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.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Poll: Most Memorable Meals in Children's Literature

By Susan Chapek

Inspiration for this poll:

In the delicious FICTITIOUS DISHES, photographer Dinah Fried highlights a wide range of notable literary meals—from HEIDI's comforting toasted cheese to THE BELL JAR's poisonous crabmeat-stuffed avocado

So what would the Route 19 Writers put into our own collection of Memorable Meals?

Our resident poet Andrea nominates Maurice Sendak's classic CHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE, "due to the combination of the soup as comfort food, and the lovely repetition at the end of each month's poem."

Happy once
Happy twice
Happy chicken soup 
with rice.

Kitty, who not only writes but teaches children's literature and writing for children, was struck by the way Naomi Shihab Nye  (HABIBI) gives small details, "things that are familiar and things that are just a bit different, that help young readers take in different cultures without being given a lecture.”

The owner, a nice man about Poppy’s age, brought them steaming bowls of aromatic lentil soup, saying once they tasted it, they would keep coming back for more. The table filled up with olives, purple marinated turnips, plates of baba ghanouj and hummus, and hot flat breads, even before the real lunch came.”

Devoted to historicals and classics, SCPoe admires how Charles Dickens could make a three-act drama out of one dish: 

. . . Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up and bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose—a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered—flushed, but smiling proudly—with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. 

For Dave,who's been concentrating on serious contemporary YAs, scenes of food deprivation can prove even more memorable than scenes of feasting. Out of several finalists, he finally chose a scene from Jerry Spinelli's MILKWEED.  

"It is early in the novel and the main character (Misha), known at this time by the name Stopthief, because he is always trying to steal food to feed his hunger, is brought into a barn where there is a large group of homeless,Jewish boys. They are so happy because they have been able to raid some of the finer German stores. . . . They have the food stacked in large piles in the corner of the barn. Sausages. Buns. Bread. Fresh fruit. They ask him if he is a Jew. He doesn't know what that is. So one of the boys in the barn explains what a Jew is. (The description is unbelievably scary and powerful.)"

In contrast, Marcy (Dave's partner in our monthly reviews of exciting YA debuts) chooses THE HUNGER GAMES, a series replete with scores of gourmet dishes. Nevertheless, Marcy zeroes in on something simple and familiar--a time when Katniss can't sleep and seeks comfort in a mug of warm milk and honey. 

YA writer Jenny would love to chow down at "any and all meals served in the Hogwarts Dining Hall from the Harry Potter books, especially the beginning of the year kick-off dinners."

He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.

My own nominee comes from Louisa May Alcott's JACK AND JILL. Sensitive, artistic Merry feels out of place in her drab farmhouse surroundings. In a coming-of-age episode, she longs to experiment with fancy pastry, but what her father wants is plain old corned beef and cabbage:  

She was repaid at noon by the relish with which he enjoyed his dinner, for Merry tried to make even a boiled dish pretty by arranging the beets, carrots, turnips, and potatoes in contrasting colors, with the beef hidden under the cabbage leaves.

I still think of Merry whenever I make a boiled dinner, and I admit that the smell of simmering cabbage (loathed by many) is a comfort to me. 

We invite you to nominate your own favorite to our potluck of Memorable Meals in Children's Literature.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer Superhero - The Bookmobile!

It's a truck! It's a library! It's a Bookmobile!
On August 15,  the Chartiers Valley School District introduced a literary superhero to its community.  Instead of dashing into a phone booth to change, one of the school district's box trucks was transformed into a bookmobile.  Not faster than a speeding anything, the bookmobile obeyed all posted speed limits travelling to six different locations and saving the day by sharing books with some 200 children in the area.  Accompanying the bookmobile was the "B" Team; principals from Chartiers Valley's primary and intermediate schools.  Aspiring superheroes were also able to make a contribution by donating their own gently used books. 
After its last afternoon stop in Bridgeville , the bookmobile may have looked like it drove off into the sunset. But fear not!  The bookmobile will be back again next summer for all you eager children who believe in the super powers of reading!

Submitted by Andrea Perry

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Listening, Remembering "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson

A review by Kitty Griffin

Oh college and term papers, yes, things remembered.
That seems a lifetime ago, a different life, a different time, same person.

Something has stirred the dust of memory. Something has stirred and encouraged me to go into the attic and find the little door in the corner where a term paper is stored.
“The Evil of Innocence—the Work of Shirley Jackson” by Kitty Griffin.

I can’t even begin to describe how intensely I read as a kid. In high school I devoured books. One of the authors I discovered was Shirley Jackson. What did I like about her stories? They were about ordinary things that in a different light became wholly unordinary things. They were about delightful, delicate dreams that suddenly turned on the dreamer, grabbing them by the throat and throttling them. They were about characters proceeding with everyday life in innocence, only to let the readers discover to our horror their absolute evil. (A prime example of this is the story that everyone reads in high school, “The Lottery.” )

((If you haven’t read it, do so.))

I just purchased the audio version of “The Haunting of Hill House” written by Shirley Jackson and read aloud by Bernadette Dunne.

Now I remember. I remember writing so skillfully done that it is like being cut with a blade so intensely sharp that until you see blood dripping you don’t realize you’ve been cut. Jackson is a wordsmith who gives us these empathetic innocent characters who invite you into the dark recesses of their horror and when you want desperately to look away, you can’t because you just have to find out what the hell happens.  

Here is the opening to “The Haunting of Hill House”

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

It still gives me shudders.

The book gives us the first character, Eleanor Vance, a 32-year-old single woman who for most of her adult life took care of a spiteful, ungrateful ailing mother. Now, without a job, without means, Eleanor is offered a chance to do something exciting. She’s offered the chance to help with a scientific experiment at a place called Hill House. When her sister and brother-in-law tell her she cannot take the car (which is half Eleanor’s), Eleanor, in a burst of bravery, sneaks into the garage and takes it.

Now I give you a sample of the evil of innocence, because here you will be spun into the web of one of Eleanor’s day dreams…and you will find yourself understanding it, delighting in it, and you will be captured by Eleanor’s innocence.

“On the main street of one village she passed a vast house, pillared and walled, with shutters over the windows and a pair of stone lions guarding the steps, and she thought that perhaps she might live there, dusting the lions each morning and patting their heads good night. Time is beginning this morning in June, she assured herself, but it is a time that is strangely new and of itself, in these few seconds I have lived a lifetime in a house with two lions in front. Every morning I swept the porch and dusted the lions, and every evening I patted their heads good night and once a week I washed their faces and manes and paws with warm water and soda and cleaned between their teeth with a swab. Inside the house the rooms were tall and clear with shining floors and polished windows. A little dainty old lady took care of me, moving starchily with a sliver tea service on a tray and bringing me a glass of elderberry wine each evening for my health’s sake. I took my dinner alone in the long, quiet dining room at the gleaming table, and between the tall windows the white paneling of the walls shone in the candlelight; I dined upon a bird, and radishes from the garden, and homemade plum jam. When I slept it was under a canopy of white organdy, and a nightlight guarded me from the hall. People bowed to me on the streets because everyone was very proud of my lions. When I died…”

Do you see how easily we moved into Eleanor’s daydream? So smoothly. I can feel the stone lions. I can imagine washing them, cleaning them. Those utterly delicate details that attach you to both character and story!

And just as smoothly Jackson begins to reveal the horror of Hill House. Not with a headless horseman ghost dashing through the dining room, but with doors and windows that close by themselves. Doors and windows shutting out fresh air, keeping what’s outside out and what’s inside in.

And just when you think you know or you understand what is going on in Hill House, Jackson shuts that window and slams that door and takes your breath away.

It is a work of horror done with such delicate skill that makes this story a classic.

The reading by Bernadette Dunne is just as exquisite. She changes her voice just enough for each character. Her calm, resonant voice pulls you in with the same surgical skill as Jackson’s writing so that when it’s time to be terrified, you really are.

Black Cat on Chincoteague Island, VA by K. Griffin

Monday, August 4, 2014

First Friday-Five Favorite Things - Far From You

Tes BridgeFAR-FROM-YOU-final-coverbig

by Tess Sharpe

This past Friday, August 1, Marcy and I posted our answers to Tess's debut novel, Far From You. Today, you get to read Tess's favorite's. She's obviously given a lot of thought to her answers, which isn't surprising since the novel addresses so many thought-provoking topics.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Near the end of the book, Trev and Sophie burn Mina’s diary along the shore of the lake, and it includes a paragraph about how Sophie views love and her heart that I’ve always been very fond of:

“But my heart isn’t simple or straightforward. It’s a complicated mess of wants and needs, boys and girls: soft, rough and everything in between, an ever-shifting precipice from which to fall.”

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

“No help comes.
It’s just her and me.
Mina’s skin gets colder by the minute.
I still don’t let her go.”

As you can tell, I’m kind of into misery.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

I really love Aunt Macy. If I ever write the girl detective books I have in the back of my head, Macy will definitely be making some guest appearances in them.

I’m a big fan of including extended family into my teen character’s lives, because I had a lot of official and unofficial aunts and uncles growing up, and they had such a great influence on me.

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

It’s actually one that is not in the book anymore! Harper’s Bluff, where the book takes place, is based on a town in my home county. And the downtown setup is super weird. We have the county jail and the police station on one side of the main street, and directly across the street, a liquor store and a smoke shop. When I described this in the book, my copy editor asked, “Maybe we should change this? This seems a little unrealistic.” I changed it, but little did she know, it was based on real life!

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Sophie and Mina’s confrontation in the girl’s bathroom, after Mina has tried to set Sophie up with Trev is one of my favorite scenes in the book, but also contains my favorite piece of dialogue, which is:

“I’ll choose you. No matter how hard it is. No matter what people say. I’ll choose you. It’s up to you to choose me back.”

I love this not only because it sums their relationship up very well, but it’s the first time Sophie has really stood up for herself in a very overt way.

Congratulations Tess on your debut novel. We can't wait to read your next book!

To read more about Tess Sharpe’s debut YA novel Far From You please go to:

Friday, August 1, 2014

First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day

US book cover for "Far from You"

by Dave Amaditz and
Marcy Collier

As summer is winding down, Marcy and I still have a lot more on our reading list. If you’re looking for a terrific debut novel, check out our post today for a book we couldn’t put down.

Welcome to August’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.

This month we're pleased to highlight debut YA novelist, Tess Sharpe and her novel, Far From You. To describe the story in one word… Wow! To describe the story in a few sentences… It’s a love story, a murder mystery, and the quest for a young girl, Sophie, to begin the search for who she is - - without the help of her best friend, who has been murdered.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Dave – As with Marcy (see her answer below) I chose a mantra that is repeated throughout the novel. To me, this is another thing that helped define Sophie… who she is and what motivates her.

This section comes from early in the novel when Sophie is riding with her aunt, Macy, a bounty hunter. Mina is the name of Sophie’s best friend who was murdered.

Macy taps her fingers against the steering wheel. She’s itching to get going, to chase down that guy and put him in jail where he belongs.

I know that feeling, that drive for justice. All the women in my family have it. Macy’s is wrapped up in the chase, in the hard and fast and brutal judgment, and Mom’s is wrapped up in rules and laws and juries, the courtroom her chosen battlefield.

Mine is wrapped up in Mina, magnified by her, defined by her, existing because of her.

Marcy – This mantra is repeated over and over (days and months changing and increasing) throughout the novel. For me, this helped carry Sophie and her story through the book. If she focused on how long she had been drug-free and stayed clean, she might be able to get through all of the awful things that were happening in her life.

Six months. Five days. Ten hours.

That’s how long I’ve been clean, and I repeat it over and over to myself. As long as I focus on that, as long as I’m committed to making that number rise, minute by minute, day by day, I’m going to be okay. I have to be.

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Dave - I think I could’ve listed every chapter ending because they were all so tense and they all made me want to keep reading. Plus, there were so many cliffhangers throughout the story that made me sit on the edge of my seat. And yes, I had on my list the one Marcy picked below, so I won’t list that. And I won’t list the one that was my very favorite because it’s at the end of the book and will give away the story. So I’ll pick another. I think you’ll like it, too.

A click. It’s familiar. Dread surges through me. I’m blocking Trev. Maybe I can save him, like I should’ve saved her. I spin around, instinctually, toward the noise, and for the second time in my life, I’m looking down the barrel of a gun.

Marcy – Usually I go for the cliffhanger ending, but this time, I chose the tearjerker. I won’t go into details. You’ll have to read the novel to find out!

I curl my fingers around the ring so tightly, I’m surprised the word stamped into the silver doesn’t carve its way into me the way she did.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Dave – There are so many great secondary characters in this story. All have such strong personalities. All are so believable in everything they do. I went back and forth between picking Mina and Trev (as well as Rachael for a while, too). In the end, however, I settled on Mina. I hope this short passage helps to explain why.

“Oh, Soph.” Mina practically deflates. She sits down next to me. “What happened to you was horrible,” she says. “Beyond horrible. And it isn’t fair or right that Trev and I came out of it fine and you…” She trails off. “But gross?” She presses her hand against my heart. Her thumb brushes up against the edge of the scar on my chest. “This isn’t gross. You know what I think when I see this?”

I shake my head.

Her voice drops. She’s whispering, a secret for just the two of us: “I think about how strong you are. You didn’t stop fighting, even when your heart stopped. You came back.”

Marcy – I chose Rachael as my favorite secondary character. Rachael is the one who finds Sophie after she witnesses the murder of her best friend Mina. Rachael is an offbeat character who genuinely wants to help Sophie. She always believes her new friend and is never judgmental. This scene takes place when Sophie comes to Rachel’s house and asks for help in solving Mina’s murder. These two paragraphs show how Sophie sees Rachael.

She smiles, a big stretch that shows all of her teeth, so genuine it almost hurts. I don’t think I can even remember how to smile like that.

There’s a determination in Rachael that I’ve never seen before. She has conviction. In herself, in what she wants, in what she believes. I want to be like that. To be sure of myself. Rachel had stuck around when she didn’t have to. When everyone else, everyone who’s know me forever, had turned their backs. That means more to me than anything.

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

Dave – Again, there are so many to choose from, but I picked this particular passage from early in the novel because it says so much about the conflicted feelings Sophie experienced. And for me, anyhow, and without giving too much away, was a much more powerful passage once I read further into the story. (Sophie is with Trev, Mina’s brother and close friend since early childhood.)

I let myself be touched. Kissed. Undressed and eased back onto the wooden floor scarred with the remnants of our childhood.

I let myself feel it. Allow his skin to sink into mine.

I let myself because this is exactly what I need: this terrible idea, this beautiful, messy distraction.

And if somewhere in the middle both of our faces are wet with tears, it doesn’t matter so much. We’re doing this for all the wrong reasons, anyway.

Later, I stare at his face in the moonlight and wonder if he can tell that I kissed him like I already know the shape of his lips. Like I’ve mapped them in my mind, in another life. Learned them from another person who shared his eyes and nose and mouth, but who is never coming back.

Marcy – This powerful paragraph left a punch and a strong image in my mind that haunted me until the end of the story.

The second time, I remember everything. The beam of the car’s brights. The shooter’s eyes shining at us through his mask. How steady his finger is on the trigger. Mina’s hand clutching mine, our nails digging into each other’s flesh.

After, I’ll trace my fingers over those bloody half-moon marks and realize they’re all I have left of her.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Dave – This line, well, actually two lines, are from the end of the novel. A short discourse between Sophie and her mom.

“That can’t be an excuse,” I say. “There can’t be any excuses. Every single therapist you’ve sent me to will tell you that. I’m an addict. I’ll always be an addict. Just like I’ll always be crippled. And you’ve never been okay with either. I am. It took me a long time, but I am. You need to be, too.”

“I’m okay with who you are, Sophie,” she says. “I love who you are. I love you no matter what.”

Marcy – Sophie has a strained relationship with her mother and isn’t afraid to be blunt sometimes when talking with her.

“You want me to play the gimp card?” I cut in, and she flinches like I’ve slapped her.

To read more about Tess Sharpe’s debut YA novel Far From You please go to: