Friday, July 27, 2007

I DID get Harry Potter

The last time I posted I said that I couldn't get Harry Potter here in Thailand without ordering it special, and even then, it wouldn't get here until I was about to leave the country. Well, that bookstore was WRONG. I walked into four other bookstores and Harry's face (well, not really, but his book cover) is plastered all over the place! I could choose. Did I want Harry Potter with the American cover, or Harry with one of two British covers? I picked Bloomsbury's most attractive cover, in my opinion. You can view it here (sorry I can import the picture directly here--I'm using someone else's computer). After a quick peek at I realized I chose the adult cover of Bloomsbury edition.

The kids cover, which I didn't like as well is here:

I figured I could get the American version at home when I get there. So, I AM reading Harry--and I have only 200 pages left to go. I will finish it tonight before I head to Bangkok tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter in Thailand

Well, it turns out that I can get Harry Potter here in Thailand. I bought Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone here in paperback for about US$5.00. I asked if I would be able to buy the English version of Book 7. Yes, it's available but it has to be preordered and it costs US$40.00. I think I'll just wait until I get back to the US.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Remembering Lady Bird

Lady Bird Johnson died today at age 94. In her memory, I recommend Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt. This picture book biography reveals that Lady Bird is the reason we have wildflowers planted along our interstates. She gave beauty to our country through her love of flowers.

Poetry Friday--Pablo Neruda

I first became really interested in Pablo Neruda's poetry after I attended a Nancie Atwell conference about her book Lessons that Change Writers. She used Pablo Neruda's poems to teach her students about odes to ordinary things.

I recently picked up a collection of Pablo Neruda's poetry. It's huge and it will take me months to get through it all, but that's what I love about poetry--it's okay to indulge slowly.

Several months ago I purchased a picture book biography, To Go Singing Through the World: The Childhood of Pablo Neruda written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray. This is a beautifully written and illustrated book that really celebrates the man who was known for his words. Ray uses the words of Neruda throughout the book. She uses his poetry and his prose to tell his life story. Neruda's words are written in italics while Ray's words are in regular type. They flow seamlessly together. Ray really celebrates where Neruda came from--a small village in Chile. Neruda was nurtured by a well-known poet, Gabriela Mistral. Even though Pablo's father wanted him to do well in math, it was the beauty of language that really helped Pablo find his voice.

I purchased this book with the hopes of using it when I teach poetry. I have been wanting to work on odes with my students, and I always like to give a human side to the writers I teach. This books will definitely fill that need. I can't wait to share Neruda's poems and his story with my students this upcoming school year.

I leave you with Neruda's own words:

Ode to the Dictionary (this is from the middle of the poem)







what a marvel

to pronounce these plosive


and further on,


unfilled, awaiting ambrosia or oil

and others,

capsicum, caption, capture,

comparison, capricorn,


as slippery as smooth grapes,

words exploding in the light

like dormant seeds waiting

in the vaults of vocabulary,

alive again, and giving life:

once again the heart distills them.

Dictionary, you are not a

tomb, sepulcher, grave

tumulus, mausoleum,

but guard and keeper,

hidden fire,

groves of rubies,

living eternity

of essence,

depository of language.

Poetry Friday

This week's round up is at Chicken Spaghetti.

Harry Potter's Editor

Yes, I was supposed to be gone for a month, but my flight got cancelled, so I'm here for 2 more days (until I can catch the next flight out). That's another mess. In the meantime, I have been browsing the blogosphere.

The Washington Post has an interesting article about Harry Potter's editor Arthur Levine. It gives a little bit of background about how Scholastic obtained Harry Potter and Levine does a litle promo of some of his other authors.

Monday, July 9, 2007

On the Road

Tomorrow I am heading out for a month-long trip to Thailand. I am looking forward to going, but I'm a little worried about the 30-some-odd hour plane trip with my 2 1/2 year old. I have a backpack stuffed with lots of fun stuff, but even that will get old after all of that time.

I will not be blogging as much over the next month. I am hoping to post every now and then. If the Internet connection is strong, I'll try to do an occasion blurb. I will still be checking e-mail, so I will get all of your comments.

While I won't be in the middle of nowhere, there will be some things I will probably miss while I'm there:
1) The release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Although I'm hoping it will be released in Thailand while I'm there. I may have to watch it with English subtitles, but won't that be fun?
2) The release of Harry Potter Book Number 7 The Deathly Hollows. Once again I'm hoping to get my paws on a copy of this book while I'm there. I want to see if the bookstores are carrying Harry Potter in Thai. I also want to see if Harry is even big in SE Asia. I don't know. The last time I was there, Harry wasn't around yet.
3) Keeping up with the blogs. Alas, as much as I like to read other kidlit blogs, I will not have access to Internet at my parent's house. I will have to go elsewhere to read e-mails and such. And since there are other things to do there, I will probably be hopelessly behind on a month's worth of blog reading. It's for a good cause though.

What I hope I will get to do:
1) Find some cool Asian graphic novels--maybe even some in English.
2) Provide some ambiance for my writing. I have been diligently working on two projects set in Asia. Being there will give me the opportunity to really get to refresh my details on both projects.
3) Catch up on some reading. I have stacks of books I'm taking with me. I plan to leave most of them there after I read them.

If you don't hear from me, you'll know where I've gone. I'll be back in mid-August.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Paul Janeczko at Hollins

Saturday night I had the good fortune of listening to Paul Janeczko speak at Hollins. I was looking forward to hearing him speak out of all of the speakers this summer, and he did not disappoint.

Paul Janeczko is a former English teacher. Paul Janeczko wasn't a good student but as a young child was a collector. He thinks that paved the way for his obsession of collecting poems. He has written novels, nonfiction, poetry collections, and edited over 20 poetry anthologies.

He says he travels around to preach the gospel of the possibilities of poetry. He wants kids to know that poetry doesn't have to rhyme, have a certain form, or be long, boring, and stupid.

He is probably most famous for his numerous poetry anthologies. With each anthology he is always wanting to show a new way of looking at things.

He talked about several poetry anthologies:
1) Poke in the I--A collection of concrete poetry illustrated by Chris Raschka. Concrete poems are typically in the form of a shape. They play around with language and white space. Some don't read like a regular poem, and in fact, they would be hard to read like a regular poem. Some do read like regular poems, but they are arranged differently.
2) Stone Bench in an Empty Park--A collection of haiku set in the city. He wanted students who lived in big cities to know that they could write haiku. Some kids thought since they didn't live in the middle of the country (nature) that they couldn't write haiku. He said they needed to see that they could write haiku, they just had to slow down and pay attention to their life and their surroundings. This haiku collection is illustrated in black and white photographs.
3) Wing Nuts: Screwy Haiku (my review of this book here)--He cowrote this with J. Patrick Lewis. This book is actually a collection of senryu, a type of Japanese poetry that has the same form as haiku, but instead of being about nature, it's about human nature.
** On a side note--I personally use the three poetry anthologies above ALL of the time. I highly recommend them to use with young writers.
4) Dirty Laundry Pile: Poems in Different Voices--This book is full of persona or mask poems. These poems are written from the point of view of an object.
5) Hey You!--This is a collection of poems of address. They are talking to something or someone. This one is brand new and I can't wait to get ahold of it!

One of the books he spent a lot of time talking about was a collection of poems he wrote about a circus tent fire in Connecticut in 1944. The book is entitled Worlds Afire. Each poem is told from a different person's perspective. Each of the people were in some way involved or affected by the fire that killed many. He did a lot of research for this book and was able to see his poems performed on stage at a local theater in Maine.

His advice to promising poets:
1) To get your foot in the door, send poems to magazines. It's a good way to get started with some publishing credits and gives you some credibility when you send off a collection of poems.
2) Read a LOT of poetry. Read as many poets as you can get your hands on. Then you can start to see which poets you really like and study them.

Paul Janeczko is getting reading to update his website. He is in the final proofreading now. So stay tuned for more.

Michael Stearns at Hollins

Michael Stearns, editorial director at Harper Collins, came to speak to writers at Hollins on Friday evening. In addition to his editorial director title, he is also the head of foreign acquistions and manages a half dozen other editors.

He gave sort of an Introduction to the Publishing World 101. While much of the information I have read about and heard before, he gave us a visual representation (via a hand drawn chart) that really summarized publishers and what books fall into different categories.

There are four extremes on this chart (imagine a x and y axis). Literary books on one end of the extreme--competent books on the other end. They intersect with institutional books one on end and commercial books on the other end. Most books fall somewhere in the four quadrants. Likewise, most publishing companies publish within a certain range.

Here's the jist:
* Big publishers--Random House, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster
These publishers have to concentrate a lot on commerical books that are big sellers. They have many divisions that focus on certain types of books. They have certain expectations on money to be brought in and have fewer slots for mid-list books by unknown authors. The bigger the publishing house, the more pressure on the editors to bring in books that have commercial appeal. He says he is always looking for books he can fall in love with. Series fiction is big with the bigger houses too.
* Mid-Size Houses--Harcourt, Holt, FSG, Bloomsbury, Candlewick, Abrams
These publishers don't have the big budgets, so they can't afford to do as many commercial books that the big houses do. They can take more opportunities to purchase literary fiction.
* Smaller Houses--Walker, Tricycle, Marshall Cavendish
These publishers are very effective at focusing on publishing for the school and library markets.

What is selling right now?
* Chick Lit
* Teen novels with an edge (The Book Thief, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing)
* Series Fiction
* Middle Grade Fiction--Stearns is always look for this

Books he recommends writers read:
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

He also had us take a look at the current NY Times Bestsellers List. He said it was important to take a look at what types of books are selling well and to read some of those books on the list.

Some advice for writers:
1) Go to conferences (like SCBWI). He recommends meeting with agents there and have them critique your manuscript. In fact, he recommends meeting with agents over editors. He says agents know what the individual editors are looking for. He also recommends trying to find an agent that is trying to build up a list of authors.
2) Go to workshops and learn about your craft.
3) Try to understand that rejection is not personal. An editor has to really LOVE your book to spend time with it and take up space on their list. They must feel like they can't live without your book--and sometimes even that isn't enough at an acquisitions meeting.
4) Read broadly. Read a variety of books.
5) Read books on craft. Books he recommends include: Narrative Design by Madison Smartt Bell, Revising Fiction by David Madden, and Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern.
6) Learn to love language--language is what it's all about in kids' books.
7) Most importantly--Do NOT write to trends. Yes, it's important to see what's selling and to read the authors that are doing well, BUT it's also best to write what you LOVE! Publishers work so far in advance that it doesn't matter what is hot now. If you write to the trend, it may not be what you are passionate about, and it will be not a trend by the time it gets published.

Check out Amy's take on the same lecture at The Virginia Scribe.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Sharon Dennis Wyeth at Hollins

Sharon Dennis Wyeth came to speak at Hollins on Monday, July 2. I had never heard of her before this summer, but she is the Hollins Children's Literature program's Writer-In-Residence this year. I realized when I saw her, and her books, that I was familiar with some of her work.

Sharon Dennis Wyeth began writing poetry because she wanted to make sense of things. She needed to heal from things that had happened in her life. In fact, she encouraged us as writers to tell about an event in our lives, "attaching action to specificity", and to create a narrative that will be healing for ourselves and perhaps for our readers.

She became a children's writer because it sounded important. In fact, she hadn't intended to be a children's writer at all, but she told her college friends that she was going to be a children's writer, and they seemed impressed. It was only later that this became a reality.

Wyeth writes about difficult circumstances and has characters that go through a lot. She doesn't want to sugarcoat their lives. Instead, she writes characters that rise up above their circumstances and survive.

Her advice to writers:
1) Write what you MUST write
2) If you have a memory that you think about everyday, then it is something important to you--write about it.

Some of her books include:
Something Beautiful (illustrated by the amazing Chris Soentpiet)--A picture book for all ages. Sharon Dennis Wyeth talks about her something beautiful here. I can't wait to read this book to my fifth graders at the beginning of the year and do some writing with them!

Orphea Proud--A young adult novel about Orphea, a poet. She is an African American teenager, orphaned, who falls in love with her best friend.

Corey's Underground Railroad Diary (My America Series)--Middle grade novels written by a slave boy who escapes to freedom. She talked about how many slaves were forbidden from learning to read or write, but some of them had been taught in secrecy. Corey's diaries begin with his limited writing, but he improves as the series goes on.

Always My Dad (illustrated by Raul Colon)--now out of print, Picture book, Reading Rainbow selection

Kampung Boy--Graphic Novel

Kampung Boy
by Lat
First Second, New York, 2006
ISBN: 978-1-59643-121-8

I would not consider my self a voracious reader of graphic novels, but when I hear about one that strikes my interest, I can't resist. Two graphic novels have recently come across my radar screen as ones needing to be read by me because of my connection to them. 1) Kampung Boy 2) American Born Chinese (which I reviewed briefly here).

I picked up both of these because I grew up overseas. I went to boarding school in Malaysia (the setting for Kampung Boy), and I remember what is was like to feel like an outsider in America (premise of American Born Chinese).

I found Kampung Boy easy to read because of it's larger pictures and paragraphs of text chunked together. Sometimes I think graphic novels can get so busy on the page. This one was not.

I love the details about village life--both the true and the funny. Lat, the author/illustrator, really brings the culture of his home village to reluctant readers. While I really love some of the novels and poetry written about Asia and growing up overseas, male students in my classroom may not be inclined to read them. A copy of Kampung Boy, however, would be well read.

Poetry Friday 2--Nikki Grimes

What is Goodbye?
by Nikki Grimes
Illustrations by Raul Colon
Hyperion Books, New York, 2004

Well, I've been in sort of a marathon reading mode. I'm getting ready to take a trip out of the country--to Thailand, specifically--for a month. I had about 20 library books checked out that I really wanted to read before I left. So I've been reading like a hungry bear. One of my finds from the library is Nikki Grimes' collection of poems, What is Goodbye? I actually would call this a novel in verse. It is centered around two characters, a brother and sister, who are coping with the loss of their brother. It is not a long novel, but it still has characters, plot, and a resolution.

Jesse and Jerilyn are two siblings whose brother has died. Each of them tell their side of the story--their emotions, their thoughts--about this event in their lives. They talk about their parents and how their brother's death has affected them. Grimes gives each point of view by titling companion poems the same. The only thing that changes is the person telling the poem. For example, "Getting the News--Jesse" and "Getting the News--Jerilyn". We learn how they view the same set of circumstances differently.

I love the way Grimes has set up this book with the two siblings each telling their side of the story. Jesse's poems are more patterned and often rhyme. Jerilyn's poems are always told in free verse. The whole book is full of wonderful figurative language and images.

Here is my favorite example from "Getting the News--Jerilyn". She is talking about her father's reaction, then her mother's.

Silent, he stepped away,
turned himself like
a page in a book
so I couldn't read,
couldn't look inside.
Mommy also hid,
her eyes dull coins
peeking from the pockets
of her lids.

Nikki Grimes' poems are honest and powerful. She deals with death and the raw emotions that come with it. She includes a beautiful author's note at the end encouraging readers to deal with death in whatever way is the right way for them--everyone is different.

Teachers' Guide available at Nikki Grimes' website

Poetry Friday--Blueberry Haiku

We went blueberry picking last Saturday at Crow's Nest Farm. I've never done that before. We picked loads of blueberries. Then I came home to make blueberry jam and a blueberry pie.

I have always admired cloudscome at A Wrung Sponge and her photos and haiku. So, I thought I'd try a little of my own. Here's the picture I took at the blueberry patch along with my haiku.

shades of blue clustered
ripening til it falls in

a bucket of blue

--Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at Farm School.


I mentioned that one of my favorite toys is my iPod. I got it for Christmas, and ever since, I have been hooked on a few podcasts. No, I don't use my iPod exclusively for music, as many teens do. I spend most of my time listening to podcasts--specifically ones related to children's books or writing.

I have been recently listening to Just One More Book. I downloaded 180-some podcasts from them, and I have been slowly making my way from the present backwards. On my way to and from the Green Valley Book Fair, I listened to Just One More Book's coverage of the IRA 2007 conference (to get to IRA Coverage, find the Categories list on the left side of their homepage, scroll down to "Special Series", click on IRA 2007). They include interviews with the likes of Tony Stead, Janet Wong, and Mo Willems.

Just One More Book does a lot of reviews of Canadian and American books, but they also do intereviews with authors and other literacy-related people. I have been to the IRA conference twice, and both times were amazing experiences for me. I got to hear and meet dozens of authors. And the exhibition hall--amazing. Cheap books, lots of famous writers, free stuff. It's a book lovers dream. So, I was thrilled that Just One More Book did coverage of the IRA Conference, since I couldn't be there this year. It made me feel like I didn't miss out on everything.

Other podcasts I download:
Grammar Girl
Jodi Piccoult
YALSA--I haven't listened to these yet, but I am saving these for my 36 hour plane trip to Thailand next week.
Children's Book Radio

If you have podcasts related to children's books or writing that you listen to and love, let me know. I'm always looking for good listening.

5 Things Meme

I am very belated with this, but I thought, better late than never.

Five Things I Was Doing Ten Years Ago:
1. Getting ready to start student teaching
2. Going to the gym everyday
3. Thinking about getting my degree in Children's Literature, which I didn't start until 5 years later.
4. Working at Roanoke College in the Alumni Office as a student worker
5. Basking in the glow of graduating from college

Five Snacks I Like to Eat:
1. Chips, salsa, and sour cream
2. Ice cream
3. Butterfinger bites
4. Zucchini Bread
5. Chocolate chip cookies (or Oreos) and milk

Five Songs I Know All of the Lyrics To:
1. Any song from Annie
2. Fiesta VBS songs from last year. It's on permanent repeat in my Jeep. My daughter loves it.
3. Brown-Eyed Girl
4. Remember Me
5. If You Want Me To

Five Things I Would Do if I Were a Millionaire:
1. Travel a LOT
2. Hire someone to clean my house and do my laundry
3. Buy a house with a marvelous kitchen
4. Invest so my daughter could go to any college she wanted
5. Quit my job and write full-time

Five Bad Habits:
1. Eating chocolate
2. Staying on the computer too long
3. Buying things that are unnecessary
4. Planting things and then forgetting to take care of them
5. Keeping piles of things on the floor of my office--they are my to-do piles

Five Things I Like to Do:
1. Read
2. Write
3. Travel
4. Bake
5. Cook Asian food

Five of my Favorite Toys:
1. iPod
2. Laptop
3. Booklight
4. Cuisinart Food Processor
5. KitchenAid Stand Up Mixer

Monday, July 2, 2007

June's Read-a-Thon

I didn't get to participate in the 48 Hour Book Challenge sponsored by MotherReader because it was the last weekend before school was out, and I was totally swamped. I knew I couldn't do it justice. But I have been reading with my 2 year old for the summer reading program at the library. We've had to write down all of the books and the time we spent reading. So, since I was doing it for her, I decided to do it for myself. I wrote down all of the books I read this month. I read more than I thought, but I'm only a fraction of the way through my "To Read" pile for the summer.

Here it goes:

June 2007

Pictures books (These are ONLY the ones I read for myself for craft purposes and general enjoyment. I read about 75 other ones to my daughter.)

1. Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell
2. The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale by Trinka Hakes Noble
3. Freedom School, Yes! by Amy Littlesugar
4. Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions by Janet Wong
5. Jazz by Walter Dean Myers
6. A Bird or Two: A Story about Henri Matisse by Bijou Le Tord
7. Wolves by Emily Gravett (my review here)
8. Appalachia: The voices of sleeping birds by Cynthia Rylant
9. The Flying Bed by Nancy Willard
10. The Last Resort by J. Patrick Lewis and Roberto Innocenti (my review here)
11. Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine (my review here)

Middle Grade Novels

1. Ghost Cadet by Elaine Marie Alphin
2. Ghost Soldier by Elaine Marie Alphin
3. Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker


1. American Born Chinese by Gene Luan Yang (my review here)
2. Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
3. The Perfect Shot by Elaine Marie Alphin
4. An Unlikely Friendship: A Novel of Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley by Ann Rinaldi


1. Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion by Loree Griffin Burns (my review here)
2. Pocahontas: Princess of the New World by Kathleen Krull
3. Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer
4. Who's Saying What in Jamestown, Thomas Savage? by Jean Fritz
5. 1607: A New Look at Jamestown by Karen E. Lange (my review here)


1. Ludie's Life by Cynthia Rylant (my review here)
2. Come with Me: Poems for a Journey by Naomi Shihab Nye
3. Autumnblings by Douglas Florian
4. 19 Varieties of Gazelle by Naomi Shihab Nye (my review here)
5. Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring by Ralph Fletcher