Favorite Books for Spring

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Springtime brings so much with it from a bounce in your step to a breeze in your hair to a song in your heart. There’s a feeling that can only be described as spring, or perhaps the longing for a true spring on sunny February days before the cold has completely gone like we are having now. What can we do when we want spring so badly but we can’t have it quite yet?

We read, of course! If you’re itching for the perfect book to read this spring, a book that will sing of the season as you do, try the ones below.

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The Iridescence of Birds: A Picture Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan – This picture book about Matise is full of delicate springtime colors that make me want to sing like the birds. The entire book is only two sentences long, but it is lovely in its simplicity and delightful in its message. Parents and educators will also appreciate the educational component as the book explores the life and works of Matisse in the most poetic way imaginable.

1328751On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole – I’m not sure this book is too well known, but I think it should be someone’s life goal to change that. This picture book follows a young girl who grows tired of the grassy green lawn at her house that looks just like the grassy green lawns of all her neighbors. Nothing much happens in her lawn, and it isn’t very interesting. All that changes when she convinces her father to leave part of the yard to grown the next time he mows. From there she decides to plant a tree and even put in a pond. The family’s boring old yard quickly becomes a beautiful park, as well as the envy of all the neighbors – who begin to plant trees of their own. Again, the educational element of this book makes it a great pair for learning about ecosystems or permaculture.

140212The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis – Nevermind the snowfall on the cover, this is my number one book for springtime. Why? “Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight. At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more. When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death. When he shakes his mane, spring shall come again.”

 

 

272752Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman – I think I have mentioned this book on the blog before, but I just love it so much! This tiny book tells the big story of how a community garden is begun and cultivated in a vacant city lot. Each chapter follows a different character and the book truly shows the value of our connection with the earth and with each other.

 

 

402032The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett – A list of springtime books would be incomplete without this classic. I love my copy of Mary Lenox’s story like an old friend, as I remember the wonder with which I read it for the first time. That first desire for a bit of earth in the spring which is the rain falling on the sunshine is etched in the memory of many children, for in no season more than spring are we aware of the Magic all around us. This beloved book tells the story of the awakening earth and the awakening heart.

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I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – This book makes my spirits soar in the same way the spring does, which means I’ve probably talked about this one on the blog before, too. Everyone should read this charming story, but especially writers. To read Cassandra’s diary is to meet a friend and have long, late night conversations with her, finding that you are alike in all of your fears and aspirations.

 

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Review: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Echo

 

I first heard about Echo when Pam Muñoz Ryan came to speak at my fall residency last November. Our focus for that residency was on writing for children – more specifically on the fairy tale – and our book in common was Ryan’s Esperanza Rising. During her visit, Ryan shared with us a bit about her upcoming book, Echo. My interest was piqued immediately, and I’ve been anticipating the book ever since.

First, although the cover and appearance of a book is something the author has little to no control over, it’s been proven that the cover of a book really does affect the way potential readers perceive the contents. That won’t be a problem for Echo. The dust jacket is  beautiful in reds, blues, and purples, with black and white accents. The board cover is enchanting, a pale wood that closes over bright red end papers. (I love good end papers.)

Second, there are many stories within Echo, but if the book is about one thing the most obvious answer is an enchanted harmonica. Who doesn’t love harmonicas? It’s even a pretty word.

Third, is what I mentioned above: Echo is one book, but it contains many stories. There’s Otto, a young German boy who finds himself inside a fairy tale in the woods; Friedrich, who must try to get himself and his family out of 1933 Germany due to a birthmark that covers his face; Mike, who tries to get himself and his orphaned brother adopted from the orphanage together during the Great Depression in 1935; and Ivy, whose family moves to a new farm in southern California to take care of it while the Japanese owners are held in a 1942 war camp. Each child is connected by the love of music, and each story by the thread of a single, enchanted harmonica.

With so much story, this middle-grade novel comes in at nearly 600 pages – but don’t let that hold you or your child back. The stories provide convenient breaks in the action, and the new characters will keep readers engaged. The pages are not crowded, and I found them turning swiftly. This book is a wonderful entry into conversations about Nazism, orphans, and segregation, but it can also be enjoyed simply for the stories it provides. I would recommend Echo to anyone who loves music – there is much love of music here, for everything from the cello to the piano to the harmonica.

I really love Echo – and I think you will too! If you’d like to read more about it, click here to read an interview Pam Muñoz Ryan did with Horn Book.

What I’ve Been Reading…

Since I switched my genre of study to Writing for Children and Young Adults last November, I’ve been enjoying the reading that comes with that category. Children’s books have a sweetness and a truth about them that isn’t usually there in fiction written for adults. So I love sharing them with other readers!

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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a YA novel about a girl with a horrible secret and no friends. Recommended for teenagers who feel misunderstood or who want to understand their friends better.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Shmidt is an older, upper middle-grade book that brought me to tears. The Vietnam War, Shakespeare, and 8th grade can never again come together with so much beauty. Recommended for mature middle-grade readers who want a poignant story.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate tells the story of Ivan the silverback gorilla who was once on display in a shopping mall in Washington state. The story of how he was rescued from the mall and integrated into a zoo is a contributor to the larger story of the animal protections we have in place today. Recommended for animal lovers and activists.

Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani is the amazing epistolary story of two children who become pen palls and then best friends. One of them is an immigrant from India who lives in New York, and the other is a Kentuckian who is watching his beloved mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal mining. Recommended for everyone.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is the classic tale of Francie Nolan’s childhood in Brooklyn, New York. It is a v e r y long book… but it is full of beauty. Recommended for anyone who wants a long read that is guaranteed to move them, some time or another (especially writers).

Blue Mountain by Martine Leavitt is about a heard of bighorn sheep who are crowded out of their mountain’s winter valley by a human settlement. Tuk and his bandmates set out to find the legendary blue mountain where the herd will graze in peace, and they meet, defeat, and are helped by many other animals along the way. Recommended for animal lovers and preservationists.

In addition to what I read for my MFA studies, I also read a lot of the children’s books that I order for the library where I work. Here are some of my favorites:

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Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton is a super cute book. The story is pretty short, but young children will adore it.

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers is not a short book, but it is lovely. Each letter of the alphabet gets it’s own mini story, just a few pages long. The fun is in finding out which stories are linked.

Home by Cason Ellis is a beautifully illustrated celebration of what a home can be in many different parts of the world, different time periods, and a few places that aren’t on earth at all.

Flare by Kallie George is an easy reader book about a young phoenix learning to be the best phoenix he can be. Companion to Spark, which is about a young dragon who is learning to control his fiery breath.

A Rock Can Be… by Laura Salas is a wonderful successor to Water Can Be… which I loved. Spectacular illustrations help children think outside the box by showing examples of the many, many things in our lives that a rock can be.

2014: A Big Year

Yes, this is a recap post. 🙂 2014 has been such a huge year for me, personally, academically, and in the world of literature. Instead of summarizing my summary, I’ll get right to it.


Winter

January Wedding

In January, I became Mrs. Vander Ark and moved all the way up to Southwest Michigan, during one of the snowiest winters they’d had in years! Our wedding was largely DIY, and it was a huge relief to be done planning for it.

Shortly after we moved into our cozy basement apartment, I received my first online publication (independent from my undergraduate school’s journal) from TWJMagazine.

In February I started working at the Bridgman Public Library, where I do children’s programming and order picture books through middle grade books – which increased the number of books I read quite a lot!

Notable Reads

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
  • Fortunately, the Milk – Neil Gaiman
  • Bats at the Library – Brian Lies

Spring

Left Bed

My MFA in creative writing at Spalding University began at the end of May, and the week I spend surrounded by other writers in Louisville, KY, was probably the most inspiring time of my life. It came just after the official closure of my undergraduate degree when we walked with our classmates in the early May graduation ceremony at University of the Cumberlands.

After Memorial Day, I also began writing for the Infusco Coffee Roasters blog… and spending a lot of time in the shop!

Caleb and I also tried our hand at raised-bed gardening for the first time and were far more successful than we anticipated.

Notable Reads

  • Wonder – R. J. Palacio
  • The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap – Wendy Welch
  • Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers – Frank Walker

Summer

Brick House

We bought a house! And proceeded to spend an entire month renovating. We refinished the floors, painted ceilings, walls, and cabinets, and moved in to our first house.

My CNF story “There Are No Buffalo Here” appeared in print via Garbanzo Literary Journal this summer. I couldn’t have picked a better place for it!

Notable Reads

  • Norman, Speak! – Caroline Adderson
  • Young House Love – the Petersiks
  • This Moose Belongs to Me – Oliver Jeffers

Fall

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As if we hadn’t been blessed enough by the rest of the year, September brought us our beloved beagle/foxhound puppy, Juliet. She is smart, loving, playful, and generally pleasant, and we love her to pieces.

We hosted our first Halloween Party and Thanksgiving dinner in our new home, and settled in for the rest of the holiday season.

I switched my concentration at Spalding from CNF to writing for children and young adults, and so far I’m loving it!

Notable Reads

  • Landline – Rainbow Rowell
  • Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  • We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

If you’re interested, you can see everything that I read in 2014 (200+ books) through this link. If you’d rather just know which books I had a lot to say about, check here, here, here, or here.

Here’s to a great 2015! Anyone want to share your resolutions? Mine are to start running again, have a more successful garden, and read more than I did this year. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo: The Power of Titles

Participant-2014-Web-Banner (1)As I’ve been away at residency in Louisville it’s become glaringly obvious to me that my NaNoWriMo project is stuck. When I arrived, I had 24,000 words (no, I haven’t added to that in a week) and no idea where my story was going, what it was about, or what I needed to write next.

This is not to imply that I’ve been uninspired. While here, I’ve drafted two picture books and a flash creative essay. Thanks to workshop, I’ve been more than successful in figuring out what last year’s project needs in it’s next revision, but I’ve made little progress as far as my current project is concerned.

Which leads me to a conversation about titles. Great titles are amazing. They’re like a muse that is always there to remind you what your story is about, and never fail to lead you back to the heart of the book when you’re floundering. Without a title for this project, I feel like I’m wandering around in the wilderness with no idea where I’m trying to go. So my new goal is: come up with a title. Even a placeholder, a throwaway, a horrible title that would never market.

Naming the thing makes me more powerful than the thing itself.

So that’s what I’ll try to do. Then I’ll try to write 25k+ in the next ten days. That can be done right?

Shh. I don’t want to know your answer.

 

NaNoWriMo: Why “serious” writers should promote rather than dismiss

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Many of you will shake your heads upon reading this. Or perhaps even roll your eyes. Maybe blow a raspberry, send a prayer heavenward.

I’m going to say it anyway.

NaNoWriMo season has arrived.

This year, more than usual, I’ve seen a number of posts by those lofty, unattainable beings who claim to be, above all else, serious writers. They scoff at the mention of month-long noveling, turn up their noses at the thought of it. Discourage whoever they can from participating. Wait patiently for that far off day (December 1st) when Twitter, tumbler, and the internet at large will return to it’s regularly scheduled programming.

And I am here to set the record straight, at the risk of sounding like a broken one.

Serious writer or first time participant, you absolutely should try National Novel Writing Month.

Let me tell you why.

NaNoWriMo is fun. It’s a month-long (distressingly, horrendously, terrifyingly hard) party, where we spend time with people who are working toward the same goal that we are. Whatever our methods, our means, our motivation, or our end result, we’ve all attempted (and hopefully achieved) the same result: a 50,000 word piece of crappy first draft fiction. Maybe that’s all you do. Then the next time you’re buying coffee at your favorite place or books at your favorite shop (please buy books from shops) or groceries at the supermarket, you can say, truthfully, without guilt, remorse, or modesty, “Yeah, I wrote a book once.” But maybe you go on and spend a long, long time doing the hard, hard work of revision that gets you, eventually, to final draft fiction. And maybe somebody somewhere likes that final draft, a lot, and your name gets to be on the cover of a book. And you become an author.

There are plenty of wildly successful, quality authors out there who cannot be described as serious. Just check out a few of their YouTube channels. Being a not-so-serious writer can be key to getting in touch with your audience, making friends, and (someday) selling books. Any aspiring writer who finds that one of their favorite authors thinks they should (attempt, try, stumble through the process of) write a novel will be inspired and pleased and instantly find a little more space to add to the box in their heart that belongs to that writer. An author who discourages (snubs, belittles, snickers at) this endeavor, however, might actually loose some of their holy-authorness in the eyes of readers.

Besides, any writer, serious or not, who says they aren’t pleased to tell people in coffee shops that they’re a writer and yes, they’ve written novels is lying.

A Note About Quality: Or, Mediation

To the Naysayers: anyone who has read Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants cannot truthfully declare that NaNoWriMo is a worthless, awful feat. Don’t allow you negativity to discourage the next book that good from being written.

To the Wrimos: Water For Elephants was not the book that it is on December 1st. As described above, there was a long, long time and a lot of hard, hard work between then and publication. Don’t send you 2014 NaNovel out to agents or publishers until after January 1st, 2016 (no, I don’t mean 2015). And only then if you’ve given it everything you possibly have to give. And don’t self-publish it just because you can.

To the One Who is Just Considering: Try it. You’ll like it.

Okay, I rest my case. Here’s to NaNoWriMo 2014, my fifth (hopefully) completed NaNovel, and more crazy than any other time of year. Futher up and further in!