Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Blown Away: Publication and Taking Off

Posted by Kate Dopirak, Guest Blogger
When I took my five-year-old to fly kites, his experience reminded me of events leading up to my first book deal. Joey thought he had everything he needed to enjoy a fun day – a pirate dog kite, a gusty wind and an open field. He couldn’t wait.
But when Joey finally got in the grass, he discovered it was actually quite swampy. His new shoes got covered with mud quickly. He slipped. Having enough traction to run proved tricky. And the wind was, well, windy. Strong, actually. The kite flipped and smacked into his face. “Dumb kite!” he yelled, trying to battle the wind as he untangled the string that wrapped around his leg. He fell. Now his favorite pants – the ones with a muscle dog – were muddy, too.
This certainly wasn’t the way kite flying had played out in Joey’s imagination. Surely he thought there was nothing to it. Easy-peasy. One. Two. Three. But, no. It was harder than he’d expected. I think that challenge, along with the fact that his three-year-old brother’s kite was practically in the clouds, made him try harder.
Joey wasn’t about to give up. Again and again, he battled the wind and the mud and that unruly pirate dog. He yelled. He stomped. He wailed, “Please!” He ran that field until he panted like a track and field star. 
Then it happened. All at once the wind hit the kite just so and it went up, up, up. Joey smiled then laughed then cheered. “I did it!” Suddenly the mud hardly mattered. The kite was no longer dumb. Hey – this was fun. Really fun. He got more into it – “Watch me!”
            I took pictures and yelled encouragement – “Great job! I knew you could do it!” And that’s when it hit me that his kite-flying struggle was pretty darn similar to my getting-published struggle.
            I joined the SCBWI  and the fabulous Sally Alexander’s writing group in 2002. One-hundred-and-forty-four rejections later, I sold my first piece of writing, a poem to Highlights High Five, in 2008. Six years?! Jeez – no kidding about being hard to get some traction.
Luckily, Sally encouraged me to write personal essays. Once I started publishing those in newspapers and magazines, my confidence got a big, fat blast of wind. I sold more pieces to Highlights. And in the meantime, I attended as many SCBWI conferences as possible. I took notes like a nut and introduced myself to anyone and everyone. The amazing Kitty Griffin encouraged me to apply for the One-on-One Conference at Rutgers. And I read. I read magazines and board books and picture books and chapter books and middle-grades and YA (Okay, fine. So I read a little Chelsea Handler, too. Kill me.)
            So when it happened that I was matched with my dream agent for a manuscript critique at the WPA SCBWI Conference, I was ready. I had that same ‘all-at-once-the-wind-hit’ moment Joey experienced with his kite. But that’s not the end.
            On that kite-flying day, I cheered for Joey to let his pirate dog go higher.
“Let the string out!”
He panicked. “No! I don’t want to lose it.”
That’s exactly how I felt when that same agent I was dying to sign with challenged me to let go:
“Your chapter book can be a middle-grade. Dig deeper. This character deserves more.”
Joey finally let his string unwind so his pirate dog could soar – really soar. He was blown away. I trusted the agent, especially because I felt like she ‘got’ my work and me, enough to let my writing unwind, too. I was blown away as I revised my chapter book according to her suggestions. I resubmitted it as a middle-grade. 
She offered me representation (insert champagne popping here) and five days later sold one of my picture book manuscripts. Talk about being totally blown away! How fun to take that energy back to my works-in-progress. Now I know that just like with kite flying, the reading and the writing and ultimately, the publishing is really all about being blown away.  
Kate Dopirak is a reader, writer, and now - oh my! - an author too! Learn more about her at her website here.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Blowin' In The Wind: Writing for a craft magazine

Posted by Judy Press

When the weather shows signs of spring, my motivation to write wanes along with the dark, dreary days of winter. It’s then that I start to think about crafting. Maybe my inspiration comes from the colorful tulips about to bloom in my garden, or perhaps it’s the stack of construction paper sitting in my supply closet waiting for me to do something clever with it. So now that my creative juices are flowing again, I’m anxious to grab my scissors and get back to work (check out the May, 2011 issue of FamilyFun Magazine to see a re-issue of my greeting card.)  For those of you who are interested writing for craft magazines keep these things in mind:

1) Right now (spring), magazines are looking for fall crafts. Magazines are always working several months ahead of the current season.

2. Lots of crafts are online so make sure that your crafts are original or a unique slant on an existing craft.

3. Make and photograph the actual craft.

4. Keep instructions straightforward and easy to understand. The less complicated and wordy the better.

5. Have a child make the craft so that you have an understanding of how age-appropriate it will be.

6. With young children certain supplies could present a danger, such as sharp scissors or small objects. Recommend child-safety scissors and adult supervision if necessary.

Below are instructions to make a basic pinwheel. If I submitted this idea to a magazine I would have to make changes to give it an original slant, such as using recycled papers like patterned wrapping paper in place of the construction paper or attaching it to plastic straw instead of a pencil. So in celebration of spring here's a fun pinwheel to craft. 

A Perfect Pinwheel

Here’s what you need
  • Construction paper
  • Pencil with eraser (preferably without a point)
  • Pushpin or tack
  • Small-hole puncher
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
Here’s what you do
1. Cut a six-inch square from the construction paper. Starting at each corner, use the ruler to draw a diagonal line from the edge towards the center (it’ll look like a big X).
2. Cut along the diagonal lines, stopping about half way to the center. Punch four holes, one at each corner of the square and in the center of the square (if you don’t own a hole puncher use a scissor to poke small holes.)
3. Gently fold over each punched corner to line up all the holes with the center hole, making sure not to crease the paper.
4. Loosely attach the pinwheel to the eraser end of the pencil by inserting the pointy end of the pushpin through the punched holes then sticking it into the pencil eraser.
Then go outside and try blowing in the wind!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Character, Plot and Subject

by Carol Herder

OK, I admit it. I’m having a crisis. I recently read a suspense novel that was so awful I asked myself whether writing suspense for adults was a career I really wanted to pursue. Could I force myself to deliver a book for an audience satisfied with a caricature protagonists and slight plot lines? I won’t mention the name of the book, but suffice it to say it freaked me out.

Then I remembered a novel I recently read entitled “American Rust.” Whew! There STILL are readers of substance who appreciate good characterization, captivating plots and enlightening subject matters. Everyone loves books for different reasons, but for me it has always been about those three things; a character I can identify with, a provoking plot, and a subject from which I can learn something. Yes, you absolutely should expect to learn something from a fiction novel!

From the first page, “American Rust” completely engaged my attention. In this book, author Philipp Meyer portrays a handful of characters and successfully follows them through a devastating incident. Even as I cried at Isaac’s misfortunes I knew in my heart he must complete his heartbreaking and perilous journey. At first I didn’t like Poe very much, but he too is constructed so wholly I began to appreciate his problems. Isaac’s sister, Lee, would be easy to despise, but Meyer’s strength in the details as he illustrates Lee’s life lets the reader understand he isn’t making excuses for her. She, as everyone else is only human. He portrays in-depth character so perfectly, that as a writer, I wanted to reread and dissect every nuance of his characters, plot and subject. Meyer’s meticulous detail builds a world that is authentic and realistic. I rarely read a book more than once. Only the greatest writers deserve such attention, Austen, Hemmingway, the Bronte’s, Forrester, Alcott, and C. S. Lewis. However, “American Rust” is drenched with writing so wonderful and true; I might add it to my list.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Blown Away by the Nash Man

Custard, in Very Good Company
posted by Andrea Perry
Who has ever had so much fun with words??? Anything I have ever read  by Ogden Nash has blown me away, so it was very hard to narrow things down to a single book, but I'd probably choose Custard and Company. Custard is a selection of Nash's poems from his many other works.  For anyone not familiar with this self-proclaimed "worsifier", surely you've heard that ..."Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker?"
From Cricket of Carador to Parents Keep Out: Elderly Poems for Youngerly Readers, Nash never ceases to be clever, amusing, and smart, and I am so very jealous. Have you ever heard a cow described so perfectly?

The cow is of the bovine ilk:
One end is moo, the other, milk.

Or an eel?
I don't mind eels
Except as meals.
And the way they feels.

A hippopotamus?

Behold the hippopotamus!
We laugh at how he looks to us,
And yet in moments dank and grim
I wonder how we look to him.
Peace, peace, thou hippopotamus!
We really look all right to us,
As you no doubt delight the eye
Of other hippopotami.

Is "hippopotami" a correct plural? Do we care? It should be!
And finally, one of my all time favorites, The Octopus:

Tell me, O Octopus, I begs,
Is those things arms, or is they legs?
I marvel at thee, Octopus:
If I were thou, I'd call me Us.

His rhyming is brilliant, hilarious, and not apt to be found in any rhyming dictionary that I know...boomerang with Kangaroo meringue? Sepia and creepier?  Dolphin and golphin?  Polish and rigamarolish?
If you have never experienced the pleasure of his verse, pick up a copy of anything Nash sometime very soon.  You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Blown into Danger - and Back

Posted by Cynthia Light Brown

When my kids were young, we read stacks and stacks and stacks of picture books. There were several years where we read for 3 hours a day, every day. Believe me when I say that a picture book needs to be readable not just the first time or the third time, but the 50th time. And for writers of picture books, I recommend that you read your picture book aloud not just once, but three times a day for at least a week. If you don't still love it, if it doesn't have a natural rhythm to its language, go back and revise, or maybe even start anew.

I started to pick 3 of my favorite picture books for this post, but when I went to my shelves to pull some off (even though my youngest is almost 11, I still have lots of them because I can't bear to part with such good friends) there were so many in my pile that I had to narrow down the criteria a bit. So I narrowed it down to picture books that take us into danger and back. Nearly all of the great picture books do this of course - when you include emotional danger - but these 3 all venture into physical danger as well and do so in different ways. All three blow me away with their language and visual depth. And I know for a fact that when you read each of these for the 100th time, it's still fabulous.

Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll
Retold by Hiawyn Oram, Illustrated by Ruth Brown

The protagonist in this story, Too Nice, is bullied by Horrid Child and Very Horrid Child. They force Too Nice to go into Baba Yaga's forest to bring back one of Baba Yaga's toads. We are told that Baba Yaga is "truly terrifying" and she is; with eyes that glow like "hot coals" and illustrations to match, Baba Yaga scares the bejeebers out of you.

But as Baba Yaga says about herself, "That's what I'm here for." Indeed. Too Nice comes away from the frightening encounter wiser, more confident, and even with a little sass (and with one of the frogs which gobbles up Horrid Child and Very Horrid Child!). For her part, Too Nice "- not surprisingly after all she'd been through - stopped being too nice and became...well...Just About Right."

Jack and the Beanstalk
Retold and Illustrated by Steven Kellogg

Steven Kellogg has some of the most wonderful retellings of anyone - with wild, energetic illustrations and inventive text to boot. The ogre and wife in this retelling will blow you away. Which is more terrifying - the spread when Jack comes back for the third time, as he hides in the breadbox with just a sliver of his terrified face showing, with the wife leaning on the breadbox fingering her necklace of skulls, and the ogre searching through the honey jar dripping with ants? Or maybe when the ogre is wakened by the singing harp and his face is split in rage? Or maybe just the sheer dark fury of the ogre as he chases after Jack at the end, sword in mouth, and seeming to be coming straight at the reader?

The illustrations have such zaniness, and the language ("Then Jack tiptoed out of the oven, nabbed the golden hen, and off he peltered.") has such a wonderful rhythm and almost hominess to it that the terror is softened just enough - barely. Jack comes out triumphant, conquering the ogre and getting riches for his mother and him. And, of course, he gets the girl.

The Zoom Trilogy
by Tim Wynne-Jones, Illustrated by Eric Beddows

Zoom, the cat, goes on three adventures (originally published as three separate books). Probably the scariest moment comes in the last story when he see that his friend has been made into a mummy. Even here, the scary part is short-lived, as Zoom quickly cuts open the bindings, so it's not as scary as the other two books. And the lovely pencil drawings help you always feel at home even in the Arctic (plus Zoom is absolutely adorable). But the danger is there nevertheless, much of it only implied. Will the waves overturn his raft? Will Zoom get separated from his friend in the Arctic? Will the log with eyes in the dark river cut the journey short? Going through these dangers and adventures give Zoom the power to join his uncle at the end, on the biggest adventure yet.

I love this book for the feeling it gives; though danger waits, adventure pulls even stronger. And at the end, we can join Zoom in searching for the source of the Nile. I'm game. "And they all sailed off into the gentle Egyptian night."

Our kids need these stories of going into danger and coming out again. Over and over and over...and over again. Truth: I need them. The Egyptian night isn't always gentle. But it calls, and we can follow and we'll find our way back. Maybe we'll even be stronger for it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Love is Wonderful

Posted by Fran McDowell

Love is wonderful, the second time around . . . or not.

I was pretty psyched about the Blown Away topic. It gave me a reason to reread a lovely, little middle grade novel that I'd carried in the back of my mind for years. Like vacation spots, I seldom repeat books. There are simply too many places to see, too many books to read, to be a repeater. But I wanted to rave about this book since it had hung quietly around in my memory bank for quite some time. I can't say it had blown me away, but it sure left an impression.

Sadly, (since I'm a writer) I couldn't remember the author's name. But the title was one of those one-worders, easy to remember. I searched through scores of books on Amazon. Every one with that word somewhere in the title came up. There were many. But, lo and behold, seven or eight pages in, there it was. I clicked it into my cart.

A week later the edges of a large envelope poked out of our too small mailbox. The weather forecast for the next three days: rain, mixed with snow--an ideal scenario for brewing pots of tea, switching on my full spectrum anti-SADD light, and rereading the perfect little novel.

By page ten, something seemed wrong. The story wasn't unfolding the way I remembered. Had the aunt come across so blatantly harsh so soon? By page thirty, I could already see where things were headed with Dad. Hadn't the pacing been slower the first time I'd read it? Hadn't the author deftly led the reader, and the young protagonist, deliciously in one direction then switched it up? How could I remember the writing so differently than I saw on the pages before me? By page one hundred, I just wanted to finish.

Not that it wasn't a terrific little story, but it's a lot like re-opening a Christmas present: if you already know what's under the ribbon, beneath the wrapping paper, inside the box and bundled in the tissue, the unveiling isn't nearly as enticing. I've always believed that a characteristic of a really great book is its ability to stand up to numerous readings. I'm half tempted to give it a third try now that my expectations have been tempered. Maybe the third time will be a charm.

I am, however, going to leave you with an adult novel that did blow me away, particularly the ending. But I probably won't risk reading it again . . . just in case.

T.C. Boyle's Tortilla Curtain is contemporary, socially sensitive, fast paced, tragic and humourous, all bundled into a relevant story of two couples whose totally disparate lives cross, collide, and, in the end depend on each other. It is beautifully crafted and left me wondering how Mr. Boyle was able to capture so convincingly the desperation of the lives of illegal Mexican immigrants, Candido and his wife America. If you allow yourself to read with honesty, you will squirm in your seat as you relate, even on the remotest level, to Delaney and his wife Kyra, residents of a soon-to-be-gated California community. The brilliance continues to the very last words and leaves you feeling glad that you read it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

5 quiet books that blew me away

posted by Susan Chapek

How do you define a quiet novel?

Editor Nick Eliopulos once remarked that "a lot of the award-winners are quiet tales that you can't do justice in a one-line pitch." That pretty much says it . . . in one line, actually.

Shannon Hitchcock recently blogged about a quiet books presentation by author Audrey Vernick and her Editor Erin Murphy:


The topic was newer quiet books, and the blog lists some practical ways to make your own quiet book louder. It even mentions one of my favorites, Linda Urban's A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT.

But I have to admit that when I was a middle-grade reader myself, the quiet books that blew me away were already really, really old. (Most of them were hand-me-downs from aged relatives.)

It's easy to list my top titles. They're the ones I read to shreds. Here they are, in the order I probably first met them:

1. JACK AND JILL by Louisa May Alcott

Yes, I read LITTLE WOMEN and all the other Alcotts. But this is the book I wanted to live in. Three amazing girls. There was some of me in each of them! I still cherish my copy, the World Books Rainbow Classic edition, with its unforgettable and graceful illustrations by Nettie Weber.

2. DANDELION COTTAGE by Carroll Watson Rankin

I didn't feel like any of these girls was me. But I wanted to join them in their so-real play house.


Maybe only borderline quiet, because it's a rags-to-riches story—almost a fairy tale. But it was the part before the riches arrive that blew me away. The quiet bravery. Polly's measles. How the Peppers make a fabulous Christmas without spending a dime. Polly helping her mother earn a tiny living by sewing piecework at home (Polly's job is picking out the basting stitches—and saving the thread to use over again). . . .

4. REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM by Kate Douglas Wiggin

Rebecca first grabbed me because she had six siblings, like me. Then her trials and triumphs took hold. Thinking back, I suppose this novel was a sort of denser version of the Green Gables series, in a single volume. But Rebecca touched me more deeply than Anne Shirley because she was so . . . wordy.

Finally, not a children's book, but pilfered from Gram's bookshelf to read in secret, on the floor near the 7-watt night-light:

5. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith

Today it would be a cross-over, or even a YA, I think. But I was ten, so it was my first grown-up romance. I still re-read it every year or two (usually when I'm down with a cold) because it's so familiar. And so perfectly built. (J. K. Rowling loves it, too.)

So—which quiet books blew you away when you were young? Were they new (to the world) when you were? Or already classics?

p.s. This post was inspired by an article in a new blog (by tween blogger "Scout") that blows me away:


Friday, March 11, 2011

Blown Away by The Trucker – Preschooler Pick

by Marcy Collier

When you read to a child from a young age, you instill a lifelong love for books in your child. As writers, we have favorite authors that we choose to read to our children, but as your toddler strives to become an I-can-do-it-by myself preschooler, you must let go a bit and encourage your child to explore new books.

I started reading aloud to both of my boys while in the womb. I know, I know, some people don’t believe the growing baby can hear you, but I did and still do. While they were infants, I read to them everything from board books to novels to the daily newspaper. As each of them grew a little older and became more independent, we made weekly trips to the library where would sit and read. At first, it took a lot of self-control not to snatch up my favorite picture books by Jane Yolen or David Shannon, curl up in the cozy corner with them and read. My older son was hooked on Thomas the Train and Curious George books. By the end of that phase, I knew every single train name and each H.A. Rey tale by heart. Those were his choices.

My younger son, now a preschooler, is crazy about truck books. One of the libraries we frequent categorizes the books by subjects. This is a fabulously kid-friendly way to help young children explore literature.  

His favorite choice for this week is, The Trucker, written and illustrated by Barbara Samuels (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010). http://www.amazon.com/Trucker-Barbara-Samuels/dp/0374378045.
The text begins, “Leo was a Trucker. No doubt about it.” Leo is obsessed with trucks in every form of imaginative play. When Mama points out green tulips, Leo sees a green garbage truck. When Mama notices the Adopt a Cat window display, Leo wants the fire truck toy in the window. Mama surprises Leo with Lola the cat, which is NOT a fire truck. Soon, Lola takes over all of Leo’s favorite toy trucks as her playthings. Leo has had enough with Lola until she saves the day during a pretend fire rescue. Energetic, playful illustrations make this story a fun and exciting read.

The School Library Journal gave this book a STARRED review. “Hilarious, and full of the details in a child's everyday life. It's fun from cover to cover.”

If I had not been willing to let go a bit, I would never have found this great book, which my preschooler adores. When my older son started kindergarten, he loved exploring his school library and choosing new books, while many of his classmates bulked that books were boring. His reply, “You must not have found the right book yet. Keep looking.”

To instill the lifelong love of reading in your kids, you have to encourage them to explore new authors and titles. Your children may just help you discover your next new, favorite book.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Fan Of Good Writing

by Dave Amaditz

I get excited talking about someone who's on top of their game, someone who's one of the best at what they do. Any sports fan will understand. Heart pounding, you watch in amazement as your favorite receiver scores the winning points with a fingertip catch in the back of the end zone just as time slips off the clock. It's awe-inspiring. It's motivating. On some level, it makes me wish I could be like them.
I get those same awe-inspiring feelings as a writer when I find and read an author who's perfected their craft and has done it so consistently for such a long period of time. In the world of young adult fiction writer's there are notable standouts. Katherine Paterson, David Almond, Richard Peck, Robert Cormier, Jerry Spinelli, and Lois Lowry to name a few.  
Recently, Jenny, from Route 19 Writers, recommended an author to me, Kevin Brooks, and after reading nearly all of his books, I've placed him on my own list of personal favorites and consider him an awe-inspiring author.
If you like stories that come alive with fantastic characters, intriguing plots, in-depth storylines, a bit of layering and even a touch of crime and thriller, I recommend you read his stories, too.
With 12 published novels, he's not a newbie, so if you're having trouble deciding which one of his stories to start with, I'd like to recommend my favorite. Kissing the Rain (2004)
Of all of Kevin's characters, Moo Nelson, an overweight 15-year-old, speaks to me the most. I was easily drawn to the fact of his being an outsider. I saw the reality in his story. He's overweight, and he's bullied because of it. And it's not just something that happened at the hands of his schoolmates. It's the police, who attempt to blackmail Moo into testifying about a murder he has witnessed. It's his parents, who through neglect and denial of their own sad existence, force Moo to live inside his own isolated shell.
Moo lives in a dark world and his character is often confused and disoriented. It's an unfortunate reality for many, which probably makes the read so realistic. Kevin Brooks writes with consistent characterization. With a steady hand and perfect pacing he guides us through the story. His plots don't waver and he doesn't change the character so he can have a happy ending.
Kevin Brooks is one of the rare authors who writes consistently on the top of their game. It's easy and enjoyable to read his novels. It's just as important for me to study his style so that instead of simply being a passive fan, I can learn to play in the same arena as he and the other authors I love. Finding a writer like Kevin Brooks makes it easy for me to remain excited about my own writing.
 Other books by Kevin Brooks
Martyn Pig   Chicken House, 2002
Lucas   Chicken House, 2003
Bloodline   Barrington Stoke, 2004
Kissing the Rain   Chicken House, 2004
Candy   Chicken House, 2005
I See You, Baby   (with Catherine Forde)   Barrington Stoke, 2005
Like Father, Like Son   Barrington Stoke, 2006
Private Detective   Barrington Stoke, 2006
The Road of the Dead   Chicken House, 2006
Being   Penguin, 2007
Black Rabbit Summer   Puffin, 2008
Killing God   Puffin, 2009

Prizes and awards
2002   Carnegie Medal   (shortlist)   Martyn Pig
2003   Branford Boase Award   Martyn Pig
2004   North East Book Award   Lucas
2005   Buxtehude Bulle (Germany)   Lucas
2007   Carnegie Medal   (shortlist)   The Road of the Dead
2007   Kingston Youth Book Award   (shortlist)   The Road of the Dead
2008   Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (Germany)   (shortlist)   Kissing the Rain
2009   Carnegie Medal   (shortlist)   Black Rabbit Summer

Monday, March 7, 2011

Who's Dominating Your Feed?

Post by Jenny Ramaley

Our theme this month is 'blown away.' M.T. Anderson's book, Feed, did it for me. His story sent chills down my spine. First published in 2002, this story feels eerily prescient. Especially if you have teenagers who embrace technology.  (His web site is pretty cool:  http://mt-anderson.com/ )

This young adult science fiction book tells of a future when computer/transmitters are implanted deep inside people's brains, like the ultimate wireless device.  Most communications are done internally over the 'feed' piped into everyone's head. The 'feed' is produced and provided by a corporation that encourages everyone to shop around the clock.

Over time, people have become dumbed-down. They've lost the ability to speak effectively (who needs to talk when you can constantly send email-type messages), and to learn and think for themselves (who needs to memorize or struggle with concepts when you can instantly pull up data and info from the 'feed'). 
The story follows rich boy Titus after he meets a fellow teen, Violet. Unlike Titus and his friends whose wealthy families had them implanted at a young age, her 'feed' was implanted late, around 7 years old. 
SPOILER ALERT: Although her family never wanted to have her implanted, her father tells what changed his mind: "Then one day … I was at a job interview. I was an excellent candidate. Two men were interviewing with me. Talking about this and that. Then they were silent, just looking at me. I grew uncomfortable. Then they began looking at each other and … smirking. I realized that they had chatted me, and that I had not responded. They found this funny … that a man would not have a feed. … I did not get the job. It was thus that I realized that my daughter would need the feed. She had to live in the world."
The problem is that things can go wrong when implants are done so late in life. At 17, Violet's 'feed' becomes infected. Her family cannot afford the repairs. The corporation behind the 'feed' refuses to help fix her transmitter. Why? Because Violet doesn't shop enough or spend enough money, and therefore isn't "a reliable investment at this time."
Violet dies.  
I couldn't help but think that if her dad hadn't bowed to societal pressure, her body never would have shut down from a malfunctioning implant. But if her dad had stood firm, Violet would have grown up professionally and socially handicapped from the lack of a feed. 

Why does this story give me chills? I remember when young kids started getting their own cell phones. We thought getting expensive electronic devices for middle-schoolers was crazy. But soon all the kids my children knew had them. We resisted as long as we could, but eventually we broke down and got them their own phones.
Technology. It draws us in then controls us in ways we never expect. We're sucked further and further into the abyss with a never-ending stream of new devices that we have to have to function in today's world.  
So what will you do when implantation becomes a reality and everyone is doing it? Will you implant your kids?
Are you sure about that?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Blown Away: Salley Mavor's Fabulous Art

Post By Carol Baicker-McKee

Our March theme is "Blown Away" which is exactly what I was by this stunning nursery rhyme collection, A Pocketful of Posies, by one of my favorite illustrators, Salley Mavor.

I often give a book of nursery rhymes as my standard new baby gift. I know from my professional work as a child psychologist that exposure to nursery rhymes has a powerful effect on later reading skills (see, for example, this very readable review of some of the research on rhymes and "phonemic awareness"). Perhaps even more importantly, I know from my experiences as a mom and a former day care and preschool teacher, that cuddling up with a good book of rhymes has strong emotional benefits for both kids and caregivers.

There are several things that make this collection stand out from the dozens of options available:

Little Miss Muffet from A Pocketful of Posies by Salley Mavor (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)
The Artwork It's hard for me to come up with enough superlatives for Mavor's unique fabric-relief and found object illustrations. It took her three years to do the art for this book and it shows. From the intricately embroidered endpapers to the clever use of found and recycled materials to make objects (for example, on one page alone - p. 15 - Mavor has constructed the following from different sizes and types of seashells: a washtub, an easy chair, a bouquet of flowers and a royal scepter), Mavor's creativity, craftsmanship and attention to deail are mind boggling. The artwork is also remarkable for the range of emotion she coaxes from the expressions she paints on the wooden beads she uses for heads and the carefully posed bodies made from, among other materials, chenille stems. (Incidentally, Mavor is an exceptionally generous artist who provides much how-to information in blog posts and a book, Felt Wee Folk.)

What's also remarkable about the artwork is how it appeals to a huge age range. Even young infants are attracted to the crisply photographed 3-D images and bright colors, older babies are drawn to the textures and sense of action, and toddlers on up through adults can not get enough of the detail.

Tree detail from A Pocketful of Posies by Salley Mavor (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)
Rhyme Selection Mavor included a broad range of rhymes, from the most familiar classics like "Jack and Jill" and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" to less common ones like "A Wise Old Owl" and "One Misty Moisty Morning" to others I'd never even heard before, like "To Bed, To Bed, Says Sleepyhead" and "Go to Bed First, A Golden Purse." There are rhymes for a good many of the experiences a young child would have, and I can easily imagine how easy it would be to recite just the right rhyme garnered from this collection as a child helped a parent with laundry, sat down to eat, or got ready for bed.

Organization Often the order of rhymes in a Mother Goose collection seems arbitrary. But Mavor has arranged the rhymes overall to follow the rhythms of a child's day from waking up and doing chores through playtime and sleep. This arrangement not only gives the book a sense of "story" but makes it easy for a parent to read just a few rhymes to suit the moment's activity when there isn't time for a longer story session. Mavor's also grouped rhymes on similar topics together, so that the illustrations for different rhymes blend seamlessly into a single scene, and children are subtly exposed to the concepts of repetition and variation on a theme.

I hope you'll be blown away by this book too. If you liked this book, you'll want to check out Mavor's website and frequently updated blog, as well as her other books, some of which I've pictured below:

Totally love this fabulous book of rhymes.

This was a Horn Book selection.

 Short and sweet text - and art that creates a warm and a cozy home and  features a child of color.

Totally excellent craft book.

Sadly, many of these books are not currently in print, so you may be limited to buying used copies or borrowing them from the library. But you can keep an eye on the availability of all of Mavor's books on her Amazon page here.