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, May 29, 2015

Keeping Teens and Tweens Safe Online

by Marcy Collier

Ipads and Iphones and tablets oh my!

If you're the parent of a teen, tween and even younger, they have probably
used an electronic device of some kind. Heck, in my son's middle school,
all of the students are issued Chromebooks in the beginning of the school year.
All of their books and most homework is done online. They collaborate with
teachers and other students via email and Google Docs.

My boys are computer savvy, but as a parent I worry. You can't watch them
24/7 and monitor every single document, video and text. I pay attention.
I've had the talk about online predators at least a zillion times. I've even
had my best friend who worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigations in
the division of online Crimes Against Children have several talks with
my older son on her experiences and advice on how to be careful online.

New apps are popping up every day. My advice is to be aware, ask questions
and do surprise checks on all devices. If your children know you'll be checking up
on them, they'll be less likely to post and comment inappropriately online. I always
tell them never to post anything they wouldn't want the world to see.

Here's a link to a great article on protecting your teen!


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The "Wimpy Kid" Opens a Bookstore in Plainville, Massachusetts

I have copied an article reprinted in this past Sunday's New York Times about children's author Jeff Kinney opening a bookstore in his hometown of Plainville, Massachusetts, set to open on May 30.  

Andrea Perry

The Bookstore Built by Jeff Kinney, the ‘Wimpy Kid’

If anyone knows how to sell books, it’s Jeff Kinney.
Over the last eight years, Mr. Kinney has built one of the most popular and lucrative franchises in publishing. His middle-grade series, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” the fictional illustrated diary of a middle-school misfit, has more than 150 million copies in print, in 45 languages. The series has spawned three feature films that have earned more than $225 million worldwide at the box office.
His fans still want more. Mr. Kinney is finishing the screenplay for a fourth film, working on two animated TV specials for Fox and furiously writing jokes for the 10th book.
But lately, Mr. Kinney’s attention has wandered elsewhere.
“If my whole life were ‘Wimpy Kid,’ it wouldn’t be very fulfilling,” he said during a recent interview. “I don’t want to be designing ‘Wimpy Kid’ pillow cases for the rest of my life.”
Now, in a risky and ambitious next act, Mr. Kinney will start selling other people’s books. He’s opening a bookstore, called An Unlikely Story, in his adopted hometown, Plainville, Mass., about 40 miles south of Boston. And while he doesn’t want the store to resemble a “Wimpy Kid” theme park, he’s willing to use the popularity of the series to draw in customers. Mr. Kinney will work at the cash register and in the cafe on occasion, and he plans to teach a cartooning workshop at the store.


Jeff Kinney's soon-to-open bookstore, An Unlikely Story, in Plainville, Mass., his adopted hometown. Credit Charlie Mahoney for The New York Times

He’ll keep a studio on the third floor, where visitors can catch a glimpse of him at work, drawing on the 23-inch tablet that he uses to create his cartoons.
“We’re hoping my notoriety as a children’s author will be a draw for people,” he said. At the same time, Mr. Kinney says he’s wary of leaning too heavily on his brand and wants the store to outlast him. “This is not going to work if it’s just a shrine to my books,” he said.
Mr. Kinney, who made more than $20 million last year, might have become a patron rather than a practitioner of the trade, like the novelist James Patterson, who donated more than a million dollars to 178 bookstores around the country last year. But he wanted to leave a physical mark on Plainville, a former manufacturing town that is home to about 8,200 people.
“I wanted to add a bookstore to the landscape,” he said. With this foray into retailing, Mr. Kinney is joining a handful of authors who are injecting cash and a dose of literary celebrity into what seemed a dying trade. The novelist Ann Patchett came to the rescue of the Nashville literary community when she opened an independent bookstore there in 2011. Other authors who moonlight as booksellers include Larry McMurtry, Louise Erdrich, Garrison Keillor and the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Many small bookstores nationwide, surprisingly, are holding steady and even thriving. After years of decline, booksellers have rebounded lately as print sales have stabilized, and their ranks are swelling. Last year, the American Booksellers Association counted nearly 2,100 member stores, compared with about 1,650 in 2009.
Ms. Patchett, the co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, said she had expected her store to be a financial drain. Instead, Parnassus has flourished, so much so that the store is expanding with a mobile book van. Ms. Patchett has used her clout as an author to persuade prominent writers like Elizabeth Gilbert, Donna Tartt, David Sedaris and Michael Chabon to give readings at the store.
When Mr. Kinney visited Nashville last year for a “Wimpy Kid” event held by Parnassus Books, he grilled Ms. Patchett about her business.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Just between us, how much money did you lose the first year?’ ” Ms. Patchett recalled. “And I said, ‘Jeff, I made money.’ ”


Jeff Kinney has built one of the most popular and lucrative franchises in publishing. His “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” the fictional illustrated diary of a middle-school misfit, has more than 150 million copies in print. Credit Charlie Mahoney for The New York Times

Mr. Kinney says he doesn’t expect to recover the millions of dollars he sank into the construction of the store, but he wants to create a sustainable business, one that could have a ripple effect and help revitalize the town. “Hopefully, we’ll break even,” he said, adding optimistically, “or even make a profit.”
Plainville, Pop. 8,200
Mr. Kinney, who was born on an Air Force base in Maryland and grew up in a suburb of Washington, has lived in Plainville for the last 12 years, with his wife, Julie, and their two sons, ages 9 and 12. He’s easy to spot riding around town on his red scooter. A tall, energetic, boyish-looking 44-year-old, Mr. Kinney coaches soccer and still works at his day job as the creative director of Poptropica, a story-based gaming website he created in 2007.
The Kinneys settled in Plainville because it was the one place that met all their criteria. They were looking for a town near her parents in Worcester and close to Boston, the headquarters of Funbrain, a company where Mr. Kinney worked. They drew a Venn diagram on a map of New England, and Plainville was in the middle. They took to the town immediately. They considered moving to a bigger city when the first “Wimpy Kid” book became a breakout best seller in 2007 but decided against it.
“We like the size of it,” he said. Instead of leaving, they moved into a bigger house.
With the bookstore, Mr. Kinney is extending his roots in Plainville.
“Obviously, the man could live anywhere in the world, and he chose to live in Plainville,” said Joseph Fernandes, the town administrator. “The real fortune for Plainville is that Jeff doesn’t have to rely on how much money he makes running a bookstore to feed his family. Without Jeff Kinney, I don’t know how well a bookstore would do at that location.”
The store’s playful name is meant to evoke tall tales, but it is fitting in other ways. The arrival of a bookstore is an unlikely turn for Plainville, a town incorporated in 1905 that was once home to manufacturers of jewelry, eyeglasses and plastic parts. The new store is an anomaly next to venerable institutions like Gerry’s Barber Shop and Don’s Diner (“Family Owned Since 1936”).


A scene from the 2010 film version of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." The title character, played by Zachary Gordon, is third from right. Credit Rob McEwan/20th Century Fox

In 2012, Mr. Kinney surprised residents when he bought a crumbling building in the town’s historic center for $300,000. Over the decades, the building, which dated to the 1850s, was a barbershop, a drugstore, a tearoom and a general store. Then, for 17 years, it sat vacant, a depressing blight on the town. Like everyone else in Plainville, Mr. Kinney grew tired of looking at it.
Mr. Kinney was not sure what to do with his new purchase at first. At one point, he sought advice from his core audience, a group of local fifth graders, whose suggestions included a roller coaster, a swimming pool filled with M&Ms and a bookstore.
The bookstore idea stuck, especially since a nearby Borders had closed. “What’s the thing that everybody loves and treasures the most?” Mr. Kinney said. “It’s a bookstore.”
The project had a rocky start. An inspection revealed that the building could not be salvaged, and it had to be demolished rather than restored. “That was a tough day for a lot of people,” Mr. Kinney said. “You felt history being erased.”
In its place, Mr. Kinney commissioned a three-story building with architectural echoes of the old general store. The building is made from reclaimed wood and other recycled materials, and the interior features hand-painted replicas of old signs that hung on the building over the decades. Mr. Kinney designed the store’s logo and sign himself: a bug-eyed cartoon elephant holding a book with its trunk, under the words “An Unlikely Story.”
The story of Mr. Kinney’s rapid rise to fame is itself pretty unlikely. He studied computer science and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, and he intended to become an agent with what is now called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Instead, he ended up as a programmer at a medical software company and then a game designer at Funbrain, an educational gaming website.
On the side, he created comic strips, which he had loved since his childhood. But his work was rejected by newspaper syndicates. In 1998, he came up with the idea for “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” the illustrated diary of an acerbic and devious middle-school boy named Greg Heffley. The stories were semi-autobiographical, loosely based on Mr. Kinney’s childhood and “put through the fiction blender.”
He had been working on the series for six years when his boss at Funbrain suggested he post it on the company’s website. It attracted millions of readers. Two years later, he sold it to Abrams, an art and illustrated-book publisher.


“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever” is the sixth book in the series. Credit Jeff Kinney

When Mr. Kinney started writing “Wimpy Kid,” he had adult readers in mind. His editor persuaded him to publish it as a children’s book instead. The Abrams children’s imprint, Amulet Books, had measured expectations and printed 15,000 copies of the first book in 2007. It was an overnight success that has grown exponentially with each book. Last year, demand was so high that Amulet printed 5.5 million copies of the ninth book in the series. This fall, the 10th book will be published simultaneously in more than 90 countries.
Mr. Kinney’s empire has grown so large that Abrams measures “Wimpy Kid” sales separately from the rest of its children’s and adult imprints. A “Wimpy Kid” team made up of about half a dozen people meets weekly to manage the brand.
“When you’re buying enough paper for five and a half million books, the stakes are high,” said Michael Jacobs, president and chief executive of Abrams.

Bringing a Store to Life
One morning, a few weeks before the May 30 opening day, Mr. Kinney was a bit groggy as he surveyed the store’s progress. He had had just three hours of sleep the previous two nights. He spotted a patch of ceiling in the basement that needed to be painted, and he questioned the placement of a big bookcase in the cafe. The shelves, with enough space for 3,500 books, were still bare, but the leather armchairs and display tables for new releases had arrived.
The space was coming to life, with fanciful touches like flying books hanging from the ceiling with their pages spread like wings. A few chalkboards were scattered through the section, hidden at toddler level behind secret panels, so children could write messages or discover one of Mr. Kinney’s doodles.
The store will have a prominent “Wimpy Kid” section, with a roughly 500-pound bronze statue of Greg Heffley by the sculptor Allyson Vought, along with “Wimpy Kid” books, stationery and T-shirts.
The nearly 16,000-square-foot building will double as an event space for local theater performances, yoga classes, ballroom dancing, karaoke nights and occasional screenwriting and cartooning workshops, which Mr. Kinney will teach. It will also serve as the new headquarters for Wimpy Kid Inc., which Mr. Kinney and his two full-time employees now run out of a small house next to his home.
Over the years, Mr. Kinney has visited hundreds of independent bookstores. When he decided to open his own, he needed to learn how to run one. He sought advice from the owner of one of his favorites, the Northshire Bookstore in Vermont, and took a few of his staff members there for a retreat last summer.
“We talked about the nitty-gritty of running a bookstore, everything from numbers to relationships with publishers and the aesthetics of a store,” said Chris Morrow, co-owner of the Northshire Bookstore.
Early on, Mr. Kinney hired Paz & Associates, an organization that trains and counsels independent bookstore owners, which studied the town’s population size and traffic patterns and advised him on a variety of things, including the store’s layout and inventory and how many employees and parking spaces it would need. They told him that a bookstore in Plainville would have been impractical for the average owner, but a world-famous author had a better shot at succeeding at making it a destination.
“I’m sure they were thinking we were crazy to open a bookstore in a town of 8,000,” Mr. Kinney said. “Maybe they still do.”

Friday, May 22, 2015

Protecting Freedom & Creativity - Happy Memorial Day!

by Marcy Collier
(I'm reposting this blog from July, 2011 in honor of the men and women who serve our country)

When I think of the freedom we share, I immediately think of all of the soldiers who have fought to protect our freedom. If it weren’t for these brave men and women, the article I’m posting right now might be prohibited by law. But thankfully, my speech is protected. I think we take for granted what those who came before us sacrificed.

My grandfather, Robert Mulligan gave his life to protect ours. I never knew my Grandfather. My mother only met him once. He died in World War II when my mother was only three months old. My mother saw him a second time at his funeral four years later. That’s how long it took for the government to ship his body back home.

My grandmother was left to raise her daughter as a single mother, which was rare in the 1940s and 1950s. Even rarer, my grandmother started college at the age of 16 and finished at 20. Her schooling helped her secure a stable government position with the Bureau of Mines.

I look back at my grandmother’s books from college, her contributions to The Westminster newspaper and signed books from friends and know I am a writer because of her. It’s in my blood.

I have never known much about my grandfather’s side of the family. Last year one of my favorite cousins met up with a classmate (a cousin I’ve never met) who gave her a pendant of the Virgin Mary that my grandfather purchased oversees for his mother and mailed home a few months before he died. She passed this beautiful pendant on to me. After 67 years, I have a piece of my grandfather from so very long ago.  

As I look at these objects from the past, I’m fascinated to hear stories and ponder new ones. Items from the past tell a rich, unique story. Whether it’s about fighting and dying for our country or the struggle to bring up your little girl as a single mother, each item is filled with a rich history.

I’m putting out a challenge to our readers to express their creativity and freedom of speech. Find an object from your past. Take a picture of it and write a story. Send the photo and story (200 words or less) to Route19Writers(at)Gmail.com. The deadline for entries is September 1st. We will judge each entry. A winner will be announced and published on our blog by October 1st. I’ll mail the winner a $10.00 gift card to Panera Bread. You must sign up as a follower of the blog to submit. Best of luck!

Have a safe and fun Memorial Day Weekend!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Weeding the Garden, Weeding the Story

Rich Soil, Rich Plot

Kitty Griffin

Bee Balm and Coneflowers

Okay, so yesterday was my day to blog and I was worn out from gardening. I have gardens everywhere. There’s a huge vegetable garden out by the driveway, a smaller vegetable garden next to the house, one large flowerbed, and beds encircling the house.

As I worked yesterday I began to think about how gardening is like writing.

What does a good garden need?

Rich soil on a plot of earth.

What does a good story need?

A rich plot on firm earth.

You won't get a harvest if you don't pull the weeds, pick off the pests, enrich the soil, and make sure it's watered. You won't get a story if you don't clean the clogs, get rid of extra verbiage, don't nourish your characters and make certain it's edited.

No, a harvest of any kind requires due diligence. 

Waiting to be put up

As you tend the garden, sometimes there are weeds that need to be pulled. As you nurture your story, sometimes there are characters that need to be yanked out.

When your soil gets depleted you can enrich it with good compost, good rotted material.

Sometimes a story drags and you can renew it using ideas from stories that you’ve set aside.

Sometimes there are surprises in the garden, at first you may think it’s bad, but when you realize this is beneficial, you leave it alone.

in the zucchini

Sometimes in your writing a plot twist will shock you. “I didn’t think that would happen.” But as you back away you find that it’s just what the story needed.

All sorts of pests will be attracted to your garden. Some of them are bad for the flowers and some of them can be dangerous to you.

Sometimes a pest appears in your story. A character who is so interesting it causes you to lose sight of your main character. It will take courage to dispose of the bad actor.

Wheel bug on a zinnia, they BITE!

If you’ve done your work, you’ve chosen a good variety of plant, you’ve made certain to keep it nourished and watered, you will enjoy a harvest bounty. If you've done well, you'll attract beneficial bugs and your flowers will glow with color.

If you’ve done your writing, you have a strong character with an interesting problem and a good supporting cast, you will have a sound story.  If you've done well you'll have a story people want to read!

Big fat bee on a marigold

Here is a playhouse for children that I’ve always wanted to try. You need Mammoth Sunflower seeds and Morning Glory seeds (or any other good climber).
Make a shape for the outline of your house with the giant sunflower seeds, setting the seeds so that the plants will be close, but leave a child-sized strip that will be the doorway. Between the sunflower seeds, drop in the Morning Glory seeds, so that as they grow, the Morning Glory will surround the sunflower stalks. By summer’s end you’ll have a secret hideaway for your little ones.

Mammoth Sunflower

An abundance of Zucchini? Here's a recipe.

If you find yourself with an overlarge zucchini don’t worry. Now, if it’s baseball bat size, no, give that one to the compost heap.

In a frying pan heat some olive oil and a chopped onion and some garlic if you like. Grate the zucchini and swish it into the sautéed onions. Cook until just a bit tender. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, or Italian mix cheese.

If you want to have beautiful cut flowers, grow Zinnias. They are fast. They are east. Nothing bothers them and they are lovely in arrangements.

Zinnia, oh Zinnia!

Now…let me think about that wheel bug. If I were a naughty little boy who somehow got turned into one of these….what do you think might happen?

Monday, May 18, 2015

None of the Above

by I.W. Gregorio

This month we're pleased to highlight debut novelists, I.W. Gregorio and her novel, None of the Above. Kristin is a senior in high school, homecoming Queen and track star, when she learns something about herself that makes her rethink everything about her she’s ever known. She’s intersex.

On Friday, May 1, 2015, Marcy and I shared our Five Favorite Things from I.W. Gregorio's debut novel None of the Above. Now you get to hear the author’s favorites!

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

My main character is a runner and a hurdler, so perhaps my favorite line to show her growth (spoiler alert!) is in the penultimate chapter:  

"I’d been running for so long, trying to escape from who I was. Here in the steady circle of Darren’s arms, I was finally ready to stand still." 

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Probably the end of Chapter 42 when Kristin downed the bully who was trying to beat her up:

"It turned out that David Letterman's gender verification test had something to it, after all."

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Definitely Darren. He is the prototypical under the radar guy that doesn't date much during high school but who is GREAT husband material!

Little known fact: None of the Above was originally written in dual narrative, with Darren as the second POV!

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?
"One day I would find my own place. I couldn’t run there, though, because it didn’t exist yet; I had to build it myself, out of forgiveness, truth, and terrifying gestures of friendship."

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

“Wait, you called the urologist asking for surgery?” she asked. “And she let you go through with it without making you see a psychiatrist first?”

“I wanted it.”

“But you were still wigging out over your diagnosis. That is so not the best time to go ahead with something like that.”

“I know, that’s what she said too, but I needed them out.” I stopped for a second. “Wait a second. Does that mean you still have them?”

“Have what?” Gretchen asked, smirking.

I blushed, and gestured toward my groin. “You know.”

“Oh,” she said loudly. “You mean my testicles?”

I couldn’t help myself. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed, but the nearest dog-walker was several hundred feet away.

“Yes,” Gretchen said firmly. “I still have my testicles.”

“How can you stand it?”

“What is there to stand? Whatever higher being you believe in made me what I am. I heart my gonads.” 

We’d like to congratulate Ilene on the success of the novel and can’t wait to read her next novel. 

I. W. Gregorio is a practicing surgeon by day, masked avenging YA writer by night. After getting her MD, she did her residency at Stanford, where she met the intersex patient who inspired her debut novel, None of the Above (Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins). She is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books™ and serves as its VP of Development. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and Journal of General Internal Medicine. A recovering ice hockey player, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.

To read more about I.W. Gregorio’s None of the Above debut novel please go to:


Friday, May 15, 2015

Summer Boredom?

by Marcy Collier

As the weather gets warmer and school winds down, parents, children and teachers begin the countdown for the last day of school.

But I know after about a week off from school, I hear the familiar, “I’m bored,” from my children.
We make weekly trips to the library and participate in summer reading programs.

The American library association states, “Summer reading programs began in the 1890s as a way to encourage school children, particularly those in urban areas and not needed for farm work, to read during their summer vacation, use the library and develop the habit of reading. Libraries also now offer summer reading programs for adults, as well as children. Research conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics found that in 1994, 95% of public libraries offered summer reading programs for children; there are not statistics for adult summer programs.”

That’s a fact I didn’t know, how about you?

All of our local libraries have reading programs as well as bookstores. Here’s the link to Barnes and Noble’s summer reading program:

We read and listen to a lot of books in the summer. Between the library and my audible subscription, we always have at least three audio books in the car for both short and long car rides and a half dozen books at home.

Besides reading, playing and swimming, I also have a few lists of ideas I’ll pull up when I hear the familiar, “I’m bored.” Here are a few links:

As the school year comes to an end, I hope that you all have a safe, enjoyable and not boring summer!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Finding something NEW in something OLD

A Listening Discovery

by Kitty Griffin

I've fallen in love with listening to stories. My new subscription to Audible is one of the nicest gifts I've given myself.

I listen while I drive.
I listen while I garden.
I listen while I work.

And sometimes I find something new in something old.

For instance, let me ask you about a story you've most likely read a long time ago or perhaps had read to you-- The Wind in the Willows. Of course you remember Mole. How he was doing spring cleaning and suddenly got a notion to flee from the work, to burst upon the outside. Feel the joy--

"The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all is four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow till he reached the hedge on the further side."

Yes, you know adventure is coming. And friendship, deep, enduring friendship, as the bond Mole forms with Ratty. 

It is the sort of friendship one dreams of. 

But now I'm going to ask you if you remember the environmental aspect of this book. Do you?

If I ask you, do you remember the quiet lesson that Badger taught Mole?

After being rescued from the Wild Wood by Ratty (who strapped on two six-shooters and carried a cudgel when he realized Mole had gone off) they find safety in Badger's hole. And what a place it is. Mole, so excited by the number of rooms and the beauty asks how Badger had time to do it all. Badger explains, he didn't. That once upon a time people had lived in the woods and had built a city, but the city fell to ruin.

Where did the people go? Badger didn't know.
Then what happened?

"When they went," continued the Badger, "the strong winds and persistent rains took the matter in hand, patiently, ceaselessly, year after year. Perhaps we badgers too, in our small way, helped a little--who knows? It was all down, down, down, gradually--ruin and leveling and disappearance. Then it was all up, up, up, gradually, as seeds grew to saplings, and saplings to forest trees, and brambles and fern came creeping in to help. Leaf-mould rose and obliterated, streams in their winter resets brought sand and soil to clog and cover, and in course of time our home was ready for us again, and we moved in.  Up above us, on the surface, the same thing happened. Animals arrived, like the look of the place, took up their quarters, settled down, spread and flourished. They didn't bother themselves about the past--they never do; they're too busy."

What do you think happened to the people?

I was so astonished when I heard this section.

But that's what listening can sometimes do, sometimes it will help you find a new nook, a new cranny. 

I will keep listening, but I don't think I'm going to find out what happened to the people. 
But I'm going to wonder, I'm going to wander through these Willows and feel the Wind and wonder what on earth happened to the people.

And when I finish listening?

I'm going to go buy this book for some young friends of mine so we can read it together.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why I Love Fantasy

by Cynthia Light Brown

From the Master, J. R. R. Tolkien:

"When we have examined many of the elements commonly found embedded in fairy-stories … as relics of ancient customs once practiced in daily life…there remains still a point too often forgotten: that is the effect produced now by these old things in the stories as they are…They open a door on Other Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside Time itself, maybe." (“On Fairy Stories”)

Even the words, "a door on Other Time" causes my breathing to alter. The encounter with the Other.

Perhaps this could be said of all fiction?

J. R. R. Tolkien's original illustrations for the first edition of The Hobbit, 1936. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

More Poetry Recipes in the Classroom: Add a Dash of Shape Poetry by Andrea Perry

Adding a dash of Shape Poetry is bound to spice up many a classroom project.  Get the point?

Shape poetry is a type of poetry which describes or defines an object (or concept, function or characteristic) and is shaped as the object (concept, etc) being described.  

For example, in math class students can demonstrate their knowledge of geometric shapes (even three dimensional ones!) by constructing a work of art.  They can show what they know.  They can type or write or stencil their words, rhyming or not, and arrange them to explain terminology.  Quadrangles, cylinders, squares, oh my!
 In Social Studies, similar projects can take shape. While studying Egypt, students can display their understanding of the mummification process or afterlife beliefs or even Egyptian gods by constructing a poem in the shape of a sarcophagus, linen strips, a pyramid or other related subject content. In an American History unit, Fort Necessity could necessarily be constructed with beams of words, the evolution of the American flag could be striped with information, or the Boston Tea Party,  steeped with facts.
Out in the solar system, scientists have described planets, galaxies, constellations, meteors, stars, and comets to us.  Students can make a big bang by applying their knowledge of any of these with a shape poem full of facts or descriptions.  The applications in science are seemingly endless - atoms and molecules, seeds and plants, magnets and metals can all take shape as shape poems.

Life does indeed imitate Art.  Get out the construction paper, scissors and glue and have your students start getting plenty of poetic projects "in shape."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Should You Judge a Book by its Cover?

A Book by its Cover

By Kitty Griffin

If you’ve got a moment go to Publisher’s Weekly BEA 2015 “Can’t-Miss Kids’ Galleys” where they’ve listed some of the promising children’s titles coming out this year.

The first thing I did-- scan through the covers. Which one….which one…catches my eye.

This one. Not just the artwork, but the title! I LOVE it. A Curious Tale of the In-Between. What a curious title. That one definitely draws me in. Okay, I’m perusing again. Seeking the next best one. Nothing too different, nothing too eye-catching until…ah, look at this, Orbiting Jupiter. Interesting art, a boy soaring…or is he?

The next one that says, LOOK is The Accident Season, the world has turned upside down with the ground on top and the sky below with a falling girl. Yes. Intriguing.

Now, let’s go back and read the blurb for each of these.

A Curious Tale of the in-Between by Lauren Defano, the author’s middle-grade debut, launching a series in which a girl can see ghosts.”

Yes. I will at least download a sample of this book to see if I want to keep going.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt, about 14-year-old Joseph, who joins his family as a foster child after leaving prison and seeks to find the daughter he’s never seen.”

Hmmm. The depth of the emotion in this one, it would have to have some darned good reviews before I’d take the time to even look at a sample.

“The Accident Season, the story of Cara and her family, who inexplicably and unavoidably become accident-prone every October.”

This could be interesting. Curious premise. Curious indeed. Yes. I’ll take a look.

Now, there were several covers that just didn’t do it for me. To begin with, I’m tired of the angst-filled face of a teen-age girl. These populate the YA shelves. So, here we go again.

A History of Glitter and Blood.

Okay, I’ll read the blurb. “A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz, in which Beckan’s fairy clan is forced to venture into the gnome underworld to survive a war.

Oh Chronicle, that’s the best you could do for a cover? Seriously? Why not a divided picture with war on top and gnomes below? Because I LOVE fantasy. Sigh. What do you think?

Look at this cover for I Crawl Through It. I wouldn’t even pick this up to read the back matter. So let’s see—“I Crawl Through It by A.S. King about four teenagers coping with anxieties from senseless high-stakes testing and the lingering damage of past trauma”.

Huh? What is this about? Testing? Teenagers? Angst? The cover tells me nothing. The title tells me nothing. The blurb tells me nothing.

Am I being too harsh?

The final cover that just made me say, Huh? Was More Happy Than Not.

What did Zach say on the show “Bones” --- “What’s that mean?”

Let’s look at the blurb—“More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, in which 16-year-old Aaron Soto is coping with his father’s recent suicide.

Sorry. The cover doesn’t do it for me. The blurb doesn’t do it for me. The title doesn’t make me happy. Or not.

How important to you is the cover?
What about the title?

Don’t you wonder how they come up with these designs?

If you have a moment, I’d love to know which one appeals to you.