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Monday, April 21, 2014

Pet Peeves & Pet Projects

It really bugs me when I read a book with a young protagonist who has no reason to mistrust their parents (according to the book's setup) BUT then, the conflict -- the big thing that starts the plot -- comes up and suddenly our protagonist is all like, "I can't tell my loving, trusting, smart parents about this. I'd better just run away!"

That is my book pet peeve. It came up tonight because of this IndieGoGo campaign (which looks awesome). Wings by Aprilynne Pike is like that, and So is Wildwood by Colin Meloy. There are many, many others.

Anyway, this campaign is to help alleviate the medical debt of an author who suffers from mental illness, Robinson Wells. I have heard of his books but haven't read them. The main perk of donating is an anthology with submissions from such authors as Brandon Sanderson, Shannon Hale, Ally Condie, Kiersten White, Sara Zarr, Jessica Day George, Aprilynne Pike and Brandon Mull. And those are just the authors whose books I have personally read (Everead reviews are linked). See the full list of contributing authors, here.

Chances are good Jacob and I will end up with a copy of this anthology. It looks too good. And, helping to remove the social stigma from mental illness is personally important to me, since I know many sufferers. Also I'm passionate about being debt free (and I remember how choking it was for my own parents to have been in debt to the IRS, decades ago).  

So anyway, help a brother out, if you can! And you can get a nice anthology if you do. Also, here is what Shannon Hale has to say about it.

What are your own book pet peeves? What do you think of the campaign?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Story Club: What do you need?

On Tuesday night I hosted book club at my place. (The book: Walden.) It was awesome, as book clubs usually are. And, because Benjamin reminded me to, I told my girlfriends about Story Club.

By the time I got around to Story Club, myself and three others remained. I asked them all, "Do you tell stories with your kids?" And that is what I want to ask you. Do you tell stories with the kids in your life?

Anya said, "Yes! All the time."

Abigail said "No. . . we read books together."

And Nicole said that when she's putting her kids to bed they get to pick: story or song? One of her sons (7 years old) always wants a story. Sometimes, she confessed, she tries to talk him out of it. She's fresh out of story ideas, but she has children's hymns and songs that will float to the tip of her tongue at any given moment. "Could you just send me a text, like 'Here's your story idea for tonight...'?"

Which of these moms are you most like? Or does storytelling fit into your life in some other way? My friend Alex doesn't have kids yet but he has students and he keeps the kids of his friends close.

Help me know what you need, so I can make Story Club something that you will love.

When it comes to storytelling, what do you need?

Gerald here is putting a lot of thought into this. 


p.s. I sent a 1st draft of the first part of Story Club to my editor today! :-D I'm getting going (and it feels good!) but there is plenty of time to tweak things (which feels good, too).

Monday, April 14, 2014

One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way

One thing I love about being a Cybils panelist is that I always find a book that speaks to me perfectly. This past year I judged the first round of the young non-fiction category (ages 3-12 -- quite a span!). It was everything from simple picture books to thick war histories. There were 95 nominees and I read as many of them as I could.

Today I'm going to tell you about one of the books I loved that didn't make the shortlist. (Every panelist has at least one favorite like this!)

One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

I loved this book. It tells part of the life story of Tuyet -- a young Vietnamese girl adopted by a Canadian family. The story of her emigration is told in the first book, Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan's Rescue from War. This second book, One Step at a Time, was all about Tuyet's adjustment to life in Canada and to the leg surgery her parents provided to help her recover from polio.

One Step at a Time tells Tuyet's experience from her own eyes, and reads like an autobiography. The first-person perspective gives us a greater connection to Tuyet, and I think it also makes the text accessible to younger readers. There is just something engaging about reading "I didn't want to go to church!" instead of "Tuyet didn't want to go to church."

As I read this book I had to share some of Tuyet's stories with Jacob. Now, months after reading the book, the experience that remains bright in my mind is the story of Tuyet's birthday. I can't remember now if the book said how old she was, but I pictured Tuyet at about age 10. Can you imagine a ten-year-old's wonder, bewilderment and excitement at seeing a balloon? Opening a present? Blowing the candles out for the very first time?! I loved that One Step at a Time showed Tuyet's joys and difficulties in adjusting to Canadian life.

In general, the book is great for showing us a new perspective: look through the eyes of someone who was adopted as an older child. Look through the eyes of someone with a physical handicap. Look through the eyes of someone who doesn't speak English.

I've told you now why the story is remarkable. Let me add the icing on the cake: the writing is so simple and clean it doesn't distract from the story at all. Because of that, this book would make an excellent read-aloud. There is no extra material. In a story like this it would be easy for the author to make the book sappy, like "My new life is all so magical!" It doesn't happen. It would be easy to smudge the story with dirt, "My life before was horrible and this is bad, too!" Skrypuch also avoids this. She writes in the perfect middle where matter-of-fact events meet with honest emotion. The writing style really gets out of the way of the story and hides so well that, unless you're looking closely, you don't even notice how well it is done.

A few years back Ashley and I read and enjoyed Betti on the High Wire by Lisa Railsback. It is a similar story that is fictional, and was one of Ashley's favorites of that Cybils season.  I liked Betti, but I must say One Step at a Time blows it out of the water! Don't get me wrong, if you like one, you'll probably like the other. But One Step was everything I wished Betti was. If you can only read one, I'd go with One Step at a Time.

The only thing I didn't like about this book? It's cover. The cover makes it look super sad and boring, in my opinion. I can appreciate the fact that they used photographs on the cover -- the inclusion of some photographs in the book definitely enhanced the experience for me -- but. I don't know. You be the judge. If you hadn't read this review, would you pick up One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way based on its cover?  Leave me a comment. I'll be over here figuring out how I can get my hands on the first book.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Project in the works...

So, I'm making something for you! 

I don't exactly know what it is yet. 

It might be an e-book. It might be a private email series. It might be several ebooks or a small book in print! It might come in modules or units or themes. Or it might be an "information product" that is not any of those.

I'm calling it Story Club in my brain right now. (I'll let you know if that changes.)

I do know some things about Story Club:

  • It will inspire storytelling.
  • It will help you tell stories.
  • It will help kids tell stories with you.
  • It will help you bond with others (because stories do that).
  • It will help you become smarter, more empathetic, and more resilient (because stories do that).
  • It will be worth your time and you'll totally love it. 

I don't know yet when it will be ready for you. But I do know that I am working on it every weekday until it is done. And I wanted to tell you about it so that a) it wouldn't come at you out of nowhere when it comes forth in all its shiny glory; b) so that your excitement for it could help me stay excited once that just-beginning thrill wears off.

Thanks for being awesome, guys. I'm going to make you something wonderful.

Alysa

p.s. A story Benjamin (now in kindergarten) made up the other day!
Allow me to transcribe the sticky notes for you.
Rice Squares: Do you like me?
Toasted Oats: Do you like me?
Almond milk: Do you like me?
Unsweetened almond milk: Do you like me?
Cow's milk: Do you like me?
Frosted mini spooners: I like you.
Benjamin: You are fake.

Benjamin has brought smiles to Everead in the past. Click here for more Benjamin. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Bookstore of the Future

I sat up in bed the other night* and said to Jacob, "I've got a great idea for my future bookstore!" Yes, I entertain fantasies about owning and working in bookstores. I also dream about being a librarian. (When I'm in a different mood I want to be an author, an editor, or a publicist.)

*I probably didn't actually sit up. It was probably more like this.
Perhaps you've noticed that lots of bookstores have closed in the last little while, due to a confluence of factors including economic downturn, the advance of ebooks, and so forth. I saw an article a while back about how libraries could begin selling books and I thought, why not turn that on its head?

So. The bookstore of the future! It sells the following:

  • new books 
  • used books 
  • print books 
  • digital books
  • and is also a lending library! 

The library part, in my proposed incarnation of this idea, would be less like a video store and more like online media streaming (think Netflix, Audible), in the sense that you pay a monthly fee and there are no late fees. It will be awesome!! And if you check out a book and you like it and you just want to keep it, then you can buy it and you never have to turn it in! Yay! Plus also our awesome bookstore will have a big room for author events and such.

Granted, I'm almost certainly not the first person to think of this idea. Do you know of a bookstore that does this? I'd love to hear about it. All of my entrepreneur friends, feel free to crib this idea -- it is the bookstore of the future! Besides, I can't use it quite yet. So, you guys go ahead and get on it and set the precedent for me, ok? ;)

Discuss!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dangerous

Dangerous by Shannon Hale

Like I said, I've been looking forward to this book for a while. (Though that post only touches on the tail end of the wait; I first heard Shannon talk about it in 2009!) I'm happy to say that it did not disappoint.

It is a contemporary, YA, sci-fi, superhero book. And, even though I knew that, I didn't internalize the fact that it's setting is the present day until I started reading it and realized it isn't dystopian. All the other YA sci-fi I've read lately (including The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Steelheart) is dystopian! Dangerous not Dystopian!? Whut??

Dangerous is the story of Maisie Brown, told in three parts. Each part of the book is almost like a book unto itself because each has a very distinct feel from the next.*  Part One brings a rich background into the narrative and imparts the sense of normal life -- Maisie is an only child, home schooled, and has a deformed arm. She has a best friend, Luther, and he is going to miss her horribly while she is off at astronaut summer camp (and off meeting one cute guy in particular). Here in the first section, the superpower stuff starts being revealed and explored and then everything goes horribly wrong. In Part Two, Maisie lives a crazy nightmare sort of life, hunted, hunting, fighting for survival. And Part Three? Well, that's the part where we have to save the world, of course! It was SO nice not to have to wait for these three parts to come out separately (contented sigh).

This book has it all -- memorable characters, humor, suspense, science, superpowers, fast paced action (lighter on violence than the dystopian novels above), and well-developed romance.

Let's talk about that well-done romance for a sec: The last book I read where the romance was both as chaste and as thoroughly explored as it is in Dangerous was . . . Jane Eyre!  The romance follows a refreshing arc, rather than busting in early on and flat-lining through the book. And, SuperBonus, we get the answer to that question we sometimes ask when a book is narrated in the first person by a narrator who isn't completely narcissistic/believes herself to be largely unremarkable: "Why would he even go for her?"

Ah, such a good book! I think I was literally biting my nails at one point. And I kept reading just-one-more-chapter as the book progressed.

Just talking about it makes me want to read it again. :)
_______
* As many of you know, Shannon Hale is my favorite living author, and you won't be surprised when I say I follow her on twitter. Now, this is a rumor because I'm totally too lazy to see if I can track it down, but I remember her saying something on twitter like, "Oops, my book just turned into a trilogy," and then later, "ok we're back to one book." Well, if I'm remembering right and if this is the book she was referring to, it makes sense to me.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ballad

We got our books! Yay! But while I was waiting I couldn't help reading something else. 

Ballad by Blexbolex

This is such an interesting little book. I picked it up at the library knowing nothing about it and brought it home with me. It is small, about as tall as my hand is long, but it is thick and the illustrations are fascinating. The text is spare, and a brief explanation begins the book:

"This story is about a child who goes home from school along the same road every day and how his small world suddenly becomes enormous.
It's a story as old as the world a story that begins all over again each day."
Thereafter the book is mostly illustration, with one word on each page. The same basic journey is depicted several times, but each time more illustrations, words, and layers of detail are added. Reading the summary on Goodreads, I found out that the story is told 7 times, and each time the number of images doubles. So the first pass is just beginning, middle, end. The second pass at the story has six pictures, and so on and so forth. I  mean, I knew that was sort of happening but I hadn't put my finger on the doubling thing.

Reading Ballad is kind of like watching a silent film: it requires more effort from you and more close engagement with the visual medium than the typical graphic novel experience (which might be like watching a typical movie).  A word draws your attention to something specific on the page, and the story is largely left up to your imagination. For instance, we're walking along, going home from school, if we believe the introduction above, and then all of a sudden there are bandits! Bandits?! How did they get there? Are they the comical type or the nefarious kind? We sort of get to decide these things. Some things are decided for us as the story progresses.

It was interesting trying to read this with Levi, my 3-year-old. (I haven't tried it on Benjamin yet.) I found it absolutely impossible not to elaborate on the text, because that is what my mind was doing. He and I read it about halfway through before he moved on to something else, and I came back and re-read and finished it later.  

The art is totally awesome. It's characterized by flat, blocky shapes but turns out to be progressively complex and deceptively detailed.

Aha! Jacob has read it while I was writing this. It was so fun to listen to his exclamations. His final thought: "It does a good job of setting things up, making you wonder where it could even go, and then subverting your expectations quite drastically. I like it!"



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