Friday, January 28, 2005

Oh, No!

Philip Pullman has been named the Greatest Briton in the Arts! That means that yesterday I dissed an essay written by the Greatest Briton in the Arts! I'm so embarrassed. Actually, I'm not embarrassed. I'm scared. This is the kind of thing that can come back to bite a person on the you-know-what.

Thanks to somebody on Child_Lit for the link.

On the Other Hand, I Read a Book I Liked

Yes, folks, it must be one of those weird phases of the moon or something. I actually read a book I liked. It was fantasy, too. Will wonders never cease.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner won all kinds of awards when it was published and, for once, I'm in agreement with the folks who were handing them out. I love an anti-hero, and Turner gave us a great one in Gen. Even with all the talk of strange gods and practices The Thief didn't have the heavy mystical mumbo jumbo that so many fantasies do. I figured out Gen's second theft just moments before it was revealed, which was just perfect. The book wasn't at all predictable, but at the same time I could feel smart.

And when all the book's secrets were revealed nothing had to be explained. All the clues had been planted in the story. This reader was left sitting there thinking, "Why, of course!"

To be honest, I finished reading the book today instead of working. I'm a little bummed about that. Hey, but that's my fault, not Turner's.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Grammar? Political? Come On!

Philp Pullman has a response in The Guardian to a report from the University of York stating that the teaching of grammar doesn't have a beneficial effect on the quality of student writing.

Pullman's reaction is, essentially, that the study just goes to prove what he believes, that kids should learn writing by writing.

Okay. He's not the only person who feels that way. His is a legitimate stand that he could legitimately argue. Unfortunately, he chooses to use his essay as an opportunity to take potshots at "the political right." Who knew there was a right and left to grammar?

In his second paragraph, Pullman says, "Needless to say, this (the results of the study) goes against common sense. That particular quality of mind, the exclusive property of those on the political right, enables its possessors to know without the trouble of thinking that of course teaching children about syntax and the parts of speech will result in better writing, as well as making them politer, more patriotic and less likely to become pregnant."

Where the heck does that come from? Well, Pullman is British and The Guardian is British and the University of York is in Britain and maybe British political parties actually have a grammar plank in their platforms.

Pullman is right. A lot of writing instruction is mindnumbing. It's mindnumbing whether or not it involves grammar. Does that mean that grammar should be replaced by the "play" approach that Pullman advocates?

Why does it have to be one or the other?

I don't see how anyone who has ever seen student writing from, say, 4th, 5th, or 6th graders that was gibberish because they hadn't learned how to choose a verb tense and stick with it, didn't recognize an incomplete sentence when they'd written one, and didn't understand that modifiers needed to be somewhere in the vicinity of the words they modify can say that all children will learn to write by writing. There are just too many kids out there for whom that doesn't happen.

Writing isn't just an art. It's not just some kind of creative act. It's a way of communicating. Over the centuries all cultures have come to agree that there are certain rules/guidelines/whatever you want to call them that make for meaningful communication. That's all grammar is.

I am a product of schooling that didn't provide much instruction in grammar--or writing, either, for that matter. We definitely were expected to learn it on our own. I did--in my twenties.

If I had to be in school for sixteen years, anyway, I really would just as soon have learned about parallel construction, dangling modifiers, introductory clauses, etc., there instead of having to work the whole mess out on my own time.

Oh, cricky. Pullman would think I'm a grammatical rightwing nut.

Thanks to ACHOCKABLOG for the link.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I'd Be Reluctant, Too

The American Library Association has announced its recommended list of "Quick Picks" for Reluctant Readers. M.E. Rabb, who I kind of know from Readerville, made the list with her Missing Persons Mysteries. Walter Dean Myers made the list with Shooter. I've heard of Jacqueline Woodson because she's going to be at a kidlit conference this spring.

Some of the stuff on this list though--I don't know. I hate to sound like an old coot, but they've got a CosmoGirl quiz book on this list.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Gail the Witch Rides Again

I have actually read a Newbery Honor Book within two weeks of the award announcements. This is very cutting edge for me. Unfortunately, as usual, I wasn't quite as in love with the thing as everyone else.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko has a fantastic premise--it's a historical novel about children living on Alcatraz Island back in the day when it was a federal prison and not a national park as it is now. I had no idea families of prison employees lived there, and I think it's a wonderful idea for a novel. The children involved with Choldenko's Alcatraz story are excellent, realistic characters. I had great hopes for Piper, the warden's manipulative yet strangely attractive daughter.

I wish I could have seen more of all these kids and heard more about their adventures on the island.

However, in addition to their story there is another story in this book. The main character, Moose, has an older sister, Natalie, who is autistic and we see how their family is seeking help for her back in the 1930s when there wasn't a lot of help to be had for people with her condition. This is actually a good story, too.

But when Moose and Natalie's story is on center stage, the Alcatraz story disappears. The stories are almost unrelated--though they are connected in a rather forced way at the end--because Natalie's story really had nothing to do with Alcatraz. Her story could have taken place anywhere.

I kept wishing that the author had written two books instead of one.

Once again, Gail appears to be the only person in the world who feels this way. This book was a Newbery Honor Book, remember, and all the reviews I've seen have been raves.

I hit the library again today and picked up another Newbery Honor Book I can bash later in the week.

Monday, January 24, 2005

A New One

I visited a first grade class this morning and was asked a question I've never heard before. One of the kids wanted to know who my editor was. Usually they want to know how old I am and how much money I make. I've had other writers ask me about my editor (though I'm sure they want to know how old I am and how much money I make, too) but I've never had a six year old show any interest before.

More Award Nominees

Other bloggers are all hopped up about the nomination announcement for the National Book Critics Award. Since the Book Critics Award doesn't have a category for children's or YA books, I'm not going to bother with it.

Is Howl a Hottie?

At the Child_Lit listserv I read about a school staff reading book that got into a discussion on whether or not individual members would date Howl in Howl's Moving Castle . I would love to hear what some of their students thought of their teachers who think Howl is a hottie.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Today's Mail

I wasn't going to blog today because I deserve a break. But I just heard that a writer I sort of know at Readerville has two new books coming out. I am not feeling envious. I am feeling lazy and inept. Thus I'd better do something.

So a flier for Perspectives in Children's Literature a conference at the University of Massachusetts, arrived today. I went a couple of years ago and had a decent enough time. I'm going to skip it this year even though my on-line mentor/guru, Jane Yolen will be running a workshop. But she'll be talking about fairy tales, which I'm not that crazy about. And I've heard her speak twice before. Robert Sabuda, who is a big, big noise in pop-up books will also be there. But I heard him speak a few years back, too. Plus, while I like pop-up books as much as the next person, it doesn't take me that long to look at one. There will also be illustrators there, but I'm not an illustrator. And a non-fiction writer, but I'm afraid to write nonfiction because very serious historians (and that's what I'd probably try to write) have taken some big hits over there research errors. I am not a very serious historian. Jacqueline Woodson is going to talk about how her life affects her work, and how writers' lives affect their work is one of my favorite subjects. But I'm not familiar with Woodson's work.

There's just not enough going on that day that grabs me. Does that mean that in addition to being lazy and inept I am also a crummy children's writer?

Ah, yeah, well, maybe.

Now I think I'll spend some time planning my fantasy kidlit conference.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Writer Thoughts. Yeah, I'm Getting Into the Groove

I got Al Capone Does My Shirts from the library today, hoping to get right onto the Newbery Honor Book bandwagon. Unfortunately, I'm in the middle of reading a stodgy new mystery by P.D. James, an author I used to really like.

Karin Gillespie's blog Southern Comfort has been a favorite of mine. She's started specializing in book marketing recently, and now she's making me tense because I have a new book coming out next spring.

And, finally, I'm thinking of writing something about how grade schoolers shouldn't be encouraged to think in terms of "publishing." I will use a martial arts analogy. I've just started to think about this today so that's about all I have to say.

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Biggest Day of the Year

I absolutely have to blog today since it's Newbery Announcement Day. I, of course, haven't read the winner or the Honor Books. I haven't even heard of most of them.

I think Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko looks good, and I'm not just saying that because we share the same publisher. "Hilarious antics are deftly interwoven with themes of isolation and imprisonment, compassion and connection." Bring it on!

And how about the description for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminister Boy by Gary D. Schmidt? The novel "probes a forbidden friendship between a preacher's son and a dark-skinned girl from a nearby island." Ooo-la-la!

The winner and honor books are all either historical fiction or nonfiction.

Here is an excellent article that describes how the Newbery selection committee works and discusses the tone of recent winners. I was referred to this site by Steve Lyon, author of The Gift Moves, another book I haven't read. Though I've read that it is about a culture where "such basic crafts as baking, spinning, weaving and repairing have become a religion of excellence." I think that sounds promising since those are all things I've wanted to be able to do at one point or another.

Friday, January 14, 2005

A Really Long Weekend

I was away for four days, and it's taken me another three to get over it.

While out of the house, I tried reading some alternative history. I have a relative who's very fond of Harry Turtledove, who is a big name in that subgenre of sci-fi. It took me years, but I finally got around to trying some alternative history short stories this past weekend, not being willing to commit to a whole novel.

Now alternative history is fiction that's set in a world in which history isn't what we know it to be. I don't mean that someone from the present went back in time and changed history like in that famous Ray Bradbury short story about the guy who went back in time and stepped on a butterfly. I mean things are just different and none of the characters are aware of it. For instance, I'm always hearing about alternative history stories that involve John F. Kennedy living to finish his term as president.

So I'm reading these stories, and I'm really not getting what's the big deal. So Elvis Presley was a U.S. senator instead of a hot singer? I found it so hard to care that I didn't even finish that story.

Now what, you may ask, does this have to do with kidlit, which is the subject of this blog? Well, I thought there was a connection, but I was wrong. One of the stories I did finish reading was written by Pamela Sargent who I confused with Pamela Service. And Pamela Service wrote Stinker From Space and Under Alien Stars, which I particularly liked because the mom had an alien boyfriend.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Oh, No! I'm Turning Into Jane Yolen!

Not really. I know this is the case because my teeth are in much better shape than Jane's. Otherwise, I'd be worried.

In her on-line journal, Jane is always talking about all the things she does instead of writing. That's been the case for me for the better part of a month. Today I had a very good work day. But I spent it revising a biographical statement to send to some American Association of University Women's groups for whom I'll be speaking this spring, taking care of personal e-mail, typing mailing labels for some marketing work I'm doing, and starting--just starting--to clean my desk. Meanwhile, the stack of manuscripts I want to do something with is gathering dust.

While cleaning my desk, I found a hard copy I'd made of a website called YA Authors Cafe. This appears to be a site run by a group of YA authors, and they run what looks like Instant Message discussions on various topics: interviews with authors and panel discussions on things like "What is YA literature?," "YA Romance," "Beach Reads," etc. You can read their chat logs for the past year. It appears that their next on-line event will be on January 11th at 8:30 EST when they will interview Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld.

I had never heard of either one of them but clearly someone has.

This is the third case I've heard of recently of writers who do both YA and television work.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Second Whine of the New Year

Well, here's another award I probably shouldn't expect to win. I don't even expect to vote. The ballot is too long for me.

On top of that, the first time I tried to write this post, my computer locked up.

UPDATE: I have seen two blogs whose authors asked readers to nominate them for a bloggie. That is so wrong. But it is a free country and if someone wants to nominate me, it is certainly their right to do so.

The First Whine of the New Year

Have I mentioned how the holidays, work, and home maintenance are an incredible ordeal for me? Well, it can't be stated too often.

I can say, however, that I kept a resolution I made last year. I was concerned that I wasn't doing enough reading, so I started keeping track of all the books I read in my all-purpose writers' journal. The total was 62. Okay, that's better than I thought I was doing before I started keeping track. It's still kind of pathetic, though, when you consider of I heard of people who read a couple of hundred books a year. On top of that, a number of the 62 books I finished were picture books or early readers. So, let's just say I'm not bragging.