrens publishing. Plus, she frequently has contests giving away new cool books.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Writing Contest from Agent Mary Kole

In between reading books for my critical thesis, I've been polishing my manuscript because there are several opportunities coming up that require submitting the opening pages.
I already sent the first five pages to a contest sponsored by the Dallas/Ft. Worth Writers Workshop. The deadline was last week and I didn't want to miss it, so I submitted it before the winter residency at Vermont College.

In some ways that is very sad, because the one hundred books I read and the dozen of essays I wrote during my first two semesters finally gelled during the lectures and discussions I attended on campus. I've come up with a new first sentence filled with mystery and emotion. I hope it will capture a reader's attention in a way my previous opening did not.

But, all is not lost!

I get to send that first sentence and dozens of its followers (up to 500 words) to Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency for the contest she has set up on her Kidlit blog. First prize is a 15-page critique!
Here's the entire lowdown on Mary's contest. It's a great way to get an agent's reaction to your work.
Kidlit Contest

My SCBWI chapter also has a manuscript critique/contest in conjunction with their spring conference. I have another week or so to polish my first ten pages that will then be considered by an agent or two editors. But I won't know the results of that until the conference on March 27. (And I have to wait even longer on the Dallas entry, that's not until April 9!)

Mary Kole says she'll take about a week to consider her entries. That really appeals to my desire for immediate gratification!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Vermont College of Fine Art

I foolishly thought I would be able to keep up with my blog posts during my winter residency at Vermont College.

Silly me.

I barely checked my email during the residency, little alone having the time to post.

Vermont College offers a low-residency MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis on children and young adult literature. What this means is I spend about ten days on campus in January and then again in July.
In between, I'm home in Oklahoma. Going to work at the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, raising my two amazing daughters, doing my best to be a fun, supportive wife and somehow cramming about twenty-five hours of reading and writing into my schedule each week.

I don't watch television (much).
I don't have a social life.
I don't do housework.

But I do have the first draft of a mystery manuscript that I started in July and finished in December. And for me right now, that's more important than those things I've given up. Most days, my family agrees.

I know some other schools offer variations of this concept for other degrees. But I think it works particularly well for creative endeavors. Writing is such a solitary undertaking.
This truly offers the best of both worlds -- a community offering support and insight as well as time to write.

One Vermont College tradition is for students in each semester to pick a name for their class. This is announced at the beginning of the students' third semester. After several discussion sessions, our group finally decided on The Bat Poets, inspired by Randall Jarrell's delightful book.

During my time on campus, I attend some thought-provoking lectures, participated in a small workshop critique group with five fantastic students - Graduate Clete Smith, Margaret Crocker (entering fourth semester), fellow Bat Poet Barbara Roberts and two second semester students, Stacy Nyikos and Helen Pyne.
Our faculty leader for the workshop was the amazing Julie Larios. I read two of her poetry collections just before residency: The Yellow Elephant and Imaginary Menagerie.

They are both delightful and though the titles point to animals or fanciful creatures, in the end her poems urge us to take a look at ourselves by asking questions like what would a mermaid wish for? Both books are too much fun to miss.
In addition to all the things I learned during this residency at Vermont College, a lot of things happened in the world of childrens literature.
The ALA awards and the Edgar finalists were announced. Thanks to all the reading I've been doing for my graduate work, I've actually read many of these books prior the announcement. I'll be talking about those books and sharing my thoughts on the writing life in coming posts.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Who Really Killed Cock Robin?

 Who Really Killed Cock Robin: An Ecological Mystery   by Jean Craighead George published by HarperCollins, 1971, 1991.

Everything old is new again - Going green may seem like a new trend, but Jean Craighead George was writing about it more than 30 years ago.
Obviously, an environmental message is the cornerstone of this novel. The story is told in third person and follows Tony Isidoro, an eighth grader who has been recruited by the Mayor to solve the mystery of a robin's death. The plot includes politics and corporate interests, along with a hint of government conspiracy. Tony has become interested in bird watching in the absence of his brother Izzy who had been working on a graduate thesis about the local robins before he was drafted into the Army. Tony is invested in this mystery because his brother has asked him to continue his observations. From the time it was written, we can infer that Izzy is likely in Vietnam. But it feels more like he is away at college somewhere instead of in a potentially life-threatening situation. Tony seems much more worried about the environmental impact of the local toxins than about his brother.

But, there are many notable scenes. Tony defies the Mayor and exhumes the robin's corpse following a small funeral. At the end of chapter six, the reader is reassured that Tony is actually a kid when he convinces Mary Alice to go fishing. In this scene, George finesses the environmental information into the story subtly.
This classic is a must-read for all budding environmentalists.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose published by Melanie Kroupa Books, an imprint of Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009.

Winner of the 2009 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

From the jacket copy: "On March 2, 1955, a slim, bespectacled teenager refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Shouting 'It's my constitutional right!' as police dragged her off to jail, Claudette Colvin decided she'd had enough of the Jim Crow segregation laws that had angered and puzzled her since she was a young child."

Hoose did an excellent job of integrating quotes from Ms. Colvin with the background information about the time and events. Yet, he doesn't try to inject himself too much into the story.

The second chapter is almost entirely Colvin and the details she shares paint a vivid picture of life in Montgomery in the 1950s. One particular eye-opener: “...they wouldn't let us try anything on. I never went into a fitting roomm like white people did. The saleslady would measure me and then go get the dress or the blouse and bring it out. She'd hold it up and tell me it was a perfect fit and expect my mom to buy it.”
She also relates tracing the shape of their feet on a brown paper bag and taking the outline to the store because they were not allowed to try on the shoes.
A powerful parallel Hoose nailed is the description of the Alabama flag hanging in the courtroom and its similarity to the Confederate flag.  The period photos used generously throughout the text augment the vivid reality feel of this book. Of course, all the pictures are in black and white, subtly underscoring the context of the book.

I highly recommend this book for ages 10 and up. The text is simple enough for older elementary students, yet the unflinching look at segregation will be enough to challenge high schoolers. Would even make a  lovely companion for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Here is a book trailer that includes Claudette Colvin talking about her experience:

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Kiss in Time

A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn, published by HarperTeen, 2009.

An updated take on the classic Sleeping Beauty story, told in alternating point of view with Talia (the princess) and Jack (the boy who wakes her with a kiss).

I found Flinn's chapter structure to be very interesting. Instead of simply alternating between one protagonist or the other, she offers part one from Talia's point of view, part two from Jack's point of view, then part three with Jack and Talia, alternating chapters between their points of view.

I was impressed by the way Flinn indicates a significant amount of time has passed between part one and part two with the opening line: “What they don't tell you about Europe is how completely lame it is.” Completely lame cues the reader that we now have a modern narrator. By and large, Talia's speech did seem authentic for an eighteenth century person.  Malvolia's backstory makes her a fascinating villain  - but to say anymore might be a spolier.

A wonderful romance filled with wit and humor.

Flinn also has a retelling of Beauty and the Beast called Beastly.  A feature film based on the book is due out this summer. I look forward to reading the book before seeing the film. You can read more from Alex Flinn on her blog: I Plan to be a Diva Someday....

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Stars Beneath Your Bed

Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust written by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Ann Jonas. Published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2005.

I have a tiny confession: picture books scare me. I know what you're thinking: there's just 32 pages, less than 800 words. What could be scary about that? Well, you try telling a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end in less than 800 words. You'll see just how hard it is!

But April Pulley Sayre makes it look easy. She even helps unravel the secrets of the universe and she does it with just a few words on each spread. That's because she has found the right word for each sentence. Not a word that will work, or something close, but THE word. And doing that is magical.

My current work in progress, a young adult mystery set in the dust bowl had a lot to do with me selecting this book from Sayre's impressive list of non-fiction picture books.
I was a bit surprised to find the intriguing title doesn't appear exactly in the book, only as an inference that “the dust beneath your bed might be from Mars.”
This spread also has the most unusual text layout with the words: “floating, swirling, sprinkling, bits of you and me and soil and stars” moving from right to left down the page. This placement gives the words a life all their own, almost making them seem to dance. The beginning of most lines of text in the book start to the right or left of the previous line, mirroring the gradual descent of the dust acted on by the forces of gravity. But on the space spread, gravity isn't quite as strong. The dust lingers, suspended, floating before reaching the bottom of the page.