Summer Here We Come!

It’s officially summer in our house: the weather’s warmer, the pool’s open, the kids are out of school, and the grill is fully operational. We’re working on some summer projects here that I thought I would share with you.

Summer Reading:

My kids love the reading program at our local library, and we have already stocked up our shelves with tons of books we are planning to read. I was inspired by a reading challenge that a fellow blogger does with her daughter, so I have challenged my son as well. I gave him a list of about 35 books, and I challenged him to read 20 of them this summer. I gave him a few weeks head start before school got out to get the momentum rolling. If he finishes all 20 this summer, he will earn a prize (likely a day out together – still to be decided by Aidan).

Aidan is stuck in a Geronimo Stilton rut (not a bad rut to be in, but still), so I designed the list to encourage him to read more high quality books and continue to advance his vocabulary and reading skills. Most of the books on the list are either books I loved as a kid or books I somehow missed, so we will likely be reading most of the books together. Having each of us read alternate chapter aloud seems to work well for us.

In case you’re interested, here’s the list (targeted to a soon-to-be third grader who loves to read and has a good vocabulary)

A Wrinkle in Time
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Phantom Tollbooth
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Secret Garden
The Hobbit
Anne of Green Gables
The Mysterious Benedict Society
The Tale of Despereaux
Because of Winn-Dixie
Alice in Wonderland
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
James and the Giant Peach
The Lightning Thief
Black Beauty
Shiloh
The Adventure of Tom Sawyer
Little House on the Prairie
The Neverending Story
The Wind in the Willows
Stuart Little
The Boxcar Children
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
The Indian in the Cupboard
Pippi Longstocking
Treasure Island
The Borrowers 
Charlotte’s Web 
Holes 
The Little Prince 
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The Velveteen Rabbit 
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
The 7 books at the bottom are the ones Aidan has already read during this challenge, including Mrs. Frisby which we will likely finish tonight. The bonus in the challenge is that most of these books also have decent movies, so as we finish each book we reward ourselves with the corresponding movie. We have had some lively discussions about the differences in the storytelling between movies and books, why movies leave certain things out, and whether movie characters match what we have created in our heads.
I’ll keep you posted on how this challenge works out.
Summer Project
I am working on a project for the blog that will hopefully add another dimension and keep things interesting for you readers. I won’t spoil the surprise just yet, but hopefully we will have a periodic visitor who will share their thoughts with us on children’s books. Stay tuned – they may be ready to join us by the fall.
Summer Blog Schedule
Originally, I thought we would just plow through on the regular schedule, but now summer is underway and I am late posting for the second week in a row. A more realistic schedule is probably in order. Starting with today’s post, we will be moving to twice a month for new posts until the end of August. So we’ll see you again in 2 weeks!
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Connections Across the Miles

I believe that technology can be an amazing resource for a writer. It certainly can have its downsides, but used properly it can make information and support much more readily available.

In my writing, I often have questions about certain details. For example, I am writing a picture book about a boy in Venice. As I was writing, I wondered: What type of boats do your average Venetians own? If the main character went out into the Adriatic Sea, would he be able to see land? How do you say “my boy” in Italian? Thanks to Google, YouTube, and other Internet resources, I had my answer quickly and could focus on the story telling. Just 10-20 years ago, I would have needed to make a list of my questions, go to my local library, and search for the answers in reference books. And if I still had questions, I might need to write letters to experts, or travel to other libraries.

Technology such as video chatting, email, online courses, and file sharing sites help us stay connected as writers. I began my formal writing journey years ago with an online course with Gotham Writer’s Workshop. I took several courses with other aspiring writers from all over the United States, and the world. As a result of that class, several of us formed a critique group that met virtually – first by email and Google Docs, and then by video chatting.

Over 3-1/2 years later, our critique group endures. Its members have ebbed and flowed, and we have added other tools to help us better support each other’s writing. The constant has been Joanna and me, and our writing partnership.

Prior to this week, Joanna and I had only met once before in person at an SCBWI conference 2 years ago. I need to often remind myself of this, since I talk to her frequently by email and video chats every few weeks. This week, Joanna travelled all the way from Wyoming to the East Coast for her MFA residency. She spared a few days before school began to visit with me and my family.

Joanna was only here for less than 24 hours, but connecting with her in person was such a blessing. We hiked, we talked, I showed her my town, and my children totally fell in love with her. When she got on the train and waved goodbye, my daughter cried and I couldn’t help feeling a little sad too. She has had such a positive impact on my writing, and has supported me through all the ups and downs of new projects, rejections, and becoming a better writer.

So technology has brought me wonderful resources, feedback, support, and friends. It sustains me through the long writing process. But it could never replace how it feels to connect with another person, walking beside you. We got a little lost on our hike, but as always, we found our way out together.

Review: Building Our House

Building Our House Cover PageBuilding Our House

Written and Illustrated by: Jonathan Bean

Farrar Straus Giroux Books, 2013, Hardcover Edition

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Creativity/Family

How We Discovered This Book: This book was in the new books bin at our library, and it looked like good choice for my kids who are very much interested in how things are made.

Summary:

A girl and her family pack up their belongings and move from town out into an empty field. They live in a trailer for 1-1/2 years as they build their own home from scratch. Every member of the family has a part to play in the hard work and love it takes to build a home.

What I Liked:

Given the increased focus on non-fiction books in our schools, I’m very interested in books that take a non-fiction topic and put a twist on it. This is a fiction book, but is factually based on real events and a real building process. Rather than make it a dry book about construction, the author intertwines the family story with all of the work they did to build their own home. Kids will learn, without really being aware they are learning.

What Did My Kids Think?

Both of my kids enjoyed this book, and I think they now have a slightly better appreciation for what it has taken for us to renovate our own house. They had lots of questions that extended the discussion into other books and videos. The whimsical illustrations pair nicely with the story. The author includes some of his parents’  photographs from their house building at the end, which is an extra treat.

Resources:

PBS has a fun activity where kids can measure and build a house for some of their favorite storybook characters.

Scholastic has an activity focused on the business process from plans to completion.

Improvise, and see what other kinds of houses you can build: birdhouses, gingerbread houses, or even a house for your guinea pig.

Our Responsibility to Share

This morning, I took my 7 year old son running with me for the first time. I’m usually very private and protective of my running. As a busy mom of two young kids, my runs are my only true alone time. I use the time to clear my head, reset my mood, and push myself physically.

But I figured out a compromise – I completed my 3 mile run alone, and then I met my son at the bottom of the driveway. We ran almost a mile together, and then walked and ran the mile back. He ran 3/4 of a mile without stopping, which was pretty good for his first run of any distance. He loves to sprint, but he adapted to pacing himself well.

I loved spending the one-on-one time with him. Running is something on my mental list of things I’d like to share with my children, and I enjoyed sharing my love for running with him. My dad has many interests, and he always shared those interests with my brother and me when we were young. We could try whatever we wanted – some things stuck, and some things didn’t. The best part of trying new things was trying them along with Dad, who fostered a sense of curiosity, self-drive, and life long learning.

Some of the things I’d like to share with my kids are big- how to care for others, how to figure out what you love to do, and how to dream. Some are smaller but still important – how to ride a bike, play cards, or make a hand puppet.

As a writer of children’s books, I feel it is my responsibility and privilege to share these same things with child readers. My challenge is sharing without being preachy or didactic. Children (including mine) can smell a “lesson” coming. It has to be put out there, like cherry to be picked. And then if you can make the cherry seem tantalizing and tasty, they will pluck it and make it their own.