105 Ways to Give a Book

Feet Nibbled by Fish

So, the seventh grader and I had our feet nibbled by fish.

It was totally cool.

At first it tickled and then it felt a little bit tingly, like when your feet fall asleep. The fifteen minutes flew by as we watched the fish swim and swarm around our feet. The fourth grader didn’t want to try it, but after watching us for a few minutes she did put her hand in. She and I both noticed how much softer her hand was after only a couple of minutes with the fish. She was won over immediately, so I guess I’ll be paying for three fish pedicures next time.

After the fish, it was a standard pedicure — though it should be noted that any pedicure is outside my normal range of pampering. (Oh! I would have finally had something amazing for Robin Brande’s Be Nice to Yourself Fridays.) Seventh grader went with sparkly blue polish, and I chose a subtle pink. Fourth grader got her fingernails painted purple.

Our feet feel softer, our nails look prettier, and we can’t wait to do it again. Want to come along?

(OMG! If you click on the picture above it is huge. Man, you can really see the fish! And perhaps I should have shaved.)

Summer Book Club: Please Hold

Our videoconference with author Patrick Carman was awesome. He was so generous with his time and so very warm. The girls were very excited to talk to a Real Live Author — and so was I. Even more so after hearing that the book we were discussing, The Dark Hills Divide, had sold more than two million copies and was printed in twenty-seven languages! Gulp. He’s like an Important Author. Um, does he realize that we’re, like, not important?

He was fantastic answering the girls’ questions and I took lots of notes. After the interview, we had a great discussion about the book and some of his answers. But if it’s all the same to you — and I’m guessing that it is — I’m going to save the write-up for next Wednesday. It’s a lot to pull together and I want to do it justice, which I can’t really do today.

We’re taking three weeks until our next title because of conflicting vacations among the members. We decided on something fun and sci-fi — The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex.

For now, enjoy the July Carnival of Children’s Literature, hosted by Read. Imagine. Talk.. It’s the first carnival I’ve remembered to contribute to (barely in time, but still), so maybe I’m getting a bit of my mojo back. The carnival also seems to feature some newer blogs that I’ve been meaning to explore, so I’m excited to take a look. You go too.

Shhhh! Summer Reading

Today’s comic Rhymes with Orange strip is titled “Summer Reading,” and features a reading boy addressing a reading adult with this question: “You’re in a book club too? How many before you get a prize?”

Cue the bemused literary laughter.

Thing is, I believe in Summer Reading. I believe in Summer Reading Prizes. I even believe in — the horror — Summer Reading Lists.

Cue the ominous music.

While I was busy not reading blogs so that I could answer patrons’ questions about my shiny new library branch (“Where’s the biography section? Um, I guess I don’t know that either.”), there was a big discussion on Summer Reading Lists that came down pretty firmly Against. Having offered to organize a kidlitosphere list of good books for the summer, I was surprised. First by the initial emails against the concept and later by the posts. And so I did what came naturally to me — I ignored it.

But last night I went back to those posts and what I see here is a failure to communicate. Most people seem to be railing against “required summer reading” and calling them “summer reading lists.” Okay, different things in my mind and in my county. To me, a Summer Reading List is a selection of books that parents and kids might not otherwise know about pulled together in an easy format. So when those kids and parents come to the library and are looking for something to read — and they do ask that vaguely — the parent and librarians can direct them to some vetted books that will hopefully hold their interest. I’ve worked on the list for My Fair County twice, and we made sure the books covered a range of reading levels, genres, and cultures. Extra copies were purchased so that the books would be available. The children’s department staff fanned out over all the county schools and booktalked these books along with the Summer Reading Program to generate interest in reading. And it is all voluntary on the part of the kids and the parents. (The staff is pretty much required to do the booktalking, and some of us enjoy it so much that we want to do it on YouTube later.)

No one has to participate in the Summer Reading Program. If they participate, they don’t have to read those particular books. They’re just suggestions, ideas, new titles to try. And I think the program works. It gets more kids in the library. It puts books in the front of their minds. They think about reading. Because here’s the thing that people don’t seem to talk about when they refer to the children picking out their own books and blissfully sailing through there to-read list: Some kids don’t like to read. In fact, some kids will not read. And even more, some parents don’t really care.

So if these prizes and lists and promotions maybe trigger an interest in some kids, than that’s a fantastic step. If they reward kids who read anyway, well, how great to get recognized for a job well done. These days soccer kids get trophies for just playing the game, why can’t readers get a little pat on the back too? And maybe, just maybe, we’ll pull in some kids who wouldn’t have been reading without the incentive. I can’t see how that’s so wrong.

So I believe in Summer Reading and lists and prizes. And I believe in lazy reading and informal book clubs and finishing the latest Clique book. There’s room for both.

Edited to add: I didn’t have time to link to the original posts about Summer Reading Lists, but some opinions are noted at A Year of Reading, The Reading Zone, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Book Whisperer, and Becky’s Book Reviews.

Writer’s Malaise

So, I’ve been reading a decent amount lately, but I don’t feel like writing anything about the books. It’s not really writer’s block... more like writer’s malaise. And it’s not just reviews — I can barely write a coherent email.

My new job is partially to blame. The new rhythms and requirements have thrown me off my game. In the past, I did a fair amount of my kidlit blog reading in the quiet times at the information desk. But with a few weeks of books-to-shelves duties and then a few weeks of busy desk time, I wasn’t reading much online. The novelty of the new branch has worn off for the public, and now there are some quiet periods to check out my kidlitosphere friends, but I’ve found myself out of blog-reading practice. There are references to things I missed, certainly, but mostly it’s a loss of the habit of reading blogs. Does that seem strange?

Losing the habit of reading blogs and writing comments and drafting book notes, I’m feeling somewhat adrift. That clear head space I had hoped for in the summer is still elusive. Seemingly small jobs take forever. Tiny diversions become engulfing. And let’s not even talk about eBay.

I’m holding onto my summer book club tightly, as it is keeping me tethered to the online book world and to... caring. I am actually very excited that my book club will have its first videoconference with author Patrick Carman as we discuss The Dark Hills Divide tomorrow. What an amazing person he is to offer this opportunity to my Girl Scout Troop! I can only hope I don’t muck it up — though I am having someone else handle the technology aspect, since I would be likely to arrange it by waving a magic wand over my computer. Or in lieu of an actual magic wand, a mi Jam drumstick. We’ll be talking in the late afternoon, and I’m hoping to post the discussion that evening to keep up my trend of Wednesday Summer Book Club. Stop by and share your thoughts on the book. Or our snack. Or the wonders of videoconferencing. Whatever.

Booktalking: Mission Accomplished

Thanks to everyone who submitted booktalking suggestions the other day. I only used one recommendation — this time — but that doesn’t mean that the others weren’t valuable. They just didn’t meet one of my four criteria:
  1. I’ve read it.
  2. I liked it.
  3. We have it in the library.
  4. The hook inspires me.
Some of the titles I’ll be looking into for next time, and I do think that there will be a next time after today. Last time I recorded the booktalks, I felt awful about them, but I’m feeling pretty good about today’s taping. It’s still not Me In Person good, but it’s definitely getting better. Here’s my total list so far:
  1. Black Duck, by Janet Taylor Lisle
  2. An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore
  3. Tracking Trash, by Loree Griffin
  4. Yellow Star, by Jennifer Roy
  5. Happy Kid! by Gail Gauthier
  6. The Book of One Hundred Truths, by Julie Shumacher
  7. Into the Wild, by Sarah Beth Durst
  8. Blue Lipstick, by John Grandits
  9. Sarah’s Ground, by Ann Rinaldi
  10. Money Hungry, by Sharon Flake
  11. The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary Pearson
I wouldn’t have been ready to do Jenna Fox if Little Willow hadn’t given me her hook: “Jenna was left comatose after a tragic accident. One year later, she awakens to a life she can’t recall, a body she doesn’t recognize, parents she doesn’t know, and a house she can’t leave.” Total booktalking gold!

I don’t know when these puppies will be posted on YouTube, but I’ll only point you to them if you promise not to judge me for my first attempts. In fact, I’ll put the reminder in rhyme form, in tribute to Poetry Friday, hosted at A Year of Reading:
Dressed in black,
Cut me some slack.
Dressed in blue,
Okay to view.

Sounds Fishy


I’m totally doing this fish pedicure thing. I’m not kidding — I made an appointment for me and my seventh grader next week. It’s rare that you can do something that’s making national news, so when it’s in your backyard you’ve got to open up to the experience. Carp(e) diem!

The Thursday Three XV

Where, oh where has The Thursday Three gone?

Well, at my new library branch, I’m not looking at all the picture books before they hit the shelves, and those first reactions were what formed the meat of my quick Thursday reviews. I suspect that as our library settles a bit — we’ve only been open for a few weeks — the new books will make their way through the children’s department and past my watchful eyes. For now, here are a few books that never got their day in the sun.

Danny’s First SnowDanny’s First Snow, by Leonid Gore
When a rabbit goes out in his first snowfall, he sees friends in the piles of snow all around him. But they turn out to be trees and such buried in the snow. The fuzzy art style makes it appear as if we’re viewing the illustrations through a sleet-encrusted window. Very nice. (Personally, I would have liked more description on the artistic process.) Gentle snowy-time book.

Me and My Dad!Me and My Dad! written by Alison Ritchie, illustrated by Alison Edson
Sweet simple rhymes chronicle the day between a daddy bear and his cub. (“My dad wakes me up every morning, like this — He tickles my nose and gives me a kiss.”) I like that the cub could be a boy or girl, because the text nevers indicates gender. I like the illustrations, lively with bright yellows and greens and blues. The artist makes the brown fur feel golden and so touchable. Lovely book for younger kids.

“I’m Not Scared!”“I’m Not Scared!” by Jonathan Allen
A little owl is out in the night and everyone asks him if he’s scared. Of course, he takes offense — you know, being an owl and all, and nighttime kind of like being his thing. The owl is a cutie, that’s for sure, and it’s a bit of a twist on other bedtime books since the owl gets tucked in at daytime. It doesn’t add much new as a sequel to “I’m Not Cute!” but a nice book to enjoy.

Summer Book Club: Gail Gauthier Interview

Last week the Summer Book Club talked about Happy Kid! This week author Gail Gauthier answers the girls’ questions about the book and writing.



Happy Kid!When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

In fifth grade. I had been attending a one-room school for a few years, meaning we had the same teacher year after year. She definitely wasn’t into creativity, literature, or art. (We traced pictures a lot.) In fifth grade, though, we had a student teacher who had us write a short story. That got me started down the road to becoming a writer.

Which characters, if any, are based on people you know?

I would never, ever, truly base a character on someone I know. It’s too much like using people. The possibility of hurting someone is too great. However, I do pick up little bits and pieces from various people I know or run into — sometimes from people I’ve only seen once or twice. For instance, Jamie and Beth were inspired by a couple of girls I saw at an elementary school where I was volunteering quite some time ago. I exaggerated their behavior in the book. I once knew a high school teacher who was working on his doctorate and sometimes spoke about his graduate work. I used that with the teacher, Ms. Cannon, and, once again, exaggerated the behavior. And, to be perfectly honest, we do have a couple of family members who are quite negative, though I don’t believe anything that happens to Kyle has happened to either of them. (Though the boy next door to us did get sent to the school office for having in his possession a screwdriver that he’d made in tech. ed. class. But that’s as far as it went. And he’s not negative.)

Is there a back story about the magical self-help book? Is it really magic or is it all in Kyle’s head?

A few years before I wrote Happy Kid! a friend gave me a self-help book. I do read self-help books on fitness, creativity, and organization/time management, but this was one of those books that are just supposed to make you a happier person. It really did have only a paragraph or two on each page. When I finally started reading it, every few pages I’d find something that actually made sense to me, something I thought really could make someone’s life better. But, being me, instead of thinking that yes, this book could make me a happier person, I started thinking about how funny it would be if someone tried to follow the suggestions in a self-help book but not only did the suggestions not work, they made everything worse.

My books always go through many drafts, and during the writing of Happy Kid! the magical idea started creeping in. Yes, the self-help book is magic. When a magical element of some sort is added to an otherwise realistic book, the kind of writing you end up with is sometimes called magical realism. So, you see, Happy Kid! isn’t a totally realistic book.

How did you come up with the passages from the self-help book?

While I was thinking about writing this book, I started saving any interesting sounding self-help articles from magazines. The original self-help book my friend gave me was a small paperback, and I cut it up and saved those pages that interested me. So I had a stack of ideas that I thought I could use as a spring board to come up with my own self-help passages that might lead to funny scenes or some action. I can remember coming up with pieces of self-help advice and trying to write the book around them. After I’d written a few drafts, I went back to see if the passages still fit the story. Sometimes I had to move passages to different chapters or I had to create brand new ones because what was happening in the book no longer fit with my original self-help idea for that spot.

Why did you choose to feature taekwondo as helping Kyle?

I am a second dan black belt in taekwondo, and I’ve now been training for six years. When I was first working on the book, I just wanted Kyle and his friends involved with a sport so I could get them out of the school. I thought keeping everyone in the school most of the time would get dull. I wasn’t planning on the sport helping him. I ran into a problem because I don’t know much about traditional sports. I definitely know very little about team sports. So that’s why taekwondo came in. I had only been training for a couple of years then, but I certainly knew what a taekwondo class was like. I badgered the young man who teaches my morning class with questions, as well as the man who runs my school.

Taekwondo ends up helping Kyle because I was worried that the taekwondo scenes didn’t seem connected to the rest of the book. I was afraid the taekwondo material seemed like another whole story. Everything needs to be connected in a book. So I went back and added a thread about Kyle having trouble controlling himself emotionally. His lack of control feeds his negativity and his obsession with Chelsea. Therefore, the control he has to learn in taekwondo has an impact on the rest of his life, and the taekwondo storyline and the school storyline became woven together.



Thanks to Gail Gauthier for fitting in our questions before heading out on vacation. (Have a great time!) Next Wednesday the Summer Book Club will discuss The Dark Hills Divide, by Patrick Carman. Snack options are still open, but I’m not sure that I can top this.

Left. Right. No! Left!

Hah! I knew it wasn’t just me. Apparently I’m in the fifteen percent of the population that has trouble telling my left from my right. The Washington Post says so. Oh, I feel vindicated and so much less alone.

Maybe now when asked a directional question, I won’t worry about that downward glance I give to my hands to see which one forms an “L” with the thumb. The beginning of Pledge of Allegiance won’t send an anxious charge through my body as I worry which hand to place on my heart. I won’t need to tell people that I must have missed Left-Right Day in kindergarten. Because now I know that I have company, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Today Now

Just a little something for your amusement.

Okay, my amusement.

Booktalking Request

About a month ago I recorded some booktalks for My Fair County. And they sucked.

I think I’m pretty good at this booktalking thing, but when it hit me that I couldn’t walk around and talk to an audience, I realized I was totally screwed. But the show must go on, so they say. I did my best, even after a terrible thunderstorm delayed the taping and made me worry about my kids getting home from school and then lighting had to be adjusted and I wasn’t holding the books up the right way and I didn’t have notes because I never have notes and I was talking so slowly — it was an awful experience. My guess, from the parts that I saw, is that the booktalks aren’t humiliating per se, but they look like something any boring librarian would do. And. I’m. Not. Boring. Goofy, chaotic, untidy, moody, even shrill at times, but not boring.

So next week I’ve got another go at it and I’m asking for your suggestions. I don’t need just titles. I need a one- or two-sentence hook, because a lot of my best hooks require an audience. For instance, I toss a penny, dime, and nickel into the room to introduce Money Hungry. I let someone explain the exceedingly gross way a mummy is prepared before introducing Mummies: the Newest, Coolest, and Creepiest from Around the World. I live off the gasp that goes through the seventh graders when I introduce Uglies by saying, “Everyone under the age of 16 is ugly,” and then pause before mentioning it as the premise of the book. (Okay, that one might work on camera.)

What I need are middle-grade or young adult books — newish, but not more recent than early spring 2008. I’ll need to have read it, of course, and have liked it. It needs to be pretty clean — no Nick & Norah. You suggest a good hook to get the talk going, and I’ll fill in the rest. It can be your own book, a friend’s book, or simply a favorite book. The reward? You may see it on YouTube. And hopefully it won’t suck.

Summer Book Club: Happy Kid!

It was another great Summer Book Club session, complete with unhappy-face sugar cookies in honor of the cover of the book Happy Kid! by Gail Gauthier. Just like Shug, the book drew mixed reviews as some of the girls admitted that they weren’t thrilled with the realistic fiction genre. But even so, they all had interesting things to say about our second title of the season.

One girl liked how Kyle was so unsure of himself, but grew more confident during the course of the book. They all liked the book-within-a-book concept, and how that internal book was driving the story forward. We thought it was interesting that the powers of the self-help book weren’t explained — it didn’t come through a magic portal or arrive sprinkled with fairy dust — it was an ordinary thing that happened to be extraordinary. One of the girls who didn’t like the book thought that there were too many extra details and conversations that dragged the story down. Another girl liked the characters and the humor, but was annoyed by Kyle’s obsession with Chelsea and couldn’t get past it.

I asked the girls what they thought of the use of humor in the book. The girls didn’t find the humor in the forefront for them as much as it was for me. As I reminded them of certain excerpts or parts, they thought they were funny, but before I mentioned those selections they weren’t thinking of it as a funny book. That surprised me because I see it as a very amusing book, though in a subtle way.

We all thought that the use of a book-within-a-book was a creative idea. I asked if they thought that the author was poking fun at self-help books or not. The consensus was not really. We had a good discussion then about the various “excerpts” from the self-help book and how useful they were both in moving the story forward and in teaching lessons to readers at the same time. One girl mentioned how after the “Say Hello” excerpt, the selections read “less dorky” and that they added to the suspense of the book. She went on to mention how in the beginning, the “magical” book seems to give Kyle a push by making him follow the instructions, but later Kyle is actually seeking out the guidance of the book and taking active control.

I asked why the author used taekwondo in the book, and they mentioned another current book that uses the martial arts — Generation Dead. (Haven’t read it, so I can’t comment here.) Some girls talked about taekwondo being a great outlet for Kyle in releasing tension and focusing energy elsewhere. The idea of turning your energy on something outside yourself took us to one of the excerpts of the self-help book, “Get Over Yourself,” and how that related to our own lives.

Overall, it was a great discussion. Some of the girls decided that after talking about the book, they actually liked it better. For everyone, it provided a great entrance to discussion about thinking positively and taking action. They had some good questions for the author, and I’ll post that interview next week. Probably next week.

I had originally intended to select only realistic fiction for the summer book club, in the interest of talking about issues of transitioning to middle school. But there are some girls who are not crazy about the genre, so we’re taking a break into fantasy for the next book. We’ll be reading The Dark Hills Divide, by Patrick Carman, for our July 30th meeting. Any idea for a related snack?

Summer Book Club: Jenny Han Interview

Two weeks ago, my seventh grade Girl Scout troop talked about Shug. The girls came up with interview questions for the author, Jenny Han, which I am pleased to share with you today.



Did you write the book based on your twelve-year-old self?

No, I didn’t. There were certainly some emotional themes that played out in my own twelve-year old life, but for the most part, it was complete fiction.

Did you write the book to “help” preteen girls going into Junior High?

I wrote Shug with the hopes of telling a good story from one girl’s point of view — a glimpse into this girl’s life, a snapshot of this little moment of growing up. I definitely hoped that girls would connect with it. That is the icing on the cake!

What do think is the worst problem facing middle-school girls today?

I think the worst problem is believing all the bad stuff people tell you about yourself and not enough of the good stuff.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

I have always loved writing, always considered myself a writer, but I didn’t think about doing it as a profession until after college. At the time, being a writer as a career sounded about as likely as me being J.T.’s backup dancer. (That’s Justin Timberlake for those not in the know!) But it’s funny — I was at home in Virginia last week, visiting my family, and I found an old yearbook of mine. My fourth grade teacher wrote, “I expect to see your name on a book one day. Keep writing.” Life is funny! You never know where you’ll end up. I was lucky enough to end up here.

How did you decide on the names that you used, and what is the pronunciation of “Mairi”?

I spend a lot of time picking out my characters’ names. It is an obsession that harkens back to a time where I agonized over what I would name my first-born daughter. For Shug, the name Annemarie came easily enough. I had some trouble with Jack’s character — originally, his name was Ray Tweedy. As I continued to write the story and he took on a bigger role, I realized it was a terrible name for him and just didn’t sound like a boy you’d ever want to kiss. Jack (also the name of my dog) sounds like an annoying, rascally boy — but also potentially cute. As for Mairi, it is pronounced plain old Mary, but I imagined her mother wanting to give her some unique sparkly kind of spelling.

Where did you get the idea for the small Southern town?

The setting for Shug just was what it was — it was the way I saw it from the very beginning. Those are the easiest kinds of decisions, the ones that come to you naturally, organically.

Do the characters in the book remind you of people in your real life?

My best friend Aram swears that Elaine is based on her, mostly because she moved to our town in middle school as well, and also because Elaine is “cool.” The truth is, everybody in this book is fictional, but there are certainly little traits here and there that I borrowed from people I know. Celia, for instance — I had an older cousin who I saw very much the way Shug sees Celia. There is a certain kind of glamour in older-sister types.



Much thanks to Jenny Han for answering our questions. I’ll be sharing the interview with the troop this afternoon when we meet to discuss Happy Kid! by Gail Gauthier. Join me for the online discussion tomorrow.

Poetry Friday: Yes We Can

Let’s have a Barack’n day, shall we?

First, a photo I found on Flickr that shows me and the girls at the Obama speech. Follow the long blue light down and you’ll see my fourth grader directly underneath. My seventh grader is to one side with a blue hat, and I’m on the other side. You can click on the picture for a closer look at where we’re sitting, and go here for the original and more pictures. I guess I didn’t need my camera after all.

In honor of my recent Obama encounter, I wanted to show a Wordle I made of his famous speech. But I couldn’t find my original attempt, so I did it again, and it turned out better than the first one. Here is my “Yes We Can” Wordle:
In addition, I pulled together some of the text of the New Hampshire speech. I cut some parts to give it more of a poetic feel, but truly this speech is pure poetry to me. And as he mentioned in yesterday’s talk, he wrote it himself. I had planned to put this up for Independence Day, but as it turns out today is perfect for it, too.
We know the battle ahead will be long,
but always remember
that no matter what obstacles stand in our way,
nothing can withstand the power
of millions of voices calling for change...

We’ve been warned against
offering the people of this nation false hope.
But in the unlikely story that is America,
there has never been anything false
about hope.

For when we have faced down impossible odds;
when we’ve been told that we’re not ready,
or that we shouldn’t try,
or that we can’t,
generations of Americans have responded
with a simple creed
that sums up the spirit of a people.
Yes we can.

It was a creed written into the founding documents
that declared the destiny of a nation.
Yes we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists
as they blazed a trail toward freedom
through the darkest of nights.
Yes we can.

It was sung by immigrants
as they struck out from distant shores
and pioneers who pushed westward
against an unforgiving wilderness.
Yes we can.

It was the call of workers who organized;
women who reached for the ballot;
a President who chose the moon as our new frontier;
and a King who took us to the mountaintop
and pointed the way to the Promised Land.

Yes we can to justice and equality.
Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.
Yes we can heal this nation.
Yes we can repair this world.
Yes we can....

And so we will remember
that there is something happening in America;
that we are not as divided as our politics suggests;
that we are one people;
we are one nation;
and together, we will begin the next great chapter
in America’s story with three words
that will ring from coast to coast;
from sea to shining sea —
Yes. We. Can.
The amazing music video interpretation is here, and Poetry Friday is hosted by Under the Covers.

Obama on Reading Harry Potter

Barack ObamaI just got back from an Obama event. What a rush. It was a town meeting held here in Northern Virginia, and I brought my two daughters. Unfortunately, I did not bring my camera, to my now crushing disappointment. I left it home because it doesn’t take decent pictures when you are far away from the subject. However, when you are so close to the subject that you could toss a Nerf ball to him... well then the camera would have been handy.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

Oh, and did I mention that my cell phone wasn’t charged because it hasn’t been working, so I didn’t charge it? Of course, it would have done fine taking pictures of someone famous and perhaps presidential three feet away from me. You know, if the battery hadn’t died.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

But let’s focus on the positive. We did get there early and did get nice seats behind and to the right of Obama. We saw him in profile most of the time, but because it was town-hall style he did face us sometimes. The speech was interesting — not soaring rhetoric, but more down-to-earth policy. He did have some nice elements of humor in both his scripted remarks and his responses to questions.

There was one question in particular of interest to us book lovers, and that came from a woman who asked what Obama would say to young writers. He was surprised by the question, which he admitted was one he hadn’t heard before, but didn’t hesitate to answer. He referenced his two books, and specifically mentioned how he wrote them himself, along with many of his speeches. With a light inflection, he said, “In terms of getting a job, knowing how to write is a good thing.” He talked about how he kept a journal, and how it was important for teaching him not only how to write, but also how to think. But my favorite part was when he said, “Over the course of four years I made time to read all of the Harry Potter books out loud to my daughters. If I can do that and run for president, then you can find time to read to your kids. That’s some of the most special time you have with your children.”

If the entire remarks come online later, I’ll copy that whole section rather than relying on my scribbled notes on a volunteer application form. (I did find this video about him reading the Rowling books.) But I was too excited about a potential president that really cares about reading and writing to wait. Also exciting personally — the yin to the yang of leaving the camera home — Obama walked right by us, and my younger daughter got to shake his hand! Shake. His. Hand. My older daughter debated waving the copy of Harry Potter that she had brought along to read during the wait, but since it was book five, we decided that its extraordinary size might cause it to be seen as a weapon by the Secret Service agents if she wielded it over her head.

Clementine’s Letter

Clementine’s LetterNot that I didn’t expect it, but Clementine’s Letter, by Sara Pennypacker, is another home run in the series. This time Clementine is faced with losing her teacher to a program outside the school. Sure, the class will get another teacher, but it won’t be the same for Clementine. She and Mr. D’Matz are “in sink.” She mopes and complains, and then writes a recommendation letter that... well, doesn’t recommend. And all this while investigating new vegetable names for her brother, hosting an unauthorized yard sale, writing a book with her father, and buying her mother the best present ever. Clementine is back in force, trying to do good, but often not with the effects she hopes for.

Clementine books make me want to quote, because how better to sell these books?
Whenever my teacher needs someone to run an errand to the principal’s office, he sends me. This is because I am so responsible. Okay, fine, it’s also because I get sent so often I could find my way with my eyes closed.

Which I tried once. You’d be amazed at how many bruises you can get from just one water fountain.
I gave the first Clementine to my daughter’s third-grade teacher as an end-of-the-year gift. And last year I gave it to my daughter’s second-grade teacher. In fact, the book may go to every teacher that survives enjoys my Clementine-like kid. (I just now learned strikeout text. Oh, no stopping me now...)

BACA vs. WAPB

Hey, I warned you that my blog could suddenly go dark if the beach beckoned — oh, and it beckon it did. I’m not a big fan of traveling on holiday weekends, but it was the only totally clear time we had to get to Virginia Beach and see my niece. For the first time in years I went to the fireworks show at the oceanfront. It was amazing. I highly recommend seeing fireworks shot over the ocean. It is to die for. (Those were my hoity-toity italics.)

I can’t imagine why, but the spaces closest to the sea weren’t crowded, and we had a completely unobstructed view of the fireworks reflected in the ocean as the waves lapped up ten feet away. Well, unobstructed except for the one random drunk guy who staggered down into the water, stared at the show for three minutes, and then wandered off into the night. Otherwise it was sensory perfection adding fireworks to the cool ocean breeze and the smell and sound of the sea. The taste of pink lemonade did all right, but next time I’m bringing Kit-Kats.

Weird-Ass Picture Book AwardToday I’m back, but due at work in an hour. Nothing like cutting it close. I’ve checked my email, checked eBay (“Prada handbags” is my new favorite search — curse you, Sex and the City movie), and checked my stats — and hold on! I’ve wondered before what might get picked up first by folks outside the kidlitosphere — Bloggers Against Celebrity Authors (BACA) or the Weird-Ass Picture Book Awards (WAPB). Apparently, the winner is... the Weird-Ass Picture Book Awards, which were picked up by Metafilter. How about that? I’m touched — and honored.

I only have some concern that readers there may not have surmised that my awards can be a compliment — and I would comment as such, but new membership costs five dollars. I don’t know. Give my five dollars to make sure my awards are well understood more than halfway through the day of the posting or donate to Obama’s campaign by the end of July, and possibly win tickets to the see Barack accept the party nomination? Decisions, decisions.

Ah, who am I kidding? We all know I’m going to spend the five bucks on two chalupas and a Diet Pepsi at Taco Bell.

Summer Book Club: Shug

ShugOur first Girl Scout summer book club meeting was a big success. Half of my troop came, all armed with questions and opinions. In tribute to the book cover, we ate strawberry fruit bars (I couldn’t find packs of cherry popsicles) on the shaded back porch. Some of the girls loved the book, some... not so much. But the differences in their impressions of Shug made the discussion much more interesting, and led to a basic realization about book clubs that I hadn’t deeply considered: Not everyone will like the book.

The girls who loved it found it easy to relate to the main character and found the book very realistic. They liked seeing a girl in situations that they could understand, and perhaps even learn a little bit from her actions. They enjoyed the sweetness of the story.

One of the girls who didn’t care for the book thought that Shug’s feeling of love for Mark was too sudden and too deep. She thought the idea of love at twelve was silly, so she couldn’t buy into the main plot. (I disagree, having heard some sixth graders talk about their crushes.) Another girl didn’t like the very emotional tone of the book, finding Shug too insecure and “whiny.” She thought it was all a cliché — which led to my first discussion question: If a cliché becomes a cliché because it is based in realistic situations, how can you say whether a book is realistic or clichéd?

In this vein, we talked about ways that the book could have been more standard teen chick-lit. The girl could win the boy. The best friends could break up forever. The mom and dad could realize the error of their ways and change for the better. In Shug, the relationships don’t always go the way you’d expect, and the endings aren’t so black-and-white.

The problem a few of the girls had with the book was not being able to relate to a scene where the queen bee girl brings out beer at a slumber party. They couldn’t believe that could happen to them in the next few months. I have to admit, we have a very nice elementary school with very nice people, so I could see how that scene felt a million miles away from where they are right now. Even so, it gave us a chance to talk about peer pressure and what they would do in that situation.

We discussed at some length Shug’s friendships and how they related to their own experiences. A couple of girls were on Sherilyn’s side, and thought that Shug was too hard on her for not backing her up at the slumber party or at lunch. Others talked about how hard it is to “outgrow” a friend without being mean. No one thought that mean Mairi was worth sucking up to for any reason.

The girls all brought good questions for Jenny Han. I’ll put that author interview up next Wednesday, keeping that day of the week for Summer Book Club business. After our book discussion, we moved into some other choices for the rest of the summer. They were all excited to recommend their favorites, and I’m going to consider the selections. There were so many suggestions that we may continue the book club through the school year, though not meeting as frequently.

Overall, we had an awesome time. There were certainly a lot more questions I might have posed — we barely touched on Shug’s family — but it was a great start. Most interesting for me was finding out that the realistic flavor of the book that I find so appealing was actually a turn-off to some of the girls. I loved the book because it took me back to that transition so clearly and represented that age so accurately. But these particular girls felt like they’re already living this life of friends and crushes and popularity — why would they want to read about it? I had never thought of it that way, which I suppose is why we have these book clubs in the first place.

July 16th book selection: Happy Kid! by Gail Gauthier