Friday, May 11, 2012

Celebrating Children's Book Week with a Reading Recommendation

Before I share what's on my to-read stack and a bit about my latest read, I want to remind you that time is running out to enter our current giveaway contests:
And now, for our current TeachingAuthors' topic: Children's Book Week and what we're currently reading: I'm lucky to live in the same town as the wonderful independent bookstore, Anderson's Bookshop, which hosts the monthly Not for Kids Only Book Club "for adults who like to read books for children and teens." At our next meeting, on Sunday, May 20, we'll be discussing Dead End in Norvelt (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Jack Gantos, this year's Newbery Award Winner. I just picked up the book, so I can't comment on it yet. However, I can comment on, and heartily recommend, last month's book, Between Shades of Gray (Philomel) by Ruta Sepetys. The book was a finalist for the American Library Association's 2012 William C. Morris Award, which "honors a book written for young adults by a previously unpublished author."

Here's a description of the book from the official Between Shades of Gray website:
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive? 
I found Between Shades of Gray to be a powerful and moving story. Before reading this book, I knew nothing of Stalin's atrocities during World War II, which it so vividly depicts. I recommend the novel not only as a terrific read for ages 12 and up, but also as a wonderful contribution to World War II-related literature.

I met Ruta Sepetys a few weeks ago when she visited the Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville to celebrate the paperback release of Between Shades of Gray. She spoke then about the connections between her own family history and her novel. Her words reminded me of stories my mother told of her childhood in Italy, when German troops occupied her small mountain village. And that leads me to today's Writing Workout.

Writing Workout:
Researching Our Family Stories

Are there stories your relatives have told that could make interesting seeds for a story? Did any of them live through unusual or difficult circumstances, such as war, economic hardship, or natural disaster? Don't know? Then ask! Schedule time to sit down with a family member and really listen to his or her stories. Take notes. Then write a short story that captures part of his or her experience. If you need some inspiration for how powerful this process can be, go to the official Between Shades of Gray website and watch the video about how Ruta Sepetys researched her novel. And for another Writing Workout about writing family stories, see this post by April

Happy writing!

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