Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why I love Joan Aiken

Last weekend, I was on a plane, my head deep in a book, only lifting my eyes slightly as we landed.

"Good book?" my husband teased me. 

"They're fighting off wolves with croquet mallets and billiard balls," I replied. 

What do I love about this book?

1)  The fabulously nimble language, half of which I'm never sure if Aiken invented or if it's real slang.

"Hallo, my cocky," said this individual. "Old Fur-nose told me to watch out for you. So here's poor old Gus, eyes like cannonballs from lack of sleep, hoisted from the downy before the Chelsea cocks have left their watery nests---particular watery this morning, wasn't it, Fothers? Ugh!" he added, shuddering. "Eight o'clock! To think such a time exists! There ought to be a law against it, so there should!"

("hoisted from the downy" Can we ALL start using that phrase for being woken too soon?)

2)  The often humorous role of food.

Here's the main character, Simon, offering bread and sausage to another boy, Gus:

"Ah, that's devilish good...I haven't had my grinders in a bit of solid prog for three days; had just enough of nibbling old Mrs. Grobb's parsley and spring onions from her window boxes." 

and the Duke later offering food to Simon:

"do you take gruel, my boy? No? My cook has a capital way of making it with white wine and sugar---no?"

(Is that true? Gruel is often doctored with wine and sugar? Or is Aiken joking? She also mentions "spirits of rhubarb" and "singed sheep's head" as food and drink choices. I think those are real, even though I'm pretty sure when someone goes off to "re-singe" the sheep's head before serving it, that's a punch line.)

3) The introduction of Dido Twite (who later on, in another bit of food humor, drops a slice of bread with jam on Simon's head.)

"She was a shrewish-looking little creature of perhaps eight or nine, with sharp eyes of a pale washed-out blue and no eyebrows or eyelashes to speak of. Her straw-colored hair was stringy and sticky with jam and she wore a dirty satin dress too small for her." 

She also described later as "dirty as a gutter perch, and got no more manners or gratitude than a hedge fish."

(Don't you love a heroine who is as grubby as all that?) 

4) The aforementioned battles and pervasive sense of over-the-top danger.

There are opera house boxes that burst into flame, rescues by balloon, boats split in two by storms, poisoned mince-pies and those ever present wolves. 

Sophie ran to the door, but old Mogg the steward was before her.

"All right, all right," he grumbled, letting down the massive bars. "Leave a bit of t'door standing, cansta? We doesn't want t'wolves taborin' in and setting by her Grace's fire---"

"And we don't want the wolves biting off our breeches pockets while you fiddle with the bolt!" shouted an impatient voice. 

And now I'm impatient to begin the next book: Nightbirds on Nantucket 

Monday, June 29, 2009

Make Haste!

Make haste! Kelly is running a contest for Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month, and you only have until tomorrow, midnight, to post your favorite bit of his poetry for a chance to win a Folger Shakespeare Library Edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets.  

I truly can't pick a favorite bit---for me, Shakespeare's all about how his words roll off the tongue and like a dessert buffet, whatever my mouth is tasting at the moment is the best ever!  I'm picking his Sonnet #90, only because I don't know it well, but it's dolefully delicious to recite and I adore the line "Give not a windy night a rainy morrow."

Sonnet 90

Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now;
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:
Ah, do not, when my heart hath 'scoped this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquer'd woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purposed overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite
But in the onset come; so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune's might,
And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
Compared with loss of thee will not seem so.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Poetry Friday: How surely gravity's law

I didn't find this poem; it found me, wandering about, searching far and wide for something to post. "What are you doing, way out here and alone?" it scolded me.  So I came back and sat inside it for awhile.

From Rilke's Book of Hours
(as translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing---
each stone, blossom, child---
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth's intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by its founder, Kelly Herold,  at her new blog, Crossover.  So glad you're back, Kelly!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Time to read and listen

One nice thing about not blogging so much is that I have more time to READ other blogs and LISTEN to a few podcasts.  Of interest . . .

My editor, Cheryl Klein, talks about patterns in her editorial taste.  (How often do you see an editor spell this out in such detail?)  As for me, I'm admitting right here that I had no idea that Operation Yes dovetailed with Cheryl's taste. Nope. I knew of her, and her blog, and a little about some of her books, but it was my brilliant agent, Tina Wexler, who made the match. But when Cheryl and I have an editorial conversation that veers off into a Connie Willis lovefest (as happened last week) or I read another book she's edited (as I did with Marcelo in the Real World), or she tells me that a necklace she owns is of the same archetypal shape as my main character's name (as happened in the manuscript I just submitted this month), I can feel the crossing of threads that we're both following. Patterns are cool that way. 

Esme Codell reads from Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year on NPR's program, Hearing Voices.  I love the rich detail, as when she describes how her Golden Rule is spelled out in gold glitter or what shoes she picks for the first day of class in order to appear "mean," but what I really love is the mixture of defiance, insight, and pure love that she brings to her tale of a school where gangs can throw rocks at a bus on a field trip and no one does a thing.  Go listen. It's terrific.    

Finally, if you haven't seen the interview with Jan Thomas over at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast, you must.  Where else can you learn of a career option like this one?

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Jan: I’d probably like to be a musician, an animator, or the smiling, waving person standing in the caboose of a train.

Monday, June 22, 2009

In which you see why I've always coveted my sister's hair

My sister was visiting . . .

. . . so of course we had to dig through old photos.  For your amusement:

Notice my Frankenstein hair.

Now my hair's been licked by a cat. 

Again with the sprout hair. 

I get smart and don a hat.
 But her bangs look better. 

Friday, June 19, 2009

Poetry Friday: my father moved through dooms of love

This Poetry Friday is dedicated to my brother, John,  a stellar and steadfast father.

by e.e. cummings

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if(so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which
floats the first who,his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep
my father's fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.

The rest is here
Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol's Corner.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Emily the Beautiful


My dear niece, Emily, is entering hospice care.  She is funny, brave, beautiful, and dedicated; she also possesses the biggest, most generous heart you could ever imagine.  Please pray for her and her family while they live off love in the forthcoming days.

Thank you all,


Monday, June 15, 2009

Don't mind me and my armed mouse

Had some fun reading this article from the Washington Post Book World:

Authors Share Who They Would Spend a Beach Day With

And now, if you can move on from the spectacle of Emily Dickinson in a bikini with Garrison Keillor at her side (don't you think it odd that he thinks of her as a "fictional character")  I ask you: 

With whom would YOU share a beach day?  I grant you two answers, if you wish: one from all of literature, and one from children's literature.

I only have one answer so far: 

Reepicheep from the Chronicles of Narnia.  I hope I don't regret that choice when he sticks his pin-sized sword into some blowhard's ankle, but strolling along the beach with an armed mouse at my side seems the height of summer fun.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Poetry Friday: And we leap up to become

 This week, Tricia's Monday Poetry Stretch was to write a fairy-tale inspired poem, and I couldn't resist. Please go see the other poems; they are marvelous. 

NOTE: A cento is a poem made from other poems, and in this one, written for the Frog Princes, I only used poems with the word LEAP in them.  At the bottom of the post are the sources for each of my lines, beginning with the title, "and we leap up to become."

A Cento for The Frog Princes


and we leap up to become


My heart leaps up when I behold


a bridge that leaps from her hot red hands.


The dancers take turns leaping over the bonfire,


to delight thee with fantastic leaping


ease, like teenage boys leaping for rebounds.


This music leaps from key to key


and a terrier is leaping like a flea.


Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds.

Leap to the right! Grab!


Run the rapid and leap the fall 

at any moment. Leap from a skewed bowl!


For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his  prayer–– 

With a tiger-leap half way, now she meets the coming prey––


Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and



My tongue leapt out of my mouth


Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap—


leaping…illuminating all the mo-

  tionless world of Time



Well, it's gone now: The leaping light.

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide.


He leapt into the blue dark––


For the great last leap of the wave over the breakwater,


In me all's sunk that leapt, and all that dreamed.


1 Vacation, by Rita Dove

2 My Heart Leaps Up, by William Wordsworth

3 Dishwater, by Ted Kooser

4 A group of girls from Minnesota or black mascara,    

by Maureen Owen

5 Endymion, by John Keats

6 ars Poetica, by Anthony Butts

7 J. S. Bach: F# Minor Toccata, by Bill Holm

8 Looking Around, Believing by Gary Soto

Venus and Adonis, by William Shakespeare

10  Arms, by Richard Tayson

11 The Song Of The Chattahoochee, by Sidney Lanier

12 Apples, by Grace Schulman

13 Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, lines 695-768 by Christopher Smart 

14 The Kitten and the Falling Leaves, by William Wordsworth

15 I Sing the Body Electric, by Walt Whitman

16 Frog, by Chard deNiord

17 "Out, Out—" by Robert Frost

18 Howl, by Allen Ginsberg

19 Ghost Notes, by Ralph Burns

20 Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou

21 Trickster, by Sherwin Bitsui

22 The Storm, by Theodore Roethke

23 The Suicide, by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Poetry Friday is hosted today by the entertainingly titled blog, Critique de Mr. Chompchomp

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Books We Can't Forget and Other Great Links

I'm so not in the blogging mindset lately. My life is consumed by family, and talking to Cheryl about my next book, and plotting for the release of Operation Yes.  

A part of me thinks I should shut down Read*Write*Believe for the summer. The other part says I'll miss it if I do. 

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying these great posts across the blogosphere: 

What a Girl Wants: The Books We Can't Forget

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mare's War Made Me Take This Picture

I don't take pictures of myself with my glasses on. At least not since I got contacts in high school.  But I'm up early and I'm excited and I can't be bothered to look good because I'm going to spend the day reading.  

So here's me, with glasses and bed head, but pay all your attention to the book in my hands:  

Congratulations, Tanita!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Poetry Friday: I used to think the universe was green

Poetry Friday is hosted here this week, and I'm launching it one day early so you can leave your links before you plunge into the 48-hour Book Challenge tomorrow.  Mr. Linky is out sick, so please leave your links in the comments section and I'll round them up throughout the day.

Thanks to Joyce Sidman, whose new book, Red Sings From the Treetops, inspired me to try a color poem.

I used to think the universe was green—

because, of course, I read that.
And better yet, the reason
was we live upon a stage,

the glare of hottest blue fading
to gels of barely throbbing red;
between, a pool of willow-shaded light

I bud with metaphor---our home glowing
like a neon appletini upon a billboard sign
or a mermaid’s radar sweep of eye!

I whir with glossy thoughts like wings
of bottle beetles, beating lines from air
like salt from shallow turquoisy seas.

I'm mobbed by tendrils, kudzu-razzi thick 
and taffy-green; all broadcasting poem 
and poem and sticky juicy poem

Then they recant.  Our universe is beige,
I’m told, sand flat pale, a last-season nut,
a spoonless, moon cheeseless mush. 

The verdant moss behind
my ears sends out a hiss
of signal as it fades---

green oh green oh green oh

-Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

*Um, this was edited this morning to reflect the fact that although my original example of a "young" star was yellow, as is the most common, in this poem, I should evoke the hottest, bluest stars in order to mix (so the news stories said) with old red ones to make green.  However, in stage lighting, red gels and blue gels cast magenta light. What the scientists were really trying to tell me was that the entire universe shifted from the hot, blue end of the spectrum to the cooler, red end as the universe aged. Except that they were wrong about it looking green, as cited below.   

* From CNN.com, Jan. 10, 2002: 

 "What would one see if the rainbow of lights that comprise the visible universe were mixed together into one color? Astronomers think something slightly greener than pale turquoise." 

And from Space.com: 

"'From one perspective, it's surprising that it turns out to be green, because there are no greenish stars,' said Glazebrook, an assistant astronomy professor. 'But it's the large number of old red stars and young blue stars in the universe that gives us the green.' (Yes, mixing red and blue paint yields nothing but icky paint, which anyone with children would know. But combining red and blue light yields an entirely different result, which you've probably guessed by now.)"

And finally, the disappointing truth, on March 8, 02 from Wired: 

"The color of the universe is not an intriguing pale turquoise, as astronomers recently announced. It's actually beige and a rather ordinary beige at that."


Kurious Kitty looks at strawberry poems in preparation for her library's annual strawberry festival.

Diane Mayr is sharing "To a Cat" by Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Kelly Fineman continues her month of in-depth and lively Shakespeare posts with a study of his Sonnet #5.

Little Willow (always whirring herself!) shares a poem about a sassy girl: The Little Rebel by Joseph Ashby-Sterry.

Gregory K tempts us with an original poem for National Doughnut Day (how did I miss THAT?) Doughnuts! Oh, Doughnuts!

Julie Larios at The Drift Record has an original poem made from real book titles.

Mary Lee has a post about the changing of seasons, school-year or otherwise.

Andromeda Jazmon pays tribute to her parents' 55 years of marriage with an original poem constructed from their words of wisdom. What a gift!.

Laura Salas posts about the "terrific" anthology, Falling Down the Page and continues her picture-based 15 Words or Less Poetry Challenge with an interesting photo of a buffalo made from recycled tires.

Andrea of Just One More Book! shares "a chat about rhyming board book Fun Dog, Sun Dog ... and a little treat: 6 year old twins share their favourite rhyming books."

Jama is featuring "The Booksigning" by James Tate (Got to go read that at once!)

Author Amok honors her father-in-law who passed away this week by posting William Carlos Williams' "The Last Words of My English Grandmother." Her FIL had been at the hospital where WCW worked for decades.

Tricia of The Miss Rumphius Effect, points us to Neil Gaiman's poem, Instructions, with a link to the full text as well as a video of Gaiman reading the poem.

Betsy at Fuse #8 reviews Food Hates You, Too and Other Poems, by Robert Weinstock.

Sally at PaperTigers reviews Talking Turkeys.

John Mutford reviews a Don McKay book as well as offering up one of his own.

Kelly Polark is in with a Jim Morrison poem.

Elaine Magliaro has two posts. One, at Wild Rose Reader, is a review of a new book of frog and toad poems that was written and illustrated many years ago by Arnold Lobel, PLUS "a video from HarperCollins in which Adrianne Lobel talks about THE FROGS AND TOADS ALL SANG, her father, and her process for coloring her father's drawings." The other, At Blue Rose Girls, highlights a poem about teaching by Mary Ruefle entitled The Hand.

Charlotte is sharing Sylvia Townsend Warner's take on Sleeping Beauty.

Linda gives us a discussion about a wonderful poetry class she just finished. OH! It's Laura Salas's class. No wonder she raves!

Beth Brezenoff, at the Stone Arch Books blog, posts James Wright's "A Blessing," which she says is "perfect for a late spring day..."

Violet offers us peony poems - one by Jane Kenyon and one by Mary Oliver. (Two of my favorite poets!)

Karen E. says she's "in (but just barely ... it's not really poetry, it's about chocolate)" That counts for me!

Liz in Ink says "Here I am with thoughts on the end of school and nostalgia and Miller Williams..."

Windspirit_girl shares a link to a poem she wrote last night about "time, storms, and human frailty."

Jim Danielson has an original haiku review of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.

Lorie Ann Grover shares two links: At On Point, an original haiku, Possibilities, and at readertotz, Sally Go Round the Sun.

Stella wrote a poem to her "dear 5th grade ESL class that is graduating today."

Martha offers Ralph Fletcher's Buried Alive: The Elements of Love, and talks poetry at the tae kwon do dojang.

Susan is featuring "The Rose Bush" by Nikki Giovanni. AND SHE HAS A LINK TO THE ONGOING BOOK DRIVE AT COLOR ONLINE. Go check it out!

Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children joins us with a post about April Halprin Wayland and her new book, plus a poem.

Carol has a review of ALL BY HERSELF, biographical poems by Ann Whitford Paul.

The Z-Kids did some original concrete poetry this week, inspired by the WONDERFUL "Curious Collection of Cats."

Bri Meets Books is in with "In the Artist's Studio" by Christina Georgina Rosetti.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"A laundry basket of cheese"

It's a scramble around here. My tasks:

1) Reading classic middle grade fiction, both for fun and to prep for MG Book #3, which has its own notebook, but not its own title or much else yet. Latest titles:  What Would Joey Do?  The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (a re-read which may spur me to re-read all of Aiken in one gothic gulp.)  

"It's a horrible place! But don't let anyone hear you say so! The school is full of tale bearers. Everyone is always hungry---and Mrs. Brisket rewards anyone who carries her a tale against another person. She gives them a bit of cheese. She has a big laundry basket in her room full of bits of cheese, ready cut up."

2) Preparing to host Poetry Friday this week. This was the kick in the pants I needed to write a new poem and practice the "just get something on paper" I've been preaching to those who've asked me about writing lately. The biggest writing sin? Ignoring the impulse to write. Second biggest? Judging what you've got before you've got it.  Train yourself not to cringe. ;)

3) Completing an author bio/publicity questionnaire for Scholastic, which involved tracking down contact info and forcing myself into marketing mode. Actively ignoring the fact that ARCs of Operation Yes have been sighted and in some cases, read.  (Why, oh why, do I always suddenly realize with a stab of terror how public my work is?) Which relates to the next item....

4)  Daydreaming about being invited to the National Book Festival.  PLEA FOR HELP!!!  Does anyone know how authors are invited?  I know I'm small potatoes, but Michelle Obama has a stated mission of support for military families, which would dovetail perfectly with the story of Operation Yes.  But I have no idea how the Library of Congress draws up its lists of authors. Any help would be appreciated. 

4) Brainstorming ideas to pre-write posts for the Operation Yes blog I'll be launching in September---I want it to be a place for teachers and kids to find out more about military families, improvisational theater, cool kid projects, and the story behind the book. Also, prizes!

5) Keeping my senior on track to graduate. Today, his car wouldn't start and he didn't have lunch money. But I think the ten lines of iambic pentameter he wrote for AP Lit last night were in his fist as I dropped him off. (He said "fare thee well" as he left, so something is soaking in.) Maybe I should put out a laundry basket of cheese, both for him and me.

6) Oh, and I almost forgot: for the Bridgett Zinn benefit auction, I bid on and won a custom teacher's guide for Operation Yes, prepared by Natalie Lorenzi.  She and I have been emailing back and forth to start that project rolling. Whee!