Returning to Page One: A Second Take on Rereading

A few weeks ago, Katie shared why she doesn’t reread books. Basically, there aren’t enough hours in the day–she’d rather expose herself to something new. That’s a completely valid point. In fact, it reminds me of a different friend’s opinion that movies should only be watched once. (Gasp!) I have a slightly different take. It’s not a rebuttal, exactly. My day is, unfortunately, just as hour-deficient as Katie’s, and there are many books I enjoyed reading but would never reread. Still, I can think of at least two reasons to return to page one.

Lately, the primary reason I have reread books–wonderful stories such as Graceling, The Fault in Our Stars and One Crazy Summer–is because I’m studying craft techniques as part of my MFA. In the past few months, I’ve read each of those books at least three times. It’s only by reading so closely that I was able to dig deep enough to see how subtle  writing can be.

The second reason to reread is to reconnect with an emotional journey. Sometimes I reread to snicker (Ella Enchanted), or to have a good, solid cry (aforementioned The Fault in Our Stars). I’m also a sucker for reliving the moments of hesitation and resistance and surrender that first love brings; at 38, I’m never going to fall in love for the first time again. Mostly, I love coming of age stories–I feel as if I’m constantly coming of age. And maybe I can learn from watching someone else struggle through her own journey, even a fictional one.

Both of these reasons could be boiled down to this: Rereading means learning.

Every time I reread, something different in the text pops out at me. Maybe it’s a character trait I hadn’t noticed, or the way an author sets up a series of tiered epiphanies. Whatever it is, rereading has strongly influenced how I’ve evolved both as a reader and as a writer, and arguable as a person.

Next question: Do you keep books or pass them on?

Review- Born Yesterday: The Diary of a Young Journalist

imageBorn Yesterday: The Diary of a Young Journalist

Written by: James Solheim

Illustrated By: Simon James

Philomel Books, 2010, Imagination Library Edition

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Growing up, Siblings

How We Discovered This Book: My son received this as his monthly Imagination Library book a few years ago. It is a favorite in our house, and is on frequent rotation. For more information on the Imagination Library, you can read my previous post.

Summary: A baby shares his very funny and astute observations of the world.

What I Liked: The voice in this book is very strong, and hilarious. Right on the first page, the baby talks about being born and says,”If I’d known I was going to be born in public, I’d at least have put on a tank top.” You might think that nothing really happens in a baby’s life, but this story manages to have a main arc and sub plots while still remaining simple. This author has chosen his words immensely well.

What Did My Kids Think? This books cracks us up every time. My son thinks the baby’s observations and the book’s illustrations are so funny. And who wouldn’t laugh at a dog named Foofy?

Resources:

Journaling: Children of all ages can be encouraged to journal. Both of my children have journals, which we take with us on all of our adventures. My daughter just scribbles at her age, but I like the idea that Aidan is modeling how to put thoughts and ideas on paper.

Writing activities: Scholastic has some good suggestions for using this and other diary books to inspire children to write.

Journalism: Talk about what a journalist is, and what they do. Help the child brainstorm about what they would report on if they were a journalist. Have them pick a topic, research it, and then write the story. This can also be a springboard to a multimedia project where they can be a TV journalist, planning and filming their report.

Why Read a Book More Than Once?


Joanna and I were discussing our favorite books recently, and Joanna mentioned a few books she liked so much she has read them multiple times. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book more than once. Why is that? The short answer is: I don’t have time.

The longer answer is that I have many books I absolutely love. I keep a small collection of my favorites on the bookcase in my living room. I would like to read them again, but many of my favorites – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc.- are over 900 pages long. So the chances of me finding time to read that many pages on a short period of time is slim. I might set aside the needed time, but my list of “want to read” is very long. So I choose to discover a new story instead.

bookcase

 

I may like the new book, or I may not. It might get donated, or I might find room for it with my other favorites. Perhaps I will think of my bookcase as a collection of stories for a future day when my obligations are less and my free time is greater.

Do you read books multiple times? If so, what books are they? Please share in the comments.

A Love Letter to My Daughter

Next week it will be your 4th birthday, my little princess. You’ve been waiting for this day for months. I can’t wait for you to have your tea party birthday with your girl friends- full of sweetness and fluff.

And then when all of your friends leave, you’ll take off the party dress and return to your regular state – full of contradictions. Tutus and cowboy hats, frilly dresses and construction goggles, twirly skirts and football t-shirts.

I love so many things about you, but I especially love how you dance to the beat of your own drum. Yes, it’s very frustrating when you disagree with me just because you can. But deep down, I want you to keep thinking for yourself and feel strong in your beliefs. It will come in handy as a young woman navigating the world.

I love when you smile- not for the camera, but when no one is looking. I hope you keep the ability to feel unfiltered joy for as long as you can.

And I love tucking you in at night. When I ask you about your favorite part of the day, and you tell me there are too many moments to choose, it fills up my heart.

Happy Birthday to my baby, my kitten, my sweetie, my heart. I hope this birthday and every one after is full of love and happiness.

Nails

Take a moment today to send a note to someone you care about. Even if it’s just a text, a quick email, or a call. Tell someone why they make you smile- it will make them smile too.

A March Madness Contest – The Three Little Easter Bunnies

Susanna Leonard Hill is again hosting another fabulous contest over on her blog. This time we have been challenged to write a 400 word story that is a twist on a fractured fairytale, with Spring somewhere in the mix.  Below is my entry. Happy Spring to all our readers!

THE THREE LITTLE EASTER BUNNIES

Three little bunnies were training to be Easter Bunnies. Their next task was to carry a basket full of colored eggs up a steep hill, and then hide the eggs in the bushes at the top. This might seem like an easy task for three little bunnies, but to get to the top of the hill they had to cross a bridge guarded by a mean troll.

The first bunny tiptoed across the bridge – tap, tip, tap. “Who is that tapping across my bridge?” the troll growled.

“Just me,” the first bunny said. “Please let me cross the bridge.”

“Only those who can answer a riddle can cross my bridge,” the troll said. “What is yellow in the middle, white all around, and colored all over?”

“An Easter egg!” the bunny replied, and hopped across the bridge.

The second bunny bounded across the bridge – boom, bam, boom. “Who is that booming across my bridge?” the troll growled.

“Another bunny,” the second bunny said.

“Only those who can answer a riddle can cross my bridge,” the troll said. “What looks like a bean, but tastes like sugar?”

“A jelly bean!” the bunny replied, and hopped across the bridge.

The third bunny bounced across the bridge – boing, bing, boing. “Who is that boinging across my bridge?” the troll growled.

“A little brown bunny,” said the third bunny.

“Only those who can answer a riddle can cross my bridge,” the troll said. “What is white, looks like a trumpet, and grows tall from the ground?”

The third bunny was stumped.

“Well?” shouted the troll.

“I don’t know,” the bunny said.

“Then I will have to eat you up!” the trolled yelled, using his gnarled hands to climb up the side of the bridge. When he got to the top, sitting in the middle of the bridge was a small brown bunny.

“I’ve got you now!” the troll shouted and he jumped on top of the bunny, knocking it to the ground. The brown bunny broke into pieces.

The troll picked up a piece and sniffed. It smelled sweet. He licked the piece, and it tasted sweet too.  “Bunnies are yummy!” he said as he ate up all of the bunny pieces.

High up on the hill, three bunnies giggled as they watched the troll eating the chocolate bunny. Then they hopped away through the Easter lilies to hide their eggs.

Easter Eggs

What Are You Reading?

As a children’s book writer and a mother of 2 young kids, I read a ton of children’s books. We add a new batch of picture books to our reading list each week when we visit the library, and the kids eagerly expand their personal libraries when they get bookstore gift cards. I have a long list of “want to read” books, which include new books that have been recommended and classics that somehow escaped my childhood education.

My son and I are slowly working our way through the chapter books and young novels on the list, reading a few chapters each night together. We just finished The Borrowers (which my daughter also liked listening to), and now we are on to Holes. I like when there is a film version to show them afterwards. It results in some lively discussions about how the version on screen is similar of different than what they had built up in their minds. The Japanese anime movie The Secret Life of Arrietty is based on The Borrowers, which we’ll watch next week.

With all of these children’s books to read, sometimes I want a break to return to the adult world of literature. I have a big stack of writing craft books and a Jim Henson biography waiting for me, but my go-to books help me escape to somewhere else entirely. My favorites are fantasy, science fiction, and suspense/thrillers/crime.

Sometimes the categories blur a little between adult and young adult, like in the case of Harry Potter, Eragon, and The Lord of the Rings (all of which I absolutely loved). I just finished a Terry Pratchett novel called Snuff, featuring the complex and tell-it-like-it-is Commander Sam Vimes. Terry Pratchett is a comic fantasist, weaving dry humor, social commentary, and human nature into his Discworld novels. I have thoroughly enjoyed nearly everyone of his books, and his characterization of Death cracks me up every time.

I’m starting J.K. Rowling’s book, The Casual Vacancy, and then I’m on to some crime novels. I especially like Swedish crime novels right now (like Three Seconds), which I got interested in after reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Luckily, I’m a fast reader, because there are so many more books I want to read!

What are you reading right now? Who are your go-to authors? Please share your suggestions… I’d love to keep supplementing my list with good recommendations!

Image

It’s All Relative

Last week, we had a rare winter week with four days of temperatures in the mid-40′s. The week before and this week were more normal for this winter – hovering somewhere between 4 and 30 degrees. When you have had weeks upon weeks of cold, windy, gray weather (combined with being stuck in the house with 2 hyper children for repeated snow days), 45 degrees feels like a heat wave. Add in some sun, and you might just close your eyes and imagine that Spring has arrived.

So last week, I found myself in such a situation. Running shoes pounding the pavement, sun on my face, a good beat in my ears, and I was in heaven. I managed to repeat this process twice during the 4 days, setting a new personal time in the process.

Life is challenging sometimes. There are things you want to do and things you want to accomplish, and frequently what you have to do gets in the way. You’re dying to write down that new story in your head. You’re almost done with a major revision and you just need a few more hours. You want to get your novel out to agents, and you need time to get the synopsis right.

So I’m trying out a new mantra. Do your best with what you have. This could apply to time, money, weather, or effort. Was it the perfect running weather last week? No – it was still a little icy and I’d rather run in shorts. But it was so much better than it could have been in the middle of the winter, I enjoyed every minute of it. Did I have time to completely finish my synopsis earlier this week? No – other deadlines took most of my time, but I did squeeze out an hour to dictate the story. And any day where I can write is so much better than working a 12 hour day in a corporate office.

So rather than feeling inadequate, or self-critical, or disappointed, I choose to make the most of what lies before me. Don’t get me wrong – some days I just end up mad at myself for what is left undone. But for this one moment, I choose to be content. And look forward to the day when I can again feel the pavement beneath my feet and the sun on my face.

Review: Archie

Archie CoverArchie

Written and Illustrated by: Domenica More Gordon

Bloomsbury Books for Young Readers, 2012, Hardcover Edition

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Themes: Trying something new, following your dreams, self-confidence

How We Discovered This Book: My son chose this book during media class, and brought it home from the school library.

Summary:

Archie decides to make his dog some new clothes. Soon, they are the talk of the neighborhood and everyone wants cute clothes for their dogs too.

What I Liked:

This book is wordless, which is not usually the type of picture book I gravitate towards. However, the story flows along nicely without the words, and my kids could follow along without any explaining from me. The illustrations are charming and minimal.

What Did My Kids Think?

My kids are very interested in animals right now, so a book full of dogs is very appealing. They find it funny that dogs would have dogs as pets. My astute son even noticed that all of the dogs in the story have the same type of dog as they are (a boxer has a boxer as a pet, for example), except Archie. He appears to be a lab type dog, while his pet is a terrier. Curious…

Resources:

There are no existing resources for this book, so I’ll get a little creative this time.

The author is an artist known for her miniature felt dogs. Check out a story here about her dogs and the inspiration for the story.

There is another Archie book, Archie’s Vacation, which we have not yet read.

If you have dogs in your life, maybe you think they need some cuter clothes themselves? There are plenty of instructions on pet clothing and other related projects.

Maybe you really like the illustrations, and would like to try your hand at drawing a dog.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of our readers, however you celebrate it. I have young children, so in my house it means making valentines for each of their school friends. My son has a “special friend” in his class, so we had to make a special valentine for her (oh boy).

photo 1

Since this is the day of love, take a minute to think about what you love. Your family, your children, your friends, your pets? Take it a step further beyond the people/animals you love, and think about what you love to do. Do you love to write? Garden? Read a good novel? Bake? Exercise? Help others?

Whatever you feel about Valentine’s Day as a commercial holiday, approach the day with a different mindset. Spend the day in service to what and who you love. Sit down and finish reading that novel. Bake some cookies. Call that friend and tell you miss her.

I got a jump on the holiday here yesterday, spending a snow day warm and cozy in the house with my kids. We did crafts, we read, made cookies, and played games. I made sure there were plenty of warm hugs and kisses involved. Last night I finished a Terry Pratchett novel I’ve been longing to read.  Unfortunately, there will be no gardening here for me right now, since my garden is hidden under over a foot of snow.

photo 2

Today I’m going to try to reach as many of my loved ones as possible. Even if it’s only to leave a message letting them know I’m thinking of them.

Best wishes to you for a Happy Valentine’s Day, however you choose to spend it.

Weakness and Opportunity

I’ve been absent from the blog while working toward my MFA at Lesley University, and it’s good to come back for a quick reflection. When Katie and I chat, which we do with semi-regularity, we often discuss the latest thing I’m learning in my program. There’s always a lot to talk about.

During my recent residency in Boston, one of the faculty asked us to be truthful about our writing weaknesses. A task such as this is always easier said than done. Of course, we all have weaknesses. (Mine is dark chocolate sea salt caramels. Isn’t yours?) Prior to this seminar, I would have said revision was my biggest weakness. But if our weaknesses should be our top priority when it comes to revision, as this faculty person said, then revision itself couldn’t be my weakness. Besides, revision isn’t a craft technique. It’s the process of reworking the mechanics (read: craft techniques) of a piece. So I couldn’t play it safe with “revision.” But what I discovered at first unnerved me.

In general, my characters are deemed likable or relatable. At the same time, they trend toward being one-dimensional, lacking backstory, or blurring with other characters. In the case of my current WIP, I’d been thinking about these characters for over three years—I was convinced I knew them well. But when my chapters were workshopped at residency, there were questions about my characters I couldn’t answer. Here are just a few:

What was Sage doing when she found out her father had died?

What did she think when her mother first told her they were moving out of the country?

What did AJ think when he met his adoptive parents for the first time?

Why did Leighanne resist going to Nepal all those years?

Did Tenzin ever resent having a nun for a mother?

What fascinating questions! And what I wouldn’t give to know the answers to them.

It’s incredible to grasp how much I can not know my characters. Right now, they live only in my head. At some point, I hope they will live in your head as well, but until that day, I’m all they’ve got. To tell their stories, I would have to get to know them better.  I’d discovered a weakness, and a pretty significant one at that. What to do?

My advisor for this semester, Sara Zarr, recommended daily writing prompts by Sarah Selecky. (You can access it here.) Using these prompts, I write scenes with various characters from my WIP. A recent favorite involved an unnamed baby. In writing this scene, I discovered more about the dynamic between my protagonist’s parents. And while their relationship is somewhat critical to the backstory, I honestly hadn’t given them much thought.

Now, uncovering the details about my characters is a top priority, and the daily prompts are a big part in this process. Since I don’t know the answer (and arguably there is no right answer) of who my characters are, I can simply experience the joy of discovering new things about them. And my characters are so much more interesting than I ever would have imagined. I don’t foresee being able to use these scenes directly in my WIP, but I’ve only been doing them a few weeks, and already I feel more in touch with my characters. I’m hooked.

At first I was scared to confront the idea that I didn’t know my characters. Now I see that even within weakness there is opportunity. This is true beyond writing as well. Whether your weakness is defining characters or asking for help or speaking in front of large groups, be brave and embrace it fully. Who knows what will come of it.