Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"It's National Poetry Month!" Quoth She (or He)

National Poetry Month starts tomorrow! Last year, I shared a poetry quote a day for all of April. If you missed that quote-a-thon, no worries. The posts are stored in my archive here.

This year, I plan to share more quotes as I find them (which might not be every day, but often enough to add substantially to that archive), as well as carry a poem in my pocket; read Helen Frost's structured verse novel, Crossing Stones, with my DC Kidlit Book Club; and enjoy the array of poetry events scheduled in the Kidlitosphere for the next 30 days, deliciously rounded up by Jama Rattigan right here.)

Oh, yes. And I'll be participating in Jama's month-long Poetry Potluck with a recipe and original poem.


Monday, March 29, 2010

What I'm Reading Now: Fighting Ruben Wolfe

This post should be titled: What I got up at 6:00 this morning to finish reading and will now be thinking about all day.

After closing the cover, I sat staring at the screen over at Goodreads, trying not to embarrass myself by gushing yet again about a Zusak book.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe is about brothers, boxing (which you know I have a fascination with), pride, winning, losing, fighting. And it reads like poetry.

I finally wrote this:

A lean novel that doesn't swagger or swing blunt punches; I loved it from the dog races to the one-gloved fights to the awkward, longing-filled bouts of not-talking with girls. The family is imperfect but loving; the bond between the brothers exquisitely written; and the theme of struggling to be a worthy person is a non-sentimental lifeline to anyone dealing with rough blows in life. Highly recommended for teens, even reluctant readers.

Zusak's writing makes me want to get up again, and try harder.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Poetry Friday: In the Library

In honor of the library-loving blog challenge going on this week at writerjenn's and countless other blogs, I'm posting this lovely poem by Charles Simic:

In the Library

There's a book called
"A Dictionary of Angels."
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

The rest is here.

Poetry Friday is hosted by poet Julie Larios at The Drift Record.

And don't forget to visit the blogs participating in the library-loving challenge. All you have to do is comment; the bloggers are the ones donating! Angels are plentiful...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Terrific Kids' Novels Adults Will Love, Too" A Virginia Festival of the Book Discussion

"Terrific Kids' Novels Adults Will Love, Too"
 Moderated by Barbara Kanninen
 Panelists: Kathy Erskine, Sue Corbett, Sara Lewis Holmes, Irene Latham, Fran Cannon Slayton

Our moderator was children's author and environmental economist, Barbara Kanninen, who asked perfect questions, the kind that make you think, and inspire you to have a great answer, and that five MG writers will each respond to in different ways.

Me with Barbara

Here's one of Barbara's insightful questions:

Continuing on our theme of adults, I was struck, in reading your books, at the strong roles that parents and/or teachers play in the stories.  Traditionally, we often think of children’s stories as happening without parents around.  A lot of children’s book characters are orphans, for example, or runaways, or they discover that they’re wizards, or the sons of Gods, and they have to go away to a special school or camp.  
But you all chose to include adults and family as prominent and important characters in your stories.  Would you talk about this decision?  Did you know from the beginning that these adults would be important people in your main characters’ lives?  How did you know you were striking the right balance between including adults and keeping your story kid-driven?

Excellent, right?

However, I have to say that the highlight of the panel for me was seeing this non-adult in the audience:


Signing after the panel with Kathy Erskine and Sue Corbett

You can find more pictures at Anne Marie Pace's journal.

Still to come: moderating the Land Ho! panel about setting in YA and children's fiction. Wow oh wow, did I learn a lot.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Maneuvers: Virginia Festival of the Book School Visit

My time at the Virginia Festival of the Book started with a Friday afternoon school visit to the Wildcats of Walton Middle. I was the only thing standing between at least a hundred sixth-graders and their weekend. Good thing I had prepared an action-filled presentation:

It was my first time giving this new talk, so of course, I learned a few things.

1) Always give out pencils for participation and correct answers. I started this on a whim, when one bright kid could identify the F-15C in this picture from only the twin tails in the background of the bottom right photo in this slide:

I also gave out pencils to those kids who helped me act out the rowing/jody call scene from Operation Yes, which culminated in the entire amphitheater yelling at me to: 

I did give them ten, of course, much to the back row's astonishment (several of them stood up to see.) 

In any case, pencils seemed a small thank you to those sixth-graders who were willing to play along. 

2) Make sure your slides are in order. I had two slides of the jody call switched, which threw one part of my jody call rhyme off. I wish my lovely proofreaders from Arthur Levine Books could've helped me with my slides! Ah, well. Fixed now. 

3) Q &A is always both predictable and surprising. Some kid will always ask if you are rich. Just say no and move on. On the other hand, if the whole amphitheater laughs when you tell them your idea for your next middle grade book, it's a good day. :)

5) Sixth-graders really are fabulous, even at 3:00 PM on a Friday. Librarians who work with them, and provide cookies, and invite staff to come down and meet you after the presentation are doubly fabulous. Thank you, Mrs. Proffitt! And thank you, Wildcats, for the T-shirt!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Early Poetry Friday: Rilke's Archaic Torso of Apollo

This is one of my favorite poems. All because of the killer last line. (More on that later.)

Photo from the official site of the musée du Louvre.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

the rest is here. (Then come back and tell me what you think of that last line. I have it taped to my laptop, and every day I look at it and it speaks the truth to me.)

----Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Stephen Mitchell

The original poem in German, as well as a different translation, is here.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Stacy at Some Novel Ideas.  I'll try to check in as I can around my school visits and book panels for The Virginia Festival of the Book

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

That was awesome @Your Library

"And the audience, which filled almost all the seats in the room, loved it. “That was awesome!” cried out one audience member over the applause as one of the scenes ended. And many of the audience members checked out some of the featured books."

Oh, my gosh. I love this article about teen theater in libraries so much!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Zoop! Gone.

We all lost an hour this weekend. Zoop! Gone. Don't let the rest of the week slide by, too. I'm inspired by this quote I pulled from An Altar in the World:

"Why, when God's world is so big,
did you fall asleep in a prison
of all places?" ---Rumi

I can't wait to read the whole chapter, because it's entitled "The Practice of Getting Lost." Oh, right. I need lots more practice at that. It's not good enough that I've gotten lost returning to my hotel room from the lobby. Or that, yesterday, my husband and I hiked up to an overlook called Shepherd's Point, and I said, "Wow, what a great place for a sunrise service!" to which he said, "If we weren't facing west."

If you need more ideas to keep you awake and out of prison, I suggest:

The Virginia Festival of the Book is this weekend. Every year, the VFB is terrific, but this year, it has an expanded children's and YA author focus, with FIVE panels focused on the Kidlit world. Come out and savor the day.

Right now, this minute, go read my editor's beautiful essay, "Raised by Reading: A Life in Books from the Children's Literature Festival to Harry Potter." It's intellectually sharp and emotionally honest, just like Cheryl is.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Poetry Friday: Rebecca Holmes

My daughter, Rebecca, is a physics and astronomy major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She's also pursuing a creative writing minor. (I know! I love it.)

Rebecca has written non-fiction articles for Carolina Scientific, and recently, she had two poems accepted by the campus literary magazine, Cellar Door. I asked if she would share some new work with my blog readers, and she sent me these two stunners:

Living Fossils


It doesn’t seem to belong to the past of this planet
with four hearts, two brains, a single testicle—
worm with a skull, dark embryo: the hagfish.

No child fascinated by dinosaurs could love it,
this living fossil, unchanged in 300 million years.
Not petrified, but preserved in the viscid flow
of time on the cold bed of the ocean,

so dark, so deep it escaped evolution
or was left behind: the round mouth turning like a gear,
forever the lensless eye.


The saltwater crocodile is thriving in thcoastal rivers
near Darwin, Australia, as dinosaurs burn on the roads
as fossil fuel. Long ago among the ferns, did an ancestor

pray for immortality? Now everything familiar
is dust and oil. A tagged crocodile leaves the coast,
swims far into the open oceansometimes reappears
hundreds of miles awayand sometimes vanishes.

Maybe his tag came loose and sank too deep for radios
to hear. Or maybe he paused among the waves, inhaled
the salt air once more and dovedeep down, out of time
to reptile Valhalla, to take his place among the ferns
being crushed to grease in the heart of the Earth.
                                                      ---Rebecca Holmes (all rights reserved)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Becky at Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Authors Barely Ever Come Here

Yesterday, a kid wrote to me to say authors "barely ever" came to Milwaukee. I suggested this link to him. I'll bet there are other places authors "barely ever" come either. Pass it along!

Would your school or library like a visit from Katherine Paterson, the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature?

The newly named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2010-2011 is Katherine Paterson, author of such critically acclaimed and popular classics as “The Bridge to Terabithia” and “Jacob Have I Loved.”

Paterson’s theme for her ambassadorship is “Read for Your Life,” and she will be carrying that message with her during her travels as National Ambassador.

Tell us what kind of event you would develop if Katherine Paterson were to visit. Also, tell us how you would promote the event and to whom. Describe the event and its promotion in detail in no more than 250 words.

The Center for the Book, the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader — the CBC foundation — sponsors of the National Ambassador program, will choose one winner. It could be you!

E-mail your entry no later than midnight EDT on March 15 in a Word document attachment to

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Be Kind..."

Check out the quote in the profile below. Miss Loupe and Room 208 approve.*

From Airman Magazine, Jan/Feb 2010

*See page 76 of Operation Yes

Friday, March 5, 2010

Poetry Friday: Rondeau Redoublé

The Poetry Sisters are at it again. This time, we've been challenged to a Rondeau Redoublé. Poet and professor Kelly Fineman, as usual, has a brilliant explanation of this form, including some very funny reasons why we poets title these crazy attempts simply "Rondeau Redoublé" instead of some other more poetic moniker. (Hint: ego is involved.)

Speaking of ego, I'm setting mine aside, next to my sanity --- which I also abandoned when I agreed to twist my britches into this revolving door of a form. Because, I admit, even after I wrote a Rondeau Redoublé, I still don't completely understand it.

I have respect for this form, though. And newfound wisdom. (Please see Sara's How to Not Choke at the Rondeau Redoublé at the end of this post for my tips.)

Rondeau Redoublé

Paper becomes a swan thus:
creased, folded, feathers pleated,
neck extended, not like us,
in minutes near completed

or lines smudged, cross-hatched, deleted,
pen carves arch of whiteness minus
all not swan; hours lost, repeated;
paper becomes a swan---thus

night's ravines, spit with starry dust
are charted; constellations sail full-sheeted,
inky swan or leggy cross of Crane (Grus):
creased, folded, feathers pleated

as pages pop from children's tales, morals meted;
exclamation point of swan unfolds---ha!---from amorphous
Ugly Duckling---pudge of feathers, rudely treated,
neck extended; not like us

who caught in thorny thatch, anonymous,
our parchment paper hearts, chambers overheated,
burst; bloom briefly---Narcissus poeticus,
in minutes near completed.

Rather curl, from blazing light secreted
in darkness, pinch, preen, fuss
'til all of creased and folded poet is conceded;
naught but neck of poem emerges---hush!
Paper becomes.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Liz will have a roundup of all the Poetry Sisters' rondeaux here. Or you can follow these links, which I pinched from Kelly Fineman:

Tanita Davis
Kelly Fineman
Andromeda Jazmon
Laura Purdie Salas
Liz Garton Scanlon

Tricia Stohr-Hunt (not able to join us today, but Tanita wrote a gorgeous poem inspired by her strength)

*Bonus material:

Sara's How to Not Choke at the Rondeau Redoublé

1. Repeatedly google the name of this form to make sure you spell it correctly. (Be sure to learn how to make the French vowel at the end read "é" instead of plain "e." Don't worry---once you've done this, you can simply copy and paste the é every étouffé-ing time you need it.)

2. Rev your engines with some history and examples. Will you write with or against tradition? Forward Press calls it "a form for expressing devotion to secular objects such as springtime, love and romance ... It has been reported that only the English, who adopted the rondeau at the end of the 18th century, truly attempt serious verse with this form." Hmm. I usually like to buck the system with some humor. This time, serious was bucking it.

3. Resolve how the form (crazy as it is) will support your theme. (We all chose some form of the theme "new beginnings.") A rondeau goes round and round, just as years and other cyclical things do. Brilliant match-up, Liz! (our resident theme chooser)

4. Rhyme, then Write. Or Write, then Rhyme. By this I mean: you can come up with a malleable list of words that will stand you in good stead for six stanzas (recommended), or you can join me in the foolish habit of writing the first thing that comes into your head and then tracking down rhymes for it. For example, I wrote (thinking of origami)

"Paper becomes a swan thus
Creased, folded, feathers pleated
(something, something)
In minutes completed."

Then I went to Rhyme Zone to see where my game of Russian Roulette with end rhymes had landed me. Here is a mashup of my notes from that ongoing experience:

Thus: "us" words, Sus (pigs) and Grus (crane, a constellation)

more "us" words---"amorphus" (fetus) which let to amorphous. Theme of shape. Making something from nothing. Or a complicated thing from a square. A poem has "squared edges" in this form.

Charlotte Russe: ladyfingers! Gloomy Gus. (Ha, ha, ha!) or Anthony Banderas (now I'm out in left field)

The point is words, like poetic forms have histories, too, and connections. Have fun. See where the words lead you.

5) Refuse to quit.

6) Refer to number 5.

7) Really, I mean it. See number 5 (and 6.)

8) Radiate with maniacal happiness when by magic or mayhem, you have six stanzas. Then force yourself to analyze them. How will each advance the theme? Be organized? It's easy with the Rondeau Redoublé to be so happy that your rhymes work that you forget the poem must build to a story or conclusion. There must be a reason for the constant "re-turning" in this form.

9) Retreat from stanza level editing down to individual word choices: prune out the line-wasters. Look for specific places to use vivid words. Re-write and re-write.

10) Revise the line flow, down to the punctuation. Seriously. Seriously... Seriously! In this poem, I wanted the lines to flow from stanza to stanza, often using the last word of a stanza as the first word of the next to give an impatient feel to the poem until the last hushed moment.

11) Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Teaching Books.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

On ignorance

"Whoever said "ignorance is bliss" was, perhaps, correct, but he or she was not a photographer." ---Jacquelynn Buck, blogging at The Journey

Jackie is asking the Big Question here: when is it okay to document the world's misery? Read her post and comment if you have a mind to.

This brings to mind the photographs from Sept. 11th that I saw as part of an exhibit at the Newseum. One was of a person jumping from the World Trade Center. I can't ever forget it.

In happier news, my book club has decided to read both the adult and one or more of the kid/YA versions of Three Cups of Tea. Which is a good thing in itself, but then my friend Quinn Byrnes wrote to say that her school read one of those kid editions, "Listen to the Wind," and planned a 100 Pennies for Peace project for the 100th day of school.

As Quinn said, "The best part is that the kids got it.  They knew why we were doing it.  It was for other kids to learn.  They were really moved by the thought that there are kids somewhere doing their math problems in the dirt with sticks." 

Here's to combatting ignorance, one penny, word, or photograph at a time. 

Monday, March 1, 2010

What I'm Reading Now: An Altar in the World

From the chapter,  "The Practice of Paying Attention," An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor:

"I learned reverence from my father. For him, it had nothing to do with religion and very little to do with God. I think it may have had something to do with his having been a soldier, since the exercise of reverence generally includes knowing your rank in the overall scheme of things. From him I learned by example that reverence was the proper atitude of a small and curious human being in a vast and fascinating world of experience. This world included people and places as well as things. Full appreciation of it required frequent adventures, grand projects, honed skills, and feats of daring. Above all, it required close attention to the way things worked, including one's own participation in their working or not working."

This is a book not about belief, but practice. As such, I keep reading it as if she were writing about the practice of writing for children.  Do we write as if were "a small and curious human being in a vast and fascinating world of experience?" Do we make room in our stories for "frequent adventure, honed skills and feats of daring"? And if our characters do not ever realize their own participation in the world "working or not working," then how can we say they have lived at all?