Friday, December 21, 2007

I'm cheating

From my latest Omnibus post:

Sarah Miller, Alix Flinn, and A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy are all discussing the question of what kind of books a child with "advanced" reading skills should be given.

My feelings on this one are mixed -- I'm never in favor of pushing kids to do things they don't enjoy, but when I was eight years old, I read (and loved) Gone With the Wind, Scarlett, and Nicholas and Alexandra. At the same time, I also devoured Babysitters Club, Cherry Ames, and Sweet Valley Twins books (and tried to sneak in some Sweet Valley High against parental orders -- I wasn't often in trouble, so that incident was pretty memorable).

I'll admit that I didn't get everything in the adult books at the time (the glorification of slavery, for one, along with the phrase "barroom brawl" -- instead of breaking it into "bar room," I put the accent on the second syllable and treated it as a mystery adjective -- and Alexandra Ripley's love scenes went completely over my head).

But I was pretty clear on the plots and characters, and I went around quoting my favorite lines for weeks. A lot of that quoting went into the journal I had to keep for school, so I've always wondered what my third-grade teacher thought of that.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Taking the TBR Challenge

Why not? I'll give it a try. Twelve books that have been on my TBR list for more than six months, to be read over the course of 2008.

The list:
  1. The Log From the Sea of Cortez
  2. Thin Man
  3. Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland
  4. Ali and Nino: A Love Story
  5. Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone
  6. Before Midnight: A Retelling of Cinderella
  7. Peak
  8. Captains Courageous
  9. Once Were Warriors
  10. 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos
  11. The Truth-Teller's Tale
  12. Bay of Spirits: A Love Story

My alternates:
  1. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
  2. In the Company of the Courtesan
  3. Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal
  4. Anahita's Woven Riddle
  5. Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern
  6. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations... One School at a Time
  7. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
  8. Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists
  9. Very Far Away From Anywhere Else
  10. The Alibi Club
  11. A Higher Geometry
  12. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
Looking at these lists reminds me what a nerd I am. But in a good way!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I'll admit I haven't read the NEA report very closely - although I did go through all 99 pages. If I have time, I'd like to look at in in detail, but I've never been a big fan of surveys. Maybe it's just me (since I wouldn't be inclined to fill out a survey or answer questions over the phone), but I don't see any reason to assume everyone's answering honestly.

(Side note: I really don't trust any conclusions derived from asking high school students to report their drug use or sexual activity. I remember being given a questionnaire to complete in health class once: "How many times have I consumed alcohol in the past twelve months? Well, I had a sip of wine at a bar mitzvah, and another sip of champagne at a wedding. Let's call that 4-9 drinks, and I expect to consume alcohol 10-14 times in the next twelve months. Because I don't want all my answers to be 'none.' I feel like enough of a dork, thank you very much.")

But other people have taken the time to analyze the report, and what should be done about it. Check these out for more coherent thoughts than mine:

Chasing Ray
Shaken & Stirred
The Miss Rumphius Effect
A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Original Content

As for me, I read two amazing books yesterday. Details coming soon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lots of other writing, not much on the blog. Here's what's keeping me busy.

Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award Submission Guidelines

Each year, the PEN New England Children's Book Caucus honors emerging writers and writer/illustrators with its Susan P. Bloom Children's Book Discovery Award. Winners will present their work to the public at the PEN New England Children's Book Discovery Evening in April 2007, and winning manuscripts will be read by editors from Candlewick, Houghton Mifflin, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, or Little, Brown and Company.

Entrants must be residents of New England who have not been published (with the exception of magazines or self-publishing), and the submitted work (or another work) must not be under contract. We are able to accept only one entry per person, in one of the following four categories: picture books, novels, poetry and nonfiction.

The deadline for submissions is Tuesday, February 1, 2007. Entries need only be postmarked by that date. If you want to be sure your entry has been received, enclose a self-addressed and stamped postcard. Please do not require a signature for delivery.

All work should be—in both format and quality—ready for consideration by a publisher. The Caucus does not determine ahead of time the number of winners or the categories to be represented. Winners will be notified by late March.

To submit your work, please follow these guidelines

  1. Each submission of text should be approximately 10 pages in length, though picture books may be shorter. PLEASE NOTE: Manuscripts will not be returned.
    • Picture books: Send complete text. If you are a writer and not an illustrator, there is no need to send along illustrations. Author/illustrators should include sample illustrations or a book dummy, which will be returned if an appropriate SASE is provided. Do not send original artwork.
    • Middle grade or Y/A novels: Send one or two chapters.
    • Poetry: Send up to ten poems.
    • Nonfiction: Send one or two chapters, plus a brief outline or table of contents.
  2. For longer works, submissions may include a synopsis or outline, although it is not required.
  3. Include a short biographical statement about your experience and interest in the field.
  4. Include a phone number and e-mail address (if available).
  5. Enclose a business-sized SASE for notification of decisions.
  6. Mail your submission to:
    • PEN New England/CBC Discovery Night
    • c/o Kim Ablon Whitney
    • 1663 Cambridge St. #3
    • Cambridge, MA 02138

Members of the PEN New England Children's Book Caucus will serve as judges: Susan P. Bloom, Susan Goodman, Robie Harris, Carol Otis Hurst, Lisa Jahn-Clough, Liza Ketchum, Lois Lowry, Leslie Sills, and Kim Ablon Whitney.

Currently 20,000 words, lots of transitions and a few plot holes to fill in.

Lois Lowry. Did you see that? Lois Lowry! (Check out her blog, which is where I found out about this contest.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Harvest Day

Sunday was harvest day - or extraction day, to use the technical term. (Also "robbing the bees day", the term I prefer.)

The actual robbery happened in August, when Mom removed the honey supers from her hives. I'm still not an expert on beehive architecture, but I'll do my best - supers are extra levels added to the hive where bees deposit comb and honey after they've filled the main part of the hive - so removing those frames left the hive with enough honey to get it through the winter. (The females, anyway.)

We had about two dozen frames to work with. The process is pretty simple, in theory. Using a hot knife, you slice off the top of the honeycomb (vocabulary word: uncapping). After you've uncapped both sides of a frame, you drop it into the extractor, and then do the same for a second frame. Then, assuming you haven't acquired an electric extractor, you turn the crank, spinning the honey out of the comb. After a few minutes, you flip the frames and crank some more, spinning the honey out of both sides of the frame.

In theory.

But theory overlooks a few things. Among them:
1) Determined wax moths will find their way into a securely closed plastic box.
2) An extractor that's been used for many years, and by many classes at New Pond Farm, will not be perfectly round. Not surprisingly, this makes the spinning part difficult.
3) When the door is open because it's a surprisingly warm October day, it won't take long for winged visitors to show up.

Until you leave the kitchen and come back, you don't realize just how strong the smell of honey is. But the local wasps and yellow jackets (exact species unknown, but they definitely weren't bees) had no trouble following the scent. We had a small horde buzzing at the screen door for most of the time we were extracting, hoping to play Ali Baba to our forty thieves.

For the most part, the unwanted guests stayed outside, despite Cassie's inability to stay on one side of the door for more than a few minutes. She, of course, didn't understand why we didn't just leave the screen open.

From the start, the extractor was not cooperative. Even after a round of oil was applied to the handle, it was a two-person job. Dad did most of the cranking, while I held the lids on and kept the thing from sliding across the floor. And then we stopped and poured in some more oil, and started again.

It was a slow process at first, but there was honey!

Honey is heavy. It sounds obvious, but you don't realize what that means until you pick up a frame after extracting the honey and feel how light it is, compared to five minutes earlier. Or when you look at a bucket with a few inches of honey in the bottom, and then find out it weighs more than twenty pounds.

Most of the honey we got came from the frames that had been stored in the first box. We took a quick break for lunch before opening the second box - which meant that all the oil we'd poured into the hand crank finally had a chance to do its work. For the second round of frames, extracting became a one-person job.

Which allowed Mom to devote her attention to yelling at the moths that had moved into the second box. They had made their presence known, so a lot of the comb had to be discarded. But there was some honey, substantially darker than what we extracted from the first frames. (Completely due to the flowers the bees had been visiting. Next time you visit a farmer's market, compare a few jars - the difference between clover honey and goldenrod honey, for example, is amazing.)

After the honey came out of the extractor, it had to be strained. Spinning frames of honeycomb does have the tendency to fling off little pieces of the comb along with the honey, and although beeswax makes lovely candles, it's not really for eating. In the picture to the right, freshly extracted honey is draining through a sieve. There were actually two, so that the finer mesh could catch wax that had made it through the first strainer.

The honey is now well-sealed, ready to be distributed in gift jars and mixed into a growing variety of recipes. The kitchen is back to normal - something I take no credit for. Mom very patiently scraped wax and drips of honey off counters, utensils, pans, and other parts of the room until she left to enjoy her belated birthday dinner.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ooh, I had one of my moments of brilliance Thursday night.

For context, this also happened to be a night of torrential rain, because the clouds decided that after ignoring us for more than a month, they were really going to let us have it. So I was pretty well soaked when I got to the library.

I was there to sell books at an event I'd been trying to avoid - the author of What You Don't Know Can Keep You Out of College was speaking to the over-stressed parents of the college-bound. Not exactly my idea of fun. But Eliza, who had volunteered for the event, has never actually done one before, or closed out the store, so Ellen asked me to keep her company.

This is by way of saying that I really didn't know much about the book beforehand - I didn't even have the title until I got there and saw the books. All I knew was that it had to do with college admissions.

I got to the library before Eliza and Darwin showed up with the important stuff, like books and money and charge slips, and sat down with Natalie Angier's Woman: An Intimate Geography, which has been on my TBR list for ages. I got a few pages into it, and then I was joined by a man who wanted to chat while he hung out by the program room.

We had a nice talk about the bookstore, and he took down Angier's name for his wife, since he thought she'd enjoy the book. (Fabulous book, by the way. Not so much for new information as for new ways of thinking about sociobiology.) And then, assuming he had come to listen to the talk, I asked if he had someone heading off to college.

He said, "No, I wrote the book."

I didn't do very well on coming up with excuses. Luckily, he didn't seem to mind.

Another bookstore day

Today's handselling:

The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch
Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Crystal the Snow Fairy, by Daisy Meadows
Weslandia, by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The week in books

First, I'm borrowing from the lovely Sarah Miller, and keeping track of my handselling victories. Unlike her, I'm in the store one day every other week, so my list is a lot less impressive. But I had two yesterday:

Weslandia, by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Vegan Virgin Valentine
, by Carolyn Mackler (there's a semi-sequel coming out soon!)

I also managed to get through two new books this weekend - and even more impressive, I read the ARCs
before the release date. I'm not usually that on top of things.

The Monsters of Templeton is a debut novel by Lauren Groff, coming out in early 2008. It's a good book. It's not something I would have picked up without prompting, but I love how she converted Cooperstown, NY, into Templeton. (According to the author's note, she began research for a history of Cooperstown, but Templeton emerged, and she went with it.) This is the story of Willie Upton, trying to figure out the complicated genealogy of Templeton - complicated because many of them are her ancestors, on both sides - and in the process figure out who her father is, because her mother decided not to tell her. And she gets occasional help from the house ghost. Yeah, not my usual fare, but I stayed up much later than I should have to finish it. And I sent Rick off to Akron with a copy, so we'll see what he thinks.

Slam is Nick Hornby's first YA novel, about a teenage skater who also becomes a teenage father. The story didn't turn out the way I wanted it to, but that's because it's not fantasy. Sixteen-year-olds don't often make good choices about who they date, particularly because you're not supposed to be looking for your long-term partner at that age. And the ending is still happy, if not quite as romantic as I was looking for. (Yeah, along with stars and unicorns and all that. I'm not usually a romantic, but sometimes I surprise myself.)

This should be an interesting one to sell - the main character is a boy, and I'm always looking for more of those, but I can just picture myself recommending this to the mother of a reluctant reader in the right age group: "It's about a teen father. But it's funny, and it has a happy ending. Yeah, it's got sex in it. Not much, since the narrator swears off sex after he finds out his ex-girlfriend is pregnant. But how do you think she got that way? Yes, it's a good book. Yes, I'm recommending it for your son. Somehow I don't think I'm going to win him over with Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, as much as I like that one."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Just to get something on the page

I really do intend to post actual entries at some point... that point is just not now.