A Little Bit More on Diversity

Last week, diversity in books was the hot topic. At least in my world. The thread has faded a bit from the internet, but it hasn’t gone away. A few posts to share, and then a starting list from me.

From the Cybils, my source for so many of the books I love: Diverse Book Recommendations for #WeNeedDiverseBooks

From Jen Robinson at her Book Page: Roundup of Diversity-Themed Links I Shared this Week

From Mother Reader: The Ninth Annual 48 Hour Book Reader Challenge (Note: I have been wanting to do this challenge for years, and it has always been “a bad weekend for reading.” Yes, even I have the occasional one. And this year–my parents come visit on Thursday, my son graduates on Friday, and there will be major sleeping of the son and visiting of the family on Saturday. But you know what? What else am I going to do with Sunday except recover. So I’m thinking I will do my own, little, baby 24-hour challenge along with every one else. I could do it with picture books and read, like a gazillion. Or maybe a half-gazillion. Right? Right.)

And from Jen Robinson and Sarah Stevenson at Finding Wonderland, the 8th Annual Kidlitosphere Conference, FINALLY IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA and already on my calendar.

And from me, because the only really good intentions are the ones with which you follow through, the list of books I put on hold at the library today, all from the longer list of titles I’ve been building from those #WeNeedDiverseBooks posts.

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Celebrate with Jen Robinson

Today, at her book page, Jen Robinson talks about the fact that she’s now been blogging for eight years. Hard to believe, but then I also can’t believe that her little girl, “Baby Bookworm,” is so clearly not a baby anymore or that my son, for whom I have used Jen’s page as a great book resources, is heading to college next year. But, yes, okay, sure, it’s been eight years.

This is just a quick post to celebrate Jen and her blog. Jen’s Book Page was one of the first I found when I started reading blogs. Even though, as she says, Jen chose an engineering path and I totally did the English major-Victorian novels-lots of papers route, I connected with Jen over the fact that, as adults, we both still read kids books. A lot. Possibly even the majority of the time. Without a touch of embarrassment. And her passion about and commitment to getting kids reading and sharing the best kidlit with adult readers struck home for me, in a huge way. Jen has also led me to the Cybils awards site, from which I pretty much build my year’s reading list and where I return whenever I run out of something to ready (yes, it happens) or am stuck trying to find a book to gift. And I’m pretty sure Jen is the reason I started blogging, because–if I remember correctly–it was while I was leaving a comment on one of her posts that I thought, “Wow. This is a really long comment. This comment is practically as long as an actual blog post. Hmm. Maybe I should…”

Jen’s reviews are thorough, intelligent, and just detailed enough to get you intrigued without dropping any spoilers. She’s honest about her reaction to a book, sharing what she sees as pluses and minuses. In her post, she mentions the “reviews” she’s written about the books her daughter loves, even when Jen doesn’t always agree. I’m loving these posts, partially because they really show how kids’ tastes can differ from ours, but also because Jen’s thoughts so reflect what all parents go through, who–in trying to pass on their love of books–hit little heffalump traps along the way.

I’m pretty sure that everybody who reads my blog reads Jen’s, but in case you haven’t actually dropped in there yet, do. You’ll be welcomed into a wonderful world of books and reading. And stop by to tell Jen congratulations!

Happy Anniversary, Jen!

Revisiting the Blog…Again

I feel like I do this every year, either in December or January–come around and take another look at what I’m doing with my blog. I just spent an hour or so updating my website (about time!), and–boy–looking around, it was clear that I’m not blogging the way I want to. I’ve heard other people talking about this, from Kelly Fineman to Jen Robinson, both of who’s blogs I read and enjoy. So, once again, I’m trying for a reboot. I’ve got a few questions for you at the end of the post, so read through to the end. Or skip to the end, if you want.

I want to:

  • Blog regularly. At a minimum, once a week.
  • I’m going to blog shorter. Oh, sure, yes, you’ll get a thoughtful, perceptive, in-depth, long-winded post every now and then, but I’m going with the premise that shorter can be better and is definitely faster.
  • I want to do more reviews. If you look at my Reviews page, you’ll see that this isn’t a request for books. But when I fall in love with a book, I’m going to share that love.
  • I’m going to rebuild my blogroll and try to comment more. I have a great reader on my phone (WordPress), so I’ve got no excuse for saying “hi” when I stop by.
  • I’ll share more links to good posts at other blogs. It’s about a community, right? Right.

So those are my goals. And now a few questions for you.

  • Approximately how many blogs do you check in at each week (blogs, not posts)?
  • Do you prefer shorter or longer blog posts?
  • Got any favorite blogs? Please share away!

And in the spirit of my actually making the above list of goals happen, here’s a little Louis for your day…

Reading with Baby Bookworm: An Interview with Jen Robinson

Years ago, when I first started reading blogs, one of the first I discovered (and, yes, I probably did yell “Eureka!”) was Jen Robinson’s Book Page. I have used Jen’s reviews for years now, to suggest books to my son and to add to my own reading list. Jen  is so much about the things I love–reading kidlit as an adult, by choice, and getting new kids to fall in love with books for life.  Since starting her blog, Jen has taken on many roles. She is an advisor to the  Foundation for the Santa Clara City Library and Literary Evangelist for the Cybils awards. She also maintains the Children’s Book Review wiki.

I know I’m not the only person in Jen’s virtual circle who cheered when I found out she was going to have a baby. That was just so…right, the knowledge that a very lucky baby was going to come into the world, a baby that would be surrounded by love and books and the best combination of both. When Baby Bookworm (who we’ll call BB for the rest of the post!) was born early, I think we all held our breath, and then we cheered again when she came home–even more loudly this time.

I love reading Jen’s Facebook posts. Yes, all of them, including the links to new reviews and to important literacy articles. But the posts about BB and books–well, those just make me smile. A lot. And I thought it would be fun to interview Jen about their reading–about how Jen’s reading has changed since BB came into her life and about BB’s own reading–with Mom and by herself. Luckily, Jen thought it would be fun to do the interview.

And I know you’ll have fun reading it!

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BL: If I’m remembering right, Baby Bookworm (BB) was born early, and I think she spent some time in the hospital before coming home. I’m guessing you were reading to her there. Do you remember the first book you read to her and why you chose it?

JR: The first book that we read to her was One Night in the Zoo by Judith Kerr. That was a book that we had read to her in utero, and it was on top of the stack when my husband went home to pick up some books (we didn’t have a lot of time for planning). One Night in the Zoo is a lovely, soothing read-aloud, and I was pleased with it as our first book. I still know it by heart.

BL: In general, were the first books you read to BB picture books? If not, what age/genre did you start her on?

JR: While she was in the NICU, I actually started reading her The Secret Garden by Frances Hodsgon Burnett. It was easier to hold than the picture books, and easier to just stick with one book over longer periods of time than to have to switch. I figured that the important thing was that she hear the sound of me reading. She wasn’t really able to look at pictures at that point anyway, though we did read her some picture books in the hospital. After she came home I read her a mix of picture books, board books, poetry, and chapter books. We read the first Harry Potter book and the first Penderwicks book before she became too restless to sit still for books that didn’t have pictures.

BL: I know your reading habits/patterns had to change tremendously once BB was born. What would you say were the biggest changes between the year before her birth and the year after?

JR: Well, quantity, obviously. I just had nowhere near the time for reading that I used to have. In 2009 I read 167 books (not counting picture books). In 2010 (she was born in April), I read 67. I’m pleased to report that for 2012 I was back up to 134. In general, I read a lot more picture books now than I used to. And I’ve gotten better at squeezing in reading time.

BL: I know from your Facebook posts that BB definitely spends time on her own with books. Is there a difference between the books you and she read together and the ones she reads to herself? Do you think her self-reading times are mostly when you’re not available, or do you see her choosing times to read by herself and times she wants you to share a book with her?

JR: She’ll tend to pick books with which she is very familiar to “read” on her own. And she’ll say the words that she knows aloud as she does so. She also favors wordless books for this activity. I’ve seen her sit down with Good Night, Gorilla, and all I’ll hear is the “Goodnight, goodnight, etc.” on the page where the animals all say goodnight to the keeper’s wife. She will choose self-reading sometimes even when I’m available. She’ll just say “I’m going to read in my Little Corner,” and off she’ll go. I justify the time that I spend reading in front her as “modeling reading,” and it does seem to work  She’ll also pick up chapter books sometimes, and pretend to read those, which is always entertaining.

BL: How do you set up your day (or week!) so that you have your own reading time, with just you and the book you want to lose yourself in?

JR: I nearly always read in bed for at least a little bit before I go to sleep. I also use audiobooks to squeeze in reading time while I’m flossing, cooking, etc. (though I can only do that when BB is not around). Lately when my husband reads to BB before bed, I’ll sit with them and read my book. But the days of reading for long stretches of time, and losing myself in books, are pretty much on hiatus, except for special occasions. Sigh!

BL: I just read your post on the Mercer Mayer books, and I love the honesty of these lines: “I must admit, these books are not my favorites. But I must also admit that Baby Bookworm, at nearly three years old, adores them. How often does this happen, that BB likes/loves a book that just doesn’t get you? Have you discovered the magic trick of balancing between letting your child pick their reading and making sure you get to read what you want?

JR: Well, at this age a big part of the trick involves selecting the books in the first place. When books come into the house, I usually screen them first, and Baby Bookworm never sees the ones that I don’t think I could stand reading over and over again. There are also certain locations where the books that we read most frequently live, and I can sneak books into or out of those locations. But she always has veto power, too, and she’s not shy about using it. She’ll say that a book is “too long,” or “maybe for when I’m older,” and cast them aside without a backward glance. In truth, though, as with the Mercer Mayer books, if there are books that she loves, I’m so happy to hear her seek them out that I tend to have a pretty high tolerance. She has certainly expanded my perspective.

BL: Do you do any reading with BB on an e-reader? Does she spend time reading books on an e-reader herself? If yes, do you see any difference between sharing print books and e-books with her? Do you see any difference in how she responds to the differences?  If no, are you choosing for her not to read electronically yet, and would you share your reasons?

JR: I do allow BB a certain amount of time interacting with apps on the iPad. Some of the apps that she has are book-based, like The Monster at the End of this Book. But I still view them as a different sort of activity than reading books, and I prefer for her to read print books. I have purchased or borrowed a few Kindle books for trips, but haven’t found that they capture her interest. I think that she’s come to expect a high degree of interactivity to the apps that she uses, and to just look at a non-interactive book on a device doesn’t do much for her. She is fascinated by my Kindle Paperwhite, though. She doesn’t want to use it herself, but she will pick up other objects, and tell me that they are her “Kindle Book.” I’m always careful when I’m using the Kindle to tell her that it’s a special book, and that I’m reading it, because I don’t want to undercut that whole “modeling reading” idea.

BL: With all your research about and advocacy of literacy, have there been any surprises for you about reading with a child/raising a reader, since BB was born? What were those? What has BB taught you about reading?

JR: I don’t know that I would call it a surprise, exactly, but I think that BB has taught me to expand my perspective. There are books that show up at our house now that I would never have given a second glance when I was just an adult reviewing children’s books. But I appreciate them now. For instance, I was thrilled to see Big Girl Panties by Fran Manushkin arrive on the doorstep, because I knew that she would love it. Also not a surprise, but something that I love, is how often we make connections between books and our daily life. We are constantly referring in daily life to things that happened in books, and we love when we’re reading a book, and can relate it to something that we’ve done recently. I’ve seen literacy advice to work to build on those connections, but I had no idea how much fun it would be.

BL: If you got to share (only) three of the best read-aloud books that you’ve discovered since BB was born, what would those be? Would BB choose the same ones and, if not, which would she choose?

JR: Such an impossible question. There are so many books that we enjoy. But three of my favorites for reading aloud are: Good night, laila tov by Laurel Snyder, All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, and Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown. BB would probably choose those first two, and then she would try to sneak all three Knuffle Bunny books in as her third choice. Because she is always trying to get some extra books in.

Saturday Six: Links to Share

Lately, I feel like I’m checking in a blogs a lot, but not necessarily posting comments. I know there’s a lot of discussion around about whether blogs are on the way out, and I never know if my pattern is part of a trend or just a piece of my general business? Either way, I know there is still a lot of good stuff out there, and I thought I’d share a few today.

1. First, in case you missed it during the week, a link to my own blog–but to someone else’s post! Annette Dashofy guest-posted here on Wednesday about managing and participating in an online critique group. She’s got great stuff in the post, and if you leave a comment before Sunday night, I’ll enter you in a drawing for a copy of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.

2. Have you been following the Ed DeCaria’s Madness 2012! Poetry Competition? I’ve been popping in and out to see some rounds and give an occasional vote. I’m not a big poetry expert, but when something wows me, well…then I feel like adding my reaction to the count. It’s an amazing concept, I think–each poet gets a random word to build a poem around, and their poem comes up against another poet’s poem, written around a totally different word. Susan Taylor Brown wrote a great post here on dealing with her word and her fears–check it out. I wasn’t sure what page to link to for the contest itself, but here’s the scoreboard for the competition, which does have links to some of the poems. I think! Myself, I’ve just been watching for status updates on Facebook and then following those posts to the poems. Whether or not you’re a poet, I think this is both amazing and fun.

3. I’ve had people see me at the bookmobile, with my (yes, rather largish) stack of books to check out, and sigh that they wished they had time to read that much. Ack. Yes, I get that there’s never enough hours in the day to do all we want, but I also know that nobody in my family would want to live with me if I didn’t get my reading time in. Even so, I totally know what Jennifer R. Hubbard means about the rarity and the delight of just curling up with some reading time, not letting anything else demand your attention or your minutes. And someday, I’m going to get myself away on the kind of reading retreat Debbi Michiko Florence has been scheduling for herself this past year.

4. Until I was scanning my blog roll for links today, I actually missed this post by Nicole at Viva Scriva on getting back to her WIP after a forced “vacation” from it. Oh, so much here that resonates with me this week, plus some of the links that helped Nicole get back on track. Blog links within blog links–that’s what it’s all about today, folks. BTW, if you don’t have the Viva Scriva blog on your reading list, check them out for a few weeks–I’m guessing they’ll be a permanent add.

5. Another post I missed until this morning (okay, maybe I AM skimming too much!) is Jen Robinson’s review of Robin LaFevers‘ new book, Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book 1. I am a huge fan of Robin’s Theodosia books and enjoy her Nathaniel Fludd books, too. Not to mention I read Robin’s blog posts avariciously for her help with plotting. I haven’t read this new book yet, because if the car works and the creek don’t rise, I’m hoping to go buy my copy (and finally meet Robin!) at her Books Inc signing on April 4th. Jen’s review should give you a good idea, though, about why you want to read this book.

6. Here’s a fun post from Beth Revis, where she polled the members of her debut-authors group, the Elevensies, on the top three things they learned in their first year of publication. There’s a definite thread of letting the things that are out of one’s control be, well…out of your control. And another one on getting that next book started.

Enjoy the links, and enjoy your weekend. Happy writing inspiration to everyone!

THE PENDERWICKS AT POINT MOUETTE: Problems That Do Matter

I just finished reading The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall. I love all the Penderwick books–they take me back to reading Edward Eager’s books and Mary Nash’s Mrs. Coverlet books when I was young. They also make me think of Elizabeth Enright’s books, which I didn’t find until I was in my forties (thanks to Jen Robinson), but which have the same flavor. It’s partially the pleasure of nostalgia that makes me lose myself in Birdsall’s books, but it’s also more than that.

It’s the writing.

I have to say I think this latest book is my favorite. It’s kind of different, because the story opens with Rosalind getting ready to spend two summer weeks with a friend, separated from the rest of the family–who are all heading off to a little house in Maine. Rosalind isn’t really in the book, which is an absolutely necessary plot device to put Skye–my wonderful impatient, frustrated, girl-with-a-real-temper Skye–in charge as the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick). A job she SO does not want.

I’m not going to go into a full review of the book–I recommend the whole series wholeheartedly, but I also think you could just pick up any one of them and fall in love, especially this one.

What I want to talk about is something I think Birdsall does especially well in the Point Mouette book–she writes a fun, charming, easy book…with stakes.

I have one of those books in a drawer–the ones we write & write on and revise & revise, then submit and, in the long run, get rejections for. I love this book, which is how I suspect most of us feel about our drawer books. But I also know what’s missing. You guessed it: stakes.

Several agents and editors were nice enough to explain that the book was perhaps too quiet, that they didn’t feel the things the characters went through mattered enough–not necessarily, I don’t think, that the events weren’t big enough, but that they weren’t getting the feel of how important these events were to the hero. As the book sits in the drawer, it also sits in the back of my mind, and every now and then–as I work on more current projects–I wonder about what it is I can and should do to revise–yet again–and amp things up for my hero.

I’m not going to get into spoilers, but Birdsall achieves just what I want and need to for my book. I don’t think anyone would call a Penderwick book heavy,–I think light is a much better and probably most often applied adjective. Light in a good way–that you smile a lot as you read her books, that you laugh out loud, that the story moves quickly (even with the nostalgic feel), and that it is a sheer, happy pleasure to be immersed in the stories.

And yet…Skye REALLY doesn’t want to be OAP. The humor around her taking on the job Rosalind has carried for five years is absolutely brilliant and wonderfully funny. Skye’s worries and fears also are woven in with humor, but at the same time, you GET why she doesn’t want this responsibility, and why it isn’t easy for her to handle. That’s real. The same with Batty’s missing Rosalind and the nighttime fears she doesn’t share with anyone except Hound, the family dog. Very sweet, very charming, and–again–very real. Batty doesn’t remember their mother; Rosalind has carried that role for as long as Batty knows. And it’s hard for her to be separated from her biggest sister. Truly hard. And we feel that. The scenes total maybe 5 or 10 pages in the entire book, but we feel what Batty’s feeling in every word.

And then the Big Thing. No, I’m not going to give away what the Big Thing is–I’m telling you, go read the books. The Big Thing doesn’t come along until very close to the end of the book (unless you’re a much smarter reader than me, which–in terms of plots & secrets–isn’t actually hard to be), but when it hits…BOOM. It is intense. And hard. And, once more, so absolutely real.

It matters. Suddenly all the light reality that has made us love these characters so much gets completely transformed into anxiety and heartache and hope. Yes, because it’s a huge deal and, yes, because the outcome could go either a good way or a bad way, but mostly, I think, because of the work Birdsall has done before. The realness she has woven into every scene, every moment, has created characters that we care about–that we sympathize and empathize with. With the perfect touch, never forgetting to charm us and make us smile, she has shown us that the things that happen in this world–small or big–matter to these people.

So, yeah, they matter to us.

Friday Five: Taking a Look around the Blogiverse

I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of navel-staring the last few weeks, like I’ve been a little too wrapped up in ME.  But I do love touching base with a Friday Five. So this Friday, I’m going to point you to a few other people…enjoy!

1. Start at Susan Taylor Brown’s blog. All this month, she’s posting about 31 Blogs (You Might Not Know) to highlight blogs she enjoys that may have flown under our radar. Just a nice tidbit every day, but she’s bringing lots of wondering bloggers to my attention. Susan’s posts this month and her generosity at her blog are actually my inspiration for stepping back from the mirror today–thanks, Susan!

2. Martha Alderson is The Plot Whisperer. Last year, she filled December with wonderful posts about what to do about revising the novel you “finished” during NaNo. She’s back this year with the 2nd Annual International Plot Writing Month. Posts start here.

3. You know them as The Shrinking Violets, rescuers of all introverts. Who are they behind their superhero masks & capes? Robin LaFevers and Mary Hershey, wonderful writers and bloggers. For intensive writing advice and wonderful motivation, check out Robin’s and Mary’s individual blogs.

4. Do you want to learn about the publishing industry–about what’s happening today and what may very well be happening tomorrow? Jane Friedman is publisher and editorial director of the Writer’s Digest brand community. She has two blogs (maybe more!) at There Are No Rules and Publishing Passion. Jane has strong opinions and ideas about what publishing is doing and what it should be thinking about. You may or may not agree with all she says, but she is on top of everything that’s happening today, and she does a brilliant job of sharing all her knowledge and experience with those of us struggling to figure it all out. Her posts are not to be missed.

1. If you’re a kids or YA writer, you already know Jen Robinson. And if you don’t, well, you just head over and introduce yourself to her blog now. What if you don’t write for kids and teens? Well, Are you an adult who’s been hearing about this surge in YA lit and wondering where to get started? Do you have any kids in your life who love reading, or who are struggling to find that love? Do you have a list of young ones and teens on your holiday-gift list? Do you care about literacy, about promoting reading for all ages? Jen is a passionate advocate for literacy, for bringing books into children’s lives, and for continuing to read “young” books into our adult years. She knows more about kids/YA books than anyone I know, and that’s saying a lot. Her generosity of time and energy are epic. Get her blog into your blog reader now.

There. Now you have more links to add to your already busy lives. 🙂  Happy friday & happy reading!