Monday, December 15, 2014

MMGM: Masterpiece, The Family Under the Bridge and 2014 Goals

Today is a little bit of an odds and ends post. It’s my last post of 2014, since I’ll be taking the last two weeks of December off to celebrate Christmas with my family. So, I want to fit everything in.

First, I want to share two marvelous middle grades for you. Both of these are books I’ve read to my kids in the last few months. One is more recent and one is a classic.

MASTERPIECE by Elise Broach

I have to admit that I tried reading this a few years ago and couldn’t get into it. Then I realized this was the perfect book for both my sons. It has art (for my older) and insects (for my younger). There’s something about reading aloud a book, sharing it with others, that really makes a book come alive. This time, I could hardly put it down.

What I loved about this book:

  1. POV of a beetle: Never, ever did I think I would love reading the POV of a beetle, but it was exceptionally well done. Not only did you get this inside view of life in the walls, but it was a good choice, since Marvin (the beetle) was so central to the action. The boy character, while endearing, didn’t drive the plot as much.
  2. I love with Broach’s books that you always learn something about art or history. Although the paintings by Durer in this book are made up, you learn a lot about Durer (one of my favorite artists) without even thinking about it.
  3. I loved the theme of friendship, of sacrificing for your friends, and finding that kindred spirit outside your family. I think kids will relate to that.
  4. The pen and ink drawings throughout really add to the text.

THE FAMILY UNDER THE BRIDGE by Natalie Savage Carson

Now this is a bit of an old-fashioned read. It was written in the ‘50s, but I chose it because it takes place at Christmas and is set in France. If you can look past the anachronisms (like a French girl named “Suzy”), it’s a delightful story. Like MASTERPIECE, it’s told from an unlikely POV, an adult, a French hobo named Armand. The kids, though central to the story, are not as fully developed as Armand’s character, but that didn’t seem to turn my kids off from this book. But Armand—what a great character! He loves living under the bridge and can’t handle it when a family of starlings (children) takes his spot. He’s determined to have nothing to do with them, but eventually, of course, that changes. This book is very short (less than a 100 pages). I loved that the writing was descriptive, but sparse, not a word was wasted. Getting to experience Paris at Christmas, from the POV of a homeless man and kids, was what made this book for me. And did I say that the illustrations are done by Garth Williams, illustrator of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books? That definitely added to the old-fashioned appeal.

Finally, I wanted to do an update on my goals for 2014. I set the bar very low for myself, or maybe it’s just they were rather vague, so it’s not hard to say I met them. But the writing things in 2014 that I am most thankful for:

  1. Finishing a MG manuscript (after writing 2 YAs). This manuscript I started five years ago and put aside when I got discouraged. I still can’t believe I finally finished it.
  2. In June, I applied for a Darci Pattison Novel Revision Retreat. I’ve wanted to go to one of these forever, ever since I first heard about her Shrunken Manuscript Technique.  This is the first time she’s come to my state. The retreat is next month!
  3. And, of course, I am thankful for all of you! You have made my first year of blogging stupendous. I have been touched and inspired by your  comments and support.
Have you read any good holiday reads? Did you reach your goals for 2014?

I hope you all enjoy your holiday season! See you in 2015!

Monday, December 8, 2014

MMGM: The Fourteenth Goldfish

I have some unscientific research going on in my house. When I pick up a middle grade book for myself, I watch closely to gage my sons’ interest. If their interest is lukewarm, they’ll ask what it’s about, but not pick it up themselves. Sometimes they will admire the cover or read the flap. But if they’re really hooked, I’ll have to fight to get a chance to read the book myself.

THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH was a book that we were fighting over. Even though it had a girl heroine, the science aspects and the silliness of a grandfather turning back into a middle schooler, hooked my sons.

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility.


  1. The beauty of science in everyday things. I loved how Grandpa Melvin showed Ellie how cooking was all about science, seeds, and other everyday things. I think this is something that science-phobic kids can relate to.
  2. The moral quandary of science and progress. I loved how Holm set up the question about whether you were going to be a Robert Oppenheimer (The Manhattan Project) or a Jonas Salk (War on Polio). How this question is answered in the climax had a huge pay off.
  3. A girl heroine who becomes interested in science, but in a natural way. Enough said.
  4. Humor. A good part of what made me compelled me to read this book in 24 hours was the humor. Grandpa Melvin and his antics, especially when he goes to middle school, were priceless.
  5. The theme of believing in the possible. I loved how this theme ran throughout the novel. As Grandpa Melvin says: “Scientists never give up. They keep trying because they believe in the possible.” A good quote for writers as well.
    THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH is a unique book. I think the concept would appeal to anyone who loves science, or doesn’t think they do, but would like to be persuaded. It’s humorous, but deep at the same time, which shows how talented Jennifer L. Holm is.
Have you read any books which science?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

ISWG: Deadlines

The Insecure Writer's Support Book is out! Look for my contribution, "The Art of Not Writing."

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Guide to Publishing and Beyond – Available Now!

Just in time for IWSG post week and Christmas - The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Guide to Publishing and Beyond is available for downloading. Thanks to everyone who contributed – it is packed with information! Please help us spread the word about this awesome book.
Tapping into the expertise of over a hundred talented authors from around the globe, The IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond contains something for every writer. Whether you are starting out and need tips on the craft of writing, looking for encouragement as an already established author, taking the plunge into self-publishing, or seeking innovative ways to market and promote your work, this guide is a useful tool. Compiled into three key areas of writing, publishing, and marketing, this valuable resource offers inspirational articles, helpful anecdotes, and excellent advice on dos and don'ts that we all wish we knew when we first started out on this writing journey.

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Now back to my regular insecure writer's post:

It seems like there are two kinds of people in this world: those who thrive on deadlines and those who are driven crazy by them.

My husband is the first. He isn’t very productive without a deadline, but give him a deadline and he’ll pull several all-nighters to make it.

I, on the other hand, hate deadlines. They make me nervous. They disrupt my creativity. I freeze with deadlines and have a hard time working.

Having a deadline for my magazine pieces caused me weeks of stress and hampered my creativity.

In November I had my first deadline for a manuscript. I had to turn in a full by the end of a November for the Darci Pattison Whole Novel Revision retreat I’m attending early next year.

As much as I’m excited for this retreat, the whole idea of finishing a novel by a certain date did not make me more productive. It made me more stressed.

When I’m drafting I need two things—very little input from readers. (Otherwise I get discouraged and give up.) And time. I need time to take the leisurely road, to ponder things, if I can.

But I didn’t have the luxury of doing that this time.  I did finish my draft, but the only way I made it through was by telling myself to keep going. It didn’t have to be perfect. After all, it is a revision retreat. And now I’m dealing with the fact that I sent off a manuscript that was finished, but less than my own ideal. If only I’d had more time to tinker. . .
So, instead of giving advice this time, I have a question. How do you deal with deadlines? How do you put that date out of your head so you can still be creative and write well?

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time.

 Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

Monday, December 1, 2014

MMGM: Paperboy

I do apologize for taking such a long break from posting a MMGM. Life has been very stressful over the last couple months, and I fell a bit behind in my reading.

I’m finally starting to catch up. PAPERBOY by Vince Vawter is a book I was looking forward to reading ever since I heard about it. I loved GLORY BE or LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK, and PAPERBOY reminded me of both of them, but from the point of view of a boy with his own challenges.

The synopsis from Amazon:

Words don’t come easy for an 11-year-old boy coming of age in the segregated South of Vince Vawter’s moving novel, Paperboy. Spending the summer tending his best friend’s paper route leads to new discoveries, friendships, and danger as the lives behind the closed doors of neighbors, now his customers, are exposed for the first time. For a boy with an impossible stutter, this poses a whole new set of challenges to let his thoughts and feelings free. Paperboy is an impressive look at hope and bravery in the face of adversity and the fierce protection of love.

My take:

While I’ve read other reviews that said Paperboy started out slow, I did not personally find this to be so. I was immediately drawn in by the narrator from the moment he mentioned that he hated commas, because he had to pause so much in real life. I also liked some of the technical choices the author made: not using quotes for dialoging and using s-s-s-s before the narrator’s dialogue. This made me really feel like I was in a stutterer’s head.

But what really sold me on this book was the depth of emotion and the strong bonds that the narrator had with his two mentors, Mr. Spiro and Mam. Mr. Spiro is a fount of wisdom. He’s traveled the world and has rooms full of books. In many ways, he’s your typical yoda-like mentor. He says lines like this: “I contend that one is likely to find more truth in fiction. A good painting after all is more truthful than a photograph. Remember that, Young Messenger, for all your days.” (p. 66) A good reminder for those of us who are writers!

But it was Mam who stole my heart. No matter what happens, she holds her head high. “I fear no man the likes of Ara T. No matter who has a hold of me I know the Lord will protect my soul.” (p.201)  Her willingness to lay down her life for the narrator (and he for her) was moving. I loved how Mam saw everything through the lens of faith and saw promise in the narrator he didn’t see in himself. As the narrator says at the end, he’s learned: “my soul doesn’t s-s-s-s-stutter.”

This is an intense book and will keep you on the edge of your seat at the end, even though it’s more character-driven than plot-driven. And boy does it deliver in characters. These are some of the most realistic and well-rounded characters I’ve encountered in middle grade.

Caveat: There are some violence scenes in this book, especially towards the end. I wouldn’t recommend it for sensitive readers or kids on the younger end of the middle grade range. But it’s a  very important read.
Have you read any moving middle grades lately?