Monday, March 28, 2011

In Mourning

Diana Wynne Jones died this weekend.  I am devastated.  I feel almost as bereft as I did when Lloyd Alexander died.  What is there left to look forward to reading, now?  I can't write right now.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


I have been fused with all kinds of stories.  The 3 day Spoken Word festival at Northampton Community College is over and it was smashing!

The weekend went by so fast and I am soo tired that I can only give highlights.  Hannah Harvey was the featured performer with a keynote address on Friday that spoke to the validity of her research and abuou what a performance ethnographer does.  She's an animated speaker and offers a good mix of speaking and graphic assists to her lecture.

But she followed a Children's show in the afternoon and two workshops all of which ran concurrently.  Trilocation would have helped here!  And an open mic session as well.

On Saturday, the morning was full of workshops.  I was the gopher for Kevin Cordi's Teaching the Tale workshop that addressed techniques for using stories and storytelling in the classroom.  Hanah Harvey presented a workshop on Performing Oral History, and two other scholars led workshops on genealogy and interview techniques. This was followed by a lovely buffet luncheon and a 2 hour presentation by three area storytelling guilds.

Saturday night, Hannah Harvey took the stage again with her "Out of the Dark" performance that tells the plight of real disabled coal miners living in Virginia today.  Hannah tells the stories using the words of miners and their families.  Then she took questions and talked about the information she had gathered in her research.  Anyone interested in the state of power management in the US today should have heard her presentation.  I was flabbergasted when she described the tunnels and the "safeguards" that are taken to make sure the mountain doesn't crush the miners.  She spoke with respect, almost reverence, for the miners' and their capabilities, understanding and kinship with the mines and the jobs they do.  She ended by reminding us that her microphone and the lights in the theater were made possible by the labor, pains and deaths of these workers.  I am going solar as soon as ever I can.

Today, Kevin Cordi led a workshop called Permission to Play.  It was a lively, entertaining and playful workshop and it gave me some great ideas for approaching the way I develop and present stories. I got the impression that the other attendees felt the same way.

All of this was great and entertaining and educational.  But the best part of the weekend was spending time with other members of the Lehigh Valley Storytelling Guild.  The guild is full of talented, fun and big-hearted people.  Thanks LVSG!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Story Fusion

Story Fusion at Northampton Community College begins tomorrow, March 25th, with a free children's performance at 1 pm followed by two workshops, an open mic session and a keynote address by Dr. Hannah Harvey.  I will be there, wearing my volunteer nametag - that I still have to make - and playing gopher.  Everything happens at the Lipkin Theater or thereabouts.
This festival is going to be FANTASTIC!!!!!  Everyone should come!  Saturday starts with more workshops; more performances follow and then a wowee-zowee evening performance.
As for the Battle of the Kids Books, you can read the astonishing results of the first match of Round 2 yourselves.  Just click here

It's probably what I would have chosen myself - if I was smart.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Today is the final day of Round 1 in the Battle of the Kids Book. Trash by Andy Mulligan was matched against John Green and David Levithan's Will Grayson, Will Grayson.  The first book deals with three boys who survive by picking through trash in an impoverished city.  The second deals with modern urban teens and a search for identity and love.

The judge was Mitali Perkins and she chose Trash by Andy Mulligan.

Tomorrow Round 2 begins and The Cardturner goes up against  Countdown!   AAAAAAHHHH!!!  I'm glad I don't have to pick between those two!

So while Round 1 finished up and snow fell outside, I had a book to keep me warm.  I finally finished Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta.   Marchetta uses real emotions and the sufferings of real people to write the story of a young man forced to wander looking for his fellow countrymen and his lost prince.  The visions of a young girl lead him and his king's right hand man on a quest to reunite the exiles from their landlocked country and reclaim the country from a false king.  There is a LOT of violence, cruelty and deception in this book.  But there is also transformation and growth and a satisfyingly slow-moving romance. 

And then, I received a box from Bloomsbury Press filled with ARCs for the Kutztown University Children's Literature Conference.  I'm not sure exactly how many ARCs I will give out that day but I have over 50 ARCs - all middle grade fiction.  Some are sequels to popular series; some are from new authors.  I intend to skim through ALL of them as I prepare my book review session.  If you have not registered for KU's Children's Literature Conference, do it now!  These authors will present AND sign books at this year's event, Linda Sue Park, Beth Krommes, Jerry Pinkney and Pat Mora! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Changes, changes

Yesterday, I turned my "work" blog over to my successor and it was a sad, sad thing.  It cast a pall over my whole day which was not lifted until I sat down with Karen Cushman's Alchemy and Meggy Swann.  There, that's better!  Nothing like a good book to lighten the spirit.

Without the work blog, I must chronicle the Battle of the Kids Books on this blog.  Yesterday, Jonathan Stroud's The Ring of Solomon met Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos.  Bartimaeus the Djinni against the history of sugar!  Hmmmm, an interesting match up.

I haven't read The Ring of Solomon and I just picked up Sugar... yesterday.  Without seeing who the judge was, I took a stab and guessed that Sugar... would win.  Bartimaeus is fun, yes - and quirky and violent AND he has done more to popularize the footnote than anyone in the history of the English language (in MY opinion).  But SUGAR is everywhere and addictive and responsible for more atrocities and political wrangling than any fictional djinni - sorry, Bartimaeus.

I was WRONG!!  Adam Rex was the judge and his explanation of his choice gives the whole thing away even before he announces the winner.  He uses way too many footnotes.  You GO! Bartimaeus.  I should have had more faith in you.

Today's match-up is between Adam Gidwitz' A Tale Dark and Grimm and Susan Bartoletti's They Called Themselves the K.K.K.  The judge is none other than R. L. Stine.  If anyone knows anything about horror, it is Stine.  And both of these books deal with horror, one imagined and the other all too real. 

If you read my last post, you know how I feel about A Tale Dark and Grimm.  It is a delightful and very faithful treatment of the Brothers Grimm.  Bartoletti's book is NOT fun to read.  As always, Bartoletti does a masterful job of presenting a fair and unflinching look at a difficult subject.

Once again, I expected the non-fiction title to win.  Gidwitz's fairytale is well-written and fun to read but it is a light romp.  Stine's rationale makes sense, though, and A Tale Dark and Grimm will move on to Round 2.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Little pieces of paper

Everywhere!  Little scraps of paper listing all the books that I want to read, all YA and children's books, mind you.   I stick to what I like.

Like fairytales!  And this is why I gobbled up Adam Gidwitz's A Tale Dark and Grimm .  Click on the title to watch a trailer for this book.  (I love book trailers!)

Talk about Grimm, the brothers Grimm, that is.  Gidwitz goes into all the gory and horrendous details that Disney and modern adapters like to cut out.   His warnings - he peppers the whole narratives with warnings - add a little levity to all the monstrous proceedings.  It's a great book but don't read it at night.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Meme and themes

Several years ago (two or three or four), children's authors decided to write about - transplanted children in the 1930s, Cuba right before and right after Castro's regime began, America during the 60s.  Then there was/is the sudden interest in brain anomalies - autism, and especially synesthesia, or seeing sounds as colors and shapes.  It happens every publishing cycle.  Two years before, an author picks a subject that he/she thinks is unique and by the time the title is published, that author looks around to find that she/he is not alone.

Thomas and the DragON Queen (My capitals!  Pay attention!)  is just one book about dragon queens and their mighty reigns.  Ivy's Ever After by Dawn Lairamore has a very influential dragon queen in it - and a more friendly younger dragon as well.  Ivy manages to enlist this young dragon in her plan to rid herself and her kingdom of a most unsuitable suitor.  The two, Ivy and her dragon guard/buddy, Elridge, travel through troll-infested swamps, over craggy dangerous mountains and into a fairy mound looking for answers to their pest problem.  This is a fun adventurous read with feminist undertones - not too heavy.  There is an emphasis on diplomacy here that shows up in Thomas's book as well.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thomas and the Dragon Queen

In Thomas and the Dragon Queen by Shutta Crum, Thomas is the oldest of his parents' large and well-loved brood but he is small for his age.  When a knight on a run-away horse almost tromps on Thomas' younger sister, Thomas manages to divert the horse and help the wounded knight to safety.  In thanks, the knight, Sir Girard, takes Thomas to the castle where Thomas trains as a squire.

es Thomas back with him to the king's castle where Thomas becomes a page.
The kingdom is besieged on two borders, so when the Princess is stolen away by the Queen of Dragons, only Thomas is available to go to the rescue.  The road to the dragon's lair is full of the kind of obstacles that the best fairy tales are made of.  Neil Gaiman's Instructions could have helped Thomas on his road.  Thomas' extincts are sound and he manages on his own good sense and kind heart.

What Thomas finds at the dragon's cave and how he manages to best the dragon queen combine to make a particularly satisfying  ending.  This book is great for readers in grades 3 (and good grade 2 readers) and good for reading out loud to younger knights and ladies.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Plaid skirts and other things

The other night in an orgy of reading I finished Countdown by Deborah Wiles, a story of the way friendships shift and change set in the 13 days of the Cuban Missile crisis.  Man, did that book take me back!!  My Dad was all ready to dig a bomb shelter in the hillside below our house.  For at least a year, a water line with a spigot at the end stuck out of the hillside.  Then, he settled with storing cans of food in the basement, in the room we called the "dark room" because it was the only room that didn't have some kind of window in it.  I still have dreams about the basement in the years before all the rooms were separated by walls.  Some dreams are ominous, just the way a "dark rooooooom" sounds.

BTW, Countdown is an excellent study of many of the changes that were taking place in the USA at that time - not just the very frightening possibility of nuclear conflict, but background on Civil Rights Movements, non-violent protest, the songwriters that made their mark on society.  Every chapter offers a mini-history lesson through news clips, photos and lyrics.  And it's a compelling read, best of all.  I wanted to know how it would all end.

Then, because I hadn't read enough I devoured Ally Carter's Only the Good Spy Young, the fourth Gallagher girls novel.   Cammie is in London under the careful eye of her roommate, Bex's, MI6 operative parents when she is accosted by the man who may have tried to kill or kidnap her in Book 3. (I forget which - kill or kidnap.) Joe Solomon used to be the Covert Operations teacher at Gallagher Academy, the posh boarding school for girls that is really a training ground for the next generation of undercover agents and government or corporate spies.  Oh, and Zach shows up just before Cammie is grabbed by Joe.  But Cammie gets away and she and her roommates head back to school to find that things have changed - A LOT.  For one thing, the headmistress, Cammie's Mom, is not there.  For another, the CoveOps teacher is none other than the MI6 agent who questioned Cammie after the almost-snatch.  And for a third thing, Cammie can't shake Joe Solomon's suggestion that she "follow the pigeons" whatever that means.  Oh, and then there's Zach, again.  I L-O-V-E these books.  They move so quickly.  The teen characters are so likeable and so clever and ingenious.  And the whole series has moved from being a quick funny, mildly romantic romp to a more sinister, more - but not too - realistic and absorbing suspense.  Carter keeps the tone light with Cammie's notebook entries and some smart-mouth banter but she doesn't completely sugarcoat the realities of espionage and warfare.

Now, the cover of the Gallagher girl books all feature girls whose faces we can't see wearing the obligatory plaid skirt private school uniform.  A very cute, pink and dark green plaid skit, it looks like, with a dark v-neck sweater with the Gallagher crest and a white oxford cloth shirt, untucked, high socks and, are those boots?  I think so.

Well, both of these books reminded me of my private school education and believe me, we did not wear cute plaid skirts.  Not even in high school.  In grade school, we wore heavy woolen jumpers with rounded necklines that went up so high, and armholes that were so small, that the jumpers needed both a long back zipper and a side zipper to allow us to put them on.  Oh, and there was the highly attractive two-button belt.  We wore these itchy things over beige blouses with peter pan collars.  Very generous Peter Pan collars, so generous that they mimicked the bibs our teachers, Sisters of St. Joseph, wore.  The short sleeve blouses had very odd puffed sleeves with pleated cuffs.  I preferred the long sleeved blouses, of course.

We didn't have gym in grade school but in high school our gym uniforms...I'm sorry the memory is too traumatic.  I can't go on.  The jumpers in high school were less fitted but even more ugly if that is possible.  Then in Junior and Senior year we were given the option of wearing a seersucker yellow and white striped shirtwaist dress in the Spring.  With hems BELOW the knees.

A teacher from my alma mater recently asked me if I could find some old uniforms for a display.  I did ask around.  No one SAVED those things.  We donated them back for students who couldn't buy new ones.  Or, I suspect, had secret burning ceremonies after graduation if we were lucky enough to be the youngest girl in the family to attend that school.  I was not one of those lucky ones, alas.

Tonight's assignment is to read, A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner.  I have not read the others in this series but I think I will survive.  So far the writing is very good.

I need to tell you about Thomas and the Dragon Queen by Shutta Crum, too.  That will be in the next post.  Good night.  I have pages to read before I sleep, pages to read before I sleep.  (Sorry, Robert Frost!)