Monday, August 31, 2015

MMGM: Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

I picked up this book, because I so enjoyed Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. However, if you’re looking for a book like Rooftoppers, you might be disappointed. This book is utterly unique. Yes, there’s still an orphan, but this is an orphan who grew up in Zimbabwe. And just wait till she arrives in England!

Here’s the synopsis (from Amazon):

Even a life on the untamed plains of Africa can’t prepare Wilhelmina for the wilds of an English boarding school in this lovely and lyrical novel from the author of Rooftoppers, which Booklist called “a glorious adventure.” Wilhelmina Silver’s world is golden. Living half-wild on an African farm with her horse, her monkey, and her best friend, every day is beautiful. But when her home is sold and Will is sent away to boarding school in England, the world becomes impossibly difficult. Lions and hyenas are nothing compared to packs of vicious schoolgirls. Where can a girl run to in London? And will she have the courage to survive? From the author of the “witty, inventively poetic” Rooftoppers comes an utterly beautiful story that’s sure to be treasured.

What I loved:

1.   An incredible protagonist with a huge heart: What I loved about this protagonist is that she’s not fake (a major theme in the book), she’s genuine, and she’s incredibly unique.

2.    A protagonist who solves her problems by focusing on how much her family loved her: I loved how Will kept reminding herself of her father’s and the captain’s words: “Come on, chook.” “Courage, hey.” Thinking of her dad helped her be brave and solve her problems in a lot of interesting ways.

3.  Lyrical writing.  Like Rooftoppers, the writing is interesting and unexpected. Here’s one example: “The rain began to fall in muddy curtains, soaking her hair, but the warmth from the fries was like a kiss. Potatoes, Will reckoned, solved a lot of problems.”

4.  Interesting use of POV. I have to admit that at times I wasn’t sure if I liked how POV was handled. It weaves in and out from omniscient to close 3rd, to close 3rd of completely different characters. I know my writing teachers would be slashing this with a red pen. But I eventually got used to it and I think it worked for this novel. It gave it a somewhat disorientating feel, which fit how I felt in the African sections and how Will felt in the English sections.

5.  Themes and repetitions: I noticed this, because this is something I’m working on in my own writing. Rundell does a wonderful job of developing her themes through purposeful repetition, whether it’s what Will's dad says to her, the emphasis on fake vs. real, and family and love. I love how these themes worked together.

6. Resolution: I won’t give anything away, but I’m now convinced that while I fall in love with a lot of beginnings, it’s more rare for me to truly love the ending of the book. Cartwheeling is going to stick with me, because of the way Will comes to terms with her problems at the end. It’s a fitting, realistic, and hopeful end. The best kind.

I’ve read other books set in Africa, but none had this magical quality. Rundell is certainly and author to watch.

Parental/Teacher Warning: A minor swear word is used throughout for effect. Use your discretion when reading aloud.

Have you read any magical adventures lately?

 *** I’m sad to say that this will be my last post for a little while. I’ve decided to put this blog on hiatus until I’ve finished some of my writing goals, namely finishing revisions on my MG and getting it ready to submit. I've had a hard time balancing writing and blogging this year, and I think I need to step back so I can focus on my family and writing for a little while. Thank you for supporting my blog. Your insights and enthusiasm for writing and reading always inspire me!

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Year of the Book

Ah, I know a book has a good cover when my kids are pouring over it, asking me, “What is this book about?” All of us had fun picking out the books in the trees on the cover of THE YEAR OF THE BOOK. What have we read, what haven’t we read?
I love it when a book inspires you to read other books. With THE YEAR OF THE BOOK, I loved reading about all my favorites, but also learned about a few more I now have to read: HUSH (Jacqueline Woodson) and MY LOUISIANA SKY (Kimberly Willis Holt).
Here is the synopsis from Amazon:
In Chinese, peng you means friend. But in any language, all Anna knows for certain is that friendship is complicated.
When Anna needs company, she turns to her books. Whether traveling through A Wrinkle in Time, or peering over My Side of the Mountain, books provide what real life cannot—constant companionship and insight into her changing world. Books, however, can’t tell Anna how to find a true friend. She’ll have to discover that on her own. In the tradition of classics like Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books and Eleanor Estes’ One Hundred Dresses, this novel subtly explores what it takes to make friends and what it means to be one.
I knew I had to read this when it was compared to Betsy-Tacy and One Hundred Dresses, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d love this in other ways.
I loved the cultural component of this book, that Anna is struggling with her Chinese identity.
I loved that books are Anna’s best friends. That’s exactly how I was as a child.
I loved that she learned that sometimes friendship is complicated, and that people aren’t perfect like characters in books. That's something us bookish types do need to learn sometimes.
And the wonderful way Cheng wove in the titles of all these books (including illustrations of their covers by Abigail Halpin) was just lovely.
Have you read any good middle grades lately?

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Always in the Middle.

MMGM: When You Reach Me and First Light by Rebecca Stead

I have a treat for you today! My son is guest posting his review of WHEN YOU REACH ME and I will be posting THE FIRST LIGHT (also by Rebecca Stead). He's 11 and loves physics and time travel, so WHEN YOU REACH ME was right up his alley. 

Here’s what he had to say about it:

How would you feel if you found mysterious notes from a strange figure who knew your name?

That’s exactly what happens in Rebecca Stead’s novel, WHEN YOU REACH ME. WHEN YOU REACH ME is a book that combines mystery with a little bit of science fiction.

         Miranda is a 12-year-old only child who lives in New York City. She is curious and notices things no one else notices. She has a normal life until the notes start coming and curious events happen.

        At the very beginning, Miranda’s mom is chosen to be on the 1970s TV show THE $20,000 PYRAMID. Her boyfriend, Richard, helps her practice. Meanwhile, about halfway through the book, Miranda receives a note that begins with the words:


            The trip is a difficult one.

       The events that follow are very unusual. The author builds suspense by leaving the reader wondering over and over again who is writing the notes. The effect is an exciting plot that makes this book hard to put down. I recommend this book to readers of all ages.

FIRST LIGHT is Rebecca Stead’s first book. I always think it’s interesting to go back and read the book an author wrote before his/her career really took off. FIRST LIGHT has the hallmark charm and multi-dimensional characters of Stead’s other work and an unusual premise. I was immediately intrigued by Peter’s scientific parents and the Greenland setting.  

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

Peter is thrilled to join his parents on an expedition to Greenland, where his father studies global warming. Peter will get to skip school, drive a dogsled, and–finally–share in his dad’s adventures. But on the ice cap, Peter struggles to understand a series of visions that both frighten and entice him.

Thea has never seen the sun. Her extraordinary people, suspected of witchcraft and nearly driven to extinction, have retreated to a secret world they’ve built deep inside the arctic ice. As Thea dreams of a path to Earth’s surface, Peter’s search for answers brings him ever closer to her hidden home.

My only quibble about this book was that I found the dual-narrative to be distracting, especially in the beginning. Thea’s world was so different and hard to imagine, so I kept wanting to stay with Peter, whose world was more familiar. But by the end of the book, I loved how both storylines connected in a very satisfying ending.

For more Marvelous Middle Grade titles, please see Shannon Messenger's blog. She is the author of KEEPER OF LOST CITIES (MG) series and SKY FALL (YA).

What interesting middle grades have you read lately?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Summer Break

I've decided to extend my blogging break a little bit longer to at least the end of August, so that I can enjoy the last weeks of summer and focus on planning for the next school year.

I'll leave you with a shot my elder son took of a hike we went on earlier this summer. It reminds me of the road less traveled.

Oaks Bottom Refuge, Portland, Oregon

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Photo credit: W. Enzor

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

ISWG: Get Out and Do

This post is going to be relatively short, because I just got back from a trip and my brain is still on vacation.

But I thought I'd share some pictures of what I did on Monday:

Lava River Caves, Bend, Oregon
Photo Credit (both pictures): W. Enzor
As I was descending this cave, I thought about how I've done more new things this summer than I've done in many years. I might attribute it to having been in the mom of young children stage for the last decade or so, or perhaps I've just been playing it safe.

But one of the side effects of my lack of adventure is that I tend to draw on my distant past for story ideas, rather than be inspired by the present.

Now I still don't know if this cave will ever make it into a story or not. I didn't get a light bulb idea while I was down there. I was too busy trying to keep warm and avoid tripping over rocks.

In any case, I've built up my idea bank. Not only that, but I have a load of sensory experiences to impart to any future character who gets stuck in a cave.

And that made facing my fear of enclosed spaces and bats all the more worth it.

Hope you are all having a wonderful summer, full of adventure!

How does real life inspire you?