Monday, July 25, 2016

MMGM: Sweet Home Alaska

I initially saw this book at a library other than my own. I knew from the title and the comparison to Little House that I would love it and went home and put it on hold at my library. But that was three months ago!  Finally, it came in. Of course, long hold times are almost always a sign of a good book.

It certainly was for this one.

Here’s the synopsis (from Amazon):

This exciting pioneering story, based on actual events, introduces readers to a fascinating chapter in American history, when FDR set up a New Deal colony in Alaska to give loans and land to families struggling during the Great Depression.

Terpsichore can’t wait to follow in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s footsteps . . . now she just has to convince her mom. It’s 1934, and times are tough for their family. To make a fresh start, Terpsichore’s father signs up for President Roosevelt’s Palmer Colony project, uprooting them from Wisconsin to become pioneers in Alaska. Their new home is a bit of a shock—it’s a town still under construction in the middle of the wilderness, where the residents live in tents and share a community outhouse. But Terpsichore’s not about to let first impressions get in the way of this grand adventure. Tackling its many unique challenges with her can-do attitude, she starts making things happen to make Alaska seem more like home. Soon, she and her family are able to start settling in and enjoying their new surroundings—everyone except her mother, that is. So, in order to stay, Terpsichore hatches a plan to convince her that it’s a wonderful—and civilized—place to live . . . a plan that’s going to take all the love, energy, and Farmer Boy expertise Terpsichore can muster

What I loved:

1.  A real historical event that I knew little about. I really enjoyed learning about the Palmer settlement in Alaska as part of FDR’s New Deal. I also enjoyed how the author had cameos with real historical figures, even Will Rodgers!

2.   A setting dear to my heart. I was so excited when I read the author’s bio to see that she lives very near where I grew up. Then the book described Seattle (about an hour from my hometown). And then the settlement is near Wasilla, where my best friend lives. It’s always refreshing to get a break from stories set in New York or the East Coast and see the Northwest and Alaska featured in kidlit.

3.  An endearing, bug-loving sidekick. Mendel, one of Trip’s friends, may not mean as much to other readers. But his quoting of bug facts and their scientific names is just like my younger son. I also enjoyed how this amateur entomologist helps Trip with her pumpkin project. It was also refreshing to see a boy and girl this age as friends without any hints of romance.

4. Everyday stakes.  This is one of those novels that remind me that you don’t have to have kids saving the world from an evil villain to have high stakes and an interesting read. I loved how Trip was trying to make life better for her family, especially her mom.

5.  A strong family. So many kidlit authors either kill off the parents or make them horrid, so that the main character can be free to solve his or her problems. I loved how Dagg made Trip independent and feisty, but never truly at odds with her parents—and how her parents are imperfect, but always loving.

My only disappointment with this book was that I  wished Terpsichore had a shorter name, so I hope she will forgive me for referring to her by her hated nickname in this review. But it’s certainly one of the most memorable middle grades I’ve read in awhile. It reminded me a lot of HATTIE BIG SKY, another more “modern” pioneer story, also based on real events.

Have you read  any good historical fiction lately?

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

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

Monday, July 11, 2016

Kidlit in Translation

I will never forget being asked by a German once about which German books I’d read. I was studying in the Crimea at the time, and it was a legitimate question. I’d just said I was a literature major.

“Have you read Goethe?”

I had not. For my “reading degree,” we stuck to the American and British classics, except for forays in the Odyssey and Dante. But German literature?

His comment made me think.

But I think the same phenomenon continues. American books get sold all over the world, but it’s rare to see books from other countries even in translation here.

So, today I’m highlighting a few kidlit books I’ve enjoyed in translation.

Young Adult:

An Innocent Soldier by Joseph Holub  (He's a Czech author, but the book was originally in German.) A German farmhand is conscripted into Napoleon's Grand Armee to brutally march to Russia in 1811. There's few books in English about this time period, and even fewer for kids.

A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux (France) After the Soviet Union collapses, a young boy, along with Georgia, his guardian, leave Georgia for France. I featured this book in this post. A lovely, thoughtful book.

Ruby Red by Kersten Gier (Germany) A time travel fantasy series about a teen girl who takes a spin through time to 18th century England. This book has everything: time travel, teen angst, romance. A fun read.

Middle Grade:

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke While there are many books about characters from books entering the real world or vice versa, this book is one is a classic and one of the best. The world building alone is amazing. 

The Apprentice Pilar Molina Llorente (Spain)--A thirteen year old apprentices to a moody, vengeful painter during the Renaissance. My son enjoyed getting an insider view of the Renaissance.

Jane, the Fox, and Me (French Canadian) I reviewed this more in depth here, but this is a contemporary retelling of Jane Eyre in graphic novel format!

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for your support!)

Have you read any books in translation  that you've enjoyed?

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

ISWG: Querying and Starting a New Project

I’ve been struggling with quite a few insecurities lately. There’s nothing like entering the query fray to shake you up a bit and make you wonder, “Is it me or is it them?” I’ve also found that while it’s good therapy to start a new project while querying, querying makes it hard to concentrate on a new book.

The query insecurities start to seep in. When I’m not querying and just writing, I have an easier time just focusing on story, not on the market. But querying does something to my brain. It makes me feel like every word of the new project is a performance, and I’m not sure I’m measuring up.

There’s another reason I’m insecure about this one. It’s not a genre book. It’s more character-driven than plot-driven. This is such a leap for me, but I feel like it’s best for this story. But I’m deathly afraid that without a genre-based plot, this book will be boring. (And I won't know it.)

I’m glad it’s summer. We just had the Fourth, and there are family birthdays, trips to the beach. Many things to keep my mind off: can I really make it as a writer? Will there be a yes at the long end of my string of nos?

JULY 6TH QUESTION: What's the best thing someone has ever said about your writing?

The best thing I’ve heard about my writing was from my first writing instructor and mentor, Meg Jensen.

After delivering the news that my first book still needed a ton of work, she told me: “I think you have a career in this field [kidlit].” I’ve lived off that compliment for years.

How do you keep your focus on a new project and not whether the old one will make it or sell?

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.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

The awesome co-hosts for the July 6 posting of the IWSG will be Yolanda Renee, Tyrean Martinson, Madeline Mora-Summonte , LK Hill, Rachna Chhabria, and JA Scott!