Sunday, September 30, 2007

Feelin' the Kid Lit Love

Two of my favorite kid lit authors and bloggers spread some love my way this weekend. Just wanted to say thanks and encourage my visitors to stop by their sites.

First, Jay Asher, whose amazing book, 13 Reasons Why is coming out in October, awarded me a t-shirt for an "Answer the Frequently Frustrating Questions" contest he ran (I'm good at those ... I get lots of them at my day job):



Brilliant and mezmerizing ... not too shabby. (But, hey, don't take Kirkus' word for it ... check out my review of Jay's book here.)

Next, I came across a Word Search puzzle on Sam Riddleburger's site last night, and lo and behold, Just Like the Nut is one of the phrases in the puzzle! How fun ... immortalized in a Word Search. Check it out ... you might just find your blog on the list, too.

And, there's even a mystery hidden word, which is ... "mat"! No, I'm kidding. It's not "mat," though I did find that in there (also, "haw.") It's ... well, it's a mystery word, so you'll have to find it for yourself. Enjoy!

Update: After a full day of wearing my "Ask Me About 13 Reasons Why" shirt and having three people ask about it, I can report two observations: (1) When people read the shirt, they ask, "So, what are the 13 reasons why?" Each of the three people asked the question in just this way. (2) When I explained it was a book and gave them an overview of the premise, they all seemed highly intrigued. (Hey, Jay, the 20-something grocery store cashier even took the time to get out a piece of paper and pen and write down the title. "I'll have to get that," she said. "I love to read." Woohoo! Of course, I ticked off everyone behind me in line, gushing about your book while their ice cream melted, but that's OK!)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry Friday: Cowboy Poetry

Tickets go on sale next week for what has to be one of the coolest events in the literary world, the 2008 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, to be held January 26 to February 2 in Elko, Nevada.

How I wish I lived near Elko and could attend this amazing shindig!

My choice for Poetry Friday this week is a piece by one of the presenters at the gathering, Paul Zarzyski.

by Paul Zarzyski
A sacrilege against my blue-collar
Catholic manhood, I no longer cut my own
winter supply. I pay 85 a cord
delivered, but I’ll be damned
if I’ll stand idly by and watch Willy stack it

Read the full poem here.

For more on the Cowboy Poetry genre, check out this Wikipedia entry!

Thanks much to AmoXcalli for hosting Poetry Friday this week!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This Is Nuts!

When I first started blogging, my husband advised me that at some point, my Google hits would shoot way up. Apparently this phenomenon happens to all regularly updated blogs. For the first few months, the blog gets a random hit or two each week, and then all of a sudden for no apparent reason, it starts getting lots of hits each day. Why this happens is a mystery.

Just Like the Nut has reached that point. Google is directing all sorts of searches my way. Here are a few of the fascinating word combinations that have led people to my humble blog:

  • nut looks like brain
  • i'm a nut (title)
  • nut poems
  • monkey joe's nuts in nj

Um, OK. What’s up with that? I guess you could say I attract the nut cases.

A few others I found interesting (not sure these folks found what they were looking for here!):

  • the greek word for poop
  • a squadron of what?
  • musculum warts
  • what kind of girl likes a nerd

Well, OK, if that last person read enough of my blog, he would have learned about at least one type of girl who likes nerds. Hurrah for nerds! And for the girls who like them!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Letters from Rapunzel: A Long, Hard Fall

At first glance, Letters from Rapunzel, by debut novelist Sara Lewis Holmes, seems like just my kind of book. Contemporary fiction. A strong-willed, smart female main character. Lots of humor. Even a discussion of word origins.

But. (You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?) But … it deals with one of those “serious topics” … depression.

I know depression is an important subject. I know it can have devastating effects on those who struggle with it, as well as on their families and friends. I know it’s something kids need to be able to learn about … something that should be written about and talked about and brought out into the open.

But. I don’t want to read about it.

Along come this Sara Lewis Holmes person, with her first published book ever, and she tricks me into reading a novel about something I do not want to read about.

Its breezy references to fairy tales. Its distinctive voice. Its unusual format (a series of letters). Its offbeat observations on life. Its suspenseful climax. Even its sweet, girly cover (OK, that’s probably not entirely Sara’s fault, but couldn’t she have requested that the artist make it darker, more sinister?)

The point is, in the final analysis, all of these wonderful qualities constitute a massive disguise for what is really a discussion of an important topic that made me think and possibly even reconsider some of my preconceptions about mental illness!

By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late. It was like a charm, a spell. I had gotten too far into the book and could not stop reading. So let this be a warning to you. If you prefer to avoid “serious” topics, do not fall for this book!

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Sea, the Stars and … a Squadron of Cows?

In honor of two major events that occurred this week – Talk Like a Pirate Day and the U.S. release of Adrienne Kress’s middle-grade adventure, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman – I have selected Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Pirate Story” for this week’s Poetry Friday post.

Love this kid-centric piece. Enjoy!

Pirate Story
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Three of us afloat in the meadow by the swing,
Three of us abroad in the basket on the lea.
Winds are in the air, they are blowing in the spring,
And waves are on the meadow like the waves there are at sea.

Where shall we adventure, to-day that we're afloat,
Wary of the weather and steering by a star?
Shall it be to Africa, a-steering of the boat,
To Providence, or Babylon or off to Malabar?

Hi! but here's a squadron a-rowing on the sea--
Cattle on the meadow a-charging with a roar!
Quick, and we'll escape them, they're as mad as they can be,
The wicket is the harbour and the garden is the shore.

Many thanks to Sara Lewis Holmes for hosting this week’s Poetry Friday!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blogging for the Cure

Some of you may be familiar with Robert's Snow, a wonderful fund-raising effort in which kid lit illustrators are donating their time and talents to help raise money for cancer research.

I am utterly and severely artistically impaired, so I was thrilled when the folks at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast decided to spearhead a promotional campaign that allows us bloggers to play a role in this event.

Long story short: In November and December, 150 kid lit illustrators will auction off snowflakes created especially for this fundraiser. In the meantime, 60 kid lit bloggers will help publicize the auction by featuring the artists and snowflakes on their blogs. I have been assigned to three artists, each of whom are amazing! I am so excited to have the opportunity to showcase their work here and to help in some small way with this campaign.

The bloggers have been asked not to run the artist/snowflake profiles until given a go-ahead by Jules at Seven Impossible Things ... so check back here in late October for those. In the meantime, be sure to visit the Robert's Snow Web site to learn how you can participate in the online auction to acquire a one-of-a-kind snowflake from one of your favorite artists, and support a good cause at the same time!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Can We Use "Ze" in Scrabble?

I love words, and I love word puzzles. My mystery series includes word puzzles, in fact.

Scrabble is a different story. Though rearranging a bunch of random letters into words is right up my alley, the frustration of sometimes not being able to form a word, combined with the often unbearable wait for others to form their words, pretty much sucks the fun right out of the game for me.

Still, this Scrabble video by Ze Frank ranks as one of my all-time favorite things on the Internet. Whether you love Scrabble or loathe it, I have a feeling you'll enjoy. (Warning: Some mildly adult language!)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Poetry Friday: A Mighty Oak Among Poets

When the Eichorn clan emigrated from Germany many years ago, they settled in Prince Edward Island. Some among them changed their name to Acorn (eichorn is the German word for “acorn”). A smallish number moved south to the United States. Many settled in PEI and in the eastern parts of Canada.

Milton James Rhode Acorn was born March 30, 1923, in Charlottetown, PEI. He became known both as Canada’s national poet and “the people’s poet.” He died on August 20, 1986.

I did not know Milton Acorn, and I have no idea what genealogical heritage we may share. But, I love knowing that one of the greatest poets in the history of Canada was an Acorn!

Live With Me On Earth Under the Invisible Daylight Moon
by Milton Acorn

Live with me on Earth among red berries and the bluebirds
And leafy young twigs whispering
Within such little spaces, between such floors of green, such figures in the clouds
That two of us could fill our lives with delicate wanting:
Where stars past the spruce copse mingle with fireflies
Or the dayscape flings a thousand tones of light back at the sun -
Be any one of the colours of an Earth lover;
Walk with me and sometimes cover your shadow with mine.

From Dig Up My Heart: Selected Poems 1952-83, McClelland and Stewart.

Thanks to Hip Writer Mama for hosting this week's Poetry Friday!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Report from the Registrar

I have the pleasure and privilege this year of serving as registrar for the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference, October 27 in Arlington, Virginia.

Registrations began coming in on September 4, and as of today ... less than two weeks since the program hit members' mailboxes ... we have 133 registrants! Looks as though we are well on our way to another successful event!

Among the highlights at this year's conference: a keynote address by none other than Bruce Coville and a panel of three first-time authors (Beckie Weinheimer, Sara Holmes and Moira Donohue) and their editors (Catherine Frank, Laura Arnold and Abby Levine, respectively). Also, editor Bonnie Bader will discuss revision, author Jen McVeity will share secrets of the craft, agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin will offer advice on getting published, and Art Director Carol Gilder will share her insights with the illustrators in attendance.

This event will sell out, so if you don't want to be square, please send in your registration soon! Details and the registration form can be downloaded here.

Looking forward to seeing some of you in October! Please stop by and say hi ... I'll be manning the registration desk when you arrive!!

Monday, September 10, 2007

It’s a Start, Part III

Welcome once again to “It’s a Start,” a semi-regular feature in which we examine the first sentence (or so) of five kids books randomly selected from the Acorn bookshelves. You can check out earlier editions here and here. (Note: Maximum number of stars = 5.)

Herculeah Jones was restless. She went to the window and looked up and down the street. Everything seemed normal, but she could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. Tarot Says Beware (A Herculeah Jones Mystery), by Betsy Byars

Hmm, I appreciate the mood, but the verbs are weak: “was” “looked,” “seemed” (though “shake” is a good one). This is the first paragraph. It’s supposed to draw in the reader. These verbs may cut it further into the book, but not here. Stars: ***

It was the last week of the summer, and I felt like I should be getting ready, but there I was on Ethan’s back porch again, playing Monopoly, just like most other days this summer. In fact, we were playing the same exact game we’d started in June. Gracie’s Girl, by Ellen Wittlinger

This one breaks two important rules. First, it starts on a normal day. I once heard an editor say that if your story starts with a kid’s alarm waking her up on a Monday morning, you need to ditch that beginning and start instead at the point where something unusual is happening. Mitigating factor: Wittlinger does hint that the character is expecting change … that she feels she should be getting ready for a new school year.

Second, this starts with backstory! We learn what these kids have been doing all summer. Whatever happened to “no backstory in the first X-number of pages”? Again, though, I have to give Wittlinger her props. She gives us backstory so skillfully, we may not even notice that’s what she’s doing. And the part about the same Monopoly game going on since June is plain funny, and perhaps a bit tragic (at least to this Monopoly hater). Stars: ***

Lucky Trimble crouched in a wedge of shade behind the Dumpster. The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron

With all the attention given to a certain other sentence appearing on the first page of this book, I am glad to be able to give some credit where some serious credit is due: This is an awesome first sentence, from the main character’s name, to the terrific verb “crouched,” to the descriptive visual “wedge of shade,” to the location “behind the Dumpster” (and not just any dumpster, but a dumpster with a capital “D”)! I want to read on as much for the writing and the language as to find out why this kid is crouching behind the Dumpster. Stars: *****

I once believed life was a gift. I thought whatever I wanted I would someday possess. Green Angel, by Alice Hoffman

Full disclosure: I adore Alice Hoffman and devour everything she writes, but I hated this book. Just not my thing. That said, this opening does set the mood for what is a haunting YA novella. Aside from setting a mood and giving a glimpse of the main character, it doesn’t do much to pull me in. Stars: **

To snoop or not to snoop…. That’s no question. Whether it’s smarter to let sleeping dogs lie or to plunge in and follow a clue, I always do the same thing: Follow the clue. Give My Regards to Broadway (A Chet Gecko Mystery), by Bruce Hale

Love it! Anyone who enjoys mysteries has to love a snooper. And the first sentence’s take-off on Shakespeare is perfect for a story set on the stage of a school production of Omlet, Prince of Denver. Stars: *****

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Ethan, Suspended: Keeping ’Em in Suspense

With her debut middle-grade novel, Ethan, Suspended, Pamela Ehrenberg proves you don’t have to write thrillers to master the art of suspense.

Before I explain, let’s take a look at the words “suspend” and “suspense.” Both words have their origin in the Latin suspendere, meaning “to hang, stop.”

In this novel, Ethan Oppenheimer is “suspended” in a couple of ways: (1) he has been suspended from school and (2) he is living with his grandparents in a temporary state of suspension while he awaits the outcome of his parents’ marital problems.

Though this book is not a mystery, nor a thriller nor a horror novel but is in fact closer to a quiet coming-of-age story, it does an excellent job of keeping the reader in suspense. I found myself trying to read faster to find out what happens next and staying up well past my already-too-late bedtime to finish “just one more chapter.”

How does Pamela accomplish this?

Through unanswered questions. From the very beginning of her story, she leaves the reader wondering what exactly has happened to Ethan and those around him.

Two examples:

Why was Ethan suspended from school? We know from the book’s prologue that it had something to do with a classmate who was left lying on a “bloodstained sidewalk,” but we do not know what exactly happened to the boy, nor what Ethan’s role was. Not until page 121 – nearly halfway through the book – do we learn the answer to this question.

What is going on between Daron and Diego? Daron is a boy who lives next door to Ethan’s grandparents, and Diego is one of the only kids at Ethan’s new school who will talk to him. (Being the only white kid at an inner-city D.C. school causes some interesting tensions for our hero.)

In chapter two (page 18), Daron’s little brother, Felix, first hints of the tension: "What you don’t want to do is get too friendly with the Spanish kids. Usually they leave us alone and we leave them alone and everything’s okay. It’s when people get too friendly that problems get started."

The book drops references to these "problems" throughout, but we don’t have a clear idea what they are until partway through Chapter 10 (page 100).

The book includes many other "suspenseful" questions. (What will happen to Ethan’s parents? Why has his mother been estranged from his grandparents for so long, and why did he end up at their house for this crisis? What happened to Ethan’s uncle, who died at a young age? Why does his friend, Sharita, miss so much school?)

As a writer who tends to want to explain everything to my readers up front … to fill them in on every character’s backstory and explain every plot point ad infinitum … I greatly appreciate the skill with which Pamela weaves these subtle elements of suspense into her story. There’s no better way to keep readers turning the page than to tease them with lots of unanswered questions.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me!

I was planning to post my review of Ethan, Suspended tonight, but my husband took me out to a wonderful b'day dinner instead. The chocolate peanut butter mousse cake was to die for!

So ... check this spot tomorrow for my comments on this wonderful book ... and some lessons learned on how to keep the reader turning the page!

Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. 
- Mark Twain

Sunday, September 2, 2007

With No Thanks to Sam Riddleburger

Decided to check on my blog's rating to see whether it has changed since my earlier post.

Um. So. Here's my new rating:

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

poop (5x)
suicide (3x)
pain (1x)

Gee, thanks, Sam. Last time I review one of your books!