Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Outsiders

Last night, I finished reading The Outsiders.

I had never read this American classic, but while listening to my daughter's middle school English teacher speak of the upcoming school year, he mentioned they would be reading this one as a class, using it as a model for analysis and for crafting their own characters. With it being the 50th anniversary of the novel's publication, I thought I'd hop on board. (Cue eyerolls from daughter. :) )

Initial thoughts:

It takes no time at all for the action to grab the reader in this novel. Almost at once, you are thrust into the midst of an intense gang rivalry. While the writing style often struck me as dated (lots of long, introductory character descriptions, some cheesyness), the conflict and characters keep you turning the page. Plus, I enjoyed some of the dated qualities of the book -- the style of talk, the glimpse into the time period, a less-dramatic telling of a dramatic saga that can stand on its own...

Themes and longevity:

I see now that this novel is timeless. We are certainly living in a time marked by divisions in our country -- divisions politically, racially, ideologically... And the "us and them" conflicts that drive the entire novel are themes that will likely always exist. Because of that, this book will continue to have a long shelf life as we seek to understand those who are different from us, those who live "on the other side of the tracks," who look, speak, and dress differently.

"Things were rough all over, but it was better that way. That way
you could tell the other guy was human too."


In addition to the novel's timeless themes, it just has darn good characters. They are flawed but completely lovable...every one of 'em. You root for them all, for they are honest and ornery, but loyal and tough. They seek to do better but also to defend what they know. You finish the novel and they stay with you. In fact, the other day, my friend Antoinette and I were discussing the novel, which she read almost 30 years ago, and she said, "Oh, I loved Ponyboy." I get it!

So, in spite of being an older, dated book, this one is sticking with me. It is an American classic and will continue to be so, and I'm looking forward to discussing it with Abby!

And, can I just say, I cannot wait to watch the movie. :) What a cast (of heartthrobs from my youth :) )!

Happy Thursday,


Friday, September 8, 2017

Not Quite Narwhal

Hello, readers!

I've taken a bit of a blogging break, but I'm excited to return to writing and bookish discussion here! To kick things off, I wanted to share our very favorite picture book that we read over the summer: Jessie Sima's Not Quite Narwhal (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017).

Kelp was born in the ocean and lived among the narwhals. But he always knew he was different: he looked different, liked different food, and was not at all skilled in swimming.

But when he is swept to the surface by a strong current, he (slowly) swims to shore and narwhals??

They explain that they are actually unicorns, and Kelp learns that he is one of them. After learning some of the ins and outs of unicorn life, he returns to the ocean to tell his friends. They take it swimmingly!

But then, what is Kelp to do? Live in the ocean with the narwhals, or move to land with his unicorn family? Well, no way can I give away the ending -- you'll have to read to find out!

In a sea of narwhal books to have come out in the past couple of years, Not Quite Narwhal truly stands out. Sima's story is sweet and touching and infused with subtle humor, making this book a joy to read and reread. And her art perfectly brings to life the sweet ocean world of the narwhal friends, the magical land existence of the unicorns, and that same subtle humor we get in her writing. I especially enjoy Kelp's airtight breathing helmet. :)

Enjoy this sweet story with your kiddos -- I'll bet they'll love it!

Happy reading,


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sophie's Squash

Oh, how we adore this book! A spunky, creative, female main character....tender parents....a heart-tugging ending....fabulous illustrations. Combined, they deliver a story that we have read over and over and over again:

The premise of Sophie's Squash (written by Pat Zeitlow Miller and illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf; Schwartz & Wade, 2013) is incredibly unique: Sophie helps her parents select a squash -- intended for dinner -- from the farmer's market. But as Sophie cradles the squash in her arms, she realizes it is just the right size to love. No turning back, Sophie gives the squash a face and names her Bernice, and Sophie's mother has to make alternate plans for dinner.

As the days pass, Bernice goes everywhere with Sophie, but she starts to get a little soft and blotchy. Her parents warn her that Bernice will soon rot, and they suggest ways to use Bernice before it's too late.

Sophie won't hear of it and, instead, asks a farmer for advice on how to keep squash healthy. She follows his words of wisdom, and in the spring is met with a completely wonderful surprise!

Miller has created a delightful character in Sophie. She is strong and feisty and loyal and so very lovable. But the parents, while minor characters, also play an important role in the heart of the story. Always referring to Sophie in some sweet, foodish way ("Sweet pea," says her mom; "Sugar beet," says her dad), they handle Sophie's odd but completely all-in devotion to Bernice with gentleness and understanding. It is so sweet.

And the ending Miller created? Absolutely perfect!

The story is further heightened by Wilsdorf's sweet, detailed illustrations. With watercolor and ink, they show Sophie's big personality, her childlike room, her mom's fabulous fashion sense, and the tender moments between Sophie, her parents, and Bernice.

This book is an all-around winner. It's one of those books that I wish I had written and would love to emulate in terms of character, pacing, and heart. We just love it.

And for more of Sophie, check out Sophie's Squash Go To School. We've read that one just as much. ;)

Happy reading!


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I Wish You More...

Have you read the beautiful and heart-breaking article by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (AKR) "You May Want to Marry My Husband" printed in the New York Times?

Rosenthal, the author of books for children and adults, is in her final days of her battle with ovarian cancer. Her piece is poignant and moving and as sharply-written as the books she has published. It is a beautiful tribute to her husband and the life they have shared.

I've been thinking about AKR a lot this week, and in her honor we checked out all of her picture books that our library holds. My favorite of hers is Little Pea, with a close second being the lovely I Wish You More...

In her article, AKR talks about her tattoo of the word "more" on her wrist, and how she wishes she could have more time on this earth with her husband and children. In a live Facebook message on March 5, Matthew Winner listed all the "mores" he wishes for Amy in these final days. I echo them.

Sending much love...

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Dream Gardens Podcast

In January, I was interviewed for my first podcast! I had the opportunity to talk with Jody at Dream Gardens about a middle grade novel that I love: Ms. Bixby's Last Day.

In very brief summary, Ms. Bixby's Last Day is the story of three 12-year-old boys on a quest to bring a celebration to their beloved teacher who has to leave the school year early due to a serious health crisis. The book is deeply moving, funny, full of adventure and heart....and I can't recommend it enough!

Take a listen here. Even better, pick up a copy of John David Anderson's book and share it with the kiddos in your life. I think you will love it.

Happy reading,


Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Children's Book Academy

Well, hello!

It has been awhile since I've posted here, but that is because I've been absorbing myself in an absolutely wonderful writing class. At the beginning of January, class began for the Craft and Business of Writing Children's Picture Books via the Children's Book Academy. The course is taught by Dr. Mira Reisberg and Kelly Delaney (editor at Knopf), and it takes a scaffolding approach so that it is useful for those at the very beginning of their writing venture as well as those who are farther along.

It has been great, and I've really wanted to glean as much as I can while the course is up (this is our last week!). This is not an ad, but if you have ever considered taking a writing course but didn't know if the expense was worth it, let me share why I have loved this course:

1. The course is densely packed with useful information. For over a year now, I have been reading about and studying the picture book business and the craft of writing for children. And I have learned a lot in doing so! But this course goes beyond all of that. Dr. Mira has so much to share from her vast experience as an author, illustrator, former agent, and professor of writing, so each day's lessons are such a treat with much to absorb. We study picture books and what makes them successful, tips for developing character and plot, editing for brevity, how to pitch to editors and agents, and how the business side of it all works once the book is acquired. And more.

2. The homework is relevant to our goals. Dr. Mira's assignments specifically target aspects of the manuscripts we are working on. In our shared homework page, students post assignments, which range from our story ideas to our hook to our characters to our endings. Then, we all comment on each other's work to help improve the ideas and execution of those. This has really helped me to develop and tighten my manuscript in a useful way.

3. The webinars. Each week, there is a webinar that focuses on a different topic: hooks, conflict, endings, etc. Students are given a deadline to post their ideas or actual excerpts from their manuscripts, and then Mira and Kelly critique them via the webinar. I've learned so much through having my ideas critiqued, as well as hearing their advice to others.

4. The community. Through the homework comments, the webinars, class Facebook page, and critique group in which I was placed, I have loved the community aspect of this course. I didn't know this was something I needed so much, but it's certainly something I'm going to seek out as I continue writing. In addition, Mira and Kelly are warm and welcoming, full of love and extremely generous in helping aspiring authors grow.

5. The golden ticket. Finally, there is a golden ticket opportunity to submit our work to editors and agents. This hasn't happened yet, but soon we will pitch our story, and if the editors and agents that Mira has lined up are intrigued by our pitch, they may ask to see our manuscript. No guarantees here, but I'm beyond excited and hopeful for this opportunity.

So there you have it. It's a fabulous course that I highly recommend, and I'm sad that it's almost over. Good thing we have access to the course materials for 6 more months as I'll likely go through the process again. :)


We have still been reading some fabulous picture books, so I have some lovely reviews planned for the coming weeks!

Happy reading and writing,