I’m up early, hanging with the three youngest. Huck’s tummy is a bit off today. He climbed into bed with us before dawn and slept snuggled against me in a way that hardly ever happens anymore; he’s getting so big and busy. He was restless, and after a while I reached for my phone and read mail with his arm flung half across my face. It’s not that I ever want my kids to be sick—honestly, I’ve dealt with enough childhood illness for three lifetimes—but there’s something very sweet in the moment, when you’re cuddled up with a heavy-limbed child who just wants to curl into you as close as possible. My baby will be six in a few months (the mind boggles) and these moments don’t happen very often anymore. I enjoyed this one, while it lasted. Then suddenly he clapped a hand over his mouth, ran to the bathroom, and threw up into the tub.
I’m just impressed that he made it that far.
He’s getting the Gatorade treatment now, watching cartoons. (A few sips of Gatorade every ten minutes for an hour, a trick gleaned from the Dr. Sears Baby Book* a million years ago.) I brought my laptop out to the couch to be near him and am trying not to listen to the squeakings of Curious George. At least it’s not Caillou.
*ETA: Scott has chimed in to say he thinks it was The Portable Pediatrician, not Dr. Sears. We gave ‘em both away ages ago, so I can’t check. I’m sure he’s right—he’s been the one handling the timing of this absolutely tried-and-true method for, yikes, almost 20 years now.
I’m still getting requests for those notes I promised to share from my habits talk way back in August (gulp). I’ve realized I’ll have to post them in notes fashion, for sure, because writing up the talk essay-style makes it all seem too formal, too authoritative. The idea of coming across as authoritative about parenting gives me the willies—it’s far too subjective and individual an endeavor for me to ever feel comfortable making pronouncements about the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to do things. All I can do is say ‘here’s what’s worked great for us’—after the fact, you know, speaking from personal experience, same as I do with homeschooling. There’s a reason my whole Tidal Homeschooling thing is a description, not a method.
So maybe I can just take my habits-and-behavior talk notes and spit them out just like that, as notes, not, you know, entire sentences. Sentences are hard. They need verbs. I’m okay with past-tense verbs (did, tried, practiced, worked, laughed)—it’s the imperative ones that spook me, the kind with the implied “you.”
For my memories file: Several times over the past couple of weeks, after the boys were in bed, while Scott watched S.H.I.E.L.D. or a movie with Bean and Rose, Rilla and I sat on my bed with our art journals and listened to The BFG on audiobook. Colored pencils and markers all over the quilt. (Imprudent but comfy.) Natasha Richardson doing a bang-up job with the voices.
There you go, a bit of parenting advice I can pronounce in the imperative: Do that. It was delightful and you should totally try it.
The talented Roxyanne Young took these photos of my talk on Middle-Grade and Chapter Books at SCBWI-San Diego last weekend and kindly gave me permission to use them. My school visit/speaker page needs a massive updating and I’m so grateful to have some recent images to include.
Apparently I talk with my hands a lot? What’s funniest to me is that this Boston Bay slide was onscreen for barely a minute. That’s an awful lot of glasses-waving going on there.
The rest of my slides were all about other people’s books—my favorite things to talk about, as you know. Here’s a taste:
(Just a sampling from the Chapter Books part of the talk.)
by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf.
We first read this absolute gem of a picture book last year during the CYBILs. Fell so utterly in love with it—the lot of us—that a library copy wouldn’t do; we had to have our own. Huck and Rilla were overjoyed when I pulled it out this morning. Sophie’s instant bond with a butternut squash is utterly believable, and not just because Huck formed a similar attachment once upon a time. “Bernice” becomes Sophie’s best friend and closest confidant, all through a bright and beautiful autumn. But as winter approaches, Bernice begins to get a bit squishy about the edges. Sophie’s parents make gentle attempts to convince Sophie it’s time to let her friend go, but since their suggestions involve treating the squash like, you know, a squash, Sophie’s having none of it. Her own solution is sweet and heartwarming, and it makes my kids sigh that contented sigh that means everything has come out exactly right.
As soon as your category chair begins approving nominations, you’re on the library website, putting titles on hold like crazy. You’ll have barely two months to read dozens, maybe even hundreds (depending on your category), of books. The sooner they come rolling in from branches all across the county, the better.
I gave my branch librarians a heads-up to let them know I’d be reserving a tremendous lot of novels. Promised to stop in often to pick up new arrivals, so as not to overfill the hold shelves. “No worries,” they told me. “We’ll move ’em to the bottom shelf if we need to.” There’s an empty slice of shelf there, under the Last Name T-Z reserves.
I stopped by today expecting to find the P shelf squeezed full of my holds. Nope, although as usual P—, LYD (last name redacted) had a small handful of appealing titles awaiting her. I’m assuming she’s a she—Lydia? Lyddie? No idea, but for the eight years I’ve been glimpsing her reserve books next to ours (PETERSON, SCO) on the shelf, and when it comes to books we are clearly such kindred spirits that I’ve been tempted to leave her a note in one of them. Except that might seem a little creepy. Whereas blogging about it totally isn’t weird at all. Ahem. MOVING ON.
Okay, so I’m expecting a bunch of books but they aren’t on the P shelf, and they aren’t on the spillover bottom shelf either. I run my (okay, Scott’s; I lose things) library card under the scanner next to the shelves, and it says I have 16 titles ready for pickup. I’m just about to track down a librarian when I spot the cardboard box on the floor.
One reason I couldn’t be there is because I was engaged to speak at SCBWI-San Diego on Saturday. (The other reason is because I have a hundred children and am therefore Always Broke. You know how it is.) I’m happy to say my SCBWI talk seemed to go over very well. The topic was Middle-Grade and Chapter Books, two categories of children’s publishing I can speak about with considerable enthusiasm. What’s more fun than speaking to a full house about your very favorite books? The crowd was wonderful, with really smart questions afterward. The only thing that could have made it more fun would have been having the Kidlitcon crowd there.
Speaking of piles of books, the younger set and I finished The Boxcar Children over the weekend (it’s a mighty quick read) and today it fell upon to me choose the next readaloud. Sometimes I know EXACTLY what book I want to reach for next, and other times I have option paralysis. Today was the latter sort of occasion. I got Rose to go around the house with me, pulling likely candidates off shelves, and when we had a comfortable stack, I decided on a Jane-Rose-Beanie favorite, Rowan of Rin. Chapter one was well received. I’ve never read this one aloud before, and there’s always a risk—some great books just don’t make great readalouds. But so far, so good. So gripping!
Rilla, as you know, is eight years old, which means it’s her turn for the family tradition called Daddy Reads Mommy’s Martha Books to You. Which for all four of my daughters now has meant, as sure as the sun will rise, a sudden burning need to learn how to spin. I understand; the passion gripped me, too, when I was writing those books. I never did score myself a spinning wheel (it’s on the Someday list) but I had to have a drop spindle so I could know what it felt like to fumble along like beginner Martha. She got good at it way faster than I did, though. In my defense, she had Auld Mary for a teacher, whereas I? Didn’t even have YouTube yet. It was 1997, which means the internet helpfully told me what books to read.
We drove up the coast this weekend to move Jane back into school. My parents held down the fort here at home. Scott and I stayed in Pismo Beach and I was swooning every minute. California’s Central Coast is as lovely as it gets.
Now home, and the house seems so quiet with only five kids. Only, heh. Tomorrow we’ll be back to our regular routine. I have a stack of books awaiting me at the library, which is closed on Mondays. I was itchy all day for it to open.
Speaking of new books: two launches today made my heart go pittypat. One is Sarah Elwell’s latest, this one delivered in an innovative serialized-ebook fashion. Each week for three months you get a new installment. Sarah’s work is haunting and lovely, and I can’t wait to read this. A novel in weekly installments might just suit my jam-packed Cybils season schedule.
Well, it’s there, and I’m leaving it there, but here’s a piece of it, and if you have trouble commenting on that site you’re welcome to bring the discussion here.
Something I’ll be thinking about as I gorge is what stories these writers are telling and why. (Not just how, which is a primary measure of a book’s merit—how is this story being told? How well? How vividly? How compellingly? How convincingly? How searingly? Does it leave something behind? A scar on the mind, a rune engraved on the heart? A face you can’t ever forget? How? How?)
In an endeavor like this, selecting a Cybils shortlist, the what and why questions are equally pressing. What makes this book stand out from the crowd—and a crowd it will be. Why this plot, this narrator, this voice. Why verse, or why prose? When you read a lot of books at once you can’t help but spot patterns and trends. Small details, perhaps, like the naming of cars—in 2010 we had a gaggle of them, including not one but two cars named “Holden,” (totally by coincidence I have no doubt). But larger trends as well, clusters of books exploring similar subject matter. In realistic YA fiction this very often means suicide, addiction, medical or mental disorders, sexual or physical abuse. And that, I think, tells us a great deal about what the world is like for teens. And is why the best YA is both gripping and probing—that’s what teens do: they grip tightly to each other, to ideas, to hopes, to identity, to music, to fears; and they probe and dig and ponder and search. In this light the naming of cars makes perfect sense—the quest for identity, the assignment of personality to objects of significance, the search for the real, true meaning of things. Naming a thing helps define the thing. Naming it Holden—oh there’s so much to unpack there. Holden Caulfield, the original teen gripper and prober.
You can’t read a book that is gripping without being gripped, and that’s what I’m preparing myself for. To have my mind shaken, my heart squeezed.
It’s that time of year again: Cybils Award season. The judge announcements went out this morning. I’m delighted to be serving on the First-Round panel for YA Fiction. My last stint on this panel was in 2010, aka The Year I Read a Million Books. (I’m sure it’s a TOTAL COINCIDENCE that that was also the year I began to need reading glasses.)
My appointment to this panel spurred me to make a move I’ve been considering for some time, which is to dust off my tumblr (again) and try using it for my YA-related content. I’ve got a new YA of my own coming out next year, and tumblr seems a better fit for connecting with teen readers. I’ll add a link to the sidebar, or if that topic interests you enough to want to follow it in a feed reader, here’s the RSS. (I also use tumblr for reposting interesting articles and art I’ve come across, so fair warning.)
Disclaimer: I consider all platform changes to be experimental until they’ve proven themselves convenient, so this may or may not be a long-term shift. I just really like keeping things in different boxes. But if you’ve seen my garage, you know there usually comes a point where I get annoyed by the clutter and dump everything into one big container. (Believe me, you don’t want to see my garage.)
I believe this post may have set a new record for ending paragraphs with parentheticals. (Yeehah!)