Saturday, November 26, 2011

Top Ten Holiday Albums

So I'm a little obsessed with holiday music. Nothing puts me in the holiday spirit like a good tune. While some of these music selections are really traditional, many of them put a modern twist on the classics as well as introduce new tunes that are quickly becoming holiday classics to me. Feel free to leave your favorite albums (or even songs) in comments!

The Hotel Café Presents Winter Songs by Various Artists

Let It Snow Baby... Let It Reindeer by Relient K

Christmas Child by Carbon Leaf

A Santa Cause: It's A Punk Rock Christmas by Various Artists

Maybe This Christmas by Various Artists

Gift Wrapped - 20 Songs That Keep On Giving! by Various Artists

It's Christmas Time by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra

Rejoice and Be Merry by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Featuring The King Singers

A Very Special Christmas Live From Washington, D.C. by Various Artists

Boogie Woogie Christmas by The Brian Setzer Orchestra

And what would my lists be without bonus recommendations. Because the first bonus is a soundtrack that only features one original recording, I didn't think it deserves the same recognition as the other albums. The second bonus some people argue isn't really a holiday CD at all, but isn't Halloween really the beginning of the holiday season?

Elf: Music From The Motion Picture by Various Artists

The Nightmare Before Christmas Special Edition by Danny Elfman, Featuring Various Artists

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why can't I just have a crappy day?

Today was supposed to be about writing my critical essay for my grad school application. Instead, I spent my morning cleaning my house and cooking for a Thanksgiving meal I didn't want to have. I kept getting emails and phone calls about issue I shouldn't have to deal with. And my evening was taken over by house hunting--a task I despise on a good day. I hadn't gotten any writing done, and I wasn't any closer to finishing my grad school applications.

And then I walked into a bedroom in a house we were looking at and saw this:
(So it was really a regular white coffee mug with the Vermont College logo, but I couldn't find a picture of it online.)

One of the current tenants of the house we were looking at had recently graduated from one of the colleges I'm applying to. So I got to ask her questions about the program and play the "Do you know him/her?" game and talk to her about my concerns with the critical essay. All of a sudden, my day didn't seem like such a waste. In fact, even though we decided the house wasn't a good option for us, I was glad we went house hunting this evening.

That got me thinking, maybe my day wasn't so bad. After all, I got to sleep in for an hour. I even spend more time on my post-cardio yoga routine than I ever have time for. My carpet is clean and my refrigerator is full of good food. Almost all of my holiday shopping is finished, and my friend whom I rarely get to see went with me to a free screening of The Muppets on Monday. I got 10 cents off each gallon of gas I put in my car this afternoon because I had bought a Thanksgiving meal for three women who are far from home this year--four, if I count myself. My best friend sent me the sweetest email that made me feel like maybe my friendship is worth more than I give it credit. Tonight I get to visit with two of my favorite people, and I still have Friday, Saturday and Sunday to get my paper done.

I know it sounds sappy, but this Thanksgiving I'm grateful for all the little things. I'm grateful for one little coffee mug that made me realize giving thanks isn't about what you have so much as it's about all the good things that are yet to come.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Five: Bad blogger. Bad, bad blogger.

I am well aware that I have been woefully neglecting my blog. To all you who come looking for book lists and NoVA children's/YA lit event news, I apologize. And to all you who come looking for updates on what I'm up to (yes, that means you, Mom), well, the lack of content is indirectly proportional to the amount of obligations in my life.

So, for this Friday Five, I have the five things preventing me from being a reliable blogger.

Number 1

I spent Veteran's Day visiting friends in North Carolina. Tim, Annie and Maddie have made many appearances in this blog, including Thanksgiving two years ago, last fall, last Thanksgiving and this Labor Day. This time we headed down to their neck of the woods to help with remolding their house. Of course, we couldn't go to Jacksonville, NC, without a quick trip to the beach.

Number 2

A much larger chunk of my time is now dedicated to my commute as my office moved into the city this month. Not that this is a bad thing. In fact, I've missed taking public transportation to work, and in the past 18 days I've to listen to tons of audiobooks.

Number 3

I've been doing a ton of manuscript critiques. While this is tons of fun and a great way to deconstruct the mechanics of writing in order to build up my own skills, all of the manuscripts I'm currently reading are historical fiction, which takes a ton of time to critique effectively. But it also means I get to learn about exciting places like Revolutionary-era London and mid-evil Scotland and even a fictitious island in Polynesia during the Victorian era.

Number 4

I started working with a personal trainer, which makes me feel obligated to do things like work out every day and pay attention to what I eat. Being healthy takes an amazing amount of time, effort and money (that I don't have). Lucky for me, two-year-old Maddie helped me out last weekend by showing me the proper form for downward facing dog.

Number 5

And of course there's the ever-present grad school applications. In fact, I'm taking the day before Thanksgiving off—not to drive anywhere or prepare food, but to write my critical essay while everyone else is gone. But least you fear I'll spend all my time writing and no time giving thanks, I ordered a ready-made Thanksgiving so I won't miss out. (P.S. This is in no way an indication that I have nowhere to go for the holiday. Don't feel sorry for me as I've been invited to several dinners, but I desperately need to finish my applications.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Classical Greek Meets Modern YA

I've been working on my critical essay for my grad school applications this week. While I'm really excited about the topic I've chosen, the research for the essay is turning into a lot more work than I originally planned.

Without giving away too much, I wanted to do something that combined my love for contemporary young adult fiction with my academic background in the development of Western literature. (Yes, that was my self-written minor as I wanted to take philosophy, religious history, ancient literature and modern literature classes.) So I've been combing old philosophy papers and reading forgotten textbooks for tidbits of information I can use.

Now that I have the philosophy section outlined, I need to choose a modern young adult novel that has been banned in several schools and libraries across the country to tie it all together. The problem is, there are so many banned books that I love that will fit my purpose and that I'd be excited to read again. At least I've narrowed it down to three novels that made the ALA's Top Ten Frequently Challenged Books in 2009 and 2010:
My question for you is, which of these novels do you love best? I own all three books and have read them multiple times and often recommend them to other people. I really can't decide which to choose, and I need to have the book read, quotations chosen and outline completed by Thanksgiving weekend.

Come on, internet, don't fail me now.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Five: Five Weeks in Five Pictures

The past five weeks have been a little crazy, but it's been one of those crazy wonderful months. I know that I posted a couple of these pictures, but they kind of bear repeating. So here are the five best things that happened to me in the past five week.

Chicago Trip

When you get to spend an entire week with your family and best friend, you'd be thinking about it and smiling about it a month later as well. I wish we could be together everyday, but I'll just have to be content with fond memories and plans for another trip soon.

Uncle Ron's Visit

I love when people visit me in DC, but I especially love seeing my family. So when my uncle came to town, we had an amazing few days touring the monuments—especially seeing MLK Memorial for the first time— and spending a morning at the National Arboretum—my uncle's a master gardener, which made this visit especially fun.

SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference

I know, I can't say enough about how wonderful this conference was. I net so many wonderful people there that I hope to keep in touch with for years to come. Joining and then volunteering with SCBWI was the best decision I've ever made.

Meeting in the Berkshires

I was asked to speak at a conference in Massachusetts, and despite the early snow, I had a wonderful time. Hopefully the attendees found my presentation worthwhile (I spoke about building relationships with local media) because I know it was lovely to meet all of them.

Grad School App

That's right, my very first graduate school application is complete (except for one promised letter of recommendation that hasn't been submitted yet). I cannot tell you what a relief it is to have the first one in—now the other two don't seem like such insurmountable obstacles. My decision to go to graduate school is seeming more and more real and getting more and more exciting.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Series to Grow Up With

Transitioning from YA to adult books is a common theme on my blog, and today I wanted to address another way of doing this: series with increasingly difficult reading levels.

Not only do the characters in these series grow in age, but the situations they face become increasingly complicated, and the level of difficulty for the reader also increases. This is much more complicated than authors who write continuing series, books both for YA and adults or books with cross-market appeal. They have to sustain characters through years of growth and development as well as keep readers engaged.

The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
The Austin Family Chronicles by Madeleine L'Engle
The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
Ender Books by Orson Scott Card
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Jessica Darling by Megan McCafferty
Bloody Jack Adventures by L.A. Meyer

Most of these books also work well as read-alouds because they are accessible to both children and adults, and they explore issues that promote discussion and help develop connections. Don't stop reading to your child just because they can finally read on their own! Even if you don't read aloud, your child will still benefit from both of you independently reading a series at the same time, although it takes some planning to make sure there are two copies of a book in the house.

When introducing your children to a series, it's a good idea to not only be aware of their current reading level and emotional maturity but also the pace at which your child reads to prepare for when they'll approach later books in the series that might address more mature issues.