Love and Romance

I hope this post finds you all feeling loved on this Valentine’s Day weekend. Here in the Northeast, we are trying desperately to stay warm and snuggly with temperatures in the double digits below zero.

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So do you consider Valentine’s Day to be about romance, love, another attempt by businesses to get more of your money, or a reminder of how we should treat our loved ones all year long? Or a combination of these? As the holiday approached this year and I am knee deep in writing a middle grade novel where two girls discover dating, it made me think about the role of romance and love in children’s literature.

Let’s start with the idea that middle grade novels are about pre-teens testing their boundaries and beginning the journey of self-discovery. And teenagers are focused on breaking out of the system and forging their own paths. So with that logic, experiencing romance is a part of that self discovery. What do I like about the opposite (or same) gender? What do I expect from a relationship? How do I expect to be treated? What makes me happy? What tells me that I am valued, appreciated, and desired? How do I show affection? How do I make a connection with someone else? (As I write this list, it makes me think that romance and love is a work in progress for our whole lives.)

It would then follow that as teenagers (with some of these ideals formed) that they would begin to break out of what society expects. Perhaps they experiment with the content of their relationships, or they choose unconventional partners, or they choose to opt out of the whole “have to have a boyfriend/girlfriend” ideal.

And then to add complexity to the forming of their idea of what love is, we overlay their non-romantic relationships: mom, dad, siblings, extended family, and best friends. Sometimes these relationships are their example/non-example for how to form a relationship, or they use these non-romantic relationships as experiments for what might work in their romantic relationships.

So, despite certain trends to make literature more edgy (YA in particular), I think that a fuller exploration of how young people explore romance and love is much more interesting. And if done correctly and honestly, it will connect better with young readers’ internal experiences, regardless of the time in which the novel is written.

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Book Review: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

51YuPuZ0efLChains follows Isabel, a young slave, on her quest for freedom during the Revolutionary War. I admit it took me a few chapters to embrace the story, but once it picked up (or once I wasn’t distracted by life, really) I was entranced. Anderson made the American Revolution come alive through her attention to historical detail and skill at weaving believable fictitious characters and desires with historical events. I loved the characters–especially Isabel and her sister Ruth. Isabel is looking for freedom, and she’ll side with whomever she thinks might help her attain it. This wonderful middle grade novel would provide ample opportunities to talk about race, freedom, and our nation’s history.

Chains is the first book in Anderson’s Seeds of America Trilogy. The second book Forge received this review from Kirkus. Some readers might find it “one of the best novels they have ever read.” What a statement. I’m heading to the library today! The third installment in the trilogy, Ashes, has not yet been published (as far as I can tell).

For readers capable of appreciating mature topics such as PTSD or eating disorders, Anderson has a wealth of novels, including Wintergirls, Speak, and the recent The Impossible Knife of Memory. All amazing.

New Years Follow-up: Katie shared her goals and inspirational word for the new year in last week’s post. My word is courage. Now that I’ve finished my MFA (!) I need to take some risks. Whether it’s finishing the revision of my current work in progress or submitting said revision to agents, I’ll need to adopt an assertive attitude toward what comes next. Here’s to a courageous 2015!

Lost (and Found) in MFA-land

Here’s a shout-out to Katie for giving so much love to the blog!

I’ve been a bit absent lately. And will be for the next few months.

Remember when I applied for an MFA? Writing submissions, check. References, check. Acceptance, check! I was accepted into three of the four programs I applied for and am now happily enrolled  in Lesley University in Boston. In fact, my first semester is almost half over. That’s like 1/8th done with the whole MFA!

Okay. I’m counting pennies, but I’m so excited to be doing it. Critically reading young adult literature (and having to write essays about what I discover–still painful at this point). Ripping apart and rebuilding one of my manuscripts. Researching 17th century Holland for a different one.

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It’s all so interesting, stimulating. And how can my writing do anything but improve?

One highlight so far has been working with my faculty advisor, Jackie Davies. She’s written a number of successful books for young people. My recent favorite is The Candy Smash, the fourth in a middle grade series about a brother and sister. I’ve learned so much from her guidance, and this kind of close mentorship was precisely what I was looking for in getting an MFA.

Here’s a sampling of the books I’m reading for my various independent studies:

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It’s a great variety, and that helps keep me engaged, for sure. I’ve only just begun, but I am so excited for wherever I am going with this! From time to time, I’ll chime in to the blog, to share what I’m learning. And thanks again to Katie for keeping our blog’s momentum!

To MFA or not to MFA

How many of you have considered this question?

Graduate school has been circling the depths of my mind for close to thirteen years. Back then, I was trying to decide between studying geology or entomology. What a different ride it would have been had I chosen either of those subjects. But I didn’t, nor did I choose to go to divinity school or get my teaching certificate a few years later. No doubt, any of those paths would have proven exciting, inspiring, and enriching, but it’s water under the bridge now.

After two years of serious writing, graduate school has surfaced again. Should I get an MFA in writing? Specifically, writing for children and young adults?

So I’ve asked myself what I would get out of an MFA, and if I could get those same skills through a less expensive route. Probably the most important aspect of an MFA program – for me anyway – is the mentorship. My critique group (do we need a fancy name?) is an invaluable resource to me, and in no way am I going to let that go. But having a mentor whose sole purpose (among having many other sole purposes!) is to teach me the craft of writing sounds amazing. Reading and analyzing the books I’m already reading to improve my understanding of what makes a good story – yea! And the residencies – ten full days of workshops and readings followed by painfully short nights – well, they sound great, too. At least, they do right now…

Well, as of 10:13 this morning, I officially put my name in. Hence the delay in this post – I spent the better part of this past week writing and rewriting my personal and critical essays. Now they’re off. And of course, now I have to get in.

What’s been your experience with To MFA or Not to MFA? Why or why not? After deciding, yes or no, what’s your opinion now?

 

School Is Out!

As the doors swished closed on the bus and my son waved goodbye, my eyes filled with tears. It took me completely by surprise. I hadn’t expected his last day of Kindergarten to be so emotional. Perhaps it’s because he has grown so much in this last year. Blossomed, really. He started the school year as a little boy, and now he is a BOY. A boy full of questions, creativity, and energy.

This week is our first full week of summer break. For us, that means I have both kids at home with me, and we have days full of “after schooling” (additional activities and learning in focus and interest areas), nature walks, swimming lessons, bicycle riding, and playing. And reading. Lots and lots of reading.

Our community has some good reading programs. My son participates in his elementary school program, as well as the one at our local library. Each week, we visit the library to play, do some crafts, return our bagful of books, and borrow a new bagful. So what are we reading to start the summer?

My son: Lots of reading together and reading out loud

The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne

Anything Dr. Suess

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown, Cressida Cowell

We Are in a Book, Mo Willems

The Good Little Bad Little Pig, Margaret Wise Brown

My daughter: lots of reading together- lots of books with pictures!

The Runaway Bunny, Margaret Wise Brown

Bunny Eats Lunch, Michael Dahl

Moonbear, Frank Asch

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle

All of Baby Nose to Toes, Victoria Adler

Big Bird’s Guessing Game About Shapes

Me:

The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins

Ford County Stories, John Grisham

Inheritance, Christopher Paolini

Lots of books to read, and fun to have. I hope you and your families have fun this summer, both inside books and outside exploring!

Unearthly and Ashfall: A Comparison of YA Themes

I read a lot of young adult fiction, from contemporary coming of age stories to urban fantasy. Very fun stuff. Some of it makes me cry (most notably John Green’s recent work, The Fault in Our Stars) and some has me in stitches (what can I say, The Fault in Our Stars). A good number of current YA novels tackle a dystopian/post-apocalyptic future or fantastical present. I’m going to compare the two I’m reading now.

Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand, tells the story of an angelblood. Clara Gardner is a quarter angel (on her mother’s side). One element to this story I found refreshing was that Clara knows her family secret from the beginning. Every angelblood has a purpose, a task they must complete, and Clara is just waiting to discover what her purpose is. Ashfall, by Mike Mullin, is a post-apocalyptic tale of what might happen if the Yellowstone supervolcano erupted. Alex Halprin is home alone when his house is struck by chunks of volcanic rock erupted from the Yellowstone Caldera almost two states away. His family isn’t with him — they’re east, and hopefully safe — and the book follows him as he tries to find them. Both books are the first in a series.

I’m enjoying both stories, and I’d gladly recommend them to any one who likes YA, but this isn’t really a book review.

What interests me is, how do I respond as a reader to these two very different possible futures?

Unearthly awakens the part of me that wants to believe in something other. Meaning the part of me that loves fairies, waterhorses, LOTR, and such. Could I be an angelblood? I know it sounds hokey or ridiculous or insane. Rationally, I know  my parents weren’t angels (no offense, Mom). But doesn’t each one of us fantasize about being special in some way? I certainly did as a teen, and I still do now. So, Unearthly takes me to a place where that could be possible, in a hopeful sort of way.

Quite the opposite with Ashfall. I live in Jackson, WY. According to an interpretive park ranger I asked on a recent Yellowstone visit, if the Yellowstone supervolcano erupted, I would be dead before I was even aware of it. The future of Ashfall seems more plausible, real, even though it’s unlikely that the volcano will erupt while humans are still on Earth. And this kind of story affects me in some kind of visceral way. What would I do in the event of a natural disaster? Or war? Would I be one of the survivors? Honestly, with how griped I am reading this story, I hope I never have to answer that question.

In thinking about this comparison, I realize that I read both types of books for separate reasons. I like to slip away into other worlds or possibilities, and at the same time my (more) rational mind likes to flirt with tangents of our current reality. Lucky for me, a plethora of books offering me both experiences is out there.

What kind of stories do you like to read? Do you want to be an angelblood? Would you survive the supervolcano?