Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Little Happy Lists, Redux

May 3, 2015 @ 8:26 am | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Books

1. Piano recital: accomplished. And swimmingly, I might add. Particularly sweet this year because the music school divided the recital students into smaller groups (fewer classes lumped together into each recital), which meant our girls’ three classes were part of a five-class recital consisting mostly of good friends, families in our homeschooling circle. Best part: the way Huck (not yet a student) gasped in delighted recognition at the songs played by the beginner class (a level below Rilla’s group), because he recognized all the songs from last year when Rilla was learning them. Next year it will be his turn to begin! Hard to believe.

2. The drought, oh the drought, it has hit my garden hard. I’ve planted a lot of drought-tolerant natives over the years, so things are limping along, but still, it’s pretty grim out there. As it must be: flower-gardening will have to be one of the indulgences we let go in the new normal that is our hot-and-getting-hotter world. At least here in this dry-and-getting-drier state. Some of my work this year has involved a lot (a LOT) of research into California’s drying aquifers and the truly shocking lack of Sierra snowmelt and its impacts, and the sobering percentage of reduction of water deliveries to certain small towns from the State Water Project, and, well, you can’t face those facts and go on lavishing water on delphiniums. I’m becoming something of a vicarious gardener once again—the way I was in grad school when I confessed to the poet Robert Pinsky, whom I was tasked with picking up at the airport for a reading, that my habit while driving around town was to re-imagine the landscaping of all the yards I passed. Only now I’m mentally tearing up all the thirsty lawns around me in this desert. But I may have to find room for an annual trip to Portland in the spring, to soak myself for a few days in the glories of lush blossom and unfurling ferns. For now I must apply the tactic I used with much success back in those garden-deprived grad-school days: houseplants require very little water. Rilla and I went to work this week, taking cuttings and clippings to bring a bit of the bright outside indoors. And (influenced by Anne Shirley, of course) I’ve always kept windowsill geraniums with their cheery blooms perched on my kitchen sink—you can never go wrong with good old pelargonium. Thus this item belongs on a happy list even though its genesis is a bleak climate situation.

3. Kate Winslet does a smashing job with the voices in the Matilda audiobook. Rilla and I have one chapter left. We may not be able to wait for our Saturday-night ritual (audiobook + sketchbook time while the older girls watch S.H.I.E.L.D. with Scott) to finish. Which means I’d better come up with our next listen before Saturday…

4. Broadchurch Season 2. Wow.

5. Last night we watched a movie called Begin Again. Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, and yet I had somehow failed to hear about it until Scott queued it up. (He has unerring instincts for films that will delight me.) I loved it. A lovely, thoughtful piece by the writer/director of Once. I’ll watch it again.

What I’m reading this week

To the kids: House at Pooh Corner (still)

Myself: Connie Willis’s Blackout (Determined to finish this time! The other times I’ve begun and set it aside, it wasn’t because I wasn’t interested. Other things just kept crowding in. We’ll see if this time around is different.)

Photo of the week

San Diego children's authors

My friend Edith Hope Fine shared this photo, taken at last weekend’s Greater San Diego Reading Association awards breakfast, on Facebook, and our pal Salina Yoon dressed it up with everyone’s book covers. What a fantastic community of writers and illustrators we have here in San Diego! (Thanks, Edith, Salina, and—wait, who took the photo? I can’t remember!)

Celebrate Literacy Award from GSDRA

April 26, 2015 @ 11:15 am | Filed under: Author stuff, Books

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Photo by Lori Mitchell and used with gratitude!

Yesterday I had the fun of attending an awards breakfast hosted by the Greater San Diego Reading Association, a branch of the International Literacy Association (formerly the International Reading Association).  Along with fellow children’s authors Suzanne Santillan, Lori Mitchell, Virginia Loh Hagen, and Joy Raab, I received a Celebrate Literacy Award for my contributions to literacy in San Diego. Such an honor!

Greater San Diego Reading Association Authors Fair

From left to right: Suzanne Santillan, me, Edith Hope Fine, Joy Raab, Virginia Loh Hagen, and Lori Mitchell at Pacific Beach Elementary, March 2014

The GSRDA are the folks who host the annual Authors Fair I have participated in these past two years—hands-down some of the best events I’ve ever attended. These were the schools (Pacific Beach Elementary in 2014 and Kimball Elementary in National City this year) where the teachers had spent weeks preparing their students for my visit—reading The Prairie Thief aloud (and saving the last chapter for me!) and doing some amazing writing and art projects. There is nothing, nothing like seeing kids’ art and poetry inspired by your books, let me tell you. :)

Student art and writing at Kimball Elementary

 

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Prairie Thief project by 5th-grader Isabella D.

 

A Monday snapshot

April 8, 2015 @ 7:06 am | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Books, Family

eeyore14

 

Small child straddling two barstools, running toy cars up and down the high counter. Another child sprawled on floor, drawing a picture. A third hovering by the cedar chest at the far end of the sofa, at loose ends. A leggy teenager spidering sideways in the comfy armchair. A perfectly typical scene of mild morning chaos.

I curl up in my rocking chair with House at Pooh Corner. The younger set hasn’t heard it yet, in that way that shocks me. They are six, almost nine, and eleven, for Pete’s sake! How could such a thing have happened? Answer: SO. MANY. BOOKS. With no fanfare, I open it and start reading.

The child on the floor flashes a starry grin and scoots closer, her pencils rolling under my feet. The child at loose ends looks up, ears perked. The small one zooming his cars around seems not to notice, but all the engines appear to have undergone sudden tuneups: their roars diminish to silky purrs.

It takes me a minute to find Pooh’s voice. It’s been a few years, after all. Piglet is easy and Eeyore—this revelation would no doubt astonish him—is a delight. It’s snowing, tiddley pom, but at least there hasn’t been an earthquake.

The cars have abandoned the counter and are crossing a bridge of air toward the Hundred Acre Wood. The teenager’s limbs have been transferred to the sofa. The no-longer-hovering child has claimed ownership of the big brown armchair. Nobody knows, tiddley pom, how cold my toes are growing. The postman rattles the lid of the mailbox, delivering the day’s contingent of recyclables. Pooh’s voice has settled down, and the wind must have blown Eeyore’s house over the wood because there it is, just as good as ever, and better in places.

It’s a beautiful house, tiddley pom.

Beep

March 27, 2015 @ 7:43 pm | Filed under: Books, Huck, Picture Book Spotlight

Huck came to me with How to Read a Story by Kate Messner and Mark Siegel. “Mommy, will you be my reading buddy?” (That’s Step 2 in the book.) Why of course I will!

He starts reading me the book. And then, halfway through, only a few pages after the sneaky video I took below, he…stopped reading out loud. Got sucked into the story and read silently for the first time. Thanks to this charming picture book, I got to be there for the moment of transition. It was magical. And yes, since he’s my youngest, a little bittersweet–the last one to cross the bridge to solo, silent immersion. But only a little bittersweet. Mostly just magical.

 

And suddenly it’s February

February 2, 2015 @ 9:06 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Books

friday sky

A short one today, to help me get back in the swing. I miss my old blogging rhythm, when it was the first thing I did after switching gears from kid-time to writing-time. Spending half an hour writing about the kids was an excellent way to help my brain transition from one mode to the other. But now I’ve altered my workflow so that I jump right into time-sensitive tasks first thing, and blogging is my reward at the end of the night. Trouble is, by then (by now, that is) I’m running dry. All the things I meant to write about all day long are misting away. Some of them I’ll get to, eventually. Others: poof.

The pile of books to talk about: immense! Soon, soon!

Sarah shared this link to an interactive map of Middlemarch. I swooned. And then made it the wallpaper on my laptop. Every time I shut down tabs, I get so happy.

I finished an absorbing book (Going Clear) a couple of nights ago and have been in my usual post-satisfying-read state of restlessness, unable to settle on the next one. Which is silly, because if you assigned me a book to read I would suddenly have a dozen titles I was absolutely PINING to devour immediately. I remember how as a kid I would come home from the library with a dozen books I’d wanted to sit right down and tear into on the library floor, but once home I’d find myself unable to settle on which to start first. Option paralysis, my lifelong affliction.

I can hear Scott reading Rilla her bedtime chapter of Watership Down. Maybe that’s what I want to pick up next. It’s been too long.

Recently Read or Watched with Various Kids

January 16, 2015 @ 9:03 pm | Filed under: Books

little bear by sendak

With the boys:

Little Bear.
The original—Huck’s first time, though he’s seen the show of course. He loved the book so much. Although the text is less sophisticated—a bit more Dick-and-Jane—than contemporary early readers, it absolutely holds up. Beautiful pacing; wonderful humor; sweet, cozy tone; warm relationships; and fresh storylines. What a marvel it is. So glad we have more to enjoy together.)

Okay Andy and My New Friend Is So Fun.
Two of my fellow Cybils Early Reader finalists. Huck loved them both. Of course the Elephant and Piggie is a delight. Great plot in this one: Piggie has a new friend and naturally Gerald begins to worry he’s been replaced. Mo Willems is my hero.

 

With Rilla:

Understood Betsy.
It’s time, it’s time! Color me ecstatic. One of the best readalouds ever, and here’s my last little girl to read it to. Hmm, make that color me wistful. 😉 A bit of both, I guess. She’s going to love it so much. I waited and waited until the time was right.

(Meanwhile, Scott is reading her Watership Down. One of his best readalouds. Rose and Beanie are listening in—they wouldn’t have it any other way. This book is a very big deal in our family culture.)

 

With Beanie:

Short stories: “The Gift of the Magi,” “The Most Dangerous Game.”
Billy Collins poem: “Marginalia.” (Delicious.)

 

With Rose and Bean:

Big History Project, Unit 1. This week had us reading origin stories from several cultures, watching some really breathtaking videos about space, scale, and various scientific disciplines, and reading a BBC article on Easter Island. Good stuff.

 

With Rose:

Paradise Lost. 
The whole shebang for her, selections for me. I listened to a number of these Yale Open Courses lectures last fall to prep for this study. Rose is finding it slow going but she enjoys the discussions and agrees that somehow Satan is the most likable character.

Downton Season 5, Episode 2 Recap Is Up at GeekMom

January 15, 2015 @ 2:31 pm | Filed under: Books

my what big gardens you have

Episode 2 recap, at your service! As always, feel free to discuss over at GeekMom, or here in the comments. I will talk about Downton anywhere.

January, Planuary

January 2, 2015 @ 1:45 am | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Bloggity, Books

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I made a surprising discovery recently: I realized that since moving to San Diego eight (eight!!) years ago, January has become my favorite month. When I lived in the east, I’d have said it was April—early spring, when you walk outside and feel it coming, a freshness in the wind, the redbuds and dogwoods beginning to flower, the daffodils running riot, the tulips jaunty. Oh, I loved that feeling. The Mary Lennox feeling. I’ve never liked the cold, and Eastern winters were much harder than the sunny-cold Colorado days I grew up with: all that lingering, blackening snow, the dull gray skies, the frozen ears and toes. So the first hints of change—the crocuses, the grape hyacinths, the fountains of yellow forsythia in March—exhilarated me. I love change; it makes my blood sing; and the change that meant spring is here was the best of all, even better than after spring had well and truly arrived.

But here in Southern California, our seasons are different. There’s the Season of Blistering Heat, the Season of Glorious Weather (this lasts most of the year), and That One Day It Rained. And the shifts come abruptly and sporadically, without warning. Any given day could be sandal weather or I-really-wish-I’d-succumbed-and-bought-those-boots. And so I realized that the sweet old sense of change in the air I used to associate with early spring now belongs to a shift less weather-related and more cultural. January, the New Year, the season of beginnings and fresh starts.

Looking through my archives I see I’ve rhapsodized about the Fresh Start over and over, this time of year. January is the month when I deep-clean my bedroom (which is also my workspace) and tidy up the garden. I launch projects (don’t we all): Reading Projects or Crafting Projects or Housework Projects. (This year it’s purging the books. I’ve appointed January the month I have a little conversation with every book in the house and discuss its future. For a lot of them, it’s time to head out into the world and seek their fortunes. Local friends, consider yourselves warned.) I love projects. Love planning them out, at least: as Anne would say, there’s so much scope for imagination in the planning stage. Completion is another subject entirely, best reserved for a different essay.

All through December I found myself looking forward to January—enjoying December, of course, which was particularly rich this year, what with my parents visiting and Jane home from school and a long-awaited visit with very dear friends—but enjoying the anticipation of the impending Fresh Start. I spent part of New Year’s Eve answering piled-up email, achieving Inbox Zero just about the time the East Coast entered 2015.

(Spent the rest of it playing Terraria with Rilla after the boys went to bed, while Scott and the other girls watched The Sting. Thus it was that my favorite moment of the holiday was hearing my pixie-like eight-year-old daughter remark, “Ooh, I’ve always wanted a Deathbringer Pickaxe.”)

My one real resolution for the year is to sketch every day, even if only for a few minutes. All my other plans are the sort that will take more determination to pull off, and I’m therefore afraid to spook them by calling attention to them too directly. I’m keeping my Reading Plans quite casual this year—mostly I intend to read whatever strikes me next, and to try to stick to what’s already on the shelves or the Kindle.

I do mean to choose one category of children’s books to focus most deeply on this year; I often fall into a specialization by accident—say, picture books because I read so many to my kids, or graphic novels because I have so many friends publishing them in a given year, or, like 2014, YA Fiction because I’m on a committee. I try to read broadly, of course—middle-grade and YA, fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry—keeping reasonably abreast of what my peers are publishing. But I like having a kind of specialty category for the year, one area I can go really deep and try to read everything. As I said, this usually happens by accident; I’m not sure I’ve ever chosen the category in advance. This year I’m having fun thinking about it. Probably it will wind up depending on what kind of ARCs publishers decide to send me, since in the end, that’s the easiest way to keep up with the flood of new books.

alfreddoolittleAs for old books (“old” meaning anything published before this very minute), I have the inevitable nightstand pile, which is much like nightstand piles of previous years. It’s not actually on my nightstand, since I don’t have one, but the pile on my bedroom bookshelf serves that purpose—and the rather staggering queue on my Kindle. I think of these as my Alfred Doolittle books: Books I’m “willin’ to read, wantin’ to read, waitin’ to read.” Books I have probably listed here in the past.

This is also the year I intend to finish Infinite Jest, which may indeed take the whole year.

So:

Resolution—daily sketching

Casual reading plan—Doolittle books + some particular kidlit category

Determination—Infinite Jest

Household project—all the books

Brain food—right now I’m listening to The Sixth Extinction on audio; also a literary lecture series called A Day’s Read (lecture one was on Kafka’s “The Country Doctor” and was pretty good)

Writing goals—I dare not say, but I’ve got them

Blogging goal—the other day, Melanie of A Wine-Dark Sea and I were discussing the upcoming ten-year anniversary of our blogs. Ten! Years! We both began blogging on January 20, 2005—and met in the combox some time later. That anniversary was much on my mind all through December when I blogged so seldom, what with the aforementioned visitors and the holidays and my Cybils reading. This is another thing I’ve been looking forward to with January’s arrival: a return to steady blogging, and a chance to revisit my archives and reflect on what I love about this space and what I want to do more of. So that’s another quiet plan for 2015: a bit of a blogging renaissance.

This got long!

Starting the year off with a wee bit of squee!

January 1, 2015 @ 9:21 am | Filed under: Author stuff, Books, Cybils, Inch and Roly

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I woke up this morning all kinds of excited because I knew the Cybils shortlist announcements would be live by the time I peeled my eyelids open here on the West Coast, and I’ve been bursting at the seams to share our YA Fiction finalists with you. These books, THESE BOOKS, you guys. So incredibly good. I am thrilled with our list, which we curated via exhaustive and exhausting reading and spirited debate these past two months. Here it is: CYBILs 2014 Finalists: Young Adult Fiction.

Now the funny part: I’d been squeeing about this list on Twitter for a good ten minutes before I settled down to check out the other categories. Imagine my surprise when I got to the Early Reader shortlist and saw Inch and Roly there!

Inch and Roly and the Sunny Day Scare by Melissa Wiley2014 Finalists: Easy Readers & Early Chapter Books | Cybils Awards.

I’m beyond thrilled that Inch and Roly and the Sunny Day Scare is an Easy Reader finalist. I mean, lookit that list! Mo Willems is there!* Among other fabulous folks. I’m so happy. Knowing the challenge of being on the other side of the list—the difficult and sometimes wrenching decisions you make as a Round 1 panelist, whittling hundreds of nominees down into a tiny number of finalists—I’m deeply honored and immensely excited. A hearty congratulations to all the finalists, all around! And thanks to all the panelists who poured weeks of labor into the curation process.

*At this time I would like to issue a formal apology to the post-NYE exhausted teens I may have awakened with my shrieking. Ahem.

The Easy Reader finalists:

Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken by Sarah Dillard
Okay, Andy! by Maxwell Eaton
Clara and Clem Under the Sea by Ethan Long
Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway
The Ice Cream Shop: A Steve and Wessley Reader by Jennifer Morris
Inch and Roly and the Sunny Day Scare by Melissa Wiley :)
My New Friend Is So Fun! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems

Book descriptions here.

The YA Fiction finalists:

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Book descriptions here.

To explore the shortlists in other categories, click here. You’ll probably want your library tab open before you begin. 😉