Monday, June 27, 2016


Of course, I picked up this title because of the new movie coming out on this week. But also, I wanted to relive a bit of my childhood. Along with the Little House books and Ramona, I devoured anything by Dahl as a kid.

One of the benefits and challenges of having sons in the middle grade age range are that we often share books. So, every time I dove into BFG, it would disappear. So, finally, I did finish it, well after my boys. And though I don’t remember my childhood impressions, I can say that as an adult, I enjoyed it very much.

If you want to revisit this before (or after) you see the new movie, I highly recommend it.

The synopsis (from Amazon):

The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly. It's lucky for Sophie that he is. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, or any of the other giants—rather than the BFG—she would have soon become breakfast. When Sophie hears that the giants are flush-bunking off to England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!

What to love about BFG:

1. A nice giant: I love how Dahl plays against type in all his books, but I especially enjoyed how BFG is a “runt” compared to the other giants and is willing to eat icky snozzcumbers instead of humans. He’s endearing, he’s lovable—ah!

2. Incredible world building: Dahl creates an interesting world that’s a lot like ours. There’s still a queen of England, but giants live in Giant Country, they eat humans, BFG collects dreams, the bubbles in giant soda goes the opposite direction of ours, and so much more. What I love about Dahl is the tinge of magic in all his tales—I think this really appeals to kids.

3. Language and word plays: This was probably my 11-year-old’s favorite part of BFG: the giant doesn’t talk like ordinary humans. As he says, he never went to school. So instead of right and wrong, it’s right and left. And there’s frobscottle and whizpoppers… I have a feeling I’ll be hearing BFG’s words about my house for awhile.

4. The Queen of England! Some of my favorite parts of the book are where the queen appears. She’s unflappable and incredibly calm, even when a giant appears in her window…so like Queen Elizabeth, although we never learn her name.

5. Humor. Dahl’s humor, his way of not taking himself or his characters too seriously, always shines through. Splashes of humor make the scary parts more palatable and fun to read.

Caveat: I thought the book was a little slow going at first, as the world building takes up a huge chunk of the first half. This didn't seem to bother my sons, who really enjoyed that section. For me, the book picked up in the middle, when Sophie and the giant hatch their plan.

What are your favorite Dahl books? Are you going to see the movie?

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

Monday, June 13, 2016

If You Loved Little House…Try the Birchbark House

Now this is a book I picked up for one reason: my son was studying the Native Americans this year in our homeschool. I had never read this book, but I thought it would be a good way to get a deeper feel for the life of Obijwe. As I was reading, it reminded me of the Little House books: a character who’s always getting in trouble, a warm family life, and stories told by parents or relatives interspersed throughout the narrative. I read it aloud to both my kids, and this will be one we won’t long forget.

You have to smile as a parent when you hear your son saying “Gaygo” (stop it in the Ojibwa language) after reading this book.

The synopsis (from Amazon):

Nineteenth-century American pioneer life was introduced to thousands of young readers by Laura Ingalls Wilder's beloved Little House books. With The Birchbark House, award-winning author Louise Erdrich's first novel for young readers, this same slice of history is seen through the eyes of the spirited, 7-year-old Ojibwa girl Omakayas, or Little Frog, so named because her first step was a hop. The sole survivor of a smallpox epidemic on Spirit Island, Omakayas, then only a baby girl, was rescued by a fearless woman named Tallow and welcomed into an Ojibwa family on Lake Superior's Madeline Island, the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker. We follow Omakayas and her adopted family through a cycle of four seasons in 1847, including the winter, when a historically documented outbreak of smallpox overtook the island.
 What to love about The Birchbark House:

1.   An imperfect character. I think this what we all love about Laura: she gets in trouble; she gets jealous; she gets in a bad mood. So does Omakayas. And that is why she is so easy to relate to. All of us have felt that way, either now or as a child. I think that’s why my boys also liked her.

2.  A strong family and community. Although Omakayas gets jealous of her older sister and annoyed by her younger brother, you see the deep love the family has for each other and the strong ties of the community.

3.  Detailed depiction of everyday life. Another reason we read the Little House books is to learn about the past: churning butter, butchering pigs, building a log cabin from scratch. Birchbark House has these same details about Obijwe life: tanning hide, scaring crows away from corn, healing the sick.

4. Folklore and family stories woven in throughout. Like in the Little House books where one of Pa’s stories becomes a story in itself, Omakayas’s grandmother and others often tell stories, most of them semi-magical, about things that happened. My kids liked debating whether they were true or not. They added a lot of richness.

5.  A realistic portrayal of Obijiwe life. What I enjoyed about this book is that it didn’t make the Obijwe into perfect people. It showed the hardships of things like small pox (brought by the white man) and the prejudices on both sides. In this way, even though it’s from the Native American point of view, I thought it depicted a more well-rounded view of Native-white relationships than you see in the Little House books.

The MG Meter (my sons' take): Good, but a little sad.

What do you think makes a character memorable?

(This post contains an affiliate link. Thank you for your support!)

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

Monday, June 6, 2016

MMGM: If You Loved Anne of Green Gables… Meet Pat Of Silver Hill

Are you an Anne fan? From the moment I discovered her in my teens, that little red headed character has seemed more like a best friend than a character in a book. Like Anne, I write and often misuse big words. And my oldest friend (we’ve been friends since we were six) call each other bosom friends.

Although I’ve always loved Anne, I haven’t ventured to read L.M. Montgomery’s other work until recently. A few years ago, I read The Blue Castle, and while it isn’t as sparklingly perfect as Anne, it was a delightful read with all of the stock Montgomery characters: well-meaning, but strict (without imagination) relatives and a sweet love story.

More recently, I heard of Pat of Silver Bush on Faith E. Hough’s blog. It was the first I’d heard of this book, and I had to check it out. What a pleasant surprise. Pat is so different from Anne—or from Emily, Montgomery’s other well-known protagonist, but interesting in her own way.

Synopsis (from Amazon):

There's no place like home

Do fairies really come for the dish of milk we leave them? Is Mrs. McClenahan really a witch? How is it possible to find a new baby in a bed of parsley? These are all questions Pat Gardiner wants to know. And it seems her Irish housekeeper, the incomparable Judy Plum, always has an answer...
For Pat, there is no place more magical on earth than her home of Silver Bush, with its majestic birch trees and enchanting gardens. If it were up to her, nothing there would ever change. But of course if nothing changed, she'd never get a new baby sister, see her Aunt Hazel's wedding, or meet the only boy who truly understands her. Yes, there is change coming for Pat―some of it joyous and some of it heartbreaking. But no matter what, her favorite house in the world will always be waiting for her...

What to love about Pat:

1. A homebody child character: This is one of the things I most enjoyed about the series. Pat, unlike practically any other character in children’s literature, just wants to stay home. She never wants anything to change, sometimes to a rather extreme degree. Though I was adventurous as a teen and young adult, I was much more like Pat as a child. I think a lot of kids would relate to her as well.

2. An irascible, storytelling adult character: Most of the story centers on Pat’s relationship with Judy, the housekeeper. In fact, every other adult, including her parents, are mists in the background. I loved how Judy took center stage. Her exaggerated stories and her fervent love for her pet, Pat, really shines.

3. Childhood friendships: Like Anne, Pat has a bosom girlfriend, and a boy, Jingle, for a friend. I loved how memorable events brought these people into Pat’s life and the lovely job Montgomery always does with friendships. Both Bets and Jingle have more heartache than Gilbert or Diana, but I loved them all the more for being real.

4. An interesting time period: It took me a long time (till the end of the book) to place the time period, because it wasn’t clearly stated till then.  I loved reading about the 20s in a place where most of the people still had their feet firmly in the Victorian era and were debating whether bobs and pajamas were immoral.  :)

5. Montgomery is a master at In media res. One of the things I liked about this book is how right from page one, you are thrown into this wonderful family with little explanation. It gave the book an eavesdropping feel and helped me bond with the characters right away. Although this book was published in 1933, this made it feel modern.

Caveat: I had a couple bones to pick about this series:

1. There is heavy use of dialect by Judy. While it did make it clear that she was Irish, it also made for hard reading at time. This doesn’t appeal to the modern ear.

2. I didn’t enjoy book 2 as much as book 1. In the second book, Pat’s desire to keep her home at all costs, even as a young adult, got to be annoying (and unbelievable) at times. Although I’m glad I preserved through book 2 to the wonderful ending of the series.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon. Readers who love character-driven books centered on family, like The Penderwicks, would enjoy this as well.

Have you came across any undiscovered gems by favorite authors? Would you relate to a character who was adverse to change?

(This post contains an affiliate link. Thank you for your support!)

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

ISWG: I’d be a Better Writer without the Internet

It seems like I’m always setting goals to curb my internet, i.e. surfing time, so that I can get down to write. Last fall, I read Eat that Frog: 21 Ways to Get More Done in Less Time and following Tracy's suggestions really helped for awhile. I banned the Internet (which was on my not life or death, but fun list, according to the book) until I had eaten a few frogs (did hard stuff, like dishes and writing). It worked for awhile. But now I’m creeping back to my distractible old self.

I’m in a brainstorming stage right now, preparing to draft a new book. I’m doing character bios, brainstorming plot ideas, that sort of thing. But the other night, I couldn’t hardly write for 5 minutes straight without thinking of something else to look up. It’s hard to get a lot of writing done when you keep interrupting yourself.

Once a week, my kids have art with their grandpa (my father-in-law). I sit in the next room with my laptop and a cup of tea. I have no internet access for those couple of hours. It probably helps that it’s the one day a week I can write in the morning, my best time of day, but it also helps that I can’t be distracted. If I get stuck, I don’t get lost in “research” instead of writing.  I have to push through.

It is fertile writing time. I get more done on that day than any day of the week.

So it makes me wonder how much more I would accomplish at home if I could just turn off the internet. I once read an interview with author Marissa Burt. She talked about how she doesn’t have internet at home. She has children younger than mine, so part of it was to keep her focus on her children, but I can imagine how it must help her writing. She goes to the library to log in to check her email and social media.

Alas, I cannot commit to such severe methods. I need the internet for work and my kids’ schooling. But what to do?

Perhaps I need to read Eat That Frog again—and be reminded not to fritter my time away on fruitless web searches. I’m not sure.

What do you do resist the pull of the Internet so you can stay focused on writing?

(This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. Thanks for your support!)

Insecure Writer's 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.

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The awesome co-hosts for the June 1 posting of the IWSG will be Murees Dupe, Alexia Chamberlynn, Chemist Ken, and Heather Gardner!