Cybils Call for Judges

August 22, 2016 @ 6:03 pm | Filed under: Books, Cybils

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I’ve been involved with the Cybils (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards) on and off for the past eleven years, serving multiple stints as a first-round panelist in Young Adult Fiction, Picture Books, Graphic Novels, and Book Apps. This year, after a decade of brilliant service, longtime YA Fic category chair Jackie Parker is stepping down, and I’ve been asked to fill her shoes. That means Cybils season begins early for me this year! The call for judges went out today and I’ll be reviewing applications for my category (realistic and historical YA Fiction; YA SFF is a separate category) as they roll in. I’m honored to be serving in this capacity and look forward to exploring the blogs, vlogs, and podcasts of YA panelist applicants.

There have been a few other changes in the Cybils this year, including the addition of board books to the Fiction Picture Books category; an expansion of Nonfiction into two age groups; and a new Audiobooks category (also with two age groups), which is very exciting! You can read all about these changes on the Cybils website.

Tidying the digital shelves + a bunch of mini-reviews

August 20, 2016 @ 2:25 pm | Filed under: Books

I’m sitting here tidying up my Goodreads and Netgalley accounts—a task long neglected. I’m terrible about submitting Netgalley feedback, in part because so much, so VERY MUCH, of my book recommendations come in the form of casual answers to blog comments, Facebook questions, speaking engagement Q&As, and word of mouth. You can’t always point to a permalink for that stuff.

But still. I’m turning up a lot of gems I’ve talked about in passing but never wrote proper posts about. But to quote Goldie Hawn in Overboard, there’s no time now.

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So let me just share some capsule reviews of books I read during the past couple of years, books that stand out in my mind for one reason or another.

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando. Read this as a first-round judge for the 2014 CYBIL Awards in YA Fiction. It was a standout for me that year–the story of two incoming college freshmen roommates getting to know each other via letters the summer before they move in together. At first their connection misfires—they come from quite different backgrounds—but gradually as they learn more about each other and grapple with their own doubts and hopes, they forge a friendship. What really struck a chord for me was the roomie who is oldest kid in a large family, ready to launch a more independent life but torn up over leaving her younger siblings behind. Since that was the year my own oldest-of-six was a freshman in college herself, at a school six hours from home, I loved the candid, at times heart-wrenching exploration of what that particular separation might be like.

Blue Gold by Elizabeth Stewart. This one’s a bit harder to write about because the prose is flawed, which is a hard thing for me to say in public. The thing is, my strong feeling the whole time I was devouring this book (also a 2014 Cybils YA Fic nominee) was: EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS. In three alternating narratives, we see behind the scenes into dramatically different worlds linked by the technology we rely on: a Chinese factory worker struggling to keep the pace of soldering smartphone parts together; a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo trying to keep her family together under threats from a local militia gang; and a North American girl whose imprudent cellphone photo becomes a tool for public shame. Powerful stuff, even if the writing is a bit choppy and inelegant.

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar. Gorgeous book. Couldn’t put it down and of course I had to go read a ton of Woolf afterward. What a beautifully rendered, respectful portrait of these two women and their circle—Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa. Vanessa’s complex, fraught relationship with her challenging sister was masterfully and lovingly wrought. And the gentle glimpse of E.M. Forster—wonderful. Highly recommended.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Victorian lady botanist working out a theory of natural selection on her own? Talk about having me at hello. And this was gorgeously written. I loved it and know I’ll return to it again.

Okay, that’s four. Enough for now. Only nine more pages of Netgalley ARCs to click through. 😉

Meanwhile, in Goodreads land, I’ve renamed a bunch of my lists and am attempting (again) to do a better job of logging picture books and incoming review titles. And a new addition: a “didn’t finish” list for books I’ve read at least three chapters of. Most often these are things I mean to return to when time permits, like Wolf Hall and The Buried Giant, both of which expired on Overdrive before I had a chance to finish. Other times it’s just a book (often nonfiction) that I read a significant chunk of but chose not to complete. Those chunks still inform my reading and thinking life, and I want to track them.

Easing into high tide

August 17, 2016 @ 8:14 am | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff, Homeschooling

Wrote this post yesterday and then didn’t post it.

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We’re swinging back into high tide here, some of us. Wonderboy started seventh grade today (I KNOW, RIGHT?!) and I’ve planned a little block of time where I can do some extra fun stuff with the two littles. It’s so strange this year—with Rose graduated (but still home and planning to remain part of our history studies as long as she lives here) and Jane heading back to college next month, I will have only three students in my little homeschool. Been a long time since that was the case!

And of course you know I don’t do much formal “schooling” with my very smallest fry. Huck is reading very well (thanks in large part to Calvin & Hobbes) and has an uncommonly good head for math. Which means the last thing I want to do is make him DO math and start disliking it. So: his life rolls on with games and read-alouds and mental arithmetic challenges and nature walks (or, these days, spying on the baby mourning doves on our porch) and messy painting sessions. Now and then we do a little writing practice. He likes markerboards and chalkboards. He’ll absorb whatever history and science I’m doing with Rilla. Oh, and they have their Shakespeare passages to learn; this year we’re starting with the “willow cabin” speech from Twelfth Night.

Rilla will get the lion’s share of my Charlotte Mason-flavored attentions this month. And here again we’ll be doing what has worked so well for us before: literature-based history explorations, a lot of art, nature study and (to put a name on it, but not a curriculum) earth science, poetry, composer study. You could probably boil my “method” (it isn’t a method) down to: fill the room with good stuff and see what happens.

I realize this isn’t terribly helpful when you’re a homeschooling parent trying to figure out your own plan. Lists of books we love are probably more practically useful, and this year we’ll be drawing again from that giant booklist in my sidebar—Books to Read With My 9-Year-Old. She’s ten now, but I said last year that it would likely take us several years to read everything on that list. I refreshed her shelf last week with some new treasures and now I have to resist the urge to dive into everything all at once.

Possibly more useful on a practical level is the short routine (if you want to call it that) Huck and Rilla and I enjoy at the start of a high-tide morning.

First, some yoga stretches (this is mostly for me, to get me moving), and during the planks we do some skip-counting. I can just about get through the sixes before I collapse. So right now, we work two planks into the series of stretches, one for sixes and one for sevens. Nothing fancy, just chanting “6, 12, 18, 24” and so on.

Then we sing our memory songs. The Horrible Histories English Monarchs song (thanks again, Penny, for introducing us to that a while back); the U.S. Presidents song from our old Singin’ Smart cassette (we no longer own a cassette player but the older girls and I remember the melody); and sometimes a French children’s song or Scottish folk song. I mean to add the U.S. State Capitals song (also from Singin’ Smart) soon.

And then we finish up with our Shakespeare speeches. One line at a time, a couple of lines a week. Takes but a moment. Huck always insists he can’t “rememberize,” but then Rilla starts reciting and he joins right in. So, yeah.

This routine (if there were more of us, we might call it ‘circle time,’ but we’re more of a triangle now) takes only 10-15 minutes. It happens around 9 in the morning, after breakfast, chores, and (for Rilla) piano practice. I try to keep it mellow—as mellow as anything is going to be with a seven-year-old boy doing planks. What I mean, though, is I try to keep it low-key and low-pressure. Just goofing around together having fun. Most days, it works.

ON PURPOSE

August 15, 2016 @ 3:45 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, These People Crack Me Up

purge in progress

purge in progress

Our school kid starts back tomorrow. That usually triggers a tidal change for me: I start thinking in terms of revamped daily rhythm and freshly curated bookshelves. I tackled the shelves this weekend and am giddy today at the sight of rows of Books I Suspect Particular Kids Will Love This Year.

I realize I can’t throw a statement like that out on this blog without SPECIFICS, so I’ll share some booklists soon.

I’m also working on another skin care post, per your requests. My own routine plus (ding ding ding) success in the non-shiny sunscreen quest!

Until then, I’ll leave you with a Huck story. I mentioned I’d been invited to a Pete’s Dragon screening but declined because I could only bring one kid. Huck’s response: “Yeah, that would be like a mom and dad making mac and cheese ON PURPOSE when the kids weren’t home.”

Notebooks, sketchbooks, and planners, oh my

August 8, 2016 @ 5:55 pm | Filed under: Art, Paper & Desk

notebooks

So this is not a great photo but the sight of all these books spread out on the bed delighted me. And also caused me not a small amount of chagrin—mainly that toppled stack of half-filled notebooks on the far right. This is the past two years in paper: August 2014-2016. I hadn’t realized how many sketchbooks I have filled since I started my daily drawing project two years ago this month!

The top two rows are my notebooks, about which I’ve written much in the past. They contain a hodgepodge of notes, task lists, doodles, and sketches. I used to always use small, lined spirals like the red one leaning against the stack on the right, but a couple of years ago I shifted to the black steno books up top because I like gridded paper better. Then I switched to Moleskine’s Cahier size with the kraft covers—and those are perfect little everyday scribble books, in my opinion. There are three completely filled ones in this photo (one has a gray cover, second row) plus the one I use for all our family medical notes. There’s another gray one in the only-partially-filled stack—I used about a third of it on sketches and notes at the Brave Writer Retreat last month.

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The four skinny books in row two are Midori Travelers Notebook inserts. When my pal Kristen gave me a Midori last fall, I abandoned the Moleskines (for the most part—I do grab them occasionally, as with the Bravewriter one). On the bottom left is my current Midori insert. I remain as fervently in love with my TN as ever, although I have scaled down the number and type of inserts I tote around in it. Right now I just have the gridded catch-all (collaged cover, pulled out of the cover for this photo) and a zipper pouch containing washi samples, stamps, and ephemera.

The lower two rows are my sketchbooks—although as I said, the notebooks are also crammed with drawings. In fact, I find I often prefer sketching on gridded notebook paper—I feel freer, less fussy, less concerned with getting things right. The stakes are somehow lower.

But I do love working on good sketchbook paper. The blue Canson Mixed Media books are probably my favorite type—I have learned that I prefer spiral bound sketchbooks, and I like paper with a little bit of tooth. The smaller yellow Strathmore books are also great. In fact, their paper quality is probably better and the smaller size is good for carrying around. I have completely filled two of each, and I’m working simultaneously in the ones on the bottom row. Not really any rhyme or reason to which one I pick up on a given day. Whatever’s closest to hand, usually.

The black Moleskine sketchbooks on the bottom left see a lot less use. The horizontal one contains watercolor paper and is quite lovely, but I mostly only use it for color charts. (A semi-obsession.) The vertical one is Moleskine’s standard sketchbook and it took me about twenty pages to realize I kind of hate the paper. Too smooth. I like texture and skritch. I was excited to discover I have a preference! It’s too bad, because I love the compactness of that book. It would be much easier to carry around than the Canson or Strathmore spirals.

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I’ve realized, though, that I don’t—at this stage, at least—do a lot of sketching or painting out in the world. When I do, it’s in one of my grid notebooks. I like the real sketchbooks for working at my desk, on my bed, or on the kitchen table. I have another big one with watercolor paper that isn’t in this photo. It doesn’t have much inside it just yet—mainly just the paintings I did at Jane LaFazio’s watercolor workshop last spring.

Middle right of the photo: my little stack of planners. Wild Simplicity Daybook, Hobonichi Cousin, Hobo Weeks. The Daybook is for homeschooling notes; the Cousin is my current bullet journal/daily calendar/scrapbook; the slender Weeks is my go-everywhere appointment book. I’ve done plenty of chattering about them before so I won’t elaborate here.

And then there’s the pile of Incompletes. I thrive on change, what can I say? Some of those books were begun for specific projects—many have to do with grants I worked on this past year. I’ll fill up the extra pages with sketches and doodles. Eventually.

Related:
2015, Year of Paper
Planner Love
Notebookery
Unearthed: the Notebooks

Quick “Caught My Eye” Update

August 7, 2016 @ 9:51 am | Filed under: Links

saturday

Just discovered that the Diigo extension I use to collect the links and post excerpts that appear in my sidebar under “Caught My Eye” has been broken for…I have no idea how long. A while, judging from the date on the link at the top of the list. Whoops. It’s fixed now, in theory. Sorry about that!

By the way, if you like the links I share and would prefer to see them in a newsletter format, I use paper.li to pour them into a weekly newsletter template which you can view on the web or receive via email. It’s called Melissa Wiley’s Rabbit Trail and it contains links to the same articles I share in the sidebar and on Twitter—basically just one more vehicle for sharing curated links. Note: my paper.li contains ads because I only use the free version. New editions come out on Mondays.

Another note: the paper.li newsletter is not the same as my semi-occasional author newsletter, which I haven’t sent out in a long while. That one, which I call my Bookletter, is a Mailchimp subscription and contains totally different content (original, not curated). I’ve been meaning to dust it off, but you know…priorities. 🙂

If you need some creative inspiration this month

August 5, 2016 @ 4:00 pm | Filed under: Art

August Daily Drawing Challenge: 31 Art Journal Prompts with Dawn Sokol at CreativeBug. Dawn’s Art Journaling class was what kickstarted my daily sketching habit two years ago this month. (!) This “31 Prompts” is a new class that looks like a good time. A CreativeBug subscription is $4.95/month, which I think is a pretty great deal for the huge array of courses that gives you access to. Rilla, Beanie, and I manage to wring every penny and then some out of our subscription.

(Affiliate link, but I’m also a happy subscriber. I recently took and quite enjoyed Intuitive Painting with Flora Bowley. Other favorites are Creative Doodling with Pam Garrison, Daily Painting Challenge with Augustwren who happens to be one of my favorite Instagrammers, and anything taught by Lisa Congdon.)

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Creative Lettering with Andrea Joseph at Sketchbook Skool. Andrea’s week in Sketchbook Skool’s Seeing “kourse” is one of my three favorite sets of lessons in the entire SBS lineup. I love, love, love her art and her mellow approach to teaching. And the way her sketchbook pages are an interplay of words and images is tremendously appealing to me. I also really resonated with a comment she made in one of her zines about how she has always had several “handwritings”—me too! Me too! I never could commit to a single style of R or F. So the idea of a whole course devoted to this subject has me pretty giddy, I must say.

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(Not an affiliate—just a huge fan of Andrea Joseph and Sketchbook Skool!)

 

Assorted Friday notes

August 5, 2016 @ 1:18 pm | Filed under: Books, Family, Fun Learning Stuff, Periscope, These People Crack Me Up

I did a Periscope yesterday on a topic that had been requested by a Brave Writer mom: How I make time to pursue my own interests and hobbies while homeschooling, writing, juggling doctor appointments, etc. Great topic!! Had a lot of fun with this discussion.

And here’s the book I mentioned in the scope: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. As I said, this was my second time reading it, so you know it was enjoyable. A comic yet touching epistolary novel in the voice of a beleaguered, earnest, overly frank, romantically inept English professor at a second-tier university. Now, you know I’m a sucker for an epistolary novel! This one’s academia setting gives it a unique flavor. You’ll never read letters of recommendation like these in the real world (alas).

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What’s happening in my house today:

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Receiving a fax from Grandma and Grandpa. Today’s lesson in technology brought to you by 1992. (I’m amazed the thing still works!) Huck really wanted to reply by putting his piggy bank through. Perhaps we’re still a tad fuzzy on how the tech works. (Let’s face it, it always seemed like magic to me.)

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This one’s for Emily:

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My “things that influenced my homeschooling style” slide from the Brave Writer Retreat.

 

 

In which I pluck a lot of photos off Facebook

August 4, 2016 @ 4:35 pm | Filed under: Photos

July hobo page

Argh, Facebook, Facebook. You make it so darn easy for me to slap up a photo or funny kid quip, and then a year from now I’ll be sad I didn’t preserve those memories here. I was looking for a conversation today and found myself scrolling through dozens of moments I’d shared there…instead of here.

Clearly I need to cultivate (re-cultivate) the habit of—at the very least—reposting those moments here every couple of weeks. For me, for my own future enjoyment. But also for the family, and for my bloggity friends who eschew Facebook. After all, this intense life-sharing I do started here, didn’t it?

Okay so here’s a WHOLE BUNCH OF STUFF from July.

Brave Writer Retreat — Photos and Links

Official recap post on Brave Writer Blog (featuring video of Julie Bogart & me hamming it up in a lip-synch performance of “Home” from The Wiz—one of my favorite musical theater songs OF ALL TIME)

Link to my own Retreat recap on Periscope

13669450_10153697908421596_3953756287467637556_o Pretending to be on the set of Between Two Ferns

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Retreat slide show on Youtube

 

High School Reunion

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The three blind mice, reunited

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reunion bbq

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And other assorted things I posted

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Found in my old room: this page from an issue of Young Miss magazine circa 1985 of the haircut I longed for in my post-Oliver (as in the musical, as in I’d Do Anything for this role including chop off all my hair) days. By the time that awful cut was grown out, this puffy ‘do was no longer in style. Didn’t stop me from sighing over the photo anyway.
#mistywatercoloretc

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Attention Scott Peterson: Your 10yo daughter is listening to Wildfire. WHAT HAVE YOU WROUGHT?

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Last month we learned that Wonderboy’s cerebral palsy qualifies him for a lifetime family membership at the San Diego County YMCA through the Challenged Athletes Foundation. *Family* meaning every single one of us. When they handed me my membership card today with that little word “lifetime” at the bottom, I suddenly had something in my eye. A lot of happy somethings. Because “lifetime family membership” has many layers of meaning in this context.

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SDCC recovery plan: Naruko sheet mask + @WestWingWeekly podcast.

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Using my phone camera as a mirror just now & found myself attempting to expand my own face into close-up view. AS IN I SWIPED MY ACTUAL FACE

Aquarium Hijinks

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pink jellyfish white jellyfish boys and ocean view

And last (but definitely not least), a poem by one of my poetry students:

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Especially Pete!