105 Ways to Give a Book

Poetry Friday: Jottings of New York

I don’t always remember to participate in Poetry Friday, but with a topic like New York City it seemed that I couldn’t go wrong in finding a poem. That view wasn’t quite accurate, as many a verse that describes the Big Apple does so with disdain. This selection does end on a down note, but I loved the extolling of the city and the old references. As I look at my budget for the two weeks, the five cents’ fare is a particularly dreamy notion.

Jottings of New York: A Descriptive Poem

Oh mighty City of New York! you are wonderful to behold,
Your buildings are magnificent, the truth be it told,
They were the only thing that seemed to arrest my eye,
Because many of them are thirteen storeys high.

And as for Central Park, it is lovely to be seen,
Especially in the summer season when its shrubberies and trees are green;
And the Burns’ statue is there to be seen,
Surrounded by trees, on the beautiful sward so green;
Also Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott,
Which by Englishmen and Scotchmen will ne’er be forgot.

There the people on the Sabbath-day in thousands resort,
All loud, in conversation and searching for sport,
Some of them viewing the menagerie of wild beasts there,
And also beautiful black swans, I do declare.

And there’s beautiful boats to be seen there,
And the joyous shouts of the children do rend the air,
While the boats sail along with them o’er Lohengrin Lake,
And the fare is five cents for children and adults ten is all they take.

And there’s also summer-house shades and merry-go-rounds,
And with the merry laughter of the children the Park resounds
During the livelong Sabbath day,
Enjoying the merry-go-round play.

Then there’s the elevated railroads, about five storeys high,
Which the inhabitants can see and hear night and day passing by,
Oh! such a mass of people daily do throng,
No less than five hundred thousand daily pass along,
And all along the City you can get for five cents,
And, believe me, among the passengers there are few discontent.

Read the rest of the poem by Knight of the White Elephant of Burmah William McGonagall at Poetry Foundation. Poetry Friday is hosted today at The Opposite of Indifference. Pictures are from vintage postcards available at Timefreeze.

Thursday Three: Travel

It would surprise no one to learn that I approach travel with reading up on the area. I’m addicted to travel guides — both the regular and the “with kids” variety. But I also like to involve my kids in the reading too, as I find it adds to the anticipation of the trip and can make it an educational experience. For those of you who remember the dry nonfiction books of our youth, know that it’s a whole new era in informational text, with many of them sporting amazing artwork or photography and a fresh approach to writing. So here are some ideas if you are headed to...

1. The Beach
Over in the OceanAlmost too easy, as the picture book section of your library will have tons of books about the beach and the ocean. Some will have some educational elements blended in, like Over in the Ocean. Check out the nonfiction section for books that talk more about what can be found on the shore — giving you a little scavenger hunt. There are tons of great books about life under the sea, including titles about specific iconic animals like dolphins (try Face to Face with Dolphins). Though I’d steer away from shark books, unless you want to spend your entire vacation explaining again and again how sharks are truly unlikely to swim in ankle-deep water.

2. The Mountains
Fun with NatureOr maybe the woods, or wherever you might go to encounter Nature in all its glory. If you’re camping, bring along books for identifying trees, rocks, or wildlife tracks. You can also identify the many things that making camping exciting with S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet. If you prefer your outdoors in smaller doses and will not be tenting it, make the hikes or even walks more interesting with Fun with Nature, by Mel Boring, which provides a guide to lots of different bugs, reptiles, animals, and trees.

3. The City
123 NYC: A Counting Book of New York CityMany big cities will have at least one book about them, but they aren’t always the most engaging of titles. Some are certainly better than others, and I’d give the prize to New York City for having the best and most books that will enhance your trip. ABC NYC: A Book About Seeing New York City and 123 NYC: A Counting Book of New York City, by Joanne Dugan, pair photographs of letters/numbers in their city environment with pictures of urban representations of those letters/numbers. For city kids, it makes more sense to see H for “hot dog” instead of “horse,” and for visitors, it provides a checklist of things to notice about life in the city. Another great and more detailed book is New York, New York! The Big Apple from A to Z, which focuses on the attractions of NYC with added facts and point of interest. It’s like a kids’ version of those travel guides I love so much.

(This post was previously published at PBS Booklights.)

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.

New York Bound

I am freaking out. I’ve known for six months that we’d be going to New York City for two weeks, but it didn’t seem real. I’ve arranged housing, with grateful thanks given to a kind friend and a bicoastal cousin. I’ve met program deadlines and booked theater tickets.

But with the ending of the school year, taking care of the ailing cat, hosting my niece for a week, and having my dad for a short visit, I haven’t had time to really think about the trip. Which I’m doing now. And freaking out.

It’s for business and pleasure, but the business end has nothing to do with me or my husband, who won’t join us until later. The trip is undertaken for the benefit of my twelve-year-old daughter, who was invited to return to the competitive theater program Broadway Artists Alliance. For two weeks she will work on voice, acting, and dance with an audition/performance for agents and casting directors at the end of each week. She will put in long days, with endurance sort of part of the training. After all, kids who can’t hack this kind of intensity aren’t ready for Broadway.

My job is to get her to and from the program, go over her audition pieces with notes from her coaches, and most importantly, to be a calming, gentle refuge at the end of each day. Sounds simple enough, but the anxiety of a new, stressful place in the city heat can tax the most patient of people — of which I am not. But I will do my best.

In any case, I just don’t feel like I’ve thought about this trip enough. Other than our theater tickets, I’ve made no plans for me and my older daughter during the days. I don’t know if/when I will be switching apartments, which will affect other aspects of the trip. I’m worried about the new pieces that tween is learning and also if I remember the right keys to get into the apartment. I’d like to see some New York friends, but in the era of Facebook friends, I honestly don’t know who’d like to see me. So I’m putting it out there that I’m free business hours all day with the most charming TeenReader — who could also use a friend or an agent.

I’m not sure what I will be doing on the blog, though I’m accepting guest bloggers. Again, if you’re interested get in touch. I’m finding it hard to write anything of bookish value. In fact, I’m finding it hard to even read anything. The best literary thing I’ve done is start watching all of the Harry Potter movies over again with the family in preparation for our viewing of the final movie on Sunday. The next day I’ll go to New York with my girls, three suitcases, and perhaps a bottle of Jack. Wish us luck.

SBBT Interview: Matthew Cody and Aaron Starmer

This interview started more than a month ago in a bar in New York City. I was attending the Kid Lit Drink Night after Book Expo America when I ran into someone I actually knew: Eric Wight of the Frankie Pickle books. He introduced me to his fellow author buddies; I did not recognize the names, but the books I knew. Aaron Starmer’s Dweeb is on my actual home bookshelves. PowerlessWhen Matthew Cody told me his book was Powerless, I proved the importance of a good book cover by affirming that it was indeed the book with the blue cover and the superhero flying down. From there we starting talking about Book Expo America itself, where I had found the book promotion on the floor focused strongly on dark and dystopian titles, making it difficult to even locate lighter middle-grade books. I’d say that this is the grain of truth in that Wall Street Journal article BUT this was a week before it hit the Internet, so we get full credit for our subsequent discussion.

In talking about this trend with these two middle-grade authors, I came to find out that both of them had new titles that fit the current tone. From there we had a fascinating conversation, one that I simply had to replicate as best possible for the Summer Blog Blast Tour. Readers here will miss a bit more of the line-by-line conversation of our barroom discussion, but will also be fortunate not to be be shouting said conversation over a throbbing bass line.

Both of you moved to darker novels in middle-grade from your debuts. How did that transition happen for you?

MC: This may sound odd, but when I was looking at doing a follow-up to Powerless, I went darker because I had a desire to do something actually more traditional. I say that may sound odd because when most people think of middle grade — or children’s novels as they were once called — they don’t think about them as dark, but the long history of children’s literature is filled with some very dark stuff, indeed. The unsanitized Grimm’s fairy tales, Alice in Wonderland. These stories are downright creepy in places.

The Only OnesAS: When I was writing The Only Ones, I just had an urge to create something slightly more mature. I wanted to take innocent characters and drop a monumental problem in their laps. The apocalypse! The stewardship of the earth! Because when I was twelve or thirteen, just inching past my innocent but curious phase, every problem was the apocalypse to me. I was thinking about mortality for the first time, and it was terrifying and I felt that my life could be derailed at any moment. It was tragic stories that helped me deal with those feelings. The Pigman. A Separate Peace. Where the Red Fern Grows. They weren’t blood and guts tales, but they were shocking and sad and they had a cathartic effect. My logic wasn’t perfect, but it went like this: If the terrible things happened in the books, then they might not happen in life. And if they did, I might be a little more prepared for them.

Where do you think the line is or should be from middle-grade to Young Adult?

AS: I’m a little confused about that line myself. When DWEEB came out, I’d tell non-publishing people it was “middle-grade“ and I’d get blank stares. Ages nine to twelve seemed a bit arbitrary, so I’d say, “It’s for people who’ve never kissed someone, but might want to kiss someone someday.” I guess that can cover a wide age range, but I kind of like it as a definition. Innocent but curious. Not quite ready. Whatever the age.

MC: I think the major publishing difference between darker middle grade and darker YA has to do with what kind of “dark” you put in your book. I did not shy away from some really scary things in The Dead Gentleman, but it’s the kind of fantastical fright that is meant to entertain. Kids want to be scared and if you tone it down they feel the patronizing adult coming at them a mile away. If it’s scary, it should be scary.

Building on that, where do the darker ideas belong in middle-grade versus Young Adult?

MC: As best as I can understand it, the current debate in YA (is it really even a debate?) has to do with real-world subject matter, depictions of some very heavy stuff, having to do with some very heavy stuff that real-life teens are going through. As a middle-grade writer, I’m not setting out to address those same issues, at least not as directly. I do think middle-grade works well in dealing with important themes, though. For example, victimization is a strong theme in my work, but it’s explored in superhero and ghost stories. I’m not disguising it, but I find it easier to “talk” to my audience that way. But in the end, truth is truth.

AS: In The Only Ones there’s no swearing, only a couple of PG-rated kisses. In that way, it’s very middle-grade. Yet there’s violence too. And I was concerned about how to portray that. I didn’t want it to be graphic or sensational. I wanted it to arise from natural emotions, but be surprising. I wanted it to have consequences. Violence always does. It’s probably too much for most eight- or nine-year-olds, but I don’t think they’ll be interested in the book enough to get that far. I do hope it will connect with kids straddling that blurry and confusing line in adolescence. And I’m confident that most teenagers and adults won’t care about the lack of sex and drugs and four-letter words and just find an engaging tale. People can talk all day about what audiences “want” and “need.” To me, the answer is good storytelling, plain and simple.

I love how you both came to the same point there. How did you two meet?

DweebAS: Matt contacted me when our debut novels came out and we met for coffee to see if we could think up some genius marketing schemes that would benefit both books. We were new to the kidlit world and were just trying to get our bearings (I still am!). Life and other projects got in the way and we never took it much further than that. But we kept in touch a bit via Facebook and Twitter and we ran into each other at BEA (where we met you!) and saw that our new books had similar themes and would probably once again make a good pair.

MC: Like Aaron said, our first books came out around the same time. We were both included in a nice promotion Random House put together for debut authors, and since we are both New York-based, I thought we should put our heads together and devise a plan to dominate the publishing world (domination pending).

Who inspires you, personally or professionally?

AS: Pretty much anyone who’s stupid enough not to give up. Don’t get me wrong, anyone who loves writing and gets paid to do it is blessed and shouldn’t put up a big stink about how oh so tough it is to be an artiste, but the publishing process is full of so many rejections and knockdowns that it’s easy to say, “Screw this, I’m just going to work at a cupcake shop.” About ten years ago, I was reading a lot of Paul Auster and he talks about that stuff in his book The Art of Hunger. Books like that can be a little too self-aggrandizing, but if writers like Auster had quit early, they wouldn’t have inspired me and maybe I would have quit too, and ended up working at a cupcake shop and... well, then maybe I’d have a show on Bravo, so it wouldn’t be that bad.

MC: I wear my influences on my sleeve. Powerless was an homage not just to superheroes but to the dynamic storytelling styles of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The Dead Gentleman takes its cue from adventure/science fiction of the 1800s. Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World stuff. There’s even some weird pulp in there in vein of Clarke Ashton Smith. I love stories with big ideas, that really put my imagination to work. Although I have wider reading tastes as an adult, when I was younger I devoured science fiction and fantasy in all its forms — prose, comics, movies. So when I’m writing for younger readers I guess that’s what strikes my fancy. I’m writing for the twelve-year-old me. (You’re welcome, twelve-year-old me!)

For your upcoming titles, why did you want to write this book?

The Dead GentlemanMC: It came out of my love of a certain kind of fiction (see above) but it also came from a childhood fear of mine — the closet door. My older brothers used to tease me about this, but I was convinced that my bedroom closet hid all sorts of monsters and baddies. (It didn’t help that my closet also led to the attic. Double-threat, there!) After finishing Powerless, I was looking around for my next project and talking with my editor about several possible things I wanted to work on — a historical fiction, a steampunk adventure — but none of them really grabbed me (or my editor!). But then I got to thinking about that closet door again, the closed closet door at night, and how universal that image was and I knew I needed to do something with it. In the end that idea kind of pollinated the steampunk book I was toying around with and The Dead Gentleman was born. 

AS: I was in Maine a couple of years ago and I was looking at a painting of this kid who was sort of like a modern-day wild child who lived on an island. And I instantly had this idea about a thirteen-year-old kid who lives in seclusion on an island and he decides to go explore the world, only to find out that the world isn’t there. Everyone is gone. Of course there had to be a few other characters, so I cooked up a village of oddball kids, like “The Little Rascals” as imagined by David Lynch. The world is one big playground for these kids. I had tons of Swiss Family Robinson-style fantasies when I was young and I guess The Only Ones was my way to indulge those fantasies.

What’s next for you?

MC: I’m finishing up a sequel to Powerless now, which will be out in late 2012. And then I’ll be working on another book for Knopf. In the meantime, I’ve been doing some writing for Marvel and DC comics, which has really been a blast. (You’re welcome again, twelve-year-old me.)

AS: Not anything on the publishing schedule at the moment, but at the end of The Only Ones, a new world is introduced. So I’m writing some stories set in that world and they may end up being a sequel/spin-off. I also have a few adventure stories mapped out that I have to find time for, including a whitewater rafting thriller called “Lava Falls” and a modern Western with kids on BMX bikes called “Kickstand Donkeys.”

Of course, the other thing next for these fantastic authors is a lot of publicity kind of stuff come the fall, when their new books are released — The Only Ones in September and The Dead Gentleman in November. Don’t miss them! You can learn more about Matthew Cody and Aaron Starmer at their websites, or by getting to the right Kid Lit Drink Night and sharing a drink with them — which I highly recommend. Thanks, guys!

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.

Summer Blog Blast Tour: Out of Context

When the organizer and inventor of Summer Blog Blast Tour, Colleen Mondor, links to the daily schedule, she includes a quote from each interview. It’s a brilliant way to get someone invested in reading more. Being less brilliant and rather self-involved today, I’ll modify her concept by presenting a quote about the author that is completely out of context. I also reserve the right to mash phrases together just for fun. So here is today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour:

Community Connections

Community is the word of week. Certainly, it’s a concept that’s always there, but the talk around Google+ put it right out front. Who’s in your circle? And which circle? And why? Questions that can make a person think. That’s probably a good thing.

It’s also the week of the Summer Blog Blast Tour, where bloggers interview an array of authors and illustrators just because we can. I’ve missed the first two days with travel back home and recovering from said travel, but I can share the schedule for today:
Over the week you’ll find the updated links, full schedule, and teaser quotes at Chasing Ray. I’ll be jumping in on Friday with my interview with middle-grade authors Matthew Cody and Aaron Starmer, so come on back now, y’hear?

In my day of Getting Things Done Again, I signed up for the fifth annual KidLitCon in Seattle. There was never a question of going, just of making the tiny effort to fill out the form. For folks who need a little incentive, let me point out the keynote speaker, Scott Westerfeld. Like, wow!

KidLitCon Seattle brings me back to the word of the week. Community. Because that’s what this conference is all about. I’ve been to all of four of them, hosted one in DC, and can testify that it is such an amazing experience to connect in person with your online community. The sessions inspire your blogging, but the connections infuse your spirit. I wouldn’t miss either, and neither should you.

Register for KidLitCon now and look forward to this feeling expressed in the perfect words of Amy Ludwig VanDerwater: “Ah… there was a whole VELVETEEN RABBIT feel to the whole kidlitcon day. Everyone is real at last!”

Thursday Three: Classic Read-Alouds

The lazy days of summer are a perfect time to bring out some classic chapter books for reading time. These are a few that practically beg to be read aloud, particularly because the reading level is high for the intended audience.

Winnie-the-Pooh
by A. A. Milne

Winnie-the-PoohI still hold onto a memory from fifth grade where a teacher saw me reading House at Pooh Corner and complimented me on choosing such a challenging book. These days we think of Winnie-the-Pooh as a preschooler thing, an idea pushed forward by the whole Disneyfication of the characters. It’s a crying shame. The watered-down versions of the classic books ruin our appetites for the real thing. Fight back by reading aloud the true version with its melodious language, gentle illustrations, and sophisticated story-telling.

Jenny and the Cat Club
by Ester Averill

Jenny and the Cat ClubWhen New York Review Children’s Collection republished this book among other classics, I felt like I had found an old friend. I can’t say that I had been searching dusty old bookshops for a copy. To be honest, I had forgotten all about this book until I saw the cover. And there was Jenny, the shy black cat with the red scarf. Oh, how I had missed her! The story follows a shy little cat who wants to be part of the Cat Club and finds friends, adventure, and courage in their world. This book and the other Jenny books are perfect read-alouds for the younger set because the language and plot are simply — yet wonderfully — done.

Paddington Treasury
by Michael Bond

Paddington TreasuryPaddington Bear has also received the Winnie-the-Pooh treatment in recent years (what is it about bears?) with a ton of simplified boardbooks and adaptations. Again, you need to go back to the original to capture the heart of these stories of a bear found at a train station who goes on to make every day into exciting adventures as he bumbles along. The tales are wonderful for elementary school children, but the old-fashioned language and references can make reading the books a struggle. As a read-aloud, however, it’s magical.

(This post was previously published at PBS Booklights.)

Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.

Poetry Friday: Heart of a Cat

I’m generally no poet, but I wanted to try to capture some of the feeling of my beloved cat Chloe, who passed over to the Great Kitty Beyond on Wednesday. The family is very sad to see her go, but relieved to put an end to a long decline into suffering. In a way, she was my kitty more than the others — as cats do choose Their Person. It’s hard without her, but I know that she had a wonderful, happy life with us, as we did with her. So to Chloe:
Heart of a Cat

That day your heart beat so fast.
Pressed against me, a tiny kitten
Squirming against restraint
Yet grateful for the warmth.
Lost, hidden in the darkness,
Emerging to the call of stranger.
As if you knew us even then.

For years you graced us with
A gentle nature, a sweet spirit.
So loving that you would purr
at just the caress of your name.
Opening your heart to a little sister,
who repaid the honor with licks
and cuddles, fur blended together
Eyes in blissful crescent kitty slits.

Sweet, polite even in decline,
Asking for food with the quietest meow
Hovering at the edges of illness
As we went on with chaotic lives.
Only as it was quiet again
Did you fade, stumble.
Even with help, leaving us gently.
Ignoring our tears with love
As your heartbeat slowed to a stop.

My only regret the elusive nature
of memory that can’t capture
the feel of your fur under my hands,
or the vibration in your purr.
But nothing of the sense of you
will be lost to us here,
As your loviness and happiness
Live on in our hearts, forever.


Poetry Friday is hosted at A Wrung Sponge. (Which incidentally, is how I feel.)