105 Ways to Give a Book

Comment Challenge: Final Check-In

We’ve reached the end of the Comment Challenge, but I think we all know by this point that it’s really the beginning.

(Technically, it’s also not really the end, since participants have all day on Wednesday to comment — and frankly, if people want to use the long weekend to catch up on their commenting, that’s really fine too. Back to the point.)

Starting today and running through Saturday, check in with your final tally of comments — a total or an average. You can even take some extra time to run through the list of Comment Challenge participants or WBBT interviews to bring up your numbers. Check in even if you didn’t average five a day or hit more than a hundred comments. I’ve been known to give random prizes just for playing along. Truly, it’s never really been about the numbers, but about using the target numbers as a way to discover commenting all over again.

Lee and I hope that by setting aside a period to be conscious of your commenting, you’ve gotten better at it. Reading blogs with the intent to comment lets you read with more focus. Commenting on a blog makes you feel more connected. Writing several comments a day makes them flow easier, so they become less work. As you keep it up, you may find more readers checking out your blog based on your comments.

What have you learned about your reading, time management, or blog focus? Are you seeing the kinds of posts that get the most comments? Does that change the way you will write? Did a daily schedule of five a day work for you, or were you more of a binge commenter? What worked best for you? How does this change the way you will blog, read, and comment? Feel free to answer in the comments, or write your own post about it and I’ll do a round-up on Sunday — perhaps with prize announcements.

Yes, we’ve reached the end of the Comment Challenge, but I do hope it is just the beginning.

ABC Storytime: I is for...

The last few weeks have been a bust for ABC Storytime. There was the election, and the Comment Challenge, and the Winter Blog Blast Tour. If anyone was actually following this series to create your own ABC Storytime, man, I’m sorry. Let’s get back on track with...

The Letter I

Book: Ish, by Peter H. Reynolds

Book: Incredible Me! by Kathi Appelt

Book: An Island in the Sun, by Stella Blackstone

Book: My Name Is Not Isabella, by Jennifer Fosberry

Song: “The Waves on the Island” (This is the only perfect song for the letter I, other than ones about “me, myself, and I.”)
(to the tune of “The Wheels On the Bus”)

The waves on the island go up and down
Up and down, up and down
The waves on the island go up and down
All day long.

The crabs on the island crawl back and forth...
The clams on the island will open and shut...
the lobsters on the island go snap, snap, snap...

(Hand motions can follow the directions of the song.)
Alternate Books: Iggy Peck, Architect, by Andrea Beaty; Isla, by Arthur Doros; and Ice Cream Bear, by Jez Alborough.

Turkey for Me, Turkey for You

“...Let’s eat turkey in a big brown shoe.” Ah, Adam Sandler’s Turkey Song is Thanksgiving for me.

Today I had every intention of simply reposting my favorite Thanksgiving storytime books, only to find that I have never written about them. Well, no matter. I haven’t investigated new Thanksgiving books for a while, so these are old favorites of mine.

Thanksgiving in the White HouseThanksgiving in the White House, by Gary Hines
President Abraham Lincoln’s youngest son, Tad, is very fond of Jack the turkey. He has tamed him and taught him tricks, and the bird follows him all around the White House yard. But Jack was meant to be the main dish of the first official Thanksgiving celebration. Big problem! Can Tad convince his father to spare the turkey?

This Is the TurkeyThis Is the Turkey, by Abby Levine
Follow the standard rhyme of “This is the House that Jack Built,” this book describes the activities of a young boy and his extended family as they share Thanksgiving. I particularly like that an African American girl is featured on the book cover, showing a mixed-race family.

’Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving’Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving, by Dav Pilkey
Using the format of Clement Moore’s classic Christmas poem, we’re treated to a story about eight boys and girls whose trip to a turkey farm leads to a surprise. The book is blunt at times, but always funny, especially when the kids leave the farm considerably fatter and with feathers sticking out from their coats.

Caroline Hickey and Sara Lewis Holmes Chat for Winter Blog Blast Tour

My original idea was to meet with authors Caroline Hickey (Cassie Was Here, Isabelle’s Boyfriend) and Sara Lewis Holmes (Letters from Rapunzel) at a coffee shop where we would talk about writing, parenthood, books, Obama, shopping, and a myriad of other topics. I would then pull together a brilliant magazine-style interview, which would include phrases like, “When asked how motherhood affected an author, Caroline’s face softened as she looked down at her baby wriggling one arm free of the blanket, and said...”

Instead, Caroline had house plumbing problems, and then we couldn’t coordinate another time amidst our collection of appointments, obligations, and outings. So we chatted online. My intention then was to shape the chat into a more regular author interview. But after cutting the parts about shopping, fear, breast-feeding, anxiety, and phone sex — only one of which I made up as a topic — I liked the style I had. I consolidated the choppy phrasing that instant messaging encourages and tidied up the long chat into something more cohesive. I also realized that I wasn’t the only one asking the questions, so I put the questions in italics instead of my parts as interviewer.

I am probably breaking some Winter Blog Blast Tour rule, but here goes:

MotherReader: How do you think being a mom — new mom, seasoned mom, in-the-middle-of-chaos mom — affects your writing? Personally, I can say as an in-the-middle-of chaos mom that I can’t hold a coherent thought. Or more precisely, I can’t accurately estimate when I’ll be able to make time to think.

Caroline: As a brand-new mom, only three months in, I haven’t been able to write hardly at all. But I have been able to read some, and I’ve noticed that my tastes are starting to change.

Sara: It’s totally overwhelming, no matter how tough you are.

Caroline: Yes, definitely overwhelming, and I’m looking more to reading for escape than for mental stimulation, if you know what I mean.

Caroline: How about you, Sara? With your kids in their late teens, how does it affect you?

Sara: Well, I wrote this current book for them. They grew up totally not like I did. I stayed in one place, from third grade on. They moved... and moved... and moved, and I worried so much. And they turned out strong and fine. But I wanted to write about military kids and everything they go through. And how that life is a lot like improvisational theater; you make it up as you go along. You rely on community and courage and kindness. In fact, I’m dedicating it to them: For Rebecca and Wade, who are, themselves, both Courage and Kindness.

Caroline: Do you feel like you write your books with your children in mind as readers?

Sara : Not as readers, but to honor their experiences. The Air Force has a PR department. My kids don’t! The poem I wrote for my son this week was the first time I tried to do something that I gave him to read directly.

Caroline: How did it go?

Sara: He said it was “amazing.” Which was better than a starred review.

MotherReader: Caroline, I read on your blog that you were frustrated with writing. That it wasn’t going as well as you’d hoped.

Caroline: That’s putting it mildly. I’m working on a new book, and I have a first draft completed. I’ve been trying and trying to get the book going in a new direction with my revision, but I feel like I’m working with about two percent of my brain and for some reason I can’t “see” this book the way I could see my previous ones. So, when I finally do have time to sit and write, nothing comes out!

MotherReader: You do get better at carving out spaces for yourself.

Sara: My dear friend who’s a grandmother always said that being a mother made me more of who I am, and I should use that in writing.

Caroline: Ooh, I like that. I might just need to give myself a little more maternity leave. I can definitely say my patience has already quadrupled.

Sara: How about your writing, Pam?

MotherReader: I’m still getting there. Lots of ideas, no time to process.

Sara: I learned a lot from my own children’s stubbornness. When they wanted something, boy did they want it.

MotherReader: I may not have a job after July — cut-backs — and I can’t say that I’m upset. I keep thinking about all the time and mind-space I’ll have then. Maybe it’s the push I need.

Caroline: That’s true. But like Sara says, you have to want it, too.

Sara: Cry for it, scream for it in the middle of the night. :-)

MotherReader: What’s it like being a stay-at-home-writer?

Caroline: Pre-Bridget, I was a stay-at-home writer for a year and I loved it. But I also loved working a day job part time, and writing part time because then my writing time was really precious, and I was extremely efficient.

Sara: I love what I do, but it’s lonely sometimes.

Caroline: It is very lonely.

MotherReader: Who do you turn to in the writer’s isolation?

Caroline: Blogs! Instant messenger! My writing group! Meeting friends for coffee!

Sara: I belong to two online writing groups. I do like being alone, though. That helps.

Caroline: Doing events also helps because being around groups of kids gets me very jazzed to write.

MotherReader: What kind of events do writers do?

Caroline: I did a school book fair last weekend. I had visited the school last year, and a bunch of kids who read my first book remembered me and came up to talk to me about it. I signed books at the book fair, but at the school visit I did a presentation about how I became an author and how I write.

Sara: I have done several — a middle school “lunch bunch,” a high school creative writing class, and a fourth grade. I like them. The kids inspire me and I give out “magic” pencils — my red Read*Write*Believe ones.

MotherReader: With all the writing already on your plate, why blog? (And I ask that knowing that you have two of my favorite, must-read blogs — The Longstockings and Read, Write, Believe.)

Caroline: I love to blog! It’s low-stress writing! It’s immediate, it helps me vent about whatever is going on in my writing life, and I get feedback!

Sara: I love finishing something short! And getting instant feedback in the form of comments. Yay for the Comment Challenge! And I have a lot of thoughts that I don’t have any other place for.

Caroline: Yes, I love the dialogue, and I love disagreements. I love hearing opinions from all different players in the children’s book world.

MotherReader: How did you find your agent and how did you know you were right for each other? (Hey, it sounds like couples.)

Caroline: It is like couples. I sent mine a query letter, we had lunch and hit it off! I wanted to like my agent, so I’m glad I met her in person so we could feel each other out. She likes to do some editorial work before we send things out, and I like receiving feedback, so we’re a good match. Finding an agent seems to be different for everyone, but as long as it works.

Sara: I asked my former editor, Lauren Velevis, for a recommendation before she left HarperCollins to get her MFA. Tina was on the list, and I read about her online and liked what I saw, so I emailed her. Tina does some edits for me, too, and I like it. I like that she has an MFA in Poetry, too.

MotherReader: What advice would you give to a new writer looking to find an agent?

Caroline: Find out who they rep and try to find one that reps work similar to your own. Go with your gut.

Sara: Be picky. Know what you want and why you want it. See what other books they’ve repped. Would you read them? What reputation do they have? Do you have the same working style? As in: Do you like to be told every little thing or not? Tina actually asked me how much info I wanted her to pass on to me in the horrible waiting period of submissions. I appreciated that so much.

MotherReader: Would you go the agent route rather than the direct-to-the-publisher route?

Caroline Hickey: Always have an agent! You must have an agent or you will lose rights! The publisher does not look out for you! Publishers dont want to give away film rights or audio rights or sub-rights, but agents fight for them, and they get them. You’ll also get a bigger advance with an agent, and you’ll have someone looking out for you if things with your publisher don’t go smoothly.

MotherReader: Tell me, what are you guys working on now?

Caroline: I’m working on my third book, about a girl who uncovers a family secret. That’s what’s on my plate. When it’ll be done, who can say, but I am working on it in my mind at least.

Sara: I just turned in my second round of revisions to Cheryl; I still have a copyedit round to do. Then I want to get back to two poetry projects.

MotherReader: How would you describe your book?

Sara: It’s about a community that comes together to save one of their own and about theater, and mistakes and Jody calls and airplanes and little green Army men! It had a title change, from New Recruit to Operation YES. The first rule of improv is: Say YES and... The “and” is most important because you’re adding something new to the scene that moves it forward. Like an extended hand to the other players. That’s life, right?

Last day of interviews from the Winter Blog Blast Tour. Who’s up?

Lisa Papademetriou Interview for Winter Blog Blast Tour

Lisa Papademetriou needs no introduction in the world of Children’s Literature. And that is exactly why I didn’t write one.

The Wizard, The Witch, and Two Girls From JerseyI discovered you, personally, with the marvelous book The Wizard, The Witch and Two Girls from Jersey, which I’ve described as part Ella Enchanted, part The Lord of the Rings, and part Mean Girls. In reviewing the book for MotherReader, I said that it was perfect for a movie and, in fact, made some casting suggestions. My question is: Has a movie option been arranged and do I get a producer credit if Vanessa Anne Hudgens is chosen for the lead, as I suggested?

Yes, the book has been optioned by Paramount Pictures! I don’t know if they’ll actually make the movie or who they’ll cast... but I’ll pass your suggestion along. I’m not sure I can arrange a producer credit, though — how would you feel about gaffer?

It seems like every time I pick up a book, it has your name on it, but even I was surprised to find that you’ve written more than thirty children’s books. For such a prolific author, I see you as flying under the radar in children’s literature. How do you see yourself as an author and how does it work for or against you?

Well, first let me just clarify that book number. I began my career as an author writing books in series such as Sweet Valley and Lizzie McGuire, and I still adapt a number of movies for Pixar and Disney under a pen name. (A lot of writers, including R.L. Stine and Ann M. Martin, have started as series writers.) So that accounts for the majority of my published work. I suppose I am flying under the radar. I prefer to think of it as “on the verge of rocking the world.” Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of control over whether or not I become a household name. I just try to concentrate on the kids who write to me and tell me that they love my books. To them, I’m as famous as any other author. And, of course, my mom thinks I’m incredibly famous.

You mentioned Sweet Valley and Lizzie McGuire, but you’ve also authored many titles in the Candy Apple and Disney Fairies series. How does your writing process differ when writing for a series versus writing your own books, and do you have a preference for which kind you like to write?

I love paperback. The process is fast and you’re writing directly to the kids. For me, the writing process is pretty much the same — it’s just that hardcover tends to make me more neurotic because I’m stressing over the reviews even before I write the first sentence.

In Chasing Normal, M or F? and Sixth Grade Glommers, Norks, and Me, you really capture the insecurity of the teen years with humor and sensitivity. How are these books reflective of your own life experience? In other words — and with all due respect — do you have an inner dork?

Inner dork? Believe me, I’m a dork through and through. You’ve read The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey, so you can probably tell that I’ve read every fantasy book out there about ten times. The three books you mention are all very reflective of my own life experience — except, hopefully, funnier.

DropYour new book, Drop, is a real departure from your set comfort zone. Why did you want to branch out with this particular book?

There were a lot of nuggets for that book. I wanted to write something about fate and chance, and I wanted to write something about the eeriness of Las Vegas, and I wanted to write something about being a first-generation American. I guess I could have tried to play it for laughs, but it just didn’t come out that way. And thank you for phrasing it as “a real departure from my set comfort zone.” It really was. Writing that book was like swimming through concrete for me. I have no idea what people will think of it.

You used to blog through Bookburger, but are you blogging anywhere else these days?

No. I also used to have a blog on Amazon, which I loved. Unfortunately, when you blog, people can write mean things back to you, and on Amazon, they can even vote on whether or not they liked your post. It was too much like having people vote on whether or not they approved of my thoughts — I started to feel inhibited and defensive, which isn’t a good thing. I don’t know how you do it!

[Lightning round through the other “Ws.”]

When did you start writing?

I started my first novel when I was in fourth grade. I wrote three pages and gave up. It turned out that writing a book was much harder than I thought it would be.

Where do you do your best thinking?

I do my best thinking while on a long walk with my husband. I’ll say something like, “I want the heroine to play some kind of sport.” And Ali will either come up with something brilliant, or he’ll say something like, “How about cricket?” And then I’ll try to think of something better. That usually works.

Who inspires your personally or professionally?

The readers inspire me. Also, the need to pay my mortgage is a real fire-lighter. Beyond that, I never know what will make the wheels in my head start to turn. I take little pieces from everywhere.

What’s next for you?

I just had a baby this year, so that’s been a big project for me! Professionally, I’m working on the last book in a four-book series (Accidentally Fabulous). It’s under the Candy Apple line, and I’m having a ball writing it. After that, I’m working on a creepy mermaid tale. Then — we’ll see!

Today the Winter Blog Blast Tour features:

Comment Challenge: A Public Service Announcement

I’m a wee bit concerned that the number of Comment Challenge participants checking in was low yesterday. We’re not losing you, are we? Let me be your cheerleader. Commenting is like any new habit — exercise, a diet, organizing — where if you blow a day or two, you should get right back on track.

Here are some thoughts from this week:
I have found some terrific new blogs and websites, made new connections, and increased my own blog hits. So I do think it’s a very worthwhile exercise, but one I know I cannot sustain at the five-a-day pace over the long term.

I know how much I like to get comments on my blog, so that motivates me as well! ... It also hits home the idea of writing fluency for me. At first I would agonize over what I was going to write, now I don’t second guess myself so much.

BTW the coincidence of the Comment Challenge with the WBBT has actually slowed me down a bit — while I love the interviews, they don’t necessarily call out to me for comment, more for savoring.
I have a reason to highlight these three thoughts. While the amount of comments may be more than you choose to keep up later, it is intended to make you “practice” so that commenting can become more second-nature. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the less time it takes. I also wanted to address Libby’s thought that interviews don’t always seem to inspire commenting. Having been both interviewer and interviewee, I would say that there is no better place to see a comment than on an interview post. Both parties put a lot of effort into it, and we love to see that people enjoyed it — or for that matter, read it. There are two more days of the Winter Blog Blast Tour and lots of great places to say, “Hey, I liked what you wrote here.”

Comment Challenge Check-In: Week Two

Question: Is the Comment Challenge an insidious waste of time?

Answer: Yes, as are blogging, blog-reading, and commenting in general — except where those things focus your writing, present fresh ideas, spur new thoughts, make helpful connections, form lasting friendships, and promote your work, blogging or otherwise.

Really, the best answer for each person is contained in two questions:
  • How can I maintain balance?
  • Why do I blog?

Mitali Perkins Interview for Winter Blog Blast Tour

Okay, now it’s my turn for an interview in the Winter Blog Blast Tour, and what better way to start than with the amazing Mitali Perkins? In The Not So Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen and Monsoon Summer, Mitali brings us characters struggling between cultures — Indian and American. In her book Rickshaw Girl, we enter the world of a strong girl in Bangladesh bending the rules to help her family survive. Her First Daughter books break new ground in blending South Asian issues into the all-American White House. All this, and she has a fantastic, must-read blog that brings issues of race, culture, and diversity to the forefront of books, films, and life.

First Daughter: Extreme American MakeoverI read First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover a while ago, but reading it during the election was really interesting in some of the parallels that came up. There’s John McCain’s daughter, adopted from Bangladesh. There’s the actual makeover itself, which brings up thoughts of the Palin makeover. There’s the issue of Sameera’s name not sounding American enough, like Barack Obama. What did you think of all this during the actual campaign? Feel a little bit psychic?

I did! Wow! And I wrote the books before either Senator decided to run, and before I even knew Bridget McCain existed, before the world had heard of Wasilla, Alaska. Just pray I don’t write about the mysterious disappearance of a stylish blogging mother who lives somewhere in Virginia. Mwahahaha.

First Daughter: White House RulesIn First Daughter: White House Rules, you really had to know your way around the White House to be credible. How did you do your research?

I wrote to the White House and my Representative (Barney Frank) and tried desperately to arrange a tour, but I couldn’t seem to make it happen. So I read, read, read, and exercised my imagination as much as I could. I drew sketches and looked at hundreds of photos. During a trip to D.C., I walked around the periphery and studied the gardens. The White House Historical Association’s site is fantastic. And when I found out about a secret underground passageway, I knew I had to put it in the book.

It seems that when political figures are presented in books or movies, they are almost always portrayed as Democrats — but your protagonist’s parents are Republicans. Why did you make that choice in the story you wanted to tell?

I like to cross borders and shatter stereotypes, so I decided that in a book by a Boston-based writer of color published in New York, it would be good to make Sparrow’s Dad a Republican. I wanted to reach out to readers in red states who don’t often see people in books who vote like their parents. I guess I was hoping that the books might get into the hands of readers who might not specifically be on the hunt for a “multicultural” read. Truth be told, I’m not sure that strategy worked, but you have to try stuff, right?

There’s a thread of religion running through the two First Daughter books. In the first book, the mother is sure of her faith, but the father keeps his views quiet. In the second book, there’s an issue between someone with Hindu beliefs and someone of Muslim heritage. What place did you want religion to have in your books?

Teens care about their faith. Why leave that thread out in our books? The First Daughter books are realistic, contemporary novels, and I can’t imagine a teen in America today not thinking about or confronting the issue of religion.

You started the actual Sparrowblog along with the Sparrowblog in the First Daughter books. What was that experience like and how is the blog doing these days? Where do you see it going from here?

The blog has taken on a life of its own. Since their Dad won the election, searches for “Sasha and Malia Obama” are going through the roof. Many of these Googlers find their way to Sparrowblog. Go ahead and search for them — you’ll be amazed at how high up my fictional character’s blog appears in the results. I’m going to stop with the inauguration in January (unless something miraculous happens either with the books or the blog to tempt me to keep going), but it’s been a blast, and Sparrowblog gets thousands of unique visitors every day.

When are we going to see more books in the First Daughter series?

No more, sorry, barring that miracle I talked about.

Secret KeeperYour new book, Secret Keeper, comes out soon. What can you tell us about it?

Secret Keeper (Random House, January 2009) is the story of a girl with the gift of making people feel safe enough to tell their secrets. I hope everybody has a person like that in their lives. It’s also a universal story about the bond between sisters and the power of sacrificial love, but is particularly set in Calcutta, India, in the 1970s. I hope, hope, hope my readers like it, even though it’s not my usual happy-go-lucky kind of story. Well, we’ll see. I’m in that scary pre-publication stage of waiting for reviews.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing up a pay-the-bills project, a commissioned short novel about magic and dolls, and revising Bamboo People, my first book with a boy on the cover set along the Thai-Burma border, which will be coming out in 2010 from Charlesbridge.

Don’t miss the rest of the WBBT interviews today:

Winter Blog Blast Tour II

Today is the second day of the Winter Blog Blast Tour and again no interview for MotherReader. (No soup for you!) No worries — my authors make their appearances on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week. I had planned on getting a book review up this morning, but I’ve been wandering around my house in an apathetic haze. I can’t seem to get motivated... or showered. So, I’m going to put my remaining energy into enforcing good personal hygiene, and hopefully I’ll get my mojo back later to share a book review.

For now, enjoy the next set of interviews in the WBBT. By the way, if you comment on all of the posts, you’ll pass your Comment Challenge goal for the day. Go to it:

Winter Blog Blast Tour

Today is the first day of the Winter Blog Blast Tour, and while I don’t have interviews today, that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. I’ve got a great batch of authors (bunch of authors? gaggle of authors? crew of authors?) starting on Wednesday, but for now you can hit all of today’s WBBT interviews:

Book Is the New Cool

As it turns out, book is the new cool. News from Times Online:
So it is with great delight that we learn from one of our readers that the word “book” has taken on a cool new meaning — I use the adjective advisedly. Jeffrey Stark from London writes: “A colleague recently noticed that her teenage son and his friends were using the word ‘book’ as a term of approval, as in ‘that T-shirt is really book’. She wondered why. It transpires that if you text the word ‘cool’, predictive texting turns it into ‘book’. Being lazy teenagers they would rather change the meaning of the word than hit the options button.”
I’m not sure which I love more, the elevation of the word book to mean cool, or that this word development is happening out of sheer laziness.

Thanks to Proper Noun for alerting me to the trend.

Poetry Friday: Okay

The Comment Challenge that Lee and I came up with has gone better than I could have hoped. I’m so excited to see bloggers engaging in conversation with each other, discovering new blogs, and — dare I say it — making new friends. If you haven’t joined us from the beginning, don’t feel that it’s too late to become part of the energy. Sign up here.

Next week I won’t be able to keep focus on the Comment Challenge so much because I’ll be participating in the Winter Blog Blast Tour, as organized by Chasing Ray. Next week, I’ll have an interview with Lisa Papademetriou, along with a review of her new book, Drop. On Friday, I’ll have an informal-style interview on writing and books and life with Sara Lewis Holmes and Caroline Hickey. On Wednesday, I’ll post an interview with Mitali Perkins focusing on her First Daughter books, particularly of interest now that the White House is indeed home to brown girls.

Was my choice of words in that last sentence jarring? It was intentional. First, because Mitali’s blog and writing challenge us to think about how we see and describe race. And I love her for it. Second, because it relates to the poem I’ve been thinking about since before the election that I will share today. It was written by James Berry in response to a letter from a girl named Josie who was picked on for her color and asked the poet, “How do you like being brown?”
Okay, Brown Girl, Okay

Josie, Josie, I am okay
being brown. I remember
every day dusk and dawn get born
from the loving of night and light
who work together, like married.

And they would like to say to you:
Be at school on and on, brown Josie
like thousands and thousands and thousands
of children, who are brown and white
and black and pale-lemon color.
All the time, brown girl Josie is okay.
You can read and listen to the rest of the poem at NPR, from when they reviewed the book Poetry Speaks to Children. Let me suggest that the book would make a wonderful holiday gift, especially if paired with a letter promising to read it together.

I’ve been thinking about this poem for the last two weeks, really since I wrote my Blog the Vote post, with its focus on embracing this next cultural shift in America. I know that our race problems aren’t solved, but with our new president-elect and his campaign’s goal of inclusion, I want us all to feel... okay.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Yat-Yee Chong.

Comment Challenge Check-In: How Ya Doin’?

Today Lee Wind and I are offering places to check in on the Comment Challenge — to share strategies, comment averages, success stories and such. You can check in at either place. It’s not an official tally, but instead a chance for Comment Challenge participants to support each other.

I’ve been very excited to get my commenting habit back and am averaging eight comments a day. My tip for better, easier commenting is to capture your thoughts during your reading and use them to comment. If nothing jumps out, don’t comment that time. Look at a blog post less as an article, and more as a conversation.

If someone were saying this to you, what would you say? If it were funny, you might chuckle or smile. But a blogger can’t see you smile, so you can say, “Thanks for the smile.” If it were totally on point, you might find yourself nodding in agreement. But a blogger can’t see you nod, so you can say, “True dat.” Add your own experience. Suggest a similar book. Point to your own post on the topic. Think about what you want to add to the conversation.

So, how ya doin’ so far?

Comment Challenge Participants

Listing the Comment Challenge participants turned out to be harder than I thought. Some people had profiles that didn’t lead back to their blog. Some people had multiple blogs and I had to choose one. A few I never could figure out.

So, if you are not on the list and want to be, comment with the url for your blog. If you would prefer I list a different blog, comment with that url. If you’d like to be part of the Comment Challenge and aren’t yet, comment and join us now. If you’re mad that I shortened your blog name or dropped your “The,” I’d really rather not hear about it.

I didn’t code the blogs, so you can copy the urls and use them yourself. [Edit: Consider them coded. — Ed.] I was excited to find some new blogs in my reading, and I’ve only made it through about a third of them so far. There are some great blogs out there. Read. Enjoy. Comment.

Comment Challenge: Questions & Answers

When my dishwasher needs to be emptied, it always seems to happen when I don’t have the time to deal with it. So, one day I timed the unloading process. Four minutes. I was groaning and letting dishes stack up because I didn’t think I had four minutes. Now I try to keep that experiment in mind so I can enjoy the reward of clean dishes in the cabinets and dirty dishes off the counter. What a concept.

That’s kind of what commenting is like. We don’t think we have the time to do it, and we build it up to be more involved than it really is. But when we make the effort we’re rewarded with a feeling of connection and perhaps increased comments back on our own site. Also like my dishwasher story, we have to keep reminding ourselves of this fact over and over again.

We’re hoping that the Comment Challenge can help our fantastic community to take the time and reap the rewards. Basically, we’re taking the much-noted twenty-one days to form a new habit, running the Comment Challenge from Thursday, November 6, through Wednesday, November 26, 2008. The goal is to comment on at least five kidlitosphere blogs a day. We’ll keep track of our numbers, report in on Wednesdays for support, and have prizes awarded at random to bloggers who’ve passed the 100 Comment Mark. Here are some questions I’ve received and my answers.

Where do I sign up?

Sign up at the original post, either here at MotherReader or with Lee Wind, my co-conspirator.

Is it too late to start?

No. You can either up your number of comments per day if you want to make the 100 Comment mark, or you can set your own goal and join us for the support and camaraderie.

Does Young Adult blogging count as kidlitosphere?

YA Lit is totally included in the kidlit world. We just haven’t been able to come up with a catchier term than Kid Lit Bloggers or Kidlitosphere.

Do you have to be an exclusive kid lit blogger?

No, you don’t have to be exclusive to kid lit. We’re only pushing the Comment Challenge within the kidlitosphere to boost the energy among our own. We don’t want the knitting blogs to get the fruits of our commenting labor.

Do the k7-line (i.e., voice-mail) comments count toward the comment score?

I don’t know what the k7-line even means, but voice-mail makes sense to me, so sure.

Are there bonus points for branching out in your blog reading and commenting?

That’s giving Lee and me far more credit for tracking this thing than we deserve. So, uh... no. But personally, I find it easier to spread my comments around among lots of blogs because I find I have more to say.

Five comments a day! How can I do that?

Feel free to set your own goal. Maybe start smaller and build up. Maybe aim for one thoughtful comment and two “I can’t wait to read that!” comments a day.

Why isn’t anyone coming back to my blog?

Make sure that your profile links back to your blog. I’ve often tried to follow comments on my own blog back to the writer only to find that the profile is blocked.

Is there a special tracking system?

Well, mine is a Post-It note. We’re on the honor system here, so track your own comments however you see fit. However, I don’t recommend tattoos.

What are the prizes?

I’m working on it. If you have something special you’d like to donate — signed books, original art, crafty ventures — send me an email.

Do we get extra points for commenting at blogs that are more successful and high-toned than our own?

Only if you consider mine more successful and high-toned than your own. Otherwise, no. (Kidding.)

How is it that you and Lee are so awesome?

Aw, thanks. We think it happened at the Portland KidLit Conference when we touched fists and activated our separated-at-birth Wonder Twin powers.

Poetry Friday: Let Us Fly

First order of business: The Comment Challenge. It’s totally rocking! If you haven’t signed up yet to join us in spreading the wealth in terms of words, it is not too late. I repeat, it is not too late. Okay, you won’t have the whole twenty-one days, but we’d rather a little late than not at all. Story of my life there.

Now, on to Poetry Friday, hosted today at Check It Out.

I wasn’t sure how to introduce this, but since I saw Barack Obama’s words made into a found poem at Carol’s Corner, I’m feeling better about my choice. It was a quote from Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, at an event to support Obama’s candidacy.
Rosa Parks sat,
So Martin Luther King could walk.
King walked,
So Barack Obama could run.
Obama ran,
So we all can fly.
I love this so much. This week I’ve been very moved by the outpouring of emotion about President-Elect Obama, but I admit that Jesse Jackson crying at his victory speech got to me most of all.

(I’ve tweaked the wording. Here’s the exact quote: “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk, and Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama is running so we all can fly, so let’s fly.”)

Edited to Add: Apparently, this quote/poem has been going around with slight differences and, as far as I can tell, no direct credit. There’s even a T-shirt already. Which, by the way, I want.

The Comment Challenge: 21 Days To Community

What if I told you that for the cost of a few extra minutes a day, you can boost your blog readership, foster a feeling of connection, and make someone’s day? I’m talking about commenting. (Wow, with all the boosting, connecting, and making someone’s day, it’s like Viagra for blogs.)

At the KidLit Bloggers Conference, my-new-best-friend Lee Wind and I came up with an idea to get the community moving and grooving with a Comment Challenge. We held off to give you time to participate in the Cybils, to obsess about the election, and to Blog the Vote. But now it’s time to join us in The Comment Challenge.

Since it is said that it takes twenty-one days to form a new habit, we’re going to run the Comment Challenge for the next three weeks — from today, Thursday, November 6, through Wednesday, November 26, 2008. The goal is to comment on at least five kidlitosphere blogs a day. Keep track of your numbers, and report in on Wednesdays with me or Lee. We’ll tell each other how we’re doing and keep each other fired up. On Wednesday, November 26, we’ll have a final check-in post for the Comment Challenge. (Actually, it will go up on Tuesday night to catch all you Thanksgiving travelers.) I’m thinking that a prize package will be involved. Perhaps awarded by drawing from the bloggers who reached the 100 Comment Mark (five comments a day for twenty-one days with one day free of comment charge).

Seriously, this is the perfect time to make commenting a habit. Think about it. We have all this free time now that we’re not following CNN. We have writer friends doing National Novel Writing Month that could use our support. Maybe we are writers doing National Novel Writing Month who could benefit from supporting others. We have a series of author interviews coming up during the Winter Blog Blast Tour. Oh, and there were some amazing posts written for Blog the Vote that still deserve your attention.

Every comment doesn’t have to be insightful and intellectual. I know sometimes it’s hard to think of something to say. But what I’ve found is that when I’m in the habit of commenting, the words do come easier. I find myself reading posts with a bit more focus because I’m thinking about what is connecting with me.

Also, when you make yourself heard, that blogger may check out your blog. Can’t hurt your stats. Plus, you’ve made that blogger’s day a little bit brighter. Maybe you’ll make a new BFF — Blog Friend Forever.

I know, the whole thing sounds awesome. Ready to join us? Then get started by commenting on this post. And tell all your friends, because that’s kind of, like, the point.

Thank You, Barack

Barack ObamaI was surprised that I didn’t explode with happiness when it was announced that Barack Obama would be the next President of the United States. Or when Virginia went blue on the map — an amazing event. It couldn’t sink in. But when President-Elect Obama spoke tonight... wow. It felt real. It felt great.

This is from my email tonight and it says more at this moment than I can.
Pam —

I’m about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first.

We just made history.

And I don’t want you to forget how we did it.

You made history every single day during this campaign — every day you knocked on doors, made a donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it’s time for change.

I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign.

We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.

But I want to be very clear about one thing...

All of this happened because of you.

Thank you,

I’ve got to say, besides the beautiful message of history, dedication, and gratitude, I totally love that we’re on a first-name basis.
Category: 13 comments

Obama Rally in Real America

Barack Obama RallyLast night my family attended Obama’s final campaign rally, held here in Virginia. The rally turned out to be a little more involved than I had thought. Getting 100,000 people in a rural fairground will do that. After an hour creeping along the one road in, we pulled into a neighborhood, parked the car, and walked the rest of the way. Two miles. Inside, we waited an extra ninety minutes beyond the scheduled start time for Obama to speak. Afterwards, we had to take baby steps with the tightly packed crowd to get out of the fairground and then, at midnight, walk the two miles back to our car. Along the way we saw that drivers had simply abandoned their vehicles all along the road to the venue. Cars were on the shoulders, the paved walkway, even the median strip as far as we walked and beyond.

The verdict is out on whether we were in “real” Virginia at the time. Driving to Manassas, we saw signs proclaiming the area “McCain Country.” Inside the rally, however, I saw the real America that I know in the variety of people and colors and cultures. There on the fairgrounds all people — black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, Muslim, young, old — were doing the same thing. Trying to see Obama through the freakin’ blinding lights focused out on the audience.

His speech wasn’t new, but it was inspirational. Even though we were cold and tired, it was exciting to be there with my family making history. But perhaps most important for me in looking around at this diverse crowd was the validation of an inclusive politics. This is where we belong. Change is coming. Hope is here.

Category: 6 comments

Blog The Vote

My daughters and I canvassed the neighborhoods for our candidate and were given a short form to chart our progress. I took care of the talking and my seventh grader took care of the marking. After our second house with two cars in the driveway and no answer at the door, my daughter quipped, “We’ll have to check off Not Home because Hiding isn’t an option.”

In this election, hiding isn’t an option. Because with the economy, the war, climate change, health care, energy independence, and pending Supreme Court nominations all at the tipping point, each person needs to make his or her voice heard on the issues. Yes, the issues — this election can’t be about who you’d like to have a beer with or who you’d want to coach your daughter’s soccer team. It’s certainly shouldn’t be about who is most like you. (Really, in what other capacity would we select someone based on them being most like us? “I’m not sure he’s a great brain surgeon, but he’s so like me.”) If you haven’t done so at this point, stop listening to party lines or following decades of loyalty, and check yourself on the issues. I’ll suggest this very good Washington Post article comparing the positions of the candidates.

I’ve made no secret of my politics, but today’s Blog the Vote round-up is based on issues. I feel comfortable with most of the ideas of my party, but today I’ll talk about one that isn’t on the checklist but has been an undercurrent throughout the campaign: It’s time to stop fighting the cultural wars of the sixties and to start addressing the cultural shift of the new millennium.

Andrew Sullivan has been instrumental in forming my thoughts on this issues, and I’ll paraphrase him now. Talking about whether there were racists who wouldn’t vote for a black man, he broadened the topic. There are some people whose racist views are specifically targeted against African Americans, but what he saw more was a general fear of approaching a minority-majority population in America — and the embodiment of that concept was coming together in the candidacy of an African American president. This idea resonated with me like no other, so let me make a few points about the cultural shift in America.

First of all, it is inevitable. Unless you want to literally divide up the country — and I’ve provided a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way to do so — this change is coming. Minorities as a group will reach majority population by 2042. By 2023, more than half of all children will be minorities. It’s time to stop fighting it and to stop fighting over it.

Secondly, I’m here on this side of the cultural shift and I can say... it’s okay. Overall, Northern Virginia is a 40.4 percent minority, so going to the Ross up the street can feel like visiting the United Nations. And I like it. My kids are exposed to all sorts of people and cultures. I can’t think of a better education they can have for living in a global society than seeing it work in their schools, their libraries, and their chain-discount stores.

My third point is that I’m living it. I’ve accepted into my family and into my heart my biracial niece. Before she blessed our lives, I thought that I was living in a diverse nation. Since she broke into my soul, I realized how little I really saw. Children’s books and Disney princesses don’t represent her color. The American story isn’t necessarily her heritage. Racism still exists. But not if I can have anything to so with it. Even if the steps are small, I can speak out, I can write, and I can vote. Hiding isn’t an option.

I owe it to my girls. Sometimes the big picture is in the small picture.