Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day from the Homefront

To the many family members, friends, teachers, neighbors, coworkers and acquaintances who have not only served our country but have also given of themselves to protect their various home nations, I thank you. While some of you are no longer with us and many of you bare the scars both physically and mentally of the battles you fought, your service and sacrifices have not gone unnoticed.

Veterans' Day might be a convenient time to vocalize that gratitude, but I often have the opportunity to reflect upon why I have so much respect and admiration for veterans. Not only are many of the people I interact with on a daily basis both veterans and active members of the military, but I also see the WWII Memorial, the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, the Marine Corps Memorial and the Navy Archives practically every day as physical reminders of service men and women. Because of the historic area I live in, I drive past battlefields and along military access roads, and I live directly along the Pentagon's flightpath. These are all constant reminders that though we do not have a current war on American soil, this nation was built upon the land where battles took place and the lessons learned--both good and bad--from those battles.

Today I am also grateful for the many books that have helped me understand war. I have never served in the military, nor have I ever seen the devastation caused by war, so books help me understand and connect with something that is so foreign to me. Kathy Erskine posted a wonderful list of books about war this morning, but I'd like to add a few of my own about coming home from war.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
I'll Be Watching by Pamela Porter
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Operation Oleander by Valerie O. Patterson

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fourth Grad School Reading List

I felt a bit of a shift in myself while reading for this packet--that inevitable change from reading as a reader to reading as a writing. As I'm in the middle of a creative writing program, I expected this to happen, but I didn't expect it to be so obvious.

Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves edited by E.K. Anderson and Miranda Kenneally: I was sent this book for review and asked to participate in a blog tour promotion for the book. I know and love several of these authors, and it was fascinating to see what happened in these authors' teenage years that directs what they write today. I wish essay compilations like this did better in the market so we could see more of them.

The Crimson Crown: A Seven Realms Novel by Cinda Williams Chima: Reading Cinda’s books gives me hope. I’ve known Cinda since before her first book was published, and it amazes me to see how good she’s gotten. Not a single line was wasted, which is an incredible feat for any fantasy novel, let alone a 600-page last installment of a quintet. If you want to learn about creating characters and sustaining/organizing complex plots, Cinda’s a master.

Little Owl’s Night by Srinivasan Divya: I’m a big fan of night-time concept books, and this one is adorable. I loved the sparse words and high-contrast illustrations. It’s a message book with no message for little owls who want to stay up to see what happens in the night.

A Possum’s Remember the Alamo and the Legend of Davy Crockett by Jamey L. Long, illustrated by Brandon Wood: Great history and tidbits at the end, but the writing wasn't fantastic. What did fascinate me was talking to Jamey at a book event about how he’s built an entire educational brand behind these books. It really opened my eyes to an entirely different kind of non-fiction writing for children.

Who’s Faster? Animals on the Move by Eileen R. Meyer, illustrated by Constance R. Bergum: Another concept picture book with fantastic endnotes. You can really see the research that went into such a simple book. (I just wish the publishing house had put more faith in this book and given it better packaging.)

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri: I will admit, I picked up this book because of NPR’s 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels list, a.k.a. NPR’s 100 Whitest-Ever Teen Novels list. It got me thinking about how white-washed my own reading list is, and made me think about what I can do to prevent this same thing from happening in my writing. This book was interesting in that it took a culture that is traditionally rural and European and turned it on its head.

I’ll Be Watching by Pamela Porter: It broke my heart and then pieced it back together again. And the Porter truly understands the storytelling power of the poetic form and utilizes every line of it. The multiple first-person point of view with a bit of the supernatural thrown in was a bold and captivating choice. The story of the Loney children is very familiar in my own family. Though it was during WWI and in America, both of my grandmothers were orphaned at an early age, and I know they shared many of the same tragic experiences featured in this book. And though both of my grandmothers have passed on with much of their own stories gone with them, I'd like to think that they found the same humor, tenderness and inner-strength that the Loney children did.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt: Schmidt never ceases to amaze me with his well-rounded characters and the way he shatters stereotypes and misconceptions. Great use of repetition, sarcasm and humor.

Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop: This book does a wonderful job at merging culture’s without taking us from home. In an odd way, it’s like The Forest of Hands and Teeth where the zombies aren’t really the story, they just are, and here, Japanese culture isn’t the story, it’s just the backdrop.

You might have noticed that there are only nine books listed here rather than the ten I'm supposed to read for each packet. Let's just say I got an early peek at an upcoming sci-fi trilogy that's going to blow your mind. I promise to give more details as I get the okay from the author and publisher.