105 Ways to Give a Book

Farewell To National Poetry Month

I feel a little bit bad about National Poetry Month. I don’t think I pulled my weight. But like famous people who pay to offset their carbon footprint, let me direct you to some blogs in hopes of offsetting my own prose-heavy month.

At the newish blog Wild Rose Reader, Elaine wrote a poem a day for April. Bravo, poet lady, bravo. She even went the extra mile in dedicating poems to bloggers, and Sunday was my turn. Thanks for including me Elaine, and for giving National Poetry Month your absolute best.

Greg at Gotta Book took on a poem-a-day challenge, with a variety of styles and topics. I can assume (since I can’t remember) that some were of the fib variety of his own invention.

Emily Reads is all haiku, all the time with her special haiku reviews, and April was no exception.

Another haiku queen is A Wrung Sponge, who writes her poems alongside her lovely photos. She also handled the last Poetry Friday Round Up, which seemed particularly large.

April’s other Poetry Friday Round Ups were at Big A, little a, then at Tea Cozy, and then Big A, little a again, because clearly she doesn’t have enough to do. (Hah!)

Tomorrow, I’m going to read some poetry to my fifth grader’s class. I’ll read from Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (I got this book on my county’s Summer Reading List this year — yeah!), and A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets (to inspire the budding poets). I may also pull from Soft Hay Will Catch You: Poems By Young People (I love the idea of a collection of kids’ poetry). We couldn’t fit in a visit in April, but as the teacher reminded me, any time is a good time for poetry. Don’t forget that, and I won’t either.

Marginally Book-Related

Today I spent all afternoon packing up the winter clothes and bringing out the summer clothes for my two girls. Hours I spent on this simple sounding task. There are three reasons it took so long.
  1. My girls have a lot of clothes.

  2. I get very obsessive/compulsive about this chore, making sure everything fits, looks good, is folded nicely, put away in the right place, and is in good condition.

  3. My girls have a frickin' lot of clothes.
It was unbelievable how many clothes there were. Now, we do get clothes for my ten-year-old from an older neighbor, plus we buy some, plus she is reluctant to give up clothes unless they really, really don’t fit, so that will fill three drawers and a closet. My eight-year-old old gets all the hand-me-downs from her older sister, plus all the cute things I can’t resist at Target or Kohl’s, plus she is reluctant to give up clothes unless they really, really don’t fit, so that fills up her two drawers and a closet. Oh, and did I mention how one grandma likes to find them quality stuff at thrift stores? So many clothes.

I can only say in my defense that I don’t buy expensive stuff, and we hand down all of the eight-year-old’s clothes to the six-year-old neighbor. Actually, there is usually so much by that time, that I give about half to the neighbor, a quarter to a younger niece, and a quarter right to Goodwill. After the six-year-old neighbor is done with them, that family gives them to a friend.

I will say, with all these clothes, I only have to do laundry half as often as normal people. I mean, there’s always something to wear. But, man, so many clothes.

I am having a similar problem with books. There are books everywhere. Books for the tween. Books for the kid. Books for me. Books to review. And I can’t get rid of any of them. I keep bringing more in, but nothing is going out.

Like the clothes, the girls are reluctant to give up books unless they really, really don’t fit them anymore. For clothes, I can draw the line at shirts that show their belly buttons or shorts that they can’t button. But can I convince them — should I convince them — that these picture books don’t fit them anymore and can be given to someone else? I don’t know. It’s hard for me too, because I remember reading these books to them, snuggled together on the couch.

Does anyone have a solution for prying old books/clothes/toys out of their children’s shelves/drawers/closets and hands?

On a completely unrelated note, have I mentioned how much I enjoy 7 Imp’s 7 Kicks? On Sunday, the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast asks us bloggers to list seven kick-ass things that happened to us that week. You don’t have to list seven specifically, but I like making sure I come up with seven each week — even if I have to stretch it to include free pens from Staples or an extra hour of sleep. This week was an easy one, as I announced the 48 Hour Book Challenge, got a lot of participants (and taking more...), and some cool prizes (including one “stoked” from Roger Sutton). I also am gearing up for the 48 Hour Film Project, during which teams write, film, edit, and score an eight-minute (or less) film over one weekend. We’ve signed as our writer the wonderful author and blogger Robin Brande! I also had a great dinner with a friend, a toy that was sadly lost was found again, and my girls got great haircuts.

So many good things were happening, in fact, that I was beginning to get a bit worried. That’s not usually how things go for me. Imagine my relief when I found that I could have made an easy hundred bucks in a two-hour marketing research appointment, but it was the same time as my daughter’s drama club play. Turning down a hundred-dollar assignment to watch an elementary school play. Now that’s more like it. Equilibrium safely restored.

Poetry Friday: Spanish/English

Poems to Dream Together = Poemas Para SoƱar JuntosTwo years ago I made sure that Poems to Dream Together = Poemas Para Soñar Juntos, by Francisco X. Alarcon, was on my county’s Summer Reading List. With a large Hispanic population here, I liked this collection of poems in both English and Spanish. Sometimes the poems were side by side, sometimes on alternating pages, and sometimes one below the other. Today, I selected a very short one, feeling that the writer would somehow be less likely to mind. After all, I am pushing his book — and I really, really am. Every public and school library should own it.

todos somos

come piedritas
del rio

cada uno
tan diferente

The Same

we are all
the same

like pebbles
in a riverbed

each of us
so different
The author has many other books — as Amazon so helpfully reminded me — most of them based on the seasons. This particular title focuses on all kinds of dreams, literal and figurative, and features the bright, lively art of Paula Barragan.

A Wrung Sponge, haiku writer and poetry lover, is doing the Poetry Friday round-up today. If you have something to share, head that way and let her know.

I have off from work today, and for the first time in a loooong time, no obligations to be anywhere or do anything for one whole day. As a bonus, it’s rainy and chilly outside, so I’ll feel no desire to sit in the backyard and read. I am going to try to bring some order to the chaos that is my home. Scratch that try — for as Yoda says, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” With that in mind, I’m going to do some laundry. A lot of laundry.

All Right Already — Here’s Mine

Actually, the first time I took the test, I got a mouse, which both amused and horrified me at the same time. But I wouldn’t call myself modest or humble, so I took the test again. This time I changed the “looking good when going out of the house” answer to yes, since I do still strive to look nice even if I’ve resigned myself to the occasional sweatpants/ponytail run to the grocery store. As it turns out, that answer didn’t change the modest or humble thing at all, but I got a whole new creature. Whatcha gonna do?

Another Word About Prizes

Okay, so those weren’t real prizes, but maybe they gave you some ideas. Something you’d like to contribute. It doesn’t have to be an escort to the YA prom (which would be freakin’ choice), but don’t worry about your offering being too small. What I’d like to do is pull together several things into prize baskets instead of giving away individual items. So don’t be concerned if someone would really want your signed book, or original sketch, or book themed knitted scarf, or new Lord of the Rings CD. I am honestly contributing a paper bead necklace — which is made from magazines, so it’s reading-related — and maybe earrings. Maybe you can offer a limited editing or web consultation. Many YA books have lots of characters, I mean one could be named Eisha, right?

If you have something, scroll down my blogroll to my Email MotherReader! button, and send me a line. (I’m not sure why there’s an exclamation point there, but it sure makes it sounds like an exciting thing to do.) Still taking sign-ups at the original post.

Now I’ve got to get my eight-year-old girl ready for Take Your Daughter to Work Day. We’re going to have a blast at the library today. I think I’ll let her shelve the books. Dewey Decimal system, you have now met your match in a working second grader.

All About the Prizes

48 Hour Book ChallengeThe Second Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge is really coming together nicely with a pretty long list of participants. Keep signing up at the original post. I want to make this fun for everyone, so along with achievement prizes there will be some stuff given out to random participants.

Prizes may include:
  • Either John Green will take you to the next year’s YA Prom or Hank Green will devote his Brotherhood 2.0 video to the topic of your choice, after conferring with you by phone. It depends on who you have on your “list.”

  • Grace Lin, having used the names of all her family members in books, will name her next character after you. There will also be a doll. And cupcakes.

  • Roger, of Read Roger, will talk about your win on his blog using the words “stoked” and “mega-tastic.” If you clock in more than thirty hours or fifteen books, he will also use either the phrase “true dat” or “that’s how I roll.”

  • Mo Willems will send something from this picture. It will probably be a signed Pigeon mobile, but it could be an Emmy. You never know.

  • Betsy will send the original Winnie the Pooh to your home for a week-long visit, with a travel journal and possible police escort.
Okay, so none of these has actually been confirmed. Actually, I kind of made them up. But if you have a prize that you would like to contribute to the contest, send me an email. My Email MotherReader! button is at the very end of my blogroll. I am not particularly good at anything tangible, though I do make a mean paper bead necklace I’d be willing to chip in.

Let me also reiterate that the goal is to read for as much of the 48 hours as you can. Don’t feel that you can’t participate because you have something else you have to do during the weekend. You can do your 48 hours starting Friday and ending Sunday or starting Saturday and ending Monday morning, allowing for some flexibility. If you have something Saturday afternoon — like me — you can take a break and come back to the contest. You can always make up the time by not sleeping that night. I mean, really, how long has it been since you pulled an all-nighter?

Love This

Wow! I totally love this! I saw it at Bookseller Chick and Big A, little a. It combines two of my favorite things: lovely photographs and personal information.

On an unrelated topic, I’m so excited about all the bloggers signing up for the 48 Hour Book Challenge. Keep on joining in. It will be lots of fun.

Let me reassure those who are worried about committing the entire 48 hours: breaks are allowed. You can’t start and stop your time, but you can do other things that you need to do. I will actually be taking a large chunk out of Saturday to take my Girl Scouts to a sing-along in Washington, D.C. Since the event is smack dab in the middle of the weekend, I can’t really plan around it. So I’ll read in the morning, do the thing, come back, read some more, and then read all day Sunday. I suspect most people will have to work around something, and that’s oooo-kay.

The Second Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge

48 Hour Book ChallengeSpring is in the air (finally), which means it’s time to plan for the 48 Hour Book Challenge — that special contest that allows you to read guilt-free for as long as you can stand it! I’ve waffled between the first two weekends in June because both times have benefits and liabilities. But I finally decided that I’d rather not conflict with Book Expo in New York, and it would be fun to do a read-a-thon at the same time the NYC writers are doing a Write-A-Thon (even if theirs is for charity and ours is for fun only). And last of all, I couldn’t resist the idea of starting the Challenge on my birthday. So the chosen weekend is June 8–10, 2007.

Here are the basic guidelines to start. I am open to suggestions if you’ve got them, or ask me questions so I can establish a related rule. Here goes:
  1. The weekend is June 8–10, 2007. Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the eighth and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday... or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row.

  2. The books should be about fifth-grade level and up. Adult books are fine, especially if any adult book bloggers want to play. If you are generally a picture book blogger, consider this a good time to get caught up on all those wonderful books you’ve been hearing about. No graphic novels. I’m not trying to discriminate, I’m just trying to make sure that the number of books and page counts mean the same thing to everyone.

  3. It’s your call as to how much you want to put into it. If you want to skip sleep and showers to do this, go for it (but don’t stand next to me). If you want to be a bit more laid back, fine. But you have to put something into it or it’s not a challenge.

  4. The length of the reviews are not an issue. You can write a sentence, paragraph, or a full-length review.

  5. For promotion/solidarity purposes, let your readers know when you are starting the challenge with a specific entry on that day. When you write your final summary on Monday, let that be the last thing you write that day, so for one day, we’ll all be on the same page, so to speak.

  6. Your final summary needs to clearly include the number of books read, the approximate hours you spent reading/reviewing, and any other comments you want to make on the experience. It needs to be posted no later than noon on Monday, June 11.

  7. Sign up in today’s comments. You’re welcome to post the challenge on your site to catch the bloggers that come your way but don’t come mine. Point them to today’s post to sign up. On Friday, June 8, I’ll have a starting-line post where you can sign in to say you’re officially starting the challenge.
I’ll work on some prizes for most books read, most hours spent, and most pages read (if it isn’t the same winner as most books read). Last year I allowed an alternate, personal goal challenge, but this year the logistics of that might kill me. If you want to play along, but not really do the Challenge, that’s fine, but no prizes. I’ll have a 48 Hour Book Challenge Solidarity Post to list your personal weekend book challenges.

I’ll post the rules again as we get closer, to incorporate suggestions or to answer questions that have come up. So how many books do you think you could read if you devoted a weekend to the task? Ready to find out?

Practical Poetry

Aluminum Cubicle 1It’s been a tough week, an emotional week in more ways than one. Today, let me give you something light and fun and silly. For Poetry Friday, I feature my own haiku showcasing the visuals from my husband’s office last week. Hope you enjoy it.
Practical jokers
Turn cubicle into art.
Shiny, shiny art.
Enjoy the photos (click to enlarge).

Aluminum Cubicle 2Aluminum Cubicle 3
(handiwork by Steve Hennessey and Kate Foley; photography by Kate Foley)

Lissy’s Friends

Two months ago, Grace Lin wrote about her artistic style, wondering whether she was being boring. At the time, I couldn’t think of an appropriate comment, other than, “Nooooooooooo!” which isn’t so much a comment as a long series of one vowel. But the thought sat in my brain quietly simmering, and I’m finally ready to voice a slightly more articulate opinion. I hope.

(At one point, I had planned on posting my comments at the same time as her Edge of the Forest interview, but I guess my thoughts were still simmering. So cross-promotional opportunities suffer in favor of coherent argument. I can live with that.)

Michael Jordan. Greatest basketball player ever gets a been-there-done-that feeling and moves to baseball. He does all right, I guess, but leaves lots of disappointed fans in his wake, not to mention his team. What did that move accomplish? Maybe he got the chance to test himself, but at what expense?

So if you’re great at what you’re doing, why change? If you still love what you’re doing, and your fans love what you’re doing, why change?

Lissy's FriendsIs Grace Lin the Michael Jordan of children’s literature? Well, I don’t want to give that honor to anyone (no, not even him), because it isn’t a matter of being the absolute best. The world of children’s literature accommodates many different styles of writing and illustration. But that world would be poorer without the joyful, brightly colored, multi-patterned illustrations of Grace Lin. Thankfully, she has kept that style alive in her new book, Lissy’s Friends.

Lissy is the new girl at school and feels very lonely. Too shy to approach anyone, Lissy makes an origami swan. To her surprise, it comes to life and flies next to her! She goes home happy and tells her mom that she did make a friend today. In this case, literally. Lissy then makes lots of origami friends and takes them everywhere. One day, while riding the merry-go-round, the paper animals go flying out into the wind. Lissy is upset, but just then another girl asks her how to make the swan. Lissy shows her and in doing so, makes a real-life friend.

At first read, I wasn’t sure about the flying swan and the life-size origami animals. But the second time through, I saw it clearly as Lissy’s imagination that made them come to life and look huge. I liked that Lissy’s way to make friends begins with doing what she likes to do and being herself. The theme of Lissy’s Asian-American heritage is not the source of conflict or isolation, but it is her special knowledge of origami that helps her break through her shyness and connect with the people around her.

Lissy’s Friends is exactly what I would expect from Grace Lin, and I don’t mean that in a boring way. I like knowing that I can count on her to provide a solid, sweet, lovely, enjoyable book. Don’t go changing.

(Oh, and there’s a doll! I didn’t mention the doll. It totally fits with my Twenty-One Ways to Give a Book campaign, so I have to mention the Groovy Girl-looking doll. Lin’s been merchandised!)


Is there a coziness in the kid-lit blog world that affects reviewing? Probably.

Is there a chumminess in the kid-lit publishing world that affects reviewing? Probably.

We have blog tours, shout-outs, and round-ups. They have publisher lunches, book launches, and award ceremonies. We know some authors. They know some authors. We might get free books. They definitely get free books. We don’t get paid. They do. Other than the fact that we do this for free, what’s the difference that would make bloggers more likely to be soft on authors?

Roger suggests that here we’re all one community, and it’s tricky to knock someone you know. Well, maybe that’s true.

I’ll take that chance.

Because what is gained here outweighs the hazards of mixing authors and reviewers in one big blog party. Maybe sometimes an author gets a softer review than deserved, but I can live with that for the opportunity to have a book dialogue that involves librarians, teachers, authors, mothers, editors, poets, and book lovers. We don’t just have book reviews, we have an opening for discussion. It’s a new paradigm that even involves a type of cross-promotion and targeted marketing.

In a way, it all comes down to marketing. Publishers’ lunches, book launches, blog tours, author interviews, ads in Horn Book, ALA exhibits, book signings, book awards, etc. Down at the base, we’re all promoting what we love, whether that’s our magazine, our new book, our own blog, or even just reading in general. Maybe even just being in love with our own voice. Talk about influence. I would say that we are influenced by all of the above, including our own angle.

For more influence, look to the baggage we bring to any review. Do I like cats or dogs? Do I hate abstract imagery? Does it matter if I have a good relationship with my parents or my kids? If I love the South? Or dislike the books where the mother is dead? The influence of a free book or an interview seems silly when you look at all the ways we are influenced before we’ve even seen the book.

Here, I want to embrace the subjective review. Know me, know my kind of books. Like me, like my kind of books. My blog peeps are the closest I get to having a friend to share her favorite titles. In fact, I don’t want to do book reviewing. I want to do book sharing. I want to be able to say, “Hey this is what I thought about this book. Me, with my two school-age children and my love of summer and corn. Me, with my propensity for humor and aversion to china rabbits. Me, with my disorganized house and my reformed hippie parents. This is what I thought about this book. What about you?”

Now, how cozy is that?

Virginia’s Tragedy

While I may disagree with most of Virginia politically, I love my state. I must. It would be far easier to cross the river and live in Maryland, which is more aligned with my politics, than to advocate for the statehood of Northern Virginia. But I can’t do it.

I love that our state history is our nation’s history. Jamestown. Williamsburg. Mount Vernon. It means that an entire year of my children’s lives will be spend on learning something useful. As a child, my husband learned about the significance of cow patties for heating and building in the great state of Nebraska. Or something like that.

I love that Virginia has seasons, and that the seasons lean warmer than the seasons in, say, Nebraska. We usually have a little bit of snow, but not a lot. April is usually short-sleeve weather, and the sweatshirts don’t come out until October. Pool season starts in May and ends in September, and I’m not talking about your teeth-chattering, “shrinkage”-inducing, cold-water pool season either.

I love that when you drive through Virginia, you see a lot of green. There are no billboards along state highways (except around Norfolk, and I’m not sure why), and for large stretches of the drive on I-95, it seems like there is nothing at all. Other than the weekend traffic (sometimes) and the slow drivers in the left lane (all too often), it’s a pretty pleasant drive across the state.

I love that Virginia has mountains and beaches, urban areas and farmland, battlefields and water parks. I love that my kids can get in-state tuition at a number of top-notch colleges. William and Mary. University of Virginia. Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech.

I don’t even know what to say. This school is so much a part of my vernacular. I’ve grown up and lived here tossing around that university name. I know kids who went there in the past. I know families who are looking at it for their college-bound students. I know people who graduated from there.

The shooter was from my Northern Virginia. His parents live in a town in the western suburbs. The towns being mentioned in the news are places I know. Centreville. Chantilly. They’re not meant to be towns with national attention.

It’s not Virginia’s tragedy. It’s a nation’s tragedy. I understand that. But like our nation’s history — starting in Jamestown just weeks shy of four hundred years ago — we’ll have to share.
Category: 14 comments

Rock ’N Roll Peeps

I survived another kids’ party. I chalk it up to my unique recipe for success, summed up in this pithy phrase: Advil before, alcohol after. Some people mix these two up, and while it can make for a more interesting party and is generally the more accepted strategy for an adult party, for a kids’ party the proper order is critical. There may also be legalities involved, but let’s not go there.

As far as I’m concerned, my masterpiece of the Rock ’N Roll party was the cake featuring Peeps on paper electric guitars. (This one’s for you, Lisa Yee!) Ridiculously simple and cheap (cheep?), the rockin’ pink Peeps also worked well with the color theme the party had going on. The eight partygoers played Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, made CD suncatchers and Rockin’ In/Rockin’ Out door hangers, played party games, and had makeup sessions. I sent them home with inflatable electric guitars and their crafts. Then I hit the alcohol. Hard. (C’mon. I’m kidding.)

I have always done home parties for my girls, even thought the trend in Northern Virginia (Motto: It should be a state!) is for ice skating/public pool/circus/laser tag parties. Well, once we went to an indoor playground at the mall, when my daughter kept changing which of her kindergarten friends were invited. For three dollars a kid, we asked the whole class and half of them came. Oh, and once we used a local playground and shelter, though I still did the theme and activities.

We’ve had different themes through the years. Let me see... Blues Clues, Puppy Party, Almost-Sleepover, Barbie, Art Attack, Crafty Kids, Cats and Kittens, and a Make-a-Movie Party. The movie party was my favorite, because we had the guests do a reader’s theater play while we filmed it. Then Bill edited it together and gave it to the kids later. Anyway, I try to keep costs down, and fun up. It’s not hard, but it takes a little preparation and a little help. My broad tips:
  1. Overplan. Have more than enough things to do, so you’re not stuck with nothing to do. I keep a few quick games on hand for transitions — freeze dance, hot potato, even word games.

  2. Mix it up. Have different types of activities, to appeal to different kids and to pace the party. A couple of easy crafts, a couple of moving games, a couple of quieter games.

  3. Prep your child. Remind her how to handle gifts of things she already has. Remind her about greeting and saying goodbye to guests. Remind her about saying, “Thank you.” Eventually, it will sink in. With my youngest at eight, I’m still waiting, but I’m sure it will happen.

  4. Keep kids the focus. Don’t entertain adults when you should be focused on the kids. I’ll sometimes have a few adults stay, but they know they are there to help. (When the kids were younger or when the adults were all our friends, it was hard to get them to leave. As the kids get older, the parents are less likely to stay anyway.)

  5. Make it simple. Crafts shouldn’t involve lots of steps or specific instructions. Games shouldn’t be hard to understand. Decorations don’t need to be fancy.

  6. Keep them busy. You can plan for some free time in the party, especially if the kids can run around outside, but don’t let the party turn wild or it will be hard to bring it back under control.

  7. Prepare for the shy kids. Since some kids get shy in parties, I’ll have a quiet, anytime activity to do. A box of beads with string is perfect.

  8. Have a present plan. Some people skip this altogether to avoid any issues, but I think kids like to give their presents in person. Since kids can argue over the present opening, I say right away how it works. The birthday girl sits on the couch and one person sits by her and gives the gift. Usually we go alphabetically, but we’ve also used games to decide whose turn it is.

  9. Have a departure plan. Party endings are hard, which is where the goody bag comes in. Give it out as they leave to open at home.

  10. Reward yourself. When you know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — or a Corona after the piñata — things just go better. Trust me.
The Penny Whistle Birthday Party BookFor those of you looking for additional tips, ideas, and a multitude of themes, here’s a book that I’ve taken advantage of: The Penny Whistle Birthday Party Book. So plan away. Just make sure you’ve got both your Advil and your alcohol on hand. (If preferred, a soothing bath can be substituted for the alcohol, but I'll swear by the Advil.)
Category: 13 comments

Pick a Poem

An original fib (as attributed to Greg at Gotta Book)

Grace Lin

Who did it? you ask.
MotherReader, naturally.
I was going to write about Grace Lin’s upcoming picture book Lissy’s Friends today, but Poetry Friday and the Vonnegut news is throwing off my stride. Plus, I’ve got to come up with a whole Rock and Roll birthday party by Sunday, which is giving me a bit of stress. I’ve got to get off the computer shortly and go in search of four more inflatable guitars. Yes, really.

Besides my lovely original poem, I wanted to mention the poetry display I did at my library. I made a sign saying “Pick a Poem.” All around the display pyramid are cut-outs of flowers attached to stems with a line of a poem written on it. I put some plastic flowers among the books on display as well. Awaiting their new reader are my favorite recent titles including:And origami brings us back to Lissy’s Friends, which I promise to tell you about on Monday.

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut has died at the age of 84. The Washington Post article is here. Wikipedia entry about Mr. Vonnegut here.

I have long been a Kurt Vonnegut fan, having read most of his books in my pre-kid twenties. His books are interesting, stimulating, and often amusing. Before I turned over a working third of my brain to playdatestantrumsnightmaresdaycare... breathe ...carpoolsballetclassGirlScoutsattentionissuesdramacamp, Vonnegut challenged my developing intellect. His books are monumental in the course of American Literature and significant in my own reading life.

As it turns out, he thought a lot of me as well. Actually not me specifically, but my kind, my people. This quote won’t be new to many of you. I have a copy of it on the wall in front of my desk where I can see it every day that I work.
And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

— From “I Love You Madame Librarian” or Man Without a Country
I missed the chance to name him as the author with whom I would share a glass of wine. Darn it. But truly it isn’t me, the person today, who would have imbibed freely with this genius. It was the younger me who in naiveté would have been ironically less awed and more confident. Or the older me, world-wise, who could have also been less awed and more confident. Today’s me will drink a glass of wine tonight, and think about courage in writing against the grain, courage in standing up for what you believe, and courage in living a cogitative life. God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.

Sophie Hartley On Strike

My kids are kind, smart, funny, lovely, and polite (generally). But they are not helpful around the house. Like, at all. I know that this is a common problem, but I feel like other parents have a better handle on it. I haven’t done a great job training them to clean up their own messes, much less do the laundry. I am certainly no example for tidy living, as they shift piles of papers on the table to eat their lunch. But when they drop their coats on the floor where they stand or leave the Barbie paraphernalia scattered on the floor that I just cleaned up, a little part of my brain explodes.

Sophie Hartley On StrikeEnter the book Sophie Hartley On Strike, by Stephanie Greene.

Sophie complains that she is stuck with the chores when her teenage brother heads to a game and her sister sleeps in late. Sophie’s mother, tired of taking care of all of the household, decides to make a job list for everybody. Thad, Nora, and Sophie are supposed to rotate the chores among themselves. John, at six, gets his own chores, like picking up dead bugs or escorting live ones outside. Baby Maura is excused from helping. The family squabbles and argues, and eventually the girls go on strike saying that the boys aren’t doing their fair share.

The story doesn’t break any hugely inventive ground, but the family dynamics and Sophie’s interactions with her friends are realistic and amusing. Sophie’s not as much a “character” as some of the girls we’ve been seeing these days in kids’ lit — Junie B., Judy Moody, Clementine — which works well in this book because she seems just like every kid.

I believe the reader is supposed to align with Sophie, but I kinda feel for the mom. Especially when you consider this passage:
“Oh, I think we’re all a little tired of my yelling, don’t you? ...After all,” their mother went on, “it doesn’t work, does it? I just say the same things over and over again until I’m sick of the sound of my own voice. No one pays any attention!”
Ohmigod, how many times have I made that speech? I was very hopeful in reading this book that I would find a solution to my my own household chore problem, but the ending doesn’t really go anywhere. They all decide that the list is too restrictive, but that everyone should help out more. Yeah. Good luck with that. Still, a fun and good book for early elementary school readers.

Standing Against the Wind

Standing Against the WindStanding Against the Wind, by Traci L. Jones, isn’t about plot, it’s about characters — even if the characters seem a bit cookie-cutter. Nice girl in tough circumstances. Rough boy with a tender heart. No-good mom. But it’s still an interesting book about struggling to make things happen.

Patrice is left with her aunt when her mother is sent to jail. The aunt takes advantage of Patrice by having her do all the chores and take care of her niece and nephew, but Patrice does it because she feels bad about her aunt having to take her in. Patrice is a quiet girl from Georgia, and the rough urban area is hard on her. She is teased about her “puffy” hair that she never has time to fix, and her studious ways. She should ask her sister, the master hairdo queen, to do it for her, but Patrice can’t count on her sister. Her grandmother, who used to care for her, is now in a nursing home, and her mother’s in jail. Her father’s totally out of the picture. What she has going for her is good grades, and she hopes those grades will be her chance to get a scholarship to an African-American boarding school.

She attracts the attention of a popular boy in school, Monty, when he asks her to tutor his brother. As she works with his brother, Patrice and Monty build up an unlikely friendship, and help each other.

I like the language in the book, which felt authentic, but not overdone. I felt like I was listening in to real conversations. Here is an exchange between Patrice and her sister about Monty’s mother:
“I don’t really know. There were only six there: Monty, Michael, three other boys, and a little girl, Mia?” answered Patrice. “Why? Do you know his mom?”

“Yeah, her trifing butt is always up in the salon getting some ghetto hairstyle from Termaine, the hairstyling queen of tackiness,” said Cherise. “I don’t think any of them kids got the same daddy. Plus, Miss Deborah is forever in the club or pregnant. She be bringing all these different men up in the shop, getting them to pay for her hair or nails. Old men, too. Ugh. Then she got the nerve to come in the shop every now and then asking us stylists to lend her money for food. Hell, she always got money when she want to get a new weave or them tacky finger waves. She’s too pitiful.”
I will say that so much of this book reads like a fourth- or fifth-grade book, but the sexual harassment — and almost assault — that Patrice suffers later in the story does make it more for Young Adult. I didn’t realize it when I read it, but Standing Against the Wind won the 2006 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent.

MacGyver Stories

What Would MacGyver Do?What Would MacGyver Do? True Stories of Improvised Genius in Everyday Life, by Brendan Vaughan, is the perfect bathroom book. What? It is. Each story is short, light, and vaguely interesting.

It’s funny that the Amazon reviews are so extreme. (“Horribly Misleading!” “Smart and Fun!”) People loved it or hated it. But I think that it is a matter of what the reader was expecting. A few of the stories are cool. Many of the stories would be hard to call true MacGyver thinking, though some definitely fit the bill. The subtitle is far more honest about the content of the book.

I particularly liked “Sic Transit Rodentia,” which was not really a MacGyver tale, but is a well-written, funny story of man versus mouse.
“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“We got a mouse.”

His face went white, and he withdrew the book before I could write anything. He clicked on his walkie-talkie and spoke quietly into it.

The super materialized in seconds. I explained the situations, and he responded in a whisper. The building hadn’t had any mice in years, he said. Years. But he’d take care of it. In the meantime — and he practically passed his hand over my face to complete the Jedi mind trick — I didn’t see any mouse.
I also liked the stories of fixing the clutch with a knitting needle, using a sock to brew coffee, and making a bong out of a potato. What? It was interesting.

(Thanks to Emily Reads for pointing the book out.)

Spring Break Ends

After the basket search, the egg hunt, and the Easter egg dyeing, I had the girls paint wooden rabbits. I had them put old T-shirts over their dresses. I covered the table with newspaper. I set up the paint and bunnies in the middle of the table. Yet with all these preparations, not one, but both of my school-aged children managed to drop paint-laden brushes on the carpet. Unbelievable.

And a pretty good analogy for my past week.

I had made all the preparations for Spring Break with my kids. I was going to catch up on some reviews and read some newish blogs I’ve been meaning to explore. I was going to call some friends I don’t always get to see. I was going to clean up the house that I’ve been neglecting. So what did I do with my week? No, really. I’m asking. What did I do with my week? Because I can’t figure it out. As it turns out I managed to drop both my blogging and my housework. Unbelievable.

I thought that if I didn’t spend so much time online I could get more work done at home. Instead, I was so sluggish it took me five times as long to accomplish any one chore. I think that I get more energy from reading, writing, and being engaged to actually tackle the stuff in my life. Staying home from work and staying offline for the most part, I was craving interaction. I let in a door-to-door salesman, for Pete’s sake. But that’s another story.

Anyway, I’m back in business, such as it is. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions for nonfiction, middle-school books for boys. I’ve got a lot to work with now, and I’m very pleased. Tomorrow starts my usual hectic schedule of work, Girl Scouts, homework, parenting, party-planning, and yes, blogging. And I guess I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Want Ad: Eighth-Grade Nonfiction Needed

Looking for suggestions for good, newish, nonfiction books for eighth-grade boys. Keep in mind that in this context “good” means “enjoyable.” And “enjoyable” means that an eighth-grade boy might actually read it without being assigned it in class, and a woman twice that boy’s age might be able to get through it without yawning. I am going to booktalk in the middle school in June, and I have a good list of fiction, but no nonfiction. No skateboarding books.

Author Interview: Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

Last Friday I featured the book Reaching for Sun, a lovely book in verse about a girl with cerebral palsy. Today I feature an interview with the author, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. She’s on blog tour this week, having visited with Jo Knowles on Monday. She’s stopping by to take part in the world-known MotherReader WhenWhereWhoWhyWhatHow Interview.

Reaching for SunWhen did you start writing?

I’ve kept a journal since the 5th grade. When I visit schools I read aloud from my earliest journal to prove that even young abysmal writers can end up being authors.

Where do you do your best thinking?

In the bathtub or behind the wheel. I think it busies my monkey mind and hushes my evil internal editor (at least temporarily).

Who inspires you personally and/or professionally?

My kids inspire me to be playful with words and to get in touch with that girl smeared with creek mud that I used to be.

Why did you need to write this book?

I needed to honor the pluck, grace and vulnerabilities of my students who had disabilities. I believe they deserve their own stories too.

How does Reaching for Sun reflect your own life experiences?

I was very close to my granny’s and I spent most of my childhood out of doors. I often felt on the outside of things looking in, but I’m beginning to think we all feel that way.

What’s next for you?

I just sold a new novel to Bloomsbury (in prose!) and now I’m ready to jump into some poetry head first. I’ve got lots of ideas swirling right now for a new collection and it will be fun to decide which ones to pursue.

If you want to learn more about Tracie and her wonderful book, check out an interview from her biggest fan and supporter, Little Willow, who told me and others that we had to read this book. Tracie also has her own blog and a website that offers teacher guides and mini-lessons on more than two hundred books. Tomorrow she’ll chat with Cynthia Lord, author of the Newbery Honor book Rules.

It’s Not You, It’s Me (II)

Lately I’ve reserved Sundays to highlight blog posts that I’ve noticed during the week. But today, I’m just going to mention one. Because honestly, I can’t think of any others after turning my brain to mush watching hours of American Idol while folding umpteen loads of laundry. Did you know that you could actually watch so many episodes in a row that you could make yourself a little sick to your stomach? Neither did I.

Anyway, today Robin Brande really came through for me as she recounted her feeling of being overwhelmed by the mundane (like cleaning) because of time spent blogging. It’s a great conversation in the comments, and I hope other bloggers will stop by and share our little addiction. (Hi. I’m Pam. I’ve been blogging for a year now, and I may have a problem. Hi, Pam!)

But this was the second time Robin made me Think this week (twice in one week!). Lately, she’s been using Friday to ask readers how they took care of themselves during the week. Her way of being nice to herself reminded me of a post I did a long time ago, so I thought I would repost it. Enjoy, Robin and others:

Sometimes you just know that it isn’t working out. Sure, there was an initial attraction, but then... nothing. You’re just bored. Little irritations become big issues. “Who uses the word paradigm anyway?” You fight to stay invested. It may get better. It may be worth all the struggles in the end. But maybe you’re just not in that place now, for something light or something serious or something different. You know you need to make room in your life for something new, but it feels so wrong.

It’s okay to say, “It’s not you, it’s me,” when you’re dumping a book.

You can dump a decent book if it just doesn’t fit you, doesn’t engage you, doesn’t interest you, doesn’t make you want to keep reading. There are too many fish in the sea — or books on the shelves, as it were — to waste time on the wrong one. Even if it’s just the wrong book for you, for now.

I was not always this harsh, this cold. I would read the worst book to the very end, but I would be resentful. I wasn’t enjoying myself, or worse, wasn’t reading at all, stifled with guilt over the book I was avoiding. I had to change. I still find it difficult to let go, but it is getting easier.

Not too long ago I helped a friend get out of a bad book relationship. With a young child, she has limited time to read and was strugging with a book of short stories. We talked about it, and I told her it was time to move on. She took my advice and later confessed what a pleasure it was to finally remove the bookmark from the pages. The relief is like seeing your favorite contestant in the bottom two of American Idol and then she’s sent back to the bench and she’s safe for another week. Or something like that.