Volunteering at the Book Fair

One of my dreams has come true this year -- I have now been a parent volunteer at the elementary school's Scholastic book fair! And it is just as fun as I expected it to be. I love showing up early and getting a sneak-peek at what will be sold*, making my mental shopping list all the while. I love helping the kids find books they like and being able to say, "I've read this one and it's really good." I love helping them count their pennies to make sure they have enough at checkout -- I remember saving mine!

The saddest part about volunteering at the book fair is having to tell kids who come without enough money that they're not going to be able to afford the book they want. Poor darlings. Let's add this to the list of reasons I want to be rich: so I can make up the difference for kids who want to buy books at the book fair. At our spring book fair, one sweet second-grader came in with a dollar. There are two or three books that sell for $1 but they were not to her taste. (They weren't to my taste, either.) She turned down the thought of buying a pencil or bookmark from the "over-priced stuff" table, browsing the books until nearly the last second before the bell. She finally picked out a pencil or eraser or something. And, inside, my reader-heart made the sound of ultimate suffering.

But, overall, volunteering at the book fair is a joyful time! Not only do you get to help the kids and chat with your fellow volunteers, you get to see what's really hot with the kids. Another perk -- I got a $5 credit for helping out.

Our elementary school actually has 3 book fairs - a fall book fair, spring book fair, and a half-price book fair for two days only just before school lets out for the summer. Looking back, it seemed like it was an annual thing when I was in elementary school. But hey, I wasn't the best judge of time back then. And it wouldn't surprise me at all if it was up to the PTO how often book fairs happen in schools.
*This last time I saw Hidden by Helen Frost! Such a good book. My review here, Lindsay's eloquent thoughts here.

Story Club: The Story That Started It All (and 4 Storytelling Secrets)

Jacob: Superdad!
So, at our house, Jacob is usually the captain of the bedtime routine. However, one night earlier this month, I was the one on bedtime duty.

Picture the scene: Benjamin, age 5, in his twin bed. Levi, age 3, in his toddler bed. Multiple nightlights bathe the room in such a bright glow that no adult could ever hope to sleep in here.

"Tell a story about me!" said Levi.

"Ok." I responded, "Once upon a time there was a boy named Levi."

"No! I want to be Jack."

"Ok." Try again. "Once upon a time there was a boy named Jack. And he loved to draw." True enough, we know a boy named Jack who loves to draw. Secret #1: Crib details from real life whenever possible. Being original is so . . . for the daylight hours. 

"I want to be in it!" Benjamin interjects.

I continue, accepting his challenge: "and, sometimes, Jack liked to draw a picture for his friends, and give it to them, as a present. Well, one day Jack decided to draw a picture for his friends Benjamin and Levi." This story is shaping up nicely!

"And he knew that Benjamin's favorite animal was a . . ." Here I paused. I promise I can usually recall my children's favorite animals. But some nights . . .

"Monkey!" Benjamin helped me out. Secret #2: Let the kids help. Roosevelt had a brain trust, I've got my helpers.

"Right, Benjamin's favorite animal was a monkey. And Jack knew that Levi liked sharks. So," time for the punch line, "Jack drew them picture of a monkey riding a shark!"

Peals of laughter. Cha-ching! A golden formula. Now when they begged for another story, all I had to do was make Jack draw a picture for someone else, or mash up two other things they liked that would be equally as ridiculous together. Secret #3: Make things easy with a formula. 

Our friend "Jack" went on to draw many pictures. For Jacob, who likes BYU basketball and computers, Jack drew a BYU basketball player shooting the ball at a computer instead of into the basket. For me, Jack drew a dolphin (my favorite animal) swimming in refried beans (my favorite food).

After a couple of these, Benjamin had picked up on to the meme and insisted on telling some Jack stories of his own. Glory, hallelujah! Secret #4: Trick the kids into telling their own stories.

We had so much fun telling Jack stories over the next few days that I knew I had to run with this! I don't love to draw, but I do love to make presents for my friends. I started working on story templates like Jack's five days a week, and came up with the name Story Club.

If I give you Jack's story template, will you try it out for me? Tell it to your kids, your friends, your students. Or just make one up in the comments here. Let me know how it goes!

Once upon a time there was a boy named Jack and he loved to draw. Sometimes he drew pictures for his friends and gave them to them as gifts. One day he decided to draw a picture for his friend, _____. He knew that [friend's name] loved ___(a)___ and ___(b)___. So he drew a picture of [ridiculous mashup of (a) and (b)].  

A couple of favorite picture books...

Moo! By Davide LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

This is Levi's favorite picture book of the week. He is three years old these days. Many thanks to Janssen for recommending it! Because she did, I noticed it at the library and we picked it up.  Moo! is very silly -- see that cow, driving a car? And it's text is very simple -- pretty much one word (and I bet you can guess it from the title). Levi thinks it is hilarious, all the ways "moo" can be said. Benjamin (age 5) was in a bad mood (moo'd? hehe. Ok, I'll stop) yesterday and grouched in his superior, this-is-baby-stuff tone,  "It's just one word! Stop saying 'moo!'" Well, I think it's a great book for all ages. Funny, creative, and awesome to have the text incorporated so well into the pictures. Plus, Levi can read it all on his own, which means a lot to this little guy who wants SO badly to read like his big brother does. In summary, I just have one word to say about this book: moo.

Doggies by Sandra Boynton

This is Jubilee's favorite picture book of the month. She is turning one next week! My, how time has flown. Remember this? Anyway, I read Doggies at least once a day. Thank goodness it's a good book. It starts with one dog and his "Woof!" and counts up to ten. I love all the different doggie noises, honestly! This book has expanded my bow-wow repertoire. Thankfully we get some breaks ("6 - Six quiet dogs") but my favorite is 9:
Nine dogs - AAAA-OOOOOO! - on a moonlit night
Jubilee's not reading this one on her own, but she is beginning to bark and meow and howl. The cuteness is just too much.

As you can see both of these favorites have lots of onomatopoeia and have lots of O's.  Storytime is kind of noisy around here...

What picture books have you been enjoying lately?

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?

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).

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.

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.


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. 

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? ;)



dangerous shannon hale YA good bookDangerous 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.
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