Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kelly Bingham chats with readergirlz

Did you know that author Kelly Bingham (SHARK GIRL) used to write Disney movies -- including Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Atlantis? Or that she finished the first draft of her book just a few days before surfer Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a shark, and then put the book away for a whole year? Kelly's been spending time this month on readergirlz, and here are some great quotes from her live chat last Thursday at our forum.

On books she loved as a teen:
Little House on the Prairie books! Trixie Belden, teen detective! This sounds juvenille, but lots of Charlie Brown comic books. I read a lot of animal stories but couldn’t bear to read anything twice where the animal died or was hurt.
On researching SHARK GIRL:
I started with shark attack facts. Do you know it is actually quite rare to have a shark attack in America? And fatalaties are very rare here. I read all kinds of books about it and looked at stomach-turning photos. Blah. Then, once I started writing, I had to heavily reserach amputees and the things they have to use and the therapy they go through. I read for most of my research. But I also interviewed therapists, doctors, and a maker of prosthetic limbs. I also visited a rehab facility. I also read bios of people.
On how writing for film helps her create stories:
I drew storyboards for the films and worked with writers and directors to help figure out our stories. You do all that work before anyone animates anything, of course. The process takes two to five years. So I learned a great deal about character development and pacing and arcs and emotional beats, all that stuff.
On where she writes:
I write at my desk, which is in the loft of our home in the North Georgia mountains. My kids bedroom is attached to the loft. I work in the mornings when everyone is at school and I’m sort of energetic. I am constantly distracted by the chirps of birds and the desire to crawl into our bird blind and take pictures of the birds on the feeders. But soon school will be out and I will hear the sound of voices, not birds!
On why she didn't send SHARK GIRL to Bethany Hamilton:
I honestly think it would be inappropriate to contact her. It would look as if I thought she and I are connected in some way, or I had something to offer her.... the reality is, how could I possibly understand what her loss has truly meant? My story is fictional, hers is real....and no matter how I explain, it just LOOKS so bad, you know what I mean? I think if I were Bethany, ... I would be like, "Why are you sending me this book, I just lived this story, I don’t need your imaginings." She is quite the inspiration herself and I admire her a great deal.
Great stuff, don't you think? In May, we're hosting Shannon Hale (BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS), so spread the word. Shannon's live chat will be Thursday, May 22nd, 6 p.m. PDT, 9 p.m. EDT. And in June, what could be better than to focus on PROM by Laurie Halse Anderson?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Great Women, Great Awards

Let's dream a bit about our posthumous presence in the world of children's literature. If your name were to be affiliated with a book award someday, what criteria would you want to see define the selection process? Stories that feature the empowerment of women? Novels that promote peace or social justice? Or would you want your name to honor books that instruct and delight at the same time, like author John Newbery, who adopted John Locke's motto deluctando monemus as his vocational vision?

It's always an honor when your book is nominated for or wins an award, but this year four kudos have special meaning because they're named after a quartet of my personal heroes -- Amelia Bloomer, women's rights advocate, Jane Addams, founder of Hull House, Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist and poet, and Maud Hart Lovelace, author of my beloved Betsy-Tacy books (I was recently informed that Monsoon Summer is one of Minnesota's 2008-2009 Maud Hart Lovelace nominees -- hooray!)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rickshaw Girl Wins Jane Addams Honor!

I'm thrilled to announce that Rickshaw Girl is a Jane Addams Honor Book for 2008. I got a phone call last week from Susan Griffith, chair of the committee, telling me the news. 

Here's the official press release:

JANE ADDAMS CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARDS ANNOUNCED

April 28, 2008 — Winners of the 2008 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards were announced today by the Jane Addams Peace Association.

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s Slave Finds Freedom, the winner in the Books for Younger Children Category, is written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully and published by Farrar Strauss Giroux. Mrs. Washington’s declares that young Oney is just like one of the Washington’s own children, but Oney is not fooled. On the night Mrs. Washington tells Oney she will not grant her freedom upon her death, Oney thinks quickly, acts courageously and flees. Expressive watercolors within this well-researched biography portray the bravery of Ona Maria Judge, an African-American woman who claimed, and fought for, the right to have “no mistress but herself.”

We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin by Larry Dane Brimner, published by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc., is the winner in the Books for Older Children Category. Working behind the scenes because of his sexual orientation and unpopular political stands, African-American pacifist and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, a trusted adviser to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Succinct prose, powerful quotations and fresh historical photographs place the story of Rustin’s life alongside the story of the March, revealing the breadth and depth of Rustin’s decades of commitment to confronting racism and promoting peace in the United States and in countries around the world.

One book has won honors in the Books for Younger Children Category. One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II, written and illustrated by Lita Judge is published by Hyperion Books for Children. After discovering one thousand yellowed foot tracings in her grandmother’s attic, Lita Judge wrote this tribute to her grandmother who had used these newspaper tracings to find appropriately-sized shoes to send to needy German families in the aftermath of World War II. A combination of paintings, collages of original photographs and reproductions of foot tracings underscore the message of compassion at the heart of this family story.

Three books have won honors in the Books for Older Children category. Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, with illustrations by Jamie Hogan and published by Charlesbridge, is a contemporary novel set in Bangladesh. In clear prose and detailed black-and-white drawings, ten-year-old Naima excels at painting alpanas, traditional designs created by Bangladeshi women and girls. Her talent, though valued by her family, cannot buy rice or pay back the loan on her father’s rickshaw as a son’s contribution would do. Determined to help financially, Naima disguises herself as a boy and sparks surprising events that reveal an expanding world for herself and women in her community.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., is a sensitively-written historical novel infused with the spirit of youth. Eleven-year-old Elijah bursts with pride at being the first child born free in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just across the border from Detroit. When a scoundrel steals money saved to buy an enslaved family’s freedom, Elijah impulsively pursues the thief into Michigan. The journey brings him face-to-face with the terrors of slavery, pushing him to act courageously and compassionately in the name of freedom.

Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford is published by Wordsong, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc. Deftly-written free verse and expertly-chosen archival photographs lay open the horror of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing by telling the story in the voice of an imagined girl in the “year I turned ten.” Four memorial poems, each a tribute to one of the four girls murdered in the bombing, conclude this slim, powerful volume and carry its emphatic message: No More Birminghams!

Since 1953, the Jane Addams Children's Book Award annually acknowledges books published in the U.S. during the previous year. Books commended by the Award address themes or topics that engage children in thinking about peace, justice, world community, and/or equality of the sexes and all races. The books also must meet conventional standards of literary and artistic excellence.

A national committee chooses winners and honor books for older and younger children. Members of the 2007 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards Committee are Susan C. Griffith, Chair (Mt. Pleasant, Michigan), Barbara Bair (Washington, D. C.), Ann Bower (Harwich, Massachusetts), Sonja Cherry-Paul (Yonkers, New York), Eliza T. Dresang (Tallahassee, Florida), Oralia Garza de Cortes (Pasadena, California), MJ Grande (Juneau, Alaska), Daisy Gutierrez (Houston, Texas), Margaret Jensen (Madison, Wisconsin), Jo Montie (Minneapolis, Minnesota), Sarah Park (Long Beach, California), Pat Wiser (Sewanee,Tennessee) and Junko Yokota (Skokie, Illinois). Regional reading and discussion groups participated with many of the committee members throughout the jury’s evaluation and selection process.

The 2008 Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards will be presented Friday, October 17th in New York City. Details about the award event and about securing winner and honor book seals are available from the Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA). Contact JAPA Executive Director Linda B. Belle, 777 United Nations Plaza, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10017-3521; by phone 212-682-8830; and by e-mail japa@igc.org.

For additional information about the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards and a complete list of books honored since 1953, see www.janeaddamspeace.org.

Founded in 1948, JAPA is the educational arm of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). In addition to sponsoring the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards and many other educational projects, JAPA houses the U.N. office of WILPF in New York City and owns the Jane Addams House in Philadelphia where the U.S. section of WILPF is located. Organized on April 28th in 1915, WILPF is celebrating its 93rd year. For information, visit www.wilpf.int.ch/.

- End -

Friday, April 25, 2008

Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship

I had the privilege of serving as one of the judges this year for the PEN Phyllis Naylor Fellowship (along with Sid Fleischman and Christopher Paul Curtis), and our decision was announced this week:
This year the fellowship goes to Theresa Nelson, author of the forthcoming novel Julia Delaney: The American Version, to be published by Atheneum Books.

From the judges' citation: “It’s 1910 when her grandmother dies, and Irish-American orphan Julia Delaney and her sister are carted off to a Catholic institution, sustained only by her beloved older brother’s promise to reunite them. This historical novel is told with engaging humor, rich language, and details that are superbly consistent with the setting. From the outset, Julia leaps out of the past, off the page, and straight into your heart.”

It's All In The Pleat: How To Wear A Sari

I like to bring a saree along to school visits and drape it on a student volunteer, but I gleaned some tips on tucking and folding from this rooftop expert:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kelly Bingham on readergirlz TONIGHT!

Come join us for a live chat on the readergirlz MySpace forum with our April-is-poetry-month author Kelly Bingham tonight, Thursday April 24th, at 6 p.m. PDT and 9 p.m. EDT (you mountain and central people do the math and join us.) 
SHARK GIRL: A Novel In Verse

What happens when life as you know it is changed forever? What happens when your dreams are snatched away? And how do you move on when you have lost part of yourself forever?

Shark Girl is a story of fifteen-year old Jane Arrowood, a budding artist and junior in high school. On a sunny summer day, Jane goes to the beach with her family and goes for a swim. That's when everything changes---forever.

Now she dreads returning to school, with her fake arm and the stares, whispers, and pity of the students around her.

Told in poems, letters, newspaper articles, and conversations, SHARK GIRL looks at what it's like to find the courage to rebuild the life you thought you'd lost.
Here's an excerpt from Kelly's conversations this month with the girlz:
Does anyone here have recurring dreams? Are they good or bad?

I have several. For years and years, I had a recurring nightmare about walking along the slippery edge of a pool filled with sharks. It was terrifying.

The funny thing is, after completing Shark Girl, I never had that dream again.

Now I dream about orcas! ... In my dream, I walk to the beach, come over a hill, look down, and see scores of Orcas floundering around in the shallows, looking menacing and scary. Sometimes they are even coming up on the sand.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Three Year Blogiversary To Me

It was April 23, 2005. I'd never heard of widgets, or YouTube, or blog rolls. Fighting writer's block, bored with my own brain, I stepped out to a place where a few children's book people had started to gather.

The old blogger platform.

Remember that? The whirling wheel that hypnotized you for at least a minute after you hit publish. Syndication and html coding were part of the vast unknown, and blogger error messages became as familiar as my own posts. Nonetheless, I kept blogging. And learning. And making mistakes.

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm proud of my forty-something brain for grasping an entirely new language and way of communicating. It's crazy fun, I've made wonderful friends, and I've blathered on about lots of subjects, blissfully uninterrupted and uncensored.

HOORAY FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and please do keep coming out to the Fire Escape. You're always welcome!

Yet Another Reason To Love Maine

While I was traveling hither and yon last week (New Hampshire, Texas, California, and Colorado), illustrator Jamie Hogan attended the Reading Round-Up Conference in Augusta to accept the Maine Library Association's Lupine Honor Award for Rickshaw Girl. Thank you so much, Pine Tree State!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Happy Operation Teen Book Drop!

Today's the day! I rocked the drop -- scattering books far and wide in places like Dallas, Texas; Springfield, Missouri; Concord, Massachusetts; Winchester, Massachusetts, and of course in the fabulous Children's Hospital in Boston, where Dr. Jessica Daniel coordinates a program called Booking It In The Waiting Room, trying to make sure that teens who come in for stressful appointments can choose and take home wonderful new books.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jenna Bush And Mitali Speak Simultaneously

That's right. Here I am in Dallas for the GIGANTIC Texas Library Association Conference, and the real First Daughter is speaking about Ana's Story exactly during the hour of my Books Between Cultures session (she's appearing at noon in a huge banquet hall; I'm tucked in a conference room somewhere). Interesting timing, considering that one of the reasons I'm here is to sign and promote my First Daughter novels. There's irony in there somewhere for those of you tracking my pajama publicity efforts. Oh, well. I'm off to the exhibit hall, consoling myself with the super-sized everything here in Dallas -- airport, convention center, food portions on every plate, smiles, and the unsurpassed hospitality of Texas librarians.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Thank You, Charlesbridge ...

... for choosing artist Jamie Hogan to illustrate Rickshaw Girl (which was just named a 2008 Julia Ward Howe Recommended Book and won a starred mention in Bank Street's Best Children Books of the year.) Since our Charlesbridge-arranged introduction, Jamie has lavished me with gifts, like giving me the portrait in my blog header above, and sending me this promotional postcard she designed for both of us:


She also framed one of the portraits of Naima and her sister that she drew for the book, wrapped it, and sent it to my beloved sister in Colorado as a breathtaking birthday present:


And then, at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference this past weekend, Jamie came up after my session and presented me with another of her gorgeous illustrations -- the one she drew of Saleem and reminds me so much of my father as a boy:

photos above courtesy of Jamie Hogan

Thank you, Jamie, and thank you, Charlesbridge editor Judy O'Malley and Art Director Susan Sherman for your inspired literary matchmaking.

Now I'm off to Dallas to present at the Texas Library Association, followed by Winchester's Author Fest and Operation Teen Book Drop at the Boston Children's Hospital, and don't forget that thanks to Ma, I'll be on television this Friday April 18th in the Bay Area (ABC-KGO's View From The Bay). Just don't ask if I'm writing fifteen minutes a day, Laurie, but I plan to when I get back, thanks to your inspiring keynote session at NESCBWI's conference.

photo courtesy of Laurie Halse Anderson

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Live-Blogging From Nashua: Kevin Hawkes' Keynote

The ballroom's filling up, and I'm sitting next to National Book Award finalist Nancy Werlin (new fantasy/romance YA Impossible coming this September). Kevin Hawkes is about to speak, and he'll probably use a lot of slides, so I'll just give you a quote or two to keep you with us.

Before Kevin speaks, Anna Boll gives us a bit about next year's conference, with keynote Cynthia Lord and illustrator Floyd Cooper. It will take place April 24-26, 2009, so mark your calendars. Anna introduces Kevin Hawkes, lauding his ability to make characters come alive.

Our theme this year is stretching our wings, Kevin says, which is risky. Who are the people that gave you your wings? Kevin introduces a few of those important people in his life, like his mother, who taught him to recognize magic, or the absence of it, in art. There were some key risks he took, and they paid off. Moving, for example, to Boston, was a big deal. He visited Little Brown, and an editor asked, "What kind of children's book do you want to illustrate?" He didn't know how to answer, and he began showing his portfolio to publishers, but his work was (as a friend put it) ... "strange-looking."

He changed his portfolio to do something fresh and new, and begins showing some slides of his new paintings from that time. Still he wasn't getting much response from publishers in New York and continued working in a bookstore, illustrating during his lunch hour. He finally got a call from New York based on a sales rep looking over his shoulder in the store. That was another risk: putting your work out there and hoping that somebody liked it. Which they finally did.

Kevin shows more slides of his early illustrations and first picture books ... Another risk for him was moving into non-fiction, which brought into play his love of history and research. Every book required a change in approach as an illustrator because every book was different.

Live-Blogging From Nashua: Leda Schubert on Fantasy

Afternoon workshop. Fantasy and World Building. Leda Schubert

I'm sitting in the back trying to keep my blogging low-key, next to writing buddies Wendy Nystrom and Mordena Babich (who knows the correct pronunciation of Rick Riordan), both in my critique group, both authors of excellent stories in the fantasy genre. Leda gets started (I did ask her permission to live-blog, and she graciously gave it, so relax and read on. Here's a disclaimer, though: these are rough notes, they don't include Leda's precise words, and the quotes are incomplete.)

What is the wrong reason to write fantasy? Because it's what's selling. The right reason? It is the best way to tell the story only you can tell. We're born with the need for story.

Leda goes over the classic book, Harold and the Purple Crayon. Study this book! It shows all that's right about fantasy, she says. The heart-stopping moment of fantasy is when you wonder if it's going to be okay. If you scare yourself as you're writing, you're doing your job. Sometimes as you write you don't know where you're going.

Motivations? We want to believe that something exists outside of what we see.

Where to begin? Read, read, read. Take notes. Hard analysis. Develop a list of things to look for. What kind of world has this author created? What are the elements? Are there moments when you're jarred out of the fictive world of fantasy?

After you've read the books, turn to folklore and mythology. Try retellings and re-imaginings. We all have stories we're "doomed to write."

Know story structure. Discover the myth of the hero all around the world.

Fantasy is not escapist literature. It is a journey in instead of out. "Myth may not be real," says Susan Cooper, but it is true. "Fantastic conditions must speak to our real one," said Lloyd Alexander.

Leda recommends The Tough Guide To Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. "It's a hoot," says Leda, making us laugh with a couple of quotes she reads aloud.

She explains Jane Yolen's three types of fantasy: earthbound, evens in our world with possible magical events (Borrowers), faerie (a secondary world like Earthsea), tourist fantasies where an earth traveler passes into another world or time (Narnia).

Leda also pulls from Jane Langton's The Weak Place in the Cloth. In fantasy literature, the cloth is either stretched, punctured, invisible and permeable, or unpunctured, but we're on the other side. The cloth can divide now from then, life from death (ghost stories), or finite present from infinite future (science fiction).

Leda's getting to the fundamentals now, explaining in detail how to create a fantasy world, and ends by saying that the work in this rich genre is still too much in the hands of white men. That's changing, but slowly. We need new voices, especially non-Western ones. We are part of this change.

Live-Blogging From Nashua: Laurie Halse Anderson

Here I am in the ballroom of the Crowne Hotel in Nashua (9 a.m.), waiting to hear NESCBWI's keynote speaker for our annual conference. The place is packed with 500 eager writers and illustrators -- a more diverse crowd than in years past, but still mostly white, middle-aged, and female.

Conference director Francine Puckley is introducing the cadre of hard workers who pull off this huge conference. I'm sitting next to authors Tanya Lee Stone (A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl) and Sarah Aronson (Head Case), who are BFFs, and trying not to miss MY writing buddy, author Karen Day (Tall Tales).

During the intro to Laurie Halse Anderson, we learn that her new YA/MG novel Chains is due out in October.

Laurie starts by showing us her tattoo, and tells us to get one in order to "frustrate the fifteen-year-olds in America." Her tattoo is the first word in Beowulf, which basically means "LISTEN TO MY STORY."

After hundreds of rejections and years, it dawned on her that she needed help, and she did the most significant thing in her writing life: she joined SCBWI. Eventually, she started getting personalized, "quality rejections." Next came phone calls.

"If you're not published yet, you are simply 'pre-published,'" she tells us.

Laurie's talk is about five keys to becoming a writer: time, space, art, craft, and permission. The session is inspiring for wannabes, newbies, and burned-out oldies alike. Applause, and we're done.

My next update will be at 2:40, when I live-blog Leda Schubert's session "World-Building: Bringing Fantasy to Life," followed by Kevin Hawkes' closing keynote address starting at 3:50. Now I'm off to my own session!

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Edge Of The Forest

The March/April issue of our favorite ezine about children's and YA literature is live. Here's a snapshot of the goodies awaiting you:

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Traveling, Talking, and Television Shows

I'm going on the road next week, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to sneak out to the Fire Escape too often, but I'll try, because I love it out here. Here's where I'll be:

Friday, April 11th - Saturday, April 12th: On Friday, I'm at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Annual Conference, enjoying dinner and a cabaret presentation by author/illustrator Anne Sibley O'Brien, author/illustrator David Hyde Costello, and Charlesbridge editor Yolanda Leroy called CONFESSIONS OF THE PROFESSION: A STARRED REVUE. I can't wait to see it! I'll also be presenting a workshop on Saturday April 12th from 10:05 -11:00 a.m. called "Pajama Promotion: Five Web-Savvy Ways to Generate Buzz About Your Books."

Wednesday, April 16th: Come join us for my session called "Books Between Cultures," offered from 12-12:50 at the Texas Library Association Convention, (Program CPE#356 in room D 171/173 sponsored by the Texas Association of School Librarians) followed by book signings on the exhibit floor, first at the Penguin booth #1701 from 2 – 3, and then at the Author Autographing Area with Charlesbridge from 3-4. Stop by and say hi.

Thursday, April 17th: I'll be celebrating Operation Teen Book Drop at the Winchester Author Festival in Winchester, Massachusetts.

Friday, April 18th: If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can catch me on ABC/KGO's View From The Bay from 3-4 p.m. PST (streaming online live here), where I'll be chatting about growing up between cultures and how stories kept me balanced.

What's that? You want to be on television, too? Well, then, your mother should cold-call the station without telling you about it beforehand and leave a message bragging about her kid. Yep, that's how I got the gig. Thanks, Ma.


"If you don't promote this book,
my mother will cold-call you, too."

Monday, April 07, 2008

Katherine Paterson: Soundbytes and Speeding Tickets

Last Thursday, I skedaddled over to Primary Source (mission: promotes history and humanities education by connecting educators to people and cultures throughout the world) to listen to one of my literary heroes, Katherine Paterson. The photo was taken last year, and that's author Anne Broyles' hand --  I had to crop her out to preserve the privacy of Ms. Paterson's fridge display (sorry, Anne). 

During the event, I jotted some quotes to share with you on the Fire Escape:

On what she wished she knew during her lonely childhood:
Cheer up, little girl, someday you're going to make a mint out of your misery.
On the transformative power of bilingualism:
The language we speak doesn't just express our thoughts and feelings, it shapes our thoughts and feelings.
On the solace of fiction:
The consolation of the imaginary is not imaginary consolation.
On why media-saturated children need to read:
Wisdom comes slowly and quietly, it requires contemplation and silence ... Literature demands that children give of themselves.
On the world-changing influence of a children's book author:
It was Astrid Lindgren's writing for children that made people listen to her powerful voice.
I was late to the event because I got stopped by an officer for fooling around with my Tom-Tom instead of paying attention to the yellow-oops-red signal. Some nerve, eh? As I inspected the warning he sweetly gave me instead of a real ticket, I was intrigued by how he'd filled out the race box. In Massachusetts, apparently, I am categorized as a "Z." What is a Z?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Go Ahead, Judge My Book ...

... by the cover. What do you think it's about?
Coming January 2009 from Random House

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A New Writing Season

This week Delacorte editor Fran├žoise Bui told me that a copy editor's working on Secret Keeper (Random House, Spring 2009), the flap copy and author bio are good to go, and she's sending me cover art soon.

I've got one more revision of The Bamboo People due to Charlesbridge, but that feels more than manageable.

And agent Laura Rennert called to chat about future projects.

After almost three years of writing under contract, I'm free! Picture me on the Austrian Alps -- wait scratch that, the Himalayan foothills -- singing and whirling with arms akimbo.

My goal for the next three years? Hone the craft, sweetheart, and no signing on a dotted line before that first draft is finished.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Sarah Dessen chats with readergirlz

Sarah Dessen was our guest author over at readergirlz for the month of March, talking about her forthcoming book, Lock and Key. Here are some excerpts from her chat with the girlz last week:
I get a little crazy everytime I’m writing a book, especially at the end, when I’m so tired and burned out and just trying to finish. Mostly by then I’m just subsisting on chocolate and fear. But somehow, it works out.

I never start a book until I have what I call "the skeleton, " which is the first line, climactic scene, and last scene. They often change from what I begin with, but I like knowing where I’m going. I’ve started books without knowing that and they never work out.
I actually had a lot of people say they thought Just Listen was TOO much like Speak. I made a point of not reading Speak until JL was edited and done, but while they have the theme of sexual assualt in common, I thought they were very different. I think it’s never a bad thing to have many takes on an issue that people don’t talk about enough.

My favorite spot to write? These days, anywhere. I used to love my office, but now I tend to write in my daughter’s room, when she’s downstairs. I like to think I can write anywhere, but it’s awfully nice here in this room. There’s a Where The Wild Things Are poster on the wall!

(My routine's) changed a bit since my daughter was born. Everything has! But I still try to write about an hour to an hour and a half a day, in the afternoons. Sometimes I get to do that, sometimes I don’t. I can’t be as obsessive as I used to be, which is actually a good thing.

I really like writing YA, but I think eventually I would like to write about older narrators. A lot has happened to me since high school! I actually have a couple of books I’ve written with older narrators, but I just haven’t had a chance to show them to anyone yet.

I’m actually working on a new book right now, but it’s in the really early stages. I’m so superstitious I can’t talk about it! But I am always that way...

I love John Irving. His book A Prayer for Owen Meany is probably my favorite book. I named Owen Armstrong after Owen Meany! I also love Southern Writers like Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle. I also LOVE Jennifer Weiner and Anne Tyler. For YA, I love Laurie Halse Anderson and John Green and Cecil Castellucci and Sara Zarr and the list goes on and on...

Lock and Key is about a girl named Ruby, who has lived most of her life moving from place to place with her Mom, who is not exactly the most responsible person. As the book begins her mom has taken off, and this time she doesn’t come back. Ruby plans to live alone in their little yellow farmhouse, but she gets turned into Social Services by her landlords and sent to live with her sister, who she hasn’t seen in ten years. It’s a book about change, and family, and secrets, and how even getting what you think you want isn’t always easy. It’s out on April 22nd.
Along with writing memorable characters, Sarah is also great at creating a sense of place in her fiction. Here's a video explaining why:


This month we're hosting Kelly Bingham (Shark Girl) for National Poetry Month. Check out the issue, and stop by to chat with Kelly at the readergirlz forum.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts

From Monica Edinger comes the announcement of this year's Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts. Here are the 30 books selected by the committee:

2008 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts

Poetry and Drama
  • Dillons, Leo and Diane. (2007). Jazz on a Saturday Night. New York: Blue Sky Press/Scholastic.
  • Forman, Ruth. (2007). Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon. Illustrations by Cbabi Bayoc. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press.
  • Neri, G. (2007). Chess Rumble. Illustrations by Jesse Joshua Watson. New York: Lee & Low.
  • Park, Linda Sue. (2007). Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo Poems. Illustrations by Istvan Banyai. New York: Clarion/Houghton Mifflin.
  • Schlitz, Laura Amy. (2007). Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
Historical and Realistic Fiction
  • Compestine, Ying Chang. (2007). Revolution is Not a Dinner Party. New York: Henry Holt.
  • Ellsworth, Loretta. (2007). In Search of Mockingbird. New York: Henry Holt.
  • Gifford, Peggy. (2007). Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little. Photographs by Valorie Fisher. New York: Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
  • Murphy, Pat. (2007). The Wild Girls. New York: Viking/Penguin.
  • Schmidt, Gary D. (2007). The Wednesday Wars. New York: Clarion/Houghton Mifflin.
  • Selznick, Brian. (2007). The Invention of Hugo Cabret. New York: Scholastic.
  • Sheth, Kashmira. (2007). Keeping Corner. New York: Hyperion.
  • Woodson, Jacqueline. (2007). Feathers. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin.
Fantasy/Folklore
  • Fleischman, Paul. (2007). Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella. Illustrated by Julie Paschkis. New York: Henry Holt.
  • Higgins, F.E. (2007). The Black Book of Secrets. New York: Feiwel and Friends/Holtzbrinck.
  • Varon, Sara. (2007). Robot Dreams. New York: First Second/Holtzbrinck.
Information/Biography/Autobiography/Memoir
  • Bausum, Ann. (2007). Muckrakers. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
  • Fletcher, Ralph. (2007). How to Write Your Life Story. New York: Collins/Harper Collins.
  • Marcus, Leonard S. (2007). Pass it Down: Five Picture-Book Families Make Their Mark. New York: Walker/Holtzbrinck.
  • Sis, Peter. (2007). The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Sullivan, George. (2007). Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures. New York: Scholastic.
Picture Books
  • Baretta, Gene. (2007). Dear Deer: A Book of Homophones. New York: Henry Holt.
  • Gravett, Emily. (2007). Orange Pear Apple Bear. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Harrington, Janice N. (2007). The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County. Illustrations by Shelley Jackson. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Judge, Lita. (2007). One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II. New York: Hyperion.
  • Lee, S. (2007). The Zoo. La Jolla, CA: Kane/Miller.
  • Messinger, Carla and Katz, Susan. (2007). When the Shadbush Blooms. Illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle.
  • Tan, Shaun. (2007). The Arrival. New York: Scholastic.
  • Watt, Melanie. (2007). Chester. Toronto, ON: Kids Can.
  • Wild, Margaret. (2007). Woolvs in the Sitee. Illustrated by Anne Spudvilas. Honesdale, PA: Front Street/Boyds Mills Press.
This is an outstanding, diverse list, but I've got to whinge about something out on the Fire Escape to keep things interesting, right? This time, I'm wondering about humor. I haven't read all the books listed above, but do any of them make kids giggle? 

After all, the criteria for selection are books that (1) deal explicitly with language, such as plays on words, word origins, or the history of language; (2) demonstrate uniqueness in the use of language or style; and/or (3) invite child response or participation. 

The skill of using wordplay and storytelling to make kids laugh while reading is rarely lauded in the awards machinery, apart from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Sid Fleischman Humor Award. Don't we value humor in the book world?