Friday, December 15, 2017

3 Favorite Reads of 2017: 2 Historicals Plus a Modern Classic


Happy Poetry Friday! In today's post, I include an excerpt from a Byron poem quoted in one of the titles I share for our end-of-the year series on our Favorite Reads of the Year. If you haven't entered our current giveaway yet, see the link at the end of this post.

I've enjoyed reading about my fellow TeachingAuthors' favorites: voracious reader Mary Ann shared SIX titles, Esther gave us FOUR, April hosted a guest TeachingAuthor interview and giveaway of her ONE favoriteand Bobbi shared THREE books, including one for adults on the craft of storytelling. 

Like Bobbi, I'm sharing THREE titles today, which brings the total of TeachingAuthor favorites of 2017 to 17 so far, and we still have one more TeachingAuthor to hear from! Some of you have affirmed our suggestions, but if we haven't mentioned one of YOUR favorites of the year, please give us the title in the comments. Meanwhile, here are mine:

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk was a 2017 Newbery Honor book, but our Not For Kids Only (NFKO) Book Club didn't read it until this year. I was immediately drawn in by the book's first line and have added it to my list of great opening sentences:


The year I turned twelve,
I learned how to lie.

As I read Wolf Hollow, I felt I was living inside of the narrator, Annabelle's, skin, walking in her shoes every step of the way. I shared her fears and admired her courage, especially at the end.


Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This book is the "Modern Classic" I'm alluding to in this post's title. Our NFKO Book Club read it first back in 2012, not long after Wonder first came out. This year, we all went to see the movie together. I re-read the book the week before and was pleased to see that the movie stays fairly true to the book, even shifting the point-of-view character as the book does. All eight of us loved both the book and the movie versions of Wonder. We still don't understand how the American Library Association neglected to give the novel any medal recognition back in 2012. However, I hope this story about the power of kindness does indeed become a modern classic. 

Like Wolf Hollow, the third book I'm sharing is historical. But unlike my other two favorites of the year, this one is for adults: Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace by Jennifer Chiaverini. I don't typically read books for adults, but I couldn't pass up this biographical novel about Ada Lovelace, whom many consider the world's first computer programmer. I've mentioned here before that I have an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science. That is part of the reason I ended up writing my young-adult novel Playing by Heart, which is inspired by composer Maria Teresa Agnesi and her mathematician sister, Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Ada Lovelace was born less than 100 years after Maria Gaetana Agnesi, and the two faced similar challenges when it came to earning respect as female mathematicians. Still, I was pleasantly surprised to find the little-known Agnesi mentioned in Enchantress of Numbers. Unfortunately, the reference says Agnesi was a 16th-century mathematician when she actually lived in the 18th-century. I've written to the author pointing out the typo--I hope the publisher corrects it in the next edition.

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron, whom the book's back copy describes as "the most brilliant, revered, and scandalous of the Romantic poets." Chiaverini uses verses from Byron's poems as her chapter titles, and she occasionally includes excerpts from his poems. In honor of Poetry Friday, today I'm sharing one of those excerpts, which Chiaverini took from the third canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. The stanza mentions Ada and appears at the end of chapter one of Enchantress of Numbers. The chapter title is a line from the stanza: Sole Daughter of My House and Heart.   

   from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
   by George Gordon, Lord Byron

Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child!
ADA! sole daughter of my house and heart?
When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled,
And then we parted,--not as now we part,
But with a hope.--
      Awaking with a start,
The waters heave around me; and on high
The winds lift up their voices: I depart,
Whither I know not; but the hour's gone by,
When Albion's lessening shores could grieve or glad mine eye.

You can read the rest of the canto here.

If you haven't already entered our giveaway for a chance to win the acclaimed middle-grade novel Train I Ride by Paul Mosier, be sure to read April's post and do so now.

And then head on over to the Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Diane at Random Noodling.

Don't forget to Write with Joy!
Carmela

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Favorite Three!

We at TeachingAuthors are posting about our favorite book or books of 2017!  April’s pick is the stunning debut middle grade novel Train I Ride by Paul Mosier. I can’t choose just one. Every book I read tends to be my favorite. However, knowing I can’t include them all, I zeroed in on these three unforgettable reads.



The first is Monica Kulling’s Mary Anning’s Curiosity. 

What an imaginative recreation of Anning’s childhood! Born in 1799, Anning is considered the world’s greatest fossilist, discovering her first big find at the age of twelve. The cover art by Melissa Castrillon is exquisite. The middle grade novel is an accessible and inspirational read for second to seventh graders. It’s downright enthralling. Anning may have been uneducated, poor – and a woman! – but her groundbreaking work influenced modern understanding of prehistoric life. In 2010, she was named among the ten most influential British women of science. A perfect read to introduce the possibilities of science to young readers. For more information, please look here.


Yvonne Ventresca”s thrilling Black Flowers, White Lies is my next choice.

A 2017 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Winner, this young adult psychological thriller is a page turner. The protagonist Ella's deep, almost supernatural connection to her deceased father has brought her great comfort. She always believed her father died a hero. Then her mother remarries and her stepbrother divulges that her father died in a mental hospital. Ella starts to spin emotionally out of control, facing unexplained events that shake her to the core. Is she going mad, just like her father? Or is she being haunted? For more information, please look here


My last book comes from Harold Underdown’s Kid’s Book Revisions workshop, held in partnership with Eileen Robinson. 

 Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder, is written for screenwriters, but the discussion targets plotting techniques that are invaluable for writers of any genre. “Save the Cat” is that moment that defines who your hero is and it makes the reader root for the hero for the rest of your story. It’s the scene where the reader meets the hero and the hero does something, says Snyder, like saving the cat. At this point, the audience – or the reader, as the case may be – becomes engaged in the hero’s story and invested in the outcome.

Don’t forget! To enter our drawing for a chance to win an autographed copy of Train I Ride (Harper), written by Paul Mosier, use the Rafflecopter widget on April's post (see below). You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on April’s blog post or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! In your comment, tell us what you'd do with the book if you win our giveaway--keep it for yourself or give it to a young reader?

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET on April’s post here. The giveaway ends December 20, 2017 and is open to U.S. residents only. 

Happy Reading!!

Bobbi Miller

Friday, December 8, 2017

Book Giveaway:TRAIN I RIDE by Paul Mosier

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Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday!

This time 'round, TeachingAuthors is posting about our favorite book or books of 2017.

My hands-down pick is the stunning debut middle grade novel Train I Ride by Paul Mosier, which so far has gotten four starred reviews.


Instead of posting a poem for Poetry Friday, I'm recommending this extraordinary book, in which poetry and a classic poetry book play a role.

I'll let the publisher, Harper, and those four star-givers tell you about this book:

From Publishers Weekly Flying Start author Paul Mosier comes a poignant story about a young girl’s travels by train...in which she learns...she can find family wherever she is. Perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead and Sharon Creech.

★ “A harrowing, moving, immersive, and ultimately uplifting debut novel.” — Kirkus Reviews

★ “In this debut novel, Mosier gives middle grade readers a character who battles life’s challenges with extreme honesty and doesn’t sugarcoat her inner battles. A tale that will stay with readers long after they reach the final destination.” — School Library Journal

★ “In his first novel, Mosier offers a cast of well-drawn characters, an unusual setting, and a rewarding reading experience.” — Booklist (starred review)

★ “An emotionally expansive and deeply affecting story. Heartbreaking and unforgettable.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

At the end of this post, you'll find instructions on how to enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy. Woo-hoo!

And, whoa--look who's climbing up to the TeachingAuthors treehouse.... author Paul Mosier himself. Come on in and have a cuppa tea, Paul!

 author Paul Mosier

This is usually our first question, Paul: how did you become a TeachingAuthor?

After the release of  Train I Ride, I lined up appearances beginning with Phoenix's Madison Meadows elementary school, my alma mater. I have spoken to as many as 400 students in a gymnasium to a handful of home schooled kids at a public library. Since Arizona is among the nation's worst in education spending, I don't ask for an honorarium. I've extended this to Skype visits with out of state schools. Many kids I visit would never be able to see an author if it came down to money. 

Now I tell schools that while I don’t require an honorarium, I’d love a school mascot t-shirt!

(Maybe someday you'll make them into a quilt?)  And who was your favorite teacher?

When I was a sophomore in high school I had a young and pretty English teacher, Ms.K. On the first day of class, she asked if we would like to be called something other than our actual names; to be a smart-Alec I told her I went by “Smith.” Ms. K called me Smith all year, as she introduced me to the first poem which ever spoke to me–“The Plot Against The Giant” by Wallace Stevens, as we analyzed song lyrics such as “Born To Run,” as we wrote our own stories, as she grieved the death of John Lennon dressed in black, as she talked about the events that shaped her. By the end of the year I had developed such respect and affection for her, I cringed every time she called me “Smith.”

She left Arizona after one year teaching, but I remember things she said. Years later, she became the answer to my bank's security question, Name of your favorite teacher?

Recently I found her on Facebook, in spite of a name change, because I recognized her smile. I told her how much she meant to me, thanked her for being the teacher that she was, and apologized for duping her into thinking I went by the name Smith all year. She wrote back, “Of course I remember you, Smith!” She's still teaching high school and has lobbied for Train I Ride to be included in the curriculum of middle grade classrooms in her home state of Ohio.

When I tell this story to teachers, I say that it is my sincere wish that they have many such experiences with former students, even if mine was too long in being delivered.


This story makes me think about which teacher I'd like to find and thank. What would you tell someone who's banging her head against writers block...or someone who's discouraged about ever getting a book published?

Going with the second part of that question, I believe in my heart that the most important thing about telling a story is telling a story. Or writing a poem. Creative writing is its own reward. I’m fond of saying there are many ways one can make a living–though I’m not necessarily the best person to ask about that–but there aren’t many ways we can come to feel the way we do in giving birth to a novel, or a poem, or a painting.

Getting paid to do it is icing on the cake. I feel very fortunate to now be awash in that icing, but it was the fourth novel I wrote which got me a book deal, which now has become multiple books which will appear around the world in multiple languages.
Maybe I should say it quietly so the universe doesn’t hear, but I was going to keep on writing novels with or without a book deal and everything that arises from that.

Going with the first part of that question, I am fortunate to have had very little experience with writer’s block, but I think it is important to put down whatever the muse is showing you. She knows the correct order you are supposed to write in, even if it doesn’t end up being chronological for the story. Also, move from laptop to pen. Write about what you are writing.

Remember that stories don’t come from inside your head–they come from the muse, from the universe, and when they’re in your head, they’re just passing through. Do your best to love them and raise them well.

I love this answer, especially not having to know everything before beginning the book. And finally, could you share a favorite writing exercise with our readers?

I think it is important for a writer–especially a new writer–to understand that one doesn’t have to see the entirety of a story before beginning. All you need is an idea, a seed, a first line. Train I Ride came from a line in an Elvis Presley/Junior Parker song. Echo’s Sister came from real life. Summer and July came from the sense of place of a seaside town with an ice cream shop and boogie boarding, and I waited for the characters to walk into the scene.
I’d encourage writers to not try to design characters–let the muse, the universe, introduce them to you. I may not understand a character at all until I hear them speaking to another, and what they say may change the course of the story.

But here’s an exercise: Write down whatever song lyric is in your ears at this moment. Then make the next line your own. Follow it to the end of the story. 


Wonderful! Thanks so much for stopping by, Paul--please come again! 

Watch for Paul's next book, Echo's Sisterand many more, coming soon!

Readers, to enter our drawing for a chance to win an autographed copy of Train I Ride (Harper), written by Paul Mosier, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! In your comment, tell us what you'd do with the book if you win our giveaway--keep it for yourself or give it to a young reader?

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET BELOW. The giveaway ends December 20, 2017 and is open to U.S. residents only.

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

And for goodness sake--don't forget Poetry Friday!
This week's roundup is hosted by Steps and Staircases

posted with bells on her toes by April Halprin Wayland, with the sleepy assistance of Eli, who was very sick this week but who is getting better, for which even Snot, the cat, is grateful.

Eli

Monday, December 4, 2017

My Favorite Children’s Books of 2017: Rx for Courage!




          1.n. quality of being brave: the ability to face danger, 
                  difficulty, uncertainty or pain without being
                  overcome by fear or being deflected.

Children’s books do Important Work. They help readers make sense of their world.
These past 338 days, though?  They’ve been working overtime.
L. Frank Baum’s Cowardly Lion is not alone.
The Good News is:  children’s books are gloriously succeeding.

My four favorite children’s books of 2017 are proof.  Each en-couraged me – both as a reader and a writer - to not only take heart, which is the root of the word “encourage,” but to bounce back and keep on keepin’ on so I could tell my stories and help others do the same.

Caldecott medalist Dan Santat’s picture book AFTER THE FALL
(Roaring Brook Press) should be required reading for every human being, no matter his or her age.  We all need to know how Humpty Dumpty (who was “sort of famous” for falling) got back up again, and even better, reached new heights.
As important, Dan Santat’s interview on ALL THE WONDERS should be required listening for storytellers. I laud his honesty in sharing this picture book’s personal inspiration – i.e. his story and his wife’s as well.  It reaffirmed Marian Dane Bauer’s advice that we need to put – our – story into the story we’re telling if our story is to resound in our readers’ hearts.

Erin Entrada Kelly’s middle grade novel HELLO, UNIVERSE (Greenwillow/HarperCollins) gifted me with 4 unforgettable “misfits” – Virgil Salinas, Valencia Somerset and Kaori Tanaka + the bully Chet Bullens – who found each other and themselves.  Each showed me the need to be open to the world’s surprises and thus say “hello” when we want to say “good riddance.”
Click here to see how a fan of this book was prompted to create the hashtag #you will be found.
I’ve been a fan of this author and her beautifully-crafted stories since reading  BLACKBIRD FLY and THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS.
The structure of her latest novel was downright bold and had me revisiting storytelling rules: 4 intertwining viewpoints, 3 told in third person, 1 in first person.  Who says we can’t go forth and break rules to tell a good story well?

Hurrah for Tony Abbott for bravely bringing to middle grade literature the
unfortunate but true reality of child sexual abuse in the quietly powerful, beautifully-written friendship story THE SUMMER OF OWEN TODD (Farrar Straus and Giroux).  If 11-year-old Owen reveals what his best friend Sean secretly tells him, he’ll surely lose Sean's friendship. But if he doesn’t, something worse will happen to his friend.
Click here to read Abbott’s Nerdy Book Club post on why he wrote this important book.
His Author’s Note also shares how once he’d heard the true facts of this story, he couldn’t let it be. The story had to be told.  Abbott references the resources of RAINN – Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network – with its phone number, (800) 656-HOPE.

Prinz medalist John Green’s TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN (Dutton) is
certain to save lives, too – first by telling the story of 16-year-old Aza who’s trying non-stop to be what family and friends and she want, while struggling with the non-stop spiraling thoughts caused by her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Green does a masterful job of allowing the reader to live inside Aza, to know her pain, to know her heart.
Green is also certain to save lives by sharing his own OCD story while promoting the book.
Click here to listen to him talk about what OCD means to him.
Click here to read his brutally-honest interview with the New York Times.

I sincerely thank the authors of the above four titles – Dan Santat, Erin Entrada Kelly, Tony Abbott and John Green.  Their characters’ brave hearts and their heartful story-telling have given me the courage to keep keepin’ on.
May they do the same for all of our TeachingAuthors readers!

Onward – bravely - in the coming New Year!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, December 1, 2017

Tis the Season for Our Favorites

    They're heeree!...the end-of-the-year "Best Books" list.  I'm curious as to how they are selected. Starred reviews? Committee consensus? Secret ballot? Coin toss?

 This is my list, and my criteria is if the story stays with me. I read so much that if I can remember the title, author, and the main characters months later, that's good. Mostly. It can also mean the book was memorably bad.

Forget I said that. Let's focus on the good ones.

I love historical fiction. I really do try to read across genres, but when it comes to picking my favorites--surprise, surprise--they are mostly historical fiction.


Best picture book: Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimand. (Second Story Press, 2017)
When a seven-year-old Cree girl, eager to learn more about her heritage, asks Grandpa for the Cree word for "grandfather," he admits he does not know. In age-appropriate language, Grandpa tells her how "his words" were stolen from him when he and the other children of his village were forced to attend state-sponsored residential schools with the goal of total assimilation into white Canadian culture and extinction of First Nation culture. This is a harsh story, softened by the gentle illustrations, and the beautiful friendship between the unnamed little girl and her grandfather. I can think of any number of ways this book could be used with older students in discussing personal expression and cultural identity.

Best fiction: Ages 8-12: The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan (Wendy Lamb Books, 2016)
Ms Hill's fifth graders are the last class to graduate from their beloved neighborhood school, which is being torn down to make room for a supermarket. The narrative comes from the poetry journals of the eighteen students. Unlike many multiple narrator stories, the reader is easily able to keep track of the characters, each with a distinct voice and verse form. A terrific teaching tool for introducing various types of poetry, with a lesson in community responsibility and civic protest thrown in for good measure.

Best historical fiction: Middle grade and up: Clutch by Heather Camlot (Red Deer Press, 2017)
In 1946 Montreal, 12-year-old Joey Grosser struggles to keep his dead father's grocery alive. Resentful of his father's death and the family's poverty, Joey is determined to become a "big businessman," pursuing money and success at the expense of his own honest nature. In his quest of "a big house on the West Side," Joey unwittingly becomes a pawn of his best friend's father, Mr. Wolfe (!!!), a man with a record, but who can also make money. Woven throughout is the story of Jackie Robinson's season with the minor league Montreal Royals, with quotes from contemporary sports writers at the beginning each chapter. There are no "throw-away" characters. Each and every one --from Joey's Robinson-worshipping little brother David and BFF Ben, to the grocery's customers in this Jewish neighborhood--all are fully developed, and play an important role in Joey's story. This is a world you can lose yourself in. I loved it!

Best graphic novels
I love graphic novels so much, and there were so many good ones this year, I cheated and picked two. At least they are for different age groups. And I just now realized they are semi-autobiographical stories, taking place in the late 1970's (You've never seen so many illustrations of wall-mounted, push-button telephones!)

Ages 8-12: Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm, ill. by Matthew Hale (Graphix, 2017) Although '70's in style (Sunny's family is pictured in Brady Bunch-style box frames) it's contemporary in subject. Sunny is not only coping with the stresses of middle school (remembering your locker combination is a timeless terror) but the absence of her beloved older brother, Dale, away at "boarding school." Illustrations of Dale in military school style uniform, personality changes and "getting in trouble" could lead the reader to assume Dale has substance abuse issues. At the least, he is going through a tough adolescence, leaving his adoring little sister confused and frustrated. Sunny's friendship with a new neighbor, Indian-American Neela, gives Sunny a new perspective on Dale and middle school. Funny and sad by turns, this is the only book I know with a Pet Rock as a secondary character!

Middle grade: Real Friends by Shannon Hale, ill. by LeUyen Pham (First Second, 2017)Real Friends is also a new-kid-in-middle-school story, but with more emphasis on the most traumatic aspect of the grade-to-middle-school transition--the loss of old friends, the frustration of finding one new "true friend." Since the main character is "Shannon," the reader assumes that this is the author's own story. Although there are details specific to Hale's own life (the middle child of a large Mormon family in Salt Lake City), her woes are universal; mean girls at school, a bullying big sister at home (who is sometimes depicted as a large, menacing bear!), chronic stomach aches from stress. Yep--this could've been my story (minus the bullying sibling) only fifteen years earlier and two thousand miles away. Which is to say, it is universal. That Shannon is Mormon serves gives her a moral compass to guide her, although the religious aspect is described in the most general of terms. Shannon could just as easily have been Catholic or Lutheran or Jewish. This is a darker, more mature story than Sunny. Because I so identified with Shannon, I felt a real catharsis at the book's end.

Other terrific graphic novels this year (and all geared for middle school): All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (author of last year's fabulous Roller Girl), Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson, Brave by Svetlana Chamakova (the main character is male) and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier


Best book of the year:
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbi, translated from Italian by Lilit Thwaites (Godwin Books/Henry Holt, 2017) Historical fiction:YA
As a former librarian and someone who has read a lot of Holocaust history, the title grabbed me first. A library in Auschwitz? As it turned out, the "library" was much more than books, but a collection of teachers and students, who for mysterious reasons, live in the "privileged" family camp, BIIb. Under the rule of the notorious Dr. Joseph Mengele, BIIb is a world apart from the rest of Auschwitz. Inmates are allowed to wear their own clothes and keep their hair. Most importantly, families, including young children and old people, are kept together within the confines of BIIb. But why? And for how long? This sense of living from minute to minute, always wondering how long this "luck" will hold out, drives the story relentlessly.

Based on the real life story of 14-year-old Dita Poach Kraus, and several others, the fictional Dita discovers a secret school for the children, run by the charismatic young Fredy Hirsch (another real-life character) Although too old to be a student, Dita inveigles her way into becoming the keeper of the library--a precious collection of eight books, smuggled from the possessions of less fortunate prisoners. The discovery of this motley collection--a math text, a Russian grammar,  copies of Freud and H.G. Wells A Short History of the World among others--would mean the immediate end of BIIb and it's inhabitants. Unexpected "inspections" by Mengele and his minions keeps Dita in constant peril, to keep the books from discovery. The school is the center that brings together the stories of several other narratives, but Dita's POV is the most important.

I hate when people say things like "I stayed up all night to finish this book" but...I stayed up all night to finish this book. Absolutely harrowing, riveting and ultimately, redemptive.

Happy reading, everyone.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman