Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Friday, September 28, 2007

John Green in Richmond

Tricia has summed up last night's talk so well, I'm just going to point you to her post. Eventually, I'll be writing up my own report for The Edge of the Forest, but it will be hard not to steal from her!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Writing Meme

Tricia tagged me with this and I've been mulling it over all weekend, and on into the week. The idea is to identify my strengths as a writer. Hmm. My first thought was simply to replicate Tricia's list, actually--it's a good one, and other than the persistence (I have the attention span of a grasshopper) I have it pretty well covered. But this is supposed to be about me. So here are some of my strengths as a writer:

  • I like to write. Truly. It's fun for me. I've never understood the writers who find it painful. Revision can be painful--my desk chair can be painful--rejection is terribly painful. But actually putting words on paper--or, more often for me these days, on the screen--is really something of a pleasure: just seeing them form up there, and reaching for the right one, and being surprised by what comes out--that's all fun. I don't really remember ever not liking it. Don't hate me for this. I can't say that it actually makes it easier to finish anything, honestly.
  • I have a terrible memory. An odd strength, to be sure, but it means I have to write a lot of stuff down. Just recently I found some scratchings on a scrap of paper--things Nick said about his pre-K classmates. (He's in fifth grade now.) I had completely forgotten them, but seeing them brought them right back to life. I find lists, beginnings of stories, paragraphs cut from articles, and random quotations in my notebooks and on my hard drive all the time--and, sometimes, those scraps make it into something I'm working on, striking a new chord when they reappear. I also, because of my bad memory, have to do a lot of re-reading, which I find endlessly helpful as a writer. I get to see how books are put together, how writers work themselves through various situations (how do you get that character to the door? how do you segue from anecdote to analysis?), over and over again. It sinks in, even when I think it doesn't.
  • I lived abroad for six formative years: 1st through 6th grade. I like to think this has given me a bit of an outsider's perspective, even if it was now over 35 years ago. (Gulp.) I was an outsider in Japan, sure, but I was also an outsider when we moved back to the States. It's given me a sensitivity to language, an attention to difference, and a pretty good case of wanderlust, all of which seem to me pretty useful for writers.
  • I had teachers in both high school and college who insisted on frequent, brief, quick writing. My 11th grade English teacher used to walk into the room and say "Twenty minute shot" and then name a topic. She's leave to go smoke a cigarette and we'd write. I learned to be concise. I also learned to write my way into understanding a topic--if I didn't know what to say, I just started anyway, and often ended up crossing out the first paragraph and/or moving the last one up to the top. It worked surprisingly often. In college I had more than one class that required frequent one-page papers, and another one in which assignments were given at the end of lecture and due three hours later. I still love writing to deadline.
  • I come from a family of writers. My father writes a letter to all the family members who aren't at home every Sunday. I've been getting these letters since the fall of 1974, when I went away to boarding school. (And, yes, I have kept all the paper ones; the e-communiques are, I hope, archived on various hard drives and flash drives, though I can't swear to have them all.) Not surprisingly, his second (post-retirement) career is as a writer. His sister was a writer. My sister is a writer. My grandparents kept up voluminous correspondences and wrote prayers, sermons, lectures, talks--you get the picture. We might, some days, need to scale back the textual communication--sometimes a phone call really does work better--but writing is, for better or worse, what we do.
I'm tagging Caroline with this one, because I'm curious to see if hers are different from mine, and Susan, and anyone else who wants to play.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A new review

Over on the child_lit listserv there was some discussion recently of a generalization made by a New York Times reviewer. The generalization was, roughly, "The secret lives of parents are uninteresting to kids"--and several child_litters took issue, claiming that parents are indeed important to children and to their literature. I agree that parents are important--as a parent myself, I'd like to think I matter!--but I still maintain that many children simply don't recognize their parents as individuals, with their own motivations, their own secrets, their own desires, and that children's literature therefore often simply removes or marginalizes the parents. That's as it should be.

In YA literature, however, parents can start to matter in different ways, and that's at least partly the subject of The Noah Confessions--and of my review of it (scroll down), now up at The Edge of the Forest. Check it out--and if you feel like it, take sides, go ahead!

Friday, September 21, 2007

in 200 days...

For immediate release on Friday 21st September 2007

David Fickling Books to Publish New Philip Pullman Story

David Fickling Books is delighted to announce the worldwide publication of Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman, a beguiling and intriguing new episode from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials universe

A new and completely original episode from Philip Pullman’s bestselling His Dark Materials universe will be published on 3rd April 2008 by David Fickling Books Ltd, part of The Random House Group in the UK. The book, Once Upon a Time in the North, opens another extraordinary window into the universe of His Dark Materials, and is Philip’s first new work for five years.

Once Upon a Time in the North will appear under the David Fickling Books imprint in the UK and will be published in association with Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books in the USA.

Once Upon a Time in the North is a companion volume to Lyra’s Oxford (though about double the length of that story) and, like that work, set in Lyra Belacqua’s world and not our own.

The events of Once Upon a Time in the North happen before Lyra was born and in it we meet two of the most popular and enduring of Philip’s characters, the tough American balloonist Lee Scoresby and the great armoured bear and Lyra’s guardian, Iorek Byrnison. The story recounts the very first meeting of these two heroes, an encounter eagerly awaited by all Pullman fans. Lee Scoresby and his hare daemon, Hester, crash land their trading balloon on to Novy Odense, a port in the far Arctic North, and so find themselves right in the middle of a political powder keg that threatens to explode into a street-fight. Honour is at stake and Lee is not a man to duck a matter of honour. And this is the very first time that Lee gets to use his trusty and celebrated Winchester rifle . . .

Like Lyra’s Oxford, the story is presented as an exquisitely designed cloth-bound book and includes many other teasingly authentic memorabilia and clues from the His Dark Materials universe gathered together, it seems, by Lyra herself. This includes photographs, newspaper cuttings, bills of lading and an exciting and gorgeous Arctic Balloonist Board Game, Challenge the Wind, all beautifully illustrated and rendered by master engraver John Lawrence.

Philip Pullman says, “Writing this story was a matter of pure enjoyment. The two characters at the heart of it, Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison, were old comrades-in-arms when Lyra met them first in Northern Lights. It was obvious that they had a history, and it was my son Jamie who first suggested that I should write about it. When David Fickling had the idea of doing that in a similar format to Lyra’s Oxford I leapt at the idea at once. I hope readers will enjoy this tale of the first meeting between these two honourable but down-at-heel adventurers.”

Philip Pullman is one of the most highly acclaimed authors of our time. Worldwide sales of over 15 million copies reflect the enormous global appeal of His Dark Materials. He has won the Whitbread Book of the Year (The Amber Spyglass), Carnegie Medal (Northern Lights) and the Guardian Prize (The Amber Spyglass). He is also a recipient of the Eleanor Farjeon Award for Services to Children’s Literature and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world’s largest children’s literature prize.

He is the author of over 20 books and two plays. He lives near Oxford, England.

David Fickling says, “A brand-new, completely original piece of Philip Pullman storytelling is one of the most exciting publishing events imaginable, and doubly so this time because with Once Upon a Time in the North Philip is on absolutely top form.”

A major film of The Golden Compass (Northern Lights) starring Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman will be released by New Line this autumn.

Once Upon a Time in the North will be published in the UK by David Fickling Books on 3rd April 2008 and in the US by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers on 8th April 2008.

Lyra’s Oxford will be published into paperback by Corgi on 1st November 2007 at £4.99, and is currently available in hardback from David Fickling Books.

For further information please contact:
In the UK – Philippa Dickinson tel: 020 8231 6628
In the US – Judith Haut tel: (212) 782-8626

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

We have a winner!

And the lucky recipient of a copy of John Green's fabulous An Abundance of Katherines is Paige! Paige, send me your address (my email's over there in the sidebar) and I'll put it in the mail to you tomorrow.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

playing along

Over at Seven Impossible Things... they have an intriguing little contest going, inspired by what looks like a fabulous picture book, Could You? Would You? by Trudy White, also known as the illustrator of The Book Thief. The book poses various intriguing questions, and Eisha at 7Imp chose five of them to play around with. Here they are, with my answers:

  • How would someone find you in a crowd?--I have big hair. And I bounce on my toes when I walk, so even when I'm not taller than the folks in the crowd, I bounce up above them occasionally.
  • If your house had a secret room, what would be in there?--Mmm. Books. And chocolate. And, a comfy chair and wireless and...wait, I'm describing my study! Maybe it would have a secret passage to another world...
  • Where do you like to walk from your house?--The Yarn Lounge.
  • How will you change as you grow up?--I will figure out how to prevent backaches, and I will revel in my crankiness.
  • What sort of animal would you like to be?--I thought I would say a cat: mine looks like she can be comfortable anywhere, and that's a big plus. True, they are not very friendly, but then again when they decide they like you it feels like a big favor. They are discriminating and lovely. But then again, otters look like they have a lot of fun. And elephants, well, they are huge and matriarchal and people get out of their way. This is even harder than the "what's your daemon" question, really--it's not about what represents me, but what I desire. And at the moment my desires appear to be incompatible, so I guess I'll stay human for now.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


You've probably seen this everywhere already, but in case not: Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is organizing a blog-blast to help raise money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. It's a great cause and there are amazing artists lined up to decorate snowflakes for the auction. Check out Jules's post here and check back for the actual auction (and lots of blogs featuring wonderful illustrators in a couple of months.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pay it Forward Book Exchange--September

Last month I gave away Looking for Alaska--so this month, in honor of John Green's visit to Virginia later this month, I'll give away his other YA novel, An Abundance of Katherines. Katherines is a fabulous novel about an ex-child-prodigy and his quest to develop a formula to predict how relationships will end. It's terrific--you'll love it. And you can have a free copy, if you leave me a comment. How great is that?

For those of you who weren't paying attention last month, here are the details on the Pay It Forward Book Exchange, as originally described by Overwhelmed with Joy (whose idea it was):

Most all of us love to read and get “new-to-us” books, right? And if you’re anything like me, you love winning things (what a rush), not to mention getting fun stuff in the mail! So here’s what this book exchange is all about:

1) Once a month I'll pick a book to give away to one lucky reader (you don’t have to have a blog to enter). It may be a book that I’ve purchased new or used, or it may be a book that someone has shared with me that I really like. It’ll probably be a paperback, just to make things easier, but no guarantees.

2) Details on how you can enter to win will be listed below.

3) If you’re the lucky winner of the book giveaway and you have your own blog I ask that you, you in turn, host a drawing to give that book away for free to one of your readers, after you’ve had a chance to read it (let’s say, within a month after you’ve received the book). If you mail the book out using the media/book rate that the post office offers it’s pretty inexpensive. If you're a non-blogger who has won the book, please consider donating the book to your local library or shelter after you're done with it.

4) If you’re really motivated and want to host your own “Pay It Forward” giveaway at any time, feel free to grab the button above to use on your own blog. Just let me [that would be Overwhelmed] know so I can publish a post on my blog plugging your giveaway and directing my readers your way!

OK, so--if you want An Abundance of Katherines, drop me a note by September 18, and I'll randomly select one lucky winner.

OH! And I seem to keep forgetting to post this, but John Green will be speaking at the University of Richmond's Keller Hall on Thursday, September 27, at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public--so come and hear him speak!

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Loss

Madeleine L'Engle died yesterday at her home in Connecticut, at age 88. She's been in failing health for years, not writing or speaking in public. Still I will miss her. Though I claim not to have read much YA literature as a teenager, I certainly read L'Engle, whether she wrote for children, young adults, or (older!) adults. I had several of her books signed when my father met her through their mutual responsibilities in the diocese of New York, and I returned to her novels and her non-fiction writing as comfort reading often over the years.

Last year when I taught A Wrinkle in Time in my seminar on children's literature and theology it didn't fare well. The ending felt rushed, the kids a little too perfect, the mom definitely so. And yet. It meant so much to me as a child, I couldn't let go of it. Its imperfections were obvious, but so were its strengths: Meg and her brother's odd bond, the wonderful Mrs Ws, the hell of Camazotz. It is a book of its time, certainly, but one well worth revisiting as well. L'Engle made the world better for me, and for many children and adults, throughout her long life. May she now have the peace and light she so beautifully depicted for others.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Tired Eyes

As you can maybe tell from the viewing list over on the sidebar, I spent way too much of my travel time watching movies. It was nice to catch up--I'd long wanted to see Waitress, for example--and I needed something to do while I did some knitting--but mostly I was just brain dead and perfectly happy just to let things wash over me. I didn't even list the part-movies that I saw: something with Nicolas Cage foreseeing the future, and Hoax, with Richard Gere as Clifford Irving. Really it was all too much.

And I did very little reading on the trip. A couple of magazines, which are my usual airplane comfort fare. And I did manage to pick up Jasper Fforde's second Nursery Crimes book, The Fourth Bear, in the San Francisco airport--and to finish it before I left Chicago. I love Fforde. His zany sense of humor (competitive cucumber growing?) and vast store of what might usually seem irrelevant knowledge combine for hugely entertaining novels. I never quite know what's going on from moment to moment, but just trust that I'll get where he's going by the end. Perfect for travel.

I'm sure I'll have further updates from the trip, but I'm still feeling a little slow and disoriented, so it'll be a while.