Book Bravo: The Impossible Knife of Memory

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From the JacketFlap:

“For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, trying to outrun the memories that haunt them both. They moved back to Andy’s hometown to try a “normal” life, but the horrors he saw in the war [Iraq] threaten to destroy their lives. Hayley watches, helpless, as her father turns to drugs and alcohol to silence his demons. And then her own past creeps up, and everything falls apart.

How do you keep your father alive when death is stalking him? What are you supposed to do when your parent stops acting like an adult? And what happens if a sweet guy who can make you laugh barges his way into your world and for the first time, you find yourself thinking about the future?”

I knew this book had darker notes to it, so it had been moving up and down and sideways on my nightstand, waiting for me to be “ready” to read it. Then a series of snow days converged with the cover image to give me the kick I needed to dive in. And now I’m filled with the “evangelical zeal” that John Green talks about to tell other people about it.

From the first scene, Hayley had me in her corner. She sees herself as different than the ‘zombies’ in her new school, but right away I could see through her judgmental comments and understand her desire to belong. This is a young girl who has been through a lot, and is now holding on by her fingertips as things go from bad to worse.

Some reviews have criticized this novel as giving a “clean” version of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If that is true, I’d hate to see the un-sugar coated version. I’m sure for people with personal connections to PTSD, it may read differently than it did for me. But I felt that the author did an excellent job of showing how some people are able to navigate daily life even when they have a very thin hold on reality. I think we would all be shocked if we knew how close so many people are to the edge of breakdowns. (Sometimes I dream that people had meters on them to show their “code red” status…Oh, he’s “code orange” today, better be extra nice...).

One of my favorite subplots of this book is Hayley’s relationship with her new friend, Finn. These two remind me a lot of Eleanor and Park*, another quirky couple who find each other among the cloud of teenage angst that surrounds high school. Finn becomes an anchor for Hayley as the chaos at her home swells.

“When I was with Finn, the world spun properly on it’s axis, and gravity worked. At home, the planet tilted so far on its side it was hard to tell which way was up. Dad felt it, too. He shuffled like an old man, as if the carpet under his feet was really a slick sheet of black ice.”

*Also a must read

*Also a must read

Hayley’s character is richly written, with multiple, believable layers. But the supporting cast all have deep back stories of their own. Both Finn and Hayley’s friend Gracie are also dealing with serious issues at home. These underlying stories enhance the theme of how we take care of those that we belong to.

Andy struggles with invasive memories and does a lot of crappy things as a parent. But we never doubt his love for his daughter. I found the other adults in the book to be very real as well…dealing with their own stuff while trying to do their best for the younger people who are in their care.

Take advantage of one of these snow days, and read THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY. Whether it does it perfectly or not, this book helps shed much needed light on the issue of post traumatic stress disorder. And that is a good thing.

 

 

The Book Aunt’s Gift-Giving Guide 2014

If you’re casting about for gift ideas for your friends and family, I suggest you consider giving BOOKS! You might not steal the show at the holiday gathering, but later, when you have tired kids who want to curl up with the original hand-held escape, the glory will be yours. When the mid-winter relatives have cabin fever, and the book you gave is their salvation, you will be thanked. (If you’re worried about giving books as gifts in case they’ve already been read, just be sure to include a gift receipt!)

There are SO MANY great choices out there. This is a small sampling of some I’ve come across in 2014. In each case, I suggest a “pair with” gift and a profile of who the book may be best suited for. Happy shopping!

Picture Books (ages 0-5+)

Flora

FLORA AND THE PENGUIN by Molly Idle. This is a seriously adorable wordless winter tale of a friendship on ice. Young kids will enjoying “reading” it themselves, over and over. Great for kids who like interactive (lift-the-flap) books, ice-skating, and/or penguins. Pair with a stuffed penguin or a coupon to take the recipient ice skating.

Novak

THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak. On the flip side to Ms. Idles wordless book, this book is pictureless. Perfect for the “little devil” on your list, the book goads the adult reader into saying silly sounds and words because “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” Pair with a whoopie cushion.

Middle Grade novels (ages 8-13ish)

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THE DIRT DIARY by Anna Staniszewski. The first in a series, this book introduces us to Rachel, whose imperfections make her perfectly lovable. Rachel is a girl who loves to bake, but to help out her mom, must clean toilets instead. Great for the kid who always seems to have good intentions that lead to bad results! Pair with a cookie sheet and baking mix.

Hattie

HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson. Another first in a series, this is perfect for Little House on the Prairie type fans. Hattie is a 16-year-old who leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. Pair with a pair of warm socks and/or a cat.

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DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, THE LONG HAUL by Jeff Kinney.  Kids simply can’t get enough of this series! A natural choice for reluctant readers, text and pictures intertwine to tell the latest adventure of Greg Heffley and his family as they set out on a road trip. Pair with one of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID book journals – a combination of blank pages and journalling suggestions – to get kids writing as well.

Young adult novels (ages 12 +)

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THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey. This book is perfect for your older sci-fi loving kid. In brief, it’s a classic “alien’s attack and take over the world” scenario, with fantastic pacing and lots of layers. I read it because I was vetting it for my own kid, and was surprised how much I liked it. There is a smattering of profanity, but it is used as needed, not gratuitously. Pair with an air-soft gun.

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ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry. I thought this was going to be another sci-fi story, due to the setting being a town called Roswell Station. But this haunting book is actually historical fiction. The main character, Judith, is unable to speak, yet you will never forget her voice. Perfect for older kids who will understand the nuance of mentally imbalanced adults, and the importance of sometimes sharing secrets. Pair with tickets to a local colonial village.

Fiction and Non-Fiction for the grown-up set

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UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the incredible story of olympian-turned WWII Lieutenant Louis Zamperini. Recently made into a movie, this book will appeal to the avid runner and/or history buff on your list. Pair with a WWII documentary, or movie tickets to see Unbroken when it opens.

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CASTING OFF by Nicole R. Dickson. This book tells the story of Rebecca Moray, who comes to an island off the coast of Ireland to research a book on Irish knitting, and how she and her daughter interact with the people there. Perfect for the knitter on your list. If they’re Irish, extra points. Pair with knitting needles/yarn.

I’m sure you know of several more books in each category that you’ve loved and could give as gifts! This year, I encourage you to do just that. Happy holidays, and happy reading!

A TIME TO DANCE – Interview with author Padma Venkatraman

 

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Have you ever read a story and wished you could ask the author questions about it? That is what happened to me while reading A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman. And guess what? My wish came true! A hearty welcome today to Ms. Venkatraman, who graciously agreed to give us a behind the scenes peek at how this beautiful book came to be.

First, a bit about the story itself. Here is an overview, from Goodreads:

Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.”

Bharatamatyam is a classical dance form of South India. Here’s an example:

As I read A TIME TO DANCE I was especially carried away by the description of the dancing itself. So, the first question I asked was:

Nancy: What is your experience with Bharatanatyam dance? As I was reading, I was guessing you must have personal experience. Am I right?

Thank you for your time and for sharing your process with us, Padma! I encourage all readers to make time for A TIME TO DANCE. It’s gorgeous.

 

THE PRANK LIST; Interview with children’s author Anna Staniszewski

Welcome Anna Stanizewski, whose latest novel, THE PRANK LIST (Sourebooks) will be released July 1, 2014!

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Anna is the author of many books for children and young adults, including:

THE UNFAIRY TALE LIFE SERIES

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THE DIRT DIARY SERIES

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..and two upcoming picture books from Henry Holt: POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT (2015) and DOGOSAURUS REX (2016). 

Needless to say, Anna is one busy writer! However, I’m happy to say she had the time to answer a few of my questions about herself, her writing, and THE PRANK LIST.

To start, here’s a little history (some dirt?) from Anna’s website on book one in The Dirt Diary Series, THE DIRT DIARY (Sourcebooks, 2014):

Eighth grade never smelled so bad.

Rachel Lee didn’t think anything could be worse than her parents splitting up. She was wrong. Working for her mom’s new house-cleaning business puts Rachel in the dirty bathrooms of the most popular kids in the eighth grade. Which does not help her already loser-ish reputation. But her new job has surprising perks: enough dirt on the in-crowd to fill up her (until recently) boring diary. She never intended to reveal her secrets, but when the hottest guy in school pays her to spy on his girlfriend Rachel decides to get her hands dirty.

And now, the wait is nearly over to find out what trouble Rachel gets into next, in THE PRANK LIST. Again, from Anna’s website:

Rachel never thought she’d fight for the right to clean toilets, but she has to save her mom’s business. Nothing can distract her from her mission – except maybe Whit, the cute new guy in cooking class. Then she discovers something about Whit that could change everything. After destroying her Dirt Diary, Rachel thought she was done with secrets, but to save her family’s business, Rachel’s going to have to get her hands dirty. Again.

Nancy: Congratulations on your latest series, The Dirt Diaries! How do you approach writing a series?  That is, how much is done on the sequels before book one is even sent out?

Anna: The timing of a series can make your head spin! With the Dirt Diary series, the second book was done before the first one was published and the third book is in copyedits right now, a couple of weeks before the second book comes out. It can be a little confusing to jump between writing one book, promoting another, and planning out yet another, but it’s also really exciting.

Nancy: Your main character, Rachel, seems like the kind of girl that would be easy to relate to. I think we’ve all had times when our good intentions were misconstrued, or flat-out backfired.  How much of Rachel comes from your own experiences?

Anna: The antics that Rachel gets up to are purely fictional. (I’ve always been far too much of a rule follower to pull pranks on people!) But Rachel’s emotions and quirks are based on real life. I was very shy when I was young, and I always felt like I was doing and saying the wrong thing. I took those feelings from middle school and exaggerated them for Rachel’s story.

Nancy: Again, like many people, Rachel seems to have trouble resisting requests from cute boys. A couch potato at heart, I once went on a weeklong hike (and lost many toenails) because of a crush.  Do you have your own “what was I thinking?” story that stems from wanting to please someone?

Anna: Haha, I cringe even thinking about this, but I once pretended to be into a whole type of music because I thought it would impress a boy. I bought CDs of bands I didn’t like and forced myself to listen to them. Luckily, my ears couldn’t take it after a few days and I gave up. 🙂

Nancy: Rachel works as a house cleaner to help out her mom’s new business.  I’ve done that job, and it was hard, and kind of awful. What was your first job? What has been your hardest/worst job?

Anna: One of my first jobs was at a bagel place where I worked the registers, toasted bagels, and helped make sandwiches. During lunchtime, there was literally a line out the door every single day. I liked the people I worked with, but I would come home exhausted, reeking of coffee, and totally sick of bagels. I also worked for a temp agency during college, and at many of my temp jobs (doing data entry, answering phones, etc) people would talk about me right in front of me as if I wasn’t there. It was mortifying and belittling. I have a feeling both of those jobs have worked their way into my books. 🙂

Nancy:  When you were in eighth grade, what were your favorite kinds of books?

Anna: In eighth grade I went through a huge Stephen King phase. I tore my way through The Dark Half, The Shining, etc. The darker the better! I still enjoy a good dark read these days, but I think my taste in books has lightened up a bit since then.

Nancy: If you could time travel, and you had two minutes with your eighth grade self, what would you tell her? (I know for me, I would take at least a few seconds of that time to say for heaven’s sake, enough with the perms!)

Anna: Haha, yes, I think I would have some words for bad hair and fashion, too! But I think ultimately I’d tell my eighth-grade self that it’s okay to be weird. When I was young, people would tell me I was a weirdo (because of my sense of humor, my non-permed hair, etc) and I would let it cut me down. Now I realize that weirdness is an asset. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to write the books I do!

To find out more about Anna Staniszewski (including how to say her last name!), her books, and her writing process,  visit her gorgeous and fun website, www.annastan.com.

THE PRANK LIST is available for pre-order via AmazonB&NPowell’sBook Depository, and Indiebound

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Bio:

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.

 

Gifting the Giver

My family has been taking a lot of personality tests lately.   Guided by the kids and some silly online quizzes, I now know which Simpsons, Big Bang Theory, Downton Abbey, and Hunger Games character I am.  I also know which Disney Princess I most emulate.  My daughter, who is…headstrong…keeps trying to retake the quizzes and manipulate them to get the results she wants.  But the facts don’t lie, and she’s always rerouted to her true persona.

The truth is, most people have a personality type that they gravitate to.  This idea is the basis for Veronica Roth’s exciting dystopian YA novel, DIVERGENT (Katherine Tegen Books, May 2011).

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From Veronica Roth’s website:

“In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. 

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her.”

Yes, there’s a quiz for that.  I took it, and found out that in Roth’s future world, I would be in Abnegation.  No surprise.  My family also fell along their party lines.  (Pretty glad we don’t live in that society, as factions don’t mix, and I’d miss them!).

I’m fairly sure if we were all sorted today, Abnegation would be full of a lot of mothers.  For most moms, giving selflessly feels natural, and right.  It’s just what we moms do.  But as the book points out, it can be dangerous to be only one thing, and to have only one way of living.  If we are truly selfless all of the time, we’re going to end up in a big pile of dusty cranky resentment.

This year I’ve challenged myself to expand my giving, but just as importantly, to be more giving to myself.  The three categories I’m working on are:

Big Ways to Give

This one includes things like monetary gifts, reaching beyond our country’s borders, and giving my time more freely.

Little Ways to Give

This is the one that’s easiest and I’m having the most fun with.  This category is includes anything free, like smiling at a scowling person, or watering the plants in a household overrun by twin one-year-olds.

Giving to self

Okay, maybe this one is the most fun.  You just have to get over that initial twinge of guilt.  With practice, I am finding out that focusing on this category makes me much more likely to be able to participate in the Big and Little gives. (I know, duh.)

DIVERGENT is a great reminder that it’s dangerous to be just one thing.  We all have the capacity to be intelligent, selfless, peaceful, brave, and honest. But if we’re always giving to others, it will be very hard to find that balance.   So, for anyone waiting for a sign from the universe to take that class, that weekend away, that evening for yourself…this is it!  Go for it!  The people you care for will be better for it, and so will you.

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George Clooney and First Book

I think about George Clooney a lot, but it’s not what you’re thinking.  Well, sometimes it probably is what you’re thinking.  Because, really. But honestly, most of the time it is because of his philanthropy work, and specifically something he said in an interview a few years ago.

Really, I'm only in it for the philanthropy!

Really, I’m only in it for the philanthropy!

The reporter asked him how giving back came to be such a large part of his life. And George (I’m assuming he’d want me to call him that) said that from a young age, his father always took the kids with him whenever he was volunteering for something.  When the reporter asked if he’d enjoyed this, George answered honestly and said something like, “No, he dragged me kicking and screaming.” But he admitted that those early experiences helped influence how much he commits to philanthropic endeavors as a grown up.

I think of this every time I drag my own kids on do-gooder adventures.  It would be SO much easier to leave them home.  And it might even be more productive for whatever group I’m trying to help if they weren’t there.  But little by little, I see them moving into the asset column, and being less of the kicking-and-screaming liabilities they once were.  And always, I hear George whispering in my ear, “this is going to pay off later.”  (No, he doesn’t whisper other things…get your mind out of the gutter!)
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Recently we had the opportunity to help out an organization based in our town called hawkwing. From their website: “hawkwing is a Native American Federal non-profit 501(c)3 organization created to offer cross-cultural education while assisting the people of the Lakota (Sioux) Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota meet their basic human needs.  Each year, we conduct a major collection drive in order to bring basic need items to some 3,000 children and 500 Elders on the Cheyenne River.”
~
The scale of this effort and the way it is organized is astounding.  We showed up at a warehouse that was packed with supplies and well-trained volunteers, and were greeted by hawkwing founder and president, Rochelle Ripley.  Each year in the late fall, Rochelle oversees the organizing of supplies and packing of a large truck, which then makes its way out to South Dakota for distribution.
Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

As volunteers, we were given a sheet of paper which detailed the needs of a specific family group.  We then took an empty box and worked our way through the warehouse, picking out personal care items, toys, clothing, and sometimes shoes for specific people.
New toothbrushes went in every box

New toothbrushes went in every box

My kids had a lot of fun in the toy section, being directed to pick out “a toy for a 5 year old boy,” or “something for a 12-year-old girl who likes to draw.”  This made the idea of who we were helping very tangible for them.
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Donated clothing items and outerwear were brand new, and each area had a trained volunteer that helped make sure we were picking out the correct sizes and items.

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Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

And then we came to MY toy area, the books!  It was just so thrilling to pick out books for the children, especially after learning that some areas of the reservation do not have libraries. 

Look at all the books!

Look at all the books!

The “book corner” volunteer had everything sorted according to age and reading level, and gave advice with the wisdom of a librarian (she probably was one!).  I saw many new books that I’d have loved to have gotten my hands on myself.

Middle grade/YA books

Middle grade/YA books

Picture books

Picture books

Knowing what kind of shape my children’s books are in when they get around to being donated, I asked where so many pristine, new books had come from.  The answer was that several of the books were purchased, at drastically reduced rates, from the organization First Book.

From their website: “First Book provides access to new books for children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than 100 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education by making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis.”

And while I’m tooting First Book’s horn, as many of you know there are other equally great programs that are working to get new books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have access to them.  Some of my favorites are: Book Train, which works to “[help] foster children discover great books – and keep them!” and Reading is Fundamental.

Rochelle pointed out that it is especially helpful when people donate money to hawkwing, because she can use that money to get so many more books through First Book than she can if the same donor bought books from a traditional retailer.

There are so many organizations and people using their powers for good in this world.  Pick one and get involved! Donate or volunteer!  You might just meet George Clooney!*

Also, if you are interested in current Native American culture,  I encourage you to check out Sherman Alexie’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  It’s a fantastic and eye-opening read.

*This is probably not going to happen. Sorry.

Teenage Dream

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I’m going to say a word and I want you to think of the first word that comes to your mind.

Me: Teenager.

You: (I’ll wait while you go enter your word into the comments section below.  Go ahead.  Or maybe you don’t want to, you’re being obstinate.  Like a teenager.  That’s okay, it works here).

People who are currently living with teenagers probably had a very easy time coming up with their word. I do not have teens under my roof (except occasionally, when the husband regresses).  However, the word “moody” leapt quickly to my brain, taking a seat at the stereotypical table.

Moody, obnoxious, loud, sassy, rebellious.  These are all things we sometimes assume a teenager will be.  Certainly that is how many are portrayed in books, movies, or TV shows.

Now let me throw out a few other words:  classy, considerate, gracious, funny, loyal, smart, interesting, quiet.  What comes to mind?  Would you believe that to come up with that list, I pictured several different teenagers I have gotten to spend time with recently?

For example, I was serving ice cream to an enthusiastic group of young people during summer vacation, and one of the teenagers paused, looked me in the eye, and said, “Thank you for dessert.” A small moment, a big impact.

I was also delighted to spend time recently with teenagers from my extended family.  I got to listen to them discuss books, watch them be thoughtful and generous toward siblings, and in general just be very un-stereotypical teenagers.

I also got to know a few literary characters this summer who are giving adolescence a good name.

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In John Green’s AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, child prodigy Colin Singleton sets out on a road trip with his best friend Hassan after being dumped by the 19th Katherine he has dated in a row.

Colin is a quirky guy with a love of math and a penchant for anagrams.  But it is his friend Hassan that I love, for being a loyal friend, a funny kid…an awesome teenager.  My favorite thing about Hassan is that he helps Colin negotiate the world that us non-prodigies live in by simply saying, “not interesting!” whenever Colin starts pontificating.  The boys don’t have a perfect friendship, but Hassan stands by Colin in a way that has me hoping my kids will have a friend like him to help pick them up when life deals heavy blows.

In E. Lockhart’s THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU BANKS, it is female characters who take the lead roles.

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Frankie is a girl who knows her own mind, and infiltrates the ‘old boys’ network at her boarding school to prove a point.  But again, it is her best friend, Trish, that I’d choose to hang out with.  She never wavers in her loyalty to Frankie, even when Frankie doesn’t deserve it.  Trish also stays true to her somewhat geeky, horse-loving self and I love her for that!

Teenagers.  Do not discount their intelligence, humor, charm, and loving spirits!  I know they have their moments.  But don’t we all?  Special thanks to the teens in my life who have shown me that my own kids’ teen years are not something to fear or fight against, but something to embrace and look forward to.

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Teens being gracious about having to eat spaghetti with spoons.

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Teen being kind to her younger sister, who could not ride unaccompanied.

TEENAGERS ARE SURPRISING AND AMAZING!

Blink

I’m at the park, waving a tissue like a flag, running after a drippy-nosed toddler.  I’m sweaty, fuzzy with exhaustion, and have a vague headache.  My other toddler has left my field of vision, causing my heart to fling into spasms, even though the kid is probably just behind the next slide.  I’ve  had about two sips of the now lukewarm coffee in my travel mug.  I’m longing for the moment I can return us all to our beds, and it is not even 9:00 a.m. yet.

Enter older, well-meaning, I’ve-been-there type person:  “Ohhh, what a precious time!  Enjoy every minute! It goes so fast!”

Social convention and my inner dialogue compete to see whether my response will be “I know, I am so blessed and grateful, thank you”  OR “are you bleeping kidding me?”  (I don’t swear a lot but the bleep in this case would so be a real one).

It took me awhile, but I finally reconciled with all the people who made that comment to me over the early-childhood years. (There were A LOT.  So many, that I had to finally admit there was probably some truth to this ‘it goes so fast’ business).  I honed my response, sans profanity, to be, “Yes, the years go fast, but each day can be so painfully long.”

Now I’m the slightly older one, and my kids wipe their own noses (for the most part).  I’ve promised myself never to tell a haggard young mom to enjoy every minute, but I do see now, poignantly, what those sages were trying to warn me about.

For me, nothing shows the passing of time more succinctly than the book choices on my kids’ nightstands.

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While I was finishing dinner dishes, Ferdinand  somehow fluidly became The Magic Treehouse.  Suddenly,  Alexander’s bad day is seems really lame compared to Harry Potter’s time under the cupboard.

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And now – blink- my daughter’s middle grade novels are slowly becoming covered in a fine layer of YA reads.  In the time it took her to change from a one-piece bathing suit into a new sassy tankini, Anne of Green Gables has been one-upped by Bella from Twilight.

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Lucky for me, I write for children.  So instead of donating old books, I just move them to the shelves in my writing nook.  Then stealthily, gleefully, when the kids have had a long day, I casually ask, “Do you guys want to snuggle in and hear me read Blueberries for Sal?”

For now, the answer is still yes.

Hey, Mikey! He likes it!

Breaking news:  Boy reads book without pictures or potty humor – and likes it!  “I think this is going to be my new favorite series,” says Boy, age 9. “I’m excited because [the book] actually took me longer than a day to read.”

Related news:  Mom is knocked over by feather; faints.

What is this magic that has entered my home and swept away my son and his imagination? Friends, I give you:

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From the jacket flap: “Jennifer A. Nielsen has woven a heart-racing tale full of danger and bold adventure, lies and deadly truths that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.”  True, all of it, true!

I have written in the past about my struggle to find the right books for my capable but reluctant reader.  Since my son was between books (because, you know, everything he ‘liked’ took him less than a day to read), I suggested we start this one together.

“No thanks,” he said, looking at the cover and not seeing any underpants.

“Okay, well, I’m going to read chapter one right now.  Why don’t you come sit next to me and just give a listen?  You can leave whenever you want,” I said.  (There may have been a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies near me as well, but I swear I didn’t mean it as a bribe).

He begrudgingly agreed.  On page 2, I read, “The butcher gave me one final kick in the side, then leaned low toward me. ‘If you ever come into my shop again, I’ll cut you up and sell you as meat at the market.  Got it?'”   That’s when my son sat up a little straighter and said, “Oh.  This is a really good book.”

And that is how our adventure with THE FALSE PRINCE began.  The story, the first in Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, is a medieval adventure with swords, plot twists, dungeons, and more plot twists.  It had been awhile since I’d read something aloud to my son, and it was so fun to share our reactions when surprises popped up.  In the end, he finished reading the book on his own because he couldn’t wait for the next bedtime to keep reading the story.

This type of fantasy/adventure is not typically a genre I gravitate to, but in this case, I’m so glad I did.  (Special thank you to Librarian Friend #2 for the loan).  I highly recommend THE FALSE PRINCE to any writers looking for good examples of world-building.  Nielsen hits the mark with this one.

Additional related news:  Mom trips over self on the way to the bookstore to purchase Book Two of the Ascendance Trilogy, THE RUNAWAY KING.

Sentimental Sucker!

There is a television commercial from the mid-80s for Folgers Coffee that still runs (now in an updated form) around the holidays.  The scene opens in the morning, with a college-aged guy entering a quiet home.  The youngest family member wakes up, and after a happy hug, the two of them head to the kitchen to brew coffee.  Steam lifts through the sun rays that pour through the window.  Mom and Dad and older sis smell the coffee and come downstairs…only to be overwhelmed by emotion when they see… “Peter!!”

It gets me every time.  Every.  Single.  Time.  I get all verklempt and the tears come, because Peter is home for Christmas, and they just weren’t expecting him.  But after 20 years, shouldn’t I be expecting him?  Why does this TV commercial still make me cry?

It’s because I want it to.  I am a sucker when it comes to being entertained.  Give me a good sob story, and I’m hooked.  Even when I know I’m going to be a mess, I read or watch on.  The dialogue in my head goes something like: “this is going to be really, really sad.  I should turn this off.  I should stop reading this.  I’m going to be so sad!  I’m going to cry.  Really, I need to put this book down!”  But I persist.

Some authors are particularly good at reeling me in (my first sob-out-loud read was THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson).  I’ll never forget how heartbroken I felt.  What power storytellers have!

One of my recent favorite authors in the “I am going to make you do the ugly cry” category is John Green.  I know I am a bit late to the “I love John Green” party, but maybe you are too.   He is a talented author of young adult fiction.  I decided to read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS after seeing it on numerous award lists.

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Well, from the first scene, you know you are going to be sad.  I mean, the book starts at a support group for kids with cancer.  It’s not like the author is trying to be sneaky; you know where this is going, right?  But you read on.  Knowing it will be painful and tear-filled, he reels you in with his delightful way with words and characters you want invite over for dinner.

Many writers say it’s hard to know how to react when people say things like, “I loved your book!  It made me bawl my eyes out.”  Ummm…sorry?  The truth is, those writers should feel free to say thanks, because deep down we want them to break out hearts.

Whether I know what’s coming or it’s a complete surprise, get me crying and I’ll love you for it.

And because I know you too, dear reader, will fall for it, click here to have Peter come into your home:

Folgers Peter Commercial.

You’re welcome!